Collaborate for EL Excellence

What happens with authors Andrea Honigsfeld, Maria G. Dove and Tonya Ward Singer meet for a virtual coffee chat?  Synergy and inspiration!  Here’s the first part of our dialogue with our most urgent calls to action for K-12.


TONYA:  I’m absolutely loving your book Collaborating for English Learners, and I’d like to hear from each of you, what do you feel is your most urgent call to action that you want to communicate to educators with this book?

MARIA: Our call to action is for collaboration. And with talking with teachers and administrators, we find that they are on board with the idea but sometimes they don’t have the time to really arrange for these collaborative conversations to take place.

ANDREA­: I think the next point that I’d like to make about it that makes us very, very excited about this kind of work is the huge shift in our field, whether you’re in New York, California, and everywhere in between, to recognize that ESL, ELL, ELD, whatever your title is an educator you can’t do it alone. You need to collaborate with others because the job is so big


  • To integrate content and language.
  • To make sure that kids feel that they are fully integrated into the school day and into every activity – every kind of academic and non academic activity.

So we can’t do it alone. And that’s where our work connects with yours. And we’re a big fan of your book EL Excellence Every Day. And we know that you frequently talk about collaboration as well as integrating content and language. So that’s the main point.

So we’re going to throw the question back to you. What is the urgency on your side?


TONYA: My urgent call to action is for every teacher – every general education teacher, every general education leader – to feel agency for the English language learners in their school.

We need to de-marginalize our profession.

It is important when there are specialists and that specialists learn how to be more effective, and how to go from pull out to collaboration and co-teaching. Also, they are not the only ones who are responsible for English Learners. Our multilingual students spend the vast majority of their time in general education classrooms with general education teachers.

TONYA: What I really love about your work is how you help change the conversation from how does a specialist help students to how does a specialist help build capacity via collaboration?

And I would say the greatest challenge I’m finding, honestly, is that when you put EL on the title of a book then the majority of educators think that means this book is only for people who are teaching English Learners in pull out. That’s a mistake, as I wrote it to help every core teacher teach at high-levels in linguistically-diverse schools.


ANDREA: And that’s an issue we find as well when we do professional development in districts. And very often it’s the ELD specialists or the ESL specialists that are invited to our workshops and the general education teachers are not. That’s where the collaboration starts sometimes in the professional development workshops that we do.

TONYA: This is a really interesting point to discuss. How do you approach that? One thing I do is I ask clients as we plan professional learning, “What outcomes do you want to shift for students?” and then I ask which teachers will participate.

Often a district that wants to raise academic achievement of Els only plans to involve EL specialists in the professional learning. I make it clear, “if you want to close those access gaps that you’re seeing, if you want to see that growth in academic language and literacy, then tier I teaching matters.”

I’m interested in your perspective, how do we as a profession shift from thinking of EL instruction as a support on the sidelines to high-level teaching in the core?

ANDREA: You just summarized 10 years of our professional lives. That’s exactly what we have been advocating for. We see our role as helping others figure out this. So while our work is non-prescriptive, we don’t claim that you have to do it this way or that way, often we actually talk about ownership as being a critical part of developing strong integrated practices. Going back to your previous question because we’ve also written Co-Teaching for English Learners. In this particular book, we focus more strictly on co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessment, and reflection. When we do professional development around this book, we actually require that teacher teams come together.


TONYA: That is so important. And your book on co-teaching help schools make an important transition. When you have a school that is staffed specifically with people who are pulling out and then you bring the research that pull out is not the most effective model for all English learners, then all of a sudden there’s terror, “Is my job going to go away?” That’s actually a change of personnel. So what you two do with your work on co-teaching is say, “Look. With your personnel, with your expertise in the building, here’s another way of working together to use the expertise and to give students more.”

I have another question because in my work helping teachers collaborate via peer observation inquiry I find that many teachers reflect after a year of deep collaboration: “Wow. I feel so much more engaged in my professional learning. This has re-energized my love of teaching!” Do you see this also when people move from isolation to collaboration, that they personally feel more inspired?

ANDREA: Well, there’s always a mixed message there. Because if it is done well, yes. But if it’s not, then one teacher might feel that he or she ends up being the highly paid aid, the helper, the assistant. And we very strongly advise against that. Our work is around supporting teachers with how to create equity or parity.

MARIA: And the shift is frightening. As you mentioned some teachers believe that, “Well, if I make this shift, then what’s my identity now?” So the idea is I think that teachers sometimes want that individualized identity that “I’m the EL teacher and this is what I do. If I’m now moving to a more integrated model of instruction and I’m in the classroom with another teacher, then who am I and what is my role? What are my responsibilities?” As we’ve mentioned, it’s very complex.

And that’s why collaboration is truly key to provide the answers to these complex questions.

ANDREA: Then coming back to your work what we very strongly believe in is that collaboration and co-teaching could be an avenue for capacity building because this knowledge space that you have compiled here can no longer belong only to the specialist.

To be continued. Subscribe to get Part II in your inbox next week!

I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.

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