TESOL Connections

Teacher Professional Development as Identity Work: 2 Activities

by Kristen Lindahl

Every English language educator has their own professional identity that is shaped by their own unique history, background, and circumstances, and that identity is often developed and negotiated during PD activities. Learn about research supporting sources of English language teacher identity development and negotiation and take away two activities you can try in your next professional learning to share an identity-oriented approach with your colleagues. 

We’ve never had more options available for professional development (PD) as English language teaching (ELT) professionals, thanks to online delivery and increasing global connections. Many of these sessions focus on developing key strategies, learning new skills, or developing teacher cognition. However, it’s important to remember that each ELT educator is situated in their own context, with different social, cultural, and historical-political circumstances influencing the what, how, and why of their English teaching practices.

That is, each ELT educator has their own professional identity that is shaped by those same circumstances, and that identity is often developed and negotiated during PD activities. In this article, I describe some of the research supporting sources of English language teacher identity development and negotiation. I then describe two activities you can try in your next professional learning to share an identity-oriented approach with your colleagues.

Language Teacher Identity Development: The Research

Teacher learning and PD can be defined as more than the acquisition of skills or strategies, and recognized as a continuous process—bound by context—of developing and negotiating teacher identity. Following are some key conclusions about language teacher identity from current research (Yazan & Lindahl, 2020).

First, language teacher identity is connected to other social identities related to race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, class, nationality, religion, faith, and community membership. In addition, teachers will repeatedly negotiate and enact identities over the course of their careers. These identities are influenced by significant life experiences. Reflecting on life experiences involves ongoing engagement with narrative that both revisits past experiences and reimagines future practices.

This process is often emotionally charged, as teachers will have to negotiate tensions that sometimes emerge among sources of identity. Ultimately, teachers’ identities orient their professional agency (the feeling of control over actions and their outcomes) and investment (putting effort into something to achieve a result) in their careers.

Integrating Identity Work Into Professional Development

Two activities for grounding PD in identity-oriented ways are creating an identity wheel and a language portrait.

1. Identity Wheel

The identity wheel creates a visual for PD participants to reflect on their own social identities and then connect social identities to English teaching and learning. To conduct this activity, first share the “Identity Wheel” as either a fillable PDF if you are in an online setting, or on paper if you are face-to-face (see University of Michigan’s Inclusive Teaching website for extended instructions, video examples, and downloadable PDFs).

Step 1
Ask the participants to complete each segment of the wheel with one to three words, as they see it relating to their life.

Step 2
In each segment of the wheel, ask participants to write at least one number that corresponds to the prompts in the center. For example, if they want to learn more about their identity relative to ethnicity, they would put a “3” in that segment.

Step 3
Provide an oral or written discussion space for participants to consider how their professional and personal identities here or otherwise influence who they are as a teacher. Participants can also consider how students’ personal identities influence their agency and investment in the English language learning process.

Reflecting on their responses to the identity wheel gives teachers the opportunity to reflect on spaces where they hold privilege (an advantage that only one person or group of people has, usually because of their position) and spaces where they may be marginalized (placed in a position of little or no importance, influence, or power). Ideally, this reflection is just one way to support educators in developing the self-awareness needed to enact social change. If you’re interested in reading more about similar activities, you may want to check out the book Social Justice in English Language Teaching by Hastings and Jacob.

2. Language Portrait

Another activity you can use to incorporate identity into PD for ELT professionals is to encourage them to create a language portrait. A language portrait (Coffey, 2015; Lau, 2016) is a visual representation of a person’s language(s)—dialects, varieties, accents, speech communities, and so on. A language portrait focuses reflection on a teachers’ linguistic repertoire, or the communicative tools a person has to participate with a range of audiences across social and cultural contexts (García et al., 2017).

Step 1
Ask participants to draw a picture of themselves, and then add their language(s) in various colors to that picture.

Step 2
Have participants explain why they added the language(s) that they did, where they did. Peoples’ language practices usually go beyond the boundaries of “official” named national and state languages (Otheguy et al., 2015), so participants can and should be creative in how they label their own language practices. Here are some questions you can ask participants after they create their language portrait:

  • What did you notice about your own language practices?
  • How do they connect to other aspects of your identity?
  • How do they support or challenge you as a teacher?

Note: If you are in an online environment, the platforms Padlet, FlipGrid, or Jamboard are great spaces for teachers to record a short video or add an image and then explain how that video or image illustrates an aspect of their linguistic repertoire.

