Step into an engaging podcast conversation with the remarkable educator and multilingual education advocate, Jen Albury. She shares her inspiring journey from teaching in Mexico to her current role in Holyoke Public Schools, Massachusetts. Discover the power of asset-based teaching, student-centric learning, and the importance of language in education. This episode is a compelling exploration of inclusive, student-focused teaching and the role of multilingual education in shaping our students’ future.
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[00:00:00] Justin Hewett: Hi everybody welcome to the ml chat podcast Today we get to interview and have a great conversation with Jen Albury from holy oak public schools Jen began teaching English as a foreign language in Guadalajara, Mexico Where she lived for 10 years with her husband and children. It was in Guadalajara where she started a language center that used an individualized English for specific purpose approach to ensure that students had genre aligned language and clear linguistic goals.
Before her experience in Guadalajara, Jen did coursework for her undergrad at Guilford College in Spain and Mexico, where she studied Spanish literature and international business management. When she came back to the U. S., she completed a master’s in bilingual, ESL, and multicultural education. As a teacher, Jen taught both special education and ELD in Holyoke Public Schools before she transitioned into an instructional coach role.
She is now the Director of Multilingual Education in Holyoke Public Schools in Massachusetts and is working on her PhD focusing on inclusion for multilingual students. Welcome to the ML chat podcast. We’re thrilled to have you here with us today.
[00:01:16] Jen Albury: Thanks so much for having me. Happy to be
[00:01:18] Justin Hewett: here. All right.
We’re excited to jump in. We have to go to Guadalajara, I want to hear about this language center you went down to build, how did that come together? That you just picked up. And moved down there for 10 years to go build this language center.
[00:01:35] Jen Albury: Yeah I actually had some really great mentors at Guilford College, including my Spanish language teacher who saw a lot of where my heart laid and where I was.
I was looking to establish relationships within the community and do outreach work. Originally I’m from New Jersey and I was in North Carolina, so everything was new for me and he actually got me involved in a lot of the public elementary schools for volunteering with ESL students and not as a form like a, as a working towards being a teacher but really getting to do more of.
The family connections and building community within schools through using Spanish language and also through developing English. So when I went on these, they essentially they were just study abroad programs, both in Spain and in Guadalajara. I was able to do something similar within the community the actual program that I was working with had a program, a small program set up to do English tutoring as a way to give back to the community during their study abroad.
And I really liked it. It was super individualized. It was really conversational clubs, though. There was nothing explicit in the instruction. It was very informal. And it was a positive experience for me, and it reminded me okay, I love Spanish. I love the idea of creating businesses or creating new ideas.
And maybe I should explore more of a more formal classroom. Approach to English language development. I finished my studies at Guilford and I moved back down to Mexico. I worked at a formal language center. There’s lots of these kind of they use the K to 12 levels, right? Of English development and they’re very textbook oriented and it’s student tests.
They go into level one, they go into level two or whatever is available in the school to be quite honest, and they’re very expensive. So there’s a question of accessibility. And I had a lot of students who, they were working two or three jobs just to be able to take the class. And then they were naming, I’m doing this learning and it’s great.
But when I go to my job, when I work, because Kodak actually had a huge center in Guadalajara when I was there. And so when I go there and I’m writing these emails and when I’m talking to people in other countries, I’m not able to transfer what I’m learning with you into what my needs are. I couldn’t agree more because I felt like, okay, this is exactly how I was as a learner, right?
Like asking myself, what’s the purpose of school? Like a school training me to do something, or is it preparing me for where I want to go, where I want to move to as a person, as an individual in our, in the world. So I listened to my students and I was able to start small with a colleague. We did.
On the go English classes, we made curriculum based off of both assessment and for students personal goals. So that could have been a third grader who really was interested in joining an English based classroom. So we would look at specifically academic language. that would be appropriate at that level, or it could have been a 50 year old who worked their whole lives in the Mexican government and now is actually being transferred into a new department where they have to have touch points around marketing strategies in English.
And so we did the language of marketing. That was a really great model. For the individual students that we did work with and then we tried to build it out so that we could start grouping and building communities of students who had similar needs of English and that kind of became like what was essentially originally the leveled classroom.
I truly think that like peer scaffolding. for a adult student as much as for a kindergartner. We learned from the people that we’re working with. So we moved away from the kind of like level one, level two, level three, and moved into needs. And I found that students were thriving because they’re.
Anxiety around learning English for their need was finally alleviated. So they actually progressed within the language much faster.
