Madeleine Clays is a public school teacher with twelve years' experience teaching English language learners K–12.
Building an Inclusive Learning Environment
Inclusive schools don't occur by chance. Schools that offer their students an environment of inclusion have made some decisions to bring this about, whether they realize it or not. It is important to note that there are many schools that are diverse but not inclusive. In other words, they have students from various cultural and educational backgrounds and with a wide range of learning abilities, but these students are not integrated into the school in such a way that they are treated equally.
What is an inclusive school?
An inclusive school is a school where all students feel accepted and supported, regardless of their culture, level of education, or learning ability.
5 Ways to Create an Inclusive School for English Language Learners
- Have a bilingual secretary in the front office.
- Recruit more minorities to fill staff positions.
- Hire more teachers who are endorsed to teach ESL.
- Ensure that parents of ELLs receive all important school-related information in their native language.
- Include English learners in all school activities.
1. Have a Bilingual Secretary in the Front Office
The most commonly spoken home language among families of ELLs is Spanish. For this reason, it is essential to have a bilingual secretary in the front office who speaks both English and Spanish.
It makes ELLs and their families feel that they matter.
This simple change in a school's front office can make a world of difference for English language learners and their families as it immediately relays to them that they matter. The message they hear is: "You are important enough to us that we hired somebody who speaks your language so that we can communicate with you effectively." This, in turn, encourages parents to be more involved in their children's education, which leads to greater academic success for ELL students.
It builds trust between the school and the families of ELLs.
When they know somebody is there who speaks their language, parents will feel comfortable stopping by the office and calling the school with questions. Being able to speak directly with the school secretary without an interpreter is much more personable than utilizing a third party, and it helps build trust between the families of ELLs and their school.
It sends a message of inclusion to the school.
Having a secretary in the front office that speaks the native language of the majority of ELLs in your building sends a clear message of inclusion to your school staff and student body. It demonstrates that administrators have taken the extra step to ensure that our ELL students and families have the same access to important school information as non-ELL families.
Just as importantly, it sets the example to the school staff and student body of the treatment that is expected of them towards ELLs in the building. It models and sets the standards for a culture of inclusion in the school.
2. Recruit More Minorities for Staff Positions
As the ELL populations in schools across our country continue to grow, it is imperative to have more staff on board that understand some of the challenges ELLs and their families face. Hiring more minority teachers is a great way to model diversity and help foster a more inclusive school environment.
Many adult minorities have experienced discrimination and injustice and have even been victims of hate crimes because of their race. These individuals are in a position to empathize and relate to some of the challenges English learners face and to connect with them in a unique way.
Hosting job fairs is an excellent way to recruit minority teachers as it greatly widens the pool of applicants and draws in qualified teachers from many regions of the country.
3. Hire More Teachers Who are ESL-Endorsed
Teachers who have voluntarily become ESL-endorsed are usually passionate about working with ELLs and are more sensitive to their needs. They also, of course, have learned to use effective strategies to help ELLs succeed in the classroom.
Some additional advantages to having more ESL-endorsed teachers on board include the reduction or elimination of the need for the co-teaching model. Instead of having ESL teachers co-teach classes with regular classroom teachers in order to comply with service requirements in some states, one dual-endorsed teacher is able to teach her class. This is more cost-effective for schools as it frees up teachers to teach other students.
4. Ensure That Parents Receive Important Information in Their Home Language
The Office of Civil Rights Division of the Dept. of Justice mandates that any school-related information given to parents of non-ELLs should also be given to the parents of ELLs in their language of preference. This includes messages by phone, email, or on paper. Parents are asked for their preferred language of communication when they register their child in school, so schools should have this information at their fingertips.
Ensuring that all important school information is relayed to the parents of our ELLs in their requested language is a simple demonstration of respect and helps to build trust between our students' families and our schools. It is a valuable gesture towards creating a more inclusive school culture.
Just as important is that interpreters be provided for all school-related meetings and conferences for ELLs' parents in their chosen language of communication.
What's the difference between translating and interpreting?
Translation converts the source language into the target language in written form.
Interpretation converts the first language into the second language orally.
Take Advantage of your District Translation/Interpretation Office
It's critical to establish a strong partnership with the translation/interpretation office in your district, as its staff will play a key role in your efforts for inclusion.
Important Information to Know
- What is your district translation department's turnaround time for translations?
- Is there any type of document they don't accept?
- Do they have a preferred format for receiving documents?
- Do they have a minimum word count or word limit for translations?
- How far in advance do you need to book interpreters?
- Can you request a preferred interpreter?
Schools Shouldn't Use Their Staff as Translators and Interpreters
Schools should not ask their bilingual teachers or other bilingual staff members to complete translations or to serve as interpreters for parents of ELLs. Staff members usually don't have the professional training that qualifies them for these important roles.
In addition, administrators should keep in mind that teachers' primary focus is instruction and that translation and interpreting work was not listed as part of their job description when they were hired.
5. Include ELLs in All School Activities
An obvious but not always implemented way to foster an inclusive school for English learners is to involve them in school activities that are going on.
ELLs often need more encouragement to participate in school events and programs because they lack the language skills other students already have. This causes ELLs to lose confidence and feel inadequate.
Indeed, involving ELLs in school activities is a natural and powerful way to build their confidence, which in turn, helps them succeed academically.
Some example activities to involve ELLs in:
In the classroom:
- Taking lunch count
- Being a class helper
- Taking messages to the office
In the school:
- Being part of the Junior Honor Society
- Participating in school announcements
- Joining sports teams and clubs
Creating an inclusive school environment for English learners usually involves some systemic changes along with a good dose of common sense. Sometimes the changes needed to bring about an inclusive school are easy to implement, but at times they may be met with resistance. It can be hard for some staff members to accept change, especially if they are used to doing things the same way for a long time.
Although administrators are ultimately the ones to make the final decisions, teachers are in a strong position to advocate for their ELLs to have an inclusive school environment. to help them achieve their full academic potential
© 2020 Madeleine Clays