If you are new to working with ELLs, find out if you there are ELL teachers in your school or district and how they support ELLs. Reach out to them with questions and find out how they collaborate with other teachers. You may wish to observe them working with students. If you don't have ELL teachers in your district yet, learn more about online networks where you can find more information about working with ELLs.

And if you are an ELL educator, connect with other educators who may be willing to co-teach, collaborate, or share ideas and resources.

See related strategies here:


Advice for New ELL Teachers: Network with Colleagues

More Resources

What is an ELL educator?

What is an ELL educator?

Teacher talking with colleagues

Learn more about the role of the ELL teacher and what kinds of expertise ELL teachers bring to their school community.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Many K-12 schools in the United States have at least one teacher who has specialized training in teaching English language learners (ELLs). It's important for the entire school community, especially administrators, to understand the expertise that ELL teachers and specialists bring to the table. Learn more from the following overview!


What do ELL teachers do?

ELL teachers are highly trained professionals who bring a wealth of expertise in language development. While certification requirements vary by state, most ELL teachers are likely to have special certifications in English language development (ELD) instruction, including methods, language, linguistics, culture, and assessment that gives them an in-depth level of preparation for working with ELLs.

ELL teachers wear many hats and have a wide range of responsibilities. Before detailing some of those areas of expertise, however, it is crucial to underscore that teaching ELLs is a shared responsibility. Schools with strong ELL programs have invested in the training and professional development of classroom and content-area teachers throughout the school and have collaborative structures in place to maximize the impact of the ELL teacher or ELL teams. Many states are also now recognizing the benefits of increasing their entire staff’s capacity to teach ELLs and require content area teachers to be certified in a certain number of hours of ELL training or to be fully "ESOL Endorsed".

In addition, there are different kinds of ELL teachers and varying roles that ELL teachers may play across program models or depending on the student population. For example, an ELL teacher may work within a Sheltered Instruction program, may co-teach or push in to classrooms, may pull out students (although this practice is less common than it used to be), or may teach within a bilingual or dual-immersion program.

Some areas of expertise that ELL teachers are likely to bring to their school community include the following. While this list is fairly comprehensive, it is not intended to suggest that all ELL educators will have expertise in each of these areas or should be responsible for each of these tasks alone.

EL identification and assessment

  • Administering and analyzing identification screeners that determine a student’s eligibility for language learning services
  • Administering federally-mandated English language proficiency (ELP) assessments annually (which vary from state to state)
  • Monitoring students’ language development
  • Ensuring students have appropriate accommodations for assessments and for instruction throughout the school year in grade-level classes
  • Keeping track of ELP data for reporting purposes
  • Collaborating with district assessment team and school guidance team around identification and assessment practices

English Language Development instruction

  • Supporting students’ English academic language development while honoring and leveraging their home languages (or in the case of bilingual programs, developing English language skills alongside academic skills in the students’ home languages)
  • Differentiating instruction for different language proficiency levels (i.e., beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.)
  • Co-planning or co-teaching with colleagues or grade-level teams for instruction and assessment
  • Developing instructional approaches rooted in best practices of Culturally Responsive Instruction, Culturally Relevant Instruction and Culturally Sustainable Pedagogy, such as welcoming students’ cultures and languages within the school setting
  • Researching, recommending, and providing professional development for colleagues around language development

Content-area instruction

  • Providing academic language instruction that gives students access to grade-level content
  • Collaborating with grade-level teachers to plan and scaffold instruction
  • Offering professional development to colleagues on best practices such as learning how to write language objectives

Collaboration in the school setting

Collaborating with colleagues on behalf of ELLs, including:

  • Classroom and content-area teachers to support instruction
  • Interpreters and family liaisons to support family partnerships
  • Gifted and talented teams around identification and support of gifted students
  • Special education teams around questions of special education identification and services
  • Guidance counselors about appropriate coursework, graduation requirements, and plans after high school, such as college or trade programs
  • Counselors and social workers around social-emotional issues
  • Social workers or advocates who are addressing students’ basic needs
  • Front office staff to ensure proper protocols for students entering the school
  • Administrators to strengthen programming, collaboration, and family engagement
  • District offices or Title programs managing different ELL funding streams and grant opportunities

Family engagement

  • Communicating with multilingual families in their home languages (and sharing outreach strategies with colleagues to increase their own capacity for communication with families)
  • Advocating for families’ access to information in their home language and processes that impact their child, such as in the case of special education
  • Building relationships to get to know students’ strengths, needs, and goals
  • Ensuring that families have access to information in their home language (to which they have a legal right)
  • Partnering with family liaisons to find effective ways to establish two-way communication with families
  • Supporting family engagement around school events and initiatives
  • Connecting with stakeholders in ELL families’ communities, such as community organizations and religious institutions
  • Creating a culture of safety at the school for all families
  • Setting the tone for a welcoming, assets-based climate for ELLs and their families

How ELL Teachers Can Share Their Expertise

If you are an ELL teacher and are looking for ways to share your expertise more broadly in your environment, take a look at the ideas in these resources, which can be adapted and updated for your current situation:

Closing Thoughts

Collaboration around ELL instruction is crucial to maximize students’ opportunities for success across grade levels and content areas. The better that administrators and classroom teachers alike understand what kinds of expertise that ELL teachers bring, the more opportunities there will be to make the most of that experience and to maximize the capacity of the entire staff to support ELL success.

