Part I: Serving a New ELL Population
Creating a welcoming environment for ELL families
Principals can make the school more welcoming to families by very simple things. Are there signs in different languages that help parents find the office or find rooms that, they've been invited to for family nights or parent meetings or conferences about their kids? Also, are there people in the front office that can help with different languages, do they speak other languages? Are they trained and comfortable dealing with parents who are perhaps struggling with English, are not quite sure about how to ask the questions that they need the answers for? So, a patience if at the very least if not multilingual.
Posters and artifacts that are in the hallways in addition to student work. That helps students and their families feel more comfortable, especially if you've got multiple ethnic groups or multiple languages represented. Do you have artifacts from all of your groups? Those are simple things that a principal can do to set the tone.
Setting the tone
The culture of the school is, is really set by the principal, the leadership. And when you have English language learners coming in, either a new group of immigrants or refugees or there's a change in the number of students that are being served by a building, how the leadership responds to that change is going to send a message to the teachers about how they should respond.
So, when we're working with culturally and linguistically different children, it forces us to think about what is it that we really believe about education and our inclusivity, and what is our responsibility to maybe change the way that we're thinking or change our instructional practices because the needs of the kids are different? That tone, that accountability, that modeling, is set by the administration.
Interpreters are really important and the principal often makes the decision about how available interpreters will be, both in the front office for parent teacher conferences, for family nights or other kind of school events.
Sometimes principals have to advocate at the district level to get interpreters. That's important, it's a small thing that can carry a lot of weight in terms of the community and how welcome they feel and how accessible the new schooling experience is to them.
District resources for ELLs
If there's a change in the demographics of the school, a principal can do several things and I think the first place to start is the central leadership, central district office. What resources are available for schools there? Are there interpreters? Are there already forms that have been translated into different languages? Are there cultural liaisons that are centrally located and go out to different sites? Maybe even special ed. (education) cultural liaisons.
Other community experts and community relationships that the district may have forged or other principals. Check with your colleagues, that's a great resource. You're probably not the only one that's seeing a change in demographics.
Community infrastructure for new immigrants
Many times our populations increase because there is an infrastructure in our community that supports the new groups. So I think as leaders of schools and community schools particularly, we want to find out what those community services are and to use them to create connections and bridges between families and school.
I think it's also important for us to understand, to search out and to share with our staff, what has brought people to our community? Why are they here? Is this an economic decision? Is this a civil war decision? You know, what has happened in the lives of our families that might provide some additional understanding of how to work with them and how to work best with their kids?
This might also explain some behaviors or help us understand why some things seem so important to one group, and not so important to another. How do we become more culturally aware and more culturally sensitive? And that usually involves going to people and asking questions. Going to the community and asking questions. Doing a little bit of research in finding out what was the connection, what's the history, what are the situations?
Understanding student background
When we talk about the principal being the tone setter of the building, a colleague comes to mind and I think about how much work she did to become trusted within the Somali community. Working with elders, helping them understand why her school was a good school for them to come to, how they could work together to educate children. And she, she set a tone for her teachers.
She wrote a grant and actually went to the camps in Kenya to see what were the conditions that the students were living in before they came to her because she was a newcomer site. So one day they're in Kenya, then they're on the plane, and basically the next day they are in her school. That's a humongous transition.
She could come back and talk to her staff about the resilience of these kids, what a transformation in their environment. And that helped change the way teachers saw kids coming into the building. So, you can look at a child and go, "Wow, you know yesterday their life was totally different, today they're in this building. How can I make them feel comfortable? How can I help them get accustomed to the routines that we are going to have in this school?"
And I'm reminded of a situation, this happened not to long after 9/11, so everybody's kind of on edge. And a teacher saw a student with a very sharp object, called the principal, and this was a child who had only may have been in the school less than a week. And the principal saw this sharp top of a can and some string, looked very unusual to the teacher, but the principal recognized it as a toy she has actually seen in the camps. When you don't have a lot, kids are creative, you know, they come up with ways to make toys to be entertained. And so this was not a weapon, it was not something to hurt anybody else, it was just a toy.
