My Collaborative Journey: An ESOL Teacher's Perspective (Part 3)

This blog post is the third in a three-part series about the steps one elementary school with 60% ELLs took to increase collaboration between ESOL teachers and content teachers in order to better meet the language needs of ELLs in their school. In the first post in this series, Jennifer Connors, the principal of Rolling Terrace Elementary School, described why the school made the move towards greater collaboration and how they got started. In the second post, Kerri Hennelly, a staff development teacher at Rolling Terrace, explained the collaborative planning process that they use. In this third and final post, Tessa Arevalo, an ESOL teacher at the school, provides her perspective on the collaborative process.

Other posts in this series:

Finding a Professional Home

I have been an ESOL teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School for three years, and before that I taught in another public school district for three years. Since coming to Rolling Terrace, I must say that it has always been a very collaborative and professional environment. I remember one of my first conversations with a classroom teacher I worked with during my first year. She grabbed my arm at some point during one of our pre-service meetings and with a grin said, "I've got the perfect spot for you in my room." I immediately thought I'm "home," in a professional sense. She and I shared similar goals for our ELL students — they would master both content and academic language. This idea that we would work together in the same space to help our students reach these goals was pretty foreign to me. But, I knew this was exactly the kind of environment that I needed to be in.

I am fortunate to be part of a diverse team of twelve ESOL teachers at Rolling Terrace. We come from varying backgrounds and have different perspectives on the how to collaborate with our classroom counterparts. I often say that we are on a "journey" in our collaboration. It would not be honest to say that this journey has not come without many challenges, but through these challenges, we grow, adapt, and learn how to improve the collaborative process.

My Collaborative Journey: Some "Rugged Terrain"

Traditionally at Rolling Terrace, strong collaboration has existed among language arts classroom teachers and ESOL teachers. Working with English language learners and improving their proficiency levels seemed so natural in a language arts classroom. However, last year, the expectations for collaboration were increased to include the math and science teachers. Our journey now includes bringing collaborative efforts to these new content areas. Working in math and science classrooms involves more rugged terrain than in the more traditional language arts classrooms, especially for an ESOL teacher who is more familiar with the systems and curriculum within the language arts. We ask a lot of questions: "How can we incorporate more reading and writing in math?" or "How much of a math skill should be used to teach the academic language of math?" We listen. We try new strategies and new ways of building academic language while working on critical math and science skills.

My Role

As a small part of our team, I am "on the journey" in the fourth and fifth grade classrooms. I work with reading, writing, and social studies for both grade levels and with math and science for fifth grade. Every week I am challenged with extracting the academic language demands of the content we will be covering. For example, in math, it might include using such language as "partitioning (a denominator word like ‘fourths') into equal parts" to explain how to find the least common denominator. In reading and writing, it might include using comparative language such as "a greater challenge than" or "less challenging than" to compare details of the Lewis and Clark expedition. These examples illustrate the rigorous nature of the content, and so I frequently rely on the amazing classroom teachers I work with to guide my planning and to provide resource suggestions.

What Collaboration Looks Like For Me:

Collaborating with several classroom teachers looks like this for me:

  • Sharing language appropriate texts or excerpts for reading lessons,
  • Emailing frequently about individual student progress and needs,
  • Discussing the specific academic language that we should be aiming for or using,
  • Editing or scaffolding assessments or projects,
  • Planning to co-teach lessons with appropriate language goals in the four language areas (reading, writing, listening, speaking), and
  • Planning to co-teach small groups that incorporate specific language goals.

Planning meetings, both formal and informal, are the crux of a great collaborative team. There are times when I walk out of a planning meeting and euphorically think that we've conquered the world. Yet, there are times when I walk out of a planning meeting with more questions than I had when we started. Collaboration can be a bit messy, but we have to go through this to reach our end goals.

I have found that good collaboration is only as good as the professional relationships surrounding it. It's okay to disagree. It's also more than okay to laugh, smile, and reflect about both our successes and struggles. It's critical to trust that my classroom counterpart is listening to my ideas and I am listening as well. Valuing our varied levels of experience as well as our different lenses is at the core of a strong professional relationship.

Collaborating with Other ESOL Teachers

There has also been strong collaboration among the ESOL teachers in our building who have been working in these math and science classrooms. We started our own professional learning community and meet regularly to discuss teaching strategies, best practices in the classroom, and how to make the language of math and science more comprehensible to our English language learners. These discussions are extremely helpful because they guide our own expectations for the language demands across all grade levels. Through this process, we work together to understand the scope and sequence of math curriculum across grade levels, and are able to isolate the language and concepts that will guide our lessons within each grade level. We continue to move cautiously and respectfully into the new space of math and science. Student success is at the core of our journey, and we continue to move forward. It has not been an easy journey, but it is an important and productive one.

Final Thoughts

In this final blog post in our three-part series on ESOL teacher and content teacher collaboration, ESOL teacher Tessa Arevalo provided us with a picture of her unique role in the collaborative process and what collaboration means to her. We would love to hear from you about your thoughts on the collaborative process used by Rolling Terrace and what collaboration looks like at your own school!

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