Reflecting on and recognizing linguistic repertoires can support teachers’ exploration of how their linguistic identities were impacted by their own schooling, how their linguistic identities may impact their own interactions with students, and how teachers relate to and include or exclude multilingual students. Naashia Mohamed, TESOL Blogger, adapted the language portrait activity for classroom use if you’re interested in using it with students, too!


To conclude, PD for English language educators will likely be more relevant if it is connected in some way to the identities and the context(s) of those participating in the PD. When teachers can connect new learning to their life experiences and their current circumstances, the likelihood that it will become part of their teaching practice is much greater.


Coffey, S. (2015). Reframing teachers’ language knowledge through metaphor analysis of language portraits. The Modern Language Journal, 99(3), 500–514.

García, O., Johnson, S. I., Seltzer, K., & Valdés, G. (2017). The translanguaging classroom: Leveraging student bilingualism for learning. Caslon.

Lau, S. M. C. (2016). Language, identity, and emotionality: Exploring the potential of language portraits in preparing teachers for diverse learners. The New Educator, 12(2), 147–170.

Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review,6(3), 281–307.

Yazan, B., & Lindahl, K. (Eds.). (2020). Language teacher identity in TESOL: Teacher education and practice as identity work. Routledge.

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Kristen Lindahl is associate professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, USA. Her research focuses on teacher language awareness, critical multilingual awareness, and identity-oriented approaches to teacher preparation and development. Dr. Lindahl is currently an associate editor of TESOL Journal, an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and past chair of TESOL International Association’s Teacher Education Interest Section.

TESOL Board Connect: Conferences and Professional Development

by Joyce Kling

TESOL President Joyce Kling talks about the importance of networking and attending conferences for professional development, and she shares her experiences attending the recent TESOL 2022 Regional Conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 

I attended my first TESOL convention in 1998 in Chicago, Illinois USA. I was an MA student in TESOL at the time and was simply in awe of those who were presenting, the magnitude of the event (conference planning is an art!), and the breadth and depth of quality presentations focused on research and professional development. It was there I experienced for the first time the energy and excitement that ignites when professionals come together to exchange knowledge, experience, and ideas.

I relive this excitement each time I engage in some type of TESOL networking or professional development. And while we have all been thrilled to be able to meet virtually through the plethora of platforms available to us, I think we can agree it is not the same as when we can meet in person. Therefore, as we begin to travel again and meet for face-to-face events, there is an even greater heightened sense of exhilaration. The buzz at TESOL’s most recent event held in June proved this. For the first time, TESOL held a regional conference in Central Asia, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and the feeling was palpable.

For the past year, TESOL has been partnering with American Councils for International Education; the U.S. Embassy, Tashkent; and the Ministry of Public Education of Uzbekistan to support teacher professional development and English language enhancement as part of the English Speaking Nation Secondary Teacher Training Program and to collaborate with George Mason University (GMU) to deliver the Teacher Development Training of Trainers program for Secondary Public School Teachers. The program has drawn on the efforts and contributions of TESOL instructors, coaches, and the English Speaking Nation core trainers and regional peer mentors to provide cascading professional development modules on TESOL’s The 6 Principles of Exemplary Teaching of English Learners® and GMU’s Teaching English Through English course. This training is expected to reach more than 15,000 teachers across Uzbekistan in total. Already, almost 400 teachers in Uzbekistan have completed their TESOL Core Certificate Program.

The TESOL 2022 Regional Conference, held at Inha University from 13–16 June 2022 in Tashkent, welcomed more than 500 attendees from across the region and beyond. In addition to the peer-reviewed sessions, four speakers were invited to give keynote presentations.

Left to right: Gabriel Díaz-Maggioli, Christine Coombe, Joyce Kling

Dr. Christine Coombe kicked off the event to a packed auditorium with a presentation focused on the quest for academic excellence in English language teaching. Through personal narratives and focused clarification of current elements of academic work, she provided a roadmap for pursuing academic excellent in the field. Similarly, Dr. Dave Chiesa engaged the audience with a rationalization for the inclusion of social-emotional learning in support of student success in the foreign language classroom. On the third day, Dr. Gabriel Díaz-Maggioli offered a broad range of techniques and procedures for continuous professional development. He provided multiple examples of how teachers can work together to move beyond their comfort zones and challenge themselves to continue to grow over the course of their careers. The final keynote was provided by Dr. Joan Kang Shin. In her presentation, she discussed frameworks and practical strategies for successful media literacy instruction in our English language lessons.

Bringing together English language teaching professionals from this region for a professional conference was a huge success. Not only because of the presentations and the networking, but because this event provides a template for holding regional events around the world. Building on this momentum, TESOL will look for partnerships and alliances to provide access to regional professional development.