If you don't have some cultural openness, you can't see things always for what they are. And you interpret them only through your own lens. And that could of taken a really negative track for the child and for that teacher. So I know not everyone can go to the camps where their kids are coming from or see the experiences that their students have had. But to be open to that, to ask questions, to talk to family member, to talk to community members, to start to really open and broaden your own horizons about what life is like for your kids.
You know, having a new population of English language learners or an increase in the English language learner populations can be hard on teachers. And I think leadership, it's very important for principals to recognize that and acknowledge it, come right out and say, "Yeah it is harder and it requires change." Once that's on the table, then I think it's easier for everyone to talk about how this is affecting them personally, what are some of the things that they are struggling with.
Because when you have a new population, with that comes some natural cross-cultural conflict. There are things we don't understand about each other. Talking about that, acknowledging it, that's the first step in trying to figure out where the pathway is between any kind of conflict that's going on. That's where the strategies start to, the brainstorming for strategies starts. How are we going to deal with this? When boys are pulling hajibs off girls, what does this mean? What kind of message are we going to send? How are we going to discipline? That's, that's all connected I think with teacher concern and angst about a new population.
I think the other thing is to talk about how the responsibility for teaching changes. The goals of the school, most likely are not going to change, the vision is not going to change. Everyone is committed to the success of students, but suddenly there is a new population that changes the pathway to that success. And so, that might mean new professional development because instructional changes are in order, planning has to become different. The way we introduce concepts, we may have to slow down the pace of curriculum, go deeper. We may have to look at and analyze the language that's happening simultaneous to content concepts. There's so many changes, I think teachers being concerned particularly in this era of testing and NCLB and making AYP, these are huge pressures. So, acknowledging them, talking about them, and then strategically planning to maintain the high standards, but to be open to new pathways to get there.
One example of a cultural shift for a district might be testing. And if you got a Somali population or a Muslim population, is to look at where Ramadan falls on the school calendar and make sure that you're not doing high-stakes testing during those times. Being aware of the holidays that your communities are celebrating and making calendar decisions that support and recognize those is very important. I think sometimes we forget that the whole school calendar is based on a Judeo- Christian cycle. So we don't ask kids why they're not here on Christmas, because schoo'ls closed. So why are we asking Somali kids why they're not here on Eid?
A better life
I think it's very important to remember that parents want better things for their children and many families have endured extreme hardships in the hope that their children will have a better life. Education is always a part of that. As teachers raised in the United States and the United States system, we kind of expect that to take place in a certain way.
And so sometimes when we have new cultural groups coming in and they are interfacing or interacting with the school in a different way, we might think they don't care. That's not the case. It's that they care differently and that as kind of cultural bridges, as part of the structure that they're learning to participate in, we have to become to the bridge. We have to recognize what it is about our own school values and culture and experiences and how they might be different from our population. And then work to build that bridge so that we can be more compassionate and we can create an avenue for them to be more participatory.
Native language literacy
Depending on the population, you may want to consider the viability of a native language literacy program if you're in an elementary school. We have solid research that looks at the development of literacy skills in a child's primary language and how that has a long term impact on their academic achievement. It is dependent upon a critical mass in your school, that you have a population that is homogenous in their language. And it certainly easier with some languages than it is with others because of what is available in terms of reading materials, curriculum, things like that. But word is viable; it is a wonderful way to support academic achievement for English language learners.
The other thing that's important to remember is that if you make a commitment to a native language literacy program, it's a long-term commitment. You can't change after a year or so, oh it's not working, you need to be patient, but you also need to be consistent or you will leave these kids in a literacy void. So the literature right now is saying K through 5th grade.