[00:05:46] Justin Hewett: That is amazing. Jen, you are a powerhouse. You go down there and you end up being an entrepreneur and figuring this out and how to go serve the needs . Of , everyone that wants to learn English, that is so cool.
Wait a second, are you telling me that student centric learning works?
Whether you’re 50, or you’re in 3rd grade, or no matter where you are, right? Focusing on the student makes a big difference. And aligning with where they are wanting to go. Oh my gosh, I love hearing that so but you discover that down And in in mexico and guadalajara going through that experience mandy.
We are in for a treat today. This is gonna be fun
[00:06:22] Jen Albury: We really are
[00:06:25] Mandi Morris: Jen, I would love to hear about all of this foundational learning that you were doing for yourself as a professional in mexico And then what brought you? Back to the States. And what did it look like that transition after being there for 10 years, building a company, focusing on language in a way that you had control over the model, you saw results and you were able to adjust.
And it was like, you were really in your own cycles of learning. And what was it like coming back to the States and going into the public school system? And that must have been quite a transition. I would love to hear you talk
[00:07:02] Jen Albury: about that. 3, 000%. It was a big transition. I think my husband and I made the decision to move back up to the states together mainly for the next step in education to think about.
All right, so these are the things that I’ve learned from my peers and my students. Now I need to make sure that I am doing the work as an educator To be a learner, right? To maintain this I still have things to learn. I still can learn. And we can do better as a classroom if I continue to position myself as a student.
I joined the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to look at the Language and Literacy Concentration, which I think is a really important, cohort of study, thinking about how language and this idea around literacy, how they come together and then what that looks like for multilingual students.
My shift Here actually was never to stay here. I will admit that. I always told my husband that I want to go back to Mexico. I love Guadalajara, it’s the land of mariachi and tequila. There’s no more joy that I could name. My, my husband. Massachusetts. So we ended up staying here and I continued on to my doctorate.
But the shifted to public education. It’s a good question because I think when I left the states, I had this vision of what K to 12 education was as the student perspective and coming back in as a teacher perspective. It is So far away from really what students see every day and all of the tasks, the knowledge, the stamina that teachers need to ensure that students get what they deserve.
It blew my mind. It was definitely a shock. And I started in the special education world. I had some background in autism based learning before I left. And again, mostly through enrichments, but I. I really was seeing a connection between the students who were multilingual learners. That a lot of our students so they were either identified as L’s and special education students or or special education students who were not currently receiving both services for ESL and for multilingual.
I was really motivated by that because, again, it’s the needs, right? Putting, again, the student centered needs and not necessarily running with the name or the code or anything, but looking at where the student’s assets were and what their interests were and what they could build off of Was what I had been doing in Mexico, and I said I can make this work in public education.
It just takes also a school vision to be able to do that. So that was what prompted me to go from the classroom to be an administrator because I was saying, I’m doing this work, and I know my peers want to do this work, but how do we do it? So that all students receive what they need.
[00:09:59] Justin Hewett: So I am blown away, and I just love hearing you talk about Your approach and your way of thinking I want to unpack and talk about the assets based approach and think about you know Looking at students assets, but before we go that direction.
I just have to ask what drew you to this work? Like I mean You’re now working on a phd and serving, multilingual students, right? And you know in there’s been something that has really drawn you to this Did that happen when you were in guadalajara? Did it happen before like when you were in north carolina’s?
Stepping into these schools and getting to know these kids and these communities. What is it has really drawn you to this? Like why this, right? You could be doing anything, with this perspective and this language. This focus on developing language. Like, why this?
whY are you here? Why are you serving?
[00:10:50] Jen Albury: Yeah, I’m glad you asked that because I actually haven’t thought about this kiddo in a really long time. And she, and like I said I was a volunteer in a school maybe once a week. It wasn’t a phenomenal input that I provided with the school, but I did meet one student in North Carolina and she had moved from Guatemala To Greensboro where I was work where I was living and she was losing her Spanish and she was an L and her mom only spoke Spanish and she was full day in English.
She had her ESL services as well. And like she was doing great at English. However, when I talked to her about like her being and how she was transitioning into a US public school. Program, one of her first things that she said was like, I want my mom to learn English too so that we can talk more.
And that to me was like we need to do better because school is about a lot of things, but no matter what, we have to make sure that we are supporting our learners for all of their needs. And so that was my why about studying more. I am dedicated to helping students. With their English language development, but inclusive of that, I am dedicated to recognizing all of their repertoires and languages and making sure that is at the forefront of that of the conversation of we’re developing English in this way.
