TESOL Connections

Generating Coteaching Solutions to Benefit Students

by Elise Brittain

Coteaching requires more than putting teachers in a room together. Explore coteaching varieties and issues, and then learn about challenges and solutions. Professional development activity for working together to generate solutions that benefit students provided. 

Collaborative activities have taught me how to work with diverse individuals, take on deeper self-responsibility, and appreciate other teachers’ strengths. Therefore, when I began teaching in a school with a coteaching model, I was optimistic. However, the coteaching domain, although increasingly implemented to meet the requirements of simultaneous content and second language teaching, requires more than putting teachers in a room together. Following, I explore issues related to coteaching and suggest a professional development activity for generating solutions to coteaching challenges.

Defining Coteaching

Agatha Vitale, a high school English language development/English language learner teacher, defined coteaching as “an honest, comfortable, trusting partnership; accepting and respectful of different styles of teaching and respectful of different areas of expertise. There is no more mine/yours...only ours!” (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2018, p. 10). The shift from “yours and mine” to “ours” challenges the detached conceptualization of teaching that isolates teacher responsibility. In contrast, building collaborative and coteaching practices can lead to greater student achievement due to “shared purpose, a mutual cause, and the ability to bring about change through joint action” (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2018, p. 20). When considering what and who we teach in terms of “our” goals and “our” students in contrast to “yours” and “mine,” the conversation becomes more holistic regarding not only students’ learning but also teachers’ professional development.

Forms of Collaboration

The English teaching field includes ranging contextual factors that impact students and their goals. Though much of the conversation about coteaching models is geared toward U.S. K–12 educational teaching practices (in which standards for English learners [ELs] involve social and academic language learning along with multiple content areas and other services), collaborative practices can potentially benefit all teachers in their development and students in their achievement. According to Hattie (2015), the high variability in student achievement within schools may be due to inconsistency among the effectiveness of teachers; however, when there is collaboration among teachers, higher collective efficacy can result (as cited in Dove & Honigsfeld, 2018, p. 2).

Joint Professional Learning

In considering collaborative practices within varied educational, cultural, and linguistic contexts, it is important to highlight multiple forms of collaborative practices. Dove and Honigsfeld (2018) describe multiple ways in which collaboration can occur in instructional settings, including planning, curriculum mapping and alignment, parallel teaching, codeveloping teaching materials, collaborative assessment of students’ work, classroom coteaching, and joint professional learning (p. 11). Joint professional learning may include

  • collegial circles,
  • peer visitations,
  • collaborative coaching and mentoring,
  • research and development,
  • collaborative inquiry (action research),
  • lesson study,
  • professional learning communities,
  • collaborative learning teams, and
  • professional learning networks (such as TESOL interest sections for TESOL members). (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2018, p. 12)


Coteaching provides opportunities for teachers’ colearning, which “dismantles asymmetrical power relationships in the classroom; it builds a more genuine community of practice...toward dynamic and participatory engagement in creating a peaceful and sustainable world” (Brantmeier, 2013, p. 97). Colearning occurs when individuals are equally valued for what they bring to the collaborative space. Coteaching serves as a model for students’ cooperation with their peers, and when teachers and students are engaged in purposeful collaboration, learning is enhanced for teachers and students alike.

Issues in Coteaching

Vulnerability and Power Equity

Coteaching may require teachers to exercise vulnerability, which Brown (n.d.) in her work on shame and vulnerability defines as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Coteachers may be uncertain about their individual or collective decisions, run the risks associated with trying new teaching approaches with another team member, and be required to confront their own and others’ emotions openly through effective communication (e.g. expressing feelings of frustration or anger about unmet expectations, seeking and giving appreciation and respect). Though it is challenging to confront, Brantmeier (2013) considers vulnerability as foundational for colearning opportunities. To fully engage in the coteaching process not only as coplanners and coteachers but also as colearners, teachers will confront vulnerability, an integral part of the establishment of power equity necessary for colearning spaces.

Additional Issues

Some issues that may arise in coteaching of ELs include mixed expectations regarding the role of the EL specialist, lack of knowledge regarding teaching ELs, assigning coteachers without establishing the full instructional cycle of collaboration (planning, instruction, assessment, and reflection), lack of trust and effective communication, lack of administrative support, and no common planning or reflection time (Dove & Honigsfeld, 2018). Administrative support is crucial, as coteaching requires opportunities for collaboration. In my own coteaching experience, administrative support and leadership as well as establishing rapport and improving communication practices with my coteachers were areas that greatly improved our efforts.