Part II: Assessment
Tapping into prior knowledge
Principals are always talking to each other and to their staffs about how do we maintain high standards for our English language learners. It's extremely difficult to be learning a language at the same time that you're learning content, especially if you have not had the benefit of formal schooling in your home country or you are not literate in your first language. So, what's happening cognitively for many of our, our ESL students is so complex. It's amazing. And just shifting away from the way we look at them from, "Uh they don't speak English, that's a deficit, that's a bad thing."
Well, yeah, we do want them to learn English, but they're already coming with so many experiences that we can tap into. These experiences help them start to create connections with the content that we want them to learn. Sometimes we have to spend more time building background, searching for the ways in which we can activate their prior knowledge, get them connected with the new content, the new situation. But never lower our expectations. They are already so cognitively advanced because they're working in multiple languages. That supports their cognitive development; it doesn't take away from it.
Assessment and English language learners is a huge area of concern and I think with AYP and the pressures for the schools to perform that we're testing constantly. And we need to remember that tests in and of themselves are not very useful unless they can inform teacher's instruction. So balancing some of the mandated exams and tests with a more thoughtful approach, with more authentic assessment, making sure that we are getting as much information as possible about what kids know in their L1.
And what their literacy levels are, what they can do, how they interact with the text, it's going to make a huge difference. Taking writing samples, taking speaking samples, remembering that we're developing language and not just testing reading.
Adequate yearly progress of AYP has increased the pressure on schools significantly and I think there's always good and there's always bad. What we struggle to balance is the need for time for English language learners and to not see gaps in their learning as indications of incompetence or low level abilities, but to look at gaps and needs and to think creatively about how we might meet those needs without just seeing what's missing, without that deficit lens.
If you're only looking at what students don't have and feel that pressure to test, test, test, intervene you know interventions, interventions, interventions, it's very difficult to think about the high expectations. To think about where they can go, you're so focused on discrete points…too much of the testing stops there and too much of our intervention focus is only on decoding. We need to remember that real learning is the ability of students to interpret and interact with the text.
A lot of the research that's coming out about best practices is, focuses on the importance of teaching meta-cognitive skills, strategies particularly in literacy. And to do this, we explain to kids what the strategy is, we model it, we guide them through this experience and then we let them practice it. This philosophy, if you can call it that, is often found in BASALs and so it's a great resource for teachers. The thing that is really important to remember is that the examples, the modeling, the guiding, are sometimes designed for populations that are not necessarily reflective of the needs of the kids in your classroom, there are many programs out there that recognize differences in student's abilities and group accordingly so that they're getting small group instruction at the level that they're supposed to. Many of those assessments are designed for native speakers so that we have to be really careful that when we're assessing students, that we're using materials that are valid and liable for the population that we're assessing.
PART III: Language instruction
It is difficult for teachers to have a newcomer come into their classrooms, I think in particularly about elementary, but also secondary. There's a huge gap in the language of the child and the language of the teacher. How do you bridge that gap? There are many ways to present content concepts regardless of the proficiency of the child and that is usually called scaffolding.
That you're creating a structure that allows the child to move from where they are to where you want them to be, even though they may not have all of the language. We do this by bringing in real life experiences, you know, experiences or concrete items, pictures, we're doing the science experiment first, we're taking the field trip first, we're manipulating objects first so that we have built a background from which to add language.
So if we bring in enough concrete visuals or manipulatives for students, we can present difficult concepts without the language or with limited language. Now of course eventually we want to plug in those key terms so that kids are able to interact with academic concepts. So we do want to teach the vocabulary, but it doesn't have to happen before. It can happen, first the experience, the concrete first, then you build up with that scaffolding later on.
We want to design lessons that increase students' interaction, so that they are talking about these ideas. We're putting them in pairs, we're having them write, we're putting them in trios, in quads, we're giving them lots of opportunity to talk with each other in mixed groups.
