What Can District Leaders Do to Support Teachers of English Learners?


June 27, 2018


All students need good instruction that includes high standards; clear goals and learning objectives; a content-rich curriculum; opportunities for practice and application; appropriate feedback; frequent progress monitoring and re-teaching, as needed; and opportunities for interaction.

When it comes to providing good instruction for English learner (EL) students, there must be modifications and supports that vary based on language proficiency, literacy background and prior level of education.

We recently updated our “What Teachers Should Know” resource, which illustrates a few basic principles all educators (including those who teach language arts, math, science and social studies) can follow to help their EL students progress in academics.

But what can district leaders and building administrators do to support teachers of EL students?

Provide Professional Development Early

Many new and inexperienced teachers are assigned the highest number of EL students, even though their pre-service programs do not provide relevant training.

The induction period, designed to orient and support teachers as they begin their careers, presents an especially important opportunity for districts and schools to further develop educators' knowledge and skills related to EL students.

Professional learning might include a cycle of planning for instruction using the English Language Proficiency Standards as guides, reflecting on the teaching experience, examining student assessment data, collaborating with colleagues and applying this new learning to inform and improve future practice.

Facilitate Collaboration Between EL Specialists and Classroom Teachers

From research, we know the pull-out model (in which EL students are “pulled” out of their mainstream classes several times a week for English language development) is the least effective model for teaching English and content knowledge.

It takes a high level of collaboration between EL specialists and classroom teachers to provide EL students with both focused language development and regular curriculum in English through sheltered instruction—and the same is true with dual-language and bilingual programs.

EL specialists can support classroom teachers by:

  • Providing sheltered instruction in content areas
  • Supporting instruction in the mainstream classroom
  • Teaching English language development in a newcomer program
  • Serving as a coach
  • Co-teaching language and content in mainstream classes
  • Supervising the work of instructional aides who provide English language development to students in a separate classroom

When EL specialists and classroom teachers collaborate, it helps ensure EL students receive coherent instruction that builds their English language proficiency and their knowledge of language arts, math, social studies and science.

Support System Change

Even the most highly qualified and dedicated teachers cannot, by themselves, ensure EL students get what they need to succeed.

Along those lines, high-quality instruction is possible only in a larger context in which schools have adequate curricular materials, sufficient staffing and functional facilities.

Additionally, teachers must have access to high-quality professional learning that is followed up with ongoing support.

Perhaps most important, students and their families—regardless of their national, linguistic or cultural background—must feel welcome and cared for in their schools.

For related information, see our previous blog posts on Six Things Principals Can Do To Support Their English Language Learners and Increasing Teacher Collaboration to Better Serve Students Learning English.