Field Trip: Equity for English Learners


School closures have been tough for everyone. Administrators, district leadership, teachers, and families raced to adapt to new teaching and learning conditions. Students faced an entirely unfamiliar school experience. Already-existing inequities grew starker, and English Learners faced extra hurdles as teachers and families often struggled to communicate.

In this podcast, Dr. Jessica Hazzard, an EL specialist at Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware, shares how her district tackled these issues and developed strategies they can continue to use, whether they’re remote, in person, or somewhere in between.

  • The connection between teacher collaboration and equity
  • How the district carves out time for teacher collaboration during a stressful and busy time
  • How reading specialists, grade level teachers, and EL teachers use Remote Planning Workshops to collaboratively create lesson plans


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Full Transcript  

JESSICA HAZZARD: All of a sudden I saw learners that had other languages and brought different cultures to my area. I wanted to celebrate those differences and help kids who had different needs in their educational system.

Today, we’re looking at equity. Equity at a time when those differences in language ability and access to technology can make or break a school year.

And, we’ll explore the link between equity and teacher collaboration.

JESSICA HAZZARD: When we collaborate and we have great diverse perspectives, then we have great expertise that we can share from different viewpoints. And when we have those different viewpoints, then we end up serving whole students and students with very diverse needs in a much more effective manner.

It’s the story of what one school district is doing to increase equity in the middle of a year like no other. And it’s making a difference.

JESSICA HAZZARD: What we do as leaders changes what our teachers do, which changes what is done for our students, which ultimately changes what happens for our students for their whole lives.

From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip.

JESSICA HAZZARD: In my undergraduate over 20 years ago, I volunteered in a classroom, and that classroom happened to be an English learner classroom that I knew nothing about. And I walked in and my rural background in a small county was enlightened by the fact that there were students in my area that were different than me. All of a sudden, I saw learners that had other languages and brought different cultures to my area. I wanted to celebrate those differences and help kids who had different needs in their educational system throughout my career

This is Dr. Jessica Hazzard. She’s been in education for 20 years and has spent much of that time working with English learners. Today, she’s an EL specialist with Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware — she leads services and professional development, and ultimately makes sure that EL students have equity in services. That’s why — and bear with me on this, it’s all connected — that’s why I asked her to tell me what it was like this spring, when schools shut down, and all of a sudden, teaching and learning looked very different.

JESSICA HAZZARD: In my mind, I felt like I should be prepared for the situation. If one can do two masters, a doctorate, and 20 years in education, we can handle anything. But the reality was, I felt very isolated and alone, and I needed to connect with my colleagues to find a way to begin to communicate and help the system, because I think we were all in shock.

We had had a snowstorm where we closed for a week. We went out on a Friday, we knew something might be coming, and what we were told was that we would be closed for two months.

Jessica felt like so many of us did: isolated and shocked. School had never been closed for that long.

JESSICA HAZZARD: And so my question for myself was, how can I help this? What can I do? My first work was just starting to think through professional development. How are we going to reach students when all of a sudden they’re not in front of us? We can’t see their struggles if they’re having trouble on anything, and how are we going to support kids remotely when this is new for all of us?

It was Friday that we were in school and we had a feeling something might be coming, but Delaware actually made the decision and released it over the weekend. When that decision was released, we were at home with whatever we had, and we didn’t know how long we weren’t coming back, until they said May 15th for us, this was March 15th. We had no significant direction as to what our next steps would be. We had to decide in the next couple of weeks how instruction would roll out for that timeframe. Considering maybe we would go back in, what’s the best thing to do?

They had some curriculum they could use online, which was helpful. But as far technology went?

JESSICA HAZZARD: What we had technology-wise was what we took home that weekend. And the skills that we had were the skills that we intended to use in the classroom versus remotely. Zoom was a new thing for us. We liked it. We grabbed hold of it quickly. Google Docs we had used many times, but all of a sudden it was something that we had to share back and forth that way. We had a lot learning to do, let’s put it that way.

