Leading for Language

This article appears in the January/February 2017 edition of Principal magazine.  All rights reserved.

English Learners: A Principal’s Handbook

Kelly Reider and Christopher Wooleyhand

Kelly Reider is coordinator for English language acquisition at Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Christopher Wooleyhand is principal of Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

How are schools currently meeting the needs of English language learners? Let’s take a look at the numbers. From 2003 to 2011, 600,000 new English learners entered schools across the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The gap on the NAEP reading assessment between fourth-grade English learners and their peers is 36 points, also according to NCES. Plus, in a 2013 study, the California Dropout Research Project found that English learners are twice as likely to drop out of school than those with English proficiency. Given these concerning statistics, many educators across the country are anxious to find comprehensive ways to support English learners. These five suggestions are a starting point for schools looking to make a difference in the lives of students who are just beginning to master the English language.

Focus on developing academic language. No student is a native speaker of academic language, the vocabulary and grammar we use in school to talk about academic content. For more and more students—not just English learners—there is an increasing gap between the language that students use socially and the language of school. Even though students may be highly intelligent and capable, they may still struggle in a school setting if they have not yet mastered certain terms and concepts. Schools need to assist students with understanding the differences between “formal and informal language and how to express themselves and their ideas in expected ways,” according to The Great Schools Partnership. Principals can:

  • Work with staff to identify the academic language requirements of their curriculum and provide not only content objectives but also academic language objectives in their lesson planning.

Encourage teachers to focus on all three levels of WIDAs (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment) features of academic language: vocabulary usage, language forms and conventions, and linguistic complexity. Teachers can provide sentence frames to teach students the target language and to scaffold their use of academic language.

  • Provide opportunities for interactive speaking activities that support student-to-student practice with structure and vocabulary, since oral language development is the precursor to literacy.
  • Make academic language development a schoolwide focus. Encourage authentic and meaningful opportunities that simulate real-life learning via project based learning, communication for a purpose, and the immediate application of academic language skills. Teachers can and should model academic language daily.

Offer comprehensive professional development. “Drive-by” professional development—those one-time sessions of sharing tips and strategies—are not effective for building a lasting culture of language development. Ongoing, job-embedded programs and planning builds staff buy-in and gives teachers the time and space to improve their efforts. Principals can:

  • Encourage teachers to participate in PD about English learners that combines face-to-face sessions, coaching, modeling (live and video), team planning, and professional learning communities, as well as online formats for book studies or discussion between sessions.
  • Give teachers the freedom to choose from a variety of resources and strategies according to their personal background and skills as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” approach
  • Provide professional development on English language development for both content teachers and English teachers. English language learners spend most of their day in mainstream classrooms.
  • Use teacher planning time to jump-start collaboration by having teams work together on classroom plans and projects.

Provide structures for ongoing collaboration and job-embedded professional development. Your English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher is not just a valuable resource for students, but also a language development expert with much to share. Make it clear that you support the role of language experts. Principals can:

  • Showcase the knowledge of the ESOL teacher at staff meetings by having him or her be part of a grade-level teams and by having them take a collaborative planning role.
  • Provide opportunities for co-teaching and co-planning as a professional development tool. Content and language teachers can share their knowledge through planning and delivery.

Foster a culture that values relationships, equity, and diversity. Schools should see diversity as an asset and home language skills as an enrichment. Encourage your staff to be self-aware of the way their own background, relationships, and assumptions may interfere with relationships and learning in a diverse classroom. Principals can:

  • Use videos and/or book studies to generate conversations with your school community. Some options are: The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande; La Bestia, a film about a child’s journey from Central America to the United States; and Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Judith Blohm.
  • Conduct bus tours of your school neighborhoods to allow teachers the opportunity to identify available resources (churches, recreation centers, clinics, library, athletic fields). This may prompt valuable discussions on the impact of the community on student attendance and achievement.