Left to right: Joan Kang Shin, Dildora Khakimova, Woomee Kim

In addition to these face-to-face events, TESOL continues to focus on providing access to members in our virtual space. Many of you may have just participated in the annual Advocacy & Policy Summit held in Washington, DC, in June. Looking ahead, TESOL will be hosting our virtual conference ELevate from 18–19 October, with sessions focused on student-centered learning, trauma-informed practices, and family engagement, to name a few. Of course, our communities of practice continue to offer webinars online. You can find out more information about the rich and diverse options available to you as a member on both social media and myTESOL.

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Joyce Kling, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, where she teaches second language teacher education courses to preservice and in-service teachers. Over the course of her career, she has worked as an English language ESL and EFL teacher, program director and administrator, teacher trainer, researcher, materials developer, author, and consultant. Her research interests include English as medium of instruction (EMI), teacher cognition, and language testing and assessment. Her work appears in TESOL Quarterly, Journal of English-Medium Instruction, as well as several edited volumes and monographs. The most recent publication is a coauthored monograph entitled The Evolution of EMI Research in European Higher Education (2022, Routledge). She is currently TESOL International Association president 2022–2023.

15 Tips for Improving the Identification of Gifted ELs

by Del Siegle
Each year, tens of thousands of talented young English learners are overlooked for gifted services. Learn how to find promise in every student. 

There is clear and mounting evidence that gifted education must address the serious challenges associated with the underidentification and underservicing of diverse populations of gifted students (Peters, 2022; Siegle et al., 2016). For example, English learners (ELs) are the fastest growing population of learners in the US, yet they are among the most underrepresented groups in gifted education (Gubbins et al., 2020; Hodges et al., 2018; Mun et al., 2020). Each year, tens of thousands of talented young people are overlooked for gifted services simply because they learned a language other than English as a child. Their teachers focus on their English skills and fail to recognize the brilliant mind they possess.

In a recent National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) study of all elementary school students in three states, ELs were between a quarter and half as likely to be identified as gifted compared to students who were not ELs. Underrepresentation also persists for twice-exceptional students: students from poverty and Black, Latinx, and American Indian populations. ELs as well as other underserved groups are clearly not having their gifts and talents recognized, and subsequently appropriately developed.

In 2016 and 2017, the NCRGE visited 16 schools in nine districts across three states that had a record of successfully identifying ELs for their gifted programs (Gubbins et al., 2020). NCRGE recorded how these schools successfully identified ELs for gifted services. What we learned can be used to better identify ELs for gifted programs.

Finding Promise in Every Student

We found that identifying ELs, as well as students from other underserved populations, for gifted services required a paradigm shift where stakeholders focused on students’ strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Under this paradigm, every stakeholder, from school psychologists to EL service providers to classroom teachers to parents/guardians/caretakers, formed a web of communication and served as talent scouts looking for points of promise in every student. In other words, instead of serving as deficit detectives finding reasons not to provide gifted services to ELs, which often occurs, they recognized and appreciated the diverse ways ELs could demonstrate their talents.

These schools used professional development to improve school personnel’s awareness of EL issues related to identification. The increased awareness resulted in changes in identification practices, the evolution of a web of communication among all stakeholders, and modifications in program services.

Changing Identification Practices

Changes in identification practices included

  • providing preidentification opportunities to encourage emergence of talents,
  • having flexible cut-off scores,
  • using universal screening to avoid overlooking talented students,
  • setting alternative pathways to identification to increase opportunities for talents to be recognized,
  • frequently screening students to identify students whose talents manifest later or after their English skills are further developed, and
  • using culturally appropriate assessments, such as testing in students’ native languages.

Frequently screening students was particularly important given that ELs’ opportunities to be identified increased with their English acquisition (Hamilton et al., 2020). Each of these practices has the potential to increase the number of ELs identified for gifted services.

Stakeholder Communication

The evolution of a web of communication promoted awareness of EL talent among all stakeholders (e.g., administrators, district gifted coordinators, gifted specialists, parents/guardians/caretakers, EL specialists, classroom teachers, school psychologists, and counselors). This encouraged the practice of stakeholders serving as talent scouts.

It also increased the trustworthiness of communications among the stakeholders about opportunities for talent development. Teachers were less worried about nominating ELs whose English might not be fully developed. Parents/guardians/caretakers were willing to approach the school and share information about their children’s talents. EL specialists felt comfortable talking with gifted specialists about the students they served.

