English Learner students-Professional-development-SupportEd

English Learners Bring Many Strengths to the Classroom

SupportEd’s Five Guiding Principles

At SupportEd we frame all of our work — from professional development to technical assistance to research in the field — on the following five essential guiding principles for working with English Learners (ELs):

1. ELs bring many strengths to the classroom.

2. ELs learn best when they are taught in a welcoming and supportive school climate.

3. ELs should be taught language and content simultaneously.

4. ELs benefit when their teachers collaborate to share their expertise.

5. ELs excel when their teachers leverage advocacy and leadership skills.

These principles, which also form the basis of our best-selling book, Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible, speak to what we love most about the work that we do with ELs and the educators who teach them.

In this article, we will focus on the first principle in greater depth by explaining how we incorporate the principle into the work that we do. We’ll also share tips for building on the principle in your own context.

ELs Bring Many Strengths to the Classroom

Principle 1: ELs bring many strengths to the classroom. This principle is centered around the idea that ELs enter the classroom with a rich background of cultural and linguistic experiences that may sometimes be overlooked by their schools and teachers. At SupportEd we recognize that drawing on ELs’ prior experiences and knowledge can assist and motivate them when they engage with new content. We encourage teachers to use such tools as culturally responsive instructional strategies, formative assessments, and home language materials to support them in recognizing and valuing what ELs have to offer. We also encourage educators to frame their interactions with ELs from an assets-based perspective by shaping instruction around ELs’ rich backgrounds.

Ways to Build on ELs’ Strengths

To integrate our first guiding principle for EL education, that ELs bring many strengths to the classroom, you’ll need to build on ELs’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In order to do so, you first need to know your ELs. This month, we suggest you choose one EL that you don’t feel you know very well and try and find out a little more about him or her. Some ways to learn more about this student might include:

•  Attending a school or community event that the student attends

•  Having an informal conversation with the student during lunch or on the playground

• Learning a little of the student’s home language

• Arranging for a social visit with the student’s family in their home (if your school supports this)

• Developing learning tasks that provide opportunities for the student to share information about the people and things that matter in his or her life

What other strategies do you use to learn about, recognize, and value ELs’ strengths, including their cultural and linguistic backgrounds? Share them with us on Twitter @SupportEduc or on Facebook!

About SupportEd

SupportEd, LLC is a woman-owned small business based in Fairfax, VA specializing in Multilingual Learners (MLs). Founded in 2011 by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, best-selling author and ML expert, SupportEd meticulously crafts customized solutions to fit each client’s strengths, needs, and provides teachers and administrators the practical tools necessary to champion MLs’ success within and beyond the classroom. All SupportEd team members have prior experience in the classroom which enables the SupportEd team to provide realistic, actionable solutions. Services include online and in-person immersive professional development workshops, easy-to-implement tools and resources, and an array of supporting services. Visit or call (202) 660-1444 to learn more.

Sydney Snyder