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Highest Aspirations

Author: Ellevation Education

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On the Highest Aspirations Podcast, we engage in important conversations about the most rapidly growing student demographic in the United States - English Language Learners. We speak with educators and students, researchers and policy makers, and parents and community members about how we can help all students reach their highest aspirations.

Join us on this important journey as we bring the vibrant ELL Community together around the topics that matter most to the students we serve.
66 Episodes
What are civil rights of English learners and how can schools sometimes unintentionally violate them? How can civil rights issues affect EL reclassification rates, access to advanced courses, and more?  Why do violations happen and how can schools avoid them? We discuss these questions and more with Dr. Ayanna Cooper.Dr. Ayanna Cooper is an author, keynote speaker and advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse learners. She is the author of Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools with English Learners (in press), co-editor of Black Immigrants in the United States: Essays on the Politics of Race, Language, and Voice (with Ibrahim, in press), and co-author of Evaluating ALL Teachers of English Learners and Students with Disabilities: Supporting Great Teaching (with Staher Fenner & Kozik). Her projects involve providing technical assistance internationally and in the U.S. to State Departments of Education, school districts and non-profit organizations. Dr. Cooper recently returned from an English language Specialist project in Kuwait. She was also recently elected to TESOL's Board of Directors for 2020-2023.
How does project based learning support the diverse language skills of English learners? What is the sustained inquiry process and how can it serve as a first step toward increased student communication and collaboration? How can project based learning enhance cultural responsiveness and help support English learners as assets to our school communities?We discuss these questions and much more with Elizabeth Leone. Elizabeth is an ESL teacher and Project-based Learning (PBL) coach in Manchester, New Hampshire. She teaches in a sheltered instructional settings for newcomers from all over the world. She completed her Masters in TESOL and her undergraduate studies in Elementary Education. Elizabeth is passionate about making learning more equitable and attainable for all students, especially those with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE). She uses project-based learning as a way to meet learners where they are with their language skills and rapidly streamline their education to get them into mainstream classes. Using PBL strategies, she is able to simultaneously work on language acquisition, content education, and 21st century skills in a way that keeps them motivated to learn.If you would like to know more about PBL for ESL, feel free to contact Elizabeth by email at or follow her class blog on Instagram @ms.leone.ell.squad
How do we go about creating successful co-teaching and co-planning partnerships to support English learners? What are some protocols that co-teaching and co-planning pairs should have in place to help mitigate any conflicts that may arise between co-teachers? How can school leaders support and amplify the practice to maximize impact on students?We discuss these questions and much more in our conversation with Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria G. Dove. Together, they have co-authored five best-selling Corwin books, including their most  recent, Coteaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection (2018).Andrea Honigsfeld, EdD, is Associate Dean and Professor in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York. She directs a doctoral program in Educational Leadership for Diverse Learning Communities. Before entering the field of teacher education, she was an English-as-a-foreign-language teacher in Hungary (Grades 5–8 and adult) and an English-as-a-second-language teacher in New York City (Grades K–3 and adult). She also taught Hungarian at New York University.She was the recipient of a doctoral fellowship at St. John’s University, New York, where she conducted research on individualized instruction and learning styles. She has published extensively on working with English language learners and providing individualized instruction based on learning style preferences. She received a Fulbright Award to lecture in Iceland in the fall of 2002. In the past twelve years, she has been presenting at conferences across the United States, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates. She frequently offers staff development, primarily focusing on effective differentiated strategies and collaborative practices for English-as-a-second-language and general-education teachers.Maria G. Dove, EdD, is Associate Professor in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York, where she teaches preservice and inservice teachers about the research and best practices for developing effective programs and school policies for English learners. Before entering the field of higher education, she worked for over thirty years as an English-as-a-second-language teacher in public school settings (Grades K–12) and in adult English language programs in Nassau County, New York.In 2010, she received the Outstanding ESOL Educator Award from New York State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (NYS TESOL). She frequently provides professional development for educators throughout the United States on the teaching of diverse students. She also serves as a mentor for new ESOL teachers as well as an instructional coach for general-education teachers and literacy specialists. She has published articles and book chapters on collaborative teaching practices, instructional leadership, and collaborative coaching.
