You’re Asked to Present for Your Colleagues as an EL/ML Teacher

By Dr. Denise Furlong & Carly Spina

As educators who serve multilingual learners, our roles have many different facets. We serve and support students (oftentimes across multiple grade levels and multiple content areas), we connect families to the school and community resources, and we also serve as instructional leaders in our spaces. Sometimes this comes in the form of supporting colleagues in their understanding of how to best meet the needs of multilingual learnersother times it comes in an encouraging conversation in the hallway or sharing an idea while in the copy room. However, every now and then, we are asked to present something to our colleagues.

Of course, educators who are asked to do this may have a variety of initial reactions. One may be excited for the opportunity to lead in this capacity. Another may feel anxious about how to get this done with an already-full plate. Still another may feel uncomfortable standing up in front of their peers to lead a professional learning experience. Some of us feel we aren’t qualified to teach our colleagues, whether it’s because we aren’t confident in what we do or we think our colleagues are more knowledgeable. For many of us, it’s a combination of all of the above (and maybe more)!

Honoring how you feel is important at this moment. If you’re feeling excited, let yourself celebrate this opportunity to share your expertise! If you’re feeling anxious, take a moment to reflect on why. If timing and capacity is your biggest concern, you may want to sit down and discuss your concerns with your leader. Perhaps give yourself a few pieces of language to hold on to for this discussion (i.e.; “I appreciate the offer to do this, but unfortunately I do not have the capacity to take this on right now,” or “I appreciate that my expertise is valued, but I’m concerned about…”). If you’re feeling uncomfortable about standing up in front of your colleagues (either you don’t enjoy public speaking in front of adults, you’re battling imposter syndrome, or any other reason), see if you can confide in a trusted colleague who can give you feedback or perhaps even co-facilitate the session with you.

What goes into a staff presentation? Consider the overall goals for the school this year, the needs of current multilingual learners, the mindsets of the staff, and the overall culture and climate of the school. Reflect on the particular purpose for the presentation and what is the most important message that YOU want to share. Remember your voice and your passion are valuable and this is an opportunity to share your expertise and experience—for the benefit of the students you serve.
Following are some tips to get your creative juices flowing as you’re planning your presentation:
  • Consider everything you share from an asset-based lens. We are extremely fortunate to learn alongside one another and the students we serve. Languages are a blessing, and varied perspectives are ways to expand our own views. Even feeling uncomfortable and being challenged is such an incredible way to grow as an educator and a human.
  • Keep yourself honest (and on track) with objectives at the beginning of your presentation and a review of them at the end. Bonus points if you include content, language, and culture objectives!
  • Reflect on the diversity of your school and celebrate it. You may even share how many languages or countries are represented in your school among staff and students. We never, ever, ever erase language, culture, or identity—and that includes admonishing humans for speaking languages other than English!
  • Decide what your “non-negotiables” are. For us, they include finding solutions rather than identifying problems, collaborating instead of competing, seeking to learn over shutting down, and being open to change as opposed to being closed off.
  • Share some “takeaways” that teachers can start immediately after the presentation that are relevant to connecting with MLs. This may include a graphic organizer, a design for an anchor chart, a suggestion of a translation app, or even some words in the languages of the school community. Effective ways to engage all learners in lessons and ways to foster belonging are also great places to start.
  • Consider the timing of the presentation. If you’re presenting at the end of a long day, your teammates and colleagues may not be interested in doing ice breakers—especially if they do not see the connection to how they may use this structure in a classroom. If your colleagues are exhausted, they may not be interested in moving around the room. Lean in to your teammates’ various learning styles!
  • Build people up rather than judge people for where they struggle. Everyone has a starting point from which they improve and grow. Some of your colleagues may be ready to pick up the baton and run the race (or something like that!), and others may start more slowly. They will get there.
When the day of your presentation arrives, take a deep breath and embrace the moment. That’s exactly what this is: a moment in time. Feeling empowered and knowing that you make a difference is key. Depending upon the amount of time you have to engage with your colleagues, you may want to provide them time for reflection and collaboration (think language objectives!). If the information you are sharing is new to them, short activities to process things may make it feel a bit less overwhelming. Consider questions that guide things in a positive direction (“What is the most exciting thing about having MLs in our school?” “What may be ways we can increase leadership opportunities for MLs?” “What is the most profound thing you’ve learned from a newcomer student?”).

If you’re in the middle of the session and something’s not going well (there’s a tech issue, someone interjects in a not-so-polite manner, or perhaps there are other interruptions), allow yourself to pause! Ask participants to take a few moments to debrief the previous slide, point, or question with each other. Allowing this
pauseeven if it’s only two minutesis a great way for you to regroup, take a few deep breaths, sip some water, and get back into the flow of things.

When the session is over, you may feel like you’ve just run a marathon! Give yourself a huge celebration
hugbecause you deserve that! It’s not easy to get up in front of your colleagues and share your passion. Opportunities like these are a great way to demonstrate your instructional leadership skills, inspire your teams, and advocate for your students! Take the time to celebrate your efforts. There may have been one small tool that was shared, one question that was posed, or a statement that was expressed that really moved someone in the roomwhether or not they tell you. This session may have been exactly what someone needed to feel better equipped to serve our students!

When planning this type of presentation for colleagues, the most important thing to remember is to ASSUME THE BEST. Assume the best of your colleagues, your admin, and the students and families you serve. Most of all, assume the best of yourself. You are a change agent and an advocate!

Dr. Denise Furlong is an assistant professor at Georgian Court University in NJ and a public-school educator for over 25 years spanning grades K-12. She is also author of Voices of Newcomers: Experiences of Multilingual Learners and co-author of a bilingual children’s book called Ben and the Amazing Animal Adventure.

Carly Spina is currently a multilingual education specialist at the Illinois Resource Center, providing professional learning opportunities and technical assistance support to educators and leaders across the state. Her first book, Moving Beyond for Multilingual Learners, was published in 2021 by EduMatch Publishing.
Fall 2023 - Volume 51, Number 2