The Impact of Administrators on ELLs’ Success

School leaders aim to establish a robust support system for all students, with a particular emphasis on English language learners (ELLs) who encounter multiple obstacles throughout their academic journey. In my district located in Saugerties, New York, a rural town 100 miles north of New York City, we address these challenges by offering a range of support services.

It’s worth mentioning that, similar to many other districts in the United States, we do not currently have a bilingual program. The low numbers of ELLs with the same native language per grade level do not require such a program. Regardless of whether your district provides bilingual courses, there are still numerous options for creating an optimal learning environment for these learners.

Here are several services that you may find helpful to consider:

How School Leaders Can Support English Learners

Evaluate the professional support available to ELLs in their content classes. Ideally, ELLs should receive support in all of their core subjects: history, English language arts, math, and science. Additionally, try to group ELLs in classes where there is always a certified English as a Second Language (ESL) or bilingual teacher, if possible. Some schools with larger numbers of ELLs have teachers who are dual-certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and the relevant content area.

The challenge with having a single teacher who is dual-certified in ESL and content is that ELLs have significant needs. It is very difficult for one teacher to fully support a large classroom of ELLs without the additional assistance of a co-teacher. Ideally, the ELL student-to-ELL teacher caseload should not exceed approximately 30 students (30 students overseen by an ESL teacher in total).

Assign a dedicated guidance counselor for ELLs. This will help streamline issues, facilitate communication, and ensure that ELLs are placed in classes where there is appropriate support. The counselor can schedule all ELLs in classes that have a certified ELL teacher or a teaching assistant (TA) specifically for these students. Grouping ELLs together provides them with the additional support of their peers, which, while not necessary, can be beneficial socially and emotionally.

Appoint a school translator and family advocacy worker. This individual works directly with the parents and guardians of ELLs to ensure effective communication and support services. Their responsibilities may include translating forms and other written materials that are sent home, as well as helping to foster strong family-school relationships for all ELLs. They also play a crucial role in ensuring that all school buildings are welcoming to multilingual learners and their families.

Ensure that all events are accessible to guardians of ELLs. Provide translators at orientation, open house, and parent-teacher nights. Alternatively, assign a staff member to accompany guardians throughout the event and utilize a translation app to facilitate conversations with teachers and staff. If this is not feasible, consider enlisting multilingual student volunteers to provide support, subject to the principal’s discretion.

Introduce new students to staff and peers who speak their language. Communicating with others in a language other than English can give newcomers a sense of safety and support.

Prepare welcome packets in appropriate languages. As newcomers arrive throughout the school year, ensure that they receive a detailed orientation. Provide them with a tour of the school using a translator (or a translation app, at the very least), and encourage them to ask questions. Assign a student volunteer to act as their host for the first week or month, if possible. The volunteer can earn community service hours for this role.

Have an ELL specialist or a TA guide them through the school on their first day to facilitate their transition to new classes. Additionally, invite their teachers to pair them with a friendly and empathetic classmate.

Provide regular professional development opportunities. Any professional development specifically focused on supporting multilingual learners can be helpful. However, if the professional development is tailor-made for teachers within your district or school who understand your ELL population, it is likely to be the most relevant and effective.

The best presenter for such professional development sessions is often the ELL specialist in your school or district as they can relate most closely to your staff.

Create opportunities for teachers to collaborate with the ELL specialist. Set aside dedicated collaboration time for classroom teachers and personnel during district conference days, for instance. Schedule ELL teachers to have the same preparation periods as their collaborating teachers.

Communicate about community service hours. Collaborate with teachers and club advisers who require their students to engage in community service and explore how these students can volunteer to support ELLs. For instance, they could serve as conversation partners who meet weekly in the library or as peer tutors who assist ELLs after school or during study halls. Ensure that all students and staff members are aware of these opportunities.

Verify that ELLs are provided with suitable accommodations. Accommodations throughout the school year may include additional time for tests and certain assignments, as determined by the teacher, a separate testing location, translated materials, and oral translation if written translations are not available. Share this information during a faculty meeting.

Offer an after-school extra-help program specifically for ELLs. In Saugerties Junior-Senior High School, we have implemented an extended day program where students remain an extra 40 minutes three days a week to receive language support. This has been tremendously successful and greatly appreciated by students, guardians, and faculty members alike.

Ensure that all stakeholders are informed about graduation pathways. This information should be shared with counselors, teachers, guardians, and students. Provide this information at the beginning of the school year during orientation in the individual’s home language. Additionally, offer students an opportunity to discuss these pathways with an administrator. As newcomers arrive throughout the year, they should also receive this information.

In the end, it is crucial to determine what strategies work best for your school and district based on your budget, staffing, and the specific needs of your ELL population. Continually advocate for additional support and be resourceful with the available resources.

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