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Beyond Crises: Overcoming Inequities Through Professional Growth

Imagine being a student who fled their homeland and relocated in the United States after the trauma of a natural disaster. What would you want your local, school, and classroom community to do so that you feel safe, supported, and valued??

We often begin our professional development sessions with a question like this one as we explore with educators how to move beyond crises to overcome linguistic and cultural inequities.  The heart of our framework is an empowered community, school, and classroom ecosystem.

An Empowered Ecosystem

At the Community Level

Crises can be an incredible opportunity for reimagining the essentialness of our local community. Consider the school principal who describes the virtual after- and out of- school activities that community members offer in response to students’ interests; or the community liaison who co-builds a school-community team to help families with housing, medical, and nutritional supports and become empowered community mentors.

Three ways to build on a community’s assets are:

  1. Create a school-based team to grow student, family, and community partners.
  2. Identify students’ needs and desires to build community networks.
  3. Build community partnerships to support and empower students and families.

At the School Level

Imagine attending a week-long comprehensive professional development alongside everyone in your school that addresses the instructional, social emotional, and physical needs of multicultural students. Afterwards, teams of language arts and ESL/ELD teachers meet regularly to add new methodologies to their co-teaching lessons. Math teachers practice new strategies then meet with their math peers to get feedback on their delivery and MLs/ELs engagement. Science teachers script experiment and lab instructions to make them comprehensible for ELs. This is what we call a “whole-school commitment to ELs.”

Three ways to create these schools are to:

  1. Begin exploring with a team of ESL/ELD, core content teachers, and administrators “why a whole-school approach” addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  2. Offer a comprehensive professional learning program for everyone at the school on how to integrate language, literacy, social emotional learning, and core content with multicultural/English learners as the focus of success.
  3. Concomitantly, plan how to sustain educators’ and students’ learning for the next three years. Study what works and doesn’t work in staff development, follow up coaching, and teacher support systems.

At the Classroom Level

In the classroom, multilingual learners and their teachers can overturn linguistic and cultural inequities through advocacy and agency. Feeling valued and confident, multilingual learners can become empowered and agents of their own learning. Being secure in their identities, these students can move toward becoming independent learners.

To encourage student autonomy, content and language teachers can:

  1. Create learning opportunities to optimize student interaction by inviting students to discuss controversial issues, teach each other, or explore topics of interest to illuminate their strengths. Let multilingual learners take ownership of their learning, share their perspectives, and contribute to classroom decision-making.
  2. Co-construct learning targets with students and generate options for showing evidence of learning. Multimodal evidence–through visual, auditory, literacy, kinesthetic modes–can be extensive, including photo journals, poems/raps, podcasts, posters/murals, videos, plays, multimedia presentations, and music.
  3. Connect student learning to their lived experiences, languages, cultures, and traditions. Working with multilingual learners and their families means inclusively embracing their languages and cultures and transform our educational practices.

Greater knowledge, trust, and respect of languages and cultures emerge when we build an interconnected community, school, and classroom ecosystem.  We invite you to take our suggestions and personalize them for the educators, students, and families in your setting.

Written by

Debbie Zacarian, former director of programming for multilingual learners, university faculty, and education service agency leader, authored-co-authored six Corwin books, including Beyond Crises: Overcoming linguistic and cultural inequities in communities, schools, and classrooms. She is the founder of Zacarian and Associates.

Margarita Calderón is Professor Emerita/Senior Research Scientist, Johns Hopkins University. Her research and development projects focus on Multilingual/English learners’ evidence-based instruction and have been funded by the US Department of Education, Department of Labor, and The Carnegie Corporation of New York. Among her many publications, she has authored/co-authored five Corwin books.

Margo Gottlieb has authored, co-authored, and co-edited 14 Corwin books, including most recently Beyond Crises: Overcoming Linguistic and Cultural Inequities in Communities, Schools, and Classrooms; Assessment in Multiple Languages: A Handbook for School and District Leaders; and its companion, Classroom Assessment in Multiple Languages: A Handbook for Teachers.

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