Risa Woods: Advocacy Over Pity, Shifting Mindsets for Student Support

In this episode of the ML Chat Podcast, hosts Justin Hewett and Mandi Morris welcome Risa Woods, an advocate for newcomer and English learner students. Risa shares practical tips and insights from her influential Instagram channel, stressing the significance of championing students rather than sympathizing for them. Find out how to better support newcomer students and aid core teachers with Risa’s unique and valuable perspectives.

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Risa Woods: [00:00:00] One thing that I think a new teacher and a veteran teacher, any teacher, I still do this, is to put yourself in that student’s shoes. What would it feel like for you to be 12, 11, 10, in a country that you don’t know, that you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the culture? And also, just want to set this aside, there’s a difference between pity and advocacy.

I know a lot of teachers that say, Oh, I feel so bad for them. They’re here. They don’t know the language. They’re sitting in the back. I feel so bad for them. And we don’t need to feel bad for them. We need to advocate for what they need. And so I frequently, this is a practice I do frequently is I put myself in that situation.

What would that look like? What would that feel like? What would I want to see? What would I need? If everything was in Chinese, what would I need? And that’s my North star, if you will, just putting myself in that situation and thinking, what would I need? 

Justin Hewett: Hey everybody. Welcome to the ML chat podcast. I am your host, [00:01:00] Justin Hewett, and I’ve got my co host here,

Ms. Mandi Morris. And we had a great guest today. We just got done having a wonderful conversation with Risa Woods. She has a great Instagram channel that a lot of people are getting a lot of benefit from just hearing her best practices and her ideas on how to serve our newcomer and English learner students in the general ed classroom.

And she really shares. Some great stuff, great insights, great perspectives. I love this, Mandi. 

Mandi Morris: Justin, I loved her focus and experience on newcomers. That was really unique. And her perspective on how to make newcomers feel welcome and how to support core and content teachers with newcomers in their classroom, some really valuable insight from Risa.

Justin Hewett: Yeah, I loved it. I loved how she talked a little bit about how when our newcomer students show up, they don’t need us to [00:02:00] pity them. And she talked about how she hears from some teachers that they, Oh, I just feel so bad for the student or for that student and the challenge they’re facing. And she said, No, like this is, They don’t need you to pity them.

They need you to advocate for them. And I just love that, that, that perspective and that mind shift that I think can be really valuable in classrooms around our nation. I think our listeners, I think you’re going to love this conversation with Risa Woods. I just have to say, I’m just really impressed with Risa and really grateful for.

Her advocacy for our English learning students, I think the ideas and perspectives that she is sharing is just tremendously valuable. And we hope you get a lot out of this conversation with Risa Woods. Risa is an ELL expert and a daughter of an Iranian immigrant. She has a Master’s of Education in Language and Literacy and a Master’s of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language.

As a second generation immigrant, Risa has always had a [00:03:00] heart for multilingual learners, and she has made it her personal mission to support, empower, and encourage the general education teachers who are serving multilingual learners in their classes. Risa, welcome to the ML chat podcast. We’re thrilled to have you 

Risa Woods: here.

Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. Your energy is just so exciting. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. 

Justin Hewett: Oh, that’s cause we’re so excited for this recent. You are here because your fans have let us know that they wanted to have you on the podcast. So we’re thrilled. You’ve really developed a following on Instagram where you have thousands of followers and where you share the message of how to best serve Our English learning students in a general ed classroom and give advice to teachers that may be a little intimidated about that.

Right. I mean, tell us a little bit about that. How did you get started with that, with your Instagram channel and and start posting and sharing? [00:04:00] 

Risa Woods: Yeah. So I started my own consulting business in 2022. And as I was working with districts, the main role I had was more compliance with districts and making sure that they met compliance, especially for title three, but I noticed there was such a lack.

I noticed this in the classroom, but I, especially when working with districts, there was such a lack of development and just strategies for general education teachers and for them, for multilingual learners, they spend the majority of time with these teachers. And I just realized this is such a huge need and how can I best reach teachers was my thought.

I thought, man, teachers are busy. Teachers don’t have a lot of time. Teachers, they just want quick strategies and they want to know practical things. So I just started on Instagram putting out these videos and they got a lot of hits and I was really surprised, but I just kept doing it and I get a lot of messages and a lot of people saying, thank you so much, but it really is [00:05:00] just really practical things that I’m trying to implement or trying to show things that when I’m in, I push into general education classrooms that those teachers might not know and yeah, I just.

That’s what started with it. 

Justin Hewett: I love that. And that’s why it’s developed such a following is because you are providing those just little chunks that are so applicable. You give the, the resources and the thinking of, Hey, this is how you should approach this. This is what you should be thinking and have just provided so much value that everybody tells her their friends and so on and so forth.

So it’s been really neat to follow you and, and see really what it does. Difference you’re making in classrooms around the nation. It’s really cool to hear about that. It is interesting, right? Cause when you consult with the district, a lot of times, gosh, some of their biggest challenges they feel like the pain they feel the most to some degree is some of those compliance loopholes that they got to jump through.

