Written by Jennifer Schultz Feb. 2019
Have you ever thought how education is constantly changing? How there seems to be an new initiative every time you turn around? The teaching field is cyclical and we as educators need to be adaptable.
Populations in our school districts are growing more diverse each year. For example, a report from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) states that, from 2000 to 2015 the U.S. EL (English Learner) population rose by 1 million. The state with the highest EL population was, and still is California.
Another report done in 2015 by National Public Radio (NPR), stated that California’s EL population had risen to 29%. That’s one out of every 3 people, of speaking a different language at home. California isn’t the only place where a rich group of asset based learners is starting to rise. Some might be surprised to learn that states like Alaska, Kansas, and Minnesota have EL populations around 10%. And that while concentrations of ELs are often found in urban areas (14% nationwide), the rise in the suburbs can be seen as well (9% nationally).
When most of us started in this field, teaching did not look the way it currently does. We now have a wealth of media and technological supports. Reading instruction has drastically changed from Basal Readers, to Guided Reading, to Workshop Models. Even the way we teach math is evolving from rote memorization to diving deep into numeracy fluency and problem solving strategies. The populations of kids we have sitting in front of us are also changing. When you look out into your classroom you hopefully see many shades of colors, hear many different languages spoken, and have many different kids that bring all sorts of funds of knowledge into the classroom environment. It is time as teachers we start capitalizing on this tremendous amount of diversity in front of us. Therefore, it is critical that English Language Learner (ELL) teachers and content teachers grow and change alongside these kids in order to expose their strengths and knowledge but also scaffold instruction as they are navigating a new language and culture.
With the rise of a student population that is coming from all different cultural backgrounds, how do EL teachers reach all of these remarkable individuals? How possibly is one person able to instill a feeling of safety and security, grow literacy skills in first and second languages, and develop personal advocacy? All classrooms, communities, and systems need to embrace these kids as “OURS,” which means working together to do what’s right for students. Coaching does exactly that. It builds capacity in teachers and educational leaders to look at what’s working and what’s not, and move forward. The content teacher, EL coach, and district administrators need to share ownership in order to grow equitable core, universal instructional practices. The fact is, coaching builds this capacity.
To address the need for more attention to language and content for all teachers, coaching plays an impactful role. Coaching teachers in language-focused, instructional practices, along with an equity-based mindset heightens the content teachers’ skills and ownership to meet the needs of both English Language Learners (ELLs) and Academic Language Learners (ALLs) in their classrooms. The goal of coaching is to carefully craft questions in order to get the teacher to pose an area of focus based on reflection. Content teachers work through this self-identified goal with the continual support of the coach through a sustained cycle. During pre-observation and post-observation meetings the teacher and coach analyze student work, collect results based data, and reflect on practices. The coach is there every step of the way offering support, resources, questioning, and analyzing to assist the teacher in meeting their goal. Goals are continuously co-created with specific input from the teacher and based on student data so that both members are held accountable (linked is a template for a possible coaching log) for the goal. Once the goal has been met a new goal is discussed and implemented. Below are some possible topics to guide questioning around in order to reach ELs. These are taken from the book The Six Principles For Exemplary Teaching of English Learners.
- Understand and know your learners (this includes their families and traditions).
- Create conditions for language learning. Give students opportunities in your classroom to develop oracy (speaking skills), listening, reading, and writing.
- Design high quality lessons for language development. The rigor needs to remain high, with scaffolds in place to get kids to attainment.
- Be responsive, adapt lesson delivery as needed.
- Monitor and assess students ongoing language development. A great tool to do this is WIDA Can-Do Descriptors. These can be used for continual language development monitoring.
- Engage and collaborate with a community of practice. Confianza is a fantastic resource to stay up-to-date on EL practices and news.
The intention of coaching is to create teacher independence in being reflective, searching out resources to help drive good instruction, and data collection and analysis to determine student progress.
As Sarah Ottow describes in her blog, The Problem with PD: Redefine & Reconceptualize the Power of Professional Learning the the sit-and-get professional development, needs to be re-thought. Some professional developments yield much more significant results, as evidenced by the chart below. Coaching, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and teacher inquiry cycles are more powerful avenues to drive instructional practice forward. Districts need to be proactive about building this time into the school setting. Administrators need to be focused on allowing teachers to take instructional risks, as long as, they are well thought out and the teacher is reflective in the process. Again, one way for districts to support this forward movement is through coaching.
Given the fact that all educators are at very different points in their teaching journey, it is important for the coach to focus on teachers’ strengths and build upon those. This is a parallel to how we want to respect our students’ funds of knowledge and always build on their strengths to co-create viable goals for their learning. With adults, there is a delicate balance of lifting teachers up and pushing them forward in their work, in order to instill change and professional growth. This is where attributes like trust, confidentiality, accountability, and actively listening are so vital for the coach and teacher relationship.
Building leaders are strongly encouraged to support the work of EL coaches and the need for equitable instructional practices in the school. An effective principal commits to communicating the importance of language instruction. Then influence classroom teachers to embrace these practices. In addition, building administrators need to set a precedence that coaching is absolutely not evaluative. At Confianza, we train our own coaches and also school-based and district-based coaches. We need our coaches to communicative respectfully and effectively in front of various stakeholders (students, families, community members, administration, teachers, other staff) as well as using coaching language (paraphrasing, clarifying, validating, mediational questioning, co-creating goals) to do so.
In conclusion, it is time for teachers to begin to look at students as asset based learners, that bring new, diverse experiences to our buildings. It is also necessary for teachers to meet students where they are at with the language skills, and learning strategies, in order to be successful members of our society. Instructional coaches can help support this instructional shift. I’d like to leave you with one final quote from the US Department of Education. “Overall, EL students face unique challenges but also represent a tremendous asset for our country if their full potential can be unlocked and harnessed.”
To Further your Learning:
The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar
by Jim Knight
The Impact Cycle by Jim Knight
English Language Learners in Public Schools. (Updated: April 2010). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov
Ottow, S. (2015, October 21). The Problem with PD: Redefine & Reconceptualize the Power of Professional Learning. Retrieved from https://ellstudents.com.
Sanchez, C. (2017, February 23). English Language Learners: How Your State Is Doing. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org.
Short, D., Becker, H., Cloud, N., Hellman, A., New Levine, L. (2018). The Six Principles For Exemplary Teaching of English Learners. Alexandria, VA. TESOL Press
In Confianza's work with change agents in schools, we use our structured, inquiry-based Action Cycle process to Ask, Analyze, Act and Assess around a specific issue of concern. Our Action Cycle Guide for Implementing Equity, Language & Literacy Practices is now available for purchase. You can also participate in our facilitated Confianza Cafe with a Certified Confianza Coach. See our set of professional learning offering options.