October 22, 2019

Advice for school leaders on how to serve English learners and special ed students

As part of our ongoing “How-To” series, here are tips from XQ school leaders on meeting the needs of students with diverse skill levels, especially students who are English language learners or in special education. Although some groups of students might have specific needs, the following tips may be helpful in guiding every student to reach their full potential.

By Brandon Jones, Denise Thorne, and Greg Rodriguez

Build a strong hiring profile. Does your hiring profile match the type of educator necessary to close gaps and support all learners? Do your hires have a clear vision of what your expectations for meeting all students look like?

Audit your school schedule. Does your school schedule provide English learners and special ed students “just the right” level of support? Are there spaces for personalized or small group learning?

Coach and train teachers. Does the professional development you provide reinforce strategies and methods for meeting English learner and special ed students’ needs? How are you building a student-centered culture where all means all? Is the performance of your diverse learners tied to teacher performance reviews?

Engage families. What do parents know about their student’s grade-level performance and how they can be supportive?

Strategies for teaching and learning. Make teaching reading, writing, speaking, and collaborative skills the heart and soul of what happens in every classroom. Use rubrics to measure successful teaching, and as a tool to give feedback on individual assignments. Give students a chance to apply what they’ve learned to their next assignment.

Use the data to improve. How regularly are special ed and English learner departments given the opportunity to review data and collaborate with other departments? How do teachers, students, and parents stay informed about student progress throughout the year? Are students aware of their academic performance and are they reaching their goals? Do you lead by using asset-based and people-first language? Is there a dedicated time to celebrate the growth of English learners and special ed students?

Brandon Jones is senior dean of curriculum and instruction at Compass Academy; Denise Thorne is middle school director at Compass Academy; and Greg Rodriguez, is school director at Brooklyn Lab.


Do you have tips you’d like to share with XQ readers? Be an XQ guest blogger! Check out this form for details.


Learn more about schools with unique approaches to students with diverse needs with these other recent posts from the XQ blog:

‘The gift of complex learners’

Marginalized students deserve better. Here’s how we give them just that.

How a Bronx alternative school became ‘a place of solace for all’

Team XQ

Stories and insights from the changemakers rethinking high school—in XQ schools and beyond.



"These 6 actionable tips can help ensure school leaders are providing instruction that meets the needs of students with diverse skill sets. #ReThinkHighSchool #EdEquity #ELL @BklynLabSchool @_CompassAcademy"

Sign up for weekly XQ Blog updates!