Don’t Forget to Mind Your Ps

As we all look forward to the amazing information to come from this year’s International TESOL Conference in Atlanta and the many other great conferences still ahead of us in 2019, it’s natural to look back at the scholarly work TESOLers have accomplished. In my own review of past articles and blog posts from fellow professionals, I was reminded of an important topic driving my work this year outside the classroom as much as inside. After missing the 2018 International TESOL conference, I snagged the Quick Guide to The 6 Principles of Exemplary Teaching of English Learners and was thrilled to see mentioned there my three favorite words: engage, collaborate, and advocate. Be still, my heart!

In case you haven’t read them, here’s the gist of the 6 principles. Great teachers:

  1. Know their learners;
  2. Create conditions for language learning;
  3. Develop high quality lessons for language development;
  4. Adapt lesson delivery as needed;
  5. Monitor and assess student language development; and my favorite,
  6. Engage and collaborate within a community of practice.

At various points in our journeys through the New School MATESOL program, we learn the importance of these principles. But we all know how easy it is to focus on pedagogy, the pursuit of an epic classroom experience, or understanding the nuances of curriculum design and reliable assessment-no trick questions, right? It’s also easy to become an island among a sea of colleagues, each struggling toward a similar goal, wrestling for the next hustle at a coveted institution, mastering a new e-learning platform, or becoming doggedly harsh with ourselves about how far we thought we’d be by now, so you must adapt, adapt, adapt, like the amazing teacher you are! Anticipate challenges. Prepare for the unexpected. Oh, and don’t forget that board plan-it’s not just a notepad, you know!

Originally written to apply to K-12 contexts, the 6 Ps also apply to our adult ESOL classrooms and are now being encouraged globally to foster high quality instruction and excellence in programming across ELT contexts. TESOL International says that these 6 Ps “should undergird any program of English language instruction.” Today, I’ll focus on the sixth principle as it applies to an oft-overlooked but very important aspect of ELT: engagement, collaboration, and advocacy.

Regardless of our personal, political, social, or ideological positions, I think we can all agree that the current situation in America has become increasingly hostile to immigrants and ELLs/MLLs. That uptick in unfiltered bias against diversity has taken a toll on our enrollment and availability of resources. While some might say, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about politics…”, I would ask that you consider how not having those uncomfortable conversations can affect our jobs, our students, and our field. By having those tough conversations about policy and taking steps toward engagement, collaboration, and advocacy, we can impact positive change as educators, charting the way toward the ELT we want to see in the world.

Let’s head back to our 6 principles, shall we? The sixth principle for exemplary teaching focuses on engaging and collaborating among our colleagues so that we can most effectively meet the needs of our students. As reflective teachers, we mustn’t reflect only on our classroom experiences, how well we explained the past perfect progressive, or whether we made the lesson sufficiently communicative and student-centered. We must also reflect upon how well, how often, and in what ways we are contributing to the future of the field, our colleagues’ growth potential, professional scholarship, and our own professional development. By developing who we are as teachers has an inherent impact on our classrooms.

The sixth P of an excellent teacher includes collaborating or co-planning with other teachers. If you work in the K-12 context, that means you may have to really work at coordinating, sharing, and planning together how to meet the needs of learners in your own classroom and their other classes. This not only ensures that you are prepared, but it works to create shared responsibility among teachers while advocating for what’s truly best for your students’ holistic journeys. While I know that K-12 is not my niche, maybe it’s yours. Only you will know how to masterfully weave together many students’ needs and a variety of teaching styles and personalities. Trust your instincts! Collaboration among providers opens the door to mutual trust, cohesion, and co-creation.

My adult ESOL teaching team meets once a month for curriculum collaboration. In those meetings, we tackle important administrative items, but we also share where we are in the curriculum for our level(s). We look at how students are progressing, where we see challenges or slower progress, and allow time to ask for help when we’re stumped on a topic, knowing how to incorporate a project, or reflecting on a task we want to implement but aren’t quite sure how we envision that happening in real time. That’s why engagement and collaboration is so important. Every one of you have gifts and creative insights that are unique. We need those gifts shared! I believe that collaboration accomplishes far more than competition every time.

