Advocacy for ELLs: Event Archive & Resources
Our first Facebook Live event featured Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner and Colorín Colorado Manager Lydia Breiseth discussing advocacy ideas for English language learners (ELLs). You can find the video archive of the event here, along with related resources mentioned in the chat.
This Facebook Live event was made possible by generous support from the National Education Association. For additional ideas on ELL advocacy, take a look at the NEA guide, All In! How Educators Can Advocate for ELLs.
You can see the video archive of the event below. All questions and comments from the live chat are available on the original post.
Recommended Books & Guides
The books on this list include a wide range of practical ideas for advocating on behalf of ELLs, as well as tips on developing leadership skills and encouraging a shared sense of responsibility for ELLs with colleagues and administrators. The booklist includes Diane Staehr Fenner's groundbreaking book, Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, published by Corwin Press.
How can educators and other stakeholders become more effective advocates for language-minority students? This National Education Association guide offers strategies, resources, and step-by-step instructions for navigating the real-life issues educators encounter every day. The guide also features general educators and ELL educators who tell stories about the students who inspired them to act.
Articles & Blog Posts
Advocacy & Leadership
- ELL Advocacy: Selecting the Right Issues and Audiences
- Essential Actions: 15 Research-based Practices to Increase ELL Student Achievement
- Policy and Accountability Requirements: Survey for Reflection and Action
- Three Strategies for Equitable Assessment of ELLs
- You Are Already a Leader: Identifying Your Leadership Skills on Behalf of ELLs
- Your Role in the Common Core: Advocating for ELLs (Part 1)
- Your Role in the CCSS: Advocacy Action Items (Part 2)
Examples of Advocacy
- Building Bridges Through Storytelling: What Are Your Students' Stories?
- Keep Asking Until Someone Responds: How a Small Question Had a Big Impact
- Reflection Questions for Teachers and Students: A School Year Like No Other
The Role of ESL Educators
- Serving English Learners with Disabilities: How ESL/Bilingual Specialists Can Collaborate for Student Success
- ESOL and Special Education Collaboration: A Teacher's Perspective
- A Word Beginning with "T": "Maestra"
- A Hidden Language: Supporting Students Who Speak Mixtec
- The Over- and Under-Identification of ELLs in Special Education
- Some Myths Regarding ELLs and Special Education
- Using a “Can Do” Approach to Ensure Differentiated Instruction Intentionally Supports the Needs of Language Learners
Getting to Know Your ELLs
- Empowering ELL Parents & Families at Home
- Getting to Know Your ELLs: Six Steps for Success
- Learning about Your Students' Backgrounds
- Making Your First ELL Home Visit: A Guide for Classroom Teachers
- The Diversity of English Language Learners
What It Feels Like to Be a Language Learner
- Over- and under-identification of ELLs with disabilities
- Learning more from ELL families on student background
- ELLs with special education needs are entitled to both ELL and special education services
- Some clues to the difference between "Difference" and "Disability"
Highlights from Mason Crest Elementary School
- Interview on collaboration with ESL specialist Katy Padilla
- Strategy: Pre-teaching science content and vocabulary
- Professional development idea: A lesson in another language
- Interview on collaboration with co-principals Diane Kerr and Brian Butler
- A Message To Inspire Women To Lead: Own Your Awesome (NPR)
- National Board of Professional Teaching Standards: English as a New Language Standards
Complete Transcript with Links
Lydia: Hello, everyone! We are so excited to be here for our very first Facebook Live event on Colorín Colorado, and today we have the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner. She's going to be talking about advocacy for English language learners. Many of you who visit Colorín Colorado regularly will know Diane as our blogger – she's blogged a lot about Common Core, college- and career-ready standards and other topics as well, so we're really excited to have her here with us today.
This is the first event of a new series of Facebook Live events that we'll be doing this year. The rest of the events will be in the new school year, in the fall, so stay tuned for all of the times and topics and everything that we'll be including in the fall once we get going in the new school year.
And we want to take a moment to say a special thank you to the partners that we work with so closely, the National Education Association has made this series of Facebook live events possible and we're really glad that they were looking for an opportunity to get some more interaction with our audience, so thank you to the NEA. We also want to take every opportunity we can to thank the American Federation of Teachers, the AFT, that we've worked very closely in developing content on our site for as long as we've had Colorín Colorado, along with our AFT ELL cadre, a wonderful group of advisers to the project, so thank you to both the NEA and the AFT that have made this event possible.
So Diane, I'm ready to jump in talking about advocacy and one thing that I wanted to make sure that our audience knew is that you have a great book about this called Advocating for English Learners and at the beginning of this book, you tell a story about a little boy named Jose and his teacher and this kind of planted of the seeds for your advocacy work, so I wondered if you'd be able to share that story with us.
Diane: I sure will. So when I was, one of my first teaching assignments in the United States after having taught abroad was working with a rural community in the southeastern part of the U.S., a community where we had a lot of Latino students, a lot of migrant workers, former and migrant workers, who, current migrant workers and former ones who decided to stay in the area and this boy was in fourth grade and he was about getting ready to take a state content test the next day. I was on the playground with his teacher. We were watching the kids and she kind of said to me, a little half-jokingly, half not, "Hey, is there any way that you can keep Jose home from school tomorrow?" and I was like, "Why?" She said, "Oh, it's the, it's the state test," and that really made me think, you know, there are so many inequities and I'd been seeing this kind of, you know, all of that year of teaching in that location and it really hit home for me how this little boy had tried so hard all year long and the teacher had tried her best too to help him demonstrate, you know, what he knew and what he could do, but still the test was not a valid measurement of what, what this boy knew and could do and it obviously did not define him, his score did not define him or the teacher, and so Jose did not stay home from school. He went to school, he took the test, but it's just opened my eyes even more to, you know, the inequities in the areas that we need to advocate for our English language learners.
Lydia: So fast forward from that moment all the way to the point at which you decided you need to write a book. How did the book come about and how did your growth and your journey happen along the trajectory in terms of thinking about this idea of advocacy?
