Parents and/or relatives of the students are the most important educational partners for the school. In a report on various key aspects of a successful transition to the German school system, Punzeberger (2016) explicitly points out and describes how important it is for parents to be involved and informed. She indicates that parents are a child’s first teachers and that their continuous support is a key factor for success, even if they are not familiar with the way things are done in the new country.
The importance of parental involvement in the education of pupils is also discussed by Heckmann (2008). In this paper, Heckmann (2008) argues that there is a positive link between parental involvement and school results. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get the parents or relatives involved (Heckmann 2008). For example, parents can be unable to speak the school language while there is only limited access to a translator; parents themselves might never have received formal education and do not know what to expect; cultural differences between expectations of parent-teacher contact may exist; or in some cases, there are simply no parents. For example, in an interview with Dave Amish Humanity in Action (2006), Petra Stanat states that many parents’ expectations of their child’s academic performance are high, because they may not sufficiently familiar with the new country’s educational system or do not understand it well enough.
Because of this, it is important for a school to actively involve the relatives so that they can learn about the school system, discuss the developments of the pupils and what goals are realistic for the next year or semester, and work hand in hand with the school team. One way to do this is the election of a bridge figure who is trusted by both school and the parents. Ideally, this bridge figure will be the addressee for anyone within a community of parents that requires further contact with the school, or for the school to contact a group of parents.
The involvement of families and communities in the education of the children requires interactive teaching strategies and actively acknowledging (and valuing) cultural differences and similarities in and outside of the classroom, in order to foster skills and transfer knowledge between children with different language backgrounds. Depending on prior experiences, parents and/or relatives need to be supported to become partners in the children’s learning process. For this, it is important to provide regular and rich opportunities for engagement and use of both or several languages with families and language education partners in local networks. An example of this is through the implementation of translanguaging practices in the school. In the module on Background you will find more in-depth information and examples of translanguaging.
A good example of combining several of these factors can be found in Alsace (France): here, teachers involve a good number of parents, invite them into school and get them to contribute to the teaching process in an organized and meaningful way. The teachers become learners of different languages and cultures existing in the community but normally absent inside the school, alongside the pupils. The languages that are shared are Arabic, Turkish, Polish, Japanese and the local Alsatian dialect (which is closely related to German). The parents can become more interested and involved in what happens inside their children’s school (Young & Helot 2007).
Another way to keep the relatives informed is to ask for a meeting or to go and visit the ones you do not hear from a lot at home. Make sure that such a visit is culturally accepted and not seen as an intrusion. Think of which questions you would like to have answered beforehand, and which topics you would like to discuss. Based on this visit, make a step-by-step plan: how could you help the parents? Who could you contact or recommend for certain things? Plan activities based on these visits, such as an information session on things that are not school-related or a clothing collection.