Today host Lori Boll speaks with Ceci Gomez-Galvez who was one of our SENIA virtual conference speakers this year. Ceci (she.her.ella) is a collaborator, coach and advocate who empowers educators to create equitable learning opportunities for all language learners. Born and raised in Guatemala City, Ceci grew up in a unique bilingual household nurtured by her family who valued languages equally. Inspired by her own upbringing and her extensive experience in international schools, Ceci now leads a support program for multilingual learners based on practices which ensure culturally responsive teaching and equitable access.
Ceci and Lori speak about promoting language equity and translanguaging in our international schools as well as focusing on strong home-school partnerships in supporting a student’s language development. It’s always great learning from Ceci.
Resources from today’s show:
Ceci (she.her.ella) is a collaborator, coach and advocate who empowers educators to create equitable learning opportunities for all language learners. Born and raised in Guatemala City, Ceci grew up in a unique bilingual household nurtured by her family who valued languages equally. Inspired by her own upbringing and her extensive experience in international schools, Ceci now leads a support program for multilingual learners based on practices which ensure culturally responsive teaching and equitable access.
Transcribed by Kanako Suwa
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Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour with your host, Lori Boll. We know you’re busy so we bring you 1 hour of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you with time for a true happy hour.
Lori: Hello, everyone. Today I speak with Ceci Gomez -Galvez, who SENIA was lucky enough to have as a speaker at our most recent virtual conference this year. And if you haven’t had a chance to watch that presentation, we highly recommend it. It is full of good information. So Ceci (she, her, ella), is a collaborator, coach, and advocate who empowers educators to create equitable learning opportunities for all language learners. Born and raised in Guatemala City, Ceci grew up in a unique, bilingual household, nurtured by her family, who valued languages equally. Inspired by her own upbringing and her extensive experience in international schools, Ceci now leads a support program for multilingual learners based on practices which ensure culturally responsive teaching and equitable access. Today Ceci and I have the opportunity to speak about promoting language equity and translanguaging in our international schools, as well as focus on strong home school partnerships in supporting a student’s language development. It’s always great learning from Ceci. So now, onto the show. Hi Ceci and welcome to the podcast.
Ceci: Hi, Lori. Thank you so much for having me today. I am so excited to be just talking to you and to just have a conversation, like a very good conversation about what linguistic equity means and within the context of international schools. And I’ve always loved and respected SENIA so much. So this is such an honor and I am humbled that you’re having me on your podcast today. So thank you.
Lori: Well, mutual. We’re just so excited to have you. We are a super fan of Ceci.
Ceci: Thank you.
Lori: So Ceci, we are going to speak today about language equity and translanguaging. First off, can you explain to our audience what exactly does translanguaging mean?
Ceci: So translanguaging really is a cognitive process, and when we approach it as a pedagogy at our schools, what we mean is educators and the system within the school encouraging multilingual students to use their full linguistic repertoire to enhance their learning and access content, access understanding, connect with others. And a huge piece of translanguaging is that belonging piece, that’s what really provides that equitable access of that avenue, those entry points of using language repertoire to be able to access the world around them. Really at the center of it is a belonging and somewhat of an equitable approach to education for multilingual learners.
Lori: Gotcha. Thank you for clarifying that. When we talked about in your bio, we talked about how you were born and raised in Guatemala City and you came from a unique bilingual household. Can you just jump into that a little bit and explain what you mean by your unique bilingual household?
Ceci: Sure. Absolutely. So I grew up in Guatemala City and the primary language in Guatemala is Spanish. And I went to a bilingual school growing up, which is a private bilingual school, which is quite a privilege for somebody coming from Guatemala. My parents were both bilingual. Actually, they were just here visiting me over the holidays here in Vietnam. And it was so great to chat with them actually about the trajectory that has led me here as a Guatemalan in international school education in Southeast Asia. And we were talking about those opportunities that they provided for us at such a young age and they were telling me about like how important it was for them to provide me and my siblings the opportunity to learn English so that we could have a more more access to the world and more success. And I guess growing up in a household where my parents always made sure that I was also nurturing Spanish, going to a bilingual school that was teaching both languages simultaneously, both in the social context and in the academic context.
