Three Strategies to Strengthen Partnerships with Families of Multilingual Learners

By Debbie Zacarian

We all know the importance of family engagement. Whether we work with two parents, a single parent, foster parent, grandparent, stepparent, custodial parent, extrafamilial member, and others, we understand that every family constellation is essential to children’s development.

While we might believe strongly in family engagement, we may overlook its special relevance with families whose language and culture are distinct from our own. Conversely, many families of multilingual learners may not be familiar with the practices used in our schools. As a result, misperceptions and misunderstandings can feel like impenetrable obstacles to the type of engagement that we know is needed. 

Here are three strategies to support family-school partnerships:

  1. Take intentional steps to identify every child’s and family’s strengths so they are valued and acknowledged as having something important to contribute to our classroom, school, or district’s success. (e.g., ask parents/guardians, “What makes (name of child) special? What special talents or interests might you share?”). Draw from their responses to create positive classroom and school experiences. 
  2. Bridge the linguistic and cultural divide by engaging multilingual, multicultural members (e.g., outreach workers, staff, volunteers, other parents/guardians) who have ‘insider knowledge’ about our school and local community and how it works to support students’ health and well-being and engage them in the same or additional after- and out-of-school activities as their peers.
  3. Build a working group of students, families, staff, school leaders, community members and other stakeholders.  Ask questions to strengthen our efforts (e.g., What steps are we taking to ensure meaningful communication with families?  What does this look like? How do we know our efforts are working?).

All families can be more engaged in their child’s education and school community when we launch these strategies and use them as springboards to work together as partners.


Debbie Zacarian, Ed.D. is a renowned expert in policies and practices for multilingual learners.  She has written and supported numerous state education agencies and school districts in creating effective policies for the nation’s growing and rapidly changing population of multilingual learners.  This article is drawn from her book Transforming Schools for Multilingual Learners: A comprehensive guide for educators.  This post originally appeared on Corwin Connect.

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