I can see skills. Through first language in this way and I can honor All of the knowledge that students are bringing in another language or in another experience in my classroom, too,
[00:12:27] Justin Hewett: and you know that didn’t used to be the case, right? We’re seeing a lot more of an appreciation you know for All of the assets that a student brings, all of their language, right?
Bring all of your language and let’s see where we can, what we can do and where we can go with it. And, that was one of the, one of the, things top of mind for us when we were building Flashlight 360 initially is we thought, okay we there’s no wrong answers here. It’s all about what language this student is bringing, whether it’s, their heritage language or whether it’s in English, let’s create a platform where they can use all of their language.
Show us what they. What they do have what they are able to do and then and you know through that process We also understand what they need next right? And so why do you think there’s been this shift, and it hasn’t happened everywhere. Let’s be honest. There’s some places that this is not happening Where we’re not appreciating, heritage language and right it’s home language and so why do you think it is like why do you think Maybe it’s happening now and what would you share with those that maybe haven’t come to this side of the table yet?
[00:13:35] Jen Albury: Yeah, I think, there’s a lot of pressure on teachers and it’s not named in English, right? That the pressure and the expectations of teachers has never said that students will meet said criteria in English. It’s just said that students will meet said criteria. So there’s a level of autonomy in interpreting.
How we also look at student data but that’s a question of equity. And what we’re putting extra work towards to ensure that we’re looking at matters. And I also think in response to why it’s happening now, I think it’s at least in the Massachusetts context, like bilingual education It was very prominent here.
And then there was an English only movement with Ron who came and changed a lot of the policies at the state level around bilingual education and access to first language in the classroom. And just seven years ago through the look act here in Massachusetts that shifted back to allowing districts to have the autonomy to create dual language programs to have The TBE models of bilingual education, and I think the appreciation for multilingualism as this cohort is consistently growing of languages and of numbers of students, I think this is the response to data, to make more opportunities.
I also think it’s acknowledging that we historically have not taught our multilingual learners The same way that we have taught our English monolingual teacher students, and that shows in the data of success rate of graduation of anything from well being in a school to the state level assessments, right?
So I think that was something that people are starting to respond more to. And also looking at all of what students can do independent of the language. It is the response to the skill based observations that we have, right?
[00:15:33] Mandi Morris: So Jen, you mentioned that the work that you were doing in order to connect it with teachers and instruction and have the impact in the classroom, you wanted to move into admin.
So you moved into an admin role. How have you brought that assets based thinking into the work that you’re doing? And from a real practical level, what does that look like for teachers and students? What has the shift
[00:15:56] Jen Albury: been? Yeah first of all, I think the first thing that we really needed to name is the diversity of our cohort.
When we talk about English language learners, They, get grouped into a common need of developing English. However, there are newcomers. There are students who are more experienced ELs. There are students who have had different academic backgrounds through being SIFE students. Like they, we needed to talk about who our students were so that we could have an effective plan to support them.
I think a lot of times we took a one. One way approach to teaching language. And if we don’t differentiate that approach, then we are not really responding to student needs. And the other shift that we have had really has been around data. Data has to be We have to look at what our students are producing and to understand that it’s a continuum with that can do philosophy.
So right now, this is where our students are. This is the next goal that we have. All right, let’s go to the next goal. It’s this whole idea around progress monitoring that is so important for elves because language takes time, right? And I just think that in the past we’ve taken this okay, if, the state gives us the levels That’s all you need to know about that student, but it’s so much more diverse and we need to have connections with students to
[00:17:26] Justin Hewett: inform that no doubt about it.
And it is interesting how how important that data is to making decisions to. As you’re thinking about your whole program, right? And maybe a question I’d love to dive into is just what data do you look at? And how do you use that data to make decisions as you’re thinking about your students, your teachers, your program
how long have you been the director?
[00:17:54] Jen Albury: This is actually only my second year in the position. And then I was two years as the instructional coach.
Being an instructional coach at K to 12, you have areas where you’re heavily leaning in and other areas that are more administrative.
[00:18:08] Justin Hewett: Yeah. So you’ve been in the role but as you’re stepping into that role, you’re probably looking at data, trying to really get a grasp on like, where do we go from here?
wHere are we going to take this? And I guess i’m curious as to when you stepped into your role You probably realized like in some ways you had great data and in other ways There was probably some data that you wish you had that you were trying to figure out.
I need to know this I’d love for you to maybe tell us about both of those if you don’t mind and how you’re using it.
[00:18:38] Jen Albury: Yeah, I think we Consistently look at the data around in our eld department Like we have had a huge push around formatives. We want to make sure our students have as much feedback as possible because we recognize that they’re Achievement goal around access because we are a state like their high stakes test.