But most importantly, as well, embracing bilingualism as an asset, I think was something very important that I had growing up, surrounded by me, by the people in my community, my school community and at home, who never gave one language more of a priority. I was never told by my parents, oh, speak only English or speak only Spanish. It was always a true balance, which has now benefited me in being an ambilingual, having a bilingual brain, being able to have access to the world because I speak to, I guess, of the most dominant languages in the world, which is quite a privilege for me. And I guess when we talk about it with my parents and I ask them now as an adult, like, what led you to make those decisions. And really it was their own linguistic background. My dad grew up going to an international school in Guatemala way back when international schools were not really international, but they were built specifically to cater to certain employees of certain international companies. And my mom went to the American school in Guatemala on a scholarship because of her math abilities. My mom is kind of like a math whiz. And so because they both spoke English when they went to university together and they met, actually both of them knowing English is what got them together. It was like one of the commonalities that they had that made them connect. and then fall in love, and then have a family. And I guess that they always centered that importance of bilingualism and that access for us and all my siblings as well. And so we are all ambilinguals, which is to say that we can balance both languages at the same time, like most of our students in international schools can as well.
Lori: Right, yeah. So is that how you were interested in becoming an international school teacher, just based off your parents’ experience?
Ceci: You know, when I look back on how I got into this trajectory of teaching, I started teaching very early on in my life, because in Guatemala, there’s such a need for English teachers that I actually started teaching while I was still attending high school. So I was teaching in the afternoons. and I was doing a lot of tutoring. And when I really got into the international school realm, I was actually hired as a local hire in Guatemala, an international school. And I think one of the reasons why I wanted to work in an international school environment was because I wanted also to, I wanted to get to know the world. Like I think in my heart, I’ve always been a nomad and the best access that I could have was working at an international school where I was surrounded by people who were from all over the world teaching at an international school. Sadly though, as a local hire, I could definitely see a difference in the inequity that exists between local hires and I guess oversee what we call overseas hires in international schools. So,
That’s when me and my husband, at the time my boyfriend, who was also an English teacher and who is now a PE teacher, we decided to take our careers abroad where we could be valued as those overseas teachers as opposed to local teachers, which we were paid so much less and we’re given very little opportunity for professional development. And so we had heard that international school teaching could provide us with that as well. And so we ventured out of Guatemala to seek that together, which has eventually brought us here to Vietnam and both of us working as international school teachers.
Lori: That’s yes, that that is a whole nother podcast speaking about the inequity
Lori: But thank you for sharing your your history and your trajectory to this point. So that’s I’m I’m glad you’re out in the world. You give a lot to teachers and we can all learn so much from you. So let’s dive in how can international schools promote language equity and translanguaging to ensure that our students, regardless of their language backgrounds have equitable access to quality education and feel valued in our school communities?
Ceci: Yeah, you know, it was kind of ironic, actually, because my experience as a bilingual student when I was younger, I understood the privilege that I had within the context of my schooling and my upbringing. Like I said, it’s very unique. Not everybody gets that experience, and I’m very, very fortunate and very privileged. But what I found when I started working in international schools is that there was this push for English, especially English -target schools that have English as the target language or the academic language, for this big push for it to be like an English -only space.
And it didn’t make sense to me as a learner, as a bilingual learner, because for me, I was able to make sense of the world, both socially and academically and culturally, because I was invited and I was given the opportunity to be my whole self with my whole cultural and linguistic identity. So one thing that international schools can do is first recognize that multilingual ecology is real. Like that the population and demographics in our schools really encompass students that are managing, that are languaging so many different languages at different proficiencies. And they all mean something to them, both culturally and also part of their identity.
And of course, always prioritizing academics, right? Of course, we are all that we want our students to be successful. We want our students to be able to become, you know, articulate and be able to express themselves and share their opinions and have a voice, have a strong voice. But that can only happen when we invite our students to come into our learning spaces as their whole selves. And one of the things that I kept on noticing in international schools is that we were kind of shutting the door on the students being able to, or being given almost a permission to use other their language repertoire and prioritizing just one dominant language. And because that hadn’t been my experience growing up, I always thought there was kind of like a, I think our students were kind of going through this cognitive dissonance, like, they weren’t, you know, like our students were going through this like, so who am I when I speak English? Who am I when I speak my other languages? I’m two different people. I’m one type of person at school, because I have to be, I have to use this language, or I have to, and I’m different at home because I use a different language, where in fact our students should be able to be their whole selves. So international schools, recognizing that the demographics of multiculturalism and multilingualism and linguistic representation is a real thing. Whereas before international schools that were built originally were built to cater to English speaking students who were, who had to have schooling in a country where the host country didn’t speak English. And so for reasons of keeping that language, that was the original idea of schools existing in other countries, international schools in other countries, but that we have evolved now into becoming a very diverse melting pot of languages and cultures. And so of course creating, not only recognizing that diversity, but also creating successful and inclusive support programs, language support programs for students is very important for schools to do intentionally as well, so that they can, our students can thrive academically, but they can also thrive as their whole selves with their whole cultural and linguistic background as being part of who they are.