Now sometimes if we're introducing concepts, we might want to have out groups all of the same language so kids can use their L1 (native language) to explain to each other, to solidify these concepts, to connect with other information that they have.
But as we're developing language, we want to mix our groups, we want to mix English learners and native English speakers so that there's modeling by peers going on. It stretches the language use of our English language learners. It gets them to practice harder because they are communicating with more proficient speakers. So we're, throughout our lesson design, we are thinking about ways to build language skills and that often happens with purposeful grouping.
When we're talking about language development we need to remember that it is greater than just reading and because of the testing I think we have a tendency to focus on reading, and that's language, vocabulary, and comprehension, and yes, they are part of it. But language development is more, it's greater than that. It includes listening, speaking, and reading, and writing. So as we're helping students become proficient in language, we want to incorporate as much as possible all of those modalities into lessons.
Social vs. academic language
We're always adding to our knowledge base and when we have English language learners I think one of the most important things for us to understand as leaders in a school, is how languages are learned and how they're developed and how learning a second language is different from learning a first language. How being assessed in a second language on content is different than if you're being assessed in your native language.
So understanding about language development is going to make a huge difference in how we design our programs. What models we're going to try to bring in to the school, how our staffing is going to look. All of these decisions, I think, stem from an understanding of what our kids are going through, what they're accomplishing in that learning process and how we can support that.
So there are several different parts to language development that I think are essential and the first one is this concept of BICS and CALP, which is social versus academic language. Kids want to make friends; they want to become part of their school community, and their new culture, their new country. So they're, they're working to engage with each other. That's social language. That's the stuff that they do in the classroom when they're talking about the things that they like and interacting with the teacher and when they're out on the playground or doing activities. This is social language, develops very quickly. And so we can often see 2nd graders talking to us in the hallways or talking to their teachers in a very fluid, and with great description. So there is a tendency to think, "Oh wow, they've learned the language that they need to know and we should be able to see that in assessments. We don't, and why?"
Because there's another thing and that's called academic language. And academic language is different; it's the language of schools, it's the language of textbooks, it's the language of tests. It changes the sentence structure. We don't have as much context for understanding what's happening around us. It's a deeper knowledge of language, vocabulary, how to apply cognitive skills, how to make inferences, draw conclusions from less information, how to look at a math word problem and figure out order. It's the way language is functioning that allows students to make decisions. That's so different; it takes longer to learn and it takes instruction. A lot of social language, kids pick up on their own. If they're brand new to the country, might have to teach them some things. New labels for old known concepts, but academic language we need to teach.
We know that vocabulary development is really important for English language learners. We know the research is very clear about the relationship between the number of words that kids know and their reading scores and their ultimate academic success. So, increasing the vocabulary of English language learners is very important. But it's more than that.
Sometimes we call the actual words, like the bricks, and to build a good solid wall you need lots of bricks. Those are our label words, our, our, some of our content words and concepts. But if you think about a brick wall, you can't just put bricks on top of each other and then lean on it and expect it to hold you up. It falls over. So we need the mortar, we need to teach the mortar. The mortar are sometimes called signal words that help students understand how the bricks work together in a sentence. And there are the small words often that are hard to describe and define but they are critical for understanding and answering questions for comprehension or on tests. Let me give you an example.
"Even though bats have wings, they are not birds." Now, on one level we can just take a look at that sentence and we can bring in pictures of bats and birds and help kids understand the bricks of those two animals. We can bring in pictures of wings and help them understand how wings function and what they are. So we have that kind of conceptual knowledge. But without addressing the mortar, that signal word of "even though," that changes everything because bats and birds are not in the same category, even though they have wings. "Even though" means one thing has a similar feature to another, but they are not the same. That's the stuff that needs to be taught in addition to the bricks.
And I think as, as monolingual speakers, we know these pieces so well we don't even recognize them. So thinking about language development, having conversations with our specialist, our language development specialist, having conversations as teams, looking at texts and starting to deconstruct them, think about what is really happening in this paragraph, in this sentence, that's how we come up with our language objectives. That's how we start to teach and develop language at the same time that we're working on content with students.
