Contributed by Ayanna Cooper
Spring is here and summer is right around the corner. School districts are in the processes of wrapping up one school year while preparing for another. Scheduling and planning for high quality professional learning remains a priority, especially in districts that have students identified as English learners (ELs). Instead of scheduling sessions focused on isolated teaching strategies for linguistically diverse learners, some districts plan with a wider focus – preparing their teacher leaders to support all teachers of ELs. To do so effectively, three areas of consideration must be explored. The first being the capacity of the district’s team to be advocates for ELs, the second being collaboration and partnerships across leadership teams and lastly a commitment to long-term professional learning. By starting with these components in mind, educators will emphasize and acknowledge the contributions that English learners bring to their learning communities and how best to assure ELs success.
Calling All Advocates
In Staehr Fenner’s book Advocating for English Learners, a Guide for Educators, she affirms the need for a shared sense of responsibility for educators of ELs. For teacher leaders, one must identify themselves as advocates for their students and their families regardless of their job title or role within the district. Teachers cannot work in isolation. Program service models for ELs are vast and the need for leaders across these learning contexts is an essential part of student success. In a recent professional development session, a few participants were Student Support Team (SST) leaders. We talked about second language acquisition theory, deconstructed academic language, and then discussed English language proficiency.
What has been expressed to me in some cases is that this is new learning for them. I’m saddened by that while at the same time happy to have been a part of their learning. How can we have leaders across districts who are not well versed in supporting and advocating linguistically diverse students? The decisions leaders make on behalf of ELs are extremely impacting. Take, for example, ELs who may be considered for retention or who are going through academic evaluations. Can we affirm that the decisions we are making have been made with the best interest of the EL in mind? Their learning needs and their strengths, all while considering the delivery model for language development. Do all educators who teach ELs view themselves as advocator? If not, what approaches to professional learning can we take? If so, how can we continue to grow as a community of advocates for ELs? For more information about advocating for ELs download The National Education Association’s guide, All In! How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners. The website ColorinColorado also provides valuable information about advocating for ELs.
Coaching Teacher Leaders
“Let’s build the team’s capacity to facilitate professional learning,” one Title III director stated as we planned for the district’s summer learning academy. This was an exiting assignment that I anxiously began planning for. Through a number of emails and planning teleconferences, we developed the goals and objectives to ensure the EL team could be ready as leaders in the district. This was not your typical one-stop-shopping approach to professional learning. It was organic, original, mission-based, and rigorous. After watching me facilitate components, teachers developed parts to be redelivered to their general education colleagues including content area specialist. The “I” part was two fold in that I was supporting their understanding of key concepts related to teaching ELs while supporting their development as teacher leaders. The “We” was accomplished when teacher leaders co-delivered and facilitated professional learning. Were they confident in their ability to engage in complex conversations with content teachers and their administrators? Some were more than others. Would they remember to tell their own stories as educators of ELs and share successes of their students? Could they serve as mentors, spokespeople and as knowledgeable representatives of the department? What plans did they have to remain energized and optimistic despite the challenges that existed? These are somewhat challenging but necessary questions that one must ask and answer when investing in long-term success of linguistically diverse learners.
In It For The Long Haul
As districts adopt initiatives related to supporting linguistically diverse learners, it is important to recognize that developing teacher leaders can be a lengthy process. Planning for effective professional learning includes:
- an analysis of current needs related to ELs
- program models and opportunities to support ELs across all content area including gifted and talented programs
- current and future initiatives and how the EL population will be part of and supported throughout those initiatives
- evaluation of existing professional learning with flexibility to modify plans
While these considerations are not an exhaustive list, they do provide starting points for district leaders. For example, one district has been working closely to educate teachers and administrators about their new teacher evaluation instrument. Evaluating teachers of ELs is not the same as evaluating general education instruction. The same goes for evaluating teachers of students with learning disabilities. Their teachers may be utilizing different approaches and strategies based on their students learning needs. These strategies may or may not be recognizable by evaluators. These could be problematic for the teacher and evaluator resulting in misunderstood practices, which ultimately impacts diverse learners. In my co-authored book Evaluating ALL Teachers of English Learners and Students With Disabilities, Supporting Great Teaching, guiding principles about inclusive teacher evaluation are posed and analyzed to support improved teacher evaluation. The book includes “look-fors” that evaluators can use and adapt to recognize effective teaching of ELs and students with disabilities. Initiatives such as teacher evaluation, Common Core State Standards and STEM programs are all examples of long-term plans that support student success. The same view must be held regarding the importance of developing teacher leaders for ELs.
These components can serve as starting points for districts with plans to focus on ELs to improve student outcomes. What other areas and stakeholders are a necessary part of these plans? Surely parents of ELs and community partners must be included and their participation valued. In thinking about ELs, your district needs, the resources available and possible opportunities for collaboration, my question is: What will “You” do to better serve ELs?
Ayanna Cooper is an advocate and author for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. She is a co-author of Evaluating ALL Teachers of English Learners and Students With Disabilities: Supporting Great Teaching and has contributed to WIDA publications such as the Essential Actions Handbook. She has held positions as an English as a Second Language teacher, ELL Instructional Coach, Urban Education Teacher Supervisor and ELL/Title III Director. She has worked with and facilitated professional development for administrators and teachers, both pre-service and in-service, in urban and suburban areas and is currently an independent consultant.