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  • 20 Oct 2020 10:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Advocating for English learners is one of the central goals of our professional field. During the month of October, we have been sharing content related to advocacy at various levels.

    This week, we move to the state level of advocacy. Jessica Klein, VATESOL Advocacy and Legislative Liaison, created this informational video explaining the Virginia General Assembly. Check it out and learn how to more effectively advocate for our ELs at the state level!

  • 14 Oct 2020 5:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    To continue our month of advocacy, we are honored to share this blog post written by Diane Staehr Fenner, author and president of SupportEd.


    We have learned that in some districts in the United States, a disproportionate number of ELs did not participate in distance learning in spring 2020 – they just did not show up.

    With the majority of school divisions in Virginia beginning the school year either fully remote or using a hybrid model, our sudden pivot in spring 2020 to distance learning has now largely become the norm this fall. The image below shows how school divisions have begun the 2020-21 school year.

    As of the 2019-20 school year, English learners (ELs) made up nearly nine percent of the school-age population in Virginia, and we must ensure that ELs receive an equitable education during the current, highly unusual school year. We know that ELs already faced multiple challenges in terms of equity before the pandemic began, and the widespread adoption of distance learning models has exacerbated those inequities. We have learned that in some districts in the United States, a disproportionate number of ELs did not participate in distance learning in spring 2020 – they just did not show up. However, we can leverage our advocacy skills to ensure ELs are included in policy and practice conversations and not an afterthought this school year.  

    While there are many advocacy issues for ELs who are taking part in distance learning, this blog post will focus on only three: supporting EL families, scaffolding instruction for ELs, and ensuring valid assessment for ELs. For each issue, I will summarize the urgency around advocacy and will offer some resources to support your advocacy for ELs. 

    First and foremost, we must support EL families during these stressful times. From helping families receive the technology and tools needed in order for their children to access online instruction through helping them connect to resources in their communities such as food banks and healthcare, advocating for EL families has never been more crucial. We must collaborate to join forces in support of our EL families. 

    Suggested resources: 

    Now more than ever, we must ensure instruction is appropriately scaffolded for ELs who are learning in a distance learning environment. We have the opportunity to improve ELs’ instruction during the current year and must ensure that ELs are meaningfully included and supported so they can learn content and continue to develop their academic language skills. ELs may now have limited opportunities to practice their English in face to face settings, so we must advocate and offer our expertise in ways to foster ELs’ participation and learning. 

    Suggested resources:

    Last spring, many school districts decided that assessments would not count and students would not receive grades. That is overwhelmingly not the case during the current school year, as students are expected to take part in instruction as well as assessment, and most students will receive grades. The stakes are particularly high for ELs, since there are already many barriers to valid assessment and grading for this group of students. 

    Suggested resources: 

    As we settle in to our new routines this year, let’s make sure that we take time to reflect on advocacy as a crucial tool to allow our ELs’ assets to shine.


    SupportEd is a woman-owned small business based in Fairfax, VA. We offer five formats and multiple topics for online professional development to help you best support your ELs in distance learning, hybrid, or face-to-face environments:

    1. Virtual PD

    2. Webinars

    3. On-demand courses

    4. Facilitated 12-hour courses

    5. Online book studies

    For more information, see

    To learn more about the different types of online PD we offer, see

  • 05 Oct 2020 12:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We kick off October Advocacy Month by talking about self-advocacy. Thank you to our guest blogger, Emily Hemmingson, Certified Health Coach and founder of The Whole Adventure: Health Coaching for Teachers. You can read more about Emily and The Whole Adventure at the bottom of this blog post.


    Why are school year boundaries so important? 

    Imagine for a moment that you are the owner of a garden that you want to share with the world.

    At first, you let everyone in with no fence, no walkway, and no rules. After a while the garden is ruined and no one can enjoy it anymore.

    Now imagine you have the same garden, but this time you build a fence, you set rules, and you make a walkway. You create boundaries, and because of it everyone can enjoy the beautiful garden for years to come.

    You guessed it - this is a metaphor, and YOU are the garden.

    If you don’t protect your energy and your resources during the school year, you may become too exhausted to share your unique and beautiful talents with your school community.

    Now that we’ve covered why boundaries are important, read on to find out when you may need to set a boundary, and what those boundaries can include.

    Signs you May Need A School Year Boundary

    Here are a couple of good indicators that you need a boundary somewhere in your school day:

    • Your mental and physical health are being negatively impacted by your current schedule. 
    • Something in your day consistently triggers you, makes you upset, or stresses you out. 
    • You are anxiously awaiting your next school break. 

    If any of these apply to you, start thinking about what specifically is stressing you out, and how you can set a boundary with that part of your day.

