Let’s Not Stop With Pockets of Excellence!
Dos and Don’ts for Supporting EL Teachers
By Katie McCluskey and Hector Garcia
Schools throughout the country engaged in the PLC at Work™ process have been creating effective teams focused on student learning. However, all too often we have seen these schools struggle to establish meaningful collaborative experiences for EL teachers. Too often, EL teachers are either being left to work in isolation, expected to serve on too many teams, or placed on teams in which members have very little in common. Despite the uniqueness of an EL program, there are several ways that a school leadership team can create structures to overcome the inherent challenges and avoid the traditional pitfalls. The following ideas can help ensure that your EL teachers receive the support that is required to become members of high-performing teams and pursue excellence throughout the school.
Challenge: EL teachers work collaboratively with mainstream teachers.
Don’t: Add an EL teacher to a mainstream team and assume that meaningful conversations and work will naturally emanate.
Do: Help focus the discussion on the work that mainstream and EL teachers share. For example, EL and mainstream teachers can focus on content and language objectives of lessons, academic language necessary for student success, and how to advance the language demands for all students. The WIDA Consortium has done a great deal of work focused on the relationship between the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the widely adopted WIDA standards for ELs. More information concerning the overlap of the CCSS and WIDA standards can be found at www.wida.us.
Challenge: EL teachers teach only one level of EL (i.e., I, II, or III).
Don’t: Foster a culture of isolation in your school.
Do: Ensure that EL teachers teach multiple levels in order to develop teams that share content. While it is often easier to assign teachers a grade or language level, this practice often fosters a sense of isolation and independence rather than collaboration and interdependence. Therefore, work with your EL teachers to develop a schedule that has multiple EL teachers teaching the same level (e.g., Every EL teacher teaches at least one EL I course). While it may never be possible to ensure that every EL teacher teaches at least one section of a specific level, the work that is common will undoubtedly help the effectiveness of the team and ultimately the academic performance of the students.
Challenge: Only one teacher in the building teaches all the EL courses.
Don’t: Place the EL teacher on a team with certified staff members who share little or nothing in common.
Do: Seek to develop multiple opportunities for your EL teacher to either develop interdisciplinary or electronic teams. In some schools, interdisciplinary teams have developed common learning targets and assessment tools in order to establish the sort of focus and interdependence that characterizes every effective PLC. Over the last few years, teachers have also found numerous ways to connect with other EL teachers via different electronic mediums. In The School Leader’s Guide to Professional Learning Communities at Work ™, Rick and Becky DuFour point out opportunities for singletons to establish meaningful collaboration through the use of Google Docs, Moodle, Skype, iChat, Mikogo, Twitter, and VoiceThread.
Challenge: Develop a comprehensive elementary schedule that incorporates the needs of ELs and effective collaboration time for staff.
Don’t: Let the schedule dictate your school’s ability to establish meaningful collaboration.
Do: Look for ways to ensure that ELs are able to receive focused instruction, appropriate interventions, and exposure to the mainstream curriculum while having time for EL teachers to collaborate. For example, create an elementary schedule that allows EL teachers to pull their students out for instruction during a set block of time (e.g., the social studies block). This could be achieved by staggering grade-level schedules so that all content times are at different times throughout the day (e.g., second-grade social studies at 9 a.m. and third-grade social studies at 1:45 p.m.), which naturally creates blocks of time for EL teachers to pull ELs for direct instruction. This also creates the ability to carve out targeted intervention and enrichment times for all students at each grade level, while EL teachers are available for ELs with the greatest needs. (See table 1) This schedule will also allow EL teachers to be placed on grade-level teams where they can collaborate with mainstream teachers. In addition, EL teachers are provided with a common plan time to collaborate on vertical and horizontal alignment of the EL curriculum.
As Hillard once wrote, “If we embrace a will to excel, we can deeply restructure education in ways that will enable teachers to release the full potential of all our children.” Therefore, let’s continue to pursue excellence!