Modifying Program Services

The improved awareness of EL identification issues also resulted in modifications to program services. The schools developed culturally responsive curricula and added support services to ensure ELs were successful in the gifted and talented program. These program modifications increased trustworthiness in communication among stakeholders and improved acceptance rates and placement of ELs in the gifted and talented program. Parents/guardians/caretakers knew their children would be supported in the gifted program.

15 Tips for Improving the Identification of ELs for Gifted Services*

Adopt Universal Screening Procedures

  1. Adopt a policy of universal screening of all students in one or more grade levels for the identification process.

  2. Select assessment instruments that are culturally sensitive and account for language differences.

  3. Assess the speed of English language acquisition and monitor the rate of mastering reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in English.

  4. Consider including reliable and valid nonverbal ability assessments as part of the overall identification process.

  5. Use other identification tools to supplement results of universal screening.

Create Alternative Pathways to Identification

  1. Use native language ability and achievement assessments as indicators of potential giftedness, when available.

  2. Maintain a list of multilingual school psychologists who are qualified to administer assessments in students’ native languages.

  3. Establish a preparation program prior to formal identification procedures that provides students with learning opportunities to enhance knowledge and academic skills necessary for a student to be recognized.

  4. Create a talent pool list of students who exhibit high potential but are not yet enrolled in gifted and talented programs. Observations, daily interactions between teachers and students, informal assessments, and formal assessments provide multiple opportunities to gauge students’ learning progress. Make identification of giftedness an ongoing process rather than a single event.

Establish a Web of Communication

  1. Establish an identification committee that includes representatives who have key responsibilities in various roles and departments.

  2. Develop and implement intentional outreach to the school community, particularly parents/guardians/caretakers. This process should utilize multiple pathways in languages appropriate to the population.

  3. Emphasize collaboration within and across specializations/departments (e.g., general education, English as a second language [ESL], special education, gifted education) so people view themselves as talent scouts.

View Professional Development as a Lever for Change

  1. Provide professional development opportunities for school personnel about effective policies and practices to support equitable representation of ELs in gifted and talented programs.

  2. Develop a systematic approach to analyzing district and school demographics and the status of students identified/not identified for gifted and talented programs.

  3. Promote efforts to diversify the teaching corps so that the adult community of a school reflects the student population.


The historic patterns of underrepresentation in gifted and talented programs can be disrupted through recognizing the barriers of current and historic identification practices and pursuing new culturally sustaining approaches. This begins with evaluating and changing current practices that function as barriers to recognizing and serving the advanced learning needs of students in underrepresented groups. Schools must recognize that students’ cultural and linguistic identities are inseparable from their academic identities and provide a welcoming and inclusive school climate for all students and their families.

*The 15 tips for improving the identification of ELs for gifted services were first published on the National Center for Research on Gifted Education website at ncrge.uconn.edu/el-tips-2.


Gubbins, E. J., Siegle, D., Peters, P. M., Carpenter, A. Y., Hamilton, R., McCoach, D. B., Puryear, J. S., Langley, S. D., & Long, D. (2020). Promising practices for improving identification of English learners for gifted and talented programs. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 43(4), 336–369. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353220955241

Hamilton, R., Long, D., McCoach, D. B., Hemmler, V., Siegle, D., Newton, S. D., Gubbins, E. J., & Callahan, C. M. (2020). Proficiency and giftedness: The role of language comprehension in gifted identification and achievement. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 43(4), 370–404. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353220955225

Hodges, J., Tay, J., Maeda, Y., & Gentry, M. (2018). A meta-analysis of gifted and talented identification practices. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(2), 147–174. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986217752107

Mun, R. U., Hemmler, V., Langley, S. D., Ware, S., Gubbins, E. J., Callahan, C. M., McCoach, D. B., & Siegle, D. (2020). Identifying and serving English learners in gifted education: Looking back and moving forward. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 43(4), 297–335. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353220955230

Peters, S. J. (2022). The challenges of achieving equity within public school gifted and talented programs. Gifted Child Quarterly, 66(2), 82–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/00169862211002535

Siegle, D., Gubbins, E. J., O’Rourke, P., Langley, S. D., Mun, R. U., Luria, S. R., Little, C. A., McCoach, D. B., Knupp, T., Callahan, C. M., & Plucker, J. A. (2016). Barriers to underserved students’ participation in gifted programs and possible solutions. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 39(2), 103–131. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353216640930

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Del Siegle is director of the National Center for Research on Gifted Education, which is housed at the University of Connecticut. He holds the Lynn and Ray Neag Endowed Chair for Talent Development and is a past president of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). He received the 2021 Ann F. Isaacs Founder’s Memorial Award, 2018 Distinguished Scholar Award, and 2011 Distinguished Service Award from NAGC.

