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ESOL Leadership Challenges,

Hi everyone

Awesome news,our primary esolonline community has grown to over 600 members for the first time. Thank you to each one of you for subscribing and becoming a member of our community. I hope that you continue to find what we share and discuss as being valuable.  

I would like to encourage you all to introduce yourself on our padlet page.Please add one or two things you would like to get out of joining this community. The padlet page will enable me to better meet your needs by writing on the topics that interest you and allow you all to know each other a little better. It is a new initiative and so a special thanks to Karen from Papatoetoe East School for being the first to use it.  

Leadership practices to support teaching and learning of ELLs

I want to focus on the leadership of ESOL within a school over the next few weeks. I think this is an important topic as the numbers of English language learners (ELLs) continue to grow in New Zealand schools. Therefore the importance of good leadership increases as we try to meet the needs of ethnically and linguistically changing and challenging classrooms.

There are more ethnicities in New Zealand than there are countries in the world. According to MOE statistics there are currently 181,775 students from backgrounds other than European or Maori in New Zealand schools, which is 23.7% of the total. Whilst some of these students will have English as their first language, many will require some form of language support, particularly with academic English. Of these 32,926 students in 1,339 schools are currently receiving ESOL funding.  These students have the highest English language learning needs.

I have based much of my thinking on leadership today upon the research of Dr Alyson McGee from Massey University. I have used this article, McGee, A., Haworth, P. and MacIntyre, L. (2014), Leadership Practices to Support Teaching and Learning for English Language Learners. TESOL Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/tesq.162

Alyson conducted in depth interviews in two New Zealand schools and also looked at school leadership research across several countries and ESOL leadership research. She ended up identifying four leadership practices that she considered to be important and two challenges facing successful leadership of ESOL in mainstream school settings where English language learners are in a minority. Alyson wrote our very first guest update on this in March. You can access this here but please make sure you open the attachment.

Challenges to successful leadership

Today I want to reflect on the challenges that Alyson identified as facing successful leadership of ESOL in mainstream school settings where English language learners are in a minority. Next week we will look at the good ESOL leadership practices that she has identified.

1.       A business-as-usual approach

The first challenge is a business as usual approach tends to require English language learners to fit into existing school systems, assessments, and pedagogical approaches designed for native English speakers. This approach seems to be built on an assumption that English language learners’ needs are the same as those of native English speakers, so there is often a lack of understanding and identification of the linguistic and cultural challenges facing these learners. There is no differentiation for English language learners.

So what does this look like in a school? I think it means that often the senior leadership team will say that they feel the existing school systems are appropriate for all students, including English language learners. They give little thought to the needs of these students and the progress that they are making as a sub-group.

Here are some examples:

·         An absence of ESOL goals and policies in the school or if they exist they are regularly ignored, infrequently reviewed and are not widely known about. 

·         When reporting to parents the same school report form will be used for all students with no additional information on the student’s current stage of English language development and their progress in learning English.

·         In reporting to the Ministry on National Standards, and to the BOT, the English Language Learning Progressions (ELLP) are not used ,in additional to National Standards to report ELLs progress and achievement in learning English as an additional language.  ELLs are not differentiated and there is no written explanation supporting the results.  

·         Assessment is not differentiated for ELLs, everyone uses the same tests at all times. Little or no thought is given to how appropriate the test is for ELLs or interpretation of the results with this in mind.

·         The communication needs of diverse parents, families and communities are often overlooked.

·         A standard enrolment procedure is used for all students with no additional questions asked or further translated material to parents of students who speak another language.  

·         Not adapting teaching and learning to fit the needs of these diverse learners, even though numbers of English language learners are growing. There might be a lack of clear language learning objectives in teacher planning. There might also be little evidence of scaffolding of language and differentiation in mainstream classrooms.

·         It can also mean a lack of access to suitable resources for English language learners. This results in teachers working individually and making individual decisions about where to get ESOL support or resources in the school.  

·         The MOE developed ESOL Resources are not commonly used in mainstream classrooms and often remain on shelves in resource rooms largely untouched and unknown.  

