Language in the Air: A Conversation with Anabel Ortiz-Chavolla

This week on the ML Chat Podcast, we are joined by Anabel Ortiz-Chavolla, the Director of Federal Programs & School Improvement at Ontario School District 8-C Annabel discusses the importance of embedding language standards in all content areas, or as she puts it, to have “language in the air”. 

Annabel dives into the need for intentional lesson planning and collective efficacy among teachers and administrators. Her experience and ideas will hopefully spark your creativity for how to approach the same things in your program. 

Enjoy this conversation with  Anabel Ortiz-Chavolla. 

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[00:00:00] Tim Blackburn: well, welcome, Anabel. We’re just so delighted that you’re, you’re here with us. Um, and so, you know, to introduce you, uh, Annabel was born and raised in Lire, in, in, in Mexico, and she immigrated with her family to the US as a freshman in high school. Um, and Anabel encountered many challenges as a newcomer, but credits her teachers, her parents, and mentors for having provided lots of support.

Her family migrated between Idaho and Texas throughout her high school years and worked in agriculture. She explored several career paths while in high school and found that she loved teaching. Anabel attended Treasurer Valley Community College, Boise State University, and Lewis and Clark College. She has a, a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary education with a bilingual education and E S L Focus and a master’s degree in curriculum instruction in bilingual education and E S L and obtained her administrative license through Louis and Clark College.

Annabel is a dual language teacher in fourth and fifth grade before starting her, uh, administrative career. She’s a former vice vice principal and has been the lead for federal programs at Ontario School District for 14 years. This is the cool part. She now manages the programs she was a part of during high school and uses her experience to assess, design and implement programs that benefit students and families.

Anabel is married and is a mom to two amazing kids, and she loves spending time with her family and taking her Labradoodle Leo on walks every morning. Welcome, Anabel. I’m so, so thrilled that you here with us, uh, uh, with Justin and I and there, there’s a part of your bio that, uh, really made me smile and it reminds me of an early memory I have of you.

And, um, I wonder if you, if you recall, but, um, when I first started working in Oregon, the first time I, I, I got to meet you. I was on a visit to Ontario with our mutual colleague, Antonio Ramos, and the three of us were in the car together. We were driving out to Cairo Elementary School, and on the way Cairo’s outside of town, you, you see something out in a field, you see, and you stop the car pretty suddenly.

Pulled over to the side of the road. Got. And approached people I think that you had never seen before. And, and I, and I think you, like you connected with them about the migrant education program. Is that, is that true? Do you recall that?

[00:02:43] Anabel Ortis: I do. Um, first of all, thank you so much for the invitation. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be part of your podcast That will reach.

I’m sure hundreds, thousands of people, even millions. You never know. Um, yes, I do remember that. Um, I do remember the first time I met you and you came out to Cairo Elementary. Um, that’s the, that’s um, sort of at the beginning of, of my journey at Ontario School District as well. And at that time we had a team of four in the migrant education program.

So, so yeah, you are right. Um, I. Tended to stop the car here and there and just get out and just introduce myself to the farm workers and find out what they’re doing, um, in case they’re working on new crop because we do track that in our migrant education program. And, um, most importantly, just to introduce myself and build relationships.

And, um, I do hand out my business cards, um, all the time and I do have all kinds of methods of people that can contact me on there. Uh, people find me on Facebook and befriend me. I don’t know how safe that is nowadays, but I do trust that whoever’s befriending me has a reason for doing so. But, you know, one of my goals is to just, just meet the families that are in our community.

You, or even families that have been here a while, and just let them know that we are here to support them. But, but yes, I do recall the Cairo Elementary visit with a few parents present and us trying to, to really, um, evolve as a team and to bring the parents along Yeah. So that they have systems of support.

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:33] Tim Blackburn: That, that afternoon as we were on our way out there. And while you were, while you were conversing, um, our, our dear colleague Antonio, he was so impressed. . I remember him just going on and on about, about you, right. And, and the, the spark that, that you bring, you know, to the role. And I was hoping, like, can you tell us just a little bit about perhaps how your experience growing up, like kind of in informs how you do your work?

[00:05:07] Anabel Ortis: Yeah, absolutely. Um, as you said in my bio, it’s, it’s very humbling to hear. A bio and um, it makes me tear up as well because my background is very different than my peers, than my colleagues at times. And, um, so that’s an advantage and a disadvantage. My advantages are that I have walked in the shoes of the families that are going through, um, through hardship because they’re doubled up and they can’t afford housing.

So they live with an uncle and an aunt, et cetera. And so, so I walked the shoes of, of our McKinney Vento students. Uh, we did that multiple times throughout high school. Um, And I walk the shoes of being an English language learner, I continue to be for the rest of my life. And that’s, that’s growth that happens continuously.

And, and I walk the shoes of being a migrant farm worker that has touched most of the crops here in our area. And so, so that really for me is, is the base of what I do. I, I base, um, our programming based on the needs of the families, and I’m a little closer to their needs. Obviously the seasons change, the times are different, but keeping a pulse on what’s needed, that’s essential for us to begin to develop programming, to find the need, develop programming, find the, the sources of, of the funding to, to make sure that we address all those needs.

