Voices from the Field: Engage all teachers to serve all students

In the October Voices from the Field series, authors Keisha La Beach (EAL Coordinator, NCIC-Immersion School), Matt Hajdun (Language Development Coordinator, The Columbus School) and Esther Bettney (WIDA International Program Project Assistant) write about how professional learning is needed for all teachers within a school community so they can be equipped to serve all students, including the particular needs of multilingual learners in online and hybrid classrooms.

Now more than ever, the adage of ‘it takes a village’ rings true. We need each other’s experiences, knowledge, and insights to face the unprecedented demands of remote schooling. The work of supporting multilingual learners cannot just be seen as the work of the EAL specialist. This shift puts two of WIDA’s Essential Actions front and center as we coordinate, collaborate, and share responsibilities:

  • 14. Coordinate and collaborate in planning for language and content teaching and learning.
  • 15. Share responsibility so that all teachers are language teachers and support one another within communities of practice.

Ironically, while we are being forced apart by protocols and mandates, professional collaboration in some ways has never been easier. Quick check-ins in the hallways have been replaced with formally scheduled Zoom sessions and ‘coffee pot chat’ has been substituted with a Google Doc. Yet, teachers are rising to the challenge by embracing complexity and innovating to ensure all learners succeed.


Collective efficacy, as noted in John Hattie’s Visible Learning, has significant impact on student learning. Confirming that how we work together affects how we meet the needs of our students; all students.


Not every teacher wants a Master’s degree in language acquisition; what teachers do want is the confidence and ability to support their multilingual students. By setting aside time to intentionally model, share, and compile tools and strategies anchored in principles, we ensure the time teachers engaged in professional learning about supporting multilingual students is value-added.

Over the past six months, as we have engaged in new types of teaching and learning, we have used a number of professional moves to support all teachers in developing the capacity to support all learners. We might not be able to inspire change and action in all teachers, but we can empower what Kotter identifies as the “coalition of the willing.” The image below illustrates some of the ways we have engaged all teachers in supporting the language needs of all students.

Illustration of types of professional learning which can be used to engage all teachers in supporting the language needs of all students.

Teacher learning opportunities have to be varied, consider the participants, and goal-referenced. One factor that might influence the options used is the number of EAL (ELL/ESL/ELD) specialists on staff, but all options should consider the essentials for educators of multilingual learners. As illustrated below, different configurations of groups and teams can be created to best support professional learning.
Illustration of different configurations of staff groupings to engage in professional learning

Model Lessons

Seeing is believing. Sometimes a five-minute model lesson with a set of reflections questions is worth more than a 60-minute training session. Ideally, there is a way to co-plan, co-teach, co-assess, and co-reflect with modeling as an embedded part of co-teaching, but when that can’t happen, modeling is still possible in a meeting for staff or through watching the recording of a lesson. Remember co-delivery can still be done virtually.

Instructional Coaching

One way to leverage all roles is to ensure that instructional coaches have the capacity to lead conversations around supporting language learners virtually. While coaches might not need to be experts, knowing the WIDA Guiding Principles of Language Development and practices that honor and leverage student assets is important.

Student Case Studies/PLCs/Data Dialogue

A simple yet powerful way to build collaboration and build capacity is focused conversations around individual students. These conversations can be supported with WIDA assessment data and WIDA Can Do Descriptors and lead to action plans and progress monitoring. The interplay between teacher changes in practice, skills, and knowledge and changes in student proficiency offers immediate confirmation of success.

Highlighting Effective Practices in Action

All teachers are already using strategies to support language learners. Everyone brings their own toolbox, especially in international schools where transient teachers have had professional development experiences around the globe. Structures like Teachers Teaching Teachers (mini-PD facilitated by teachers on successful classroom practices) or Walk In, Shout Out (emailing all staff a collection of excellent practices observed while visiting classrooms) allows current practitioners to share what we know actually works.

Weekly Tips

We can’t learn it all at once. Sometimes, bite-sized, targeted learning for all teachers can have the most significant impact. At The Columbus School we have occasionally shared tactics in Weekly Tips by video or monthly cycles where teachers learned a strategy, had time for implementation, and then shared/reflected on how that strategy supported their learners (check out a sample tip).

Read more Voices from the Field:

Voices from the Field introduction

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three students at a table working together

WIDA in Global Contexts

Learn how WIDA serves multilingual students, and how educators around the world use WIDA to improve teaching and learning.