• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2006 • Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

Students learning English in San Antonio secondary classrooms also have been engaged in learning math, social studies and science in effective and interesting ways. From creating vocabulary cubes with pictures in a social studies class, to tearing quadrilaterals and talking about the sum of the angles from a personal perspective, and even to coaching elementary students in safety practices in a high school science lab, these Spanish-speaking students are experiencing success in class.

A group of high school and middle school teachers in this urban school district have been planning and carrying out effective teaching approaches for English language learners. Science, social studies and math teachers have been observing and coaching peers, planning in teams, communicating across campuses, planning and conducting workshops and institutes for their peers, conducting bilingual parent-teacher-student dialogues, and developing creative new materials. In short, they have been leaders.

The central office now regularly calls on them for conducting professional development for secondary teachers. They are lauded on campus as teachers leading teachers. Yet the central benefit of IDRA’s project, Educators x Communities = English Language Learners’ Success (ExCELS), now in its last year, is its connection to school holding power and student success.

Last November-December’s issue of the IDRA Newsletter highlighted the IDRA Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Montecel, 2005). This framework targets two key indicators: school holding power – the ability of schools to guarantee graduation for all students; and student success – the academic preparation both to graduate with a diploma and to graduate prepared for college access and success. To achieve these, schools need: (1) quality teaching, (2) parent and community engagement, (3) student engagement, and (4) curriculum quality and access. This article highlights the teacher leadership that has emerged from the ExCELS project and that reinforces this framework.

The ExCELS project has addressed teachers’ needs for having effective approaches for teaching English language learners in the core content areas. These approaches are organized around: modeling, coaching, peer dialogue, peer teaching and campus planning. Over three years at a middle school and a high school in a feeder pattern, campus observation, workshops, debriefing, teacher input and presentations evolved.

As one social studies teacher said, “I used to be embarrassed to talk even at my department meetings – now I’m exhilarated to present workshops to my peers.”

In the third year of the project, we focused on a process of leadership development that included extensive dialogues among the teachers who had participated the most in the project.


The Domains of Leadership

The ExCELS teacher leader can now function in five different domains of leadership as conceptualized by the project: instruction, peer support, campus improvement, district support, and family and community engagement. If these domains could be seen as concentric circles, the center would be the effective classroom teaching that goes on every day (see below)

The Instruction Leader (Quality Teaching and Student Engagement)

The instruction leader: models and is willing to be observed in effective teaching of English language learners; collects student samples to illustrate the range of student language development in content and documents personal implications for instruction; and allows videotaping of lesson planning, classroom instruction and post-class debriefing. The professional development in the project included modeling of effective instruction in the actual classrooms of the project participants, observation of peers, and debriefing and dialogue on what had been observed. As the project evolved, emergent leaders persisted in modifying their classroom instruction for English language learners. These teachers also invited observation and even videotaping of their teaching – not as super teachers but to continue to develop and be a willing model, to be observed and have a conversation with peers about the actual instruction.

The next concentric circle extends from the effective classroom instruction to the connections teachers make with each other about their teaching.

The Peer Support Leader (Quality Teaching)

A peer support leader: co-plans and participates in feedback sessions with peers; and mentors colleagues on classroom instruction issues. Leaders in the project volunteered to participate in a variety of ways with their peers: as coaches to teachers new to teaching or new to teaching English language learners; and as co-planners with other teachers in attempting to be more innovative in their teaching and to find new ways to help students learn. The teacher leaders were willing to maintain a focused dialogue over time on their successes and challenges with students specifically selected as case studies. Conversations focused on classroom management, teaching approaches and maintaining a deeper understanding of student characteristics, especially student strengths and assets.

The third circle of the series is an extension to the campus at large, beyond peer teachers to administrators, counselors and other support personnel.

The Campus Improvement Leader (Curriculum Quality & Access)

The campus improvement leader meets with a campus committee that includes administrators, counselors, and other campus staff to improve policy and practice in support of English language learners’ academic success and monitors progress. The teachers as leaders communicated with campus administrators and other personnel on a variety of topics: instructional issues in sheltered English classes, scheduling of students with the most experienced teachers, feedback on effective English as a second language (ESL) instruction, and planning for parent events. The teacher leaders took steps to influence the whole campus to accelerate the academic success of English language learners.