    Types of School Day Boundaries to Consider

    There are various areas you can consider when setting boundaries in your life. Here are a few areas and examples you can consider while brainstorming what boundaries you would like to set:

    Physical Boundaries

    A physical boundary can look and sound like:

    • Taking consistent screen breaks when your eyes are straining.
    • Taking consistent breaks to eat when you are hungry. 
    • “I need to take my full lunch break so I can eat during the day. If I don’t have that time I likely won’t eat”. 
    • “I need to sit down for a second. If I don’t I will be too tired to calmly give this lesson.”
    • “I need more than five minutes between these two class periods so I can use the restroom.”

    Emotional Boundaries

    An emotional boundary can look and sound like:

    • Consistently refusing to engage in “venting”.
    • “I know you want to share how you feel, but I’m not the right person to talk with about this. It would be more appropriate to problem solve with x person.”
    • “I understand you’re upset but let’s talk about this outside of the school building or at another time.”
    • “Thanks for checking in, but I don’t want to share how I’m feeling right now.”

    Time Boundaries

    A time boundary can look and sound like:

    • Setting specific hours you are working and hours you are resting. 
    • Asking for extended deadlines on tasks that feel overwhelming. 
    • “I need at least a week’s notice for important deadlines or else I get overwhelmed and struggle producing quality work.” 
    • “I don’t open my work laptop after 5pm because I reserve that time for my family.”
    • “Today I need to focus on x. Can I get that email response to you by tomorrow night instead of today?”

    Personal Boundaries

    A personal boundary can look and sound like:

    • Having a separate phone number (like google voice) and email that you share with families.
    • Leaving your work computer at school and turning off work email notifications after 5pm.
    • “I don’t talk about my personal life during work hours” or “I don’t talk about my work life during my personal hours”.
    • “I don’t attend student birthday parties because I’m just one person and wouldn’t be able to go to every party, but we will be celebrating at school!”

    This is not a comprehensive list, and you do not have to use any of the boundaries written here. These are just examples to get you brainstorming. Consider what boundaries you need to set for a more balanced school year, and —

    >>>TAKE ACTION<<<

    • Write down 1-3 clear boundaries you would like to start implementing this school year.
    • Write down why those boundaries are important to you.
    • Write down who you need to make these boundaries clear to.

    Having clarity and intention behind your boundary will make it easier to stick to that boundary yourself, and easier to express that boundary to those around you. 

    Go forth, and build your fences! 

    Emily Hemmingson is a teacher turned certified health coach who has dedicated her career to helping teachers prevent and heal from symptoms of burnout. She founded her business, The Whole Adventure, to provide teachers with the tools and resources they need to maintain mental and physical health during the school year. 

    She would like to gift her readers a copy of The Healthy Teacher Self-Care Planner, designed to give teachers a quick way to check in daily with their mental and physical wellbeing. 

    You are also invited to join our free teacher wellness community, The Beat Burnout Facebook group here.

  • 02 Oct 2020 5:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy October! This month, our theme at Virginia TESOL is advocacy. Jessica Klein, our Advocacy and Legislative Liaison, will be publishing content all month long related to advocacy at various levels, including local, state, and federal. You won't want to miss out!

    For now, check out Jessica's Intro to Advocacy video below:

  • 31 Aug 2020 12:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As part of our August blog series, VATESOL sent out a survey to teachers of English learners (ELs) about their perspectives on the reopening of schools in Virginia amid the pandemic. Fifteen teachers, who represented elementary, middle, and high school, responded to this survey. We compile their responses here as a way to articulate shared values and concerns among EL teachers across the state.

    This fall, all teachers are faced with a variety of challenges related to many aspects of teaching in a virtual, hybrid, or modified in-person setting. When asked about their top priorities in planning for instruction this fall, teachers’ responses included:

    1. Helping students and families access technology and hotspots

    2. Creating assignments that are both accessible and meaningful

    3. Ensuring staff and student safety

    4. Having adequate resources for effective planning 

    This back-to-school season is undoubtedly filled with more fear and anxiety than ever before. Teachers noted many personal and professional concerns, including:

    1. Health and safety of teachers and students

    2. Communication with families and student engagement

    3. Students’ academic progress

    4. Technology access

    EL teachers have a special expertise in both the instruction of ELs and outreach to multilingual families. This expertise should be consulted as administrators and leaders make decisions for the fall. When asked what issues they feel their administration should consider this school year, EL teachers most frequently provided the following responses:

    1. Technology access

    2. Communication

    3. Resources and information available in multiple languages

    Beyond question, COVID-19 has and will change teachers’ professional roles. When asked how this pandemic has already changed their role as an EL teacher, our survey participants responded:

    1. Providing more wraparound support for families such as finding community services, including food banks

    2. Facilitating more direct interaction with families

    3. Learning how to teach through online platforms

    This fall, teachers will need to learn how to engage all families with critical information and updates. EL teachers noted how they are planning to communicate with EL families this fall:

    1. Phone calls

    2. Texts

    3. Technology platforms such as TalkingPoints, Canvas, Zoom

    4. Face to face

    When asked if they had the option, which reopening plan would they choose for ELs, seven out of fifteen teachers answered “hybrid,” six teachers answered “fully virtual,” and two teachers answered “face to face.” Even on a small scale, these responses show that teachers across the state have mixed feelings about reopening plans, especially when considering the many unique needs of ELs and their families.