Promote parent involvement. Research shows that one of the most accurate predictors of a student’s achievement in school, regardless of income or social status, is how a child’s family fosters learning in the home and how much they are involved in their child’s education. In their 2011 book, Home-School Relations: Working Successfully with Parents and Families, Glenn Olsen and Mary Lou Fuller found that the dilemma for many schools is how to involve parents in their children’s schooling amid language barriers, immigration status, and work schedules. Principals can:

  • Knock down barriers to English learner parents’ attending school functions by providing interpretation and translation at all parent meetings and events. Arrange child care, provide food, and offer events at different hours of the day to attract parents who work different hours or perhaps several jobs. Offer transportation to school meetings or take the meeting to the community at recreation centers or churches.
  • Create focus groups of parents to hear their concerns or needs. For schools with one large English learner community, schools can provide targeted community sessions, such as a Hispanic Parents Group, which would give ownership to parents to set their own agenda around school issues. Schools can make sure that all parents are connected to the school communications via email and phone access.
  • Encourage English learner parents to volunteer. Consider each parent’s strengths and how each can contribute in his or her own way. Many English learner parents feel uncomfortable in classrooms but are willing to help during lunch or monitor students at recess. Principals should make it clear to parents that it is natural to feel uncomfortable at first, but to stay involved. Provide a contact person that EL parents can go to for questions and concerns.

Closing the achievement gap and lowering the dropout rate must be a priority for school districts across the country. School leaders should recognize that the best strategies for English learner students are also highly effective strategies for all students. Schools that are strategic in their planning will find that the more we address the academic language needs of their English learners, the more successful all students will be. This is the essence of leading for language and the starting point to a rewarding journey.

We can do better

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Such a timely quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  As educators, school leaders, parents, and involved citizens, we must remember our role in preparing students to choose wisely.  Education will always be important to the success of democracy.  As we end one year and enter a new, we should reflect on how we are raising and educating our children.

What will the world be like for the next generation?  What skills will our children need?  How will they gain these skills?  Who will influence our children the most?  As the world becomes more diverse, how will society change and how will our students respond to that change?  These are deeply philosophical questions, but they are at the root of democracy.  Looking at the roots of American democracy may help us in answering these questions.

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

-Thomas Jefferson

The question is, where will our students get educated and where will their information come from?  How will they become informed citizens?  We all have a duty to make sure that our children are critical thinkers.  While protecting them from our personal biases, we should encourage them to look at a variety of sources before drawing conclusions.  Original thinkers built our country.  We need more.

“Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

-Alexander Hamilton

Modern politics is a mess.  It’s hard for me to believe that we have become a nation of extremism.  If you disagree, just start a conversation with a neighbor you don’t know well.  You’ll likely find that you have far more in common than not.  We can do a better job of making sure that our children respect the views of others, especially when those views are counter to ours.  You can find a middle ground with almost any fundamental belief.  Finding it is always worth the struggle.

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

-Thomas Paine

We all want life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue our happiness.  They are such fundamental cornerstones of democracy.  The Declaration of Independence speaks to all of us, not a select few.  Our children need us to remind them that our country was founded on principles that apply to everyone.  More importantly, action is required by all of us to ensure those freedoms.  Democracies require participation.  We must be tireless in pushing our children to become active, contributing members of society, not sideline observers.

No matter your political beliefs, it should be obvious that our country can be and do better.  Other nations look to us.  We stand as an example to the world.  We stand as example to our children.  What kind of an example is the question?  We can do and be better.  We must.

Lessons Learned Through Sports

I grew up playing sports.  My three brothers and I were always on the go.  Whether it was playing whiffle ball in the backyard or tackle football in the nearby field, we were always playing something.  We spent very little time in the house.  Our neighborhood was our playground.

I played baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball, soccer, and wrestled.  I wasn’t an athlete.  I liked to wear a uniform.  Seriously, I was lured to sports by the smell of a fresh new uniform, hat, or helmet.  We grew up in a humble home.  We had what we needed, but we were never spoiled.  Sports allowed us to be anything we wanted to be.  They were an escape to a great adventure.

As adult, when I look back on those years, I realize I learned more about leadership through sports than I ever have from a training or professional development experience.  The lessons I learned from playing sports have stayed with me through every step of my career.  They are simple lessons, yet they have provided me with a stable base in the most challenging times.

