Teacher Mindsets that Matter for Multilingual Learners

Carly SpinaBlog, Connect Better, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Manage Better, Reflect Better, Self Care Better


  • The beginning of the school year gives us an opportunity for a fresh start.
  • Instead of a negative mindset, identify student’s passions and interests, and how we utilize those to empower students.  We can have some fresh mindsets about unmotivated students, lack of support at home, and students without a dominant language.
  • Mindsets to embrace are linguistic inclusivity, want students to see themselves in curriculum, families are teammates, and remember to take care of yourself too.

Every spring, I unpack my son and my daughter’s backpacks ceremoniously at the end of the school year. I always breathe a very deep sigh when I check out their worn-out, tiny pencils. Yes, teacher friends, I’m the mama of the kids who enjoy writing with teeny, tiny pencils no longer than an inch or two. I gather these pencils up and declare that we are getting a fresh pack of pencils for next school year- to which my kids always argue with me: “But mom, these still work! They still write!” 

Fresh Start

This time of year begins with an opportunity to provide ourselves with a fresh start. For The Spinas, yes, that means fresh pencils, too. While we unpack our old supplies that appear rather weathered, I decide to throw away habits, thoughts, and mindsets that do not serve me, my students, my colleagues, or my community. While we begin to gather up school supplies, I also collect healthy thoughts and adopt fresh mindsets to carry with me into the school year. 

For many students, a new school year can bring about a lot of anxiety. Will I make friends? Will my classes be difficult? Due to rising cases of the virus, will the school shut down? And of course, will my teacher like me? 

A new school year can be just the fresh start that we all need. For students (and families) that have had negative experiences with school, teachers, or administrators, this is a critical moment of the seemingly long timeline of a school year. Sometimes, we can have conversations with a student’s former teachers to help inform our instruction. Other times, we don’t have that opportunity. However, we can use this as an opportunity for a fresh start. 

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Teacher Mindsets that Matter

Here are some fresh mindsets that I wish for all of us (myself included) to retire this school year: 

He/She/They are not motivated.

This is such a negative mindset to have about a student. Instead of identifying what has not motivated the student, identify what the student’s passions and interests are, and so how we can utilize those things to empower the student. 

There’s no support at home. The parents are uninvolved.

Making declarations like this about the families we serve don’t serve anyone, and instead create a barrier between us and our teammates (the families, guardians, and caregivers – yes, they are our teammates). All of our definitions of “involvement” can vary based on our upbringing, our cultures, our own childhoods, etc. Instead, let’s think of creative ways to engage and provide outreach as a school.

The student has no dominant language.

Language develops in a myriad of ways, especially in our multilingual students. What an incredible asset our students have! Let’s drop the obsession over having a “dominant” language and instead embrace and celebrate the journey of language growth. All of our languages are important, and they don’t need a hierarchy from anyone – especially not their teacher. 

What are some mindsets to embrace this school year? What mindsets will make a powerful difference for our multilingual learners?

I want my classroom to demonstrate linguistic inclusivity.

My classroom needs to feel safe for students to engage in linguistic risk-taking, which means that I can put away the “language police” vibe of the past and instead honor the language of the room. I can acknowledge language choices and supply additional language supports and scaffolds. 

It’s important for all of the students I serve to see themselves and each other in our curriculum.

Each of my students deserves to see themselves and their classmates, neighbors, family members, and friends in the books we read, the articles we critique, the posters on the walls, and the languages we post. 

The families I serve are my teammates.

Dr. Lourdes Ferrer (author of Hispanic Parental Involvement: Ten Competencies Schools Need to Teach Hispanic Parents, 2011) shared the tricycle analogy that represented the partnership between a student, family, and the school. The student is the front wheel and ultimately drives the direction of the tricycle. On either side of the student are the additional wheels. One is the family, and the other is the school. If they’re both providing support, the student will move forward! 

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My students are important to me. I am important to me, too.

While we seek to serve, we must remember to serve ourselves as well. As advocates for multilingual students and families, we cannot opt-out of taking the proper care of our physical, mental, and spiritual health. As we fight for inclusive practices, strong instruction, language access, community engagement, and equity for multilingual learners, it is crucial that we have a system for investing time and energy into ourselves. Our fight requires that we build up allies that support us. It requires us to take breaks, maintain our other passions, and prioritize our hearts and minds.

Teacher Mindsets that Matter: Fresh Start

Allowing our students and ourselves a fresh start will allow us to grow in ways we never have before. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get to sharpening that box of new pencils…and maybe hiding the withered-down pencils from last year so my kids don’t find them! 

About Carly Spina

Carly Spina has 15 years of experience in Multilingual Education, including her service as an EL teacher, a third-grade bilingual classroom teacher, and a district-wide EL/Bilingual/Dual Language Instructional Coach. She is currently serving educators and leaders across the state of Illinois in her role as an Education Specialist for the Illinois Resource Center. Spina has engaged in the successful co-creation of several parent outreach programs, tutoring programs for students in grades 3-5, mentoring programs for middle school students, co-teaching initiatives, and more. She is deeply passionate about equity and advocacy for multilingual learners and fights for access and inclusive opportunities for kids and families.

Spina actively fights against food insecurity in her community. She enjoys speaking at various national conferences and events and has received several awards over the years, including the Illinois Education Association Reg Weaver Human & Civil Rights Award in 2015 and the Distinguished Service Award for Excellence in the Team Category for EL Community Engagement in 2019. She was the WIDA Featured Educator in April 2019 and was named a Paul Harris Fellow in July of 2019. Spina is an active member of the EL/Bilingual community on social media. She enjoys networking and growing with teachers and leaders across the country. She is currently working on her first book with EduMatch Publishing.