Authors: Debbie Zacarian, Margarita Calderón, and Margo Gottlieb.
This piece appeared in Corwin Connect.
Crises often amplify inequities that are hidden from view-especially for historically marginalized students from linguistically and culturally diverse populations. Rather than focus on what we perceive is wrong or broken, we can achieve much greater success by tapping into the tremendous strengths and capacities of our local, school and classroom communities. Creating partnerships among this macro- meso- and micro-ecosystems amplify what can and is being done to support all students to flourish in school and their lives.
Building and Strengthening Our MacroSystem: Community Partnerships
Crises often bring communities together to remedy the inequities that are brought to light. They also demonstrate the need for all of us to interact and work together to create an ecosystem where everyone thrives. This is much more possible when school and district-based initiatives focus on building long-lasting relationships with and among students and families as well as individuals, institutions, organizations, and agencies from our local communities.
When confronted with crises, there is an urgency for us to design and enact partnerships that move away from seeing weaknesses, which all-too-often leads to predictable odds of failure for marginalized students, to seeing the inherent strengths that all students and their families possess; being curious and caring; investing time and effort in creating and sustaining meaningful partnerships; supporting multicultural, multilingual communication; and recruiting and sustaining community partners who believe in the same asset-based ideology as we do.
Further, to eradicate inequities, we must build community, school and classroom partnerships that are interconnected, interdependent and strive to raise our awareness of students’ interests and desires, medical health and well-being, and social-emotional and intellectual growth. It requires that we address identified challenges to overcome barriers that do not allow students and families to demonstrate their strengths and children to pursue their aspirations. An essential action to overcome inequities is providing professional growth opportunities that raise a school’s capacity to build a meso-ecosystem that embraces linguistic and cultural diversity as a strength.
Making a School-Wide Commitment to Professional Development
Inequities in schools with multilingual learners abound across the US. Within this student demographic, English learners typically spend thirty minutes in ESL classrooms and the rest of the day in general education K-5 classrooms or in 6th – 12th core content classrooms, struggling to comprehend the content and required readings. These inequities and challenges call for three major changes that schools/districts need to make for implementing and monitoring those changes through comprehensive professional development in collaboration with communities and families.
- First, evidence-based instructional strategies for incorporating language, culture, and literacy into core content areas need to be implemented in all classrooms, not just ESL. The first round of ‘sheltered instruction’ was a compilation of activities that made sense years ago. It is time to take a second look at some emerging programs that are yielding better results.
- Second, in order for all teachers in a school to effectively implement new instructional approaches, shift toward assets-based views of ELs, and have positive student outcomes, schools need to institute whole-school professional development. The principals, staff development coordinators, and EL advocates present features of this effective staff development, follow-up coaching, and teacher support systems. They discuss how they are making this professional development “work.”
- The third, and perhaps the most difficult aspect of effective changes in schools that work for ELs and all other students, is integration, interdependence, and collaboration for sustainability. The features for integrating language, literacy and content, collegial activities, monitoring transfer of training into the classroom, and tools for sustainability must be the overarching goals and daily reminders. Actionable reminders for co-teaching, monitoring of student progress, problem-solving, and celebration of successes in Teachers Learning Communities (TLCs) emerge from the comprehensive professional development program. These efforts lead to ELs’ and other multilingual learners’ successful participation and learning in their classrooms.
Connecting Classrooms to Schools and Communities
Linguistic and cultural inequities exacerbated by recent and ongoing crises have caused us to reimagine classrooms and re-envision our interactions with students and families. In response, teachers have gained insight into students’ family life and have greater empathy and understanding of multilingual learners’ ‘funds of knowledge’ and ‘funds of identity’. Additionally, schoolwide professional development has given teachers enhanced opportunities to delve into critical action research to better understand the benefits of embedding students’ languages, cultures, and experiences into instruction and classroom assessment. As a result, we have witnessed how teachers, students, and family members have become empowered educational partners.
With greater sensitivity to multilingual learners’ languages and cultures, classrooms are becoming more linguistically and culturally responsive. Curriculum is becoming more inclusive of students’ interests, lives, and lived experiences, inviting multiple perspectives, and combating stereotypes and biases. Teaching practices facilitate student interaction, build on students’ linguistic and cultural repertoires, and engage students in solving problems through inquiry. Additionally, teachers have come to value students’ social-emotional development and mental health as much as content, literacy, and language learning.
Ultimately, as educators, we have begun to overcome linguistic and cultural inequities by creating greater connections with and relationships among teachers, students, and families. While we admit that educational, health and societal injustices most probably will always exist to some degree, when these current crises subside, it is our firm conviction that schools and classrooms will be more reflective of the communities in which they reside. For equity to truly take hold, we must embark on a new beginning where all our multilingual and other minoritized students have opportunities to thrive in the ecosystems in which they interact- communities schools, and classrooms.
Debbie Zacarian, Margarita Calderón, and Margo Gottlieb collaborated in writing Beyond Crises: Overcoming Linguistic and Cultural Inequities in Communities, Schools, and Classrooms recently published by Corwin.