From the NEA: All In! How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners

Several of our blog posts have focused on advocating for ELLs across many areas of implementing the Common Core State Standards for ELLs. For example, we’ve recently published a three-part series on collaboration between ESL and grade level teachers in implementing the CCSS and on supporting ELLs with computer-based CCSS testing.

The National Education Association has also recently published a practical, online ELL advocacy handbook. In this post, I’ll give an overview of the NEA’s new All In! How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners handbook, to which I and our guest blogger Sydney Snyder had the opportunity to contribute, and will then describe the five advocacy steps outlined in the handbook. Next, I’ll use a specific CCSS scenario to walk you through and apply the five advocacy steps. Finally, I’ll leave you with some questions about prioritizing your ELL advocacy in the next school year.

Overview of the All In! Handbook

The All In! How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners handbook, published in March 2015, came about after a series of steps that the NEA took demonstrating their commitment to advocating for ELLs. The NEA convened a diverse group of 40 educators in 2013 for an ELL Advocacy Summit with the primary goals of defining advocacy in relation to educating ELLs and strengthening the educators’ capacity to advocate for ELLs. A second goal of the summit was to use the summits’ findings to inform the development of All In! I was fortunate to have helped facilitate the Advocacy Summit and contributed to the writing of the findings from the summit (a document titled I Am an ELL Advocate!) as well as the All In! handbook. This work also dovetailed with the spirit and content of my Advocating for English Learners book.

This handbook is organized into eleven chapters:

  1. Listen Up!
  2. Why Advocate for ELLs?
  3. Advocacy in Action
  4. Curriculum Access and Language Rights
  5. Educator Training and Preparation
  6. Partnering with Families and Communities
  7. Fair School Funding
  8. ELL Advocates Speak
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. Resources
  11. References

Each of the handbook’s core chapters offers educators a set of practical strategies they can use as starting points for a particular ELL advocacy issue, a real-life school scenario depicting a common challenge faced by educators, and a step-by step description of five action steps they could take to address the issue described in the scenario.

Five Advocacy Steps

The handbook is framed around five practical advocacy steps. The Five Advocacy Steps and Description Table outlines each step and provides a brief description of it.

Five Advocacy Steps and Descriptions

Advocacy StepDescription of the Step
1.       Isolate the issueClarify the source and root of the issue with the goal of identifying concerns in the immediate environment and gaining insights about broader, external factors.
2.       Identify your alliesTo effectively advocate, you must foster relationships with others who bring a wide variety of perspectives and who may not share your beliefs.
3.       Be clear on the rights of ELL studentsHave a clear understanding of the policies and laws that are in place to protect ELLs and their families; this knowledge empowers you to advocate from a position of what is ethically right and legally right.
4.       Organize and educate othersRemember you are not alone, and create opportunities to share what you are doing with others, taking advantage of community events to discuss the issues impacting ELLs.
5.       Identify your outlets for changeConsider asking these questions:• What can I do in my classroom?• What can I do in my school?• What can I do in my district?• What can I do in my community?• How can I collaborate with other non-school-based communities?


An example of Using the Five Steps to Advocate in Implementing the CCSS for ELLs

Let’s take a look at how the five advocacy action steps can work with an authentic scenario.

Scenario: Your elementary school began using a reading program in English at the beginning of the school year. The program is said to be aligned to the CCSS. However, while the program may indeed be CCSS-aligned, it does not provide any scaffolding or supports for ELLs. Teachers feel that they need to “stick to the script” and cannot offer any additional support to their ELLs.

  1. Isolate the issue: You discover that the district made the decision to adopt the reading program, and this decision was based on the need to provide a program to all students that was aligned with the CCSS in English Language Arts & Literacy. ELLs’ strengths and needs were not considered during the rollout of this program.
  2. Identify your allies: You know that other ESL teachers in your building are concerned that ELLs aren’t getting the specialized support that they need to access the program’s curriculum. You also know that the grade level teachers you collaborate with think their ELLs are falling behind native English speaker and aren’t meeting the CCSS. You’re not sure if your principal is aware of these concerns.
  3. Be clear on the rights of ELL students: You know that Lau v. Nichols ensures ELLs be given equal access to an education. In this case, ELLs are not getting the specialized support required to receive equal access to the reading program. Even though the reading program is aligned to the CCSS, it does not provide enough assistance to ELLs in order for them to meet the CCSS at their grade level.
  4. Organize and educate others: Together with your ESL and grade level teacher allies, you share your concern for the need for ELLs to have scaffolded support of the reading program with your principal. You offer and model practical suggestions for adding this scaffolding (such as creating text-dependent questions scaffolded for ELLs) that does not detract from instructional time and that will likely benefit all students, not only ELLs. Your principal is encouraged by your suggestions.
  5. Identify your outlets for change: Together with your principal, you convene a group of grade level and ESL teachers for a week during the summer to develop some scaffolds to support ELLs with the reading program at each grade level. Your principal then makes plans for you to share these scaffolds at your district-wide in-service day in the fall so that teachers and ELLs in other schools in your district can benefit from them.

Prioritizing Your ELL Advocacy Next Year

Hopefully the NEA’s practical ELL advocacy handbook has resonated with you and has helped you isolate an advocacy issue you’d like to focus on in 2015-16. What is that issue? Who are your allies, and how will you advocate with them on behalf of ELLs? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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