December 2020 Featured Educators: WIDA Fellows
This year has been unlike any other. We know that most of you in the WIDA community have had to cope with countless challenges – many of which are not going away anytime soon. But as we hear from a lot of you around the world, you keep telling us that there have been bright spots too. Bright spots that may shine a little brighter when the rest is so overwhelming.
As we wrap up Featured Educator this year, we look to the WIDA Fellows – a group of expert teachers from around the country who collaborate with the WIDA professional learning team – to help us reflect on the challenges and successes of teaching and learning in 2020.
The WIDA Fellows came together in October during the WIDA eSummit to share their stories with the WIDA Consortium. A common theme of their session, “Teaching Multilingual Learners During Extraordinary Times: WIDA Fellows’ Success Stories,” is that we are all in this together.
Listening to the WIDA Fellows, we learn that among this small group of educators there is a lot of overlap in the challenges we are facing and how we are coping with them. Here we share an excerpt of each Fellow’s challenge and success story, plus a piece of advice.
Dennise Torres, Dual Language/Reading Specialist Teacher, Steeple Run Elementary School, Illinois
- Challenge: Finding ways to incorporate the strategies we use inside our dual language classrooms via computer.
- Success: Collaboration between teachers. Everyone is learning from one another, and it's fabulous that teachers are willing to share their technology tips and their lessons with one another. Because we can all learn from each other during this time.
- Advice: Remember that we are all in this together; from teachers to students to building workers. … And it's important to know that teachers are doing a fantastic job and that you are super important to our multilingual learners and their families.
Demitrica May, EL Lead Teacher, Phenix City Schools, Alabama
- Challenge: Having internet access for my students.
- Success: The teachers and students working together. … I have seen my students adapt in ways I never thought that we would ever have to do. We have had students who are new to the country, who had to adapt to using a computer, understanding Google Classroom, Google Docs and sending emails.
- Advice: Always be forward thinking. To always keep working together because you never know. This pandemic has taught us that we never know what we might have to encounter. So, if we work together, we can be successful. And remember, we should never lose the voice of our students because we are in this together.
Sonya Bertini, Special Ed/ESL/Bilingual teacher, Vineland High School, New Jersey
- Challenge: Trying to make my students accountable. I teach double “e” special students. They're special education at the same time that they are English language learners, and I just want them to do their best and to meet my expectations.
- Success: I guess the fact that at my age of 62 that I even know how to use technology the way I've been doing it. I mean, it's been a real opportunity for learning for me. I feel like I've met that challenge, so I guess that's been my success story.
- Advice: You just can't stop advocating for your students. You have to call out every small injustice that you see because our students need to be served equitably. One thing this pandemic has shown us is that there's not a lot of equity, right? So, we are there to make sure that our students are getting what they should be getting.
Ceci Estes, ENL Coordinator, Spearfish and Belle Fourche School Districts, South Dakota
- Challenge: The biggest challenge for me when we started this was trying to set a schedule for everybody … trying to set a 30-minute time slot for their ELD lessons was hard. Trying to collaborate with the classroom teacher, who we shared students that were virtual, was hard.
- Success: We had a couple of students from Vietnam, and last March when everything stopped because of the pandemic, one of them said, “OK, I'm not going to give up teacher. I'm going to keep working, and I'm going to keep studying. And I'll keep in touch with you during the summer.” So, we kept in touch during the summer, and now, when he came back in September, he's passing all of his classes.
- Advice: We all want to make sure that equity is given to our students, even if it's at the cost of us burning out. Our self-care: we have got to take care of ourselves or else there will be no equity. Best advice I can give you is we do what we can with the time that we have them. We do what we can with the time they spend with us because that's the time to get the equity.
Nicole Ponti, ESOL Coordinator, New Hampshire
- Challenge: Some of the biggest challenges this year would be communicating effectively as plans change. As we know through this whole pandemic, what a plan might be for yesterday, it might be different for tomorrow. So just being on top of that and really working closely with our community partners has been really tremendous and instrumental into getting messages out.
- Success: One of our success stories is that at one of our largest high schools there is a huge library where we have multiple EL students working independently on the computer. … So, we have EL teachers on staff able to help facilitate those students access in the Google Classroom platform that we're using, and also, to provide that ESOL scaffolding as well.