How might a conceptual framework help educators better communicate around EL program management, instructional practices, and more? How can using a framework encourage educators to assess their practice and identify where they can improve? What benefits does all this have for multilingual learners? We discuss these questions and much more with Ellevation’s own Adam Howard.Adam is currently a project manager here at Ellevation Education, where he works with school districts across the country to onboard and roll-out a suite of software that manages data analysis, teacher development, and student instruction. He has an extensive background in education, having spent nearly ten years in the English Language Development classroom supporting learners from all over the world. Adam has spent his career focused on integrating 21st-century technology into the classroom, disrupting the outdated, and promoting equitable learning opportunities to empower all students. His background in educational technology contributed to his development of the SADI model, a conceptual framework that helps educators level set around English learner instruction and program management. The acronym stands for Simplification, Accommodation, Differentiation, and Integration. It is loosely based on the SAMR model, created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura that categorizes four different degrees of classroom technology integration. If you’d like to refer to the SADI model as you listen, you can find it at sure to subscribe to Highest Aspirations on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode. Also, please consider leaving us a rating and review on iTunes to let everyone know how we’re doing. This will help us get the word out and bring in more great guests.Finally, we love to crowdsource from the community! If you have an idea for a topic or guest for an upcoming episode, please reach out to
How does growing up in a diverse community impact the educational outcome of English learners? What kinds of learning experiences have the most impact on diverse learners? What advice would a recent high school graduate and former English learner give to students facing similar challenges? We discuss these questions and much more in our conversation with Take the Pledge scholarship winner Camila Garcia. Camila recently began studying English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after graduating high school in Beardstown, IL. As we discuss in the episode, Camila is an avid reader, a quality which she believes helped her achieve English proficiency. She is particularly fond of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.  Her story is an inspirational reminder of how all students can reach their highest aspirations when provided with the necessary support and opportunities in school. 
What does the research say about the benefits of bringing teachers of color into our classrooms? Are teacher licensure exams creating barriers to enter the teaching profession - particularly for teachers of color? How might alternatives like community based assessments help bring in more aspiring teachers of color? We discuss these questions and much more with Emery Petchauer.Emery Petchauer is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. His research has focused on the aesthetic practices of urban arts, particularly hip-hop culture, and their connections to teaching, learning, and living. He is the author of Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives (Routledge, 2012), the first scholarly study of hip-hop culture on college campuses, and the co-editor of Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum (Teachers College Press, 2013).Dr. Petchauer also studies high-stakes teacher licensure exams and their relationship to the racial diversity of the teaching profession. Theories of social psychology and spatial studies inform this work, as do many years of working individually with preservice teachers to pass these exams. Dr. Petchauer has received teaching awards at both the high school and college levels, including the Board of Trustees Distinguished Teaching Award at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the nation’s first Historically Black University.His most recent book, Navigating Teacher Licensure Exams offers practical, empirically sourced insights into the high-stakes licensure exams required in most states for teacher certification. This unique resource foregrounds the experiences of diverse preservice teachers, including teachers of color, to understand how they organize their preparation efforts, overcome self-doubt and anxiety, and navigate the high-pressure space of this important testing event. 
What is translanguaging and how does it affect language learning and pedagogy? What are the implications of language loss in both school and home environments? What kind of support do teachers of multilingual learners need most as they progress through their careers? We discuss these questions and much more in part 2 of our 2 part conversation with Dr. Sera Hernandez of San Diego State University.Dr. Hernandez teaches university courses on multilingual education, bilingualism, biliteracy, language policy and English language development. Her research focuses on the impact of state and federal language and education policies on language and literacy practices in Spanish and English in schools, homes, and communities across California, the U.S. and internationally. Her work strives to better understand the language and literacy development of emergent bilinguals (i.e., DLLs, ELLs) starting in early childhood and specifically how educational language policies and program models facilitate or undermine language learners’ access to equitable schooling experiences.You can stay connected with us by joining our EL Community at There you can leave comments about this episode and others. You can also engage with great content like our Whiteboard Wednesday short video series, blog posts, and articles. Finally, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. This will help us continue bringing you the best topics and guests on Highest Aspirations.
