Host Lori Boll speaks with Jon Nordmeyer on today’s show, WIDA’s International Program Director. Jon is a long-time friend of SENIA, international presenter, published author, An international educator and researcher for over 30 years, and  has taught graduate seminars at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Tibet University. Today’s discussion touches on many topics such as DEIJ and EAL, the intersectionality of multilingualism and neurodiversity, collaboration between EAL and Learning Support Teachers, and much more.

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Jon Nordmeyer is WIDA International Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, supporting a global network of over 500 schools. He believes that as educators we must also be learners, and in international learning communities teacher collaboration can not only ignite student learning but also fuel professional growth. An international educator and researcher for over 30 years, he has taught graduate seminars at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Tibet University. He co-edited the book Integrating Language and Content and has written for Journal of Staff Development, International Schools Journal, Educational Leadership and Global Education Review.


Transcribed by Kanako Suwa

[ Introduction music plays ]

Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour with your host, Lori Boll. We know you’re busy so we bring you 1 hours worth of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you with time for a true happy hour. 

Lori: Hello everyone. Today, I had the opportunity to speak to, for the second time, Jon Nordmeyer, who is the International Program Director at WIDA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Now, if you’re not sure what WIDA is, no worries. Jon will fill you in through our podcast. Today, we also spoke about DEIJ and its relationship to EAL students, we talked about the challenges of intersectionality between multilingualism and neurodiversity, how EAL and learning support teachers can better work together, the importance of co-teaching and co-planning, and how specialist roles are changing in schools. Jon also shares a bit about what he will be presenting at our South Africa conference and has a pretty big announcement to share as well. So now… onto the show. 

Well, hello Jon and welcome back to our podcast!

Jon: Hey Lori, it’s good to see you again. Happy new year and thanks for the chance to join you again!

Lori: Yeah, well, yeah, it’s your second time that you’ve joined us for a podcast and you’re a longtime friend of SENIA. I mean… how long have we known each other? Very long time. You’ve been a valued speaker at our past conferences and you’ll be joining us in South Africa in February for our conference at the American International School of Johannesburg. We’ll be talking more about that later in the episode but for now, can you tell us about your organization, WIDA? Remind people who may not have heard your first podcast or have seen you present? What is it, and how has it grown over the years? 

Jon: Sure. Well, I am excited to talk a little bit more about Johannesburg and the SENIA Africa conference and I really appreciate being included in that. I’m the International Program Director at WIDA and WIDA is a part, a project at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It’s coming up on 20 year anniversary, actually. WIDA, the origin story, it grew from a federal grant to develop an assessment  to measure English language development and ensure accountability that states were serving multilingual learners to ensure that the programmes were successful and the students were identified and served. So it really came out of an accountability origin and its grown from the initial grant of a couple of states to 41 US states with the flagship assessment, the language assessment, ACCESS for ELLs and in the past 10 years, we have added international schools to the WIDA family. So right now, we have 550 schools that are members of the WIDA International School Consortium and all these schools are committed to building equitable programmes to serve multilingual learners and work together with the WIDA resources across this community of practice. And as that growth continues, I have, a little teaser, an exciting news about the next iteration, the next revolution, of this network that I think we’ll have chance to discuss at the end of the podcast. 

Lori: Ooh! Well, I can’t wait! I can’t wait to hear it! 

Jon: I’ll leave you hanging…

Lori: Ohhhkay. Gosh, alright. Well, let’s see, 568 schools and all of those in the US as well… I’m impressed. You’re 20 years old just like SENIA so congrats! Congrats! 

Jon: Well, both of our organizations do similar work in different ways, supporting teachers and students and families who may not be, perhaps, as successful without teachers and organizations like SENIA and WIDA and really paying attention to how we can create inclusive schools. So I think we really appreciate the work that SENIA has done and also the fact that the community of international schools have come together around really important issues. 

Lori: Yes, yes. And now it’s going to be our goal at SENIA to get 568 member schools… right now we have 25 so if you’re out there and listening and you want your school to join SENIA, please do! 

Jon: I recommend it. 

Lori: Me too! So, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion… it’s really the mission, as we’ve talked about for both of our organizations. How does DEIJ relate to English as an Additional Language? 

