Multilingual Learner (MLL) Digital Hearth Series, Part 1

May 1, 2024

Welcome to UnboundEd’s Multilingual Learner Digital Hearth Series. This series is a “digital fireside chat,” where we’ll discuss topics that bridge the gap between research and practical application. These chats provide insights into equity-centered mindsets, successful advocacy, and progressive system upgrades that support multilingual learners in our schools.

UnboundEd is pleased to announce “Accelerating English Language for Multilingual Students,” a new Standards Institute™ pathway for educators of multilingual learners in the elementary grades.  As we prepare a place for you at this exciting event, we have asked experts in the UnboundEd family to share how they center multilingual learners. These UnboundEd educators work daily to ensure their multilingual students experience grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful — GLEAM™ — instruction. In this blog post, they’ll discuss some of the topics we address in the pathway and provide insight into what they do to catalyze the development of educators and position them to lead and support an equitable playing field for multilingual students.

Empowering School Leaders: Disrupting Predictable Outcomes for Multilingual Learners through Understanding Inequities and Shifting Mindsets 

Equity-minded school leaders face many challenges in disrupting systems that perpetuate predictable student outcomes for children striving to learn a second or third language — English. Regardless of which academic assessment we review, trends show that students striving to learn English as an additional language score lower than their peers for whom English is a first language.  In seeking to disrupt these ingrained systems, a leader’s best intentions may clash with education structures that only include some students.

It is possible to establish inclusive environments and processes that foster both English proficiency and affirmation of students’ native languages or dialects.

In this first blog in our series, we’ll highlight three key insights for school leaders who support multilingual learners (MLL).


Featured Experts

Megan Fehr

Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Lawrence Public Schools

Michelle Hunsberger

ELD Instructional Specialist, Montgomery County Public Schools

Andrea Robinson

Content Specialist for English Language Development, Montgomery County Public Schools

Amy Rudat

Senior Director, Program Design, UnboundEd

Historical oppression has led to contemporary systems and mindsets that perpetuate inequitable outcomes. Why must educators who work with multilingual students understand this historical oppression?

Megan: School leaders must first understand the current and historical implications of not providing high-quality instruction and materials to multilingual learners and the role we have played in withholding this instruction from our MLL students.

Michelle: School leaders need to understand the vast amount of knowledge and experiences that the students come to us with and that they need to be taught the same content as their native English-speaking peers. Leaders need to understand this so they believe enough in the students to provide them with the grade-level, rigorous curriculum and instruction they deserve and need to thrive.

Amy: Knowledge begets knowledge. As educators, we never stop learning, reflecting, and doing better. The “Accelerating English Language for Multilingual Students” pathway asks educators to examine the connection between harmful historical and contemporary narratives, structures, and policies that prevent access to equitable education for students whose first language is not English. Identifying inequalities we unknowingly perpetuate empowers us to root them out of our own systems and disrupt them when they are within our control.

Why must leaders understand the unique assets and needs of multilingual learners and their families? 

Amy: Through developing relationships and designating intentional, research-based structures and support, we can begin to disrupt ineffective processes that lead to inequitable outcomes.

Michelle: There needs to be a global understanding that English does not equal intelligence. Parents need to be included in their children’s education, and all parents care deeply about their children. Many cultures have a different view of the parent’s role in education. This does not mean parents do not care. Our responsibility is to reach out and include families in their child’s school. We must bridge language barriers and make school a welcome space for families. School leaders should also be well-versed in the importance of creating a culturally responsive and inclusive learning environment that values and celebrates the diverse backgrounds and linguistic assets of multilingual learners.

Andrea: As a secondary teacher, many students come to me with a belief that they are deficient because they ‘don’t speak English.’ It takes a lot of work to undo the negative messaging that students have internalized. School systems need to actively work to shift this trend by speaking openly and honestly about the implicit bias and racist policies that live within our educational systems. Above all, leaders need to understand that multilingual learners and their families are not a monolithic group. Under the umbrella of MLLs, there exists a diverse group of students with varying needs.

Amy: The MLL pathway for educators dispels myths about multilingual learners and their families. It provides recommendations for family engagement and practice for interacting with families. The pathway brings together participants from across the nation to collaborate and build on success stories for multilingual learners and families.”

There are many competing demands on teachers. Why do leaders need to know what resources teachers need to plan and provide grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful learning opportunities for multilingual learners? How can leaders allocate time for teachers to prepare and deliver instruction that meets the needs of multilingual learners?

Megan: School leaders must advocate for multilingual learners within the school community and beyond. This involves collaborating with families, community organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that multilingual students receive the necessary support and resources to succeed academically and socially.

Michelle: They should provide ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers to enhance their skills in differentiating instruction, implementing language support strategies, and fostering a positive classroom climate for multilingual students.

Megan: In addition, school leaders should have a comprehensive understanding of the unique needs and challenges multilingual learners face, including knowledge of language acquisition theories, cultural competence, and best practices for teaching multilingual students.

Amy: In the MLL pathway, educators spend four days on these topics. Participants learn how GLEAM instruction can improve student outcomes. Throughout the week, they learn, practice, and apply a process for developing language objectives for Math and ELA lessons. They’ll leave with a process they can apply to any content area and grade band. UnboundEd facilitates through a robust adult-learning model. We’ll share and model daily strategies that amplify language for multilingual students.

The success of a multilingual student begins with the mindset and expectations of a school leader.  School leaders set the priorities and tone for the learning environment. When leaders and teachers embrace the GLEAM hypothesis to guide their instructional planning and approach, all students can thrive. We encourage you to attend UnboundEd Standards Institute’s “Accelerating English Language for Multilingual Students” MLL pathway! In this pathway, you will learn about language objectives, instructional strategies, and family support to improve the outcomes for the multilingual students in your community.  Bring a team!