Lori: It reminds me of a school that I had been a part of a long time ago, and I don’t know if this practice is still in, well, still in practice. And so I’m just curious as to schools that require students to speak English and in fact ban them from speaking their home language. Have you heard of this practice and is it still going on today in international schools?
Ceci: Definitely have heard of this practice. I know of schools who give language infractions and who have students write an essay when they’re not speaking English or having signs that say English only here. And I think that sometimes with the intention of being inclusive, sometimes we think that one dominant language is a way to be inclusive. English is the language of inclusion when in fact inclusion is the language of inclusion. When we speak to our students about, when we speak to our communities about what it truly means to be part of a multicultural, multilingualistic environment. It means that inclusivity is at the heart of it as well. And that doesn’t mean that only one language should be utilized to be inclusive. All languages can be inclusive as well. So definitely those practices exist. There’s also, I think a lot of these practices also are a misconception of the language acquisition myth of the past. You know, new research now, you know, the research by Dr. Ophelia Garcia, who is one of the biggest voices in the trans -languaging research in the United States, you know, now seeing multilingual and bilingualism as an asset that provides equitable opportunity for students, but also cognitively, the bilingual and multilingual brain has a lot of capacity to access information because they have so many points of entry to be able to understand content at a higher level because they can put those, they can do that context and those references in different languages.
And so I think that even though those practices exist, they are what Dr. Gini Rojas would call the medical model, the old, you know, the old way of thinking. But as our demographics become undoubtedly more diverse in linguistic backgrounds, then schools have had to evolve and pivot and think about the belonging piece that is at the center of not just allowing our students to access their languages for learning, but giving them tools, intentional tools that they’re able to use within their learning so that they can use that, so that they can actually do that with intentionality, with practice, rather than a free for all, everybody speak whatever you want, use whatever language you want, but actually as a pedagogical practice that can allow students to like equitable access to our curriculums that are predominantly in a target language and that target language usually is English and international schools.
Lori: It’s interesting you mentioned Gini Rojas’s work with the medical model in, language. We hear it, we talk about that quite a bit in, you know, our realm at SENIA, we’re usually working with people who have learning disabilities, or neurodiverse, and how we’ve always in the past have approached it with that medical model versus the social model of inclusion. So thanks for bringing that to light for me.
Ceci: For sure. And you know, it’s for in Gini’s work as well. I think I’ve known Gini for many, many years now. And the message that I’ve heard from her more than a decade ago, continues to be the message now too. There used to be a time when in international schools, students whose proficiencies in English were at the beginning or emergent level, were the minority. And so we were designing language support programs to cater to a minority, but and and I remember her saying so many years ago, this is no longer true, and it will continue to not be true. We are not going to have schools that are going to be packed of primary English speakers in international like in different in different countries. That’s not even true in the United States, she said, you know, like that’s not even true in the in the States when there’s so much there are so many immigrants and refugees and people who bring other language repertoires as well. And so for us, shifting that monolingual mindset, I think, is that is the toughest part because it does require us to look at our curriculum and our systems of support, and change, shift our mindset as well as to how might we be able to cater to the majority of students now rather than the, you know, when we label that we say this group of five kids are the EAL kids or the ESL kids, when in fact, the multilingual, I mean, more than 90 % of school populations right now are multilingual. And so that model of being able to think about our schools as that kind of linguistic melting pot, I think leads to more success in teacher instruction, because then we can look at the, you know, at our instruction in literacy through a multilingual lens, and we can look at our instruction of you know, competencies or any kind of any kind of from FDL to also supporting students with neurodivergencies or any other type of need. When we look at it through a multilingual lens, it opens up for us as teachers opportunities to be able to give students access to. And so it’s a little bit of letting go of those myths of language acquisition and letting go of course of that monolingual mindset as well that continues to permeate a lot in international schools.