Another way to think about academic language functions is to tie it in with Bloom's taxonomy; most teachers are familiar with Bloom's taxonomy. And if you think about the kinds of questions that often go in within the taxonomy, let's take getting and getting information, getting and giving information.
The developing language means helping kids ask and answer "Wh-" questions. Now if you're learning a new language, that's something that often has to be taught. So that would be an example. Another example would be in describing something. If we're asking kids to describe, then yes we have to teach them some of the words that we want to see them using, but we also need to help them understand the structure of those descriptions. So where do the adjectives go? Where do the describing words go? What does it look like in a sentence? If we're asking students to recognize or to provide a chronology of events, like in a story or even in an order of operations. Giving them, making sure that they recognize and can produce sequence words, like first or at the beginning or in the middle, at the end, next, then, finally, afterwards.
That's the mortar that we need to explicitly teach. That's the academic language, that's what really give kids a boost in their academic scores, in their academic comprehension of text. And this goes all the way up to some of the higher order questions and taxonomy. So we're asking kids to synthesize, we're asking them to state beliefs and using stem starters to help, "I believe… because…" or "I think X is such because…" Providing almost a formula for using that higher order language even though their language skills may be developing.
Writing language objectives
One of the most powerful ways to change teacher instruction is to look at content and language objectives. And with the standards, we're in a standards-based movement, we have great state to national standards. So these are available to teachers, they don't have to reinvent the wheel. But they often have to break them down into what is going to be accomplished during a unit, during a week, during a day. And then the next step is to look at the language that's expected of that because everything that we teach kids and expect them to do is through the medium of language. It's listening; it's responding, it's reading, it's writing. So what do we need to do to make sure that the reading, writing, listening, speaking is an open pathway to the content. And writing language objectives and content objectives is one way to keep on track.
Recognizing good language instruction
As leaders in our building, having a strong understanding of language development and how language is learned is going to benefit us as we walk through our buildings and see whether or not the program's working. Where is language instruction happening and where can we help guide and lead it better? So we need to have that knowledge base and know what we're looking for. So as we walk through a classroom, I think they very basic first piece is, are there language objectives on the board? Is the teacher helping students recognize and be explicit about the language that they're going to need in order to access or demonstrate their knowledge of the content concepts.
So that's one place to start. Another piece is what language supports are visually represented on the walls. And I think it's really important to do walkthroughs and kind of remember what was on the wall at one point and if it's changed or not because there is a tendency to have so much stuff up on the walls that students don't know where to turn.
So I think being very mindful and purposeful about presenting visual information that's appropriate to the objective at hand. Another thing is looking at the word walls, word walls are very favorite tools of primary grade teachers. And are they evolving? Do they change? Do they represent words and language that the teacher wants the students to be using for this particular task? I think that's very important. There might be a place for something that's more stable and growing throughout the year, but there also needs to be a way to direct attention for this particular language purpose.
Another way to check about language development is to look for opportunities for students to be engaging with each other or with the teacher, using the language that they're learning and the content concepts. So, that classic idea of being literate, is being able to have a conversation about the topic. So, if you're solving math problems, how is the teacher structuring that lesson to incorporate oral interaction? How is the teacher structuring that lesson to include some writing processing? So opportunities for language interaction are critical.
PART IV: Staffing & Professional Development
The knowledge base of ELL experts
Staffing issues are critical concerns for principals and it's very important to think about the needs of your students when you're making staffing decisions. Not necessarily what makes things easier for the school personnel, but what's best for students. ESL teachers, bilingual teachers, they have special preparation to look at language development.
If you have English language learners, it's critical to have that knowledge base in your schools. They bring to the table a type of awareness that does not happen in general education preparation. So, if we're looking at collaborative models, if we're looking at language development, you need licensed staff.