So I’m kind of in a different position than a lot of district administrators that. That I’m very much in touch with what the familias, what the families need or what they, um, what they perceive to be barriers. And I can work through, um, accommodating and removing barriers that way.

[00:07:05] Justin Hewett: It’s amazing. I, I love the fact that you.

Are actually working in the same school district where you received services from when you were a kid growing up. Like that is so cool.

[00:07:16] Tim Blackburn: Yeah. Well,

[00:07:17] Anabel Ortis: let, let me be, uh, let me correct that. Um, just so that, cuz this podcast is going out too many people, but I did migrate between Texas and Idaho. So I am in the backyard of the district that received me as a migrant student.

So I attended Payette School District. Mm-hmm. and Ontario is a neighbor to Payette School District. So yes, very close-knit community, but it wasn’t this high school that I attended. However, um, very rel ver very connected. It’s our, our community is almost, uh, one community because we are neighbors. We’re right next to each other here.

Uh, Payette in Ontario, but yeah. Um, and I did, um, attend a Texas and high school as well. And, um, a lot of the programming that I first started here was based on what I experienced as a student over there. Um, they had a lot of parent involvement. They have a super strong migrant education program in South Texas, so I was able to live through that and benefit, um, of the services.

So, um, yeah, so when I got to this position, I was just lucky that I had that background information and I could just amplify the services, um, in Ontario School District.

[00:08:42] Justin Hewett: That’s wonderful. I’m glad we were able to clear that air up. I wanna make, yeah, we wanna make sure that we got the record straight. I love that.

Anabel. Well, what a pleasure to have you here. So, I know that Tim is wearing his O positive T today, his t-shirt. What, what does o positive mean to you?

[00:08:58] Tim Blackburn: Oh, wow. He, he, and what is

[00:09:00] Justin Hewett: o positive about Anna?

[00:09:03] Anabel Ortis: Yes. Um, well, o Positive is not just a slogan, it’s a movement. It’s a way for Ontario School District to tell our story.

It’s, it’s a vehicle for us sharing all the wonderful things that students, that staff, that parents are working on. And we’re very proud of that. Um, o positive is, is just, um, is just woven throughout our district and it, it’s a vehicle, as I said, for us just sharing all the wonderful things. We have a lot of talented teams.

Everybody is, uh, working extra hard on Ontario school district all the time. So from custodians to bus drivers to our cooks who are amazing and have an excellent recipe for chicken posole. And that’s the most popular day of the month that we all flock the schools and get our ball of to our instructional assistants, to, uh, maintenance to teachers.

O positive is a way for us to celebrate all the hard work that happens day in, day out, and we are very proud of that.

[00:10:17] Justin Hewett: I love that. Oh, positive.

[00:10:19] Tim Blackburn: That’s great. What a, what an imprint. Right. And if I could say, just a plug for the chicken po. It’s really good . I, I’ve gotten to try it too.

[00:10:30] Justin Hewett: It’s really good. Is there a day of the month that, so if I come travel through there, I’ve gotta make sure I make it there on like, is it the 26th or something, you know, or is it just, is it pretty random?

[00:10:42] Anabel Ortis: We, it’s random right now. It’s kind of surprise. before Covid it was, it was all scheduled and, but as we all lived through the peak of the pandemic, we had less supplies. And as we came back, just trying to put back their menus together has been challenging. And so it’s been once a month for now and we just, we just find it in the calendar ahead of time and it tends to be random either first week or second.

But we just look at the calendars and we mark our own calendar and make sure that, that we’re out and about and just can grab a bowl of, you can even bring your own bowl . So

[00:11:22] Tim Blackburn: that’s nice. Bring my own

[00:11:24] Anabel Ortis: Tupperware instead of getting a student sized serving. Yes. .

[00:11:31] Tim Blackburn: Justin, I get a Justin sized serving. That’s right.

Yeah. Oh boy. I have a really great photo of us Annabel. Um. And all of us wearing our O positive T-shirts, uh, when we did our, I guess that’s what this must have been before the pandemic, uh, at, at the English Learner Alliance Conference when we, we did our presentation. And I can’t wait to talk, you know, more about that.

Um, you know, about the great work that you, you do in Ontario, but starting sort of, you know, a big picture and kind of connecting the, the o positive, um, you know, I, I I’m not shy about how much I admire you. Um, a long time admire of you. Um, and I think. You know, one of the things that I’ve always appreciated about you is the way that you handle a very complex role in a small district that basically forces you to wear a lot of different hats, right?

And, and you do so with so much, um, I think humility is the right word. Um, and kindness too. And, you know, so as director of federal programs, that kind of obscures a lot of the things that you do on, on the day-to-day. But can you just tell us about, you know, you know, your responsibilities in, in Ontario and, um, you know, what you strive to, to do for the, the students and families in Ontario

[00:13:09] Anabel Ortis: schools.

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that question. Um, yes, federal programs is a very complex, um, title and it requires a lot of systems to be in place, um, in a smaller district. As you mentioned, Ontario School District is about 23, um, a hundred, um, 2,300 students. And, um, so we’re considered a smallish medium district in the state of Oregon.

Um, in such districts, there is one federal programs individual that manages, um, the, all the aspects of that. Um, in bigger districts, you might have, uh, somebody that does e l d, somebody that does migrants, somebody with Title one, but in my case, I, I do the federal programs. Um, but I do have to say that I don’t do it alone.

Um, I am the driver of the bus, but I do have a lot of people being part of that journey. And that’s kind of the key to, um, to the success of our implementations, that we have the right people in the right seat in that bus. Um, we have an outstanding team of administrators. We have very little turnover. Um, Ontario school district has invested, um, money.

The last I wanna say the. You know, it’s been maybe 17, 18, 19 years that we’ve really been committed to having instructional coaches at the, at the schools. And so all the systems make my job easier and, and it’s, it’s the relationship that goes both ways. Um, so in turn, I’m creating systems and I’m creating positions that will help us get to the right place in that bus that we’re getting from point A to point B.

While at the same time, um, we are really, uh, spending time and effort and into really communicating to everyone where we’re going and why we’re going there. So having a common vision, and part of my, part of why, you know, we’re so successful is that collective efficacy. That, uh, even though we might not be on the same ward, on the same page, We know exactly what the vision of our district is and what we stand for.

Um, I I thank you for your, your compliments about, uh, my, my humility and it really comes down to I don’t believe that everything happens because of. What I do, I think it happens because of a great team that we have. And so teamwork would be essential, um, for us to talk through, uh, uh, as we dissect all of this.

Because without that team, I couldn’t do all the work that I do. And, and yes, in a small district, um, we do wear many different hats. Um, especially when it comes to the parent involvement pieces. Um, you know, you might see me with my team just sweeping the floor after an event, uh, or developing the presentation for the night.

We do many things and one of the things that our superintendent always says, um, to the new teachers that are inducted at the beginning of the school year is at Ontario School District, we work hard. We go above and beyond for our students. So, so that’s kind of the essence of, of where it comes, that, that humility, where it comes from that.

I can’t take credit for everything because it’s not mine to take, it’s everyone’s, everybody really as a collective contributes to the success of our students.

[00:16:56] Justin Hewett: Spoken like a true leader. I love that. Mm-hmm. , uh, it’s great to, great to hear that. I, I love hearing about that. Um, and I think that, you know, it sounds like you’ve really worked hard to have great coherence throughout the district and, and through leadership.

I think, you know, there’s, there’s so much, uh, work that is, you know, needs to be done to get into alignment. Like it sounds like you’ve been able to do there. And, and so I, I actually would love to dive more into that, but I kind of want to go back first and I want to understand how you got into this work.

Like, how did you, what brought you to this, right? Like you. , you know, you had, um, the experience you shared growing up, which I’m sure had a profound impact on you. But, but what was it that made you say, you know what, I, I’m gonna be a teacher, I wanna be an education, I’m going down this route. What, what was that?

Can you tell us about that? Was there a moment where you knew it happened?

[00:17:52] Anabel Ortis: I think it was several moments throughout my high school career. Um, I, I was able to develop relationships with, with teachers and mentors, even though I might have been. In Texas only from November to, um, to May or to April, and then here for the rest of the year.

Um, but I had great mentors that really empowered me to believe and to feel that I could do anything that I set out to do. Um, I explored different, um, avenues in high school. I, I explored being, um, in the nursing strand. Our high school in Texas had, um, Had different options. They had nursing, they had a cohort of, of a variety of things, mechanics, um, cosmetology and, and I explored a few of those and I found that the most impact, um, that I felt was from what the teachers were empowering me to do and teaching me to do.

Um, even though I was there part-time, I would say, um, my, my teacher specifically Mr. Sunga and, um, and here in Payette High School, um, Ms. Mrs. Beverly, um, I believe it was her name, Hansen, I have to go back now. But they really encouraged me to be part of activities and to be part of, uh, the computer. Um, Computer applications team as part of who I, uh, as part of a competition in Texas, and we went to state, et cetera.

So even though I had a lot of barriers, uh, socioeconomic status, uh, for us, that, that was very challenging. We, we were migrant farm workers, so, so we always fell in that bracket of, of just poverty or extreme poverty at times. And, and they never really allowed that to be a barrier for me. They removed everything that they could for me.

And so I really think that it was, it was their, um, commitment to me that really pushed me to, to believe in myself. And then my parents, my parents had, um, a third grade education for Mexico and they are strong believers and advocate in the power of education. So they made every effort for, for me not to, not to think that I could not go to college or that was just an expectation.

They didn’t have the means or, or the knowledge or the tools to get me there, but they always pushed me to do that and to believe that, that I could do it. That I could go on to college and do whatever it is that I wanted to do. And, and, uh, something that always resonates with me is, um, those hot afternoons working in the fields by my dad.

And, and one day he told me that he wasn’t taking me to the field. So to punish me or to even get an extra paycheck for, for him or for the family, he was really bringing me alongside so that I could decide what I wanted to do with my life. Did I wanna get an education and do what I love to do? Or do I wanna be working?

In the fields hard labor like him, which is a very honorable profession. But he really wanted me to see both sides of the story. And, um, and he was, he’s really inspirational and a super positive individual and so is my mom and always pushed me. So it was a combination of, of my, my parents’, um, love and also their, um, for me to honor their sacrifice that they uprooted us from their home.

And we came to a different country where, um, there’s a different language and their parents might not have been here with them. All of my mom’s family still lives in Mexico, so that’s a, that’s a very, um, a big sacrifice for, for them to make as a family. But I would say mentors, teachers, and my parents really push me through, um, just believe that I.

That I could do whatever I set myself to do. And, and I really fell in love with, with the teaching pieces throughout high school. Um, you know, sometimes you’re sent to read to a first grade class , you know, that type of activity. That resonated with me quite a bit. And then as I just got into community college, I, I knew right away that was the path that I would follow.

And as we began to visit schools and, um, different, um, programs, I fell in love also with teaching adults in college. I did, um, I did some of that for, um, E S L classes and I love that. So I knew that I was in the right profession because it didn’t seem like work, it seemed like, um, I was just making a positive difference in others’ lives.


[00:23:03] Justin Hewett: Love, love hearing your story. Love hearing about your, I can just see you in the fields, working with your dad, right. And spending that time with him. And, you know, it’s interesting, those little conversations and how powerful they stay with us. Um, it’s neat to hear about your parents. I, uh, I also enjoyed, before we started recording, you mentioned how you’re trying to really not travel much this year.

You’ve got your, uh, you’ve got a boy’s, a senior in high school. He’s your second. Is that your youngest then? He’s

[00:23:31] Anabel Ortis: my, he’s my first, he’s my

[00:23:33] Justin Hewett: oldest. Oh, he’s your oldest. Okay. Oldest, yes. Oh, fun. And, uh, and he’s graduating. You’re, you’re, and so we’re not gonna get to see you at NAE so that he can be there with I just love that.

I love that. I think, I think family is, is a really important aspect and I think it’s neat that, um, to hear the role that it played in, in, in your path. I guess I, I want to dig in a little bit more and then, and go from here. But what drew you, I mean, Maybe I should just, you know, assume the answer here, but I kind of want to hear it from you.

What, what drew you, you decided to, you know, to get into being a teacher and to go that path and go to school and you got into teaching, um, what drew you to serving multilingual

[00:24:16] Tim Blackburn: learners? . Yeah. How did that

[00:24:19] Anabel Ortis: happen? Yeah. I, you know, as, as part of being an English language learner, I think I always knew that I wanted to just give back.

And so all of my degrees are, um, really around that, about that language piece. And, um, I started teaching at Aiken Elementary. This is the only school district I’ve ever worked for. Um, I’ve worked for many employers, but this is the only school district. Um, I started a long time ago. I’m not gonna date myself, but more than 20 years

And, um, and I’m only like 30 years old, just saying. Um, but I, I really knew that I, I wanted to do that. I wanted to give back. And so I fell in love with the job that I had, dual language teacher. Um, I did fourth grade and fifth grade. And just to see, um, that growth that students make, um, you know, even. Um, both sets of students in a dual language classroom.

Um, I saw growth from both students, so I had the, um, the students that spoke English and their Spanish was coming along beautifully, and then the students also learning English and their language progressing. And so I, I really fell in love with that piece. Um, and I did that while I was teaching. Love the component of the parents as well.

Um, super invested, parents committed, and I, I always, you know, from the, from the time I started, um, I always felt like I could do more. And so I was always trying to do more and, and including my husband, like the first few years I, I pulled them in to teach Ava for Claco group after school and we had a, a large group and now those kids are adults and have their own kids, so it’s a lot of fun to see them.

But we would meet every Wednesday after school and have for Claco practice, we did a different state every year. And so I always felt like, like I, I should be doing more. And, and that’s where the seed was planted in my, in my heart, in my mind, that, that I could do more. So, So that’s really when I thought about going into administration.

So I’ve always loved school and so I went back for my next degree and then I’m like, well, a master’s was cool. I have a lot more tools, but I wanna do more. So, so I went for an administrative license and it just felt right to me because, um, with those opportunities, you know, if in the future I was going to be servicing students school-wide, district-wide, it just meant that I could make more of an impact than just the four walls of my classroom.

[00:27:08] Tim Blackburn: Hmm. Who, who was it in Ontario schools that, that pushed you to do that? Annabel, was there somebody that, you know, was your cheerleader in, in, you know, taking a step up to leadership?

[00:27:23] Anabel Ortis: I think everybody has, uh, at some point in time. Um, One of my principals at the time, Melissa Williams, um, gave me so many opportunities to, yeah.

Which she’s next door to me right now. She’s the special ed. She’s so cool. . And she, as a teacher, she gave me so many opportunities to, to get involved in, in that administrative piece before I ever, before I ever got, you know, to that point. And so that really painted the picture for me and I loved it. Um, so she was one of the ones that really encouraged me to do that and supported me throughout the, the whole process, um, built up.

She, she created opportunities, honestly, for me to get my hands in there and, and experience what, what administration was going to be about. Um, mm-hmm. , I’ve had great mentors here. Um, Carol Kitora, she was the HR person when I first started. Mm-hmm. , uh, phenomenal, um, educator now retired, but, um, Um, yeah, a lot of individuals have played a role in, in my upbringing as I would say at Ontario School District.

Mm-hmm. .

[00:28:38] Tim Blackburn: Mm-hmm. . And I think it says a lot about, you know, Ontario schools too. It’s just in the, in the community and, and really, you know, like, like you said, you know, providing opportunities to, to grow. Right. And, um, you know, that was one of my just impressions of working in Ontario. Like I, I, I sincerely enjoyed every moment that, that I spent getting to, getting to work with you and, and, and your colleagues there in, in Ontario.

And, uh, you know, when you think about your role as, you know, as a, as a leader in Ontario schools, , what, you know, what comes up for you as like your major, like area of, of focus either this year or, you know, in the years ahead.

[00:29:33] Anabel Ortis: Yeah, since that’s an easy one because it’s what we do every day. So I would reference the work that we’ve started in 2016 and our emphasis has been to bring language to the forefront of our instruction.

And so, um, ever since 2016, we’ve, we started collaborating, well, uh, disclaimer here. Tim was part of that process, but we, um, as a team, um, we really saw the need for us to, to really amplify language throughout. Our day in, in the different core content areas and throughout the whole day, not just one block of time.

So, so I think our main effort has been, um, really our initiative, um, titled Language in the Air, which is all about intentional lesson planning. And it’s been, um, a little bit challenging to. To hit, uh, restart after the, you know, the peak of the pandemic. Um, but we are back on track. So, uh, we were doing, uh, very well pre pandemic and we felt that, you know, 98, 90 9% of our, of our teachers were in tune with.

How do I embed my language standards and what strategies can I use to amplify that throughout the day, not just in your language hearts block. And so then the pandemic happened and we had a bunch of turnover, so we’ve had to restart, which has been a lot of fun because we’ve gone back to basics. And, um, so we’ve done just the, the, the basic, um, overview of what we’re planning to do here.

And I would say that that’s very exciting work for us right now. Um, it continues to be the main mission for our school district and, um, we are getting to a point. Most of the teachers are now, you know, cut up. Um, we’ve had a lot of new teachers, like I said, the biggest group we’ve ever had, this August of new teachers.

And slowly but surely with the support of instructional coaches with ongoing professional development, uh, we’re getting back on track. Not that we were off track, we were maybe just in different places for different, you know, because of our area of expertise or, or because you’re new. But we’re getting back on track with all the basics and ensuring that, um, teachers are really embedding those, um, language standards throughout the day, across content areas.

And then we’re super excited about piloting a formative assessment tool, and that is Flash slide 360. And, um, so that’s new to us and we are, we’re piloting that at a smaller scale right now. And, um, we were looking for that tool that, you know, Can allow us to, to just give feedback and, and really listen to that expressive language of students.

And we think this is it. But we’re piloting, we are, um, really trying to, um, be intentional about, about processes, um, to use the tool. But I would say it goes hand in hand with our main focus that we’ve had since 2016, um, knowing that we continue to grow still in language, in the air. Um, but that is our emphasis.

We want all teachers, not just a few. To embed those language standards and, and we, we are passed beyond that, you know? And 10 years ago, if, if you would ask our teachers, you know, who’s responsible for teaching language, they would point to the E L D or the E s L teacher. And we flipped that switch right around 2000 17, 18, 19, that switch complete, that it was done.

It, it is not even a question if you, if you do ask our teams who’s responsible, we all point to each other because we all are. So, um, for a K-12 system to do that, it’s been hard challenging, but it’s been really good work to get to where we are today and we continue to work on it. So,

[00:33:54] Justin Hewett: Anabel, I love that imagery language in the air that is so beautiful.


[00:34:00] Tim Blackburn: did that come from?

[00:34:02] Anabel Ortis: Oh my goodness. It was a collaboration between Tim here in this podcast and Rosie Santana and our work that we did with them. Um, our coach, uh, Steve Wy as well. Um, And, and I, and Tim, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was Steve that that said it and we’re like,

[00:34:23] Tim Blackburn: yes, it was, it was Steve that, that coined the term.


[00:34:27] Anabel Ortis: Yeah. Mm-hmm. . And we’re like, that’s exactly what we mean. So at teacher orientation, um, you know, I stand in front of them and I’m just very, um, very open about that and, and I just say, you know, Maybe you work somewhere where the classes were quiet and you were, um, you know, you were graded or evaluated on.