- Advice: Some small advice moving forward would be to continue the collaboration among educators and our community partners and to be ready to adapt. I know we've heard that a lot, be ready to pivot. But it is so important that while we're doing that, we know the course ahead of us is unexpected, and we are teacher leaders for our students and for ourselves and others.
Catriona Moore, Lead ELL Teacher, Forest View Elementary School, North Carolina
- Challenge: Our biggest challenge at the school level was to figure out how to plan and support English language development instruction in response to the specific conditions of remote learning. In other words, what can we do to provide connection and autonomy among and between teachers and students?
- Success: We made a trauma responsive support system that helped to provide layers of support and different pathways of collaboration among teachers and a mix of synchronous and asynchronous pathways and opportunities for students to participate and engage.
- Advice: All change, even unwelcome change, presents opportunity. So we can focus now on connection, on relationships, on all the aspects of our shared humanity rather than on the learning loss or getting back to normal and know that one day in, hopefully, the not-too-distant future, we'll get to tell our stories of how we changed and learned together.
Andrea Scott, ELD Teacher, Goddard Middle School, Colorado
- Challenge: Getting remote work done has been the biggest challenge for us, and that's affected a lot of students’ grades. You know, I think, now, we're kind of over the hump of trying to understand the schedules. So, the next thing has been trying to get kids to do the work when they're at home.
- Success: With my newcomer class, typically, I do what we call language experience approach, where we have a meaningful language experience. … So instead of doing that all in-house, what we're doing now is we're doing all of that, but then we're sending the meaningful project home for them to do. For example, this week, we carved pumpkins. We watched a video about carving pumpkins. I showed them all the vocabulary about carving pumpkins. The kids came up with a plan. … Then they were given a pumpkin, and they went home. And their job was to carve the pumpkin and to videotape it. And that was their meaningful remote work, so that's been a huge success.
- Advice: When you're given an obstacle, you need to learn how to flow around it, and I think there's a lot of different metaphors you could come up with that advice. Be water, but that's my advice for today. Be water.
Cassandra Meyer, ESL/Bilingual/LEA teacher, Black Hawk Middle School, Wisconsin
- Challenge: There have been a decent number of challenges that we've faced with virtual learning. The primary one is that middle schoolers are shy and don't want to stand out from the crowd. This has not necessarily allowed for them to push themselves into spaces where they can safely take risks.
- Success: One of my bigger successes this year so far has been seeing the leadership come through in a lot of my students, especially the multilingual students. I have one student in particular who came to mind ... She very quickly and very actively took on a leadership role in our lives and classes re-sharing links to documents that we were working with, while I and other teachers were trying to finagle with all of the technology that we have, and breakout rooms, and all that stuff.
- Advice: This is an opportunity for us to refuse to return to normal, and that we need to make the changes that are necessary for education to be what it should be and not continue to be what it has been and what it, for some of us, still is, which is exclusive and difficult to access for a wide variety of different populations that need to have a right to and do have the right to their public education here in our country.
Tiffany Gordon, ELD Teacher, Ranch View Middle School, Colorado
- Challenge: One of the biggest concerns that I had going into hybrid learning was my beginning language learners, because they need that extra support. And with only two days in the building and then three days at home, they're doing a lot of independent learning. And even with providing them with supports, and resources, and videos, and making modifications, it's still different.
- Success: One of my e-learners, she was really struggling at the beginning of the year, and what we did is we just virtually sat down, had a conversation about what would help her. We reached out to her teachers, and had a conversation, and just kind of talked through, like these are some supports that will really help this student. She emailed me, and she said, “Ms. Gordon, I feel like you helped take a huge rock off of my shoulders.”
- Advice: So, my advice to you is keep being that champion for your students. I know this year is not normal. There's a lot of good things that have come from it, but there are also a lot of challenges. And just remember, your kids need you to be their advocate, to be in their corner, and keep doing the great work that you're doing.
Like the Fellows tell us, you are not alone. We are all in this together. Thank you for all that you've done (and continue to do) for students and their families, colleagues, and your own family, friends, and communities. You are all Featured Educators.
View the eSummit Session
View the full eSummit session featuring the WIDA Fellows through January 2021. The webinar recording is available to members of the domestic WIDA Consortium.