The expertise of bilingual teachers
It's very helpful to have someone on staff that speaks the language of your ESL population. This can help with all kinds of issues, I mean those are pretty obvious, but that is different than a bilingual teacher. Just having somebody be able to speak a language does not mean that they understand what's involved in learning to develop a language. And think about that with maybe overseas experiences that you have had. Just because you speak English, doesn't mean that you could go to another country and create an instructional program for how to develop language skills in English. You need a particular knowledge base.
The difference between bilingual and ESL teachers
Bilingual programs are very effective and bilingual teachers bring to the table some very specific skills. First off, they understand language development and because they're also content specialists, they are able to support content knowledge of students, keep them up to grade level. And at the same time create bridges into what we call the target language, which is English.
So, they understand how to help students move between both their home language and the language that they're learning, which is English. Recognizing maybe cognates, words that are the same in one language and have similar meanings in the second. How to use their experiences and their knowledge base in one language and build that bridge over into the other. That's a very specialized skill.
If you don't have a bi-lingual program because of your population, an ESL teacher is what helps with the acquisition of a new language; helps recognize what's the best process, what are the structures, the kind of language that develops kind of in an order, although there's not an absolute order. But what's appropriate given the age level, the amount of time that kids have been in the country, their exposure to English in and outside of school? All of that awareness is what the ESL teacher brings to the table to help round out a more comprehensive approach for the English language learner.
Recognizing your teachers' strengths
It's so important to think about the skills that your staff bring to the table when you're looking at quality ESL programs. And to recognize what a content teacher, grade-level teacher, that knowledge base brings as well as your language people. They're different and it's in that coming together and talking about maybe the different sides of the elephant where we actually get to see a comprehensive picture of our proverbial elephant. Language development, content, talking about that, and recognizing, using, maximizing the knowledge base of all of your staff and not just seeing your ESL teachers as extra bodies.
The idea of collaboration is critically important. We want students to feel that all of the adults that they are working with during the day know what's going on, are connected with each other. That is a very different instructional style for a lot of teachers, so there has to be some training on how to collaborate. Teachers are often used to working alone, so how do you now become a team? As the language development specialist, how do I interact with you as the content person? And how do we look at what your objectives are? And what I know about language and come up with an instructional plan that is going to support a language focus in the content. To do that, we have to be as individuals we need practice talking to each other. We need to develop that kind of respect for each other's knowledge base. We have to comfortable with another adult, challenging, questioning, you know all of that good stuff too, supporting and teaming. But it takes time and it takes practice.
And I think from a leadership prospective, it takes accountability. So are you holding teachers accountable to this kind of teaming, this kind of co-teaching, this kind of collaboration? Are you looking at your staffing and scheduling and supporting it in those ways? Are your professional development choices aligned? Maybe there's a coach that comes in and helps with this whole process. The whole idea of collaboration, it's not cooperative teach, cooperative learning. We know that this is a good thing for students, but you can't just expect them to do it, you have to teach them how to work collaboratively. It's the same with adults; we have to teach them how to work collaboratively for the same goal.
Matching professional development to staff needs
I think it's important to remember to try and match your professional development with the needs of your teachers. So, and to not think about being responsible on your own. So look at some of your colleagues. Can you bring together all of your ESL and bi-ed teachers and provide a professional development for them? Can you look at your core content teachers and provide a different kind of professional development for them? Can you look at your specialists and what are the skills and strategies that they need in art and music that are different, and P.E., that are different from math and science, that are different from bi-lingual, that are different from language development. So, collectively gather your colleagues and see what you can do together. What does the district offer?
Don't forget your teacher's aides, your para-professionals; they need staff development as well. The changes that are required for an effective school for English language learners mean that everybody's on board. Everybody has the schools and the skills and strategies to be working with a population that is learning English and content. So be inclusive.