Lori: Great. Well, besides that monolingual mindset, in your experience working with international schools, what are some other common challenges or obstacles that our educators face when it comes to embracing that linguistic diversity and creating those inclusive environments?
Ceci: For sure. We are, you know, we are, because there’s so many shifting of mindsets, there’s the comfort or I should say discomfort of change, and that can be caused by many things. There could be limited language support systems in a school. Let’s say where there’s only one person who holds the expertise about how to support multilingual learners and there’s only one person in a fee of 25 people. And being able to share that expertise is difficult if we are not staffing our schools with people who have the background of how to support multilingual students and populations in a curriculum that is somewhat designed for English speakers, for primary English speakers. And then of course there’s always the time constraints of collaboration because I really believe in my heart that it’s strong collaborative practices that allow to build a really good system of support for language development for all students and not only necessarily co -teaching,
But I would say following the whole collaborative cycle, like Dr. Andrew Hanesdell will talk about the importance of co -teaching, co -planning, co -reflection and co -assessment and having all of those things come together. So that as collaborative partners, as collaborative teams, we can all be part of this like new paradigm of we are all language teachers as well. But this requires time. This requires schools to give time for that collaboration, that building of relationships as well. And another challenge that sometimes we face too is parent engagement, parent education and having parents understand as well about the new research about language acquisition, right? Cause some of our parent communities might still believe in those myths because when they were younger those the myth was the more the more we pressure the more exposure the more fluent you will be in this language and we now we know that that is that erasing one like a primary language and substituting it for another that has very that can have really a huge impact not only in the students learning but also within their identity and having to let go of of of their primary language not being able to communicate with their families or with their relatives or or with their culture because they have let go of that language.
So, absolutely making space for parents, for our parent community and our caregiving community to be part of that collaborative system so that our students are receiving the same message. Our multilingual learners are welcomed at the multilingual people anywhere, whether it’s at home or at school, at recess, during sports, so it becomes like this collective. But for that, again, time and those systems of support and ensuring that we are reaching out and engaging with parents with this conversation. I think all of those, those can be real challenges that take time and take a lot of intentionality and planning for success in those engagements and communication.
Lori: Yeah, thank you. Yes, we’ve mentioned building strong home school partnerships and how that’s crucial and how our schools are facing challenges now. Let’s talk strategies. So what strategies or approaches can our schools adopt to overcome our challenges and then? What what are some effective ways that schools can engage and collaborate with families?
Ceci: So this is actually really I love this question because I mean the the possibilities are endless, especially with I’m a big fan of generative AI I think that right now it’s really breaking those barriers and allowing us for that multilingual engagement with Our peers sometimes our peers are also multilingual there allow, you know that generative AI is helping a lot with the design for equitable instruction for multilingual learners if we want to build something like a rubric or a lesson plan that has differentiation embedded into it.
So I would say definitely always thinking outside of the box and being innovative, always remembering the why and the purpose, which is giving equitable access. Coming up with multilingual policies as well for schools, like that’s something very important. Take a look at the policies of our schools and what do we say in our policies and how do those policies guide who we decide becomes part of our community in terms of hiring or in terms of admissions or in terms of what professional development we are providing for teachers. So I mean professional development definitely is an avenue, a very successful avenue for for a strategy that we can adopt where, you know, teachers are trained in these specific strategies to support multilingual learners. It shouldn’t always fall on like the one EAL teacher or, you know, it should be everybody, everybody should know because it is like we, like I was saying before, it’s the majority of our populations now in our international schools. But definitely, I think that one of the things that often gets, I think that sometimes us as teachers, and I know that I’ve done this a lot, is that, you know, 15 years ago, I read a really good PD book and I was like, oh my gosh, this is what I, I love this, this is great, but education continues to evolve. So I think being willing as well to be a learner, in when it comes to the evolution and the changes that are coming as our populations become and demographics of communities become more and more linguistically diverse, I think it is important also that we a strategy that we can that we can apply is also being willing to evolve and change with the times and and be open to new research about the language acquisition and linguistic diversity and embracing that maybe that book or that course that we took 15 years ago, maybe now within the context of who our students are today might not be as applicable as it as it was 15 years ago and so and I think that that’s that’s hard that’s hard for for anyone to do to say but no but I always done this this way.