Moving Toward Solutions for Coteachers

According to Speck and Knipe (2005), “high-quality professional development is a sustained collaborative learning process that systematically nourishes the growth of educators (individuals and teams) through adult learner-centered, job-embedded processes” (pp. 3–4). Reflective protocols such as those provided by Dove and Honigsfeld (2018) can help coteachers reflect on and grow in their practices together. Visible thinking routines, such as Compass Points from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, can also be used as professional development activities by coteaching teams to generate solutions.

Following, I have provided an activity, inspired by these protocols, that coteachers can use to develop actionable solutions for implementing agreed upon coteaching practices. This activity, designed to center coteachers’ attention on student achievement, can be used synchronously through in-person or online meetings or can be used asynchronously using an online collaborative tool, such as Google Docs.

Conduct this activity in coteaching teams or collaborative discussion groups.

Step 1

Begin by downloading the graphic organizer (Appendix A; .docx or .pdf):

Step 2

Each teacher should fill in responses individually on a copy of the organizer, then merge coteachers’ individual responses in a shared copy of the graphic organizer.

Step 3

Agree on group roles to keep the discussion moving forward: recorder, timekeeper, facilitator, clarifier, and so on. As a team, identify the areas multiple coteachers agreed on in their individual brainstorms.

Discuss the evidence from student development for these identified areas and review ideas for possible shared or individual actions, paying attention to the details of what, how, when, and where these actions will be implemented, as well as who (i.e., one coteacher or multiple) will take responsibility.

Continue the same process with the other responses that were generated, prioritizing those that have clear evidence from student development or performance.

Step 4

Share the final document, which includes the team’s actionable solutions, with other coteaching teams to expand on possible solutions.

Step 5

Choose a manageable number (one to three) of the top sustainable ideas to commit to implementing as a coteaching team within a given timeframe. Document and follow up on this agreement after a period of implementation to create sustainable rather than one-shot professional development.

Tips for Success

Solutions are not universal and depend on the buy-in of those involved and the particular needs of students within a given context. Depending on your context, to establish a positive and productive collaborative partnership, consider

  • creating a partnership agreement,
  • being open and honest,
  • setting up a weekly common planning time,
  • bringing school leaders into the planning process, and
  • keeping the focus on what is best for students (Dove and Honigsfeld, 2018).

Here are some more tips:

Individualize Solutions: Solutions need to be tailored to the needs of students and the capabilities of the coteaching team.

Prioritize Alliance: Solutions determined and agreed upon by coteachers are more likely to be approached positively and address student needs than those mandated by authority.

Conduct an Initial Assessment: Begin the professional development exercise by first assessing participants’ beliefs, attitudes, and opinions about coteaching. If participants have decided that coteaching will not work for them, it may be better not to force the issue. Instead, focus the activity on solutions that serve identified student needs.

Take It Slowly: In order to create sustainable practices, it is best to implement one new solution at a time.

Although coteaching is not without its challenges, collaborative efforts that address these frustrations have the potential to result in professional growth and colearning for teachers. Celebrating successes in student achievement and personal and professional development that follow from these collaborative efforts is key to maintaining momentum. When coteachers put the learning and well-being of their students and coteachers at the center of their practices, everyone can reap rewards.


Brantmeier, E. J. (2013). Pedagogy of vulnerability: Definitions, assumptions, and applications. In J. Lin, R. L. Oxford, & E. J. Brantmeier (Eds.),Reenvisioning higher education: Embodied pathways to wisdom and social transformation (pp. 95–106). IAP.

Brown, B. (n.d.). Definitions. Brené Brown. https://brenebrown.com/definitions/

Dove, M. G., & Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-teaching for English learners: A guide to collaborative planning, instruction, assessment, and reflection. Corwin.

President and Fellows of Harvard College. (2016). Project Zero's thinking routine toolbox. https://pz.harvard.edu/thinking-routines

Speck, M., & Knipe, C. (2005).Why can’t we get it right? Designing high-quality professional development for standards-based schools (2nd ed). Corwin.

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Elise Brittain is a PhD student of culture, literacy, and language at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Elise has supported the teaching of English in multiple contexts, including as an instructor in U.S. intensive English programs, an English language learner support teacher in an international elementary school, and as an English language fellow teaching and conducting teacher training in Uzbekistan.


From the President: TESOL Brings Learning to You

by Deborah J. Short

TESOL President Deborah J. Short considers the purpose of professional development in general and in the field of English language teaching specifically. She discusses the many opportunities for professional learning with TESOL International Association and includes a call to join the TESOL leadership on the Nominating Committee or the Board of Directors. 