Here are a few of those lessons:

1-Preparation is important

To be successful in sports and in life, you have to be prepared.  Being prepared means you study.  You study your craft.  You read.  You consider yourself a lifelong learner.  Every destination is the starting point to the next journey.  People who think they’ve arrived get lazy and complacent.  Celebrate success, then make your next plan.

2-You have to be willing to work hard

I grew up in an era when people said, “Hard work is its own reward.”  There is great value in sweating and extending yourself beyond your comfort level.  In some ways, the results don’t always matter if you are willing to work hard.  Success happens through fixing mistakes.  Putting your head down and giving that extra effort often leads to good results.

3-Teamwork is key

It is rare for anyone to succeed without the support of others.  Teamwork isn’t always pretty.  Teammates can disagree, argue, and push your buttons.  Being on a team isn’t always a comfortable experience.  That’s a good thing.  Few great accomplishments ever come from completely harmonious efforts.  As long as everyone has the same goal and vision, the team will eventually function at a high level.

4-Your attitude matters

If you don’t find joy in your professional pursuits, consider finding another field.  Your attitude matters.  Nothing inspires others more than working with someone who has a true passion for their profession.  Are you going to have a great attitude every day? No, of course not.  Recognize those moments and do your best to protect others from your mood or find a good listener and share your worries.

5-You won’t always win

I teach chess to elementary students.  The first conversation we have before touching a piece is about winning and losing.  Everyone eventually fails at something.  Failure is a given.  It’s all about how you respond.  Resilience is becoming a scarce personal commodity.  Spend a little time mourning your loss, then make a plan to get better.

6-You learn more from losing

Winning is awesome, but we rarely learn much from it.  Winning teams are constantly examining their success.  They evaluate their individual players and make adjustments as necessary.  However, when they lose, they use the opportunity to get better.  They don’t wallow in self-pity.  They find the teachable moments from losing.

7-Continually set goals and revise

In sports and in life, we must be willing to set goals.  Say them out loud.  Tell them to other people.  Write them down.  We all have the power to reinvent ourselves.  Whether you reach a goal or not, set a new one.  When you stop setting goals, you are making a conscious decision to withdraw from the game.  That’s no fun.  Life should be fun.  Set goals that will stretch you as a person.  Those are the goals that will give you the most personal satisfaction when you reach them.

I am grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me growing up.  They gave me the support and encouragement I needed to try a variety of sports.  With four sons born close together, they spent hours driving us to practice, coaching, and cheering us on.  Sports are not life, but they certainly make life more enjoyable.  Most importantly, they teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way.

Teacher Leadership Matters

Teacher leadership was the discussion topic for #mdeschat the other night.  Many great insights were shared.  Here are a few:

“A leader helps to create more leaders and inspires. That is exactly what I want to do as a teacher.” -Michael Donnelly @mrdonnelly3

“In the collaborative culture that we build, shared leadership is needed, we can’t do it alone!” –Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628

“Teaching is so complex and involves so many variables; empowering critical thinking about what matters is key.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“In education, change is constant. By empowering teachers as leaders, they can implement systemic goals in a way that is meaningful to students.” –Dana Wiles @nfesgr2

“Teacher leaders affect student achievement exponentially by raising the expectations among colleagues.” –Elizabeth Curley @Curley_Liz

“Opportunities to collaborate with county resource staff allows teacher leaders to enjoy learning and sharing while inspiring others.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

“Shared leadership allows the school to capitalize on the different talents each member of the team brings to the community.” –Zipporah Miller @zipmiller

“Teachers, when empowered, learn a lot from each other.” –Todd Stanzione @toddstanzione

“Benefits of teacher leadership: teacher retention, student achievement, positive school culture, decreased isolation, enhanced collaboration.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Leadership is about one’s vision of him/herself. Not about title or position, it is about one’s actions.” –Jill Snell @Jill_Snell81

“To grow, teachers need to step out of the classroom and see varying perspectives; grow from the strength of others and stretch their thinking.” –Stephanie Straw @ststoney16

“Teacher leaders are innovative, have high expectations for all, and are masterful at cultivating relationships to grow students.” –Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley

“If the teacher is a facilitator and leader, she/he will guide students to discover and build their learning by solving real life problems.” –Evylyn Quinones @evyabel

Such awesome insight from a great PLN!  If others share these views on teacher leadership our children are in good hands!

