Monday, October 6, 2014

How to Win Friends and Influence People

One of the more difficult aspects of an ESOL ninja's job is convincing mainstream teachers to modify their teaching strategies in order to make their content more comprehensible to ESOL students.  While some teachers are overly eager to implement new strategies, we've all met those teachers that are reluctant to change their old habits.  They often justify their mindset by making comments such as "They need to learn English" and "They all have to take the end-of-year assessment".   Over the years, I have learned how to engage with these types of individuals.  While I can't claim to have converted everyone's mindset, I have had quite a few victories in the battle over hearts and minds.  Here are some of my tips:
  • Never Take It Personally: Several years ago, I encountered a teacher who truly believed that being nasty to anything ESOL related would result in those students disappearing from his roster.  By the time I got to him, one of the paraprofessionals assigned to him had already resigned and he tried his behavior out on me.  Apparently he missed the memo on my New England and New York credentials.  I kept my cool and let him know that nothing that he was going to tell me was going to hurt my feelings and that my only motive was to help the students.  Deep down, he also wanted to help the students to succeed and was willing to level with me as well as step outside his comfort zone.  When the students took the end-of-year state assessment, the percentage of ESOL students that scored proficient or above tripled over the previous year.
  • Slow and Steady Wins the Race:  Most of the reluctance I've encountered was actually rooted in fear.  Before asking a teacher to change, it's important to acknowledge all of the positive things that happen in their classroom.  Then ask them to make small changes one at a time and allow them to experience success.  As my sister says, "success breeds success" and once they experience it, they'll be motivated to keep going.
  • Open Up Your Classroom: My newcomer and beginner students speak English.  My intermediate and advanced students often read text selections out of books that are used in the mainstream language arts classes.  While this is common sense to me, to outsiders this site is more exotic than the baby pandas at the National Zoo.  Over the years, my classroom has become an endless parade for folks from the national, state and local level.  Since I don't mind the attention, I've opened my classroom to my colleagues.  Whether they are looking for strategies, need to fulfill an observation requirement for a graduate school course, desire an opportunity to talk to their ESOL students in a more intimate setting or simply need a cool place to relax (I have a new air-conditioner), my door is always open and this policy has made people more willing to collaborate with me.

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