Can you manage your classroom voice level one, voice level zero? At Ontario School District, we want language in the air, so you’re never gonna get in trouble if we hear your students in dialogue and meaningful dialogue or if we hear a student, um, just being. You know, expressing himself in a voice level three or whatever.

Cuz he’s super excited about a learning, you know, that happened. We don’t do that. We want to hear language, we wanna see students writing. We wanna feel it, we wanna, we just want it all the time. Um, for the sake of our students, we know that if they’re able to use that language, all the four, four modes of language, we know that they’re going to, to learn better.

We know that they’ll engage with the content, they’ll wrestle with the content. So it’s so much better than, than just teacher talk and students listen.

[00:35:44] Tim Blackburn: That is great. Yeah.

[00:35:46] Justin Hewett: That is, I language in the air is gonna catch on throughout the nation. I, I’ve got a feeling, um, Tim, I know you. Yeah. You had a question.

[00:35:53] Tim Blackburn: Really love the simp. Yeah. I just love the simplicity of that, Justin, you know, like the, you know, because it wasn’t. At least initially on Abel. It really wasn’t like the, the way that we approached the work. It was um, really a question of like, language rich lesson design was kind of how we, it was the, the, the original sort of path we took.

And then I remember Steve saying, oh, so what we were really talking about here is just language in the air. We want more . And, and it hit us all sort of as an epiphany, like, yes, yes. That’s, that’s spot on

[00:36:32] Justin Hewett: Steve. Um, we’re gonna have to come up with a pop of some sort called language in the air. You can just smell the language.

[00:36:38] Tim Blackburn: I love it. You need to smell all it’s.

[00:36:43] Anabel Ortis: And it’s so complex, you know, it’s so simple, but so complex. There’s a lot of it that goes behind the scenes. So from the unit development, the backward design to just your daily lessons, we, we have a lot of invested, a lot of time and effort into that professional development where teachers are familiar and comfortable doing this as a habit.

It’s not a chore or it’s not one more checkbox to, to check on there, but it’s, it’s really, their lessons do contain those language standards in a meaningful way. And, um, yeah, I’m just super excited about that and continue and continue to be because it’s so meaningful for our students. Mm-hmm. .

[00:37:26] Tim Blackburn: Yeah. That is great.

It really isn’t. Yeah. Mm-hmm. ? Yeah. Do you

[00:37:30] Justin Hewett: mind Justin? Go for it. Just a minute ago you mentioned that you were, you were piloting a new platform, flashlight 360. Uh, just for all our listeners out there that maybe don’t know what Flashlight 360 is, do you. Maybe telling them a little bit about that.

[00:37:45] Anabel Ortis: Yeah. And so I, you know, I will make a reference to when I was a teacher.

When I was a teacher, I would try to assess language in my own way. So we would do a writing sample and then I would rate it and I would give some feedback on there, and then I would give it back, and then it would go into a folder maybe, and I talked to the student about it. Here’s what you can tweak.

This is great work, et cetera, et cetera. And then it goes into a folder. And hopefully I’ll be able to track most of my students in some kind of data sheet. You know, I’m talking like a long time ago, but a data sheet, a, um, a grade book or something. And I can sort of see some of the trends that, that, you know, that are exhibiting throughout the students in my class.

Um, so flashlight, is that in steroids? So, so flashlight is a tool that, um, it’s kind of the same concept. You give a prompt and the student is able to not only write, but they can speak as well. And then it goes, it’s on a platform. So, um, it’s online. I should. Start by saying that it’s an online platform.

Students get a prompt and they get to interact with that prompt on the backend. When the student is done, then you can see that and you can hear all the samples that the students has produced. Um, and you can read their writing and you can provide feedback. And so it’s kind of the same process, but it’s in one place.

And it also will graph all kinds of data points for you so that you can look at, um, your student or your class or a group of five students. And then in turn, um, you can set goals, which is something that we did back in the day, you know, for, for a student, let’s set a goal. You need to work on this and.

Same process, but it’s all in the platform. You can track it and it’s a visual that’s great for teachers. And so I’m super excited about, um, not only trying to measure that expressive mode of language, but about the, the meaningful feedback loop that provides for, for students as well. So, in a nutshell, that’s what I know.

[00:39:59] Justin Hewett: We’re excited to circle back to you maybe down the road and, and learn more about your experience with Flashlight 360. Uh, Tim, what’s our next question about language in the air? I wanna dive more into language in the air and here, or,

[00:40:11] Tim Blackburn: well, I actually just really wanted to get into, like, annabel’s, you know, perception of like the, the relationship between, you know, language rich lesson design.

Of getting kids talking in class and, and, and the relationship of, you know, with, with flashlight in particular. So what, what led you Annabel to kind of push further with your language work? Uh, to, to look for a new tool? Uh, new tool?

[00:40:43] Anabel Ortis: Yeah. I think it’s what I referenced already that, um, mm-hmm. , we might have been doing some of that on paper and yeah, maybe not, um, not the same and maybe different measuring different things.

