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Birdville ISD: The Art of Implementing Ellevation Strategies

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Ellevation is proud to play a role in serving school districts as they help their English Language Learners achieve their highest aspirations. We are also delighted to showcase the gains schools are making with the help of our tools, including our Ellevation Strategies. As part of our Success Stories series, enjoy this piece about Birdville Independent School District in Texas and how they are making it possible for all classroom teachers to be teachers of language.

When Karen Lopez, bilingual/ESL director of Birdville ISD in Texas, first saw Ellevation Strategies, a picture painted itself in her mind. She knew that teaching is both a science and an art, so pairing Ellevation with a classroom teacher’s flair for contouring and cultivating student learning was bound to have positive results. Lopez says Ellevation Strategies, a digital library of more than 80 activities that classroom teachers use to incorporate language instruction into existing content lessons, was the key to realizing her vision.

“As soon as I learned about Ellevation Strategies,” says Karen, “I knew we needed it.”

Ellevation already had helped the district address the challenge of streamlining its manual, time-consuming, paperbased LPAC process since 2015. But mastering state and federal compliance requirements was just the first step in meeting the district’s goal of improving instruction for its 5,000 ELLs.

Karen not only wanted to give teachers an understanding of who their students were but also to improve teachers’ ability to differentiate instruction and build their confidence in successfully moving pupils toward English proficiency.

The activities, which are written by ESL experts from around the country including John Seidlitz and Jana Echevarria, integrate the latest research and best practices on effective ELL instruction, support language learners with language acquisition and content knowledge. They are designed so teachers with no formal ESL training can implement them with ease.

With a vision in one hand and Ellevation Strategies in the other, Karen and her team were ready to roll up their sleeves and dig into the task of implementing Strategies across the district’s 35 campuses. But just as Abraham Lincoln expressed when he once claimed, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” Karen knew that the key to success rested with an intentional implementation plan. What follows are the steps she took:

  1. Consult experts: To begin, Karen worked closely with an Ellevation Implementation Manager to determine a rollout plan that best suited the district’s needs. Getting implementation tips and discovering how other districts were launching Strategies ensured that Karen was on the right track.
  2. Get campus leaders psyched: Asking for teachers’ time and attention— let alone a shift in their instructional practice—requires a high level of investment and support from campus leaders. During principals’ meetings, Karen communicated the why of Ellevation Strategies by pulling data directly from Ellevation to present to principals. She showed them how many of their ELLs weren’t making progress from year to year on TELPAS and STAAR, and provided Ellevation logins to principals so they could continue to analyze their campuses’ ELL data. It didn’t take long for the principals to see that Ellevation Strategies was aligned to the district’s overall goal to improve Tier 1 instruction and reinforced the SIOP professional development teachers received the previous year.
  3. Plan training intentionally: The quality of any implementation depends largely on the support and training that surrounds it. With that in mind, Karen and her team participated in Ellevation’s train-the-trainer program and then thoughtfully crafted a plan in which the LPAC liaisons, campus academic coaches, and deans were to collaborate and provide training to all campus staff and classroom teachers. The training consisted of six one-hour sessions scheduled throughout the school year where teachers received hands-on sheltered instruction training via Ellevation Strategies that they could apply in their classrooms the very next day. Utilizing real-life student information and embedding activities from the Strategies library within each session made the learning authentic, data driven, and relevant to each educator. Moreover, receiving job-embedded professional development from instructional experts they trusted in a sustained, digestible format allowed teachers to develop over time and gave them confidence to put their new learnings into practice.
  4. Communicate proactively: Too many times Karen had seen previous district endeavors start with a burst of enthusiasm but slowly fizzle as the year progressed. To maintain momentum after the initial training and to keep ELLs at the top of educators’ and campus leaders’ minds, Karen sent to participants a monthly “S’more flyer” that reviewed the most recent Ellevation training content. It included links to Ellevation webinars and videos so teachers could seek additional learning, and it celebrated teachers who had been spotted incorporating activities from Ellevation in their lessons. The nearly 10,000 views of her flyers affirmed that teachers were invested in the district’s goal to improve instruction for ELLs.
  5. Get real: Between instructional time, PLC meetings, competing campus initiatives, and a dozen other responsibilities, everyone’s vying for teachers’ limited time and valuable attention. Karen had firm yet realistic expectations for her campuses and for what success would look like during the first year of Ellevation Strategies.

Instead of imposing rigid mandates for how teachers were to interact with Ellevation, she let word-of-mouth do the heavy lifting as teachers shared their successes with colleagues. This natural collaboration, made even easier by teachers’ ability to comment on activities and share their favorites with others directly from within Ellevation, has led to an organic adoption and strong community of educators who are striving to meet the needs of their students.

There’s no perfect primer for implementation, but it’s clear that Birdville ISD is making great strides to improve instruction for ELLs and has already seen encouraging evidence of a positive shift in instruction. “This was my first year having ELLs in my class,” says second year seventh grade English language arts teacher Tyler Chambers at North Ridge Middle School, “and with the help of Ellevation, my confidence has really grown in how to differentiate instruction for them. Next year, I hope I have more ELLs in my classes.”

It’s not just new teachers who appreciate the district’s implementation of Ellevation Strategies. Gina Bergman, a 7th grade ELA teacher at North Richland Hills Middle School says, “I’ve been teaching for 21 years, and for the first time I know as soon as I walk in the door how to group my students, what accommodations to use, where exactly my students are right now, and what I should do to best support them. I love this program.”

By teaching a full palette of skills and resources, Karen is ensuring that every staff member knows how to use the Ellevation tools. And by approaching the implementation in a measured, intentional way, she is building the kind of sustainable usage that’s essential to effectively serving students. 

My confidence has really grown in how to differentiate instruction for them. Next year, I hope I have more ELLs in my classes.