Sunday, August 25, 2013

How to collaborate effectively with your ESOL Specialist

Most schools in the United States these days have an ESOL Specialist. I talked in my last post in this series about what an ESOL specialist is and what they do. This post is centered on how to effectively collaborate with your ESOL Specialist to ensure that your students are receiving the best possible education.

Plan together.
This can take on many forms, but your ESOL specialist can't support the students properly if she doesn't know exactly what you're working on. This means more than telling the specialist "We'll be working on equivalent fractions this week." If you do daily plans, share these with the ESOL specialist as soon as you finish the plan. Additionally, since ESOL specialists often work with more than one grade and content area, you might consider give him/her a list of important vocabulary words and phrases associated with the topic. This way the ESOL specialist can determine the best way to offer language support that is tailored to your lesson.

Invite the ESOL specialist to your grade-level planning meetings. Sit down personally one-on-one with the specialist. Use Skype or Google Docs to collaborate remotely if you don't have time during school and don't want to stay after.

Do remember that your ESOL Specialist is there to help support the language of the content, not the content itself. However, your ESOL teacher is uniquely trained on how to infuse language learning into content learning. They are not there to help your kids "finish this worksheet" or whatever else you're doing in class. They have their own standards relating to language development which must be met. Often, the activities done in the mainstream do not focus on or support language development, so the ESOL teacher usually plans specific activities to complement your lesson that are designed boost academic language acquisition. Please do not treat your ESOL specialist like a para-pro and ask them to finish whatever you were doing.

Keep the ESOL specialist in the loop.
Often, mainstream teachers and other school personnel forget to keep the mainstream teacher in the loop on what is happening in the school or classroom. I can't tell you how often I've shown up at a class with all my materials and a lesson that took a long time to put together, only to hear "Oh, I guess I forgot to mention, the kids have art/an assembly/a class party today".

Please communicate with your ESOL specialist and give him/her the same professional respect you hope to receive!

Learn exactly what your ESOL specialist does.
Many teachers don't utilize or work with an ESOL specialist correctly because they don't know what one does. My last post touches on that, but it can often vary from school to school, so get to know your ESOL specialist and find out exactly what responsibilities they have at your school. This will build a bridge to successful collaboration with your ESOL specialist. If you're not sure what to ask, here's a few to start:
  • How many students do you have on your caseload?
  • What instructional duties do you have besides teaching? (testing accommodations, etc)
  • What non-instructional duties do you perform?
  • Do you have your own set of English language development standards?
  • What is your preferred teaching style?
  • How many grade levels do you service?

Treat your ESOL specialist like the professional educator he or she is.
Most often, your ESOL specialist has achieved the same level of education as you have, or higher, and is a certified teacher. Many ESOL Education programs are graduate programs resulting in a Master's or higher.

However, ESOL Specialists, especially those that "plug-in" to the classroom rather than offer pull-out service, are relegated to the duties of a para-pro in the classrooms where they plug-in. Or, they are given a table where they can work with their students, which is still really "pull-out" education. Rather, in order to make your plug-in truly successful, offer your ESOL specialist the opportunity to design an activity or teach a lesson or mini-lesson to the whole class. Treat the situation as having two teachers in the room (because you do) rather than a teacher and a para-pro (because that is not the case).

Ask for help or resources.
Don't be afraid to ask your ESOL specialist or help with reaching your ELLs, understanding their needs or for resources. ESOL specialists often have great ideas and a variety of resources they can provide you to help meet the needs of your students. But, don't expect them to do all the work for you. I've many times had a teacher come and tell me, "YOU need to find ____ for this student because I don't have time." Remember, your ESOL specialist has as many responsibilities as you do. Work together!

I hope these tips will help you as you work with your ESOL specialist this year!

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