This month’s edition of TESOL Connections focuses on professional development (PD), a key area for our personal growth as educators. You may recall that in TESOL’s The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners, the final principle is “Engage and Collaborate within a Community of Practice.” It encourages us to both receive and contribute to professional learning.

What is the purpose of PD? Simply, to learn. To learn more about what interests us; what makes us better educators, administrators, and leaders; and what enables us to provide the best possible instruction and programming for our English learners.

Most of us have attended colleges, universities, and/or graduate schools, which are formalized types of professional learning. Many of us have participated in workshops and courses for our jobs, which are less formal but nonetheless required. What TESOL offers is something more flexible and even adventurous. We get to explore topics that we are interested in or curious about—to deepen our knowledge, build on existing skills, and learn new ones. We have more control. And one thing our association does well is PD! TESOL offers incredible variety for the more informal type of learning; it’s easy to find PD or print resources that fit our needs, budget, and schedule. Just as choice motivates our learners, it motivates us as well.

It was really disappointing that we had to cancel the Denver 2020 Convention. More than 4,500 of us would have attended the biggest professional learning event of our year. How wonderful it would have been to have had the “chore” of deciding which sessions to attend and when to visit the exhibit hall or the TESOL bookstore. But we still have the opportunity develop our knowledge base virtually through two major upcoming events and a plethora of webinars and courses.

Suppose you have questions about policies, like “How will budget cuts affect my program?”, “What can I do to ensure my school continues to develop my students’ English skills through distance learning?”, and “How can my affiliate have some influence on our ministry of education?” Then join us for the Virtual Advocacy Summit, 22–24 June 2020, where policymakers and advocates will share their tips and expertise with us.

Suppose you want to know more about teaching young English learners, designing a student-mediated English for specific purposes curriculum, improving pronunciation among healthcare workers, or starting a creative writing course. Maybe you need tips for teaching grammar, analyzing a corpus database, or conducting speaking assessments. Or perhaps you want to learn about the latest tech tools for online teaching. Then join us at the Virtual Convention, 16–18 July 2020 for live keynotes, recorded sessions with live Q&As, real-time chats with publishers, and online hangouts where you can socialize and network with new and old friends.

Suppose you have a new position and will be working with English learners who have learning disabilities; we have a course for you. Do you want to know how to train your teachers with The 6 Principles®? We’ll soon have a self-study program. Want a TESOL certificate? Sign up on our website today. Whether it is a virtual seminar on action research or a set of lesson plans in the TESOL Resource Center, TESOL has a wide and multifaceted assortment of opportunities.

And finally, suppose you want to further develop your leadership skills. Why not take the ultimate step and submit your application for one of our elected positions? Consider joining us on the Nominating Committee, the TESOL Board of Directors, or as president-elect if you have already served on the board. I can promise you on-the-job PD with capable mentors and dedicated colleagues.

A true advantage of our association is that many of these PD options are available at no or low cost to members. Even nonmembers can join us for our casual and complimentary myTESOL Lounge Live sessions to ask questions about English language teaching and share ideas. Participating in PD can be refreshing and reflective, inspiring and intellectually stimulating. So why not engage and learn with us?

Deborah J. Short, PhD, is TESOL International Association president (2020–2021). She directs Academic Language Research & Training, LLC and provides professional development on academic literacy, content-based ESL, and sheltered instruction worldwide. She has led numerous research projects related to English learner education, codeveloped the SIOP Model, and served as series editor for several 6 Principles books.

Speaking and Listening Strategies for Job Interviews

by A. C. Kemp
Interviewing is hard. Learn some key linguistic strategies to help your English learners prepare for job interviews in English-speaking contexts. 

For 25 years, I’ve taught ESL to many different populations in many different contexts, but one thing has remained constant: Many of my students hope to get a job in an English-speaking country—especially in the United States.

Unfortunately, language can be a barrier to that dream. U.S. companies tend to give the interview portion of the job hiring process much more weight than companies in other countries (Gatewood, Feild, & Barrick, 2008), which puts international English language learners (ELLs) who lack strong speaking skills at a disadvantage.

Another area of difficulty is listening. Understanding speech can be difficult enough in face-to-face conversations, and initial interviews are often conducted on the phone or on video chat platforms, which do not always sync—meaning that students can’t use visual cues.

Though cultural norms, such as interview structures that include small talk and storytelling, also play a large part in the success of candidates seeking jobs in North America, I focus here on key linguistic strategies that ELLs can use to prepare for job interviews in all English-speaking contexts.

