TEACHING TO EMPOWER: Taking Action to Foster Student Agency, Self-Confidence, and Collaboration. Just released!

We want students to master academic standards, and we want them to be confident, adaptive, and socially responsible. Above all, we want them to find meaning and satisfaction in their lives. Achieving these goals requires a concerted focus on the social-emotional skills that empower students in and beyond the classroom.

In Teaching to Empower, Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone explore what an empowered student looks like in our increasingly diverse contemporary schools and prompt educators to examine their own relationship to empowerment. The book’s evidence-based strategies and authentic examples show you how to foster an inclusive culture of agency, self-confidence, and collaboration that will give each of your students—regardless of race, culture, language, socioeconomic status, abilities, sexuality, or gender—the opportunity, responsibility, and tools to become an active learner, thoughtful community member, and engaged global citizen. Whether you’re a preservice teacher, a classroom novice, or a veteran, you’ll find the practical guidance you’ll need to

  • Create inclusive and empowering physical learning spaces.
  • Set up self-directed learning and promote positive interdependence.
  • Promote student self-reflection.
  • Teach the skills of collaboration.
  • Foster the self-advocacy that fuels deeper, more autonomous learning.
  • Partner more effectively with families and the community to support student empowerment.

Andrea Honigsfeld, Professor of Education, Molloy College: Teaching to Empower offers what no other publication in the field does: it recognizes that student agency is critical, it is teachable, and it must be intentionally included in the curriculum and the daily practices of all teachers.

Lauren Ford, Senior Manager, Leadership Development, Houston ISD Educational Learning Center: More than ever, education leaders must reconcile archaic thinking when address the needs of students.  Zacarian and Silverstone carefully walk us through the notion that the evolution of students demands a new mindset that reflects on historical realities and cultivates courageous innovation to build future empowered minds.

Ivannia Soto, Professor of Education, Whittier College, and Bilingual Educator Strategic Training Director at the California Association for Bilingual Education: This timely book will support systems as they shift paradigms toward an assets-based approach when instructing and empowering students.  The collection of both research and practical strategies will assist educators as they work to meet the cultural, linguistic, and social-emotional needs of our most vulnerable students.

Ana María García Blanco, Executive Director, Instituto Nueva Escuela, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Teaching to Empower is extremely illuminating for anyone seeking sound and liberating pedagogical theories and practices.  For those searching for the gained experiences of effective schools all across the country, it is indispensable.  Zacarian and Silverstone show that a school can contribute to the development of citizens able to exercise empathy and solidarity.  They raise key questions about the finality of schools, confront these with educators’ actual duty, and given extensive examples of good school practices that lead to real change.  There is no better time to read this book.  It is an invitation to educators to rethink their vocation and their practice to serve a more just country.  

Marta Donahoe, 2019 Montessori Living Legacy Honoree: High stakes-testing and the prioritization of speed of coverage over depth can distract us from connecting to the young people we teach.  Teaching to Empower brings us back to the heart of education by giving examples and structures that help support the development of agency and social-emotional well-being in classroom communities.


BREAKING DOWN THE WALL: Essential Shifts for English Learners’ Success.  Best Seller!

In this first-of-a-kind collaboration, teachers and leaders, whether in small towns or large urban centers, finally have both the research and the practical strategies to take those first steps toward excellence in educating our culturally and linguistically diverse children. It’s a book to be celebrated because it means we can throw away the dark glasses of deficit-based approaches and see children who come to school speaking a different home language for what they really are: learners with tremendous assets.

The authors’ contributions are arranged in nine chapters that become nine tenets for teachers and administrators to use as calls to actions in their own efforts to realize our English learners’ potential:
1.       From Deficit-Based to Asset-Based
2.       From Compliance to Excellence 
3.       From Watering Down to Challenging 
4.       From Isolation to Collaboration 
5.       From Silence to Conversation 
6.       From Language to Language, Literacy, and Content 
7.       From Assessment of Learning to Assessment for and as Learning 
8.       From Monolingualism to Multilingualism 
9.       From Nobody Cares to Everyone/Every Community Cares   


An epic number of school-age children worldwide are experiencing adverse childhood experiences.  In the US alone, half of the nation’s students, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health, are experiencing or have experienced trauma, violence, or chronic stress. While much has been written about these students from a therapeutic and counseling perspective, little has been written about teaching this population and doing so from a strengths-based perspective. Using real-world examples as well as research-based principles, this book shows how to:

  • Identify inherent assets that students bring to the classroom.
  • Connect to students’ experiences through instructional planning and delivery.
  • Foster students’ strengths through the use of predictable routines and structured paired and small-group learning experiences.
  • Develop family and community partnerships.

