by Sarah Ottow
Comfort, Communicate, and Connect
As a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, we are all facing challenges in our personal and professional lives, the likes of which have never been seen. For our multilingual learners, we are seeing the special challenges these students and their families face every day now magnified with schools shifting largely to remote learning. At Confianza, our focus is providing access and opportunity to multilingual learners through our work with professional learning leaders, coaches, and teachers. We are working directly with our client schools to respond in real time to the challenges of keeping teaching and learning going in some way, shape, or form. As the Founder and Director of Confianza, I’d like to share what we’re learning about what professional learning leaders can do, during this crisis, to address issues of equity for our ELs — Comfort, Communicate, and Connect.
First and foremost, leaders should focus on comforting students and families by addressing basic needs. You may have heard the saying that we can’t focus on Blooms until we get Maslow under control. That means we need to learn about and, to the best of our ability, tackle survival issues for our students and our families now. One leader told me, “Not everyone in my school understands what my EL families are really going through” because, for many, jobs have been lost, health issues are pervasive, and overall, there are so many unknowns. Furthermore, the digital divide is one major area of equity we are seeing more glaringly than ever. “If the expectation is to have children on computers, provide computers,” a leader stated, “because some households have several families living there and only one phone with no computer.” Plus, online learning platforms can be confusing for families if the school has not used online learning in the past. Given that this time is full of uncertainty around economic security, health and other basic needs, I recommending asking the following questions of your school:
Are students and families safe and healthy? How can educators check in to see if students and families have their basic needs met? How can educators continue to check in on basic needs?
Do students and families have access to food? Can the school provide breakfast and lunch for the households?
What resources can the school and/or community provide now to make sure basic needs are met, including access to wifi and devices? What other basic needs may not be met that the school can connect households to in the community?
When reaching out to EL families, we need to make sure that what we are communicating to families is, in fact, accessible by those who do not have full proficiency in English. As one leader shared with me, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this passionate about my job before because now we are seeing which educators know how to effectively reach out to multilingual populations and who does not.” For example, by sending home electronic surveys in English asking who has wifi access for remote learning, we may leave out 1) those caregivers who do not have proficient literacy skills in English, 2) those who do not have devices at all on which to view and respond to the survey, and/or 3) those who may not have the skills to navigate the technology fully. Therefore, I recommend asking of your educators:
Is the communication we are sending home to families actually accessible to all families? If not, what ways besides email can we reach out (e.g. phone calls, texting, platforms that translate to home languages)?
Are EL educators’ expertise being leveraged at this time to support what needs families have, what families need, and what communication strategies can be effective now? What accommodations need to be made for ELs (e.g. modeling of online learning procedures expectations, scaffolds we would provide in the face-to-face classrooms, blended supports comprised of print-outs instead of all online learning)? Are we overemphasizing writing tasks or are we balancing all domains — reading, writing, listening and speaking?
Can leaders take note of any inconsistencies in accessible, two-way communication for multilingual families so that a more proactive and inclusive set of policies and practices can be put in place now going forward?
“No one was prepared for this and suddenly, it’s full steam ahead,” a leader told me this past week, “I really wish we could just take this day by day and see what we need to get through.” Given that in many countries, this pandemic is not simply subsiding, let’s use this as an opportunity to slow down, breathe, and really connect with each other. We can focus on the power of relationships to get us through. Yes, ideally, we can keep teaching and learning going, but let’s not forget how important it is to check in and share how we are each experiencing this “new normal.” Let’s not overemphasize remote learning at the expense of organic connection and alternative ways of learning between all people–students, educators, caregivers, the community. “We’re keeping it simple right now,” disclosed a leader, “we are giving students academic assignments and we are also asking for students’ and caregivers’ ideas about creative projects, down time, and outdoor activities when possible, too.” In the back-to-school space, we can make sure that all kids feel heard, seen, and have ways to express themselves to their teachers and to each other, especially as we build new communities of learners we may have worked with in a face-to-face setting.
Social-emotional support should be woven into academic learning and now is a great time to make that a new reality. Take time to pause, reflect and ask yourself and your stakeholders:
Are we providing the time and space to process these changes — emotionally and logistically? Or are we pushing ahead with over-programmed schedules and expectations that may be unrealistic at this time? How can we provide the right balance>
How are we hearing from students about their experiences right now? Can teachers check in through phone calls or video chats to be less impersonal than email-only outreach? Is there built-in space in the schedule for true connection?
How can schools capitalize on families’ funds of knowledge and not just the “official” curriculum? Can we integrate the needs of core instruction with other ways of authentic learning in the home? How can families be partners who we work with to get through this together?
As we move forward into the back-to-school season, I encourage you to keep the 3 C’s in mind for your multilingual learners and ALL of your learners. We don’t want student-centeredness and social-emotional learning to be an afterthought but, instead, woven into all we do every day for every student!
The original version of this piece on the 3 C’s was published on Confianza’s blog in April 2020. A follow-up to the 3C’s, The 3 R’s for Engaging Multilingual Families in Distance Learning and Beyond written by Confianza Contributor, Sarah Said, was published later this spring and both pieces plus more can be found at: https://ellstudents.com/blogs/the-confianza-way
As a professional development specialist, Sarah focuses on improving cultural understanding, communication, and collaboration in public and private schools across the US and internationally. Her background includes teaching learners at all ages from over 40 different language groups. Sarah has a master’s in curriculum and instruction with a focus on social justice and certifications in general education, English as a Second Language, bilingual education (Spanish), reading, and coaching/mentoring. She has also earned a Leadership Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from eCornell to strengthen her knowledge base and support for leaders inside and outside of education. Sarah founded Confianza in 2015 in New England, USA.