Speaking Strategies

Under pressure, the graduate students I teach often race through familiar and frequently used words in their fields. Essential terms like “electrical engineering” and “supply chain” become a blur, rendering otherwise clear sentences incomprehensible. Grammatical endings disappear and thought groups are broken up with “uh” and “mmm.” Therefore, there are two main challenges: helping students slow down by giving them more time and teaching them to take advantage of that time to be more accurate.

Improving Accuracy

Activity 1: Building Awareness

In class, make videos of students giving impromptu or prepared talks about their job skills and/or current research. For homework, each student then makes a word-for-word transcript of 60 seconds of their talk, including long pauses, filler words, and incorrect grammar. Next, the student revises the transcript, editing for errors. If the class has studied pronunciation elements such as thought groups, focus words, or intonation, those can also be marked. The revised portion is rerecorded and submitted with the before-and-after transcripts (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Activity 1 example.
(Click here to enlarge)

Vocabulary is also important to accuracy, and job interviews have a particular lexicon, which can be found in career guides online. The MIT Career Development Handbook is useful, though it has a U.S. bias, but there are hundreds of career guides available online for free.

Activity 2: Targeting Vocabulary

Students start by identifying unfamiliar words in a list of action verbs (e.g., Appendix A, from the MIT Career Development Handbook, 2019, p. 23). If there are a large number of unfamiliar words, students begin with passive learning, such as flash cards with a word on one side and the definition and pronunciation on the other. Once they feel confident that they know the meanings, they move on to recording sentences as homework to practice context and pronunciation. Finally, the words are used actively in exercises like the one in “Hesitation Gambits,” following.

Hesitation Gambits

Students need to learn strategies to give themselves time to form fluent answers. To do this, they can learn and practice hesitation gambits, so that these gambits can be easily accessed later, buying the student time to think. Expressions such as “Let me think” or “I hadn’t thought of that” do not come naturally to most students, so they must be practiced in a low-stress environment before students go into a job interview.

Activity 3: Buying Time

In this exercise, adapted from Gorsuch, Meyers, Pickering, and Griffee (2013, p. 163), the object is to practice using hesitation gambits so that they become automatic to students.

Each student receives the same gambits, but five different impromptu questions to ask a partner. These questions are hidden from the other student, and asked one at a time. After the question is asked, the asker begins to tap on the table. The respondent must begin talking, using a hesitation strategy to buy time, before the third tap. After using the gambit, they should answer the question briefly.

Following are some sample questions related to job interviews, but you could also use general knowledge questions, such as “What are five synonyms for beautiful?”, “Without looking, tell me the smallest item in your backpack,” or “Define snow.” Questions should require some thought but should not be impossible to answer. This exercise takes 10–15 minutes and helps students to master a skill that can then be used in job interviews.

Sample Hesitation Gambits

Sample Job Interview Questions

  • Oh, I haven’t thought about that.
  • Hmm. Let me think.
  • Just give me a second to think about that.
  • Well…
  • Let me see.
  • What do you think will you be doing in 10 years?
  • What makes a good boss?
  • Define success.
  • What are your greatest strengths as an employee?
  • What did you like most about your last job?

Listening Strategies

Of course, students can’t deliver a clearly spoken and well-thought-out answer if they are not sure of the question. Following are strategies for improving comprehension both before and during the interview.

Unsurprisingly, vocabulary is also important here. In a discussion of comprehension of unscripted spoken English, Nation (2006) suggests that as with reading, listening comprehension ideally requires an understanding of 98% of the word families used—perhaps more because of “the transitory nature of spoken language” (p. 79). However, though a large lexicon is required for this skill, much of the key vocabulary in interviews is predictable.


The same aforementioned career handbooks—along with an advertisement for a job—can be used to improve students’ understanding of an interviewer’s remarks and questions.

Activity 4: Planning Ahead

Students bring two copies of an advertisement for a job that interests them, a list of typical questions from a career guide (e.g., Appendix B, from the MIT Career Development Handbook, 2019, p. 58) and the list of action verbs they created for speaking. Using these, students create a word list to predict what they will hear in the interview.

Students quickly skim the sample interview questions in the career handbook and answer the following questions:

  1. What questions are you most likely to be asked?

  2. In those questions, which words and phrases are repeated often?

Students circle these and compare answers with a partner.

Next, students review their job ad. They circle the words they think are important in the description and requirements and check with a partner to see if they agree. Then, they make a list of the words from both sources. If any words are unfamiliar, they look them up and make note of the meaning and pronunciation. Finally, they add these to the vocabulary from Exercise 2.

The words and phrases on this list are what can be expected. Once students know the meaning and pronunciation of each one, they have done much of the work of understanding the questions likely to come up in an interview.