Jon: That’s a great question, Lori. And I think whether it’s considered EDIJ, DEIJ, it is a long overdue conversation in international schools about the role of equity and privilege across some really dynamic and innovative, but also quite elite institutions. And so, I feel really fortunate to be part of University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the school of education is committed to rigorous research and social justice, and those two are not mutually exclusive. They’re actually complimentary. So at the heart of our work is really investigating the intersection of language and equity and we know that language is not neutral – in the classroom, in the playground, the hallway… the language choice that are available or restricted has a direct connection to opportunity and identity. And so I’m actually working on an article with a colleague about this intersection of DEIJ and language. And so a couple important themes that have emerged is thinking about diversity, that schools really understand and represent the languages and cultures in their community and if schools talk about, sometimes, students from diverse backgrounds or students who represent linguistic and cultural diversity, that actually becomes a form of exclusion by expressing that we have the mainstream and then we have diversity, the diverse students, students from diverse backgrounds. So it’s both an exclusion and objection and so my colleagues call it a double gesture. And so when we recognise diversity, all students are diverse and recognising the language that expresses who students are, that language directly connects to celebrating and leveraging that diversity and linguistic diversity as a strength. And likewise, equity. Beyond a surface level conceptions of fairness, when students come to schools with a gift of multilingualism but they don’t have full access to the curriculum, something needs to be done and so thinking about how EAL teachers can be advocates that students who are in the first 6 months, we don’t accept that it’s a silent period but we may be recognising that it’s a silencing period, if we’re not allowing or encouraging students to use their own languages as a way to access the curriculum and to use translanguaging as a tool for learning. And then with inclusion, really in the last 10 years, I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress in international schools, considering what it looks like not just to include all students across the diverse spectrum of learning diversity and multilingualism and students from a variety of different backgrounds, but really leverage Universal Design to recognise that students aren’t just included but meaningfully engaged and have access to the curriculum. 

And one of the things that really excites me about the SENIA conference theme for SENIA Africa is that we need to move beyond the label. We need to stop labeling students and recognize that all students are different and all students have unique learning profiles. And that we can build on that experience as a real strength. And the last theme I think is justice, connecting to language, and recognising how systems work and challenging discrimination is a part of the role of being an EAL teacher. And in this case, teachers and organizations like SENIA and WIDA are asking international schools how they can be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And we recognise again, that for too long, elite institutions have been design to exclude and enforce white privilege, and it’s uncomfortable for a lot of schools and a lot of teachers but that’s why we need to keep asking the question even if we don’t have good answers, and the role of language which policy is absolutely connected to DEIJ, particularly thinking about how we create equitable inclusive schools. 

Lori: Yes. Uh, you said so much and I’m processing it but just a connection with the work that we do at SENIA, is that whole idea of ableism and focusing on the, where, our typical learners are. And even using words like “normal”, we end up isolating our students who we say have different learning needs. But as you mentioned, we all have different learning needs and so… just, you know, supporting all of our learners with that lens is essential and the work that you’re doing and the work that SENIA is doing hopefully helps with that. 

Jon: I think there’s some really important intersections and I think that we need to recognise that when we’re coming from a learning support perspective or a language perspective, that it’s a part of a wider conversation about how schools can be schools of all students, how all teachers can share responsibility for all learners and I think what we’ve seen in schools over the last decade is the commitment to DEIJ is not just yet another initiative but actually is a platform that connects a lot of really important populations in schools and issues across schools and so it’s not that inclusion is just another another initiative on the plate, it IS the plate. So we need to go back to how we’re doing that for schools to serve their mission and serve their schools. 

Lori: I love that. It is the plate. I’m going to share that with many many people. It’s perfect. 

Jon: Please do. And I’m excited to be able toh ave this conversation with you becasie I think organizations that serve a particular population or come from a disciplinary background, really need to work together to find strength in that connecti onand that intersection. 

Lori: Mmhmm. Agree. So we’ve been alluding to this but what are some challenges and opportunities around the intersection for multilingualism and neurodiversity? And how can EAL and learning support teachers, how can they work together? 

Jon: Yeah, I love this question because I really think it is a classic problem-tunity for this intersection is, can be challenging historically but also really necessary for the students that we serve. I think work is parallel and when we think about all teachers sharing responsibilities for all students across the school community, that is where EAL teachers become resources, not only for students but also for colleagues as a part of an identity shift in the field, where we’ve shifted away or we’re in the process of shifting away from withdraw or isolated interventions, which really fragment a students’ day but isolate a student and teachers. But really moving away from the isolating and segregating, to a more inclusive school experience that focuses on integrating and inclusion and collaborating. So I think that we have that in parallel as to fields and disciplines working to that end, and I think at the same time, learning support and EAL teachers bring specific specialised expertise to conversation when we’re talking about students. So when we’re talking about how students learn best and students’ unique profiles and how students develop language and some of the diagnostic tools and the data involved in that, it’s really important to have professionals with a variety of expertise together, talking about how do we serve individual students and build on individual strengths and needs. And I think historically, some of the division or the barriers have come from policy and funding, oarticualrly in the context of US publics schools, where the reality is that students have a legal basis to have specific labels associated with them and funding often comes from that which is in place to protect students and serve students. But in some cases, that strict binary distinction of needing to choose a label, have one label or the other, I think has created in schools, an unnecessary barrier to teachers collaborating. Or in worst case scenarios, turf wars in resources when really, we should be working together to share. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity there and we’re exploring that with organizations like SENIA to think about how we can collaborate. But we need to be aware of some of the historical barriers and challenges to collaborate that we face. 

