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5 Steps to ELL Advocacy

1. Isolate the issue. Begin by clarifying the source of the issue, with the goal of identifying concerns in your immediate environment and gaining insights about broader, external factors. For example, imagine educators are complaining that many ELL families do not attend parent-teacher conferences. Speak with families and find out why this is happening. Are the conferences only occurring during hours when families have to work? Have the expectations and procedures for conferences been clearly conveyed to families in their home language? Is childcare provided if needed? Once the root of the issue has been identified, appropriate action steps can be planned. “Advocates often upset the applecart in their pursuit of a fair and equitable society.”

2. Identify your allies. Advocacy occurs at different levels, alongside varied partners. To be effective, you must foster relationships with others, be willing to listen to opposing viewpoints, and use conflict as an impetus for change. There will be a wide variety of perspectives for any issue, and it’s important not to dismiss those who do not share your beliefs. Despite differing opinions, the advocacy process has the potential to be a consciousness-raising experience for all participants.

3. Be clear on the rights of ELL students. Have a clear understanding of the policies and laws that are in place to protect ELLs and their families. It empowers you to advocate from a position of what is ethically right and legally right. The rights of ELLs are encased in legislation, but also in hard-fought court victories that have been instrumental in actually protecting those rights and establishing educational standards: Mendez v. Westminster addressed the segregation of Mexican students in California schools and paved the way for Brown v. Board; Lau v. Nichols argued for ELL students’ rights to have instruction in a language they understand; Casteñeda v. Pickard demanded high-quality bilingual education programs; and Plyler v. Doe secured the right of undocumented students to an education.

4. Organize and educate others. Remember you are not alone. Create opportunities to share what you are doing with others. Take advantage of community events to discuss the issues impacting ELLs. These steps will allow you to expand your network of allies and to inform others about issues occurring in local schools. “An advocacy lens is always appropriate, but it is imperative in the face of injustice.” 2

5. Identify your outlets for change. Consider asking the following questions:

  • What can I do in my classroom?
  • What can I do in my school?
  • What can I do in my district?
  • What can I do in my community?
  • How can I collaborate with other non-school-based communities?

web resources

For more information on English Language Learner legislation and court cases, see the following resources:


additional reading

For more background on the issues covered in this chapter, see the following book excerpts: