By Becki Cohn-Vargas and Debbie Zacarian Strengthening The of Community Partnership As educators, we should celebrate the Herculean shift that we and our students have made from in-person to distance engagement. We know that this transition and our future success are dependent on parents and guardians. Whether our students are being reared by two parents, a single parent, foster parents, grandparents, a blended family, unrelated people who live cooperatively, or with extrafamilial support, the glue ...Read More

Teaching to Empower During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone In March of this year, as it became clear that the nation’s school buildings would close for the foreseeable future in light of a global pandemic crisis and that distance learning was the only way for education to continue, student and teacher roles were upended overnight. Amidst these radical changes, face-to-face social interactions (which for many are the most meaningful element of school and the glue that binds us ...Read More

5 Essential Trauma-Informed Priorities for Remote Learning

By Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes As the COVID-19 pandemic upended communities worldwide, millions of educators moved at warp speed from gathering face-to-face to sheltering at home. In a matter of days, human connection required some type of device or a six-foot distance. Against this backdrop, children continue to be exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that are further exacerbated by the current health crisis. Trauma-informed practices to support students who are experiencing or ...Read More


This was a week of online firsts- jumping into the deep end of our ‘online’ selves in ways familiar and new.  It leads us to a discussion about the virtues of students having a voice and choice in their online learning. experiences. Debbie: I had my first tele-health conference. It was kind of cool to be sitting in the comfort of home (in sweatpants) speaking with a doctor who was, probably, in his. The ease ...Read More

From Deficits to Assets

This Q&A with editor Dan Alpert and co-authors Debbie Zacarian and Diane Staehr Fenner first appeared in languagemagazine.com on January 22, 2020. That piece is titled From Deficit-Based to Assets-Based: Breaking Down the Wall One Essential Shift at a Time and is based on the first chapter of the best selling book Breaking Down The Wall: Essential Shifts for English Learners’ Success.

Teaching and Supporting Students Living with Adversity

This new publication is being released in January 2020! “Teaching and Supporting Students Living with Adversity,” is a Quick Reference Guide. It includes six pages of key easy-to-implement K-12 instructional strategies for students living with trauma, violence and chronic stress. Filled with examples, it is now available for pre-order! TinyURL.com/yx52hn33

Video: 3 Trauma-Informed Priorities

3 Trauma-Informed Strategies for a Strengths-Based Classroom by Debbie Zacarian by Debbie Zacarian This short video describes the rationale for using a strengths-based approach to support students living with adversity and includes three classroom-based strategies. The video originally appeared as part of a project for ASCD on “Trauma-Informed Practices”.

How can classroom walls be used most effectively?

Classroom walls can play a vital role in helping students maximize their productivity, motivation, and focus. As you design the space you will want to keep these intentions prominent in your mind: Support a Sense of Identity, Belonging, and Ownership: Students should be involved in making decisions about what is displayed or offered on the classroom walls—their learning space is influenced by how it reflects their presence and their ability to leave their own mark ...Read More

Five Elements of a Positive Classroom Environment for Students Living with Adversity

How many of us have been formally trained to teach students living with adverse childhood experiences? When we ask this question throughout the U.S., few educators raise their hand. However, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health, almost half of all U.S. children have experienced one or more types of serious adversity such as abuse, neglect, parental loss, or mental illness. What is not included in this survey are the countless additional children who have ...Read More

“What education buzzwords are the most overused?”

Larry Ferlazzo, a wonderful teacher and writer, writes a great blog for Ed Week where he asks questions from various people from the field. Here’s my response to his question: “What education buzzwords are the most overused?” One of the most common buzzwords used in education is ‘best practices’. Take a minute to go to the World Wide Web and use whatever engine you are comfortable to do a search of the term, best ...Read More

Supporting Students After a Violent Event

Tragically, many of our nation’s children have been exposed to high profile acts of violence including the horrific event that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Many of us are grappling with how to best support students, their families, as well as others. The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative  provides some helpful resources.  Included in these is a guidance document from the National Association of School Psychologists .  It provides many specific ...Read More