Diane: Sure, so yeah, many things definitely occurred between when I started working in this community with Jose and his other classmates and also when I had the idea for the book. It was kind of a, you know, a journey that took multiple pathways. At the time, when I was thinking about, you know, advocacy, I didn't really have a name for it, so it's just something I did as a teacher because I saw, you know, I really wanted to give the students and their families a better chance to develop their own voice in their education, but I didn't have a word for it. It was just what you did because you were a good person and you really wanted to help the students, so, and I wasn't trained in this, I had no idea when I became an ESL teacher that advocating was going to be such a big part of my job, you know, not only knowing strategies and research and standards but also really, you know, fighting for the kids when they needed someone to be on their side.
So the path to become an advocate, to write the book, I then, after working that community I was in Fairfax County Schools, Virginia which is the tenth largest district in the U.S. again, working as an ESL or English as a second language teacher and there were other, you know, there were other ways in which I was advocating there, also on the side I was helping out TESOL International Association revise their professional teaching standards for teachers for colleges of education so at the university level and also while I was revising those standards, I was also working with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards who are revising their professional teaching standards and both of those sets of standards had a new focus on advocacy, and I started seeing themes kind of between my own work, you know, in the classroom in rural community, in Fairfax, Virginia, and also with the two sets of professional standards where advocacy was kind of bubbling up to the surface and it was, I was beginning to really see myself and what I did in those standards.
And it kind of all came to a head when I was presenting at a TESOL conference in Denver, Colorado, and I was mentioning how in the new standards advocacy was a focus and a professor raised her hand and she said, "I have a question. I teach a course, you know, I teach this course and I'm at the university level. Advocacy is a focus; what book can you recommend to me that was, you know, that will really drive home this idea of advocacy?" and I thought and I said, "There is no book," so I walked to meet my colleagues for lunch in a snowstorm in Denver, I was very pregnant with my third kid and I turned to my colleagues and I said, "I'm going to write a book about advocacy," so eventually it happened; it took a while, but it came to be.
Lydia: Well, I was at that conference and I was stuck in that snowstorm and it took me awhile to get home that weekend; I remember that event so that's great. And I think, I'm sure for all of you who are watching, this is ringing true because we know that people who work with ESL students, English language learners, have been advocating for them for a very very very long time and it's just taking those actions and those, sort of that little extra mile, that little push and as you said, putting a name on it, and putting it into a format that people can start seeing themselves in what they're doing and if I'm not mistaken, the professional standards that you mentioned are sort of getting updated as we speak and there's even an increased focus on advocacy. Is that right?
Diane: Right, it's definitely still a focus but it's becoming a bit more nuanced in the next version of the TESOL standards which will be out this fall. People have provided a lot of comments on them already but yeah advocacy and leadership and professionalism are definitely, you know, coming even more to the forefront where teachers recognize and, you know, professors who are working with pre-service and also in-service teachers to be endorsed in ESL are recognizing the importance of advocacy and also collaboration.
Lydia: And how do you see, we just wrote this article about leadership for Colorín Colorado on the blog in terms of what role an educator of ELLs plays and the title we chose is "You Are Already a Leader," because I think a lot of times especially with something like leadership people think if they're not in the position, if they're not in the role, they're not the leader, but in fact they're they are leaders, they are advocates. How do you see the connection between the two, between the leadership and the advocacy?
Diane: Right, right, so in kind of, you know, working more in the advocacy space, I began to realize, you can't really fully advocate without drawing from your leadership skills and I feel like, you know, we're kind of our own worst critics in a way because we don't always, I, personally I'll speak for myself, that, you know, I tend to focus on what I didn't do well instead of really flipping the narrative and focusing on what, you know, what effects am I having, what kind of a positive impact am I having on students and on, you know, with my colleagues, so and part of that plays into recognizing that we are all leaders in our own ways and really, you know, seeing the steps we're making and kind of hitting the pause button and reflecting on, you know, what have I done well, how am I really empowering myself and other teachers and our, especially our ELLs and their families and so leadership and, you know, recognizing what you bring to the table is a big part of that and also seeing, you know, where are there areas what I might need to develop some more leadership skills or might need to collaborate further with my colleagues to draw out their leadership skills so we can all do this together in the name of really benefiting our ELLs.
Lydia: Another thing you talk about is your "elevator speech" so that you sort of practice the way you talk about what you do, so that you can communicate it about it about effectively, especially to administrators and to colleagues and to people may not have a sense of what you do and it seems like particularly for people who are working in the ELL field, that is a skill that really needs to be developed so that people have a better understanding of what they do. What was it that brought you to this idea of the elevator speech as a way to capture that?
Diane: Right, well it's kind of looking at basically the patchwork quilt, if you will, that's a term that John Segota from TESOL coined of teachers' certification requirements for ESL teachers across the United States, it's very different depending on what state you're in, with some states not even having ESL requirements if you're an ESL teacher, or credentialing requirements, which kind of blows my mind a little bit, but really there's such a wide variance across and also within school districts and states in terms of what it is that the ESL teacher does, so I feel that it's important for ESL teachers to really take a minute and define, write it down, jot it down, if you had 30 seconds to describe what it is that you do to practice that with your colleagues with administrators, to really let your expertise shine through because many times, as you said, administrators might not have a, you know, 100 % clear idea of what it is that the ESL teacher does and what expertise that teacher brings, through no fault of the administrator's own of course, it's just, you know, it can be very varied as state policies change, district policies change and there are many different program models and ways that ESL teachers can interact with students and also with their colleagues.
Lydia: And we had talked about sort of practicing those conversations, having those conversations, first with colleagues to say, you know, how do you see my role? What do you understand in terms of my work and so you can get that sense and then maybe even with a, with an ESL leader, an ESL director, someone who has a little bit of that sense, but let's say you've done that now you have a better sense and you want to approach an administrator because you really feel like "Gosh, the principal in my building just doesn't have a good idea of what I do." Maybe you're new to the building, maybe the principal is new to the building or maybe this just has not been on people's radar and maybe your ELL population is increasing and everybody's paying more attention, or maybe it's not – you just have a handful of kids, but you feel like they're just not getting what you need, so once you sort of have an idea in your own mind of what you want to communicate, how do you then take the next step of communicating that to your administrators?
