Héctor García

Héctor García, PhD, is superintendent of Plano District 88 in Illinois. He has been an educator for nearly 20 years, serving as a teacher, principal, and district administrator in a variety of school settings.

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. 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!



Thank you for your article on Do's and Dont's for EL teachers. My school is very dedicated to a professional learning community and as grade level teachers we are very intentional with our collaboration. I appreciate your article and insight on including EL teachers. My school does not have certified EL teachers but we do have 2 classified staff members that are highly qualified and are our EL "teachers." The article was spot on that we need to include these professionals in our PLC time. They service many of our students, they are part of student learning and should be included in the process of looking at student work to drive instruction and assessments. Thank you for your article and your encouragement to reach out to more then just my grade level team.

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I enjoyed your article on Do’s and Don’ts for EL Teachers. I have been an ESL teacher for the last 6 years at an elementary school. The first four years were hard because I felt isolated from the rest of my colleagues. I also had a very hard time preparing a schedule where I could work with my ESL students. The problem was that most of the teachers wanted me to work with them during their ELA time. This became an issue because the ESL population in my school is very large and many of the classroom teachers were teaching ELA at the same time of the day. The other problem is that the ESL students were spread out all over the school. The last two years have been wonderful because I am able to have much more flexibility with my schedule. My principle has allowed me to work with the students during their library and computer time. This has given me much more time to work with the student’s and it does not interfere with the academic classes. I still give them time on the computer and they are given some time to check out books from the library. So they don’t miss out completely on these classes. They also have the option to check out one of my books since I have a good selection of bilingual books to read. I feel that now there is more communication with teachers since this schedule has been implemented. They are sharing more information to help improve the learning of the student and how I can help them. Collaborating together we can work toward the common goal which is student learning.

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anthony grazzini

We are a large urban district that has embraced the notion of ensuring that teachers of English Learners teach multiple levels. This has had a positive effect in your ELL/Modern Language program. As a result of this approach we have established vertical teams in our buildings and course alike teams in our district. In addition to the increased collaboration and interdependent relationships that resulted from our team structure, an unintended benefit has been improved outcomes for students. Teachers are now more responsive to students needs and are able to more quickly respond to student growth as it is reflected in common assessment results. Through the use of the PLC model and creation of mirrored assessments we can make informed adjustments to students schedules to support their accelerated acquisition of English as evidenced in the exam data. Therefore, by working with our teachers to develop a schedule that allows for multiple ELL teachers teaching the same level, we are able to respond to students needs adjust placement in a much more expedient fashion.

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In the past 6 years, one thing has dramatically changed nationally. Because of required reporting related to NCLB's Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), English Learners have reached everyone's "radar screen". This article addresses a critical missing link for genuine integration of English learner (EL) issues into the mainstream. 1. ESL teachers are often left out of critical mainstream discussions as so aptly presented. 2. The few venues available for their integration (and opportunities to address their students needs and even strengths) have been grossly overlooked. This article underscores several natural, low cost interventions to minimize ESL staff isolation and to initiate and sustain an "informed" school-wide dialogue to better serve this population.

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