Exploring Creativity in TESOL Professional Learning

by Laura Baecher
Creativity involves the ability to generate original ideas that are useful and meaningful; how can you nurture creativity in professional development?

How do you define creativity? Is it some level of imagination only some of us are lucky to be born with, or is it a skill we can cultivate and strengthen? In their 2018 TESOL Journal special issue, coeditors Judy Sharkey and Yuliya Ardasheva ask “What is the role of creativity in enhancing students’ learning? What is the role of creativity in teachers’ professional development?” In this perpetual pandemic era, all of us have certainly been creative, innovative, and ingenious problem-solvers as our external conditions have demanded new solutions to meet the challenges of remote and distanced learning and teaching. However, we still tend to associate “creativity” with artistic and aesthetic activities and literary and theater-based components in our curriculum and instruction. But, as Jones and Richards (2016) assert:

Rather than a characteristic of exceptional teachers or learners or an optional ingredient that teachers can add in to “spice up” their teaching, creativity…is a necessary component of all teaching and learning and has a particularly important role in the teaching and learning of languages. (p. xiii)

According to Runco and Jaeger (2012), creativity involves the ability to generate original ideas that are useful and meaningful, and it is consistently named as one of the most important and sought-after capacities in the workplace. It would make sense then that professional development would have a key role to play in teachers’ ability to increase creative capacity among students, but the preparation of educators to deepen creativity—either their own or their students—is sorely lacking. In fact, there is very little professional development focused on creativity for teachers either at the preservice or in-service professional development stages for teachers to take policies that emphasize students’ creativity into their own practice ( Patston et al.). Without attention to creativity, educators may well persist in the notion that creativity is something you are born with rather than a skill that can be nurtured.

Challenges to Teacher Creativity

As with all areas of practice, teachers’ beliefs are the most significant barrier to overcome in developing new approaches and being willing to try new methods. Bereczki and Kárpáti (2018) argue that most teachers believe that creativity is something akin to talent or giftedness, and, as an inherent quality, is beyond conscious development in oneself or in one’s students. Cultural notions and institutional value placed on conformity work against teachers developing their own creativity or that of their students. Teachers often focus their energies on behavior management and arriving at single right answers and are uncomfortable with unconventionality, which leads to avoidance of risk-taking (Kettler et al., 2018), a necessary condition for creativity to flourish.

Obstacles to teacher creativity include the following:

  • Boxed and scripted teacher curricula
  • Strict lesson planning protocols
  • Supervisory feedback that seeks uniformity in instruction
  • Lack of materials and resources
  • School schedules that are rigid
  • Physical or virtual classroom set-ups that are inflexible
  • Teacher isolation and lack of models of creativity
  • Lack of time for teacher collaboration and ideation
  • High amounts of paperwork and compliance-oriented activities
  • Teacher stress and burnout
  • Lack of reward for innovation
  • Positioning of teachers as technicians rather than creatives
  • Absence of professional development to nourish teachers’ own creativity
  • Anxiety about not being creative and a fixed mindset about creativity

Professional Development Can Enhance Teacher Creativity

What is inspiring is to know that just like any skill, creativity is not fixed—it can grow and blossom, but it needs to first be seeded and nurtured. Here are a few suggestions to get started either on your own creativity reflection journey or if you lead professional learning for pre- or in-service educators.

Start With Some Questions

Al Khars’s 2013 study of creativity among English teachers in Kuwait began with discovering how teachers viewed creativity. You might reflect on any of these possible queries:

  • What do think is the meaning of creativity in the field of English language teaching?

  • What are the benefits of creativity for you as an English language teacher?

  • Do you see the differences between creativity and innovation?

  • Do you consider yourself a creative teacher, and what are your examples of being a creative English language teacher?

  • What are the aspects of English language teaching which require creativity?

  • What are the factors that encourage you to be more creative in English language teaching in your context? What are the factors that suppress creativity or are an obstacle to creative English language teaching from your point of view?

  • How important is your relationship with learners to your creativity?

Define Your Goals

Anderson et al. (2022) suggests that you should consider three aspects—teaching creatively, teaching for creativity, and creative learning.

  • Teaching creatively involves teachers being willing to take risks, being curious about students’ interests and ideas, and being open to unknown possible outcomes. This is a sort of “unplanning” approach quite different from what we are used to.