That’s one shot. And that one shot doesn’t get the feedback until months later. So we put as a priority to make sure that whenever we’re giving a task to students are receiving, whether that be a qualitative piece of feedback, or if it’s Just the check system that students are getting feedback around their language that they’re using.
We’re doing that in the formative way, and then we also look at the interim assessments and the larger assessments in our district to see how our L’s are comparing to their non L peers. One big shift, like I mentioned before, has been the idea of levels versus time in an English based classroom to make sure that we’re looking at how much and program model to make sure that we’re tracking how students are being exposed to their peers and making sure that they have the opportunities for tier one general ed class settings if they’re ready to do that, or if they are Still new to English and they need a more sheltered environment that are ELD self contained classrooms has standard lined Both assessment and curriculum, right?
So that we’re not waiting for students to build their English for them to get an equitable education I think the data in that has been A lot of observation. It’s been a lot of student feedback. I take their voice very seriously and that, hey, this felt productive for me to practice or hey, this, I don’t know why I’m doing this.
So I do think that data can look differently, but the most important piece is that we are dedicating time for it to inform us.
[00:20:43] Mandi Morris: When you were talking about your sheltered classroom, you said something that really caught my ear about students are learning content aligned work or they’re doing content aligned work while they’re also progressing in language. And could you talk a little bit about how did you develop that model and what grades are you doing that in and like, how does that look different in elementary school versus high school?
[00:21:10] Jen Albury: Sure. Yeah so I will say that that’s a K to 12 model. All of our students that if they do need a differentiated classroom, for example, a self contained classroom or a newcomer classroom, that Is still related within the skills of what a grade level expectation is what we focus on a scaffolding up no matter what we’re doing and whatever output we’re expecting from students that’s what’s changing, right?
But the actual activity, if the student in third grade is expected to identify the main idea with strong evidence from the text, our texts look different. But we can still practice that if that’s a pictorial text, if that’s just pointing rather than explaining, or if that’s just identifying with pre cut up pieces of evidence, like that is where we’re starting.
And the point there is to not stay stuck. That’s the connection to data. Once that has been practiced and it’s at a confident level, we can start integrating more language into the skill and the skills will be built through language. Cause that’s one of the biggest things as well as language can’t live outside of content.
We don’t have time and our students don’t have time to first learn English and then get to science. If we want multilingual scientists, in the world, then we have to assure that we’re making accessibility an opportunity for all students.
And that takes changing the actual skill, the actual language output piece, but not changing the skill.
[00:22:50] Justin Hewett: Oh, I love that. I love that focus on we want multilingual scientists. We want multilingual everything right? Yeah and one of the things that i’m, i’m really inspired by is This idea oftentimes people choose a profession or a career based on their family, like what their dad did or what their mom did or what their aunt or uncle or best friend, your dad’s best friend or whatever it might be.
And a lot of times our students who might be learning English as a second language, sometimes they’re not exposed to these different professions and careers and it doesn’t feel approachable to them. So one of the things that I really want to do is build a, an experience that I’m, that basically allows students to see.
Adults that look like them that are in these different professions and help them get exposed to these professions. It’s interesting to me learning a language, learn living in a new culture. It really helps you build empathy for others.
And you understand, so much more about this human experience we’re getting. Mandy, it’s interesting, hearing Jen tell a little bit about her experience in teaching English as a foreign language reminded me that You taught english as a foreign language as well You lived abroad and taught and tell us a little bit about your experience about how you did that and then came back and got Back into education granted.
You were in a different part of the country then.
[00:24:13] Jen Albury: Yeah, absolutely
[00:24:14] Mandi Morris: I actually before I went overseas to teach english as a foreign language. I was teaching an adult language programs similar to what you were talking about like The, Kaplan or, there are a whole bunch of different types of probably the same sort of thing that you were talking about in Mexico.
Very expensive programs that a lot of students didn’t have access to. And at the same time, I was teaching during the day adult language learners in a very expensive private university here in central Florida who you know, a lot of Middle Eastern students and they were coming here to learn English for really specific.
Purposes to study in universities here in the States. And then at night, I was teaching immigrant students at our community college in the area where it was like a fully government funded program. So it was free. And I had completely different students. Like these were students who had, I had a lot of Venezuelan students at the time.
This was back in 2008 and adult immigrant students. A lot of them came from really dangerous and difficult situation. So it’s such a contrast to see teaching adult language learners for really different purposes and from different socioeconomic situations. And then from there, I moved to South Korea and taught English as a foreign language to kindergartners and elementary school kids.
