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Parental involvement in education contributes to a stronger and more inclusive school community. Engaging parents in their children’s education is also a fundamental aspect of creating a supportive learning environment for our learners and has been associated with a positive impact on learner performance (Khan, 1996). However, attempting to enhance the participation of ESOL parents (ESOL standing for English for Speakers of Other Languages), in the school community who are emergent bilingual or multilingual learners themselves, appears to be a particularly challenging undertaking mainly due to their linguistic concerns as well as their unfamiliarity with the educational system (Housel, 2020; Yol, 2019). Research indicates that there are different ways to create meaningful parent - school partnerships and help parents overcome their barriers to building a successful relationship with their children's school (Housel, 2020). This article will explore the significance of engaging ESOL parents through informal coffee mornings, which will enable parents to connect, foster relationships with the school and other parents, and actively learn about their children’s education. 

Why organise an ESOL parents coffee morning?

An ESOL parents coffee morning will create a safe space for parents to discuss school-related matters, such as the UK education system or the school’s reading or phonics programme, in an informal and relaxed environment. This will ensure that a vital part of the school community experiences a sense of unity and belonging to the wider network, which can in turn contribute to the development of a positive and inclusive school culture. 

How to help parents benefit from a coffee morning? 

  • Introduce parents to local ESOL classes, which can support their English language learning, help them overcome language barriers and become actively involved in the school community. 
  • Showcase blended learning ESOL/EAL platforms, such as the Community Village, the Learning Village or other online resources - you could also offer a short teaching session during which parents and children can complete a lesson together.
  • Share top tips and strategies parents can use to support and encourage their children at home and highlight the importance of encouraging children to use their home language. Setting up consistent home language learning routines might involve:
    • using their home language to perform daily tasks at home -interacting with people who share a common first language and cultural background
    • reading books in their mother tongue
    • practising writing in their home language
  • Share information on upcoming events, school policies or initiatives in dual languages or through parent ambassadors or parent buddies, who will ensure that all parents have an understanding of the information shared.
  • Build confidence by coming into school and sharing thoughts and ideas by offering coffee or cake or special classes, e.g. get to know your school year or invite outside agencies to talk to them
  • Encourage them to volunteer in the school by talking about options of how they could get involved, e.g. reading to others in their home language, listening to children read or helping in the library to engage parents further into the community

By recognising the importance of coffee mornings for parents, schools can offer ESOL families a point of entry and engagement with the school, which can make their integration to the school smoother and more enjoyable. 

References

Housel, D. A. (2020). Supporting the Engagement and Participation of Multicultural, Multilingual Immigrant Families in Public Education in the United States: Some Practical Strategies, The School Community Journal, 30(2), 185-209. (Available here)

Khan, M. B. (1996). Parental Involvement in Education: Possibilities and Limitations. The School Community Journal, 6(1), 57-68.

Yol, Ö. (2019). Schools should better integrate immigrant parents. NYS TESOL Idiom, 49(1), 17–21.

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