Things that they got to figure out and boxes, they got to check and working through that. And if you’re new to the, to the work or [00:06:00] new to that position, it’s just hard to really know, but yet at the same time, it’s these little strategies that really move the needle for students. And it’s fun to hear that you try to just doing consulting directly and you’re still doing that, but you had to think, Oh, how am I going to impact these students?


Risa Woods: yeah. How do I get directly to teachers was my thought and Instagram was the best way for me. 

Mandi Morris: Risa, I would love to go back some and you talked about in, in the intro about how coming from an immigrant family and how that impacted your journey. And so if we go back to the beginning of what brought you to ML education, we heard some about what brought you to Instagram and the need that you were feeling, but what, what brought you to ML?

Brought you to the ML education in the beginning. 

Risa Woods: Yeah, great question. So yeah, like the intro said, my dad is from Iran, came here in the 70s. My mom is from Missouri, and we grew up in a very multicultural home. So We [00:07:00] celebrate the Persian New Year and we celebrate Christmas. We had American food. We had the McDonald’s happy meals, and we also had Gornosabzi.

So growing up like that, you can learn to live in both worlds and learn to sometimes survive in both worlds. So my dad, his first language is Farsi or Persian, and I did not learn Farsi or Persian, and majority of my relatives actually speak Persian or Farsi and don’t speak English. So, it was, you know, growing up it was even navigating through someone who doesn’t speak the same language as I do, which is, was painful, but actually has helped me.

It’s been so great healing and restorative to be able to use that in my practice now. But, yeah, so I grew up that way and then got my teaching license, teaching certificate. I actually had trouble finding a teaching job. This is way back when. It was a little bit harder. And then, so I started subbing and I subbed for an ELL classroom.

I was a full time sub [00:08:00] there and I just loved it. I loved it so much that I almost immediately signed up to get my master’s so that I could do it myself. And Haven’t looked back. I’ve been doing it. This is my 11th year doing it. Um, and just, I just love it. 

Justin Hewett: That is so fun to hear. You and I both worked, I guess I worked with the Kansas City, Missouri School District, with the Kansas City Public Schools.

And I know that’s where you got started. What was the first school that you taught at? 

Risa Woods: Northeast Middle School. 

Justin Hewett: Yeah. Northeast Middle. Okay. Did you always work with secondary or did you work with elementary too? 

Risa Woods: Always secondary. The lowest I’ve gone was fifth grade for summer school. And I just, I couldn’t do any lower.

Yes. I’ve done middle school and high school, both. 

Justin Hewett: That’s fantastic. That’s great. And so you went and got your master’s degree and then you got into teaching. What was the model that Kansas city was using at the time? Right now we’re seeing co teaching sweep the nation. Where did you start maybe in, in Kansas city schools?

[00:09:00] And then what are you doing now? I know you’re in a different district now, but what’s the approach that the dish, you know, that you’re using now? 

Risa Woods: So we had, I don’t know what our percentages were, but we had a majority of ELL students in our school. And then a lot of newcomers, a lot of refugees, a lot of life students who hadn’t previously not been in school.

Their model that they did at that time was. So, they did the team model for middle school, and then we actually had our own team for high school. ELL students for newcomers and beginners specifically. So they had a newcomer math class, a newcomer ELA class, a newcomer social studies class, a newcomer science class.

And I taught my certification. My first certification is in social studies. So I taught the newcomer social studies for seventh and eighth grade. And then now, majority of my time in English language development has been with newcomers. Right now, I have blocks of sheltered classes with newcomers. And then I also push in, majority of my time is pushing into general education [00:10:00] classes with those newcomers.

Justin Hewett: I have to ask, why newcomers? There’s a draw there. I feel like there’s gotta be a story. Behind, why are you so pulled to the mission of specifically not just serving multilingual students, but specifically our newcomers? 

Risa Woods: I think it for me it means something Really special to be on the front lines of welcoming them to a new country It means it really pulls at my hospitality heart to say, Hey, we’re so glad you’re here.

We’re so glad that you made this journey here. And I get to be one of the first ones to say that. So that really means something to me. It means something just to see them grow and learn. English and to learn the culture. And like I said before, with my background of being bicultural, like I know what that feels like to have to navigate two cultures.

And mine was, I was in the dominant culture, but having to navigate two cultures, it just means something to me personally. And to feel, we’re getting a [00:11:00] little deeper, but to feel like you don’t belong or to feel like, I don’t know the question of, do I belong? I like to answer that question of, yeah, you do.

You belong here. Even though, getting me crying, even though like. Maybe we don’t speak your language or maybe your culture looks different, but you belong here. Like that’s just, it means a lot to me. 