So like very different age group, but I loved hearing you talk about. Teaching English for specific purposes and how even though you’re not with adult language learners now, you have carried that focus and purpose into the work that you’re doing now. You were just talking about how you wanna hear from students is this working for you?
Are you finding purpose in this? And I think that’s a question that we sometimes miss as educators and we get really caught up in. The curriculum and the objectives and the assessment I have to prepare for and it’s like we forget to take a step back and remember is this serving purpose for my kids?
Are they seeing the purpose? Are they seeing the connection? Sometimes when we’re working with adult language learners, we feel a little bit more responsibility that we have to ask those questions because they’re asking us and kids don’t know yet how to advocate for themselves. And it’s an important piece of what we do as English language specialists is that we’re teachers, yes, but we’re also advocates for our students.
And I just loved hearing you talk about what that looks like in your program. And if you could talk a little bit more about that and what does that look like for building community broadly? Like with students families and how are teachers really wrapping their arms around that whole ecosystem of being an English language instructor?
[00:26:49] Jen Albury: Yeah. And it’s a good question. Post pandemic it’s a huge challenge, right? Finding the ways to reengage with families after schools shutting down and programs looking different. And I think the biggest success that we’ve had has been creating systems of support. And that means that it’s not just my responsibility and it’s not just the EL teachers responsibility, but it’s within the.
school building, we set up kind of touch points and we set up a leader, essentially a teacher leader who holds not only thinking about student schedules and not only thinking about what’s best instructionally, but also can connect with the different content teachers around translation and access to families and any kind of background questions.
Around their student experience that might just be something that is easier for them to access through a conversation rather than looking at up the information in a database. I think teachers are tasked with a lot like you said, and a lot of times, especially in the district where I’m working. We have really high turnover.
We have a lot of new teachers and That just creates one more step for the teachers to understand the systems right having essentially like a mentor or a building buddy that can hold that information and says, Don’t worry, as you learn this, I’ll do this. I can do this with you creates collaboration in the school community, makes sure that all teachers can access our L families, and that all students are getting communication around both content and language but it also helps newer teachers who might be really overwhelmed make those connections with their families, because they have someone that’s apprenticing them and supporting that work that sometimes gets lost.
[00:28:43] Justin Hewett: That’s amazing. What a great like system. I love that idea of having a buddy to help shepherd somebody through that process and help them, connect with the community, help the teachers connect with, their students, families. I’m wondering, as I was preparing for our conversation today, it looked like Holyoke is a What do they call it?
A minority majority district and so I, I’m wondering, how do you think that impacts your community or your school district? But also, has it been that way? You’ve been in Holyoke now for, for a number of years. What has been the evolution of that, of the district in the time from when maybe you started until now?
And, we’d love to maybe hear about that, those transitions.
[00:29:24] Jen Albury: Totally. Holyoke’s a wonderful place because of its diversity, and I think in the entire city, it is 50 percent per the latest census. I just have this in the back of my head. 51 percent identified as Hispanic and Within our school system, I would I think the latest data showed around 82 percent of our students self identify as multilingual.
We have about 20 percent of our district are English language learners. So we have a lot of a lot of diversity. We actually don’t have as much linguistic diversity. Most of our students, except for 13 families or actually 15 families are Spanish speakers. And the majority of our students come from Puerto Rico.
Holyoke is actually one of the largest Puerto Rican communities on the mainland. And I think that does a lot of things that builds a sense of belonging for our Ls in a way that like I have many students or and teachers who have been here in Holyoke. And when we have a newcomer or we have a family that just moved to Holyoke, they can identify where they’re coming from.
And it’s such a wonderful thing because first language and home culture lives in our priorities. And I don’t think that it’s changed recently. I think Julio has been a diverse community for decades. It’s a very strong Irish community and it’s a very strong Puerto Rican community that’s beginning to get more languages and more More cultures, which is wonderful.
And we celebrate that as well. Holyoke’s home to a dual language program from preschool to ninth grade. It’s the largest self grown. So we started with the littles and now it’s just organically grown up to high school. And I think that’s one of the ways that we celebrate our families. That’s one of the ways that we ensure that we mean Spanish language as an academic language.
It’s in our classrooms, it’s in our instruction. And It’s a program made for our EL students, right, to have access.
[00:31:32] Justin Hewett: I love, I know you want to hop in, Mandy. I need, I have to say, if you this is so fun to hear about. So I have six kids, three of them are in dual immersion as well. Oh, great. Yeah.