And I think that letting go of that and embracing that change, embracing, you know, almost kind of like being courageous and vulnerable and saying, I want to learn something new because I want to provide my students with an equitable experience in my classroom. And I want them to make sure that they belong in my classroom as their whole selves, regardless of proficiency in English, I want them to be able to succeed academically and that doesn’t mean that they have to, you know, have perfect proficiency. How can I allow them to be academically successful as they still learn English? What can I do in order to differentiate and scaffold for them? And so I would say definitely professional development is one that immediately comes to mind, but also like that willingness and vulnerability to say, I’m going to challenge my thinking about something as the times change, being innovative, like I said, taking risks with generative AI and partnering with GenAI to kind of see what other ideas there can be so that I can support. So I can give the students that what they need, I can give my multilingual learners what they need in my classroom or in my space. Sometimes we talk about our multilingual learners being our students, but really that we have multilingual learners who are parents, we have multilingual learners who are our own peers and our own colleagues. So how do we create and nurture those equitable multilingual spaces and communities within our context in our country and in our schools?
Lori: Beautiful. I have one more question. I’m not quite sure how to phrase it. But as we know, our students come to school and they have multiple identities. And we’ve, you know, we have our multilingual learners as well as quite often these students can also be neurodiverse. And so I was wondering if you had strategies or thoughts on how we can all in an international school work together to support all of these identities that our students are coming with into our classrooms.
Ceci: Well, you know, I love I love really kind of like diving into the diversity, equity, inclusion and justice realm of that all of that is encompassed in belonging, right? I think that, you know, sometimes when we think about the systems of our schools and we think sometimes about somewhat of a rigidity and lack of flexibility to shift, to give students what they need. I think sometimes that can be a challenge for us in not knowing how to navigate that. And so going back to what I was saying about how I am a true believer in collaboration, I definitely think that student support systems should always be in constant communication with each other. Students, we talk about them as humans, not as quantities. I love the book Street Data, which talks about humanizing data and talking about looking at the people beyond just the numbers and the quantities and the performances, but rather have a conversation about what that particular human, that particular child needs. Because I think that when we stop having conversations, then we all kind of silo a little bit and our students are not receiving the supports that they need, whatever that is, whatever support they need, because we’re only seeing little pieces of them in our classes or in our interactions with them.
And so I always go back to collaboration. How often are we co -reflecting about our practices with students and giving them what they need? How often are we co -assessing as well, looking at data that we’ve gathered about a student that can help us move them forward or determine if there’s any other need or any other type of intervention that they might need. How often do we co -teach to ensure that students have access to more than just one teacher and guide in the classroom? And how often do we co -plan as well with intentionality to ensure that the design of learning is differentiated for everybody who is in our classroom? So I would say, like I said, I mean, collaboration, it’s a tricky sell sometimes because it is, time, or it requires time, it needs to be embedded within the systems of support that we provide. But I also think that that is totally where we’re moving towards, I guess, in education, is that us teachers working in silos, it’s not, it’s not sustainable. And also our students as well, modeling that collaboration for them too, and modeling that inclusivity as well.
I think it’s important for them to see that they can ask, they can, we can model that advocacy that they can have for themselves so that they can also ask for the supports and help that they need and that they require. And I think that, and I think that, I’ve seen so many beautiful examples of when teachers work together and they have that moment of like that win with that one student you know that made that that took that step or reach that milestone. And as a mom of a neurodivergent kiddo myself, I often think about how, how truly magical that moment is, and how it definitely doesn’t happen on it on, like, it doesn’t happen just because I’m doing something, it happens because there’s a team of people that are supporting my child as well. So that collaboration, that communication to me is definitely at the center of success when we’re looking at a student who might have many different needs, including language proficiency needs, and and making that plan together about how to best support them.
Lori: Great. Well, wise as usual, Ceci. Thank you.
Ceci: Thank you.
Lori: So I think that’s all we have time for today, but I just want to thank you for your time and for joining us. And as always, I’ve learned so much from you and I appreciate you so much.
Ceci: I appreciate you too, Lori. And thank you so much for this opportunity. I am so just so honored and so humbled. So thank you.
Lori: Thank you. Thank you so, so much.
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