The fourth circle extends the teacher’s leadership to the district at large and even beyond the boundaries of the district to teachers and other educators from other districts.

The District-Level Teacher Leader (Quality Teaching)

The district-level teacher leader: conducts professional development workshops for representatives from all secondary campuses; supports development of resources that benefit all secondary campuses; and supports the ESL and bilingual education departments to improve instruction of English language learners in the whole district. One of the greatest tangible successes the leadership team members testify to is their newfound ability to present to other teachers. These classroom teachers are now sought out presenters for professional development days and get high marks for their command of the content area, the practicality of their presentations, the dynamic hands-on approaches, and their ability to relate to their peers who attend these workshops.

This has enabled the school district to mine the riches of the many effective classroom teachers who can now plan, carry out and evaluate effective professional development.

The final circle actually permeates all rather than following in a linear fashion because the connections of the teacher leader to the parents of his or her students is parallel to the effective daily instruction and is reinforced through a variety of means of communication with families and the broader community.

The Teacher Leader with Community (Parent & Community Engagement)

Finally, teacher leadership with community means that the teacher organizes, supports and carries out family-student-teacher dialogues; and engages community organizations, the private sector and other groups in support of excellent education for all children.

Learning Community Research

These leadership domains and activities have emerged from the practice in the ExCELS project, but are also supported by some of the research literature in the learning community concept: “Historically, teacher learning communities emerged during the 1980s when Rosenholtz (1989) brought teachers’ workplace factors into the discussion of teacher quality, suggesting that teachers who felt supported in their own ongoing learning and classroom practice were more committed and effective than those who did not receive this confirmation. This research demonstrated that support through teacher networks, cooperation among colleagues, and expanded professional roles increased teacher effectiveness in meeting student needs. Likewise, Rosenholtz found that teachers with a high sense of personal efficacy were more likely to adopt new classroom approaches to promote school improvement and to remain in the teaching profession” (Pearce, et al., 2002).

In fact, this model has proven to be effective and long-lasting, especially compared to sporadic workshops, lecturing and dicta from above, and even more urgently, from trying to browbeat teachers to push up student test scores. To achieve quality schools, it is essential to include a teacher learning community and teacher peer leadership. Other key elements will still be needed. Nevertheless, students will achieve when we support effective teachers to be leaders of their peers.

Educators x Communities = English Language Learners’ Success

ExCELS is an innovative IDRA professional development program that creates learning communities of schools, families and communities for English language learners’ academic success. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the project is focusing on improving teachers’ capacity to address curriculum, instruction, assessment and parent involvement issues that impact the achievement of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students.

The project is comprised of five components that contribute to student success, as supported by the literature:

  • Training for Capacity Building
  • Technical Assistance for Classroom Support
  • Teacher Mentoring
  • Teacher-Parent Partnership
  • ESL Learning Communities


Bass, H., and A.P. Usiskin, G. Burrill (Eds). Studying Classroom Teaching as a Medium for Professional Development (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2002).

Dieckmann, J. “Learning Through Teaching: New Patterns for Teachers of English Language Learners,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August, 2003).

Fullan, M., and A. Hargreaves. What’s Worth Fighting for in Your School (New York, N.Y.: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1996).

García, J. “Transforming Teachers with FLAIR,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2001).

Lambert, L. Building Leadership Capacity in Schools (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998).

Montemayor, A.M. “Carrying Out Our New Promise,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2000).

Pearce, K.L., and K. Gusso, L. Schroeder, R. Speirs, J. Zwaschka. “The Impact of a Teacher Learning Community on School Climate. Part of the NCA Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement,” Journal of School Improvement (Fall 2002) Vol. 3, Issue 2.

Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework – Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).

Russo, M. “Teacher Professional Development: How Do We Establish It and Know That It’s Working?” The Evaluation Exchange (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Family Research Project, Winter 2005-06).

Schon, D. Educating the Reflective Practitioner (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1987).

Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed., is lead trainer in the IDRA Division of Community and Public Engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2006 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]