Leading ELL professional development
When we're thinking about professional development for our school staff, I think there are several things to remember. Number one is that change takes time. So, there's a learning curve when you're changing your instruction for a new language group and you're teaching language development and content simultaneously. It takes time. So that means that we have to look at professional development that takes place over a period of time, it's ongoing. It needs to be very embedded into the daily lives of this whole school staff. And I believe that having teachers engage in conversations about their practice is the basis of instructional change.
So using student work, student data to inform instructional decisions. To tape yourself, to have, to watch each other, to go into your colleagues rooms and, and do observations on specific targeting interventions or targeting changes. And talk about these things. This creates a culture of, of accepting change in exciting ways. Its still hard work, it still takes time, but it's a positive spin instead of one more thing to our plates.
ELL professional development for administrators
When there's a newer population in your school or a change in the demographics, getting good professional development is a way to support your staff. And I think it's important for us as principals to go as well, we need to hear what's being said, we need to be able to recognize it again in our walkthroughs. But I think most importantly our teachers need to see that this is important enough for us to clear off some space in our schedules and to be there.
Eyes of students
Regardless of if you're a principal at an elementary, middle, of high school, I think it's important to always look at the day of the child. What kinds of experiences is the student having as they go through their day? And use that information to help you think about your program, think about your schedule and how kids are being scheduled.
So at an elementary level, is there some consistency? I think everybody needs routines, but particularly young children. Do they feel connected to a classroom, to teachers, to students? Or are they constantly being shuffled around? That has an impact. In middle schools and high schools, is there a team where teachers can talk about, they're all serving the same group of students, so students see them themselves as part of a larger unit and that they know who they're core teachers are. Are they being scheduled into courses that they are going to need versus scheduled into courses that are just filling up credits? How are they supported and expanding experiences beyond the classroom? Are they invited to participate in extracurricular activities? Do they see themselves as part of the larger school culture and environment? I think we create that as school personnel, we create those windows and doorways for students to walk through.
Culture of success
A culture of success happens I think on many different levels, leadership is committed. They believe that students can excel their English language learners. And that belief manifests in the kind of professional development that's available for teachers. The kind of professional development the principal attends, so that he/she is learning the same kind of information or even a step in front of the teachers, so that person can be modeling and truly leading.
I think also in programming and staffing, what kind of decisions are being made that really focus attention on the English learner and their ability to be successful. That's not just looking at what they don't have and putting more money into Title 1 resources or into remedial situations, but to recognize how you might be able to use first language.
To recognize how you might be able to draw on the experiences of students and push them forward academically. I think assessments in their first language are critically important in helping determine what tract they are going to be taking. What kind of courses, what kind of scheduling, that's important in elementary where you might be doing teaming across grades. It's certainly in secondary where you're putting them into different kinds of math courses and language arts courses and things like that. So really getting a strong sense of what students are bringing to the school, bringing to the table. That's going to help ensure a culture of excellence and meeting high expectations.
I think also holding everybody in the school accountable for being sensitive, for having high expectations, for assuming responsibility of English language learners. It's not just the bi-lingual staff, or the ESL teacher's responsibility, it's the whole schools. Everybody expecting, accepting responsibility for language development.
I think it's so important to remember that as the principal, we create the culture, we create a culture of acceptance, of understanding, of openness, of challenge definitely, or we create a culture of indifference. And just our beliefs are going to have a tremendous impact on the success of English language learners.
Dr. Cynthia Lundgren is an English language development specialist at WIDA. Previously, she was an assistant professor at The Center for Second Language Teaching and Learning at Hamline University's Graduate School of Education in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Lundgren teaches future ESL and Bilingual teachers. Prior to working at Hamline, Dr. Lundgren worked as a K-12 ESL teacher in schools around the U.S. and in Colombia. She taught in Minneapolis Public Schools and served as a mentor teacher for ESL teachers new to the district. Her special interests are reflective practice and the development of cultural sensitivity.