Mandi Morris: What are some ways that you have worked with students to help them feel like they belong? Because I think that’s really a struggle for schools that Are feeling overwhelmed with an influx of newcomers or teachers that, um, kind of get caught up like you were talking about earlier.

Like, there’s all the compliance and the paperwork and you can get caught up in all those pieces. What have you done that you’re like, this works, this is a shift that I’ve implemented and it’s helping my students feel like they’re a part of this and they belong here. 

Risa Woods: Yeah, great question. I think, one, a big thing I do is to try to understand their culture and to try [00:12:00] to ask questions about their culture.

Whenever I get a new student from a different country, I, I have my interview with the parent or the caregiver, and I ask as many questions as possible about their culture. What do you think I need to know? What do you eat? What do you not eat? What, I try to ask as many questions as possible. And being, having been in ELL for a while.

I know a few more things about different cultures, but I think it’s so important just to understand where they’re coming from. I have one Vietnamese student and I, whenever the Vietnamese New Year came around, I was like, Oh, and I like brought it up to him, like, it’s a Vietnamese New Year, isn’t it? And he just looked like, how does this white girl know?

How does he know? We haven’t talked about it. And I’m like, and I was like, Talking to him about it because I had done my own research about it. I have, I’ve also attended different cultural events to try to get in the mindset of a newcomer to try to understand the culture. I know that’s a big ask for someone who’s new, but if possible, do what you can to try to [00:13:00] understand the culture, try to understand not just The flag, which is important, or not just cultural dress or cultural food, but try to get the underneath of that.

Like I have a real about time orientation, because I think that’s so important for us to understand that different cultures see time differently. Like not everyone sees time the way that Americans see time. And so trying to get into the deeper aspects of culture is how I try to create a warm environment.

Justin Hewett: Arisa, this is so fun to hear from you and your experience. And it’s interesting thinking about helping our students belong, our newcomers feel like they belong there. It seems like so much of that comes down to greeting them when they help them feel seen. This is a very different. My son Lincoln plays a lot of basketball and there’s a team that’s going to a tournament and they asked him if he would come and play with them and he was a little nervous to get to start and he gets there and and [00:14:00] he walks in the door and all the boys are like Lincoln and they walk over and say hi and instantly he felt like he belonged.

And I think that those are just like the little things that we can teach our students even to help each other, to help other students feel seen, feel heard, feel like they belong, feel like they’re supposed to be here. That a lot of times our students just don’t know some of those little things that they can do that can really go so far.

And I think as a teacher, as a gen ed teacher, you have an opportunity in your classroom to really build a culture that allows. That allows students to honor each other, to recognize, see each other. And that’s something that’s another kind of just thought and idea I had as far as helping recognize our newcomer students, helping them belong and just smiling and saying hi goes so far.

Risa Woods: All those non verbals are so important and they go a long way. Having a smile and just having warm [00:15:00] body language, for sure, they go a lot further than we give credit to. 

Mandi Morris: Justin, I love how you’re connecting there, going back to content and students in content, because we think a lot about supporting students with scaffolds, and how are students accessing content so they can feel feel confident enough to participate and they feel like they’re academically welcome or ready in a sense to participate in class.

But this is talking about the other component of that we’ve spent less time talking about on the podcast is that social emotional piece, if you will, or just the welcoming piece, if you want to call it that, or the warmness of the class. Risa, I would love to hear from your perspective when you’re coaching content teachers.

Is this really two parts to the conversation? The content and environment? Or what do you find that teachers are coming to you through your platform asking most about? Is it content or is it the [00:16:00] Connecting piece, both. 

Risa Woods: It’s mostly the content, honestly. I think they hear a lot about the ones that I’ve talked to.

They hear a lot if they have an ELD team or those strategies, maybe that welcoming and being kind and whatnot, but they’re like, okay, that’s day one. Okay, and that’s obviously every day, I’m not saying just day one, but like, Now I have to teach them algebra. What now? Like I can’t keep smiling at them. What do I do to teach them algebra?

So that’s the majority of the questions that I get are those content pieces. 

Justin Hewett: Such a great point. We have a question from a big fan of yours. Jamie Croft is the multilingual learner coordinator at the peninsula school district in Gig Harbor, Washington. Those of you listening, you might remember. That name, because Jamie was on episode 12 and she was just a fantastic guest.

But Risa, she has a question for you. 

Risa Woods: It was a great [00:17:00] episode. I got to listen to it. She’s got a lot of wisdom and a lot of heart and what she’s doing. 

Justin Hewett: Oh, she really does. She’s fantastic. And I think that’s where this comes from, actually. So this is her question. She said, if you could say three things to a teacher who has a newcomer for the first time, and I’m assuming that teacher is like a general ed.

If you could say three things to a teacher who has a newcomer for the first time, what would you tell them? The students walking to their classroom right now, they called you! It’s like that lifeline, phone a friend, they’re calling you Risa. What do I do? 

Risa Woods: Right, yeah, no, that’s a good question. One thing that I think a new teacher and a veteran teacher, any teacher, I still do this, is to put yourself in that student’s shoes.