And so, so I think flashlight will provide an, an alignment, alignment of what we’re trying to do in a concise way. Um, what I’m hearing right now from, from the team piloting is that it doesn’t take a long time. You know, when, when a teacher does a sample, it takes quite a bit of time to. To rate it and to do all the comments and to meet with the student again, et cetera, et cetera.

And flashlight seems to be expediting that process and still have it be meaningful, um, for both, for the teacher and the students. So, um, like you said, the, the lesson design is very important. So we first need to, to make sure that we. Targeting the standards that we are, um, having those, uh, those processes in place.

Um, the lesson design has to be super intentional, preparing the students and scaffolding and all of that. But that formative assessment piece, that, that loop is what it’s, that’s the secret sauce, I would say, to instruction. So, so we’re trying to, we were trying to find that tool that can get us to that place of, of really aligning what we’re doing for, for a specific class, for example, and also individualizing some goals for students as well to meet them where they’re at, and then they can work from there with the support of the, of the teacher.

I can’t wait to

[00:42:30] Tim Blackburn: hear more about the, you know, the kind of, the interconnectedness be, you know, between. You know, the intentionality your colleagues bring to their, you know, language rich lesson planning and then using that formative assessment process, you know? Yeah. With, with flashlight it’s just, um, it’s just so responsive.

It’s so responsive to the student. Yeah.

[00:42:54] Anabel Ortis: And what I really like about this is that if we have our units that we’ve established, we can even Yeah. Submit to flashlight some prompts that they could put in their platform. Um, so we had something very specific we can submit and obviously they’ll, they’ll work on the prompt and the graphics, but that’s something that you don’t hear of often.

Usually companies just, um, put out their content and that’s it. The difference between that and flashlight is that they’re open to, to allowing you to submit what you need. So that’s refreshing.

[00:43:33] Tim Blackburn: You hear that Justin? Yeah, that

[00:43:35] Justin Hewett: is refreshing and energizing for me. . , uh, that’s a

[00:43:41] Tim Blackburn: lot of fun. So, you know, Annabel, what’s, you know, what’s next for, for you and, and Ontario?

[00:43:52] Anabel Ortis: Yep. Well, I, um, I think we’ve already talked about it, that it’s twofold. It’s continuing our implementation of language in the air. , and that’s ongoing work. Um, and also embedding that formative assessment piece. Um, our district, um, pre covid was super strong in the use of, of scales. And now that we’re sort of on the other side, um, we are also starting back up again and bringing that up to, to where we were again.

But I think that flashlight is going to be a really nice component of that formative loop. So I’m excited about that. Um, it’s, there’s still a lot of work to do as we, um, figure out how it all fits, but that’s part of that, um, of that teamwork that we need to all come to the table and figure out how we can make it work to support our students.

So I’m pretty excited about where we’re going with this. Um, um, as a school district, we are, we have not introduced a new. FLASHY initiative year after year. We want language in the air That’s true. To be a common practice that is second nature to our students because we know that it makes a huge difference for, for the performance of our students, both, um, academically.

And I would also say that it, it, it’s, it’s their wellbeing. You know, post pandemic students encountered a lot of challenges throughout the pandemic. So, so that freedom of, of, of language in the air even, you know, allow students to just be themselves and be participants in their learning. And we don’t have to be all quiet and just listening to the, to the teacher, there’s a lot to explore there.

[00:45:53] Tim Blackburn: Right. You know, because to call it, Like student engagement probably sells it short. You know what it’s about is, you know, meaningful interaction. Right. It’s, it’s, it’s connection and kind of going back to what is Oh, positive. Mm-hmm. and, and, and celebrating and celebrating community and a community within our, our classrooms.

And it’s not lost on me. Mm-hmm. , you know, the impact of a, of, of the pandemic and, and separating us and how we, we, we lived basically differently and in an isolated way. And coming back knowing that, you know, Ontario is just leaning further into the meaningful student interaction, I think just speaks so much to your leadership and, and, and Ontario schools.

[00:46:47] Anabel Ortis: Thank you. As I said before, it’s everyone’s work, not just mine. It is, but it is. But yes, you know, there are some, We looked at some data points and, and our students didn’t have that huge learning loss that people talk about throughout the pandemic. And, and I attribute some of that to language in the air.

Um, our teachers were in their classroom during the pandemic, in their classroom, set up with their multiple screens, with their webcam. So we set up everybody with their webcam, with whatever they needed. Everybody had a standard, um, you know, workstation and our students taught, I’m sorry, our teachers taught, our students live for every content area, high school.

Every, every teacher taught as if they were teaching in front of their class. Elementary. They all taught from their, from their classroom. And they used that intentional planning. Process. So, so not only were they, um, struggling to, you know, to live through the peak of the pandemic, they were still engaged in planning meaningfully for students.

It was not just worksheets and platforms to use. They were still teaching what they would’ve taught if we didn’t have a pandemic, just in a modified way, delivering it through, through, um, Google Meet. But, um mm-hmm. , we, we didn’t have students plugged into other, you know, just, uh, platform. They, our, our students, our teachers truly did, um, continue with their intentional lesson planning throughout the pandemic to the best of our ability.