ASCD Publishers: Experts Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes outline a comprehensive, collaborative approach to teaching that focuses on students’ strengths and resiliency. Teaching to Strengths encourages educators to embrace teaching and school-wide practices that support and enhance the academic and socio-emotional development of students living with trauma, violence, and chronic stress.

In it Together Cover


Reviews Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita, Language, Literacy and Culture, College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst  “Building meaningful relationships in education can be difficult, particularly when the parties involved are different from one another in identity, experience, and other ways. As a result, although in principle collaborations and partnerships in education are universally lauded, in practice they are often ignored. What we need are examples of partnerships that work. In it Together, by Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone, suggests productive ways to work with, learn from, and form authentic relationships with diverse communities. Combining their abundant experience in classrooms and schools, and using examples from caring teachers in diverse classrooms, the authors demonstrate what it means to really be “in it together.” Teachers, administrators, and everyone who cares about the future of education in a diverse society will benefit from the strategies they suggest.”

Corwin Press: Harness the power of teacher, student, school, family, and community partnerships to promote student success  Teaching effectively in diverse classrooms has become more complex than ever. The authors of this practical, compelling, and inspiring book propose that understanding the spheres of influence that connect students with teachers, peers, family members, and the broader community significantly increases the odds that every student will succeed in school.  In clear, practitioner-friendly language with examples from an inspiring range of K-12 educators, the authors explore how tapping into the rich resources of teachers, students, families, the school community and the community-at-large can make the work of learning more successful for all involved. Richly detailed vignettes and concrete, evidence-based strategies help you systematically: Build coalitions of support around learning and engagement; Develop positive relationships with students, their families and their communities; Foster positive, reciprocal partnerships; Promote peer-to-peer relationship building; Support students and families from marginalized populations.  Learn to draw from the rich resources found within your learning community to build bridges to academic success for all learners. This comprehensive book shows you how!


Companion ECourse for individuals and groups  Strategies to Support Students’ Academic Language


Jim Cummins, Professor of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning OISE/University of Toronto “This book engages teachers in active reflection on the nature of academic language and how it is used in different content areas across the curriculum. It highlights the need for instruction to connect to students’ lives, stimulate their intellectual curiosity and cognitive growth, and expand their power to use multiple forms of language in creative and powerful ways. It represents an extremely useful tool for school communities to promote academic learning for all students.”

Jeff Zwiers, Researcher, Stanford University, CERAS 527 “Mastering Academic Language provides a practical look at the sociocultural foundations of academic language, relevant classroom and student examples, and a helpful framework for organizing and enacting the complex processes of developing language across a variety of contexts.”

Maria Gillentine, Title III Program Specialist, Gwinnett County Public Schools, Suwanee, GA “This book is a must read for teachers and administrators. It provides a comprehensive approach to helping EL students learn academic language, key to success in the content areas. This book provides an excellent opportunity for leaders as a book study with its guidance and reflections throughout the chapters.”

Michael Clyne, 5th Grade Teacher, Kanoheda Elementary School, Lawrenceville, GA “Educators of all levels and expertise will enjoy this easy read which connects every aspect of student achievement from vocabulary acquisition to assessment to individualizing instruction.”

Christine Landwehrle, Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, Rumson School District, Nashua, NH “Mastering Academic Language artfully weaves together vignettes with high-quality research while providing a new lens with which to see schooling and the achievement gap.”


Reviews: Christian Faltis, PhD, University of California at Davis School of Education “Every school that has English learners should invest in this book.  Because Zacarian has worked in the field of language minority education for more than 20 years, the policies, practices, and structures she recommends are solid.  Using vignettes, research, and numerous situated examples, she demonstrates how schools can help English learners thrive and feel fully connected.”

Janette Klingner, Professor, School of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder “I love this book! It is a much-needed practical guide. The scenarios are excellent! They are realistic, pertinent, and capture a range of students’ and educators’ experiences. The text provides a wealth of timely, accurate information, useful suggestions, and many forms, checklists, and examples.”

Eileen de los Reyes, Assistant Superintendent, Office of English Language Learners, Boston Public Schools: “This book provides school leaders with clear and constructive guidance on how to re-envision schools with growing numbers of English learners. Debbie Zacarian addresses the questions of leaders who realize that for schools that wish to succeed in the 21st century must rethink the organization, curriculum, analysis of data, assessments, and relations with families. The book is attentive to the theoretical underpinnings of second language acquisition as well as the day-to-day challenges facing school leaders.”

Margarita Calderón, Professor Emeritus, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD “This book addresses issues that school administrators new to EL instruction need to know. Each chapter contains useful tools that deal with student assessment, placement, and monitoring. The included home language survey and descriptions of different tests are very useful. The section on parent engagement offers many practical ideas, as well as the rationale for working more intensely with parents.”

