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  • 11 Feb 2021 12:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The regular 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly has ended, but Governor Northam called for a special session to give lawmakers more time to work through the proposed bills. 

    Two of the bills we have been tracking were left in the House Appropriations committee. The first one, HB 1929, was a large Standards of Quality bill which would have lowered the student-teacher ratio for K-12 English language instructors in proportion to English proficiency level, according to the student’s most recent WIDA ACCESS score. The new ratios would have been:

    • 1 teacher for every 25 students at Level 1, 

    • 1 teacher for every 30 students at Level 2,

    • 1 teacher for every 40 students at Level 3, and

    • 1 teacher for every 58 students for all other English learners.

    The second bill we were watching closely, HB 1915, would have increased Virginia teacher pay to approach the national teacher salary average. 

    Essentially, both of these bills were considered, but the required funding for the bill was not approved.

    Four of the bills we have been watching were continued until the special session begins today. See the graphic below for a summary of other bills we have been following:


    Contacting your delegates and informing them of your position on important issues is a great way to stay involved. If you are not sure who your representatives are, you can find out here. You can call or email your representatives, or even tag them on social media!

    If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to Jessica Klein, the VATESOL Legislative Liaison, at
  • 10 Feb 2021 10:48 PM | Anonymous member

    With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, VATESOL is focusing this month around ways to spread kindness! This image features some suggestions for building student relationships during virtual learning. We hope you can try one or more of these this month!

  • 14 Dec 2020 3:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Dr. Mary Jane Boynton, principal of Parkside Middle School in Prince William County, Virginia

    March 13, 2020. The day that will go down in history as when traditional K-12 public education ceased to exist. The day that required a systematic, world-wide educational paradigm shift. Oh, and it needs to happen in a matter of weeks-months, rather than years. The day when all school principals learned they would be required to lead their students, staff and parents through an unprecedented pandemic, with no guidelines or ‘map’ to follow.  

    There is nothing in the leadership research or manuals to guide or assist school leaders on how to lead through a pandemic. Nothing! There is no one to call and talk to for advice or suggestions. Everything is new, uncharted and let’s be honest, downright terrifying! 

    I have been an administrator for fourteen years, and a teacher since 1992. The majority of my teaching career has been teaching and working with English learners. Since 2011 I have been the principal at an extremely diverse middle school in Northern Virginia, with close to 30% of my students identified as English Language Learners. When reflecting on how my role as an administrator has changed and what I have learned, I cannot answer that question without focusing on how it relates to my English learners and their families. 

    Priorities changed, and no longer am I thinking about how to serve my students within the school building, COVID has required me to think beyond the traditional schoolhouse, and cautiously delve into the homes of my students, especially my EL students. 

    Where did I begin to meet the needs of my EL students?  

    Communicate, communicate, and communicate a little more! 

    • Taking the time to call each and every student and their family to ensure open lines of communication. 
    • When all else fails, even in the time of COVID, visit the home, following all safety precautions. 
    • Ensure there are ample staff to answer phone calls for help and assistance. 
    • Additionally, make sure that the staff who are answering the phones, and answering the door, are able to help with the new technology requirements. 

    Access to technology

    • Ensure all students have devices, and more importantly, they know how to operate them. 
    • Ensure all students have internet access.
    • Provide a variety of opportunities for students to receive assistance, while also ensuring the safety of students and school personnel. 

    Access to learning

    • Provide students and parents a variety of chances to learn how to access the new technology programs in person, and with opportunities to practice. 
    • Staff available, before, during, and after the school day to assist parents and students with all different types of technology issues, as many times as they need us to be there. 
    • When necessary, provide in-person learning opportunities for students. I know this is not available to everyone, but thankfully we have been able to provide this to students on a case-by-case basis. 

    And then remember to…

    1. Remain calm, transparent, and sincere when communicating with students, staff, and parents. 
    2. Be prepared to do whatever it takes. 
    3. No time for excuses, only solutions. 
    4. Focus on the positive, not the negative.
    5. Take the challenges in small sections, and work through them little by little. 
    6. Display high belief and high expectations of our students, teachers and staff. 
    7. Be willing to walk the walk and talk the talk. Don’t expect others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. 
    8. Get teachers and students what they need to be successful.
    9. Celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they are. 
    10. Be grateful, and share your gratitude with your students, staff, and parents. 

    As a school leader this time period has challenged each and every one of us beyond what any of us could have imagined. However, it has also allowed us to experience a true sense of community. Together, we can make a difference, and we can rise above every challenge, and succeed.

    Mary Jane Boynton is the principal at Parkside Middle Cambridge International School in Virginia, USA. She has taught and led in Scotland, Malta, Mexico as well as the United States. At Dr. Boynton's direction, Parkside earned the accreditation as the first Cambridge Professional Development program in the United States. She specializes in leading and learning schools with diverse student populations.  

  • 07 Dec 2020 1:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Brooke Boutwell, VATESOL K-12 Special Interest Group (SIG) Leader and middle school ESL teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools

    As the year 2020 nears a much anticipated and desired close, VATESOL is focusing on the theme of reflection throughout the month of December. Many teachers are thinking back on their journey into virtual/distance learning and adapting to the unprecedented demands of educators. As a brand new Virginia ESL teacher, I chose to reflect on my unique teaching experiences. 

    When I was an education major in college, my professor told us a joke that said something along the lines of when special education teachers try to out acronym the English as a second language teachers, no one wins. Little did I know that 5 years into my career, I could pour out more acronyms that I ever thought possible. Here’s why...

    NYSESLAT, NYSITELL, CR Part 154, and ENL. I was introduced to the TESOL world in Upstate New York. New York has its own state run laws and regulations for ESL programs, CR Part 154. I learned all about the New York State English as a Second Language Assessment and was called an ENL teacher (English as a New Language). My first year was a bit rocky, but after 3 years, I had the lingo down. I could tell you exactly how many minutes of support a transitioning ELL was legally required to receive a week. I knew that newcomers were required to have an ENL teacher in their English class at the secondary level. I knew this information so well that I was promoted to department head after my second year.  

    At the close of my third year teaching in New York, I moved to Texas and encountered another state run program. The TELPAS became a part of my daily vocabulary. I am a military wife, and my first move was to a small town in South Texas. I was hired as an English/ESOL teacher. I did not know exactly what that meant at the time. I didn't even ask because I was just happy that I had a job before I made the move across the country. I quickly learned that Texas regulations for ELLs were not as well defined as back home. I was the only ESL certified teacher for ninth grade. In fact, the person in charge of ESL for the district was actually a speech language pathologist, and knew very little about educating language learners. My job was to teach general education freshman English, but also support all other content teachers in differentiation for the ELLs in ninth grade. I learned all about TEKS, LPAC, and TABE just in time for me to pack up and move again. 

    Year 5 brought WIDA and the ACCESS test. My move (hopefully the last for a while) to Virginia was the first WIDA state I have taught in. It is crazy to think that out of the 35 states that have adopted WIDA, I just so happened to come from 2 that don’t. Another state, another whole new set of acronyms and regulations to learn. It’s December and I still confuse my co-workers when I ask about the HLQ (Home Language Questionnaire in NY) instead of the HLS (Home Language Survey). I am still learning the “Can Do” descriptors and the different names for proficiency levels. 

    After thinking about my personal experiences with ESL in 3 different states, I started Googling. I came across this great website that compares ESL programs across all 50 states. I will reluctantly admit I spent about 2 hours clicking on various links and falling down many rabbit holes comparing programs around the country. has data on funding, identification, and a variety of other information that you might find interesting. 

    I hope you all take the time this month to reflect on a topic important to you, whether it is teaching related or not.

  • 23 Nov 2020 12:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Rebecca Raab, VATESOL President 2019-2020.

    When I became VATESOL’s president in September of 2019, I thought I would spend the term hyper focused on one thing—the Southeast TESOL 2020 Conference in Richmond. From October 2019 to about early March 2020, this was the case. Any spare moment I had was spent rethinking budgets, contacting speakers, brainstorming with board members, encouraging presenters to submit proposals, and recruiting exhibitors. However, by mid-March, like most of the world, the pandemic was reality.  Planning came to a nail-biting halt.  The conference was ultimately postponed. Yet, in the chaos of COVID uncertainty, there have been so many wonderful people and partners who gathered around VATESOL to help us not only overcome our pandemic related challenges, but also become a better organization. 

    Since Turkey Day is just around the corner, I thought I would serve up a baker’s dozen of yummy nuggets of VATESOL-related gratitude and thanks.

    1. Our Members = We are so grateful for each of you. Thank you for joining our COVID-19 Town Halls, participating in our first book club, attending webinars, voting, and continuing to be members. 
    2. Our 2019-2020 Board Members = Where would we be without this crew of amazing and dedicated volunteers? Thank you to 2019-2020 VATESOL Board = Katya Koubek, Monica Starkweather, Jessica Klein, Jackie Brown, Tori Pierson, Jana Moore, Marie Rose-McCully, Cammie Wilson, Laura Lewis, Pam Rose, Jenn Gooding, Lezly Taylor, Caryn Caurso, April Salerno, and Wendysue Clausson. 