So, and we saw the scores that, you know, our students did not have huge losses. Like in some other areas we, we are behind. You know, we’re some of those dots were a little bit behind then where we should have been. But I, I felt really good about that. A and that

[00:48:54] Justin Hewett: is, uh, a real, really powerful statement as to the importance of getting language in the air.

I think, I think that’s, that’s it, right? Um, it prepared you for a moment that you didn’t know you were preparing for as a district. And the thing that I’ve heard kind of repeatedly throughout our conversation today is the systems that you have in place. You know, we we’re talking about intentional learning and design, lesson planning, and you’re talking about how to use Flashlight 360 and kind of, and use it as a system, you know, throughout the district.

And it just is interesting to me how important it is to have those systems in place. But they’re all guiding towards this, this north star, if you will, of language in the air. Mm-hmm. . And so for, for maybe those EL directors around the nation. You know, that are, that hear this idea of language in the air or, you know, I, I guess, or teacher, right?

That is thinking, oh, language in the air. I want to get language in the air in my classroom. Mm-hmm. , or in my district. What would you tell them is, is maybe that first step, let’s, let’s, let’s talk to an EL director for example. What’s that first step to kind of move in this direction and, you know, taking this vision, this north star of language in the air, and how do I actually put it

[00:50:15] Tim Blackburn: into practice?

[00:50:16] Anabel Ortis: Mm-hmm. . I think the first step would be to, um, just to read up on, on what instructional, um, let me start again. I think the first, I think the first step is to, to really look into, um, Getting more information about, um, the, the process of intentional lesson planning, just to be knowledgeable about it. Um, I think all of us have the, what we learned, you know, in our, in our, um, universities or teaching programs.

We, we know how to write lesson plans. And I would say that, um, just finding, um, and Tim will be able to tell you what books, but, uh, finding, um, resources to help you understand that intentional planning through the lens of, of language instruction and so learning. And then number two, um, Finding, uh, depends on the context.

You know, if it’s a school principal, um, finding, uh, a group of, of colleagues in that school that, that he or she could work with to begin this pr, this process. If it’s an eel director, then, um, have a group of, uh, representatives from the different, um, schools get together and begin talking about this process.

I think, um, on that step number two, that’s, that’s what needs to happen. Get a group together and with the background information that you’ve learned. Um, talk through that and really bring it to the forefront and collaborate and figure out how, how they could implement that in their district or their school.

But I think that collective efficacy is essential if you don’t have a team that will stand behind you and help you push this, um, concept forward, it’s not gonna happen in isolation. It can, a teacher could very well read all about it and then intentionally plan, but it’s one teacher in four within four walls, right?

So we want more change, we want more exposure than that. We wanna saturate everything with language instruction in that building or that district, all content areas across the day. And so I would say, um, collective efficacy, um, getting together, getting on the same page and developing a plan for. For supporting the teachers through the process.

It doesn’t happen overnight. There has to be steps and there has to be, um, time and effort allocated to that process. And, um, at the end of the day, students and teachers will benefit because of just the impact that it, it happens, you know, the instructional, um, strategies will be elevated to a level that maybe they haven’t seen in their district.

So I would say just get information. Just read up on everything that you can, um, get a group together and collectively, uh, just develop a plan for your district or your school and know that it doesn’t happen overnight. Um, but at the end of the day, it’s very much worth it. And I think Tim can give you all the books that, um, that, uh, EL directors could read, or teachers, um, the latest one that I’m reading is amplifying the curriculum by Ada Walkie and George Bunch.

So that’s, that’s a good one for us, um, in our district because, um, it kind of just weaves into what we are already doing. But I know that Tim’s gonna jump in with, um, some other titles too that could help people get started. That

[00:54:01] Tim Blackburn: one’s a really good place to start, Anna. I know, but you know what’s more Oh, positive than everybody.

Yeah. But than creating the space. To, to think together. Um, you know, you’re basically, it’s the principles up. There you go.

[00:54:20] Anabel Ortis: Justin is holding up the same book that I have for those of you that are just listening, not

[00:54:25] Tim Blackburn: watching you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. mine’s too far away on the, on the shelf. Um, but those are basically the principles we brought into.

you know, our early workshops and, and encouraging the shift, you know, shifting away from, as Annabel shared before the, that notion of the e l d teacher owns the multilingual students and the classroom teacher owns the content and it’s really dispelling that myth. Boy. Uh, what a, what a wonderful conversation.

Annabel, I can’t thank you, um, enough for taking the time to, to meet with, with Justin and I, and so, um, just wanted to say thank you so much for, for coming to do this.

[00:55:13] Anabel Ortis: Thank you for the invite and shout out to Ontario School District. I know they’ll listen to the podcast. Um, yeah, we do great things and we’re very proud of that.

But like I said, teamwork and we are Ontario positive. Thank you for the invitation.

[00:55:31] Tim Blackburn: Yeah, absolutely. Sal is all my, my hand in Ontario. Thank you. All right. All right. Thanks, Anabel.


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