Diane: Yeah, that's a really good question. There, you know, definitely several ways you could go about it; one way would be to invite the administrator into your classroom and let them see or your, you know, follow you along with your cart or wherever you may be, if you're an itinerant, hop in the car with you and take a drive, and see exactly what it is that you're doing and I think through that context, that would be the ideal way to communicate, you know, what it is that you're doing and, you know, also another way could be just, you know, setting up the meeting or, you know, taking your administrator, bring them a cup of coffee and talk about, you know, what it is that that you do and have given them a chance to ask any questions, because they might be a little embarrassed in a way not to know 100 % what it is that you're doing because your role may be changing, especially as demographics change, as students move in and out as the type of students, you know, may vary from, a lot of districts might be getting newcomers, refugees, students with interrupted formal education or SIFE students, so it, you know, what you're doing could be changing at a very, you know, kind of frequent basis.
Lydia: So then let's expand it. Let's say you want your rest of your colleagues to have a better sense or maybe just your grade level team, maybe not necessarily the whole building or maybe the whole building; what is the next step that you could take to say, "Okay, I've started talking to my administrator; I want them to have better idea, but now I want my colleagues to have a better idea because I think maybe this will help a little bit with collaboration." What are some ways that people can share their role in terms of the rest of the team?
Diane: Yeah, the rest of the team. Definitely, it could be conversation, first of all, you know, getting a sense maybe a little even little survey or a little, you know, kind of informal meeting of them, sharing what they do and also what is it they think that the ESL teacher is doing as well just to get someone else's perspective because we also may not realize all the things we're doing, especially through someone else's eyes, so I think that would be an important first step as well and for the ESL teacher to share all of the expertise she sees or he sees the content teachers bringing.
Lydia: One idea that that reminds me – you had mentioned the itinerant teacher; we interviewed a teacher from Washington DC and he said at the beginning of every year, he sends a letter to his colleagues introducing himself because he knows he's not going to be in the building all the time so he explains what he does, he explains some of the ways that they can work together and he kind of outlines some very concrete strategies and I think that's actually a great idea for all educators of ELLs, not just the itinerant ones, that can say here's some way so you start planting the seeds in terms of where they can go from now.
We have some great comments here and someone named Nancy says, "I love your book, have plans to present it this fall, so excited for this event – wonderful and we love Colorín Colorado." Michelle Campbell Benegas says, "We love Diane at Hamline University in Minnesota," so Diane your fans are writing in, which is very exciting.
Diane: That's nice.
Lydia: One other topic in terms of working with your colleagues with your collaborators is this idea of empathy; this is something you also talk about your in your book in building empathy for ELLs and again it's something it sounds like a great goal, but what does that look like in practice? How do you make that little more concrete?
Diane: Right, I think, you know, first of all, just the recognizing the need for empathy is, you know, kind of the big first step, especially right now in our political climate where that level of empathy, you know, may be diminished among some, or some people see this as an opportunity to let their true feelings, whatever they may be, shine so definitely developing empathy is, you know, a very big goal and there are many ways you can approach it, even just moving the needle a little bit and I feel like through storytelling that's really a way to have others, you know, sense, have a sense of why, why people have come to the U.S., why immigrants bring such a rich experience and language and culture and also try to get a sense of what some of the struggles may be like. You know, I try to empathize but again, you know, having lived abroad it was a very different perspective of, you know, someone who's working, who's literate who, you know, just has a lot of privileges that many people may not have so just developing those empathy skills are super important.
I talk about some ways, you know, in the book, some ways to develop a little bit of empathy of what it might feel like to be an ELL is to, you know, teach a class in another language or just some content and do it in a way that many of our ELLs face is just, you know, a lot of lecture and without a lot of support or scaffolding or visuals, for example, just to see, you know, what's it like even for five or ten minutes, and that, in doing some professional development last year to a district in New York, I did that with a group in German and, you know, and at the end of the whole year of us, you know, working with them on professional development coming back all the time, one teacher wrote that was just the most, you know, impactful moment of, you know, that of the whole year of professional development, was feeling what it might be like to be an ELL ,it just really opened that, you know, high school teachers' eyes.
Lydia: You speak German yourself –
Diane: I try, yeah. I'm pretty rusty at this point. But yeah, I do. I lived in Germany. II have a Master's Degree in German.
Lydia: So you could really deliver something in another language and you have a math problem if I'm not mistaken –
Diane: I do.
Lydia: – a geometry problem in German. So you can even get a sense of what it looks like to be presented with a math problem where you see some figures and some shapes that maybe look familiar but you have no idea what the vocabulary is and you have no idea what the question is actually asking.
Lydia: Again this comes back to that idea that something like math is a "universal language"; well, maybe you think that in terms of numeracy and working with numbers, but we know that our, especially in our math assessments, they are very language rich, they're very language heavy and there are a lot of words that are used that have multiple meanings and as well as phrases and different ways to say the same thing so I think that's a great example.
I know another teacher at Mason Crest, Kimberley Matthews, who also speaks German and she did a similar event and so it's a great idea to find someone if you yourself are not fluent in another language, perhaps you can find colleague who is who could deliver just a very brief mini- lesson to colleagues just to get a sense of what that feels like, right, and where, you know, how do you feel?
I actually wrote an article about this on our, on Colorín Colorado, I took a museum tour in Spanish, in Ecuador.
Diane: I remember this.