    3. Our 2020-2021 VATESOL Board = I am grateful for our new board members: Rob Donahue, Brooke Boutwell, Sara Goldsmith, and Jeannie Pfautz. Also, thanks to our returning board members Jana Moore, Wendysue Clausson, Jessica Klein, Jenn Gooding, Cammie Wilson, Katya Koubek, Jackie Brown, Tori Pierson, Laura Lewis, and April Salerno. I know we’ve got an exciting year ahead! 

    4. The Virginia Department of Education = Thank you to Dr. Jessica Costa, Jenna Kelly, and Dr. Heidi Silver-Pacuilla.  We so appreciate our collaboration throughout the pandemic and look forward to working together in the future.

    5. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez = I am so grateful for this book, and I am more grateful that I got to read it for the first time in our first ever VATESOL book club hosted by Laura Lewis, VATESOL Secretary. Every educator should read this book. Check out one member’s take on the book here: Summer Book Reflection

    6. ESL Library = ESL Library partnered with VATESOL for 2020, providing a free 2-month subscription of their amazing products to our members. Moreover, they provided an informative webinar in August sharing all the ins and outs of their amazing products. Thank you so much for partnering with us. Check out ESL Library here: 

    7. The English Learner Portal = Thank you to Kelly Reider and her amazing English Learner Portal for collaborating with us to provide an awesome workshop for our members in August. If you need PD, check out the English Learner Portal.

    8. Virginia Adult Learning and Resource Center  = VATESOL is so grateful to Hali Massy with Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center for partnering with us to offer a fantastic webinar on adult education in September. We look forward to working together in 2021.

    9. Advocacy October = Thank you to Jessica Klein, our Advocacy Liaison, for curating our first ever Advocacy October.  Check out the awesome blog post and resources from Emily Hemmingson, Certified Health Coach. Additionally, be sure to read our guest blog post from Diane Staehr Fenner on Advocating for Els During Distance Learning

    10. Zoom = Although I long for the day when we no longer need to use you so much, thank you for providing us the real-time connections we needed over the past months. To say you’ve transformed the educational and professional development landscape is the understatement of the century. And yes, I just personified Zoom, my constant COVID companion. 

    11. Tennessee TESOL = You saved the day!  Tennessee TESOL agreed to let VATESOL host Southeast TESOL in 2022, shifting their year to host until 2024.  This allowed VATESOL to postpone the Southeast 2020 conference without any financial losses/penalties. Thank you a million times over.

    12. Our Conference Partners = Thank you for working with us to postpone our big conference until 2022. We look forward to October 2022!

    13. All Teachers = I am grateful for you. You are doing it! Whatever level you’re at, teaching practices are being transformed in accelerated real-time, and you are powering through the most challenging time of your career. Treat yourself to an extra slice of pumpkin pie and a nap or ten.

    The 2019-2020 VATESOL Board would like to express its enormous gratitude and love to Rebecca Raab for her dedication, professionalism, leadership, courage, and compassion. She will continue to serve on the 2020-2021 Board in the role of Past-President.

  • 20 Oct 2020 10:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Advocating for English learners is one of the central goals of our professional field. During the month of October, we have been sharing content related to advocacy at various levels.

    This week, we move to the state level of advocacy. Jessica Klein, VATESOL Advocacy and Legislative Liaison, created this informational video explaining the Virginia General Assembly. Check it out and learn how to more effectively advocate for our ELs at the state level!

  • 14 Oct 2020 5:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    To continue our month of advocacy, we are honored to share this blog post written by Diane Staehr Fenner, author and president of SupportEd.


    We have learned that in some districts in the United States, a disproportionate number of ELs did not participate in distance learning in spring 2020 – they just did not show up.

    With the majority of school divisions in Virginia beginning the school year either fully remote or using a hybrid model, our sudden pivot in spring 2020 to distance learning has now largely become the norm this fall. The image below shows how school divisions have begun the 2020-21 school year.

    As of the 2019-20 school year, English learners (ELs) made up nearly nine percent of the school-age population in Virginia, and we must ensure that ELs receive an equitable education during the current, highly unusual school year. We know that ELs already faced multiple challenges in terms of equity before the pandemic began, and the widespread adoption of distance learning models has exacerbated those inequities. We have learned that in some districts in the United States, a disproportionate number of ELs did not participate in distance learning in spring 2020 – they just did not show up. However, we can leverage our advocacy skills to ensure ELs are included in policy and practice conversations and not an afterthought this school year.  