Activity 5: Understanding the Question

I find students generally have a small repertoire of clarification phrases, and their go-to is “Could you repeat that?” Unfortunately, this is rarely the best strategy. If the student doesn’t understand the vocabulary, it’s better to ask for the question to be rephrased.

However, one of the most powerful tools is to understand how new information is stressed in English. If a student misses some words, but understands many or most of them, they should repeat as much as possible in their question. Because what is left out of the question is new information, the speaker will stress the words that were not understood the first time.

Example: (bold = stressed)

Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you surpassed your job requirements.

You: I’m sorry. When I did what to my job requirements?

Interviewer: When you surpassed your job requirements.

Even if the student is unfamiliar with the word “surpassed,” they are now in a position to ask for that information specifically.

See Appendix C for a handout combining Exercises 4 and 5, which is useful for both in-person and telephone interviews. In addition to clarification questions, it includes ones to check comprehension.


The interview plays a major role in the job searches in the Anglo-American world. Though this emphasis has the potential to be a drawback for English-learning job candidates, these exercises focusing on speaking and listening can help them to gain the confidence and skills they need to be successful.


Gatewood, R. D., Feild, H. S., & Barrick, M. R. (2008). Human resource selection (6th ed.). Thomson/South-Western.

Gorsuch, G., Meyers, C. M., Pickering, L., & Griffee, D. T. (2013).English communication for international teaching assistants (2nd ed.). Waveland Press.

MIT Career Advising & Professional Development. (2019). Career development handbook. https://capd.mit.edu/sites/default/files/Career%20Handbook%202019.pdf

Nation, I. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening?Canadian Modern Language Review,63(1), 59–82. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.63.1.59

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and the Appendixes (PDF)

A. C. Kemp has been a lecturer in English language studies at MIT since 2007. She has a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Massachusetts/Boston. A. C. has also presented extensively on teaching strategies for vocabulary acquisition. Since 2002, she has been the director of Slang City, a website devoted to American slang and colloquial language. She also has a strong interest in ITA training, for which she created the User-Friendly Classroom Video Series in 2016.


Communities of Practice in Online Learning

by Jennifer Renn, Trish Morita-Mullaney, and Wayne E. Wright
Learn how training and preparation for all teachers of English learners can persist and be enhanced through an online format. 

In the face of a rapidly growing K–12 English language learner (ELL) population worldwide, many schools and school districts have struggled to provide training that supports teachers who work with ELL students. In most cases, they have relied on traditional professional development (PD) approaches that are convenient and time-efficient, but are also often episodic, disconnected, short-term, and “nice to know” but not of immediate application to their classrooms (Teemant, 2014; TESOL International Association, 2018). In contrast, online licensure and degree programs provide longer term, more in-depth training, but are often perceived by teachers as impersonal and distant.

In this article, we describe how our graduate program at Purdue University has implemented an online ELL licensure program that has overcome these concerns about online learning by successfully using teacher cohorts to develop communities of practice and creating courses that are relevant, accessible, and engaging for in-service K–12 general education teachers (Morita-Mullaney, Renn, García, & Wright, 2020). Given the recent and swift migration to online learning in K–12 and teacher education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we use our experience to shed light on how training and preparation for all teachers of ELLs can persist and be enhanced through an online format.

Components of a Quality Online Program

Purdue University’s online ELL licensure program consists of five courses covering conceptual and applied topics on the language and literacy development of ELLs. The courses are taught over the course of one calendar year, providing ample opportunities for reflection as teachers dig more deeply into theoretical and practical topics related to teaching ELLs. Based on our experience, three key components make an online program more accessible to K–12 teachers:

  1. coherent content
  2. user-friendly technology
  3. regular interaction among students and instructors

Content Coherence

To attain a clear, coherent curriculum, it is important to identify where the courses connect, overlap, and build upon each other to ensure that the courses reinforce one another, helping teachers to see how the content is connected across courses. In addition, all class instructors should make sure that instructional samples are furnished for abstract topics and that concrete examples are coupled with related scholarship so that teachers are able to make connections between theory, research, and practice.

Technology as a Scaffold and not a Barrier

In-service teachers are busy and have varying levels of comfort with technology, so it is important that they can easily find instructions, assignments, and resources within the online learning management platform. When a course is poorly designed, students and instructors end up spending a large portion of their time dealing with technical issues. By working with instructional designers, programs can create a consistent format across courses and maximize the accessibility of the content. The online navigation should be clear for users, allowing technology to serve as a scaffold toward accessing the target content through the inclusion of supports like videos and interactive presentations and activities; this can be accomplished with strong planning.