 2.       The marginalisation of ESOL

Another challenge facing successful leadership of ESOL is the marginalisation of ESOL and of those working in this field. This is often because both teachers and leadership believe that ESOL knowledge and pedagogy is the responsibility of just a few members of staff in the school. The marginalisation of ESOL seems to occur when teachers, those in leadership, and other educators do not see the ESOL area as their responsibility and subsequently ESOL becomes marginalised to a small team or individuals. Additionally, those who are given responsibility for ESOL may not be trained teachers, so despite their wealth of experience ESOL often has a low status in the school.

ESOL requires a whole school focus with everyone taking responsibility.

The reasons for marginalisation can be varied E.g.

·         ESOL educators can be marginalised and have a low status in the school even when they are fully trained teachers and hold additional qualifications. This may be because they work in isolation and are deemed to be of less importance than a regular classroom teacher. Or it may be because ESOL teachers are sometimes employed on a part-time basis on a series of 1 year employment contracts rather than as a permanent part-time staff member.

·          Another reason may be because, when schools receive some ESOL funding from the Ministry of Education, many schools employ Teacher Aides (TA), rather than teachers, to focus on English language learners and to teach them.  Often ESOL TAs are not involved in professional development and they are not viewed as being appropriate to assist in leading ESOL professional learning in their school, despite their experience and knowledge, leading to marginalisation of the TA and of ESOL.

·         A lack of senior leader team leadership, advocating for ESOL and a whole school approach.

Questions to ponder

1.       Whose responsibility is ESOL in your school? How will you create a whole school- team approach?

2.       Does your school have an ESOL policy and goals that are well articulated and understood and reviewed regularly?

3.       Does your school have a “one size fits all approach’? Is there any area that has been ignored, overlooked or needs reviewing?

4.       Is there visible differentiation and scaffolding for English language learners in everyday classroom practice?

5.       Are the needs of ELLS regularly considered in all aspects of governance and management of the school and in the day-to-day running of the school?

6.       Is there a focus on ESOL professional learning for everyone in the school to ensure all educators have the resources to meet ELL’s needs? (Principal, teachers and teacher aides and other support staff)

7.       What will you add to your practices this year? What will you not do next year?

I welcome your thoughts and feedback even if you disagree with me.  So please post your comments, feedback and burning questions.

This week’s Gems

·         Kiddle is a new visual search engine designed for children. What makes it different?

1. Most search results provide a large thumbnail. This image will help children differentiate some results.

2. The font size. Kiddle uses a large size of Ariel, a font that helps with readability.

3. Sites are filtered and are family friendly.

4. Kiddle is privacy oriented. No data is collected and logs are deleted after 24 hours.

If you work with young students, or have young children at home this search engine is worth checking out. I think the visuals will also help English language learners to understand easier when searching.

·         This is a very interesting piece of language research- Adoptees' 'lost language' from infancy triggers brain response. Children don't consciously remember Chinese, but their brains still react to it, MRI shows Emily Chung, CBC News- Technology and science.  Posted: Nov 17, 2014 4:08 PM ET.

·         Teaching ELs to Read Nonfiction Texts, Posted on 20 November 2014 by Judie Haynes TESOL International

·         When Language and Learning Get Tough, by John Carr in Language Magazine. Although this is an American article it offers some good pointers for us in New Zealand on strategies for identifying and serving the growing population of English learners with learning difficulties.

·         Moving to different worlds , Ruta’s Journey,  Ruta McKenzie (CORE Education) tells what it was like for her transitioning from a tiny village in Samoa to a large city in New Zealand. She finishes with some powerful reflection questions for teachers.

·         Teaching Channel has a new series of 19 videos on arts integration, in partnership with The Getty Museum. In this series, teachers engage their students in learning through the arts in a variety of grade levels, subject areas, and contexts. Harnessing the Power of Arts Integration a blog post by Lily Jones Nov 21 2014 explains and outlines the series. I especially like:

o    Wonder, Think activity for interpreting art  Teacher David Cooper shares a thinking routine that helps his ELLs observe and analyse works of art.

o   Building vocabulary and prepositional phrases , Art Interpretation

o   Building analysis skills through art which looks at ELLs in special education.

Enjoy the last few weeks with your class.