Take a schoolwide approach to supporting English learners

By Sarah Ottow
Categories: Collaboration, English learners, Equity, Leadership, School leadership
April 2019
Vol. 40 No. 2
As a professional learning specialist focused on English learners, I often hear concerns like this one from Bridget, an English learner teacher: “My colleagues in general education classrooms say they care about our school’s English learners, but when it comes to teaching them well, with high standards and the right kinds of supports, we fall short. Our school requires a lot of professional development workshops on supporting English learners, yet I just don’t see effective strategies happening schoolwide. I know we need to do better for our kids. I just think we don’t all know how to get there.” Many educators are underprepared to reach and teach English learners, despite the best of intentions. Far too often, the responsibility for supporting English learners falls into

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Sarah Ottow

Sarah Ottow ( is founder and director at Confianza.


Equity for English learners should be the goal of every educator so that every leader, teacher, and support staff:

  • Models respect for diverse groups and exhibits curiosity for ongoing improvement in his or her own development to meet all learners’ needs.
  • Uses inclusive language like “our students” and “What can we do?” so that there is more cohesion and more collaboration.
  • Reframes deficit language like “those students don’t know English” to “our English learners are learning English, which is a complex process that we can help accelerate.”
  • Intentionally seeks ways to work together to focus on schoolwide priority instructional practices that boost academic language development for English learners and all students.
  • Celebrates growth in students and in teams, not just proficiency, so that the culture of the school recognizes risk-taking and incremental steps towards goals.


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Sarah B. Ottow is the founder and director of Confianza, which works with professional learning leaders, coaches, and teachers to develop educators’ capacity to provide access and opportunity for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. This post was adapted from another post on Confianza’s blog at

Categories: Collaboration, English learners, Equity, Leadership, School leadership

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