What would it feel like for you to be 12, 11, 10, in a country that you don’t know? That you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the culture. And also just want to set this aside. There’s a difference between [00:18:00] pity and advocacy. I know a lot of teachers that say, Oh, I feel so bad for them. They’re here.

They don’t know the language they’re sitting in the back. I feel so bad for them. And we don’t need to feel bad for them. We need to advocate for what they need. And so I frequently, this is a practice I do frequently is I put myself in that situation. What would that look like? What would that feel like?

What would I want to see? What would I need if everything was in Chinese? What would I need? And that’s my North Star, if you will. Just putting myself in that situation and thinking what would I need. And so that’s number one. Number two being, if you haven’t, get an interpreter, interview the caretakers like I mentioned before.

You really need to know the student’s background. You really need to know the student’s culture, the student’s family. Take the time to get to know that family and get to know the caretakers, if you can. You’ll find out so much about them, about the student, about what they want, what they desire. Just like you would with a general [00:19:00] education teacher, or general education student.

Only takes a few more questions of being like, okay, what are some cultural practices that you all do that maybe we wouldn’t do here? If that’s Ramadan, for example, what does that look like for you all? Just asking a few more questions. It doesn’t have to be a long interview, but five to 10 minutes does a lot.

And. providing comprehensible input, obviously. So for a general education teacher, I wouldn’t use that language. I would use things like visual aids, gestures, acting out, slowing down your speech. Again, it goes back to number one of if you’re nine years old in a classroom in China, what would that look like?

What would you need to understand? And the last one, even though I already have three, is that it’s going to be a little clunky and that’s okay. Language learning is not fast food. It’s not going to be quick and easy. They need space to learn. like they can take those risks and you can give them that space that you don’t have to force them right now.

There are so many others, [00:20:00] but those are probably my top three, four, um, that I would say at first, especially in the hallway and someone saying, what do I do right now? That’s what I would say. Um, obviously there’s a longer conversation I can have with that teacher, but that’s what I would say. 

Mandi Morris: I think too, something, That we have to remind ourselves is that language learning is a journey and it takes time.

And I think that’s what you’re really talking about. And that final point is, yeah, it can feel a little messy. It’s not a perfectly straight line that’s going to take exactly this amount of time and is exactly point A to point B. And sometimes students start out very enthusiastic and ambitious and driven, and then they realize, This is hard, right?

I might feel out of place. I might feel disconnected. I was in middle school for many years as well. So I have that. Middle school is hard for every kid. Add on top of it that my native language isn’t the same as the majority of [00:21:00] the peers. So I’m hearing that from you as well. That language journey takes time.

I wonder how you communicate that to Content teachers and core teachers who will say, okay, it takes time, but this 6th grade math class is building a foundation for the 7th grade math class and I have to get this content across. Do you have any thoughts about how you communicate? With teachers, because we know that ELD specialists are having those conversations and sometimes feeling ill equipped to have those conversations.

Risa Woods: Yeah, the language piece takes time. Like you, they can start learning though, right away, the content piece. Like they don’t need to, you don’t need to wait and we know this now, but we don’t need to wait until they are absolutely fluent in English before they start developing content. I teach, one of my sheltered classes is a pre algebra class and it’s all Students who don’t speak English.

And [00:22:00] I am using those strategies, the slowing my speech, the taking out fluff in a word problem. I’m using those strategies to teach language, but they are learning content. You don’t need to wait until they have a certain whatever, until you can start teaching. You can start teaching them now, and using those strategies, a little bit of what I’ve alluded to, that they can learn now.

Mandi Morris: That’s really helpful. I would love to hear you talk a little bit more. You’ve talked some about your sheltered classrooms. I love the concept of sheltered classrooms for newcomers, especially in secondary, where you can dive straight into content without feeling like. A class that’s really built specifically with scaffolds so they can dive into content immediately.

I would love to hear you talk some about your experience, what has worked, what has been tough for you to figure out as a teacher or maybe tough for your school district in [00:23:00] implementing and expanding sheltered instruction. It would be so cool to hear you unpack that a little bit. 

Risa Woods: Yeah. One thing is that our pacing just looks different.

We’re not Rushed to get to the next thing, rushed to finish the curriculum. We are actually taking our time to make sure that students, and a lot of teachers don’t have this luxury, to make sure that students actually understand the concepts. I’ve been in a lot of general education classrooms and there’s a lot of, we got to get through this, we got to get through this, we got to get through this, and so you’ve already, Left all these kids behind.

They don’t know what you’re talking about. So you got through it, but they don’t know what you’re talking about. So we actually do take our time to make sure students understand. So that’s really special that we have just the space to do that. The district has allowed that for me. It looks like we have interactive notebooks.

We have time where we do practice language in like sentence frames. So [00:24:00] Maybe I’d give a sentence frame, I multiplied blank times blank, so that they have to say, I multiplied three times four. But using that time to do partner work, to do sentence frames, to have them practice that academic language has been really special.