Interaction Is Key

Finally, online programs should place a strong emphasis on promoting interaction throughout all of the courses. Interaction should be frequent, required, and relevant. It should also be facilitated through both written activities, like blogs and discussion boards, and oral means, using applications like VoiceThread, a cloud-based multimedia presentation program where instructors and students can easily create narrated online presentations. Class members can also post text, audio, or video comments on any slide to discuss the content. This creates an engaging, asynchronous conversation that feels more like in-class presentations and discussions. Using this oral medium allows for a more authentic dialogue, where teachers can build on each other’s comments and ideas. This supports the development of a community of practice as teachers connect with their peers as they reflect on their ELL-focused teaching practices.

Communities of Practice

Communities of practice are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2015, p. 1). Communities of practice possess three key elements:

  1. the domain
  2. the community
  3. the practice

Here we describe the three key elements of communities of practice and explain how they can be incorporated into programs.

The Domain

The domain is the shared interest that generates a group identity. Though teachers may enter the program for a range of reasons, they all share a commitment to serving their ELL students and an interest in learning how to do so more effectively. Despite working in different grades and in a variety of school districts, these shared interests can naturally create an immediate connection among the program participants. This group identity can be enhanced by activities, like blogs, where the teachers introduce themselves and their reasons for joining the program. Encouraging them to then comment on their peers’ blog posts creates opportunities for finding shared interests and goals in the process. This allows participants to “get to know” each other, dispelling the myth that online courses lack connectedness (Kim, Song, & Coppersmith, 2018). When possible, teachers should be encouraged to post videos rather than audio or text comments, especially at the beginning of courses, so that they can actually see each other’s faces. These approaches help to overcome the “distance” that is often felt in online learning and allow the group to develop and strengthen a shared identity.

The Community

The community is where members jointly construct understanding around content of interest with increasing complexity. Because members of the community learn from one another, it is critical to require frequent, regular interaction. Major concepts can be introduced through readings, short video lectures, VoiceThread presentations, and video clips of effective classroom practices. Discussion boards, blogs, and VoiceThread discussions then provide opportunities for the teachers to ask questions, make comments, and share experiences as they make connections between theory, research, and effective practice for their ELLs. The community can be enhanced through group projects and field experiences, such as conducting ELL student case-studies in teachers’ own schools and classrooms.

Rather than establishing the instructor as the sole expert in the class, these projects enable teachers to collaborate and share across their different school settings and grade-level classrooms, making the content pertinent to their personal and professional experiences. One teacher in our ELL program said, “I love our classroom interactions. At the end of the week I have learned from my instructor and my fellow students. My classmates often discuss newer topics in ways that make the content more relatable to me.” When teachers join the program as a cohort and stay in the same group over the program’s duration, the feeling of collective belonging deepens over time.

The Practice

The practice is where community of practice members codevelop resources and strategies that inform their shared identities as practitioners. Building understanding and engagement in an instructional practice entails the sharing of experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing persistent problems (Wenger, 2015). It takes time to build the necessary trust and understanding required to share a practice, so it is important that teachers have the time to build those relationships.

Throughout the classes, teachers should have regular opportunities to share thoughts, strategies, and experiences, in order to find overlap with others as well as to hear different perspectives and new ideas. For some activities, it can be beneficial to organize participants into small groups based on the grade or the content area that they teach. This allows students to have more in-depth and sustained interactions with two to three students, as well as develop a practice that is specific to their professional context. Throughout the courses, teachers can be invited to share concerns, successes, failures, strategies, and instructional approaches, working together to more effectively teach their ELLs.

Sustaining Communities of Practice

At the end of our program, teachers report feeling more knowledgeable and better prepared to serve their ELLs. A big reason for this is their sustained participation in a community of practice. Working with other in-service teachers provides them with a range of views and experiences and a richer, more relevant learning experience. Program graduates are excited when they recognize each other’s voices and faces at professional ELL conferences and workshops. They stay in touch with each other and remain a source of support, continuing to share knowledge. Furthermore, participants leave the program with increased confidence and renewed purpose. One graduate, for example, reported seeing herself as “being more of an advocate for the ELL students in our school and being more of a teacher-leader” after completing the program. Teachers take on leadership roles in their schools and districts and become vocal advocates for their ELLs. Most importantly, they serve as mentors for other colleagues and build communities of practice within their own schools, districts, and communities.


Kim, S., Song, K., & Coppersmith, S. (2018). Creating an interactive virtual community of linguistically and culturally responsive content teacher-learners to serve English learners. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 18(2), 442–466.