Cape Henlopen is not a large district — between 6 and 7 thousand students. But it’s quite diverse. Rural towns at the one end, beach towns at the other. There are substantial differences in incomes, and there’s a good bit of diversity in language. And it’s no surprise that that can throw up obstacles to having the same kind of access to education as someone who’s a native English speaker.

JESSICA HAZZARD: When we think of equity for English Learners, we think about their language proficiency in English, that our system is predominantly in English. We do have immersion systems, but when a student’s in English and they’re being educated in English, we have to provide them with access to the curricular materials and standards at a level that they can understand, and we have to provide them language development.

And that’s a challenge when a teacher has a class full of 20 to 30 students, thinking of all the needs that are in there. How do we make an equitable learning experience for English Learners when the teacher is also meeting the needs of special ed students and very highly gifted students? So we’re thinking about, how can we support that in instruction? What can we do instructionally? And what can we do when a student is working at home for assignments and things like that that allow them and enable and promote their ability to participate in our instruction?

These differences are only magnified in a pandemic. It was hard on everyone, of course — it is hard — some parents were doctors and nurses working overtime in hospitals, and they had to make arrangements for their kids and figure out how to ensure they had the help they needed. Some people were laid off or couldn’t work because of health concerns. Some were immunocompromised. And of course, as we’re working on this podcast in September, this is all still a present reality.

One way that equity, or a lack thereof, became un-ignorably clear was in the area of technology.

JESSICA HAZZARD: The first hurdle for technology is, do we have it in the hands of our students? We, as a district, were fortunate and had many good things in place. We had a number of iPads that could fulfill the needs of families. However, the challenge in that is we went home on Friday. We didn’t know we weren’t coming back. So it was put in the student’s hands to take home. Our secondary students mostly had them, but our elementary students didn’t. So it was a matter of phone calls, translations, surveys, “Do you need technology? How can we help?” And then once the technology was in the hands of the students and families, the challenge was then for families that were less familiar with technology who needed translated help with that.

Our ELL teachers were deployed, amazingly, to help those families. They were simultaneously learning all about this technology and all these apps, and they were sharing with families how to help them. It was a repeated process. Families might need help time and time again. Our teachers did an amazing job, no matter what time of day it was, of helping their families. But it takes a lot of time to do that, and it pulls on the staff a lot.

RYAN ESTES: And you’ve seen teachers working extremely long hours, trying to work with students, trying to deal with the technology, trying to overcome all the mountains in front of them. Is that right?

JESSICA HAZZARD: Teachers worked a ton. I don’t even know how to say that. I would hear from my teachers that they were doing phone calls at night because that’s when parents can talk and that they were helping students at night, and they were helping students in different ways.

If a student had difficulty with internet access or technology access, teachers did phone calls to conference with their students. It’s much better to connect with them and listen to them read over a phone call than it is to not, so whatever we could do to tap into helping them and educating them through this difficult time, that’s what was done. And it didn’t matter the hour, it became very flexible. A key to moving forward and helping families is remaining flexible with what they needed.

If that doesn’t make anyone who hears this appreciate teachers, I don’t know what will. But what happens when a teacher gets on Zoom for class in the morning — or when they take time out from their evening to make a phone call to a parent — and they realize, quite literally, “We’re not speaking the same language”?

JESSICA HAZZARD: One of the other challenges that we faced was making sure that every family that needed communication could have it. And by that, I mean, bilingual and translation. Not every family that we serve speaks English, so we have to open up our doors and our phone calls to those families. Our EL service, our EL teachers, were critical in that process.

We also had some paraprofessionals that helped in that process, and they answered all kinds of questions, and if they didn’t know the answers, they got the answers. There were technology questions, many things like that. And that is just something that we have to do. We worked toward centralizing that translation for surveys and things like that as we became better and more fluent in this process, so that we could centralize how surveys went out, how they were asked, and the data that was reported in an efficient way.