  • Teaching for creativity relies on planning, with intentional opportunities for students to think in new ways or to gain understanding through different modes or media.

  • Creative learning, for instance through arts integration into the curriculum, offers students creative outlets for generating their own content and sharing their learning.

In Anderson et al.’s (2022) work with teacher professional development for creativity, by engaging teachers in creative processes themselves—from collage, to drama-based activities, to the use of metaphors—all as routines, they found that teachers could much more readily bring those approaches to students. A few small creative routines to “habituate creative engagement” as they put it, could involve:

  • Designing an avatar that represents your ideal teacher self
  • Drawing childhood memories of you as a student in school
  • Creating a new gesture and teaching it to others
  • Linking abstract art to concepts being discussed
  • Reforming an existing poem to express a new idea

Disrupt the Usual Ways of Thinking

Fanselow’s seminal work encouraged us to “do the opposite,” which is one of Maley and Kiss’s (2018) key moves to encourage creative thinking, as codified in his book Creativity in Language Teaching. In a teacher professional development activity, teachers could be given an activity like the one below to provoke, in a playful way, teachers to consider the possibilities if asked to “do the opposite” of their usual routines. This can be an entry point to encourage teachers to apply creative thinking to practices that have become unquestioned.

Available for download (pdf) and reuse.

TESOL researchers working in Hong Kong noted that creativity is a vital part of a systematic change for educational reform (Forrester & Hui, 2007), especially in contexts seeking to modify traditional teaching approaches by reenvisioning teachers’ roles as facilitators of learning rather than transmitters of content. It’s time to consider how to make creativity a core component of teacher learning experiences.


Al Khars, D. A. (2013). Creativity in English language teaching in Kuwait: A TESOL study [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Exeter. https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/13928

Anderson, R. C., Katz-Buonincontro, K., Bousselot, T., Mattson, D., Beard, N., Land, J., & Livie, M. (2022). How am I a creative teacher? Beliefs, values, and affect for integrating creativity in the classroom. Teaching and Teacher Education, 110, 103583. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103583

Bereczki, E. O., & Kárpáti, A. (2018). Teachers’ beliefs about creativity and its nurture: A systematic review of the recent research literature. Educational Research Review, 23, 25–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2017.10.003

Forrester, V., & Hui, A. (2007). Creativity in the Hong Kong classroom: What is the contextual practice? Thinking Skills and Creativity, 2(1), 30–38.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2006.10.003

Jones, R. H., & Richards, J. C. (2016). Preface. In R. H. Jones & J. C. Richards, Creativity in language teaching: Perspectives from research and practice (pp. xiii–xiv). Routledge.

Kettler, T., Lamb, K. N., Willerson, A., & Mullet, D. R. (2018). Teachers’ perceptions of creativity in the classroom. Creativity Research Journal, 30(2), 164–171. https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2018.1446503

Maley, A., & Kiss, T. (2018). Creativity and English language teaching: From inspiration to implementation. Palgrave Macmillan.

Patston, T. J., Kaufman, J. C., Cropley, A. J., & Marrone, R. (2021). What is creativity in education? A qualitative study of international curricula. Journal of Advanced Academics, 32(2), 207–230.

Runco, M. A., & Jaeger, G. J. (2012). The standard definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 24(1), 92–96. https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2012.650092

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Dr. Laura Baecher is professor of TESOL at Hunter College, City University of New York. Her interests relate to teacher learning, observation and coaching for English language teaching, and professional development in TESOL. Her recent books are Reflecting on Problems of Practice in TESOL and Video in Teacher Learning: Through their Own Eyes. She is the Professional Development Blog author for TESOL, has served as the TESOL International’s Teacher Education Interest Section Chair, as an English Language Specialist for the U.S. Department of State, and as president of New York State TESOL. The winner of multiple awards for teaching and service, she is committed to advancing the professional knowledge base of educators in ways that build community and sustain collaboration and reflection.

Steps for Equitable Outcomes for English Learners: PACE

by Alma L. Contreras-Vanegas, Baburhan Uzum, and William Blackwell
Implement this easy-to-remember framework to support your learners and create an inclusive classroom.  

Teachers in inclusive classrooms are responsible for supporting a broad range of student learning needs. For English learners (ELs), these learning needs often dictate that teachers need to address issues related to language development, academic skill growth, and sometimes disability support. When faced with this challenge, generalist teachers may opt to rely on interventionists such as bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) teachers and special educators to address these needs. Though these interventionists play an important role, achieving equitable outcomes for ELs requires the continued commitment and support of all teachers in inclusive classrooms.