Morita-Mullaney, T., Renn, J., Garcia, A., & Wright, W. E. (2020). Preparing K–12 teachers for effective instruction of English learners: The transformation of a Purdue University online language teacher education program. In H.S. Kang, D.S. Shin, & T. Cimasko (Eds.), Online education for teachers of English as a global language (pp. 19-38). New York: Routledge.

Teemant, A. (2014). A mixed-methods investigation of instructional coaching for teachers of diverse learners. Urban Education, 49(5), 574-604. doi:10.1177/0042085913481362

TESOL International Association. (2018). The 6 principles for exemplary teaching of English learners. TESOL Press.

Wenger, E. (2015). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. Communities of Practice, 1-8.

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Dr. Jennifer Renn is a researcher in the College of Education at Purdue University. Prior to joining Purdue, she was an Institution of Education Sciences postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and the director of linguistic and cultural diversity at the Center for Applied Linguistics. Dr. Renn’s research interests include sociolinguistics, language assessment, educator training, and language variation and identity.

Dr. Trish Morita-Mullaney is an assistant professor at Purdue University. Her research focuses on the intersections between language learning, gender, and race and how this informs educator identities of emergent bilinguals. Guided by critical and feminist thought, she examines how these intersecting identities shape individual and structural policy-making for emergent bilinguals. She serves as the principal investigator for two Office for English Language Acquisition grants focused on general education and dual language teachers throughout Indiana.

Dr. Wayne E. Wright is associate dean for research, graduate programs and faculty development, and professor and the Barbara I. Cook chair of literacy and language in the College of Education at Purdue University. He is author of Foundations of Teaching English Language Learners: Research, Theory, Policy, and Practice (3rd ed., 2019), coauthor of Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (6th ed., 2017), and coeditor of the Handbook of Bilingual and Multilingual Education (2015).

ESL Teacher Leadership: Delivering Professional Development

by Michelle Benegas and Amy Stolpestad
ESL teachers need to be equipped to be language experts and PD facilitators: Learn why and how. 

The Critical Need for Professional Development

Think about the English learners (ELs) in your school or district. What percentage of each day do they spend with a trained English as a second language (ESL) teacher—one who has studied second language acquisition and language teaching—especially in a distance learning format? Depending on where you live, the answer to this question will vary drastically, given that states differ in their credential requirements for teachers and access to technology varies widely. We know that the majority of time ELs spend in school, whether face-to-face or online, is with general education (non- ESL) teachers who may not have had any formal training in working with students who are learning English. For this reason, ESL teachers also need to be equipped to be language experts and facilitators of professional development (PD) for their general education colleagues. Failing to respond to this need is failing our ELs. They deserve enriching curriculum and instruction throughout the day, not just for the short period that they work with an ESL teacher.

As teacher preparation programs work to redesign their curricula to better reflect new professional obligations related to collaboration, providing PD, and serving as a resident consultant or mentor within a given school, in-service teachers are also rethinking the ways in which they serve ELs. Through harnessing the capacity of ESL teachers’ existing expertise, schools can experience transformative building-wide instructional growth without spending more money than is already being spent on outside consultants.

The school-wide English learning (SWEL) model is one way in which in-service ESL teachers can reconfigure their roles within the school and help to ensure that all teachers have the capacity to provide instruction that serves the academic language learning needs of ELs. The SWEL model is designed to support practicing ESL teachers as they share their expertise in language learning and teaching with general education colleagues. A school or district that implements the SWEL model can work toward improving instruction for ELs in a manner that is both efficient, relatively inexpensive, tailored to the specific needs of a school, and empowering for teachers. You can learn about the SWEL model in depth in Teacher Leadership for School-Wide English Learning (Benegas & Stolpestad, 2020), but in this article we want to focus on a ready-to-deliver professional development activity that bolsters general education teachers’ attention to the four modalities—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—in their instruction.

Skills, Knowledge, Dispositions: What General Education Teachers Need to Effectively and Respectfully Serve English Learners

ESL teachers are often asked to deliver PD for their colleagues. However, few have been prepared in their teacher education programs to train adults. Andragogy, or the practice of teaching adults, is inherently different from pedagogy. Though we recommend that teacher education respond to this evolving need, there are other ways that practicing teachers can take it upon themselves to learn how to train adults in promising practices for ELs.

In Teacher Leadership for School-Wide English Learning (2020), we encourage ESL teacher leaders to consider the following three categories in their PD offerings: dispositions, knowledge, and skills.

Teacher Dispositions

Teacher dispositions are the beliefs or mindset that teachers have toward working with ELs. PD in this area responds to the following six critical teacher dispositions:

  1. Educators empathize with circumstances related to immigration.
  2. Educators are culturally sensitive and sustaining.
  3. Educators believe that marginalization and oppression affect the educational experiences of ELs.
  4. Educators support their students’ home language development.
  5. Educators recognize the challenges of learning English and content simultaneously.
  6. Educators are committed to ongoing PD.