RYAN ESTES: I want to shift gears a little bit here and ask you about teacher collaboration. Because on the surface, this might seem like a completely different topic from equity, but you say it’s not. So let me ask you, how does the issue of equity relate to collaboration?

JESSICA HAZZARD: When we collaborate and we have great diverse perspectives, then we have great expertise that we can share from different viewpoints. And when we have those different viewpoints, then we end up serving whole students and students with very diverse needs in a much more effective manner.

There’s great learning to be had. There’s expertise all throughout education, and expertise can range from curricular to needs to social emotional, and every time we have a great conversation with somebody else, our learning increases, and that’s truly my viewpoint. I want to set teachers up for that kind of collaboration, the collaboration where they have expertise that they can share with someone, but there’s a different viewpoint and a different perspective.

If I bring an EL lens, and then another colleague of mine brings a special ed lens, and another colleague of mine brings this great curricular understanding, by the time that we get those perspectives together, we can create for a student an excellent instructional experience where the needs of the student are met as well as the student’s ability to move forward at grade level pacing.

That’s the kind of experience that we need to create for our teachers. We want them to have an opportunity to work with teachers that have similar experiences and yet very different experiences too. In all my time working, I have found that the more that I have collaborated with teachers and with administrators who have very different perspectives than mine, I have ended up being a much more knowledgeable person and much more capable of helping students and families and teachers in a much broader and more experienced way.

RYAN ESTES: Let me ask you how that actually looks in the classroom. I’m sure that you have stories to tell of teachers collaborating in order to address this issue. Give me one or two.

JESSICA HAZZARD: When I did my doctorate work, it was about assessing ELs and how to do that equitably and fairly. I had the great experience of being able to create a team in which there were content, classroom, grade level teachers, and EL teachers. And I coached them through a process and led them through a process of professional, development of how to adapt an assessment to make it appropriate for English learners at different levels.

And then the content teachers shared this really unique perspective of understanding what they wanted students to learn. To what degree? To what level? Really understanding their content standards.

And the English learner teacher brings this nice perspective of, what does the student need who struggles with academic language? And it’s not just for an English Learner. It can be for a special ed student too, or just any student who needs support in academic language. And between those two perspectives, you end up with this product that all of a sudden reaches grade level but has these nice supports for an English learner or any student who needs academic language support, in this great collaboration, this great product, and both teachers, when you’re done, and they’ve been through this professional development and this work together, will tell you how much they’ve learned from each other.

And that’s happened to me time and time again, I’m reusing that format on a different topic right now, same results. The teachers are telling me, “I really learned from them because they know this. And I really learned from them because it’s something different than what I know.”

RYAN ESTES: So as you work to support this kind of collaboration, to provide teachers opportunities to interact with one another, to share expertise, to maybe work together with the same students or share ideas or perspectives, how do you tackle these things? What is the biggest thing that you find helpful in making sure teachers can collaborate like this, whether that’s in a remote environment like we’re in now or not?

JESSICA HAZZARD: The most critical thing teachers need to get that done is so simple. It’s just time, it’s time and space, and a set time that says, “At this time we will be collaborating.” And then that time has a very specific purpose. Teachers are very busy. Their time is limited. So if they know the purpose that they’re there and they feel like it’s one that helps them, that helps move their instruction forward, will promote them being a better teacher, then that purpose and their participation moves forward. It’s time and strong purpose.

There’s also an underlying current here that we need to be aware of, and that’s the culture of the organization. The organization in which I work now has a great culture of, “We are here for the students. And if there’s learning that I need to make that better for the students, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

It’s also the culture of it’s okay to learn from one another. In fact, it’s a great thing to learn from one another. So that has to be in place in the organization in order for that collaboration and sharing of ideas and learning from one another to work, too.

RYAN ESTES: You just mentioned the idea of giving teachers time to collaborate. And yet we know that time is a very finite resource. No one has enough time. Everyone’s got so much on their plates. How do you find the time? I could see someone saying, “We can’t afford to carve out the time for collaboration.”