    While there are many advocacy issues for ELs who are taking part in distance learning, this blog post will focus on only three: supporting EL families, scaffolding instruction for ELs, and ensuring valid assessment for ELs. For each issue, I will summarize the urgency around advocacy and will offer some resources to support your advocacy for ELs. 

    First and foremost, we must support EL families during these stressful times. From helping families receive the technology and tools needed in order for their children to access online instruction through helping them connect to resources in their communities such as food banks and healthcare, advocating for EL families has never been more crucial. We must collaborate to join forces in support of our EL families. 

    Suggested resources: 

    Now more than ever, we must ensure instruction is appropriately scaffolded for ELs who are learning in a distance learning environment. We have the opportunity to improve ELs’ instruction during the current year and must ensure that ELs are meaningfully included and supported so they can learn content and continue to develop their academic language skills. ELs may now have limited opportunities to practice their English in face to face settings, so we must advocate and offer our expertise in ways to foster ELs’ participation and learning. 

    Suggested resources:

    Last spring, many school districts decided that assessments would not count and students would not receive grades. That is overwhelmingly not the case during the current school year, as students are expected to take part in instruction as well as assessment, and most students will receive grades. The stakes are particularly high for ELs, since there are already many barriers to valid assessment and grading for this group of students. 

    Suggested resources: 

    As we settle in to our new routines this year, let’s make sure that we take time to reflect on advocacy as a crucial tool to allow our ELs’ assets to shine.


    SupportEd is a woman-owned small business based in Fairfax, VA. We offer five formats and multiple topics for online professional development to help you best support your ELs in distance learning, hybrid, or face-to-face environments:

    1. Virtual PD

    2. Webinars

    3. On-demand courses

    4. Facilitated 12-hour courses

    5. Online book studies

    For more information, see

    To learn more about the different types of online PD we offer, see

  • 05 Oct 2020 12:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We kick off October Advocacy Month by talking about self-advocacy. Thank you to our guest blogger, Emily Hemmingson, Certified Health Coach and founder of The Whole Adventure: Health Coaching for Teachers. You can read more about Emily and The Whole Adventure at the bottom of this blog post.


    Why are school year boundaries so important? 

    Imagine for a moment that you are the owner of a garden that you want to share with the world.

    At first, you let everyone in with no fence, no walkway, and no rules. After a while the garden is ruined and no one can enjoy it anymore.

    Now imagine you have the same garden, but this time you build a fence, you set rules, and you make a walkway. You create boundaries, and because of it everyone can enjoy the beautiful garden for years to come.

    You guessed it - this is a metaphor, and YOU are the garden.

    If you don’t protect your energy and your resources during the school year, you may become too exhausted to share your unique and beautiful talents with your school community.

    Now that we’ve covered why boundaries are important, read on to find out when you may need to set a boundary, and what those boundaries can include.

    Signs you May Need A School Year Boundary

    Here are a couple of good indicators that you need a boundary somewhere in your school day:

    • Your mental and physical health are being negatively impacted by your current schedule. 
    • Something in your day consistently triggers you, makes you upset, or stresses you out. 
    • You are anxiously awaiting your next school break. 

    If any of these apply to you, start thinking about what specifically is stressing you out, and how you can set a boundary with that part of your day.

    Types of School Day Boundaries to Consider

    There are various areas you can consider when setting boundaries in your life. Here are a few areas and examples you can consider while brainstorming what boundaries you would like to set:

    Physical Boundaries

    A physical boundary can look and sound like:

    • Taking consistent screen breaks when your eyes are straining.
    • Taking consistent breaks to eat when you are hungry. 
    • “I need to take my full lunch break so I can eat during the day. If I don’t have that time I likely won’t eat”. 
    • “I need to sit down for a second. If I don’t I will be too tired to calmly give this lesson.”
    • “I need more than five minutes between these two class periods so I can use the restroom.”

    Emotional Boundaries

    An emotional boundary can look and sound like:

    • Consistently refusing to engage in “venting”.
    • “I know you want to share how you feel, but I’m not the right person to talk with about this. It would be more appropriate to problem solve with x person.”
    • “I understand you’re upset but let’s talk about this outside of the school building or at another time.”
    • “Thanks for checking in, but I don’t want to share how I’m feeling right now.”

    Time Boundaries

    A time boundary can look and sound like:

    • Setting specific hours you are working and hours you are resting. 
    • Asking for extended deadlines on tasks that feel overwhelming. 
    • “I need at least a week’s notice for important deadlines or else I get overwhelmed and struggle producing quality work.” 
    • “I don’t open my work laptop after 5pm because I reserve that time for my family.”
    • “Today I need to focus on x. Can I get that email response to you by tomorrow night instead of today?”