Lynne T. Díaz-Rico, Professor of Education, California State University, San Bernardino: “School administrators, resource facilitators, and classroom teachers will find a wealth of strategies that address the teaching of English language learners. A variety of program models offer options for identification, placement, and classroom instruction that provide research-based, comprehensive solutions to the complex issues involved with educating students. Vignettes and glimpses of classroom practice bring the needs of students and concerns of parents to the fore. Whether a school district has a large population of English learners or is faced with designing an individualized program for just a few, this is a useful toolkit, at once theoretical and practical.”

Margaret O’Hare, Director, Massachusetts Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC): “Dr. Zacarian clearly and succinctly identifies the frequent misunderstandings and misconceptions that can occur between families of English language learners and teachers and administrators. She uses real-life experiences to illustrate the barriers faced by these families, as well as effective solutions in helping these students access college, and helping schools integrate new immigrant families and students.”


Reviews: Yvonne S. Freeman, Professor of Bilingual Education, The University of Texas at Brownsville: “The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners gets at the heart of what is key for working with beginning ELs and helps educators gain a complete understanding of these students’ needs and the factors that influence them.”

Andrea Honigsfeld, Professor Molloy College: “Debbie Zacarian and Judie Haynes joined forces again and created a much needed, comprehensive text in The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners. Students who are new to the English language and often new to the United States and the US school system frequently encounter complex challenges, so their teachers need to be prepared and ready to help. This book will serve as an indispensable resource for teachers to tackle this task, and to do so with knowledge, skills, confidence, and advocacy for new English Learners!”

Nancy Cloud, Professor and Director of the M.Ed. in TESL Program Rhode Island College, Providence, RI:  “The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners is a direct, concise and straight-forward volume for practitioners serving newly arrived English Language Learners. It captures the assets and resources beginning ELLs bring into the classroom and focuses on effective educational responses for each group of beginning English learners, built around a solid understanding of key learner characteristics, including literacy levels, cultural characteristics and other important learner factors that may come into play such as poverty and/or trauma experienced. The authors have created a useful working guide, supported by plenty of helpful examples and tools, which schools can use to facilitate Professional Development Communities, following a structured book study process.”

Helaine W. Marshall, Associate Professor of Education, Director of Language Education Programs, LIU-Hudson, Purchase, NY: “At a time when the U.S. is experiencing record number of English learners, many of whom enter the country not only as beginners in English language, but with a wide range of other needs as well, this carefully researched, practical guide will serve as the primary support for both teachers and administrators seeking to do a more comprehensive job of responding to what is arguably their most vulnerable student population. Zacarian and Haynes provide a close examination of the diversity within the group of beginner ELs, who are often lumped together based on language proficiency alone.”

Michelle DaCosta, Bilingual Resource Teacher, Framingham Public Schools, Framingham, MA: “This book provides a wonderful look at the complexities of providing newcomers with a welcoming school environment and appropriate instruction. The book clearly reveals that the needs of these students requires more than ‘just good teaching.’”

Katherine Lobo, ESL Teacher and Teacher Trainer, Belmont Public Schools, Belmont, MA “This book will be of great interest to all educators of English learners because we all have beginners who arrive at any time during the school year, in our various schools and districts. The authors skillfully use scenarios to connect the theory to the practice and helps create a framework in which to plan for programming as well as classroom instruction.”

Jennifer Paul, ELL Assessment Consultant, Michigan Department of Education, Lansing, MI “The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners isn’t your run-of-the-mill, boring professional development book for educators. With accurate portrayals of real-world situations that will make readers shake their fists in anger and smile at successes, this book is a must-have for improving EL identification and curriculum in any district.”


English learners face the difficult challenge of learning a new language and new subject matter at the same time. In Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas offers strategies, tools, and tips that teachers can use to help English learners, ranging from those just beginning to learn English to those nearly fluent, to flourish in mainstream classrooms. Real-life examples of lessons from elementary, middle, and high school in language arts, math, science, and social studies classes show how to effectively put the authors’ recommendations into practice. 

5.0 out of 5 stars A vital resource
It’s one thing to teach a child to speak English. It’s another to teach them history while they’re still learning English. “Teaching English Language Learners: Across the Content Areas” is a guide for teachers who have English as a Second Language students in their class rooms and how to cope with the language barrier of a child who is trying to grasp a language that they won’t learn over night. The stages of language mastery, working these children with their peers, and talking to the parents and guardians, “Teaching English Language Learners” is a vital resource for any educator who will be faced with such a child.