Research/tech assistance org
Maria Portuondo's response
Recognizing that language can be a barrier to communication, it is very important to take steps that can lead to effective communication. One of the first things that often comes to mind is the use of interpreters. For this avenue to prove effective, though, schools need to do some careful planning. They need to explore what this process entails, who in their school could serve as an interpreter and what type of orientation would be needed, how to address the issue of confidentiality, what community services may be available and how to access them, etc. In addition, it is important that all personnel be aware of this avenue, and of the protocol to be followed. Parents also need to be aware that this is a service available to them through the school and to be given information on how they can request an interpreter.
Another way to communicate with parents successfully is to encourage them to bring someone they feel comfortable with to any meeting (even though you may be providing an interpreter). In some cases the parent(s) may show up with more than one adult. They should all be welcomed to participate, to join the meeting rather than wait outside. The parents may need a partner at the meeting to serve as another set of ears so that they can go over the meeting together afterwards and clarify what they understood. Parents may need those other adults just for moral support.
If possible, you might provide parents with a written summary of what you discussed at the meeting along with a reassurance that they should contact you if they have any questions. If no interpreter could be present at the meeting and you are concerned that parents may not have fully understood you, provide them with local school or community resources that they may access. Efforts should be made to provide information in the native language whenever possible.
If you are discussing the classroom work of a student, have samples of the student’s work available, so that the parents can see evidence of progress or concerns. The parents may not be familiar with the classroom work, because their educational experiences and background may be very different from ours. Maybe you can photocopy something that they may take home with them.
The establishment of a Parent Center is another resource for teachers and parents. Such centers are usually staffed by parents of the local community who speak the native language of community students. In addition, the volunteers may provide useful information on other issues that may impact the interaction or communication between parents and school staff. Many volunteers in these centers can serve as home–school liaisons who may assist in the establishment of ongoing communication and relationships that may be important when addressing difficult situations with a student or family.
A classroom newsletter provides a vehicle for sharing information about the work being done in the classroom, upcoming school/classroom events, field trips, dates for parent meetings or conferences, etc.
Before concluding this section, I would like to share a word of caution. Often we use our own students or their siblings to serve as interpreters. Studies on this practice have shown that this may have a negative effect on students. A Boston Globe article (1991) on children who serve as interpreters in their family, identified the following possible problem areas:
- Children are forced to face adult issues or problems that may not be appropriate.
- Children may resent or lose respect for their parents.
- Children may feel overwhelmed or embarrassed by their obligations to represent the family, to speak for the family.
- The child may not be able to understand important terminology or instructions or may not be able to translate accurately.
- This process can lead to a shift in the power balance. If children refuse to translate or if they try to dominate a situation by telling parents what to do, this may lead to tension, anger, or frustration between the parent(s) and the child.
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