JESSICA HAZZARD: Efficiency is always key, and you’re very right about that, that time is finite and we can’t make it longer, even though we probably try. That being said, we have to think about making sure that our purpose is on par, useful for teachers, and that creates an efficient system for us. We know that we don’t have 24 hours for professional development. In this situation when we’re remote, we have very limited time.

So the first thing I did was, I started working with the reading specialist. And a supervisor asked us to work together. What we decided to do with our time was that we needed to make sure that when teachers talked about what are they teaching online, our content, that they needed to talk about what supports they’re putting in for students. And we had to look at, how can we make this happen efficiently for teachers?

One of the ideas that was put together was a remote planning workshop. And in that remote planning workshop, all grade level teachers would come together and they would discuss what they’re teaching, great ideas for it, what’s the focus? What are we going to do in the next week or so to make sure that our students are moving forward?

And then I said, well, if that’s what we’re doing, we’re remote. When students are working at home, teachers can’t see what a student is doing when they start to sit down and work on an assignment. If they’re not in a Zoom, if a student begins to struggle, we have no perception of that when we’re remote. So we need to put in place supports that will help them along the way. That’s part of that equity piece.

And so what happened was, talking with the reading specialists, they know what content is coming, they share that with grade level teachers. EL teachers are a wonderful asset for sharing that.

So every week, Jessica talked with the reading specialists about what was coming up, and designed a support that could be put into a template for a grade levels, or for multiple grade levels. She would make one example for a grade level, and then ask her EL teachers to make an example for each grade level. Then, in those RPWs, those Remote Planning Workshops, the EL teachers would share those examples.

JESSICA HAZZARD: And what the teachers got from that was a gift. “Here’s something that you can use immediately,” which for them is very helpful when they’re working all kinds of hours during this remote learning. They didn’t have to go back and remake it. They also came out with another gift of a template that they could go back and use later. One of the things that we really wanted to make sure happened was even though we’re in remote learning, it won’t be this way forever.

So we wanted to make sure that whatever learning happened in remote learning could be transferred back to the classroom. And when those ideas were shared in RPWs, the teachers could not only use them then, but they could take that template and go forward and use it.

One of the examples that we shared was a writing frame, which is something that helps English Learners get their thoughts organized. It helps them use complete sentences if their proficiency is in a more beginning level. And those not only help English Learners, but they help special ed students who have more difficulty organizing their writing.

So we’d share a template. The teachers could adapt it a little bit if they needed to. It was shared in a Google Drive or a Google Doc so they could easily copy it, change it. All those things helped teachers enact it now and enact it later.

And time and time again, I was so thrilled to hear that the EL teachers that were doing the presenting along with me became leaders. They had five or ten minutes to share in an RPW that was about 45 minutes long. But then after that, then the teachers began to ask them for help even more so than they already did. The reading specialists leaned on them more, which was great. It was great feeling to know that the system that we had developed created this environment for further collaboration.

And that’s really what we want. We know that once a week for five or ten minutes introduces the idea, that we know that we’ve set it up so it can be done later, but if we’ve created relationships and time for extended collaboration, that’s really going to help our teachers in the long run, and our students, too, creating a system for equity.

I wanted to know more about the mechanics of these RPWs, and I asked Jessica to describe how the teachers connect. How many people are there? How do they meet, especially when teachers may not all be on campus?

JESSICA HAZZARD: In other words, what does an RPW look like in the real world?


JESSICA HAZZARD: Or in the virtual world maybe? An RPW is much like a PLC, except that an RPW, the way that our district laid it out, was a full grade level discussion. So if I’m a third grade teacher who teaches English Language Arts, I’ll be meeting with my English Language Arts team. At first it was once a week, and then it was once every other week. And what happened was, those meetings were about 45 minutes, they were on a Zoom, and the reading specialist would look ahead. “What’s coming next in our materials that we’re using. What standards are we talking about?” And they’d share that information with teachers, and they’d get teachers to go into breakout rooms in Zooms and have discussions about how they would approach those standards, about activities they might do, about what was working for their students, about what supports they needed, what questions did they have?

