Friday, February 28, 2014

Welcoming New WIDA Bloggers, Part 2: Holly Niemi

In our second installment of welcoming the new WIDA bloggers, we would like to introduce you to Holly Niemi.

I am excited to be one of the new WIDA bloggers and thrilled to add to the online discourse surrounding ELLs.  This is a wonderful platform for us to share our insights, thoughts, and experiences.  My academics and professional interests include challenges surrounding language learning versus learning disabilities, increasing schools’ cross-cultural competencies, and empowering content area teachers to adapt and modify instruction for ELLs.  Most importantly on my agenda, I am more than simply an ESL teacher; I am an advocate for ELLs.  We are known in our schools as ESL teachers.  This title simplifies the true nature of our professional responsibilities; I believe that an ESL teacher assumes the role of an ESL advocate.  Advocacy is the heart of ESL education.  To all the ESL teachers out there reading this, think: how are you ESL advocates? 

Advocacy includes disseminating constructive and accurate information about ELLs.  It is an opportunity to showcase the contributions and value of ELLs to all those in the education arena:  administrators, PTAs, native English speaking students, teachers, school staff, school boards, and the community.    The ESL teacher provides a rich-language environment and is experienced on culturally and linguistically responsive teaching methods, but role of the ESL advocate includes a deeper complexity.  The ESL advocate provides professional development to content area teachers to maximize ELLs’ access to the curricula, as well as collaborating with content area teachers and other school staff to establish appropriate programs for ELLs of varying levels of English proficiency.  The ESL advocate has knowledge of the legal underpinnings, federal requirements and state guidelines governing the education of students with limited English proficiency.  As ESL advocates, we are constantly addressing affective needs of our ELLs that often times extend to their families that include providing a variety of school and community resources and services available to them. We are charged with the education and involvement of ELL families, other educators, students, and community members on issues and topics affecting ELLs. With the added role as advocates, we are sometimes faced with challenges, limitations and dilemmas.  Over the past 15 years, I have felt a shift in the connotation of ESL advocacy from positive to a neutral or more negative meaning.  The ESL teacher as an advocate is the link and intermediary to assist our schools in navigating the all-encompassing complex nature that is ESL; we are ESL advocates. Let’s continue to use our voice for those who have not yet found theirs.

Welcome, Holly.  In case you missed it, we introduced another new WIDA blogger, Heather Jung, yesterday.

Photos courtesy of Holly Niemi


  1. So true Holly-thank you for giving a voice to the importance of advocacy. In my observations as a school social worker I have noticed how much the ESL student depends and rely on the ESL teacher for much more than just academics. They look for support in navigating the social system of a school, for help in supporting parents/siblings, concerns with peers and also to meet basic needs (food and clothing). ESL advocates are valuable resource and asset in the school. I look forward to future posts!

  2. I could not agree with you more. As ESL teachers, we do more than only teaching English as a second language. I am an ESL teacher in a middle school, and I love my job working with English language learners, but the school relies on me for everything related to these students and their families. The problem is that when non- English speaking Latino parents arrive to the school, there is nobody at the front office able to communicate with them. The office staff pulls me out of the classroom where I am working with a group of ELLs and I have to interrupt what I am doing to help these parents. As an advocate, to me is as important welcome and attend my students’ parents as is teaching my students. In order to improve Ells academic and social performance, is necessary to make parents feel welcomed, and provide them with effective services, such a bilingual personnel at the front office that can attend them personally and on the telephone, and during parent-teacher conferences. If parents do not feel comfortable at their children’s school, teachers will not have the opportunity to meet them and create a relationship in favor of the student. I am looking forward to read for ideas on how other schools are doing to solve this problem.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    In my experience, I have seen ESL programs put in a place a system where there is an "ESL Liasion" in place when the ESL teacher is unavailable to welcome new families. This person should be extremely comfortable and familiar with the ESL program and non-English speaking families and children. They are able to provide enrollment information with the use of translated forms or by phoning an interpreter to assist. They also give the new family a tour of the school, which includes stopping by the ESL classroom, so you would get a chance to meet the family too. I've seen vice principals, guidance counselors, and secretaries serve in this capacity. Hope this helps!

    1. Hi Holly, thanks for answering my post and sharing your experience. Because the budget at my school is too tight, I have been thinking in send home a survey in Spanish, to see if there are bilingual parents who will be willing to volunteer a couple of hours, or perhaps days. What do you think; maybe the Hispanic community would like to collaborate with the school, in benefit of their own children.

  4. In light of your budgetary constraints, I think reaching out to bilingual parents is a viable option, so long as you have administrative support. I would be cautious of confidentiality issues that may arise, this may be an obstacle.