And just building, if there are skills that are missing, and some students have not been in school three, four years, like building, scaffolding, even those students. If they I don’t know their multiplication tables, for example, like giving them a multiplication table as a scaffold as we’re learning how to distribute.

Mandi Morris: I wonder, Risa, if you were to imagine, based on the experience that you’ve had and what’s brought you to being an ML teacher, if you could imagine the best environment for teaching English in the secondary. What do you imagine that looks like for newcomers? We’ve talked with a lot of states that are just having a huge influx of newcomers.

And I met actually with a director this week who she said, we’ve [00:25:00] had a lot of Spanish speaking Mls in our school district, but this past year we have had a huge influx of vietnamese families And we don’t have any resources. They had a new meat packing plant that opened in their town And it’s brought in a lot of families and she’s like we don’t have anything translated into vietnamese.

We don’t have any translators for vietnamese, so all of the bilingual People and paperwork in a sense that they’ve developed over the years, it’s not a resource now. And she’s, teachers are really scrambling to try to support this influx. So I just wonder if you think about that at the middle school level and you imagine this is a great model for supporting newcomers in middle school, what does that model look like?

Risa Woods: I think that model in the perfect world, I would imagine they would be in some classes, especially Reading and writing classes with an ELD teacher, but I would love to see them not just have [00:26:00] all their classes with sheltered instruction, but to be out with general education teachers who are trained, who knew what to do.

If possible, having teachers like myself push in, but also just giving them strategies so that they feel confident, I think is a huge thing. I don’t know a lot of districts that do that, that give. Their general education teacher strategies, at least not more than just here’s an email or a PD a year, but actually developing them so that they have confidence.

So it doesn’t just rely on the ML teacher, but we actually do see these students as all of our students. And that would be the perfect world would be all teachers taking responsibility of all students. 

Justin Hewett: I actually love that. I love that. It’s actually up in Iowa. They even named a conference for multilingual students.

They call it our kids for that exact reason, right? It’s just the imagery of that and trying to communicate to the thinking because sometimes you get a, [00:27:00] Oh, these kids or those kids. That’s right. And I think that understanding that, and I’m really going back to where we started a little bit, but talking about those students belong here.

These are our kids. They belong here and we don’t pity them. We’re excited for them. They have an amazing opportunity to, to learn a new language and learn these new challenges. 

Risa Woods: They’re going to be multilingual. What an asset that they have to bring their languages and their cultures and to be bilingual and bicultural or.

Yeah. Yeah. In my perfect world, I would switch the mindsets of, you know, All administrators and teachers. That’s what I would do to say, yeah, we are, we are blessed to have these kids. We are, they’re not a liability. They’re not dragging us down, dragging our scores down. Like they, they are contributing to this classroom.

Justin Hewett: I love that. I think that’s so fantastic. I want to pivot back to, to the great work that you’re doing on, on Instagram. Your handle, if I have this right, is at [00:28:00] Risa Woods. With a underscore right at the end. So R I S A W O D S underscore. And what, like what has resonated the most as you’ve gotten in there and you’ve shared some things and you were surprised that people were really appreciating it, sharing it, telling their friends, all those kinds of things.

What do you feel like you’ve resonated the most? And that has helped you understand that this work needs to be done. 

Risa Woods: What has resonated the most with me is that I think in my earlier years as an ELL teacher, I think I really have a chip on my shoulder towards general education teachers. Like, why aren’t they doing this?

Why don’t they care? Why? And doing this work has really humbled me to say, They don’t know. They haven’t been trained. They, they’re not the enemy, I think, is what that has really shown to me. And [00:29:00] even when I’m in spaces with other MLL, ELL teachers, I, I have to remind, we have to remind each other, they’re not the enemy.

They don’t actually know these things. We are trained in these things. Specific strategies or whatnot, but they don’t know. So that’s really resonated with me just for people like, Oh, I didn’t know this. I’m like, Oh, that’s so simple. How did they not know? Like in my head, I’m like, that’s so simple, but okay.

But with others, I think the biggest ones that seem to resonate with people are one, when I actually have time to make a reel that I model. Like, instead of just saying, Oh, do this strategy or do this strategy. Like I actually get to model that strategy. That’s really resonated with a lot of people. Um, another one is when I adapt materials, um, and show them how I’ve adapted the material.

So if I have a word problem or if I have a text, like this is how I’ve adapted instead of saying. We’ll adapt your materials, like showing them how to do it. And then the third one being like cultural pieces of, like I said, the time one that [00:30:00] really seemed to resonate with people like, Oh, I just thought this person was rude because they were an hour late to a parent teacher conference.

I didn’t realize like time is different in a different culture. That’s something I’ve had to learn over and over. So it was, I’m glad it was helpful for other people. But those are the three that kind of stick out. That. They seem to really resonate with people. 