Lydia: And my husband is from Ecuador and so we were on a tour and it was a fascinating museum and I was so excited and I'm fluent in Spanish, you know, I thought, "This is going to be great, I love museums, it's going to be wonderful" and I just missed something and I was, I lost it completely I lost the train of where it was going and as the tour went on, I just checked out and I went, and I started taking photographs. And there were all these things that would have helped, there were bilingual signs, I could have asked my husband if we had had time, I could have, there were there were scaffolds that were there but I didn't have the time because in we were part of, a it was a bigger tour day so we were it was just one short event so we had to get through and it was just interesting to watch my own feelings of starting out really enthusiastic about this museum tour; by the end I was completely on my own and honestly I thought, "What if I had been taking a test about this?" I couldn't have answered. I remember in particular there was a word "bobbin," now that is not a word that I know in Spanish, I know "thread," I know how to say "cloth."
Diane: A lot of people don't know that in English, what a bobbin is.
Lydia: I know weaving. Yeah, so I thought, but that was kind of central to the process they were describing so,
Lydia: In any of it it's I think it's instructive to having experiences where you can feel that level of frustration and yeah that kind of alienation that a student might feel.
Diane: Right and even if you don't have a live person to give a little lecture, there are videos that you can find that are out there and I believe some organizations have them as well that you can have of someone delivering a lecture for example in Mandarin, so if you don't, you know, the next best thing if you don't have a live person to do it is to find a video clip and kind of debrief about it that way, what did the experience feel like, what could that teacher have done to make it a little more accessible to you?
Lydia: Absolutely. And we have a comment from Noel, who, I'm sorry from Norm, who wants to make sure that the audience knows we're talking not only about just ESL teachers but about bilingual teachers who also provide instruction in the home language so that builds on this question of delivering language through, so thank you, Norm.
Diane: Right, especially is or dual language programs become more prevalent across the U.S. My own kids are in dual-language programs as well so I get to see this firsthand.
Lydia: So coming back to this question of advocacy, I know that one of the ways that you start in your book is talking about the importance of really getting to know your students as a first step in advocacy and that might not be where people automatically go when they think about, "What am I doing to advocate for my students?" But why, especially with ELLs, but why is that piece so important?
Diane: Yeah, it's definitely, you know, when you're advocating you really need to know where the students are coming from because it is such on a case-by-case basis, depending on students' backgrounds or education level, socio-economic levels, they may need more or less advocacy at certain points, and that it's always going to be changing. So I talked about in the book the concept of scaffolded advocacy, where you really need to know each student's background in order to provide that amount of scaffolded advocacy so, you know, in instruction, we want to scaffold our instruction for English language learners or dual language learners and provide them just the amount of support they need as they're developing their language skills with the goal of removing that support, so it's temporary, the same thing for our scaffolds, for our, sorry, our advocacy, that we want to provide temporary advocacy support with the goal of ELLs and their families being able to advocate for themselves as they develop more skills and more language skills or more advocacy skills in general and so to be able to provide the right amount of advocacy and the right type of advocacy, we have to know who our students are and where they're coming from.
And, you know, a great way to do that is through home visits, so getting to know the families personally; we might not have all the time to do that and it shouldn't be just the ESL or dual language teacher or bilingual teacher or a very caring content teacher or social worker doing that all by themselves; it needs to be the community and we need to really, you know, work with others and collaborate so we can be, you know, fanning out and really being able to interact and support all of our families and students.
Lydia: Excellent. Well, I'm just going to take this brief moment to say thank you to everyone who is watching, we're not ending, it sounds like we're about to end, I just want to thank those of you who are tuning in and say we're happy to take your questions and comments. I'm Lydia Breiseth, the manager of Colorín Colorado and this is our first Facebook Live event with Diane Staehr Fenner, talking about advocacy for English language learners, so for those of you just tuning in, you'll know what you are seeing.
Now you just had mentioned collaboration, so this a really interesting and important topic and you had mentioned that yesterday, you were just doing some professional development in Syracuse and you got a question from someone who said, "I know how important it is to collaborate with other educators on behalf of my students but my administrator has not given us any extra time to do so, so what can I do to support and advocate for my ELLs without that planning time and is there a way that maybe we can start working towards a schedule that incorporates that a little bit more?"
Diane: Right, right so that was a really good question that came up, so I was in Syracuse, New York yesterday working with educators from across the region through an educational organization there in that area and, you know, there are definitely different stories, again comes back to stories, with some teachers saying that, you know, they're given common planning time, they have planning time before school, common planning time during school, and afterschool even to get together and collaborate but, you know, they're also, the flip side of that is as there are very many schools and I would, you know, I would dare to say probably more on the side that do not have that common planning time. Sometimes we see it more built in with special ed and less built in with ESL, so, you know, it's upon us to advocate for ourselves and to try to get that planning time but, you know, it's good question, what can you do when you don't have that common planning time and your administrator might not think that's as important yet so, you know, there are definitely ways and, you know, one person in the professional development session said, "Well if you don't get your administrator on board just forget it. It's just kind of dead on arrival," and I thought, "Well no, that's not true."
And so, you know, I asked others there, "Well, what can you do, you know, what can you do to kind of flip this narrative and really have your administrator more on board or if they're not there yet, you know, what can you do on your own to, you know, take charge of the situation?" and so I always, you know, bring it back to the teachers, you know, they're the ones with the answers, they're the ones with the best practices to share. And they say, you know, if you don't have kind of that space built in you can be, you know, as start you can be texting each other at night; others have used technology so they're sharing lessons on different platforms and well ahead of time so even if they're not meeting face-to-face, they're chiming in, they're using for example Google, you know, Google Docs, Google Drive to do that to share their lesson plans where, you know, the ESL teacher can provide some scaffolding can, you know, comment and provide that way; maybe if it's dually identified ELLs with special needs, the special ed teacher can be providing comments and suggestions that way.
So there definitely, you know, hacks, there workaround for the situation where it's ideal to have that planning time but maybe then, you know, after you've kind of done this on your own on the sidelines, you could then, you know, meet with your administrator and show them all the work you're doing behind the scenes and maybe that administrator could be swayed to give you some, you know, collaborative planning time built in through the day or the week anyway.