I’ll take it as a compliment!

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Our school recently held a parent night for our Spanish speaking families.  I stood at the front of the school opening the door and greeting families as they arrived.  The turn-out was nice and included many of our students.  After some refreshments, one of our first grade teachers took the students to her classroom for some fun activities while our EL teacher and community liaison worked with the parents.

The parents participated in warm-up games to help them get to know each other.  While we sometimes see our Spanish families as one group, they often represent many different countries, backgrounds, and cultures.  Even so, the Spanish language is what connects them.  As educators, we need to find opportunities to get our English learners and their families together.

The parents who attended our event were enthusiastic and excited to be included in their child’s school.  You could tell that they appreciated having an interpreter there to listen to and ask questions of.  They also shared how much they appreciated our efforts and how much their children love their school.

When I welcomed the parents to our event, I told them how important it is to our staff that they feel connected to the school.  Their language should never be a barrier to helping their children succeed.  We should be breaking down walls, not building them.  I also stressed how important it is that they keep speaking Spanish to their children.  Spanish families don’t have to give up their culture or language when they come to America.

Toward the end of the night, the parents had a chance to share and ask questions.  One of the parents stood up and with a wry smile said, referring to me, “I thought he was a security guard because he is always outside greeting people.”  This brought raucous laughter from the whole group and illustrated the cultural differences in the parents’ educational experience in their home countries.  Many of them had never had the opportunity to interact with a “director” (principal).

At first I thought that being identified as a “guardia de seguridad” by our EL parents might be an indication that I need to do a little PR work with them.  The more I thought, however, the more I realized it was a compliment.  If they see me as someone who is protecting the school, that’s a good thing.

That night was one of those special times when you realize that what you do matters.  It was satisfying to know that our Spanish speaking families appreciate the efforts of our staff.  They value their families and love their school because their children are happy.  They want to be involved, but don’t always know how.  They trust in their school and yes, they sometimes see their principal as a security guard.  I’m okay with that.  I’ll take it as a compliment.

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Greg Richards

gregrichardsGreg Richards has participated in many Maryland Elementary School Chats over the past few years.  He often shares pearls of wisdom from his years in teaching and is quick to acknowledge the contributions of others.  Greg is a great addition to the #mdeschat team.

Greg is entering his 11th year teaching and his 14th in the public school setting.  For thirteen of the last fourteen years, Greg has worked for the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.  He graduated from PGCPS in 1998 and considers it a privilege to work for such a wonderful school system.

Greg has taught every grade from pre-k to fourth, except third grade.  This school year he is teaching kindergarten.  Greg is passionate about education, the thirst for knowledge, the pursuit of learning and growth, and inspiring young people to be the best that they can be.  He has served as grade-level chairperson in the past and enjoys opportunities for leadership and growth.

Greg is constantly seeking opportunities to give back to the profession as a way of honoring the many teachers he has had the privilege of learning from.  Faith is important to Greg.  He serves as the chairperson of the Christian Education team at his church and is big on collaboration and the growth mindset.  Greg is excited to be a part of the #mdeschat team this year!

Join Greg and the other #mdeschat crew members every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Bonita Bradway

imageBonita Bradway has served as a guest #mdeschat moderator in the past and joins our team this year on a regular basis.  Her blog, Learning Wholeheartedly, is a great resource for elementary teachers.

Bonita is a fourth year teacher at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland.  She grew up in South Africa and after studying computer programming for a year, took some time off and moved to the USA in 2006 to become a nanny. During the last 4 years of nannying, she earned her Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Phoenix.

Bonita is a passionate teacher who enjoys being in the classroom and learning with her students every day. Last year, she became the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) coach, and also accepted the opportunity to become the chairperson of the Professional Learning Committee at her school.  The committee allows her to learn with and inspire other teachers who are passionate about growing professionally.  She also spends time connecting with teachers from around the world on Periscope and other social media platforms.