And in that process, we got to hear what they needed, what was working well. And then at the end of the RPWs, the EL teachers would share, when the group came back together from a breakout room, their ideas for how curriculum and instruction could be supported as the teachers and students were working in Zooms and things like that.

I recorded this interview with Jessica over the summer, and at the time, no one knew just what the fall would look like. Questions like, “Will schools be open or not? And if they are, what will the day to day look like?” — they just hadn’t been answered yet. So, I asked Jessica to talk about how they were preparing for the unknown.

JESSICA HAZZARD: We are preparing for any of the realities because the truth of the matter is we’re still not sure, and probably won’t be sure until August, that is what the state has released for us. They’ve provided us with guidance. So what we’re trying to do is make decisions that will fit and make guidance for all of those realities. Because the truth of the matter is, not only in the fall, but winter and spring, we may be in or out of school. We don’t know.

I’m going to actually speak on two different levels. At the secondary level, at the end of the year, we had a lot of time for professional development. Four days is what it ended up being. What we did was, we created kind of a template for a lesson that would work either remotely or in person.

All of our teachers collaborated in groups and they made some lessons or units using that format. Built in were things for equity like supports and models and great, clear directions. And then there were some other pieces that set teachers up for learning more about technology and all those things.

So we’re moving teachers forward in the mindset that we don’t know what format we’re going to be in, so whatever we build needs to work in either format. When we go back, we have set platforms that teachers will be using from the moment they go back to school. So if we go back in person and a kindergartener goes back, then they’re going to use Seesaw on day one or two in person, so that when they go home or if we go home, if we become remote again, the kindergarten already knows how to do it. They’re going to amaze us, I’m sure. They always do.

I did work with a teacher at the beginning of this summer who was building a Bitmoji classroom, and we had this great conversation. She was setting up a library in her Bitmoji, which was a creative way for first grade teacher to share that with students. And I also encouraged her, another piece of equity is that we always look for, the idea that we want to focus on what we would do in the classroom grade level standard and keep it there, that part of equity is actually not providing a million different things, but to do the things that we really want kids to know and learn really well and focusing for them. Kids like us and teachers like us, we need that focus and that support.

RYAN ESTES: As you think about other districts out there who may be looking to equip teachers to collaborate better as well as to enhance equity, what would the takeaways that you’ve learned from them be? What would you say, “This is what we’ve found is just key.”

JESSICA HAZZARD: So I think the biggest takeaways for us are first, establishing a culture where teachers feel secure in sharing, they know that their ideas are valued, and that they know the person across from them is willing to try that. And then the other piece of that is setting aside time where they can collaborate, but when that time is set, that a purpose is set for them, that they are provided with opportunities to be further leaders, and that they know that when they go into that time for collaboration, they will come out with something that’s going to help them further, and ultimately help their students.

RYAN ESTES: One question that I always love to ask people is, what am I not asking you? What question have you been waiting for when we’re talking about collaboration and equity? What did we miss in this interview?

JESSICA HAZZARD: I think that what I want to say is that what we do as leaders changes what our teachers do, which changes what is done for our students, which ultimately changes what happens for our students for their whole lives.

So every time that we strive for equity and that we create an environment for collaboration, then we have potentially changed a student’s life, a student’s ability in their profession, which ultimately changes not only their lives, but their children’s lives.

So every time I think about a frustration or isolation when I’m remote, I think about what potential could I have down the line, and so I push forward through that challenge so that equity can be a real existence for our kids, for our students, and for our teachers.

Dr. Jessica Hazzard is an EL specialist for Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware. She spoke with us in July.

Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education. Frontline is the leading provider of school administrative software, with solutions like Frontline Professional Growth, with tools to help teachers collaborate online and engage in professional learning wherever they happen to be. And, Frontline English Learner Program Management, helping you support better student outcomes, manage your entire EL process, and keep your data all in one place so you can simplify progress monitoring and better allocate resources. What’s that you say? Tell me more? Just go to

For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.