Increasing Collaboration Between ESOL Teachers and Content Teachers with the CCSS: A Principal’s Perspective (Part 1)

The topics of the changing role of the ESL teacher and reframing teacher collaboration during the implementation of the Common Core State Standards have been near and dear to us on our blog.

This new three-part series looks at the steps one diverse elementary school took to increase collaboration between ESOL teachers and grade level teachers in order to better meet the academic language needs of ELLs in their school. In Part 1, Jennifer Connors, principal of Rolling Terrace Elementary School, describes the impetus for the move towards greater collaboration and how they got started.

Other posts in this series:

Our School: Rolling Terrace

Rolling Terrace Elementary School is located in Takoma Park, Maryland in the outskirts of Washington D.C. and is part of the Montgomery County Public School District. It is a pre-K through 5th grade Title I school that serves approximately 850 students. At our school, we place a high value on students"; home languages and cultures and we also house a Spanish immersion program. Over 60% of our students at Rolling Terrace receive ESOL services. Many others are former ESOL students who have been reclassified (exited from the ESOL program) but still have academic language needs.

Why a Change was Needed

In the past, the ESOL teachers at Rolling Terrace provided services to ELLs during the English Language Arts block supporting the Language Arts curriculum. During marking period planning meetings with our staff, our teachers began to notice the language demands that were present in other areas of the curriculum, not just in Language Arts. In the past, each grade level teacher was responsible for providing an overview of a specific subject area to the teachers on the team. While this planning structure addressed coverage of all subjects, it failed to address the language demands of the curriculum for ELLs. When teachers returned to the classroom to actually teach the curriculum, they realized that the language needs of their students had not been addressed through the planning structure. This was particularly true for math and science teachers who received little to no direct support with their ESOL students.

A Vision for Increased Collaboration

As principal, I was challenged by my staff to state a clear vision and plan for collaboration to unify ESOL teachers and grade level teachers. My vision included the role of the ESOL teacher as a leader on each grade-level team supporting all content areas, not just language arts. By stating a clear vision and promising guidance and assistance, all teachers began to speak a common language of support for ELLs across content areas.

Getting Started: "Dipping a Big Toe In"

We began the process of working towards this vision of collaboration in 2013-14 first with the upper grade teachers (grades 3-5) with the expectation that the primary grades would begin the following year. By adapting a process for marking period planning that we observed at another Montgomery County public school, we were able to include ESOL teachers in the planning, keeping our ELLs"; strengths and needs at the forefront of the discussions. We set the expectation that all ESOL teachers would begin collaborating with content teachers and providing content support, even if it meant just "dipping a big toe in" to try it out. Many of our ESOL teachers were experienced teachers who had only supported ELLs during the language arts block and were reluctant to change. We conducted teacher surveys throughout this process to measure progress and to identify areas of support needed.

Next Steps

As we began to focus on 2014-15, the approaching new school year, we had opportunities to bring new staff on board who shared our vision of collaboration between ESOL teachers and grade level teachers. We continued to support all staff members on this journey of collaborative planning and examining the language demands of all content areas, but having new staff who were on board from the start has really helped. This year our focus has been on our PreK through second grade teachers. It has been exciting to watch the collaboration occurring during the newly designed marking period planning sessions, but it is even more exciting to see ELLs receive direct support from ESOL teachers in all content areas.

To Be Continued

In this blog post, Jennifer Connors shared her vision for the role of the ESOL teachers in her school and some of the challenges and strategies used in working towards greater collaboration among the teachers in her school. In our next two blog posts, we will hear more about these collaborative efforts from the perspective of Kerri Hennelly, a staff development teacher and Tessa Arevalo, an ESOL teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School.

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