What has changed in bilingual teacher education over the last 5-10 years and how have those changes affected the field? How have policy changes and initiatives like the Seal of Biliteracy affected dual language programs and bilingual education? What are some of the most effective ways of preparing preservice and inservice teachers to work with dual language and English language learners?  We discuss these questions and much more in part 1 of a 2 part series with Dr. Sera Hernandez, Assistant Professor of Dual Language and English Learner Education at San Diego State University.Dr. Hernandez earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education with a degree in Language, Literacy, and Culture. With an interdisciplinary academic background, her research bridges the fields of educational linguistics and the anthropology of education to examine the sociocultural, linguistic and political contexts surrounding educational language policies and bilingualism and biliteracy practices in the U.S. and abroad. Her research focuses on the impact of state and federal language and education policies on language and literacy practices in Spanish and English in schools, homes, and communities across California, the U.S. and internationally. Her work strives to better understand the language and literacy development of emergent bilinguals (i.e., DLLs, ELLs) starting in early childhood and specifically how educational language policies and program models facilitate or undermine language learners’ access to equitable schooling experiences. Her research and teaching also involve multiple international programs that examine equity issues around language policies and teacher education, namely in Mexico, the Republic of Palau, and Switzerland. Dr. Hernandez has worked in public K-12 schools and universities for 20 years and has facilitated trainings for over 1,500 teachers and administrators across the U.S. in the OCDE Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) model. She is currently a lead trainer for the California Association for Bilingual Education’s Binational Project GLAD model which works with bilingual educators on both sides of the border to foster and build collaborative binational relationships and better schooling experiences for binational students in the U.S. and Mexico as they become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural.
Why are advanced STEM classes a good fit for many English learners? What strategies can teachers leverage to maximize impact on diverse learners in STEM classes? How might we remove barriers that prevent many English learners from taking advanced classes throughout their academic careers? We discuss these questions and much more in our conversation with Dr. Stephen Fleenor.Stephen is a scientist-turned-educator who is inspired by the principles of sheltered instruction and growth mindset, particularly in the service of English learners. In 2014, Stephen earned his PhD in Developmental Neurobiology and sought to empower the next generation of thinkers as a high school science teacher at a Title I school in San Antonio. He has developed innovative approaches to working with ELs and economically disadvantaged students, and has presented his ideas across various districts, as well as at regional conferences. A central component of Stephen’s pedagogy is student ownership of personal growth throughout the school year. This approach has been particularly effective in promoting language and content acquisition for ELLs, and under his leadership his department closed the gap in EL performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in Science.In 2017, Stephen was awarded the Edgewood ISD District Teacher of the Year Award and the KENS5 ExCEL Award, and went on to serve as a science instructional coach for Edgewood ISD.  In addition to his PhD from Oxford, Stephen holds an M.Ed. in School Leadership from the University of the Incarnate Word and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Texas at Austin.  Stephen lives in San Antonio with his wife, a fellow educator.
What if schools were run like Disney? How would this philosophy affect the educational experiences of all students, and particularly ELs? What can we learn from Disney about providing access to opportunities that keep students coming back?We discuss these questions and much more with Lynmara Colón, Director of English Learner Programs at Prince Williams County Public Schools in Maryland. Lynn brings the perspective of a teacher, assistant principal, and principal—positions she has held since joining education in 2003. As principal of an elementary school in 2014, she served over 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade and was able to increase reading engagement by leading a culture of literacy, personalized learning, and collaborative learning teams.Lynn believes all schools should be run like Disney; providing magical experiences to every student regardless or their background. She now heads the office that provides comprehensive registration services to English learners and immigrant children, including translation and interpretation services, to a school division serving over 90,000 students. These students represent 124 countries and 149 languages. Colón holds two master’s degrees: a degree in curriculum and instruction, and the other in educational leadership. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in education through Old Dominion University.
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