Perspectives Of Professional Learning Policy Implementation For Supporting English Language Learners In A Rural Ontario School Board

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Milnes, Terry
Rural School Boards , Professional Learning for Paraprofessionals Working with ELLs , Education , Education Policy Implementation , Rural Education , English as a Second Language , Professional Learning for Teachers of ELLs
The issue of lower academic achievement for English language learners (ELLs) compared to their English-speaking peers has been identified in the research literature. Professional learning for classroom teachers, English as a second language (ESL) teachers, and ESL paraprofessionals has been promoted as one strategy to address this achievement gap. In some rural school boards, ELLs represent a small proportion of the overall student population. Academic achievement, however, is as much an equity issue for ELLs in rural as in urban school boards. The purpose of this study was to describe how the implementation of ELL-related professional learning policy was perceived in a rural school board in the province of Ontario, Canada from 2007 to 2013. Honig’s (2006) conceptualization of education policy implementation guided the study. The unit of analysis for this descriptive case study was a rural school board in which ELLs were approximately 2% of the student population. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 20 participants: board-level ESL consultants, ESL teachers, classroom teachers, ESL paraprofessionals, and a secondary school principal. ELL-related learning materials published by the school board were also collected. Five themes emerged from data analysis: first, the board’s two ESL consultants were the key providers of ELL-related professional learning; second, the ESL consultants were learners as well as leaders of professional learning; third, schools varied in their capacity to initiate professional learning; fourth, ELL-related professional learning initiatives were parallel to rather than integral to the board’s primary professional learning delivery model of collaborative inquiry; and fifth, challenges in providing ELL-related professional learning related to the uneven distribution of the board’s small ELL population across a wide geographical area. The study’s significance was in contributing to empirical work at the intersection of rural education, second language learning, and professional learning; and in describing how a rural context interacted with both normative and technical aspects of education policy implementation. Implications for future research included further research into the following: first, relationship building as a policy implementation instrument; second, links between ELL-related professional learning and increased achievement for ELLs; and third, the provision of ELL-related professional learning for paraprofessionals.
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