Lydia: So that's great and I think that's where sort of understanding people's roles –
Lydia: – is important so that your colleagues see the benefit of working together with you and we had talked about how, you know, sometimes teachers of English language learners or bilingual teachers are sort of treated as a volunteer really in the room to help with some administrative tasks and their full range of knowledge and background and expertise is nowhere near being used to the level that they can offer and so I think that is where having some background on what that role is and then starting with those simple strategies can build. And I think it's an example of starting small, right? Just because the entire school is not a professional learning community, doesn't mean you can't collaborate and just because the administrator hasn't set the time, if you sort of start looking for some small ways maybe that begins to change the culture slowly; as you said once you have some successes, then you can look for those opportunities.
Diane: Absolutely and I totally believe in starting small. We wrote that about wrote about starting small in our recent blog post together on leadership just, you know, taking those successes and kind of gaining some momentum from them and building to something bigger is really important, I think.
Lydia: And then when you get practice talking about them and you can sort of show some examples and then you're advocating, you're leading.
Lydia: And you're potentially opening the door for collaboration. I think that can really go a long way.
One concern about collaboration, and I know this is true more so in certain parts of the country than in others, but one concern is that, "I don't want to collaborate myself out of job." I still have a role to play so what would you say to somebody who is concerned about starting that relationship, giving some of their colleagues some extra skills and then feeling like, "But now it seems like my skills might be obsolete"?
Diane: Right yeah, there definitely is concern as some, you know, districts as some states specifically move to more collaborative models, you know, what the what then, you know, if you're not pulling the kids out for, if you're not pulling out ELLs for separate instruction and you are in a more collaborative environment, you know, how can you make sure that you maintain your skills and you keep, you know, you keep your position; I think there's always going to be room and always definitely a big space for ESL teachers' expertise and it's important to really show what, you know, what you can do and what you know, it especially, you know, areas like a culture, academic language, the community piece is so big, to really again go back to demonstrating and having those opportunities to really highlight what it is that you're bringing what skills you're bringing and, you know, we don't want to toot our own horns in a way too much but you do want to, you know, point out subtly to teachers, you know, when you're collaborating, you know, what the scaffolds are, what the strategies are that you specifically as the ESL teacher or the bilingual teacher might bring to the playing field and really highlight those.
Lydia: This morning on NPR, I was listening to a story about a woman who had been on one of the winning U.S. women's soccer teams and she talked about how so often, we want to check all the boxes before we put our name for something, we want to make sure we have absolutely every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed before we take that next step and I think that's, and she was saying but we get in our own way because by the time every box has been checked, we have moved on, or the opportunity might have moved on and so I think it's just useful to think that, you know, there may be enough there to really have an impact even if, in your mind, the checklist isn't completely filled out.
Diane: Absolutely, absolutely and I think our own, you know, our own culture has to do with that, you know, our personal culture and also, you know, to be honest, I think gender has something to do with that where, you know, women maybe a little less inclined sometimes, depending on the woman, men might be too, but to really put their name out there until they feel like they've really met all the criteria so it's a personality thing as well.
Lydia: And that was the context to say generally it's women who want to get all those boxes checked off and so we don't necessarily take the step forward, so it's, I think it's a useful reminder.
We have another comment about empathy. Nancy says "Our graduate professor from Puerto Rico did a hands-on lesson to develop empathy for ELLs in French about sink or float with real props such as a bowl of water, a button, a piece of paper, pennies," so interesting to sort of take those concepts and give something tangible. And Jan says, "Yes! Community! (exclamation point) Culture! (exclamation point) Academic language! (exclamation point)"
Diane: Go, Jan! Thanks!
Lydia: We're speaking Jan's language. Karen Nemeth, who is a great friend, and wonderful collaborator and an expert on language in early childhood, wants to know how do paraprofessionals fit into this picture?
Diane: That is a great question, Karen, especially, you know, in some states I've worked with recently, in some conferences I've attended where often times if you can't fill an ESL teaching position from a certified teacher, a paraprofessional will take over and be in that position, so paraprofessionals definitely fit into this conversation and also giving them the advocacy skills that they need, and also giving them a chance to develop sometimes, you know, the confidence to be able to lead and to work and to collaborate and to be sure, you know, clear on what everyone's roles are, and also what they could be; our roles aren't static right they can be, you know, dynamic and changing and recognizing all the strengths that paraprofessionals bring.
I recently did some observations of students, of ELLs, in Pennsylvania in a district and they had a phenomenal paraprofessional who is a native Russian speaker who has a PhD in physics, okay, she's a paraprofessional and so the ESL teachers definitely recognized all of the skills that she brought and that she, you know, they gave her a chance to shine and they let her use the language skills because a lot of the students are native Russian speakers there and so it was just phenomenal to see how this paraprofessional's role had been elevated and it's our it's our job it's our, you know, as decent, good human beings to really allow others to rise up and to help it happen.
Lydia: And in terms of policy, I think there are some districts that are looking at the path that paraprofessionals have to their teaching credential or to their certification, right, and so that can is essentially another area for advocacy and saying how easy is it for that phenomenal paraprofessional, if she wants to take the next step in teaching career to get certified, and the rules vary from what I understand in some cases it can actually be very very difficult and very expensive to take that next step, so that seems like another area where educators can be looking for advocacy.
Diane: Right and sorry to butt in, but it just makes me think of this one phenomenal teacher, Jesus, in Syracuse City School District, you know, very high poverty system, he's bilingual teacher and one of the best teachers you've ever seen honestly and he was a paraprofessional and so he moved up into that teaching role and he's just ready to take on the world; and he's a wonderful teacher and advocate, so also a native Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico just like, you know, many of his students, so it's great to see, you know, to see that happen.
Lydia: That's great. Well, thank you for tuning in. This is Lydia Breiseth, the manager of Colorín Colorado and we're here on Facebook Live talking about advocating for English language learners with Diane Staehr Fenner and, you know, thinking about the role of the educator who is working with ELLs, one project that we have been working on again in collaboration with the National Education Association is talking about what does collaboration looks like on behalf of ELLs and we had the opportunity, I had mentioned Mason Crest Elementary School in Annandale, Virginia1 where we had the opportunity to visit and to film some of their teacher meetings and some of what they're doing, and in that case they really are a professional learning community that is set up absolutely throughout the whole building, starting with the principals and the school was created as a professional learning community.