So we’re big proponents of that. Here in Utah, we have a large dual language community and it’s been fun to see that grow through the years. But I have to say, as I’m hearing you talk about Holyoke and I’m hearing you talk about your community now, your school district, and what you are working so hard to build, , with your team, with , your, you know, your fellow educators there in the district, it reminds me, it makes me think of the little girl in Greensboro, North Carolina that you were working with, who didn’t have that same kind of community appreciation, maybe, and support for, Her heritage language for her heritage culture and you know that was trying to build the family You know from the inside out if you will and I just I love hearing about What you’re building now and the the impact of that you know you mentioned that spend a minute since you maybe thought of this little girl But it sounds like you know that feeling that put you on a mission that in many ways Like you’re on that mission right here right now today.
[00:32:50] Jen Albury: For sure. There’s a lot that the intersection of dual language and English language development, like we are one cohort and there’s a lot to still learn around bilingual education and to ensure equity within within the programming, but I do, I feel so proud of the work of my colleagues as well, of the director of dual language here in Holyoke has done amazing things to ensure that From enrollment all the way up into instruction that first language is at the forefront of the conversation and ensuring that when we do an English test, we also do a test in Spanish and maybe it’s not as as maybe it’s not computer based tests that they have to do two tests, but we’re doing observational data or we’re ensuring that we are collecting both and honoring as much as most as much as we can for sure.
[00:33:42] Mandi Morris: beautiful. Jen, you were talking about your population in your school district and saying that somewhere around 80 percent of students self identify as multilingual, but you’ve got around 20 percent of students who are active ELLs. So you have an enormous population of students who have exited services or were never identified for services as needing services.
And we know that there are no federal funds tied to students who are not active ELLs. So students exit our programs, and then it’s good luck. And I’ve seen over the years that in secondary students who have exited ELD, sometimes, , they go from having a pretty supportive environment with a teacher that is often looking out for them and advocating for them, making sure that they have scaffolds and what they need built into their content, and to exiting and then not necessarily having that partner.
Have you seen that in your school district with so many students who are multilingual but not active L’s? And if so, how are you addressing that or even just thinking about it?
[00:34:46] Jen Albury: That’s a good question. I would lean on the side that our students who have exited we always monitor. We always monitor for four years.
And that’s through content teachers and making sure that the language is being supportive of accessing the content individually. And additionally, strategic grouping from the administrative side, it fells as we call it, former English language learners should still have touch points with EL teachers, they should still be in the same classroom.
And that’s a huge challenge because Scheduling is hard in ELD world because resources are difficult. I think just to give perspective, like We have leaned in very much to, to hire as many ELD teachers as we possibly can so that they become co teachers in classrooms where there’s one L or there’s 15 and making sure that FELs are included in that class.
group. I don’t think every district can maintain that we have to think creatively about how we’re monitoring students if they don’t have the touch points. But that’s also the systems of support. Like we can always count on, Our teachers to do what is best for students as long as we’re being explicit that this is equity, right?
Ensuring that all students are accessing a curriculum is a conversation that every teacher everywhere, independent of language, should always have. And linguistic background matters, right? Most of our multilingual students who are not Ls never were coded in the program.
However, an L teacher can work with anyone with similar needs. Ls need peers. Peers benefit each other. And if they are multilingual and have that asset to use their first language, to collaborate even more with Ls, that only promotes EL students, right?
That only gets more conversation, more conceptual understanding Meeting building to our ELD students. So I would say that it might not necessarily be the case in Holyoke, but the more we can collaborate around just students assets of multilingualism at the forefront, rather than if they are or not an EL, the more benefits we have for our EL students.
[00:37:00] Justin Hewett: Oh, that is so cool. We’re going to have to play that for everybody. Like again, hit rewind like two times to go back one minute or something and listen to that again. That was great. Jen, this is so much fun for us. And it’s a special opportunity for us because you are using flashlight 360 in your district.
So there’s a part of me that’s I’m going to just sneak in here and be selfish for a second. And I want to ask, , what is it, what is it that you were hoping to accomplish or do like why flashlight 360, why put that in place in Holyoke? Maybe tell us, maybe why, and then tell us a little bit about how you’re using it, if you don’t mind.
[00:37:36] Jen Albury: sO from that sociocultural perspective, I truly believe that students need to be speaking to each other. A loud classroom, a productively loud classroom is the best classroom. It is where I go into a classroom and no one’s talking to each other that I’m assuming learning isn’t actually happening. I feel that Flashlight, we’re just starting with the program and our purpose with it is around ORSI, right?