Note: To read more about what constitutes appropriate staffing for ELL instruction, see Chapter 3 of the U.S. Department of Education’s EL Toolkit. We’d like to hear from you! What would you like to add from your ELL responsibilities? Leave a comment below!

Related Videos

Dr. Karen Woodson on what principals need to know about what ELL teachers do

ELD specialist Diana Alqadhi: Taking time to get to know your students

ELLs Belong to All of Us: The Role of ELL Specialists in Collaboration

Sharing success stories about ELL collaboration

For ELL educators: What's your elevator speech?


Special thanks to Dorina Sackman, Diane Staehr Fenner, and Sydney Snyder for their contributions to this article.


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact info@colorincolorado.org.

Co-Teaching ELLs: 8 Strategies for Success

Co-Teaching ELLs: 8 Strategies for Success

Katy Padilla in team meeting

Find out what an ELL coach suggests for making co-teaching partnerships on behalf of ELLs work. This article includes related resources and videos, and the tips are also available as a tip sheet.

Co-teaching can be an exciting way to support English language learners' (ELL) success! It can also present many kinds of challenges. Here are some tips for ELL educators and classroom educators on how to make the most of their co-teaching partnerships.

These recommendations are based on our in-depth interviews with Katy Padilla, an ESOL Coach for Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools district. In her prior roles as a classroom teacher and ESOL specialist, she worked in a number of collaborative settings and co-teaching partnerships, including at an elementary school that was designed as a professional learning community, Mason Crest Elementary.  You can see Katy in action in the videos at the end of the interview!

Co-teaching ELLs: Strategies for Success

Download these tips!

These tips are available in a PDF for download.


1. Get to know your partner teacher.

Ms. Padilla recommends that teachers start by spending some time visiting their co-teacher's classroom and getting to know their teaching style:

  • ELL educators can visit their partner teacher's room and watch how the classroom and teacher work. She says, "It's important not to start by jumping into suggestions. It's seeing where that teacher is coming from in order to understand, 'Where is my place in this room? What could be my place in this room?'"
  • Classroom teachers can observe the ELL educator co-teaching in another classroom or leading a small group lesson. That can give them some ideas about how the teacher is supporting students and working with other teachers.

2. Get to know each other's strengths.

Ms. Padilla notes that both partners bring different strengths to the partnership. The better acquainted each partner is with the other's strength, the more productive the relationship will be.

  • The classroom teacher might be managing lots of different student situations, strengths, and needs and extensive experience in classroom management.
  • ELL educators have deep expertise around supporting students' language development, identifying important language for content lessons, and differentiating instruction. They also have a holistic picture of ELLs' educational and social-emotional backgrounds. ELL teachers bring another lens to what classroom teachers are seeing, Ms. Padilla says, which can stimulate their ideas of how to address an issue.

Ms. Padilla also notes that sharing some positive feedback about some admirable skills or qualities is an effective way to build rapport, especially because establishing this respect and trust is one of the greatest challenges for a co-teaching team. "For example," she recalls, "when I was a classroom teacher, I didn't really understand what the resource teachers did. I thought, 'Oh, it's easy they just come in and help.' I never really had to think through the different dynamics, and because I wasn't going into other teachers' classrooms, I didn't realize that the resource teachers had to work with other teachers differently.

"At the same time, it's also easy for resource teachers to come in and say, 'I know what to do for these kids, and I know how to do it here.' But it's not always the case, and the ELL specialist needs to be looking for ways to provide support that can benefit all students in the room."

3. Develop a shared understanding of the ELL educator's expertise and role.

According to Ms. Padilla, many classroom teachers never have a chance to see what ELL educators do every day. That can lead to some difficult situations in which ELL educators end up in the back of the room or being asked to do menial tasks.

The team can develop that shared understanding by:

  • Co-planning a lesson together.
  • Discussing questions related to ELL instruction or support.
  • Talking about other prior co-teaching experiences.

ELL educators can also hold a professional development session on what the ELL teacher (or team) does and how they can work with colleagues.

Ms. Padilla says that creating a situation where the two teachers work together can help jumpstart the collaboration. "Ultimately, it's important to establish that you are equals in the room," she says, "because then the students start to see the team as equals too. It's not one teacher and an assistant. Both teachers are there to support all students, and everyone is on the same team."

4. Establish clear communication procedures.

Establishing open and clear communication is crucial, according to Ms. Padilla, because it's really hard to make co-teaching work without that consistent, effective communication. It's important to be very intentional and specific, she says, figuring out details such as:

  • How are we going to communicate?
  • When are we going to communicate?
  • When is it OK to make a change?
  • Are we flexible enough to make a change right before the lesson, or does it need to happen the day before?