And the way that their meetings work, they have planning meetings during the week and the ESL, everyone is attending, so all the specialists, all those classroom teachers and so the ESL teacher (Katy Padilla) is there to be listening to the conversation, looking at the lesson, is this taking ELL needs into account? For example, in one of the meetings in which we were observing, the question was going to be, to start the lesson, "Where have you seen this word before?" and she said, "I would change that to, 'Have you seen this word before?' So we don't want to start the lesson with kids already feeling like they're behind." The other great thing that she did was take lunch hour to do some extra previewing of vocabulary words and concepts and so by the time the kids got to the lesson, they already had a little bit of a leg up on it and it really, you could see they were very confident in what they did, so looking for places where you are taking the expertise of the teacher and then you're moving forward and building upon it.
So I want to move to another topic that I know you get a lot of questions about, which is special education and advocacy and it's – we could do a whole series of Facebook Live events just on this topic, but I am curious to know what are the kinds of questions you're hearing from educators. What are their real concerns when it comes to advocacy?
Diane: Right and so this is kind of, you know, coming off the heels of doing a wonderful day working with teachers yesterday on this topic, teachers and administrators on, you know, the idea, you know, of finding students eligible, ELLs eligible for special education, and then if they're found eligible, what kind of instructional strategies do we use so, you know, the questions we still get, this is, you know, questions I would get in Fairfax County Schools, you know, when does special education kind of trump, for lack of a better term, ESL services and, you know, there are times when certain people think, "Oh it's an ELL who's dually identified; they need the special education more, not the ESL services."
Well that's, you know, that's not the case and that they should be provided access to both types of services, so that's, you know, that's a big question we tend to get. Also another question that I tend to hear is, you know, "I, in our district and, you know, for a while maybe we over-identified, you know, ELLs for special education; now the pendulum has swung the other way, but I really, I have this kid that I think really might be having something else going on, so how can I convince, you know, our local screening committee or, you know, our committee that meets to discuss these needs? How can I convince them to take a deeper look at this student?"
So those are some questions, you know, that we see that, you know, things, we look at the data, you know, we really want to discuss trends, what's happening and, you know, what can we do to correctly and appropriately identify students and, then if, if warranted then, you know, provide them supports that they need, you know, throughout their instructional day, so it's still, you know, really a big need for advocacy still, you know, there's still a lack of bilingual psychologists, and you know, highly qualified interpreters and translators especially in an area where, you know, that can really have detrimental effects on students either way if they're over-identified or under-identified.
Lydia: So for that question of how can I convince my team to take a deeper look at the student, what would be some ideas or strategies you would recommend?
Diane: Yeah, definitely as far as strategies go look at both languages, so look at, you know, proficiency and development in both languages to the extent you can. Compare that student's trajectory and their results in English language acquisition and or, you know, performance and content areas with students with similar backgrounds to the degree possible. So don't compare Johnny to Jose, compare Jose to Maria or whomever, looking at kids from, you know, with student backgrounds that are quite similar and also definitely looking at data and, you know, showing the numbers, but also attaching a story to the data. So we go back to our story theme again, where, you know, what does this mean, looking at the student's background and trying to put the pieces together of what kind of, you know, background do they have, what kind of education, were they schooled in the home language? If they were, was it a quality schooling or not, so these are, you know, definitely some factors to consider. So I definitely want to give a shout-out to Lynn Shafer Willner at WIDA, who's written some articles for Colorín Colorado, who's looking more into this issue as well.
Lydia: Yes, and that's WIDA, we're here at Colorín Colorado is based at WETA of Washington DC, and we also interviewed Lynn. We have a great interview with her. We also have an interview with Debbie Zacarian and she talks about this idea of the pendulum and that there's an overcorrection and then there's an overcorrection in both directions in terms of over- and under- identification and what is missing there is what do the students need and so just because you have been doing it in one direction, doesn't mean that going in the other direction is fixing that problem; really the central question is what do students need and are you working together in a team so that you bring different areas of expertise.
And one my favorite stories comes from a book published by Caslon press and I believe the title is Special Education Considerations for English Language Learners and it talks about a student who is having some trouble with some reading sounds and so the teacher asks the bilingual colleague to come and say "Would you just take a look and observe and see what you notice?" and so they're going around and doing their activity and the teacher says, you know, "I need a word that begins with 'T'" so someone says "tree" and someone says "table" and the little boy raises his hand and says, "Maestra" and so she kind of looks over at the bilingual colleague and to say, "See what I mean?" and so the bilingual colleague pulls her aside after class and says, "'Maestra' means 'teacher' in Spanish," so this was a little boy that potentially was on track to be identified as special education.
Now another language-related example that we've heard about is at a school called Wolfe Street Academy in Baltimore, Maryland and they were having a lot of identification of special ed kids who spoke Spanish. Turns out these were not actually Spanish speakers as their first language. They spoke Mixtec, and given the feelings about the language, it's something that the families themselves weren't proud of, it was sort of a stigma, so they hadn't told anybody they spoke Mixtec, so the school didn't actually know that this was a language group that they had and again once they realized that the assessment that they thought they were helping the students by giving in Spanish was also not identifying, then they regrouped and they also started talking with the families about, "You know, this is your language, this is part of your children's identity and culture, and let's, you know, see if we can find someone who might speak a little Mixtec in front of a couple of people" and they they made it part of the culture.
Now on the other hand you have, as you were saying, the case where the child needs to be in ESL services or needs to have, you know, three to seven years of language instruction before we test them and then you end up missing it so I think that question of it's not that one size is going to fit all here and the question is does the child have the services they need and as you said, students who qualify – I think you can't say it enough, is students who qualify for both ESL and special education have to have both services
Lydia: One does not take priority, and also putting ESL students in special education is not necessarily helping at all.