Using a Talking Stick Is More Than Speaking Uninterrupted

The first time I served on a jury, the judge announced that I would be its foreperson. I had no idea why I’d been chosen and wondered if it was a random selection, like the ball that pops out from a lottery machine, or if it had anything to do with the details I furnished on the juror questionnaire. After two full days of hearing testimony and a third deliberating, we pronounced our verdict, ...Read More

Using Our Voices to Uplift Our Communities

In the documentary series, Daughters of Destiny, about the Shanti Bhavan School, there’s a scene of a sex education class where boys are taught to take responsibility to protect and value girls and women. The series, about a boarding school that provides free PreK-12 education for India’s most impoverished children, demonstrates what’s possible when we work together to benefit our society. To me, the Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and Women’s Movements speak to ...Read More

Using a Strengths-Based Approach with ELs: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress

This piece was commissioned and printed by Colorin Colorado with support from the AFT and NEA and appeared Here:  https://www.colorincolorado.org/article/using-strengths-based-approach-els-supporting-students-living-trauma-violence-and-chronic by Dr. Debbie Zacarian, Dr. Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, & Judie Haynes Using a strengths-based approach allows educators to draw upon students’ internal strengths and capacities, and it can be a particularly powerful practice for English learners who have experienced trauma, violence, or chronic stress.  In this article adapted from Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with ...Read More

Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students living with trauma, violence & chronic stress included in Hurricane Relief Effort

Honored that ASCDs Hurricane Relief Initiative includes our book. Here is information about it from ASCD.  “Purchase an ASCD book from our online store from now until October 31 and use promo code “RELIEF,” and ASCD will donate one trauma-related resource, such as Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress or Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, to districts and schools affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. More ...Read More

Building Partnerships Through Classroom-Based Events, Debbie Zacarian & Michael Silverstone

Building Partnerships Through Classroom-Based Events, Debbie Zacarian & Michael Silverstone In the lead article of the Sept. issue of Ed Leadership, here’s how educators can design events that make families feel welcome, share their children’s learning, and integrate the rich assets they bring. As educators, we all want to build partnerships with families. We know that students benefit from the cooperation, care, and shared inspiration that such partnerships can create. But deepening family engagement ...Read More

Teaching to Strengths: supporting students living with trauma, violence & chronic stress

TEACHING TO STRENGTHS:  SUPPORTING STUDENTS LIVING WITH TRAUMA, VIOLENCE, AND CHRONIC STRESS.  (co-written with Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz and Judie Haynes) Half the students in U.S. schools are experiencing or have experienced trauma, violence, or chronic stress. Much has been written about these students from a therapeutic perspective, especially regarding how to provide them with adequate counseling supports and services. Conversely, little has been written about teaching this population and doing so from a strengths-based perspective. Using ...Read More

Data-Driven Decisions on Effective Performance Measures of English Learners

Delighted to have contributed a chapter and be included among esteemed colleagues in Shelley Wepner and Dee Gomez co-edited and much needed book. Challenges Facing Suburban Schools Promising Responses to Changing Student Populations.  Many of us might not realize the rapid demographic changes that are occurring in our nation’s suburbs and the complex productive challenges that educators who work in them are experiencing.  In this edited book, each chapter addresses the cultural and linguistic changes ...Read More

Identifying and teaching English learners with disabilities

The nation’s #1 website serving educators and families of English Learners, Colorín Colorado, with generous funding from the National Education Association, produced a new section about identifying, assessing, and teaching English learners who may have learning disabilities. Colorín Colorado’s new website section includes four comprehensive sections including:  (1) special education and ELs: challenges and opportunities, (2) identifying student needs, (3) the special education referral process for ELs, and (4) instruction and assessment. Learn more from the videos ...Read More

Interactions Matter:  impact learning through student, classroom, family and community partnerships

by Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone Whether you are an administrator, teacher or a parent–a fan of standardized testing-indexed sanctions, or an advocate for student-directed learning experiences, there is one point of agreement that we all share. We want all students to feel and be successful.  For well over a decade, success has been measured by federal and state accountability standards.  For some groups of students, the testing outcomes and graduation rates reflect progress–for others, ...Read More

What is a Growth Mindset and How Can It Be Applied in the Classroom?