    As teachers gear up for a new school year, albeit different from years past, valid concerns about keeping safe, ELs falling through the cracks and not having access to technology were admittedly expressed. However, fellow EL teachers are optimistic with these comments: 

    This is an exciting time for us to try new things that normally would take years to get approved!  I hope I am up to the challenge”

    “I’m grateful we have each other to collaborate with each other!”

    “I have learned just how resilient my students are and that they and the communities where they live are continuing to support each other.”

    We would love to hear from you. How is your division considering ELs and their families in their reopening plans? What other considerations and concerns would you add to the responses above? Comment below or on our social media platforms to continue the conversation.

  • 17 Aug 2020 10:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This summer, our organization launched its first ever book club. The group, led by VATESOL Secretary Laura Lewis, met in July and discussed The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.

    VATESOL member and ESL teacher in Virginia Beach Public Schools, Kay Fedor, wrote this ref
    lection after participating in the book club. We are grateful that she has allowed us to share her words on our blog:

    Thanks so much for arranging the summer book club as I thoroughly enjoyed reading and sharing with like-minded colleagues. It is obvious that we are all drawn to our chosen profession by our love for our students, or "kiddos" (as coined by WendySue Clausson).

    The text we read just demonstrated to me that we all have the desire to belong to the human race with inclusivity. I believe that if we continue to act with kindness and listen with two ears to the story of others with empathy and without judgement, our world will heal. WendySue shared that she has witnessed the positive cultural change at her school because of her advocacy and patient kindness toward others. It took time, but it has happened. For me, as a visual learner, I see our role as the pebble that is being skipped across a pond. It begins with us, one pebble at a time, creating a ripple effect across our small group, classroom, school building, district, and beyond.

    Together we can do this...

    "Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects." - Dalai Lama

    Thank you to all of our members who participated in this summer's book club. VATESOL is hoping to organize another book club in the future. Stay tuned!

  • 13 Aug 2020 8:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In March of this year, schools began to transition from in-person to virtual instruction district by district, state by state. Emergency teaching plans were designed and put into place, with many believing that if we could just get through the end of the school year, education would be all right come fall. However, we now know that to not be true. COVID-19 is still here, and education might remain virtual for a bit longer. 

    One group in particular, English Learners (ELs), has been hit extremely hard. There have been numerous stories about the struggles teachers have faced while trying to work with a population that has been heavily hit by COVID-19, as well as oftentimes suffering from a lack of equity in virtual learning. States and school districts planning out a return to school need a strategy that will be safe, but equitable. 

    Administrators, those persons in between the federal- and state-level leaders and the teachers, have been tasked with the unenviable job of translating mandates and guidelines to the everyday practical aspects of how to make education work during a pandemic. It is these people who must come up with a plan to help our ELs overcome obstacles. In response to this, VATESOL asked some administrators from Virginia, as well as outside this state, to give us their perspective of the decision-making process specifically in regards to our ELs.

    (A quick note to our readers: It was agreed between VATESOL and the administrators that the responses would be kept anonymous and published in a blog format. The contributors were shown a copy of the final blog and agreed that VATESOL had done its best to portray their responses as written.)

    To begin, it should be noted that when asked if the COVID-19 pandemic had changed their role as administrators, all responses were affirmative. Administrators noted that they needed to:

    1. increase their flexibility

    2. be as transparent as possible with others

    3. provide clear communication, which can be especially tricky in a virtual setting 

    4. focus on underrepresented groups to ensure that their voices are heard

    In thinking about reopening schools face-to-face versus in a virtual environment, administrators have been confronted with some difficult decisions. The administrators we spoke with listed the following as their top priorities in the decision-making process: 

    1. Student and teacher safety 

    2. Following the guidelines set forth by local governments and school districts

    3. Ensuring that teachers have the tools they need in order to provide quality instruction that is equitable for all students

    Specific considerations for ELs and their families must be taken into consideration, but the debate still remains whether it would be better for them to be back in person or virtual. Part of this decision may be dependent upon the student’s proficiency level and educational background. The voice of the family is also very important. While in some districts EL families have been invited to work on task forces that are a part of the return-to-school plans, most administrators agree that family input has been limited overall, but that the final decision on whether ELs will return will be dictated by the family.