    Personal Boundaries

    A personal boundary can look and sound like:

    • Having a separate phone number (like google voice) and email that you share with families.
    • Leaving your work computer at school and turning off work email notifications after 5pm.
    • “I don’t talk about my personal life during work hours” or “I don’t talk about my work life during my personal hours”.
    • “I don’t attend student birthday parties because I’m just one person and wouldn’t be able to go to every party, but we will be celebrating at school!”

    This is not a comprehensive list, and you do not have to use any of the boundaries written here. These are just examples to get you brainstorming. Consider what boundaries you need to set for a more balanced school year, and —

    >>>TAKE ACTION<<<

    • Write down 1-3 clear boundaries you would like to start implementing this school year.
    • Write down why those boundaries are important to you.
    • Write down who you need to make these boundaries clear to.

    Having clarity and intention behind your boundary will make it easier to stick to that boundary yourself, and easier to express that boundary to those around you. 

    Go forth, and build your fences! 

    Emily Hemmingson is a teacher turned certified health coach who has dedicated her career to helping teachers prevent and heal from symptoms of burnout. She founded her business, The Whole Adventure, to provide teachers with the tools and resources they need to maintain mental and physical health during the school year. 

    She would like to gift her readers a copy of The Healthy Teacher Self-Care Planner, designed to give teachers a quick way to check in daily with their mental and physical wellbeing. 

    You are also invited to join our free teacher wellness community, The Beat Burnout Facebook group here.

  • 02 Oct 2020 5:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy October! This month, our theme at Virginia TESOL is advocacy. Jessica Klein, our Advocacy and Legislative Liaison, will be publishing content all month long related to advocacy at various levels, including local, state, and federal. You won't want to miss out!

    For now, check out Jessica's Intro to Advocacy video below:

  • 31 Aug 2020 12:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As part of our August blog series, VATESOL sent out a survey to teachers of English learners (ELs) about their perspectives on the reopening of schools in Virginia amid the pandemic. Fifteen teachers, who represented elementary, middle, and high school, responded to this survey. We compile their responses here as a way to articulate shared values and concerns among EL teachers across the state.

    This fall, all teachers are faced with a variety of challenges related to many aspects of teaching in a virtual, hybrid, or modified in-person setting. When asked about their top priorities in planning for instruction this fall, teachers’ responses included:

    1. Helping students and families access technology and hotspots

    2. Creating assignments that are both accessible and meaningful

    3. Ensuring staff and student safety

    4. Having adequate resources for effective planning 

    This back-to-school season is undoubtedly filled with more fear and anxiety than ever before. Teachers noted many personal and professional concerns, including:

    1. Health and safety of teachers and students

    2. Communication with families and student engagement

    3. Students’ academic progress

    4. Technology access

    EL teachers have a special expertise in both the instruction of ELs and outreach to multilingual families. This expertise should be consulted as administrators and leaders make decisions for the fall. When asked what issues they feel their administration should consider this school year, EL teachers most frequently provided the following responses:

    1. Technology access

    2. Communication

    3. Resources and information available in multiple languages

    Beyond question, COVID-19 has and will change teachers’ professional roles. When asked how this pandemic has already changed their role as an EL teacher, our survey participants responded:

    1. Providing more wraparound support for families such as finding community services, including food banks

    2. Facilitating more direct interaction with families

    3. Learning how to teach through online platforms

    This fall, teachers will need to learn how to engage all families with critical information and updates. EL teachers noted how they are planning to communicate with EL families this fall:

    1. Phone calls

    2. Texts

    3. Technology platforms such as TalkingPoints, Canvas, Zoom

    4. Face to face

    When asked if they had the option, which reopening plan would they choose for ELs, seven out of fifteen teachers answered “hybrid,” six teachers answered “fully virtual,” and two teachers answered “face to face.” Even on a small scale, these responses show that teachers across the state have mixed feelings about reopening plans, especially when considering the many unique needs of ELs and their families.

    As teachers gear up for a new school year, albeit different from years past, valid concerns about keeping safe, ELs falling through the cracks and not having access to technology were admittedly expressed. However, fellow EL teachers are optimistic with these comments: 

    This is an exciting time for us to try new things that normally would take years to get approved!  I hope I am up to the challenge”

    “I’m grateful we have each other to collaborate with each other!”

    “I have learned just how resilient my students are and that they and the communities where they live are continuing to support each other.”

    We would love to hear from you. How is your division considering ELs and their families in their reopening plans? What other considerations and concerns would you add to the responses above? Comment below or on our social media platforms to continue the conversation.

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