For years, schools have struggled to meet the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs). Increasing diversity in districts throughout New York State requires educators to develop and articulate clear strategies that support this growing student population. CASDA’s Linda Rudnick and Shenendehowa’s Rachel Stead presented the English Language Learner Leadership Institute to help teachers and administrators cultivate a deeper understanding of ELLs and their learning needs. Held on September 29th on UAlbany’s East Campus, this conference shared research and best practices that will enable participants to optimize ESL and Bilingual education programs in their districts.
Following opening remarks from CASDA Executive Director Dr. Jim Butterworth, presenters Dr. Linda Rudnick and Rachel Stead introduced the agenda and emphasized the importance of collaboration in the constantly evolving field of ELL Education. Lissette Colon-Collins of the New York State Education Department delivered her presentation entitled “Ensuring Equal Education Opportunities for English Language Learners.” She began her discussion by asserting that “all teachers are ELL teachers.” This simple statement has profound implications for instructional practice. Embracing this fact shifts ELL, ESL and Bilingual education from a niche concern for a small cohort of specialists and demands that all educators learn to engage ELLs.
Within this paradigm, providing equal learning opportunities for all students, regardless of native language, becomes the responsibility of the entire school community. Ms. Colon-Collins continued her discussion by stating that “districts must recognize bilingualism and biliteracy as an asset.” In the past, teaching non-native English speakers was viewed as inconvenient hurdle for districts to overcome. Diversity, however, is something that must be embraced and celebrated. Bilingual students have the potential to share their own rich culture with fellow students who are native English speakers. These encounters across cultures enrich the education of all students and form the foundation of a more just, equal and open society.
The presentations of Dr. Kristen Wilcox of the University at Albany and Dr. Rudnick focused on the importance of administrators and educators creating a school climate that embraces English Language Learners. Professor Wilcox shared the results of her research conducted with six school districts of varying sizes and demographic compositions. She identified commitment to diversity and the empowering of teachers to explore a variety of instructional adaptations for ELLs as essential practices that ensure equitable opportunities for non-native English speakers. Dr. Rudnick articulated essential administrative characteristics in her presentation entitled “Principal Leadership Attributes: Implications of Beliefs and Practices that Impact Academic Success for English Language Learners on State Accountability Measures.”
Their presentations, and the participant workshops facilitated by Rachel Stead underscored the importance of reflecting on current practices and frequent collaboration and communication for continuous improvement in ELL programs. The English Language Learner Leadership Institute reflected the work that is at the heart of CASDA’s mission. The event brought administrators and educators together with researchers and policy makers to generate a dialog that led to the dissemination of effective practices and encouraged ongoing evaluation and evolution. The presenters and participants communicated a desire to embrace diversity, plurality and cross-cultural understanding that reflects the foundational values of education in a way that will benefit all students.