    There is no question that we are currently faced with an historically difficult time in regards to public health and education. How administrators will balance student and staff safety with meeting the educational needs of special populations such as English learners may look different in each division across the state. VDOE’s guidance related to English learners and distance learning can be found on the English Learner page of its website.

  • 29 Jul 2020 9:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Tammy Wik, Outreach Representative for ESL Library

    VATESOL and ESL Library are working together to provide a free one-hour professional development webinar, “Teaching Flexibly with ESL Library, on Wednesday, August 5 from 2-3pm EST. Click here to pre-register.

    Individuals who attend this webinar will receive a professional development certificate and, as a reminder, all active VATESOL Members also have a membership benefit of two months of free access to ESL Library's Plus plan!

    ESL Library is a subscription service for English language teachers used in over 10,000 schools around the world. They provide digital and printable materials that work together seamlessly. Take a look at their site to find relevant, engaging lesson plans, flashcards, and other resources for your students of all ages and levels. Their goal is to help create great teaching moments in your classroom, regardless of what "classroom" means to you today.

    The webinar will cover how you can use your free access to ESL Library to assign digital homework and get student results in real time, create custom digital or printable flashcard sets, and how to print or use ready-made PDFs.

    Have questions? No problem! The webinar will feature an active Q&A chat box where you can type your questions to the ESL Library team or swap ideas with other educators in our community.

    Register here to join the webinar and increase your teaching flexibility!

    Get 2 Months Free Access

    Looking to start your free access to ESL Library before the webinar? You must be an active VATESOL member to receive this benefit. Please contact to receive your code and the activation link, or to join/reactivate your VATESOL membership.

  • 07 Jul 2020 4:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Jessica Klein, VATESOL Advocacy and Legislative Liaison

    Advocacy can be big or small and the big parts can feel really intimidating, just like this building. We spend most of our K-12 education learning about and revering American symbols and landmarks like Capitol Hill. In Civics, we learn how to participate in our communities and local government, and in Government we learn the intricacies of our U. S. legislative system. Despite all our understanding of Congress, it can feel intangible. It’s like we’re watching ants at work in an ant farm, only our glass window is C-Span. Through participating in TESOL’s annual Advocacy and Policy Summit, I have realized that Congress is not meant for display; it is an elaborately constructed office complex made up of people who have a responsibility to listen when we have something to say.

    Each year, the TESOL International Advocacy and Policy Summit begins with a few days of advocacy training including updates on Federal budgets and policy briefings on pending legislation that affect English language professionals and learners. In recent years, the Summit culminated in a day of a hundred or more English language teachers descending upon the Capitol to meet with their Representatives and Senators. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Day of Action included attendees and their colleagues writing letters to their Members of Congress using TESOL’s Advocacy Action Center. Some attendees scheduled Zoom meetings or phone calls in addition to the letter writing campaign. I was able to snag a 15 minute phone call with a staffer from my Representative’s office and it turned out to be a success. 

    In 15 minutes or less (no this is NOT a GEICO commercial-I swear), the staffer and I were able to get introduced, go over a few of TESOL’s policy recommendations, and review our action items for after the meeting. In addition to asking Congress to reject the White House’s proposal to combine 29 funding streams within ESSA, I asked for my Rep. to support two bills in the House, the SPELL Act and the Reaching English Learners Act. The SPELL Act moves to amend the Higher Education Act to include English language teachers to the list of teaching positions that qualify for higher student loan debt forgiveness, joining math, science, and Special Education teachers. The Reaching English Learners Act proposes creating grants for teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions to prepare the next generation of teachers to meet the needs of English language learners. I followed up the next day to thank the staffer for his time and he had great news. Within 24 hours, the Representative gave his formal support by becoming a co-sponsor for both bills. I was obviously thrilled to hear how one small phone call led to a noticeable change so quickly. 

    The staffer ended our call with a request that I’d like to share. His message was that advocates do a really great job keeping them informed about trends in data like changing demographics and test scores, but what they really need from advocates is to act as their ears on the ground.  He asked for students’ stories and our anecdotes about how current policies affect their daily lives. He specifically wanted to know more about immigrant students and students living in poverty - two groups whose voices are often underrepresented. As EL teachers and teacher trainers, we are in a unique position to advocate for some of the most vulnerable students in our nation, and really what teacher doesn’t love telling story after story about their students? If you have a story to tell, call up one of your Members of Congress; I’m sure they would love to hear it. If they don’t, maybe they aren’t meeting their responsibility to listen to what you have to say. So remember, Capitol Hill is just an office, and each elected official has to earn their spot there. 

  • 26 Jun 2020 11:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    VATESOL teachers and board members shared their reflections of 2020 so far. We will be highlighting their stories on our social media platforms over the next few days.

    Be sure to stay in touch with VATESOL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to participate in our exciting upcoming events!

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