Lori: Yeah, and i think one of the most harmful is what learning support teachers, probably EAL teachers, often hear is “this is your kid”, “this is your student” so that’s something that we are constantly, it seems, coming up against in the classroom or in the school. 

Jon: Right, and I think we’re shifting away from the 20th century model of the specialist as expert who has a magic wand and we can somehow wave that magic wand over students who are considered different and our students and we can somehow fix those students so they can go back to the mainstream, regular curriculum taught by the teacher and you can see, Lori, I’vr got air quotes around all of these…

Lori: haha yes. 

Jon: And the reality is we’re moving towards the 21st century model where we are collaborating as specialists and working together in the classroom for all students and universal design in a language and literacy rich accessible instruction that is going to benefit students across a variety of abilities, and in fact, it benefits all students. And actually you’ve had a lot more talks about Universal Design for teachers, and saying “wow, this is going to be great for all my students” so I think addressing that barrier of “who owns this student?”, Well, we all own the students, they’re all of our students, so collaboration really feeds into that opportunity. 

Lori: So I’d love to chat with you more about this collaboration piece in schools. So, how has collaboration transformed the role of specialist teachers like us where we were once serving only as a resource that you’ve talked about for students, but now we also serve as a resource for students AND colleagues? 

Jon: I think it’s exciting, but it’s also scary for a lot of specialists because we need to do better as schools to ensure that as professionals, whether we’re learning support or language specialist, that we can utilize it as a resource for the whole school community. And that means supporting students but also working together in the community as a collaborator, and in some cases, as a coach or a mentor. And days of only “close my door and give me few students and I will play vocabulary games with them” – those days are gone and we know that the real work of learning happens in the classrooms and all day long. So the identity shift of specialist teachers working with students directly but also by extension, colleagues, is exciting because it’s generative. And so if you or I are co-teaching with a colleague and we’re running an activity with a small group, then that activity becomes a part of the teachers’ repertoire and we’re able to model, add, and co-design learning experiences that enrich what all teachers are able to do. So the generative aspect of being together with colleagues and with teachers really add to everyone’s toolbox and i think the co-planning aspect of our collaboration is a valuable opportunity that is often missed. 

And I would argue that co-planning is as important as, if not more than, as co-teaching because when we sit down with a team of teachers, the 4th grade team, and we plan scaffolding that integrates a variety of learning opportunities and has support for students across a variety of ability level, needs, languages… that lesson will be in all of grade 4 classrooms, even if we are not in the 4th grade classroom. So it opens up the door for crossing space in time, and I know we’ve experimented with virtual collaboration over the last few years, but when we co-plan, whether it’s a Google Doc or over Zoom or face to face, we’re able to really raise the collective instructional intelligence of the whole team. And I think the last aspect of collaboration is it reduces historical isolation that teachers have felt. And we felt that painfully during the pandemic and so to to have teachers join each other virtually or in person, it introduces energy into the profession and I think it’s every teachers’ greatest fear and greatest hope that someone, one day, discovers what actually happens in our classroom. And to have a colleague see, and witness the power of creation and students are asking wonderful questions and answering questions and it’s really, it’s a rare opportunity. And in the same way, there are some days that are absolute failures and we just turn off the light and close the door and say we’re not gonna talk about this again… But to have someone else to share that success and failure and be able to sit back and unpack and analyze, builds collective efficacy. Which we know, from Jon Hattie’s work, is really at the top of the effect size. 

So it’s not really just experiencing it together but reflecting on those experiences that reduce isolation and help us really understand our craft better. 

Lori: Yes. And the important part of co-planning and this observation of other colleagues, this has to come from top-down. We have to have our administrators recognise the importance of this. And perhaps this is something we can talk about in the future podcast, on how we can encourage that. Or what different schools systems look like, some good examples of schools that are doing this and how we can benefit from it. 

Jon: 100%, I agree. And I think that administrative support is key. I think administrators also don’t have a magic wand and they need to know what collaboration looks like and they need to know the value of co-planning and they’re not just extra bodies in the room that’s using up FTEs but it has a generative multiplier effect so we need to be scheduled into co-planning meetings and make time for co-planning and it needs to be deliberately scheduled into the day and teachers need to have capacity for it for it to be really successful. 

Lori: Yes. Well, let’s transition a bit, to Johannesburg, Africa! You will be there, we’ll be there, in about 5 weeks and you’ll be doing an all-day pre-conference and keynoting and doing 4 additional workshops, which is so amazing. Can you give us a sneak peek? 