Lydia: It's not a comp- it's not an, it's an apples and oranges kind of thing and there may be some overlap and some scaffolds and we like to say what's good for ELLs is good for everybody but I think also that idea, you know, "Well at least they're getting some attention," or "At least they're getting something" is not an effective approach to that.
Diane: That reminds me of the story of where, my company, SupportEd, we just launched our first online advocacy course for ELLs in the spring and one of the, you know, we had participants from all over the country, it was a great community, we're going to do it again this summer in this fall, run the course, as one teacher that we had just commented once in one of our discussions that, "Oh yeah, in my district they place all ELLs in kindergarten in special ed," and we were like, "Whoa, stop the presses! Hold on. Back up. Did you really just say that?" So that was, you know, a huge, because they, at this district they figure, "Well at least that will get them some services," but, you know, so we were able to, that teacher then was able to advocate and, you know, help to turn that situation around so, it's kind of saying that.
Lydia: You know, some of these are sort of case by case, student by student, teacher by teacher, but it's absolutely true that some of these practices are very widespread and they can go to a school or to district. The example that you gave at the beginning in terms of "Can you keep Jose home on test day?" I believe, and I hope I'm getting this right, Linda Darling Hammond talks about this in one of her books2 about some data that was showing that either at a district or a state level there were efforts to keep ELLs home that were very planned and organized to keep ELLs home on testing days, so it's not just a kind of a casual comment on the playground; it was actually of organized to have that impact, so these issues, it may feel like one person, "What can I do?" but sort of starting to take these little steps really can make difference.
We've been talking a lot about stories and the importance of storytelling and that is particularly relevant right now in this climate when you're trying to feel like how can people understand each other's situations and perspectives a little bit better and you had shared a story with me about storytelling and I wonder if you just mind sharing that with our audience.
Diane: A story about a story.
Lydia: A story about a story.
Diane: Yeah, yeah, so I was in Oklahoma, Central Oklahoma speaking at a conference this spring – that's the story you're talking about I hope –
Lydia: That's the story. That's the right story.
Diane: Okay, and Laura Grisso who's the, I hope I get her title correct, she's the director of ESL in Tulsa Public Schools, was talking about the power of storytelling and her husband is actually, I believe he's a teacher or, you know, they are this great Tulsa power couple that he's in education, wants to support ELLs and she's the ESL director and he told the story about his wife being at a church event and then fellow parishioners talking about the impact of immigration and refugees and so he noticed that there was a lot of negative sentiment, but Laura Grisso told the story about a family and a family's kind of place and struggles and the her husband was able to see like a little shift, a little small difference in the kind of a "Huh, I hadn't thought about it like that before," so giving, you know, giving a human face to a situation and making it about one person really can be very powerful and helping people maybe not, you know, shift their views completely but maybe see things in a different way.
Lydia: And what was so powerful about that, I think, is that what she later saw in a classroom, from what I remember, was that some students were then sharing their stories and she was seeing the impact of those stories and so she sort of had this moment like, "Storytelling, this is about storytelling," so advocacy can be telling a story.
Lydia: And based on that, we were able to follow up with her and we're going to have an article about this topic coming up soon so I'm really excited that she was willing to share that with her. Again, we should say it was her husband who brought this to Diane's attention. She was not tooting her own horn here but her husband stepped forward and thank goodness he did, because now I think a lot of people are going to benefit from that and think about in a way where you don't want to be confrontational, but you have a perspective on these students and on these families that are really unique and special.
And I think, one of the points if I remember correctly was that she talked about how a child whose parent is detained won't have a chance to say goodbye to that parent and for whatever reason that really blew this man's mind; he just, he thought that there would be some kind of meeting where they would come together or they would have something and there was something just about the emotional impact of that that I think really hit home for him, and so you just you just don't know –
Lydia: – what is going to resonate with somebody, but I think in this time when, when the educators in the building who are working with English language learners are the ones who sort of know them best that's a really interesting role.
The other story that we heard recently is a teacher who responded to us on a survey and we had said, you know, "What are you doing to support your immigrant families, we want to hear?" and she said what I really want to know is what I'm allowed to do because this is a big question: "What are my district policies and I don't want to put my job in jeopardy. I want to help my families, I don't know what I'm allowed to do." So I followed up with her by email and by the time I followed up with her, she had been scheduled for a meeting with the superintendent of the school district because she was asking and asking and asking and she wasn't getting any answers from anybody and finally someone said, like, "Let's just set up a meeting."
I'm not sure who took the initiative to set up the meeting but she got to that point; she started the meeting by sharing some student stories. The superintendent hadn't quite understood the full impact of what was happening and how it was having an impact on the families and he said, "I fully support what you say you want to do. I think we should clarify this for the district-wide staff. I don't want the press here, so I want to kind of keep it on the DL, but I do support what you're doing," and I thought it was so interesting because here was a case where she was thinking that maybe she wasn't allowed to do something, but it was just a question of, the superintendent hadn't quite focused, zeroed in on it and hadn't wanted to do anything that was inflammatory but when presented with the situation and her ideas, he decided that this was actually something that could be very helpful for families, that in fact he really did want to be supportive, and I thought this is such an amazing example so here she, as an individual classroom teacher, was going to have an impact on the entire school district and potentially on the families on what was going to happen, so I think these again with the power of the story the power of the personal example can really go a long way building those bridges and helping people find how do we work together on behalf of students.
Diane: And hopefully some listeners are getting some ideas if they haven't done it already.
Lydia: Absolutely. I think so and, you know, one idea that I am having as we're talking is that all of these great resources I'm talking about, we'll put in link on a page you can see them from our website and if you want to see that video with Debbie Zacarian or you want to see Laura's article about storytelling, you'll be easy to find so we'll make sure that's included in this post.
Diane: That's one of the many, many things I love about Colorín Colorado is that how you just you recognize and you celebrate what great things are happening out there and so people can read from that and get inspired to do their own work or to build off something that that they reading about here or share their own story.