We have lots of systems set up for looking at written pieces, for building out writing, but we’ve never had anything that lived in either the SEI and content classrooms or in our ELD classrooms that was successfully monitoring oral language. We also didn’t have a system for building the literacy around computer based recording and assessment, right?
There was nothing that was put into place for Alice to ever have a go at talking into a microphone and not feeling completely overwhelmed by it. Norming this was the purpose with Flashlight. I do think, teachers Are learning more about what progress monitoring looks like in a language based classroom because of it.
We still have to move away from, having an assessment be something that interrupts. instruction rather than being part of learning, that’s a huge lift, right? Especially with speaking. And especially if there’s only three L’s in the classroom and they have to do it on a computer. Like we don’t want this to be something that, Actually puts L’s in more of a outside perspective.
We’ve actually had gen ed teachers say, Hey, can I do this too with my students? And they will come up with an oral prompt and do just like a pair share rather than a recording. But like getting more oracy, getting more thought around listening to students within progress monitoring rather than only reading what they’ve written for us was a huge want.
And it’s begin, the learning is beginning for
[00:39:36] Justin Hewett: sure. I love that. I love it. It’s definitely a journey. Even it sounds like you have a really strong, EL department, EL program in Holyoke. And. But even even in strong districts, it’s been interesting for us to see teachers, as they are listening to students, it’s almost like this is a new work for them in many ways to be so intentional with listening to their students and trying to figure out, okay, how do I give them feedback?
What do I give them as a learning goal? And when we think about how foundational speaking is, for language development. It feels like we’ve had a miss for a number of years that like why have we not been doing this way to some degree and so I’d, I’d love to maybe, if you can talk to some of your teachers experiences as they’ve first gotten going with this.
Has it been something that’s been a little bit overwhelming for them or felt a little daunting and, maybe you can talk to that a little bit.
[00:40:30] Jen Albury: Yeah, I think, it also really matters the context, right? So in the self contained classroom, this is organic. This is our thing. We love listening to kids talk and we have never had the platform in which to record the data to maintain it.
And to house it. , I would say in the co-taught classroom because most of our students are long-term males. Most of our students are experienced multilingual learners and a lot of that has to do with their access to tier one and their that feedback piece that they have to be receiving.
But it’s a new challenge ’cause we’re both listing co-teaching and. lifting this formative piece. However, I think teachers see the purpose in it. They do, they, they need to work out the kinks and they need to have open communication about expectations around using and the purpose of using,
A language based monitoring tool in general, right? I think that’s a learning curve for some ELD teachers and some content teachers. One thing that’s been helpful is collaborating with the ELA department, which is where we do most of our co teaching, and in their scope and sequence, we’re writing in ideas of when to do the flashlight.
When so that both the ELA teacher and the ELD teachers say, Hey, there’s an opportunity. Here’s an opportunity. We’re trying to take that lift off of teachers to know that you do have agency to make your own format. And if you’re a new teacher and you’re struggling and you’re not sure how to do that, here’s an idea.
So trying to keep that high expectation as well as high support. Okay.
[00:42:05] Justin Hewett: Oh, I love hearing how you’ve been approaching that. That is really cool to hear. It’s, it was interesting. I remember one of the very first users of Flashlight360. I was talking with a teacher and she said she’d been working with English learners.
She was a middle school teacher. She’d been working with English learners for 18 years. And she said, this is the first time that I’ve ever known what to look for in my students speaking. Been able to like pause and look for it. And I thought that was so interesting. And that’s part of the reason that we took speaking and, it can be so ambiguous as, Oh, it’s a three and on, on access, you got a three in it and in speaking, and it can be, that can be.
What does that really mean? And so that’s why we’ve broken down speaking into those five different areas, to make it more approachable But I love kind of hearing about your experience Jen I’m excited to circle back around, as you get more experience with flashlight 360 we go that route I know that You have probably a full day of meetings after this I’m so thankful that you took the time to meet with us and share with us your experience in your journey what we’d love to do for just maybe the next few minutes is just ask you almost like a lightning round, if you will, just ask you a few, a few questions and just quick one or two sentence responses, I’m going to ask the first one and then Mandy, I’ll let you, we can ping pong it Jen, if making the transition from being a classroom teacher, To being an administrator is a, is this pretty significant transition?
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about making that transition and how they should determine if that’s a good transition for them to make.
[00:43:47] Jen Albury: So I would say if you’re thinking of making that transition, make sure that you’re making it through advocacy, right? If you’re ready to start implementing new ideas and you’re willing to disrupt a lot of.