Jon: Yeah, well, I’m excited to attend this conference in South Africa and the opportunity to work with teachers from a variety of backgrounds, both geographic and professional backgrounds. I love the themes, I mentioned the intentional integration of different disciplines and my keynote will really focus on the role of student voice. How important it is for educators to not only listen to but to amplify particularly students who have been historically at the margin and isolated. And so for us to recognise that we spend a lot of time and frankly a lot of money on assessment data. And so adding to what we gain from assessments, that is, it’s a valuable data point but that’s just one datapoint. So if we think about students’ lived experiences and what we can learn from listening to students talk about their learning. Students have such insight into what works for them and how teachers can support them and we harvest and leverage the power of student voice. Because they’re part of the conversation. And they have insights into all of the learning that compliment what we think we know, what we see from assessment data.

At my pre-conference, we’ll focus on collaboration and I know we talked about it a lot on this pod and I know it’s something that has been transformative in international schools in particular because I’ve seen the effect it has on schools and how it can really transform how teachers interact together. So in the pre-conference, we’ll deconstruct this shift we discussed earlier, from isolation and fragmented, to collaboration and inclusion and what does that look like and we’ll think about the identity shift in teacher roles and the skills teachers need to develop in order to effectively co-plan and co-teach. And how do schools build the capacity for collaboration to happen. And also, once collaboration is happening in a school, how can we leverage that as a force for school change? Because we can build capacity for collaboration but we can also build capacity through collaboration. 

And I am doing a couple of workshops. I really appreciate the opportunity to serve the SENIA community in this way and we’ll look at “how do we find language in the learning” and like a fish swimming in water, teachers are surrounded by language all the time. So taking a step back and recognising how language operates as a medium of learning will hopefully develop some deliberate strategies for using language in intentional ways. We’ll also look at translanguaging as a practice and as a pedagogy, how the intentional intermixing of languages as students both us all of their languages, their entire linguistic repertoire, for learning and as an expression of their unique identity is something that schools can embrace, understand, and utilize. 

And then we’ll also look at the partnership between EAL and learning support, how it’s an essential partnership, what are some barriers, and how we can continue to build on some of the shared foundation of what we have and what that looks like on the ground. 

Lori: Good stuff, Jon. And just as a reminder of a pre-conference, for people listening who may not know, it’s a chance for participants to spend one full day with one of our experts. We have 3, and you are one of those. So when you sign up for pre-conference, you are there all day, diving deep. 

Jon: It’s wonderful to have the opportunity for folks to engage in the pre-conference because often, even in a 2 or 3 hour session, conversations are just getting started and people want to share what they’re learning so building that community throughout the course of a day allows us to build those connections and hopefully send teachers home with new tools in their toolbox to apply right away. 

Lori: Awesome. Let’s circle back to the teaser you gave us at the beginning of the podcast… what is this big announcement that you have to share? 

Jon: Well, it is exciting and it hasn’t been, it hasn’t launched officially yet, but some colleagues and I from the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have proposed and have funding has been approved, for a new multilingual research center. And so this will investigate both in the US context and in the global context, some of the really important issues around teaching multilingual learners. So I’m excited because this provides an opportunity for us to leverage the existing community of schools. I talked about the 560 schools that are members of the WIDA International School Consortium to shift from an assessment focused network to a research focused network. And to provide opportunities for international schools to engage in research and action research and to be able to benefit from research done in an international context. And you know this, Lori, we don’t have enough research that attends to the international context and there’s such unique, vibrant, dynamic context so I’m really looking forward to sharing more about that. Make sure you stay tuned to the newsletter and we’ll launch the center this summer and looking forward to opportunities that this provides for educators and students around the world. 

Lori: That is big news! Congratulations! You must be so excited. 

Jon: Well, thank you. I’m looking forward to it and now that it’s been approved, it’s a lot to do and I’m excited to work with partners and partner organizations like SENIA around the world and engage in this work together and through the research practice partnership, again, we won’t only be conducting research but we’ll also be asking schools to co-construct our research agenda and to be able to have intellectual play dates with scholars around the world to be able to share what we’re learning and what it means for teaching and learning. 

Lori: That’s great. And I’ll also add the WIDA information to the show notes to the podcast… I’m sure you’re all hearing my cat meowing in the background, so I apologize for that. But yeah, great stuff, Jon. Thank you so much! 

Jon: The cat is very telling, and that also means it’s the end of the podcast, so thank you Lori, I appreciate the opportunity again to work so much with SENIA organization and the opportunity to connect with you again on the podcast.

Lori: Always great chatting with you. Thank you. 

Thank you for joining us for today’s show. For more information including how to subscribe and show notes, please head to our website. That’s SENIAinternational.org/podcast. Until next time, cheers.