Justin Hewett: Mm hmm. I can see why. Yeah, the time, I run on my own time schedule and clock and culture, too.

Uh, usually about five minutes later than everybody wants it to be. But, no, I’m just joking. 

Risa Woods: But you know that’s not culturally appropriate. 

Justin Hewett: I do. I do know that that’s right. And really, it’s probably inappropriate, but I’m doing my best. I want to actually dig into that a little bit though, that you’re talking about this mindset shift that you experienced with the work that our general ed teachers are doing.

And I guess. The reality is that a lot of teachers actually haven’t gone through that shift yet. And a lot of our gen ed teachers actually don’t, they don’t, [00:31:00] maybe they haven’t developed the same level of, of understanding and appreciation of our newcomers. Right. And in some respects, it’s this new challenge that they have, right?

It’s more work. They’re going to get paid the same amount and yet they have to do the same. They get paid the same amount, but they got all this extra work to potentially do. And so sometimes it actually doesn’t get done. Yeah. But I’d love your thinking, how should we be thinking about, how do we help a teacher understand the importance of this work?

A Gen Ed teacher that maybe has never had a newcomer before. I love the strategies that you shared earlier, but what about from a mindset perspective? 

Risa Woods: One thing I try to remind them is that a lot of these strategies work for not just your newcomers, but they’ll work for a lot of students, neurodivergent students, or even just visuals, who’s going to not benefit from having a visual?

I love visuals, like when I see what we’re learning. And with a visual, when I can wrap my mind, our brain is made for [00:32:00] that. So I try to go back to that as, as often as possible to say that the strategies that you can implement, they’re actually going to help everyone in the classroom, a lot of these strategies, obviously another one being like, just building them up that they can do it, I think there’s a lot of.

From the teachers I’ve talked to a lot of, they lack a lot of confidence. I don’t know. I’ve never been trained, but what do I do? And they’re overwhelmed and to say, yeah, you, you can do this. This is a small, that’s same thing with Instagram. This is a small shift that you can make. It doesn’t have to be this extreme thing.

Like you can make the small shift to speaking slowly and to enunciate like that’s not taking, that’s not adding any more to your plate. I worked with, I was pushing into a teacher with a teacher this last week. Okay. To a eighth grade social studies and. I said, Hey, could you slow that down to 0. 75? He’s, Oh, I didn’t even know I could do that.

And so it’s, these are small things that don’t have to be [00:33:00] monumental that you can do, just reminding them that they can do it. And then, um, that they’re making big impacts with small shifts is the work that I try to do. And yeah, I can’t control everyone. I can’t make everyone see that this is like important work, but I can just keep sharing my passion and.

Keep sharing strategies. And from what I hear, the majority of people who follow me really do want to know, I don’t, obviously there are those people that I’m not going to reach that don’t care, but that’s none of my business. That’s I will try to reach the people that I can and try to do what I can. I think 

Mandi Morris: you’re hitting it.

Head on with what you’re sharing about content, teachers often just, they haven’t yet had access to that information. And I’m sure you’ve encountered teachers that like, this is what I have taught for 15 years. And now I have students in my [00:34:00] classroom that are different from other students I’ve had for 15 years.

They have different needs. And it’s making me very uncomfortable to have to adapt to what I’m doing. And something that I think about often is that change is uncomfortable for all of us. And change can feel messy. It can feel out of our control. And I think that you were sharing something along those lines earlier of sometimes just creating that space.

It’s not going to be perfect the first time, but we’re going to adapt and we’re going to be agile and flexible to the needs of our students and that changing demographic in your classroom. Do you have any insight around how when you’ve coached alongside teachers where you get the, this is how I’ve always done it, Do you have any, like, phrases or keywords or mind shifts that you have found successful that you could share with others?

Risa Woods: One thing that, when you’re talking, it reminded me, like, a lot of the work I do with teachers new to [00:35:00] newcomers is, The same work I do with newcomers, because I try like as much as possible. I don’t use a lot of insider language. If you notice on my, on my reels, I don’t say things like comprehensible input.

I don’t say things like TPR or just, I don’t know. There’s a lot of insider language that we can use. And from what I’ve seen from other people, they use a lot of that language. And so I try to break it down as simply as possible and to say, this is what I would do, or. This is what you could do. And just again, modeling is so important to same thing with newcomers.

Like modeling is so important to say, to show them what we’re expecting of them instead of just saying, you need to do this. And so as much as possible, I try to get in front of teachers. I try to model and to show, like, I don’t know if I have a phrase like you asked, but you can do this. It’s good work.

It’s hard work, but you can do this. And like you are, I guess I do have a phrase, but you are like creating a legacy. Like when you give students [00:36:00] access to the content, when you give students access to quality education, you’re creating a legacy for that student’s family and for generations to come. I guess I do have a thing, but that’s something I tried to say over and over to myself and to implement that into what I do.

