5 Tips for School Leaders: Helping Multilingual Learners Excel

by Valentina Gonzalez

The success of multilingual learners (MLs) depends on all stakeholders that touch their educational journeys, including the specialists, instructional coaches, counselors, assistant principals, principals, and central office administrators. Teachers alone are not solely responsible for students’ success. As is often said, “We are stronger together.” 

On the other hand, many of the leaders mentioned have every intention of supporting MLs but are pulled in all directions and don’t know where to begin. Some are experiencing their first few ML families. Here you will find five tips to begin providing support for MLs in ways that seem simple yet will make positive and powerful impacts. 

1. Create a welcoming environment for all cultures.

The culture you create and model around other educators, students, and families is most important. Recognizing multilingual learners from an assets-based lens affirms their value. Some leaders have found it eye-opening to walk into their campus through the eyes and shoes of a new family, especially one that may not speak English. From the parking lot to the front office, through the halls and into classrooms, what do you see? What do you hear? How are you greeted? How does the whole experience make you feel? A welcoming environment promotes engagement and encourages return visits for both students and caregivers. 

2. Provide high-quality professional learning opportunities for all staff about methods that support MLs.

Professional learning is another key component that leads to success for multilingual learners. But it’s not just that teachers need professional learning; there are three essentials in this tip. 

  • High-quality: It is not enough merely to provide a session or training and check a box. Educators deserve to spend their time in effective and efficient professional learning. There are many options, and if you need help finding one, begin with your district language department, TESOL board, or reach out for support in a professional learning network. 
  • For all staff: Yes, not just for ESL or bilingual teachers but for everyone. One principal I worked with trained her front office staff on culturally responsive methods. They recognized that the front office was the first place families came to and wanted to work on creating a more welcoming experience. 
  • Methods that support MLs: Some say that general best practices will serve MLs too. Though that may be correct, MLs need more. There are specific strategies that second language learners need to acquire language more effectively while learning content. 

Educators who know how to serve and support MLs academically make a greater impact on their success. We are in the business of learning, so as educators, if we stop learning, what are we modeling? 

3. Know the laws, policies, and rights pertaining to MLs.

Knowing the laws helps us uphold the laws, which is, again, important. Aside from the US Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition, each state also has a department of education and English learner division. These are a few valuable resources to keep on hand:

Overview of Guidance
US Department of Education ELL Resources
Dear Colleague Letter
English Learner Toolkit (companion to Dear Colleague Letter)

4. Dedicate time for educators to collaborate and plan instruction.

An educator’s time is one of the most valuable commodities they have. Giving them time to plan with one another helps them create meaningful instructional plans for their MLs. This means gathering general education teachers and ML teachers for sacred, intentional, and regular planning. Teachers who are not used to this may benefit from some direction. Let them know what the goal is for the planning. For example, the goal may be to collaboratively plan instruction that supports and accommodates multilingual learners in science. They may begin by looking at the list of MLs and their language proficiency levels. Next, they might discuss progress and goals. And then start planning science instruction with intentional scaffolds to ensure academic success for MLs. 

5. Support educators with culturally relevant and inclusive resources.

Campus leaders can support teachers by providing resources and materials that align with students, families, and their needs or by providing teachers with the financial means to purchase them. MLs should be able to open a book, look at posters, read materials, and find themselves and their experiences represented.  When students feel that what they are learning is important and connectable, they engage more. 

These five tips are not everything there is, but they are a start. For those looking to learn more about how you can support MLs and teachers of MLs, I highly recommend this resource. It is filled with important information, from programs to systems and curricula to assessment and family and community outreach.

Valentina Gonzalez is a content creator and educational consultant for Seidlitz Education, and the co-author of Reading & Writing with English Learners: A Framework for K-5. 

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