What are some steps that school leaders can take to help English-language learners (ELLs) succeed in the coming year? These tips are based on feedback that ELL educators shared with Colorín Colorado, the nation’s leading ELL website, during the spring and summer of 2020.
- Ask your school community what worked in the spring—and what didn’t.
There is a treasure trove of information available within your community—if you ask for it! Include open-ended questions that allow for topics you might not have anticipated.
Collect feedback from:
- ELL specialists, bilingual educators, classroom teachers, family liaisons, interpreters, and other staff who work with ELLs
- Families (in their home languages).
For example, a family liaison could ask families some questions via phone or text, or host a video conversation with a few families to get their input. Teachers can also ask students about their experiences as part of community-building activities.
- Strengthen relationships with ELL students and families.
Schools that went into the pandemic with strong ELL partnerships fared better reaching and teaching their students. As you strengthen these relationships, keep in mind that ELL families may bring different cultural expectations about the family’s role in schooling.
During the coming year, you can:
- Identify ELL student and family strengths.
- Take a look at some strategies that have worked well for other schools.
- Ask your families to share what they would welcome from the school, as well as their talents, interests, and hopes for their children.
- If communication didn’t work in the spring, it’s time to think outside the box.
It’s important to meet families where they are. For example, many ELL families don’t use email, but they do feel comfortable using texts and social media.
Collaborate with ELL/bilingual staff to identify:
- How and when families prefer to communicate
- The easiest way for families to update their contact information (especially if using prepaid cell phones)
- How to keep the communication manageable so that staff and families don’t get overwhelmed
- What tools families can use to keep contact information organized, like translated forms
- Ensure that ELL families have information from the school in their home language.
ELL families have a legal right to information in their home language. This is especially critical to help families keep up with such a fluid situation.
- Talk with ELL/bilingual staff about what is currently in place. Is it working? Is it enough? If not, what else is needed?
- You may need to advocate at the district level for additional resources or staffing. This is a challenge—but it is the district’s legal responsibility to provide this access.
- Take a look at the different kinds of information ELL families will need communicated in a clear fashion, particularly around student schedules that families may be coordinating for different children or changes during the year.
- Keep in mind that older students may have big responsibilities and stresses at home.
If students did not log on or complete assignments in the spring, it may have been because of their circumstances at home. Many students have gotten jobs since schools closed and are caring for younger siblings, relatives, or neighbors.
Encourage staff to:
- Learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 on immigrant communities.
- Gently open up conversations with students and families about how the pandemic has impacted them.
- Discuss as a team what social-emotional supports will be available through the coming year and how to embed them in instruction.
- Share information about school meals, health care, and other important supports with ELL families in their home language.
- Expand digital access through devices, internet, and tech support/training.
While many schools across the country made great strides in a short time increasing digital access, large gaps still remain. We frequently heard that:
- Students did not have a device and/or internet.
- Siblings were sharing devices.
- Students were using cell phones for remote learning.
- Students had the device and internet but didn’t know how to navigate the platform.
- Younger children often had challenges using technology for the first time.
Support technology access by:
- Learning about some steps you can take to expand device/internet access
- Working with your ELL/bilingual staff, as well as IT staff, to brainstorm ideas for training, tutorials, and tech support in families’ languages
- Sharing tutorials in other languages (which also can build empathy for ELL families)
Remember: An ounce of training is worth a pound of tech support!
Many educators shared that their students and families faced challenges managing the schedules and expectations around schoolwork during the spring.
Offer support by:
- Asking students and families what would help them be more successful at home
- Looking for strategies and tools to help address those questions
- Adapting tools as needed for your families with ELL/bilingual staff
- Building confidence by including these topics in family events or workshops
- Simplify and manage expectations.
ELL students and families reported feeling overwhelmed by the number of assignments sent home and the different platforms and logins they had to use, especially at the secondary level.
Look for ways to make schoolwork more manageable by:
- Reducing the number of platforms teachers are using
- Providing translated forms where families can keep track of login info
- Encouraging teachers, students, and families to talk openly about expectations and what is realistic when it comes to assignments, homework, schedules, and grading
- Prioritize collaboration.
Collaboration is a critical key to ELLs success—and it is much more likely to happen if it is supported by administrators.
You can do this by:
- Asking your staff for ideas on how they would like to collaborate
- Including collaboration or co-teaching time in schedules where possible
- Encouraging staff to start small
- Sharing examples of success with the staff
- Encourage your school community to share successes, celebrations, and silver linings.
Success stories not only lift people’s spirits—they provide ideas and inspiration during a challenging time.
Incorporate this practice into your school culture by:
- Inviting people to share successes, celebrations, or silver linings during meetings
- Asking people to reflect on what others have shared
- Remembering that what might appear to be a “small” success may represent tremendous amounts of effort and sacrifice
Learn more from:
- Supporting ELLs Through COVID-19
- Distance Learning for ELLs
- How Schools Can Support Immigrant Students
Lydia Breiseth is the director of Colorín Colorado, part of the learning media department of WETA.