Lydia: Thinking in terms of what's coming next year, people are looking ahead to the coming school year, do you have any last tips as people are sort of planning their, you know, maybe they're feeling like, "Okay, I have just been sort of going day by day this year," it's been an unusual year to say the least, it's been of something coming at people every day that's new, taking a little bit of time for some reflection over the summer, but what advice would you have as people think about, "Okay, what do I want to do next year? What's the role I want to play on behalf of my students next year?"
Diane: I think it's really important to take a few minutes, or maybe longer than a few minutes, and really reflect on, you know, what you've done well what can you, you know, what can you focus on next year, try not to do too much try to, you know, have goal in mind that you think you can accomplish and, you know, kind of looking at what your sphere of influence is and where how wide that can be what kind of an impact you can have and look to an area where you think you can, you know, make it more of a difference or have good chance to make a difference and really try to map it out, you know, set up plan set up what are your milestones, what are your objectives, when do you want to accomplish them, what kind of timeframe are you looking at, and who do you need to collaborate with and what will, how will you know when you're successful?" So I think just kind of closing down the year with a plan and kind of revisiting it over the summer and looking at it again, you know, in the fall will be, you know, it would be a good way to end the year in a reflective way and, you know, really gear up for the next school year.
Lydia: That's great, and I would add who are your allies.
Lydia: Because if you can make some partnerships and you can take a plan to your principal with, as a team and I think that might help, and who are your allies in the community, if there's a particular immigrant community maybe you're looking at and you want to be figuring out how can we strengthen our relationships, who are the people who know that.
And speaking of reflection, we do have a great new article about reflecting on the year and really going beyond the typical end-of-the-year questions because this was a hard year in other words for a lot of people and it was a year that just required people to sort of be at the top of their game every single day without quite knowing what to expect and what would happen ,for all students, really, right so just taking moment to say, "Wow, what are your, what have we accomplished, you know, what opportunities have come and what are the things that we can have in place next year?"
We're going to be wrapping us our chat pretty soon but were there any other final things or thoughts that you wanted to add as we wrap up?
Diane: Well just, you know, want to give you an opportunity thank you for all that, you know, you have done and Colorín Colorado has done to really spread the word about advocacy and about collaboration in support of ELLs and I also want to thank you for the new foreword that you've written for our new book with my colleague Sydney Snyder so, you know, I really want to thank you for all of the support and really, you know, celebrating teachers' successes and bringing those to the forefront and also, you know, all in the name of supporting our wonderful ELLs and their families.
Lydia: Well, it's my pleasure and I do have your book here because I want people to know that it's been published, it's published by Corwin Press; this is Unlocking English Learners' Potential and what is particularly special about this book for me is that a lot of it came out of the work that you and Sydney did on our blog, so as you were hearing from people that this particular strategy was helpful or this particular idea was doing really well, that took on a life of its own, and then you were able to present it in professional development and eventually compile into book that has great ideas on collaboration, scaffolding, differentiation of instruction, and so it was really a privilege to be able to write the foreword knowing that it came from that process and that place and so I am also grateful for that opportunity.
Thank you for all the amazing work you've done and for those of you who don't know the story behind Diane's blog, when the Common Core State Standards were released we noticed that there were these little efforts of on behalf of English language learners here and there and there was the, what was the document called, it wasn't an addendum, it began with an "A", it was them it was there was one for special education rights, and one for English language about –
Diane: About a three-page document, yeah.
Lydia: Right, it was, and so we started seeing there was a PowerPoint here and then there was a statement here and then there was only a little bit of a blog post here and eventually that started picking up and so I thought we really need to know what's happening on behalf of ELLs because the ELL community was working really furiously to try to figure out how do we make this work for our students even though the official standards hadn't quite address their needs and so I thought, "What we need is blog, a place where we can just put up quick update," and so I called Diane and Diane said, "I've already keeping track of all this and I don't have anything to do with it; I've been making these bookmarks and taking these notes and I didn't know why I was doing it. Now we have the answer," so that's what it became, and as more college and career-ready standards like the Next Generation Science Standards have come out, we've just expanded that and it's really been a great, great collaboration and it led to this book which is exciting and to this chat. So I think that will pretty much wrap it up for here.
So we want to again thank our partner the National Education Association for making this event possible as well as our future events that are going to be coming in the fall; we're going to have some fabulous topics and guests and I won't give them away yet because we're still confirming, so I want to make sure we have it all confirmed before we publicize but you can be looking for a number of these events in the fall in new school year and also as always thank our partner the AFT, the American Federation of Teachers, and for those of you who love Colorín Colorado it's because we have these partnerships with the AFT and the NEA, because we are in contact with so many teachers, so many people in the field who have been in the classrooms for a long time and have really practical actionable ideas that they can say, "Well, that's not quite the way we would do it," or "That doesn't sound too realistic to me," and so that's that's really the secret to our success or all of the wonderful teachers and the families as well who have contributed their ideas over the years.
So we want to thank you for tuning in to this event and we will look forward to seeing you and as always you can reach us at [email protected]. You can also follow us on Twitter or on Facebook if you're interested to see what's coming up; we have a monthly newsletter where we send out our events, what's going on. One other thing I wanted to mention is that every morning we post headlines from around the country about ELLs and ELL stories and then on Friday we send a news blast that has all the stories from the week so that's a great way just if you're interested in seeing what's happening in other places, in other districts and other states, it's a great way to keep up with it so we have a lot of different ways to connect online and as I mentioned our monthly newsletter to see what's our newest content and what's coming up so as well as the blog posts, we sort of we go up and down with how often we post there but it's still there and all of that great content is available.
So thank you so much fortuning in today we will look forward to seeing you in our next event, Facebook Live, and I think that's a wrap, so thank you for being with us today and as we mentioned at the beginning there will be an archive of this even there on Facebook as well as on our website so you can share it with your friends who don't have a Facebook log in necessarily but there will be a video available for those of you who want to share it in another place so thank you so much for joining us today. We'll look forward to seeing you in our next event and thanks for joining us.
1 Mason Crest was the recipient of the first ever DuFour Award for professional learning communities in 2016.