Teaching is a challenging profession. We are expected, as teachers, to meet the needs of all of our students, including those who are performing above grade level, those performing below grade level and everyone in between.

We also have to take into account those students who are talented and gifted, students with special needs and students who are learning English as an additional language. Some of our students may fit into multiple categories as well, such as having special needs and learning English as an additional language.

At times, we have support from other colleagues or specialists in the school, such as special needs teachers or English language development specialists. These professionals can be an excellent resource for us as we consider how we will best meet the needs of each student in our class.

Where and when

Time is one of the most precious elements we have, as there is so much to do during the school day. Finding time to add on co-planning is a huge challenge, and generally will not happen if it is not intentionally built into your day or week.

One way to make sure you have time to plan together is to have a standing meeting at a certain interval. For example, decide that you will have lunch together once a month to discuss students, curriculum, successes and challenges.

Alternatively, meet before school once or twice a month, or after school during the preparation time you have built into the work day. This works best when you have set up a time and a place to meet, at regular intervals, and you stick to the schedule.

There are some helpful ways to get started with co-planning during the summer months or as you start the school year. If you are in communication with the teachers at your school, you can share any information about the English learners you have experience with.

For example, you might share some of the levels of scaffolding you felt were helpful or necessary, the proficiency level and growth the student made, as well as any challenges you felt were in place during the year, including those that were overcome and those that may continue.

If you have an English language development (ELD) specialist at your school, you might ask him/her what the proficiency levels of the students are or some general trends at the school. Because you may not know the exact students you will have in your class yet, you can ask what the varying proficiency levels of the students at the school are.

For example, is there a large population of newly arrived or beginning proficiency-level students? Are many or most of the students long-term English learners, who have been in the country for several years but have not made enough progress to exit services yet? Are many of the students at the intermediate level?

This will help you get an idea about what you might expect next year. The ELD specialist is also a great resource for strategies and materials that may be helpful to you as you learn to meet the needs of your students.

Reviewing or creating a scope and sequence

Depending on your specific program for teaching English learners, there may be some planning you can do now to better meet the needs of your students and connect English language instruction to what students are learning in the content areas.

Begin with creating or reviewing your year-long plan. This plan should include the units of study you plan on teaching over the course of the year, based on the standards for the grade level you teach.

This plan can help you to begin thinking about topics that may be challenging in terms of making instruction comprehensible, as well as necessary vocabulary and language structures that students will need to know. Once identified, you can begin thinking about how you will help your English learners to learn the content and associated language.

Identifying the topics to be taught will also give you the opportunity to both share and get ideas from your colleagues. Share and ask for ideas that have helped students achieve at high levels in the past, as well as ways to help English learners at a variety of proficiency levels to learn the content and language.

If you are or are working with an ELD specialist, they will want to know the topics, concepts and language you are teaching so they can also focus on and reinforce these concepts and language as they work with the students. English language instruction should be connected to what students are learning in the content areas. This helps students to make connections to what they are learning and bridges the language and content divide.

Content-area teachers can also collaborate and share the vocabulary they will be focusing on in each unit. In this way, teachers can help reinforce the vocabulary and other academic language that is being taught across the content areas.

Collaboration among teachers over the course of the year, as mentioned earlier, will also be beneficial. Continually review, monitor and determine what the linguistic demands of particular topics are so you can determine what scaffolding and explicit language instruction English learners will need. This is best done collaboratively, as this level of analysis is challenging.

Consider the vocabulary students will need, as well as the grammatical structures, reading, writing, listening and speaking demands of the activities you will be utilizing in the classroom. ELD professionals and classroom and content-area teachers can be helpful to each other in planning as well as analysis of student performance.

Helpful materials

At times, curriculum programs include materials that are appropriate for English learners. These materials should be reviewed and utilized as appropriate.

This is another area in which collaboration can be helpful; other teachers may have experience with the materials, and ELD specialists may be able to review the materials and give guidance on its effective components.

Sometimes these materials are helpful, and other times they were not created with great care, and so may not be as useful. As you work with your colleagues, decide together what materials you have access to will be helpful. Alternatively, decide who will test out specific materials with students and then report to each other the effectiveness of the materials.

Through collaboration and co-planning, we can better meet the needs of all of our students. The challenge, of course, is finding the time to do so.

Set up a time and keep to it; discuss what is working and what needs improvement. Share strategies and materials, discuss student progress, and discuss how we can continually improve our craft. This collaboration can begin in the summer months, when we have a bit more time to think about how to best meet the needs of our students.

It is important to remember that we are in this together. All of us want our students to achieve at the highest level.