September 2018 Featured Educator: Sandy Moller

Sandy Moller has been chosen for the September, 2018, WIDA Featured Educator after being highly praised by her Assistant Principal and Superintendent.  Their praise described her teaching abilities, connections with students, collaboration with staff, positive rapport with families, constant quest to grow professionally, and deep understanding of the multiple lenses needed for school leadership.

Where do you teach? What grades? How long have you been a teacher? What is your current position and how long have you been in this role?

I’ve been an ELL/ bilingual teacher at Park View School for four years. I’ve been teaching seven years overall in my career. Park View is a Pre-Kinder through 8th grade school, and I primarily work with Kindergarten and 1st grade students. Describe your class, school, and district.

Please tell me a little about its location, size, and the composition of the student body? What do language services look like in your school?

Park View School is a one-school district in Morton Grove, Illinois. We serve 900 students, all of which come from very diverse backgrounds. There are over 30 languages spoken at our school. It’s truly amazing! Our top three languages spoken are Urdu, Spanish, and Romanian. Twenty percent of our students are English Language learners. We facilitate learning through push-in support, pull-out support, and we’re also moving a lot towards co-teaching.

Why did you choose to become an educator? What do you love about your job? What frustrates you?

I chose to become an educator through the example of my father. He was a lover of learning and he was a natural-born leader. He inspired me to go after my dreams and find a place where I can serve others with my gifts. Education seemed like a place where I could really make a difference and follow my father’s example. What I love about my job is being able to serve the students that come through our doors each day. I love that I can be part of their daily lives.

For many of our students, they see us more than they see their parents. So, in a way I get to be part of their family—that is really amazing. I love to be able to say, "I was part of his or her learning and growth; these kids are like our own kids." As far as what frustrates me, I think we could do better at not making assumptions about our kids. I think sometimes we see them with the baggage they come in with - what they can and can’t do. We need to see over that; we need to see through that. We need to be able to say, "I can teach all kids, no matter what they bring/carry through those doors."

What is your approach towards supporting language learning in your classroom and school? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching language learners?

I would say that my approach to supporting language learners is to first help them feel confident. It starts there. In order for someone to be able to communicate, either orally or in writing, you need to have confidence to make mistakes and to have successes. It’s our job as educators to help our students build that confidence. Then, you find their interests and strengths and help them continue to build on that confidence. When it comes to teaching language learners, learning through games or language/academic apps is always exciting. But, using songs to learn English has been a huge learning strategy for my students. When it comes to learning a new language, songs always go in your favor. As a bonus don't be afraid to add some dance movements. Add some Total Physical Response! But, before that, like I stated, we have to build our students’ confidence so that they will be able to take advantage of those or any strategies.

How do you encourage students to learn? How do you accelerate their language development and ensure their equitable access to content learning?

I encourage students to learn by letting them know that they CAN learn. They have to believe that they can learn. They have to hear it from an adult; they have to get the assurance that the adult thinks they can learn. I secure their equitable access by always making sure their academic needs and their language needs are being met. That comes with knowing your student. We need to be able cater to what they specifically need, whether academic vocabulary or oral practice or listening strategies. We need to know the kid as a whole.

How do you determine which language standard(s) to focus on in a lesson? Describe your planning process to address the needs of your students. How do you manage to collaborate with content area teachers?

With my Kindergarteners I definitely use the screener results as a start. The MODEL screener always comes in handy because it gives us like a snapshot of what the student is going to need me to focus on. When we know their speaking levels, their listening levels, and so on that helps us plan for instruction. With the older kids, I look at the Can Do Descriptors to help me plan. Since I’m not their only teacher, I also collaborate with the homeroom teacher and we plan together and use the Common Core standards to see how both of us can support each other to create the best lesson plan for our students.

What benefits of strength do language learners bring to your classroom and school? What benefits do their families bring to the schools or community?

Our language learners bring so many strengths. They come in with rich experiences that many of us adults have never had the opportunity to be part of. They come in with such a diverse culture of norms and ethics, and they are problem solvers, they are empathetic, and they are knowledgeable. When they come to our school they have so much to give. Families bring so much trust, and I always respect that. They are examples to other parents because they trust educators so much. They’re willing to support whatever the educators have to say. They not only bring that trust, but they also bring the diverse thinking, and their rich culture.

What methods or tools do you use to assess your students' language learning?

Language learning should be an ongoing process, so not only do we do formative or summative assessments, but we also try to focus on the progress of the four domains of language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I try to do that by collecting evidence throughout their time in our school. Building a portfolio to see their growth is a good idea. Also we have to remember that immediate feedback to the student is crucial. Overall I think the best form of assessment is when the students self-evaluate. They can do this with rubrics or by filling out different forms for self-evaluation.

How has WIDA helped you achieve your goals as an educator?

WIDA is my number one place to go to when I’m stuck on what I need in the classroom. WIDA has helped me not only with the trainings of WIDA Screeners for our Kindergartners or new students, but it has truly helped me help our parents understand the assessments and the ACCESS scores. WIDA has resources that help our parents understand how important these assessments are. They can get a glimpse of how their child is doing in school or, in this case, in English.

I really like the fact that WIDA has resources in various languages, especially for our school. We always need that. The Can Do Descriptors are with me all the time. Every time I go into a classroom and have a meeting with a teacher, I always show them what the Can Do Descriptors say and how the teacher can accommodate learning according to those Can Do Descriptors. Of course, in terms of professional learning, I always like to take a look at all of the online professional learning modules. The modules have been very helpful to me.

Do you have anything you would like to add? Do you have some final thoughts to help us learn more about you?

I really want to say that at Park View School we teach all students. All means all. All kids, including our English language learners, can reach high standards of learning.