For example, she says, with email, "I would send out an email, and not get a reply. Then I wasn't sure if it was not received well, or was it just not received at all. And so it was important to be able to say, 'You know, I really need to have a reply, and it doesn't mean that you have to agree with my idea, but I just need to know that you've gotten it.' That was a huge piece and really helped my teams work together effectively."

Another important piece is follow-through, she says, because it's important to be reliable, which helps establish trust. (This was an area where ELL educators in co-teaching situations have seen a lot of challenges while being pulled so much to cover for other teachers at the last minute during COVID-19.)

5. Be flexible with your co-teaching arrangements.

According to Ms. Padilla, there is a different dynamic in every classroom based on classroom environment, instruction, and personality and her co-teaching situations looked different from room to room.

"In one room," she says, "as the ELL specialist, I didn't lead as much, and I was supporting the students, so that could be me sitting on the carpet with them, making sure that they're following along and that they're getting it, but then I also had the opportunity to speak up and I still had a voice in the room. In another room, I often was in the front; I sometimes took the lead, and the classroom teacher was supporting the students. Other times we broke into small groups, or broke the class in half and we each took a group."

Co-teaching can take on a lot of different forms, she says, but in all of her teams, the teachers worked to establish that they were both there to support all students, which was part of the collaborative culture of this particular school where she worked: "ELLs are everyone's kids, and when we work as a team, I'm supported, she's supported, and we're both supporting the kids."

6. Be ready to try new things – and fail.

Being able to try things and fail is really important, says Ms. Padilla, as is being able to communicate about it afterwards and say, 'I really thought that would work, and it didn't.'" That vulnerability matters, she says, because that starts to open up the trust and both members are ready to take risks and try new things. "We also have to know that we have the safety of, 'I'm not going to judge what you're doing. And we're both here for the kids, and so we're both going to be trying new things. And some will work, and some won't, and that's OK. We'll move forward from that,'" she says. "It's always a work in progress. It's never done. That's kind of the exciting part. It always has the potential to grow and get better over time."

In addition, Ms. Padilla says, be ready to change! Co-teaching changes how teachers work together and sometimes how they work individually as they grow and learn during the year.

7. If co-teaching is new to your team, start small.

For teachers who are just getting started with co-teaching, Ms. Padilla recommends starting small. If your team is trying to figure out how to work together, start with small, short activities and lessons, and check in on what's working.

If you are an ELL educator or classroom teacher who is interested in trying a co-teaching arrangement, she says, "Find one teacher that you already have a relationship with, that you feel comfortable with, and work with that one teacher, and really focus on that is the one collaborative relationship that you're going to build."

She explains, "It can start by the ELL educator saying, 'You know you have these English learners in your room, and I would love to work with them, or see how things are going. Can I come in? I'd like to observe.' Or you can say, 'How do you think your class is going overall? Is there something that you'd like to work on that I can support you with?' That way you can get that feedback from the teacher. And then as you're looking at the data, such as observational data, you can come up with common goal."

For classroom teachers, it can start with a single question about how to address a particular topic or skill, even with a single student. Focusing on a tangible issue to work on together can often help the partnership get going.

8. Share examples of what's working with your colleagues.

Ms. Padilla makes a point to regularly share success stories with groups of colleagues so that people can hear what's working. For example, at the beginning of the school year, her team shares celebrations from the previous year. That could spark some interest from a colleague, she says, who might think, "'Maybe she'd want to try that out in my room. I'd really like for her to come try that because I know I need help in that area.'" And, she notes, that once teachers experience success, they're going to share with other teachers, she says, and a recognition of the benefits of collaboration can spread among the school community organically.

It's also important to share these successes with administrators so that they can provide more official support and resources for collaboration. The more voices that speak up on behalf of the benefits of collaboration, the more compelling the case becomes to make it a structured part of everyone's schedules.

Related Resources

Booklist: Collaboration & Co-Teaching on Behalf of ELLs

Co-Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and ReflectionThese books offer lots of strategies for collaboration, co-teaching, and planning ELL instruction, assessment, and family outreach.  These strategies can be adapted for a wide variety of settings and team structures.

Many of the titles are authored by the foremost experts on this topic, Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld and Dr. Maria Dove.

Co-teaching Best Practices from Drs. Dove and Honigsfeld

These resources on co-teaching were developed for New York State by Dr. Dove and Dr. Honigsfeld.

Podcast: Starting a Co-Teaching Model from Scratch with Dr. Holly Porter

Dr. Holly Porter shares how her district moved entirely from pull-out to fully co-teaching. This conversation on Tan Huynh's Teaching ELs podcast provides practical advice at the district level and can also be applied to schools that want to move away from pull-out to co-teaching.

ENL Co-Teaching Checklist

For additional ideas, see this ENL Co-Teaching Checklist developed by New York State United Teachers.


Recommended Videos

Video bonus: You can see Katy Padilla in action in these videos, filmed in collaboration with the NEA:




Discussion Questions

  • What resonates from this article with you?
  • Can you think of a co-teaching situation you have been in where the dynamics helped or hurt the partnership?
  • What are some steps you can try to strengthen a co-teaching partnership you have?
  • What are your big takeaways from this article?


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact info@colorincolorado.org.