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How well do ESOL teachers and classroom teachers cooperate together?

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By Janet McQueen

Term 3 should is now well under way so it is a good time to reflect on what we do and think about what we might want to change for 2016. I began a conversation on this last week in my update, “Cherishing the long view”. In order to attain the level of English needed to ensure future success in our New Zealand society we need to ensure that ELLs have an accelerated rate of English language learning achievement. In order to achieve this it is important that all teachers have a focus on teaching language in every lesson that they teach. However not all teachers are trained to do this well. Therefore today my challenge is on how well do ESOL teachers and classroom teachers cooperate together in your school? The MOE ESOL Update article “Cherishing the Long View” provided a great example on how one school does this.

Classroom Teacher and ESOL teacher Cooperation

What constrains us from cooperating together?

I would be interested to know what constrains you from cooperating more and how can we overcome this? Personally I found time was my major constraint as to why I didn’t cooperate more with classroom teachers and because second language support was not being prioritized as a school. However for each school the answer to this question might be different.

Where to begin?

School leaders, ideally will decide that their school needs to prioritise language learning and set the expectation that ESOL and classroom teachers will cooperate together in order to achieve this. They will also decide on the implementation process and resourcing level required.  Language learning should be identified in all planning documents, and ELLs’ English language progress should be evaluated and tracked across time.

Once second language is identified as a priority it obviously needs to be well resourced e.g. through the allocation of release time, timetabling, funding, professional development and it also needs to be visible in school documentation and governance e.g. policies, planning, BOT etc.

Teaching a second language and through a second language is a complex area therefore trained ESOL teachers are an asset to be valued and their knowledge respected. ESOL teachers will require a considerable amount of release time in order to support classroom teachers to better support their ELL students English language development across all subject areas. We don’t expect all teachers to become an ESOL expert but they should all be able to identify suitable language outcomes and know some supporting language scaffolding strategies that they can use.

What can one teacher do?

If you don’t work in a school which already does has good cooperation and joint planning then what can you do to change perceptions as an ESOL teacher? Is it about taking opportunities when they arise, personal relationships that you form etc. or can you be a little more proactive? E.g. photocopying and sharing an academic reading or good school story, sharing tips or these updates, offering to lead staff sessions, starting small and offering planning support to one classroom teacher (especially a well-respected teacher) sharing examples and strategies, speaking out in staff meetings, listening proactively in the staff room to teacher conversations and sharing ideas and ESOL resources, ensuring school leaders know what you think will work best etc. This is not always easy when ESOL is not highly valued within a school.

If you a classroom teacher, then you can ask the ESOL teacher for assistance and ideas. Seek to observe what they do in withdrawal lessons, share how your ELLs are doing in class and ask whether they work differently in the ESOL room.  Suggest that your syndicate set language learning objectives in all your unit and weekly plans etc.


Recently I came across these readings on a similar topic all found on the Colorin Colorado website. They are 3 readings from one schools perspective; the principal, classroom teacher and the ESOL teacher. They are very American but they do provide further food for thought. The change in cooperation was initially led by the principal and developed over time.  I particularly like the third article in the series.

·         Increasing Collaboration between ESOL teachers and Content Teachers with the CCSS: A Principal’s Perspective (Part 1) “…Include ESOL teachers in the planning, keeping our ELLs’ strengths and needs at the forefront of the discussions. We set the expectation that all ESOL teachers would begin collaborating with content teachers and providing content support, even if it meant just “dipping a big toe in” 

·         Creating a Planning Process that Meets ELLs’ Needs: A Staff Development Teacher’s Perspective (Part 2) “… An opportunity for ESOL teachers to voice their ideas is built in to the planning process, and general education teachers have learned the importance of scaffolding instruction even when the ESOL teacher is not in the classroom.”

·         My Collaborative Journey: An ESOL Teacher’s Perspective (Part 3)  “… Collaborating with several classroom teachers looks like this for me:

“…Planning meetings, both formal and informal, are the crux of a great collaborative team. There are times when I walk out of a planning meeting and euphorically think that we’ve conquered the world. Yet, there are times when I walk out of a planning meeting with more questions than I had when we started. Collaboration can be a bit messy, but we have to go through this to reach our end goals.

I have found that good collaboration is only as good as the professional relationships surrounding it.  It’s okay to disagree. It’s also more than okay to laugh, smile, and reflect about both our successes and struggles. It’s critical to trust that my classroom counterpart is listening to my ideas and I am listening as well. Valuing our varied levels of experience as well as our different lenses is at the core of a strong professional relationship.”

It would be great if we can continue this discussion in our forum during the week. Please share what you have done that has worked well in your school, or share what you struggle with and request ideas from other members of our community.  You can also start discussions on any other topic that interests you at any time.

New on ESOL Online

The new ESOL Online Impact section provides guidance on the assessment of students including your initial diagnostic assessments. Check out 

Schools and teachers new to working with English Language Learners will also find the new section  Getting Started section really useful.


Ø  WATESOL Wednesday, 19th August Topic: Teaching listening and speaking skills to ELLs in secondary school and providing additional support through the use of Apps Presenter: Linda Todd - Wellington East Girls' College

Ø  BAYTESOL Special General Meeting and Mini-ConferenceSaturday 5th September. The community has been extremely quiet we would love to hear from you. How about sharing a new idea, app or reading that you have found helpful?

Ø  NZLA’s Words on Wellington conference Sept 30th – Oct 2nd. Don’t miss out on joining them!

Ø  Refugee Education Conference: Celebrating Success 1-2 October in Auckland, hosted by AUT and the Ministry of Education. The focus will predominantly on education for refugee background learners. The aim is to bring together practitioners and academics to share best practice and new directions in teaching and learning. Registrations deadline is  29 August 2015.

14th Symposium on Second Language Writing – Learning to write for academic purposes conference, AUT Auckland November 19-20, 2015

 Language, Education and Diversity Conference, 23-26 November 2015 at University of Auckland

 New Zealand Discourse Conference (NZDC5) 7-9 December 2015, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand