Linda Boland-Quigley, Home School Community Liaison, Esker Educate Together National School
Parental involvement in their children’s education can take many forms and be different experiences for each parent. The benefits and advantages of parental involvement are unquestionable.
I have been working as a primary school teacher for twelve years; ten of those have been in a school setting with a high population of EAL (English as an additional language) families. As part of my recent Masters’ studies, I undertook a research project to investigate the reasons why EAL parents get involved in their child’s education, focusing on the benefits for parents specifically. I interviewed five EAL parents in my school and my findings are summarised below.
Language is a major barrier for many immigrant parents who want to be active in their children’s education. The parents who did not speak English as their first language had a fear of not understanding what was being said to them and vice versa, that they themselves would not be understood. Not being able to read English was mentioned as part of this barrier. Not understanding some of the formal communications being sent out by the school could lead to missed opportunities to become involved.
Cultural differences: not understanding the Irish schooling system as it was different to that of their home country led to missed opportunities to become involved.
Being time-poor: if parents were working or had other children at home to care for, they would not have the time to attend in-school events during the day.
Benefits of involvement in the school community
The sense of belonging and opportunity to build a community was a major benefit identified by interviewees, including the opportunity to meet people from different cultures, socialise, and make friends. Becoming involved in the school community allowed the parents to learn new skills, including improving their communication skills in English.
Some parents who were interviewed mentioned how involvement in the school community had impacted positively on their confidence. One parent noted how she found it very difficult to adjust to life in Ireland after having had a career in her home country and she was now working in the home as a housewife. Getting involved in school life helped her to build a community around her and she spoke of this community as being akin to a new family.
Celebrating children’s home languages
All parents interviewed mentioned the significance of celebrating the home languages, to show their children (some of whom were embarrassed to speak in their own language) the importance of celebrating all the many different languages and cultures in the school. Using parents and members of the wider family as a resource to share their language and culture with the wider school community is invaluable.
Opportunities for this can happen through raising teachers’ awareness of the benefits of inviting parents into the classroom to share their knowledge, by hosting different events celebrating the many different languages spoken in the school and lastly through highlighting the value of the mother tongue in aiding the development of their children’s second language.
Tips to encourage and facilitate EAL parents to involvement in their children’s education!
- Encourage the use of the parents’ (and wider family) knowledge about different languages and cultures within the school and classrooms.
- Promote the mother tongue in school, including for example: parent volunteers reading to students in both English and other languages; children and parents teaching songs or words and phrases from their home languages to the whole class; organise a week-long celebration of the different languages and cultures that are present in the school.
- It is crucial that schools draw up robust policies surrounding parental involvement that include defining parental involvement (at home and in school), outlining what it means on both class and whole-school level and appreciating the many far-reaching benefits that result from parental involvement.
- Ask for volunteer translators who can help with important communications that are sent out to the school community. This is of particular importance so that parents that have English as an additional language understand this information. This access to information can be very empowering for parents and helps to highlight the importance of their involvement.
- Remember that school staff can play a pivotal role in the level of parental involvement that occurs in schools. This was highlighted in one of the interviews as the parent mentioned that it was the invitation by the school secretary to participate in English language classes that provided the access to parental involvement. It is up to schools to invest in various levels of CPD to ensure staff are aware of the value of parental involvement and to dispel any preconceived notions about reasons why parents may not yet be involved in their child’s education.
Finally, one of the key learnings from my study was that it is through an understanding of parents’ experiences, that it is possible to drive their engagement with the school community. When parents feel understood, they are more likely to cross the school threshold and engage i.e. pick up the phone or drop into the school when they have questions or something to discuss.
Linda has worked for over 13 years in education ranging from Montessori and mainstream primary education to teaching children with additional needs and lecturing in oral Irish. She is currently in her 4th year as Home School Community Liaison in Esker Educate Together working to build and maintain positive lasting relationships with all parents in the school and encourage their involvement in school life. Linda is passionate about Diversity & Inclusion and has just completed an MSc in Education and Training Management (Leadership) in DCU.