Research on high-leverage practices in inclusive classrooms (McLeskey et al., 2019) has demonstrated that teachers can focus on a set of core strategies to address a broad range of student needs. Drawing from this work, we suggest that teachers in inclusive classrooms can establish a consistent “pace” to guide their work. We present this framework with an easy-to-remember acronym: PACE.

  • Patience as students develop new skills
  • Affirm and build on students’ strengths
  • Collaborate with families and other educators
  • Adopting an Equity perspective for all students

Figure. The PACE framework.

The following sections provide recommendations for how you can PACE your approach for establishing inclusive learning environments.

Patience (as Students Develop New Skills)

Patience is a skill that can be developed in inclusive classrooms to help students know they belong and can learn. An initial step toward practicing patience is to establish meaningful learning goals that are both challenging and attainable for students (Alber-Morgan et al., 2019). It is important to communicate that there is a clear set of goals that will help guide your shared journey toward language and academic proficiency, and it takes time and practice to get there. As students work toward these goals, you can use a variety of strategies that establish a supportive learning environment.

Wait Time

Providing wait time helps students to possibly translate from one language to another before they are able to produce an answer. According to Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2018), wait time “refers to the length of time a teacher pauses between asking a question and soliciting a response” (p. 165). For example, you can ask a question to the entire class and provide a 3- to 5-second wait time before asking someone to share the answer with a partner or aloud to the whole class.

Alternative Responses

Patience also requires teachers to consider flexibility in how students are able to demonstrate understanding. If a student is at the beginning stages of learning English or has a disability that prevents them from writing or orally sharing their learning, you can provide different ways for them to demonstrate their knowledge. For example, students may be able to draw or act out what a story was about rather than writing a summary. You can also provide sentence stems, word banks, or partner work to better scaffold students who need extra support.

Multiple Modalities

Addressing different learning styles and strategies in inclusive classrooms takes time and effort. Using visuals, tactile, auditory, and kinesthetic activities helps learners engage with content meaningfully. By using multiple modalities, students are exposed to a topic in various ways that help them make connections to their real-life applications. For example, while teaching the water cycle, you could use visual aids to demonstrate the cycle, sing a song doing the motions of the water cycle, and have students create the water cycle using manipulatives.

Affirm (and Build on Students’ Strengths)

Along with practicing patience, teachers in inclusive classrooms need to affirm and build on students’ strengths. Finding ways to reinforce the knowledge and skills that students already possess is an important step toward building a culture of belonging and acceptance. Armstrong (2012) conceptualized this approach as positive niche construction. He recommended that teachers capitalize on the interests and skills of students when designing their curricula. As you help ELs acquire new language and academic skills, there are strategies you can use to acknowledge and build on their interests and strengths.

Getting to Know Students

Before any lesson is taught, you should get to know your students’ interests to better engage them. One strategy is to provide an interest survey that asks about their hobbies and favorite things. This survey can be done with pencil and paper, verbally, or with visuals at the beginning of the school year. We also recommend conducting another interest survey in the middle of the year in case students have changed their interests. If a child has difficulty expressing their interests, you can ask family members what their child likes to do.

Drawing From Students’ Cultural Backgrounds

Acknowledging students’ backgrounds as a strength is crucial for them to feel accepted and take risks within the classroom. For example, if a lesson is about landforms, you could share examples of different landforms from different countries students may be from. Students may also share landforms they have seen from visiting different places.

Collaborate (With Families and Other Educators)

Engaging in collaborative partnerships with families and other educators is an essential step in establishing the PACE needed to provide high-quality inclusive education for ELs. Recent research on collaboration between teachers and parents of ELs with disabilities has highlighted the need for a commitment to authentic, reciprocal partnerships that are respectful of cultural diversity, build on student and family strengths, and establish a high level of trust (Hagiwara & Shogren, 2019).

FAST Framework

Uzum and Contreras-Vanegas (2020) developed the FAST framework, which helps establish a relationship among family, administrators, students, and teachers.

  • Families should be directly involved with their child’s education by meeting for conferences and helping to set academic goals.

  • Administrators should remember to be flexible when working with families and provide a welcoming environment for everyone.

  • Students should be held accountable for their own learning; they should ask questions in class if they are confused, review and practice new learning, and share their academic goals with others.

  • Teachers need to be aware of the cultural backgrounds and learning abilities of their students. The cultural background may determine how the family engages in school events and the learning style of the child. You can create a welcoming environment for children by displaying decorations in different languages and receiving professional development that offers best practices for teaching ELs and children with disabilities.