What you saw in the classroom, , teachers make the best administrators because we have the experience and we know that student needs. But I would also say whatever you do in an administrative position, you need to talk to kids. I think that the distance that’s created can be one of the things that will take the joy out of the job, right?
From leaving teaching to going into being an administrator, you have to make sure you’re maintaining a touch point within schools and listening to kids, even if you’re not instructing them on the daily.
[00:44:35] Mandi Morris: So good. Jen, what is something that you’re implementing in your school district right now that you are really excited about?
That has you thinking at night about it or working out the kinks. What is something, there’s probably a lot of things, but what is something that you’re like, this is cool. I’m excited to be working on this right now.
[00:44:56] Jen Albury: So right now we’re really leaning in to inclusive practices and we’re looking at the engagement strategies of UDL.
What does Compliance versus engagement look like because that I believe is the difference in that depth of knowledge within learning for students. Are they learning? Or are they applying and I think that it is a long Road we have ahead of us to really do this work, but it is what i’m most excited
[00:45:25] Justin Hewett: about for sure So fun.
I love this. I love you like lightning round. What is one thing that you Have learned along the way Like a paradigm shift that you had that you wish you could share with others who were in your in the shoes you were in Years ago before you had that paradigm shift. What’s what do you think is the biggest learning you’ve had that you’d share?
[00:45:52] Jen Albury: I you know, there’s a lot but Whatever we
do. We can’t separate content from language. We can’t separate, Experience and language, and we have to prioritize that in our instruction. We have to make sure that we are setting up our L’s our multilingual students in all levels. To be ready for the next piece of content, the next assessment, the next whatever they’re going to face.
And it’s hard, but it’s worth it because if we truly take the asset based approach and we truly do believe our students can and will, that patience and that unrelenting support Over time, we’ll ensure that our multilingual students are outperforming everyone, right? Because they have the multilingualism.
They have so much cultural knowledge and funds of knowledge that they’re bringing. If we support that bridge into a new language, we’re only amplifying and multiplying what they can do. Amen.
[00:46:55] Mandi Morris: I am so excited that Jen is going to be on our webinar November 15th and we are going to be talking about the implications of state language assessment and I am really looking forward to hearing what you have seen and noticed and you talked today even about having a lot of long term L’s and we know that state language assessment has, is very connected with that story.
So I’m really looking forward to hearing you talk about that more when we come together again in November.
[00:47:26] Jen Albury: For sure. It’s a great conversation and it’s the advocacy piece, right? It’s, there’s always two parts
[00:47:31] Justin Hewett: to our job. So good. So good. Okay. So Jen, you’re probably going to have somebody that wants to continue this conversation and wants to reach out to you or, is in a district similar to Holyoke and is trying to maybe implement some of the things that you’re doing.
Would it be all right if they reached out to you and what would be a good spot for them to. to track you down. Are you are you big on Twitter or should I just, jump on the website and find your email and send it?
[00:48:00] Jen Albury: I would jump on the website. I think that’s probably the best way to do it, I love the idea of hearing what other districts are doing.
I think that’s been one of the best pieces for me, is to meet other teachers, meet other directors. Every district, just like we talked about with Owls being diverse, our districts are diverse, and the needs are diverse. We can share, but we can also learn a lot from each other. So I’m definitely open to
[00:48:24] Justin Hewett: continuing that conversation.
I love it. We’re going to have to continue this conversation. We’re going to have Jen Albury part two at some point. We’re going to have to Jen, let’s let’s wrap up with maybe this last question, which is if you have, an educator that is trying to decide that they want to go all in on the multilingual learner route, that they’re feeling this draw. Why should they do it?
[00:48:51] Jen Albury: I think that we can learn so much from our students, and it’s how you mentioned going into another culture and working in another culture, living in another culture has built empathy within Mandy and myself. Our practices. I think that our students will continue to build us as teachers and multilingual students they bring such rich stories and cultures and knowledge into our schools.
And I could never imagine not having had the opportunity to work with our multilingual students because I really think that it’s their experiences that have shaped how schools have shifted. And it’s their stories that have really begun a new focus on how we teach and how we collaborate and how we think about like a full all in perspective on whatever students need.
This is what we need to do. And I’m grateful to them. And I would always say, ELLs are students who, Are learning the same content they’re doing the same things and they have another added perspective that only enriches the experience
[00:50:03] Justin Hewett: That’s right. Amen. Amen. Wonderful. Jen what a pleasure to have you on the ml chat podcast Thanks for coming on and sharing your story and telling us more about the work that you’re doing mandy and I have just loved this.
This has been a lot of fun