Teacher Knowledge

Teacher knowledge is defined as mastery of the content area of instruction. PD in this area responds to the following six critical areas of teacher knowledge:

  1. Educators know about second language acquisition and approaches to teaching language through content.
  2. Educators know about approaches to supporting first-language literacy.
  3. Educators know about the theories of cultural relevance and sustainability.
  4. Educators know who immigrants are and how immigration happens.
  5. Educators know systems of oppression and how they affect the educational experiences of English learners.
  6. Educators know approaches to EL advocacy and the legal requirements for adequately serving ELs.

Teacher Skills

Teacher skills are defined as pedagogy. PD in this area responds to the following six critical teacher skills:

  1. Educators can plan for academic language instruction.
  2. Educators can teach and assess academic language.
  3. Educators can differentiate for ELs.
  4. Educators can support first-language literacy.
  5. Educators can enact culturally relevant practices.
  6. Educators can advocate for immigrant families.

A Sample Activity for Professional Development

SWEL offers a bank of PD plans, which are similar to a lesson plan, but they are designed for ESL teachers to train their general education colleagues. These ready-to-use PD plans are designed to be refined for local contexts, and we encourage those who facilitate any of the PD activities included in this book to consider how they might personalize activities to ensure their relevance to the ELs in a given school or region. The following PD plan focuses on raising teacher awareness of the modalities their ELs use most and how that information can improve future lessons.

Conducting a Modality Audit*


Participants will be able to articulate how much time English learners use each of the four modalities (speaking, writing, listening, reading) and recognize modalities that need more attention in their lessons. 

Time to Complete

20 minutes

Materials and Resources

    • Handout: Modality Audit (Appendix)

      • Laptop/computer, projector, screen, speakers 


      Make hard copies or share digital copies of the Modality Audit handout.


      It is important for learners to use all of the four modalities in order to cognitively process concepts and learn language. In this activity, you will consider how much time ELs spend in each of the four modalities in a given lesson.


      Begin this activity by asking teachers to fill out the Modality Audit handout (either on paper or digitally) for a recent lesson they taught. The handout looks like this:

      Modality Audit

      Consider the last class that you taught that was not a test or student presentation day. From the students’ perspective, estimate how much time they spend in each of the four modalities:

      Input:                              Output:
      Listening _____               Speaking _____
      Reading _____                Writing _____

      Bring the whole group back together. Ask the teachers to refer to their Modality Audit handout as they discuss the following questions with a partner or in small groups:

      • In which modality did your students spend the most time in the lesson that you considered, and is this typical for most of your lessons?

      • In which modality did your students spend the least amount of time in the lesson that you considered, and is this typical for most of your lessons?

      • Given what you learned about how much time ELs spent in each of the four modalities, would you make any changes to this lesson in the future? If so, what changes would you make?

      • Given what you learned about how much time ELs spent in each of the four modalities, what considerations would you make for the next lesson in this sequence?

      • How does examining your ELs’ language assessment data help you make instructional decisions?


      In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, PD needs to be adjusted for a distance delivery model. The good news is that the modality audit is equally, if not more, important for teachers to undertake as they move their instruction to an online format. The cognitive processing and language development that takes place when learners activate all four modalities is critical, regardless of the delivery method. The PD activity presented in this article will help teachers to ensure that their students are using all of those modalities, even in an online format. Ultimately, the responsibility of an EL teacher leader is to work toward closing the education gaps that persist in our student populations by sharing their expertise on language instruction with their general education colleagues. 

      * This PD lesson is based on “Using WIDA Can Do Descriptors to Make Content Accessible” in Benegas & Stolpestad, 2020.


      Benegas, M., & Stolpestad, A. (2020). Teacher leadership for school-wide English learning. TESOL Press.

      Download this article (PDF)
      and the Appendix (PDF)

      Michelle Benegas, PhD, is an assistant professor at Hamline University. In her work with teachers and schools, she promotes a model in which ESL teachers serve as site-based experts and coaches to their colleagues. Her research interests include ESL teacher leadership, teacher leader identity, and systemic approaches to improving EL services.

      Amy Stolpestad currently serves as the director of The ELM Project and also consults with local, regional, state, and higher education institutions. Stolpestad is a Minnesota licensed K–12 ESL teacher and experienced teacher educator. Her research interests include teacher leadership, instructional coaching, teacher identity, and organizational change management.