Intercultural Communicative Competence

Families and educators can also practice intercultural communicative competence. Jackson (2014) defines intercultural communicative competence as “the abilities needed to communicate effectively and appropriately with people who are linguistically and culturally different from oneself” (p. 373). To this end, you can familiarize yourself with different languages, cultures and traditions, and World Englishes. You can do this by learning another language, practicing communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds, and training your listening and communication skills for different Englishes.

Adopt an Equity Perspective (for all Students)

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of teaching in inclusive classrooms is maintaining a focus on student equity. It is sometimes easy to get caught up in providing the same amount of time/support/practice for each student in the classroom. In doing so, teachers may lose focus on the ultimate goal of achieving equitable outcomes for ELs and all students. Not all students require the same amount of time/support/practice to develop various skills. A key component of establishing the PACE for an inclusive classroom is seeking equity in the learning outcomes. This means designing learning environments that are flexible enough to provide the time, resources, and strategies needed for each student to achieve their learning goals.


When designing curricula, you can incorporate accessibility features to ensure your students can access information and demonstrate knowledge however is most appropriate for their current skills and needs. Differentiating instruction and materials according to the English proficiency and/or academic level is necessary for the success of all students. With any EL, the first step is for you to learn their English proficiency level (beginner, intermediate, advanced and advanced high) in the four language domains (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Once you know the students’ proficiency level, you can make adaptations to your instructional strategies and assignments accordingly.

For example, with a second grade EL at the intermediate level across four language domains, you might use visuals when explaining new material, speak at a pace the student is able to keep up with, provide texts that may be simplified at the independent reading level, and provide sentence stems (e.g., sentence starters such as “the main idea in the story is…”) for writing assignments. A similar approach can be taken for ELs with disabilities, considering their individualized education programs when making adaptations.

Feedback on Performance

If students are shamed or ridiculed for their mistakes in their formative years, they may develop social and psychological problems associated with mistakes and may feel discouraged to participate in school. A key point is to direct any praise to the work done instead of to the person. (E.g., “you worked hard on this project; you did a great work” versus “you are so smart.”) A good strategy to create an environment where mistakes are welcome is to model it. You can openly acknowledge your mistakes. This provides a strong model for students that demonstrates a growth mindset (Dweck, 2007) when a mistake is made.


The PACE framework is an easy-to-remember acronym that summarizes some of the critical components in teaching ELs and students with disabilities. Teachers can PACE their teaching and keep an eye on student learning in an effort to accomplish equitable outcomes for all students in their classrooms. Teachers can PACE their approach for establishing inclusive learning environments that address a wide range of language, academic skills, and disability support needs.


Alber-Morgan, S. R., Helton, M. R., Oif Telesman, A., & Konrad, M. (2019). Identify and prioritize long- and short-term learning goals. In J. McLeskey, L. Maheady, B. Billingsley, M. T. Brownell, & T. J. Lewis (Eds.), High leverage practices for inclusive classrooms (pp. 145–156). Routledge.

Armstrong, T. (2012). Neurodiversity in the classroom: Strength-based strategies to help students with special needs succeed in school and life. ASCD.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.

Echevarria, J. J., Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. J. (2018). Making content comprehensible for elementary English learners: The SIOP model (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Hagiwara, M., & Shogren, K. A. (2019). Collaborate with families to support student learning and secure needed services. In J. McLeskey, L. Maheady, B. Billingsley, M. T. Brownell, & T. J. Lewis (Eds.), High leverage practices for inclusive classrooms (pp. 34–48). Routledge.

Jackson, J. (2014). Introducing language and intercultural communication. Routledge.

McLeskey, J., Maheady, L., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M. T., & Lewis, T. J. (Eds.). (2019). High leverage practices for inclusive classrooms. Routledge.

Uzum, B., & Contreras-Vanegas, A. L. (2020, September). 4 Factors to develop language proficiency FAST. TESOL Connections. http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/issues/2020-09-01/4.html

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Alma L. Contreras-Vanegas is an associate professor of bilingual education/ESL in the School of Teaching and Learning at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA. Her research interests include bilingual children in special education (gifted and talented children and children with disabilities) and second language acquisition.

Baburhan Uzum is an associate professor of ESL in the School of Teaching and Learning at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA. His research interests include multicultural education and second and foreign language teacher education.

William Blackwell is an assistant professor of special education in the School of Teaching and Learning at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas. His research focuses on a broad spectrum of strategies for improving educational outcomes for children and adolescents with disabilities.