Mandi Morris: And that’s helpful for teachers that, especially maybe teachers who are a few years new into their career and might not feel like they yet have the experience or the confidence to go and have that conversation with the content teacher that’s been doing it to do that advocacy work and And mind shift work.

So I think having the dress or little things can be really helpful. I was in a training with weed out a couple months ago, and the instructor had a visual that I thought was so powerful. It was of a student with. a bag, a suitcase. And she said, we have to do the mind shift that our students aren’t coming with [00:37:00] baggage.

They’re coming with luggage and pack for a trip. I’m prepared for where I’m going. I would pack differently for Alaska versus Florida. So if we think about our students coming to us with a lot of skills, that assets mindset, which is what you’ve been talking about, they’re bringing so much background knowledge and experience.

We’ve got to break down the language piece and support them in the language piece, but it’s not baggage that they’re bringing to our classrooms. So I’m just wondering, like, how would you, what’s your language or how do you coach and communicate And your role around students are bringing assets when they come, it’s not a deficit that they’re bringing to our classroom.

Risa Woods: Yeah, that’s a, those are a lot of conversations that you have to have when a teacher is trained to look at data and look at numbers, and the numbers say, This student had, Jamie talked about this in her interview, just about the student that was crying, the parent that was crying, that was saying that she’s a, [00:38:00] I don’t know what the level B or something, I don’t remember what the level was, but, but that we have to look at the student holistically, which is, it goes back to the caretaker interview of what is the student good at?

What if the teacher, if the parent tells me the student was really good at math in our home country, and I’m looking at the data and the data says, no, I don’t. They’re below basic, they’re below level. Like I actually have to use holistic data to say maybe that test wasn’t actually. Um, a way to assess what they know.

So I would just encourage teachers to look at, um, the student holistically and not just from a numbers point of view because I, yeah, they’re going to be a B, if you will, from the student from Nepal, if you remember the interview, but that’s, yeah, that’s what I would say. 

Mandi Morris: I love that. And you’re really touching on, um, Questioning the assessment.

And if the assessment is giving you the information that you need and leaning it beyond data, that is a piece of it. What else do we need? And that really goes back to the [00:39:00] family interview, because how do you know if your student was good at math in their home country without that communication piece with the family?

So it really starts to create a whole picture of communication, bringing the family in. Yeah, and showing 

Risa Woods: interest in their students, like, that makes a parent light up. As a parent myself, like, if you ask me about my kid, like, that’s, that makes me trust you more. You are interested in my kid, and not just their numbers or the compliance pieces, but actually who they are.

That just fosters a lot of trust, too, with building trust with the caregivers. 

Justin Hewett: But how do I do that in my classroom? Because I’ll, to use the example, Mandi, that you just, you shared just a little bit ago, I have, we don’t have any Vietnamese translators. I don’t have anybody in my school who speaks Vietnamese.

And now I have a newcomer student who speaks Vietnamese and their parents don’t speak English. How do I do this? 

Risa Woods: I would advocate with your school district that you need an interpreter. It’s [00:40:00] national policy. We speak in a way that parents can understand. So that is on the district to get you an interpreter.

If you need one to conduct that interview is what I would say. 

Justin Hewett: And then you drop the mic. Boom. I think a big piece of that in some of our smaller districts may not realize this, but there are resources, tools out there where you can get a translator and get, get somebody on the phone or on the line who can help with that.

That’s what we 

Risa Woods: do in our district. We have a service called language line where. I’m plugging it in here. So here’s a free ad, no, language line that we use, that we call out and it has, I don’t know, hundreds of languages. So that’s how we do it over the phone. 

Justin Hewett: Which I think is really valuable. I actually think it’s, I think it’s great that you’re welcome language line, but really just in general, like it’s nice to know about the different tools and resources that, that are out there and that you can use.

So that’s great. That’s thanks for sharing that. Are there any other tools or resources that you’ve found to to use with our [00:41:00] new secondary newcomer students, maybe specifically knowing that’s where your focus is to a large degree? 

Risa Woods: Yeah, points is another one. If teachers are unfamiliar with talking points, I think If the family can read and write, if the family is literate in their home language, Talking Points is great because, like, I can type it in English and it will send it to different languages in the classroom, so I don’t even, I could do that with my whole class, even English speaking.

Talking Points is a great app that I use daily. There are lots of different Google Chrome extensions that a lot of teachers use. I don’t use them that often. I focus my time on them. Energy more on adapting what I already have, but I, that’s what I put on my Instagram, lots of different resources like that.

Justin Hewett: So much of it, it feels as you think about that, so much of it feels like it is really. Unique to your classroom, it’s unique to the students who you are serving. And so some of those, the scaffoldings you might use or adaptations or adjustments, they really do come down to like [00:42:00] where your student is.

Cause language is not, it’s not necessarily linear, right? That it’s, Oh, you learned this first and then you learn this and then this and math scaffolds on top of itself. But language is so dynamic, you know, that to some degree you really have to it. Adjust the tools and resources in your approach for each newcomer to some degree.