The 6th P also discusses intentionally taking on an active role in curricula development, pouring into other TESOL professionals at your institution, and honing one’s own reflective skills so that we can contribute to the development of other practitioners. If you’ve been teaching for five years or twenty, you’ve got mad skills, best practice tips, and creative, innovative ideas that need to be cast into the magic of the universe! Whether you think you’re an expert or not, I can guarantee you that there’s a grad student or newly minted TESOLer who would love to have coffee and pick your brain. As a matter of fact, the 6th P recommends holding “lunch and learns” or starting a small group of colleagues to serve as mutual co-teachers and observers who can give constructive, meaningful feedback and help teachers develop a strategy for implementing plans successfully in each context.

Finally, we’ve come to my absolute favorite part: Advocacy! It’s not just about politics, it’s about voice. One of the most elusive aspects of teaching can be illuminating the connection between policy-makers, funders, administrators/executives, and practitioners. Did you know that the state of New York currently serves only 3% of its growing adult LEP (limited English proficiency) population? Did you also know that there are more state and federal budget cuts anticipated for the coming year? Did you further know that the only way to get those funds restored and returned to the classroom is by advocating at the state and local levels and getting involved in the legislative process beyond voting? Current “asks” include increased adult literacy education funding (ALE) – $15.3 million to be exact-plus new pushes toward multi-generational and family literacy funding.

Moreover, are you aware that there are new ESOL approaches and models being written that would change the function of community-based adult language classrooms? There’s a new program model on the horizon that seeks to better integrate English language, digital literacy, family financial planning, self-study skills, culture, civics, and a host of other really cool ways that we can help immigrants/ELLs fully integrate their lives into their communities. It’s still in the works, so keep your eyes and ears open! The Migration Policy Institute and state advocates are working together to define how this new approach might change the way we think about classroom and community-based ESOL. There are also coalition leaders and scholars changing the narrative of adult language learning, shifting the focus toward family literacy and multi-generational approaches to language programs to produce holistic, real-life outcomes. Multi-gen and two-generational approaches allow families to work together toward independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency all while getting that language instruction YOU are so well qualified to provide. By getting involved in advocacy work, you aren’t just affecting your classroom, you’re affecting classrooms and ELT for years to come. Advocacy allows us to change the way we talk about language learning and teaching, positively impacting public opinion-a particularly important point where legislation and funding are concerned.

You might ask, “How can I fit engagement, collaboration, and advocacy into my already full schedule?” Think of your mentor(s) and the value that they have poured into you over the course of your relationship. Make a commitment not to get lost in the day-to-day. Immediately after my MATESOL graduation, I became hyper focused on developing my own path and getting teaching gigs (we all have to pay the bills, right?), which didn’t allow for a lot of collegial interaction or professional development. For my first two years as the ESOL Coordinator for our Pathway to English program, I was so engrossed in teaching/coordinating a community-based program, working tirelessly to ensure its longevity, that I ignored my inner voice and didn’t make time for important conferences, panels, research, journals, webinars, and a whole slew of things I wanted to contribute to the field. Since early 2018, though, I’ve made it a priority to get more engaged with my TESOL community, renewing memberships to professional organizations (TESOL, IATEFL, AAUW, etc.), joining coalitions, marching in rallies, working with advocacy groups (NYCCAL, COABE, NYIC…), researching, and putting pen to paper. And in all of that, I want you to know, teachers, that our voices matter. They matter in the halls of schools, in classrooms, and in teachers’ lounges. They matter in boardrooms of nonprofits and rallies in the streets. They matter when funding cuts close our doors, and they matter in the ears of Congress. Your. Voice. Matters. Now, go share it with somebody else. That young teacher wants to hear what you have to say!

If you would like to learn more about how these 6 Principles of Exemplary Teaching can be incorporated into your own context, I highly recommend attending the 2019 TESOL Convention sessions on the 6 Principles. This month, TESOL released the long awaited second book in the series, The 6Ps of Adult Education and Workforce Development. If you are, like me, unable to attend the conference this year don’t let time get away from you. Access the recordings or have a friend snag the materials. Order the book (my copy is already in transit).  In fact, fellow MATESOL alum, Rob Sheppard, will be coordinating some important Adult Ed sessions in Atlanta. If you can, check it out. Go, teacher! Engage, collaborate, and advocate!

 

Author’s Biography: Rebecca Reed began her ELT career in South Korea. Since then, she has taught at the College of Charleston, online through Webilang.com, and in private language schools. Rebecca completed the MATESOL program in 2015, followed by a Graduate Certificate in Sociology from Appalachian State University, and is currently working towards an MPA in Nonprofit Management from Seton Hall University. Since 2016, Rebecca has been at CARECEN, where she helped launch the Pathway to English program and serves as the ESOL Services Coordinator.