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, founder of ‘growth mindset,’ defines the concept as believing that every student can succeed and teaching them to believe in their abilities to: (1) embrace the challenges and complexities of learning; (2) learn the positives of being persistent (3) value effort as a positive; and (4) be inspired to do more (2007). She contrasts this to a ‘fixed mindset’ where educators believe some students can’t succeed based on their intelligence ...Read More

Launching the Just-Right Tools for English Learners

Many are using social networking to get word out that the US Departments of Education and Justice released guidance and tools about the legal obligations of teaching English learners. Last month, the US Department of Education released an English Learner Toolkit to help state and local education agencies help English Learners (ELs) by fulfilling these obligations. The guidance is an important time to remind us of the following. English Learners are Not a Monolithic Group English learners speak over 350+ languages ...Read More

Rethinking the Possibilities of Strength-Based Teacher Evaluation Systems

With all of the time, effort and money being poured into teacher evaluation systems, the outcomes of students from underrepresented populations have not changed enough to see that what we are doing is working. Only 61 percent of English learners, the fastest growing group in the U.S., are graduating and students with disabilities, American Indian and Alaskan Americans, Black students, students living in poverty, and Hispanic students, respectively, are not faring much better (US Department ...Read More

Why Partnerships Can Energize Our Classrooms by Kevin Hodgson

A Middleweb Blog by Kevin Hodgson Like many educators, I find the first days of school are a time to get to know my students through community-building activities. I am always curious about family connections, yet never feel as if I do nearly enough to forge partnerships with families, beyond the Curriculum Night, Parent-Teacher Meetings, and regular newsletters. As a parent of three boys, ironically, I also often feel that I don’t know what my ...Read More

We Can Only Make Education Work When We Are In It Together

by Debbie Zacarian & Michael Silverstone How do two separate people from different places and with different roles actually go about writing one sentence let alone a book? Our answer takes some explaining as it reflects what we believe is needed in education, now. Partnerships are key  The process of co-writing this book began by talking about teaching, talking to define what we were after as educators, and talking about what we thought was ...Read More

English Learners Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress

The film, Spare Parts, was released last month. It’s based on the true story (and book) about 4 undocumented Latino high school students who formed a robotics team that beat MIT engineering students in a contest. Their personal stories as well as the more recent questions, responses and comments heard at President’s Obama’s Town Hall meeting on immigration policies shine much-needed light on a large and growing segment of the nation’s population. Understanding the needs of students ...Read More


Many are using social networking to get word out that the US Departments of Education and Justice recently released guidance and tools about teaching English learners.  The two agencies remind us all that ELs should “have equal access to a high quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full potential.” Educators across the nation are applauding the two Departments’ efforts to release this information and some are going further to say that more ...Read More


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently reemphasized the importance of the annual testing requirement. One of the key reasons he’s advocating for them is that they provide information about what’s working and what’s not. A coalition of civil rights groups also support annual testing for the same reason– as a means to “target funding” where it’s most needed– for the most vulnerable students including “children of color; children living in poverty; children with disabilities; homeless, foster and migrant ...Read More


Many educational scholars and practitioners, including me, have written extensively about teaching students from underserved populations.  The focus of this work has included students living in poverty, from diverse cultural and racial experiences, and who are English learners. These are made more relevant by an ever-increasing population of students and families living in poverty, the significant rate of school absenteeism among our nation’s poor, and an increase in racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity among the ...Read More


A half a century ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty and launched several initiatives intended to battle the ravages of a chronic and persistent problem. Among these was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It required that any institution receiving federal funding could not deny anyone access to any program or activity based on race, color, or national origin (Hanna, 2005). There were many educational initiatives that occurred during this ...Read More


As we embark on a new school year, it’s important to look backward to think forward.  An important area to examine is the changing landscape of our nation’s schools.  Looking back at the nation’s students provides us with helpful information. Figure 1 provides a snapshot of the 2010-2011 school year.  What does it tell us in relation to our work? Figure 1: 2010-2011 U.S. student characteristics (Source: US Dept. of Education) As seen in ...Read More


In 2002, one of the ballot questions put to Massachusetts’ voters was titled English for the children. In part, it proposed that all students be taught entirely in English. The ballot sounded good to many, after all, who would not want children to learn English? Two-thirds of the state voted for it. Unfortunately, it was a politically motivated ballot that had little to do with research about what works the most successfully for the state’s English Learners. ...Read More