Risa Woods: Yeah, I’m actually making an online course myself for teachers to learn how to adapt materials and it, yeah, just to, because it is, I can’t just make a TPT page for every single teacher out there to know how to, that’s going to be what you need to do for your specific classroom, your specific, specific situation, your slides, your whatever.


Justin Hewett: When will that course be available? Is that coming ready? He’s trying to 

Risa Woods: get it done by the summer. 

Justin Hewett: All right. Stay tuned. All right. Gosh, Risa, what a wonderful opportunity for us to have you here with us on the ML chat podcast. This has been just a, such a wonderful conversation. We’ve just really [00:43:00] enjoyed getting granular, getting specific with some of the things that we can do to better meet the needs of our newcomer students and really understanding the inherent challenge.

That when a newcomer comes to a classroom and you’re a general ed teacher that now you potentially face and really a lot of that comes down to a mindset of appreciating the opportunity and looking for the good that can come from this new student coming and how much you can grow. And I think there’s a lot of goodness there, but if we, if you went back to.

Risa Woods, version one, first year. And you could give yourself some advice that, that you’ve earned. You’ve been in this space, you served hundreds, maybe thousands of English learning students. What advice would you share, give to yourself in your first year? 

Risa Woods: You are the student’s biggest advocates and you’re going to be put in a lot of situations where you have to use that role, but it’s worth it.

[00:44:00] I think I, I don’t think I realized that coming in that how much I would have to advocate for my students, but it’s absolutely worth it to be in those spaces where. Maybe they’re talking about curriculum. I’m like, okay, what about this student? Or what about this student? We’re being at the table when they’re discussing IEPs.

And then I’m, maybe they bring up, they’re an English learner. I’m like, just being in different spaces where you have to advocate being with a school nurse, or I don’t think I realized that going in, how much of my job would be advocating and how that’s actually really special. It’s a special thing that we get to do.

So that’s what I would tell myself. 

Justin Hewett: And that’s why I think a lot of times our multilingual students have such a special bond, 

Risa Woods: you 

Justin Hewett: know, with their earliest teachers that they had when they first arrived. 

Risa Woods: We have fought for them to be in places. We have fought for them to, why did you not consider these students when you made the after school schedule?

Or why did you not, I could get really heated talking about it, but. 

Justin Hewett: I don’t want [00:45:00] to see that. Let’s go there. But I think that’s the thing, right? Like you do, you have to advocate for your students and many times help give them. Be their voice, an extension of their voice. They have their own voice, but in some ways they’re still learning how to use it.

And someone needs to advocate for them in the meantime. And a lot of times are, you know, as the parents are being new to the country, they’re trying to figure out and navigate a number of new environments themselves, let alone being able to advocate and navigate that for their children. So what else? I know, Mandi, you probably have another question or two that you’d like to sneak in before we have to wrap up, but.

Mandi Morris: Yeah, I would love to hear if. If there are any influencers for you, and that could be an author or a book or a blog or another Instagram or that you follow, like, where are you getting your information? I’ve gotten more active on LinkedIn this year because I feel like there’s a lot of content on there now.

It’s getting easier to [00:46:00] connect with professionals and so where are you, where’s your space that you’re finding? Where could you send people where it’s, I want to learn more about this, I want to hear more about it. 

Risa Woods: One that comes to mind is Dr. Jose Medina. I just feel challenged by him every time I hear his reels or hear him speak, just to how am I being linguistically oppressive is what he says.

And it just reminds me to ground myself of, okay, reframe my mind or to reset my mind to value all languages and to value trans languaging in the classroom. He’s one. Of course, Valentina Gonzalez is a big one, and even just she has a Facebook group. I’m always inspired by it with her. Other ELL teachers that I learned, I think the Facebook group is called Advocating for ELLs.

I’ve learned a lot from those groups. Dr. Carol Salva is another one. She’s just another one over all her blog as well that I’ve learned a lot from. I’d say those are probably my top three that I can think of off the top of [00:47:00] my head. 

Mandi Morris: Yeah. That’s wonderful. Thank you. I know I, I’ve been able to see Dr. Jose Medina one time at a conference, and it was such a, just like a fun energy.

He’s so engaging and I agree. I love his reels. His social platform is fantastic as well. 

Justin Hewett: Gosh, Risa, thank you so much for, for sharing so many good things here and, and some of these additional resources. Uh, we’ll, uh, we’ll include some of these resources that we’ve talked about today and we’ll include your Instagram link in our show notes.

Um, but again, that handle is at Risa Woods underscore. So at R I S A W O O D S underscore on Instagram, where you will get just tons and tons of great insights and ideas. And just, uh, Different things that actually work in the real world that Risa is doing, which is really cool. Risa, thank you again for coming here and sharing kind of your story and these [00:48:00] experiences and specialties on the ML chat podcast.


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