Bonita is inspired by innovative teachers across the country – such as Ron Clark and Kim Bearden. She is always searching for new and exciting ways to make learning fun for her students, and to share positivity and professional learning with other teachers. She is looking forward to her third year as a fourth grade teacher and is very excited to connect and learn with teachers through the #mdeschat forum.

Join Bonita and our other #mdeschat moderators every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Walter Reap

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Walter Reap returns for his fourth year as a #mdeschat moderator.  He is a past recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.  He has served as a principal at Germantown Elementary in Anne Arundel County and Edward M. Felegy Elementary in Prince George’s County.  He recently accepted a position as principal at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore City.

Walt is a deep thinker who is constantly reflecting on his leadership practices.  His TedXAshburn talk is a “must view” for those who share his passion for discussing “intellectual speedbumps.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koXw_3I5GCo

Walt’s leadership approach is strategic, learner-centered, and deliberative.  He is excited to learn, lead, read, share, think, and dialogue around all topics with all people who are open to diverse perspectives.  Walt has worked in a range of educational settings from rural to urban areas.  He loves the city and its complexities!

Walt is eager to learn and grow around topics like culture, transformation, impact/sphere of influence, technology and digital media.  Walt is on a quest for the essential components of instructional alchemy and the quintessential skills to improve educator efficacy!  He is quiet, but not shy; simple, yet complex!

Join Walt and our other moderators every Thursday at 8PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Evylyn Quiñones

evylyn

Evylyn Quiñones is a versatile and experienced education leader who will surely add to the depth of our discussions this year.  We look forward to her contributions.

Evylyn, born and raised in Puerto Rico, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.  Started her career as a first grade teacher and, after 9 years of experience, was hired in 2005 by Prince George’s County to teach ESOL at Cool Spring Elementary.  In 2011, Evylyn transferred to César Chávez Dual Spanish Immersion School and earned a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology. She has performed the duties of Testing and STEM Coordinator as well as teacher-in-charge.

For the past 11 years, Evylyn has been part of PGCPS Title I Technology Training Team and, as an Apple Foundation Trainer, she has facilitated several workshops and conferences.  Her commitment is to inspire and facilitate ways in which teachers can evolve from using technology to integrating technology in instruction.  In 2015, she earned a Master’s degree in Educational Administration.

Currently, Evylyn serves as an assistant principal at Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion School.  It is her goal to continue to share her experiences with other teachers and inspire them as they develop the necessary 21st century skills of our future global citizens.

Join #mdeschat every Thursday at 8:00PM EST!

Meet the #mdeschat Moderators- Rian Reed

rian

Our #mdeschat crew has grown this year.  Over the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing them to our awesome PLN.  First up, Rian Reed (@missreed), who has served as a guest moderator in the past and has an extensive social media presence.

A native of Penllyn, Pennsylvania, Rian graduated from Millersville University with a dual Certification in elementary education and special education. Her passion in education stems from overcoming her own academic struggles. Having been educated by amazing teachers from the Wissahickon School District, she chose to live her life giving back to the community by being an advocate for a quality education for all students.

Rian has taught in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms and co-taught classrooms in grades 2 through 8. She also has experience teaching in the Extended School Year program and has coordinated summer enrichment programs for middle school students.

Rian has a strong history of advocacy for Civil Rights.  As the past president of the NAACP Youth and College Division of the State of Pennsylvania, she was able to help in re-chartering four new youth and college division chapters.  She also led several voter registration drives and continues to speak out for the needs of children and education. Her gift of writing and passion for the well-being of humanity led to an opportunity to address the 8,000 attendees at her own college graduation in 2011.

Currently, Rian is pursuing National Board Teaching Certification and an Executive MBA. She will continue to stretch herself by teaching AVID this school year for the Prince George’s County Public School system.  For Rian, being a member of the #mdeschat crew is an example of her dedication to growth and collaboration as she continues to provide the best for the students she teaches on a daily basis.

Join us for #mdeschat every Thursday, 8PM EST!