Internationals Network for Public Schools: A Deeper Learning Approach to Supporting English Language Learners

All too often in U.S. schools, English learners are segregated into classrooms that are on the margins of our educational system. In these learning spaces, English learners are often asked to engage with remedial content and face low expectations. In addition, some educators may perceive secondary students who are English learners as being too old to “catch up.”
Whereas some schools seemingly maintain limited goals and expectations for English learners, the Internationals Network for Public Schools sees potential and has high expectations. Internationals is a network of 27 schools situated within public school districts across the nation that serves
secondary students who are recent immigrants and English learners. The network expects that all of its students will graduate ready for college, career, and life and that all students will be ready to pursue a meaningful postsecondary path.
To meet these expectations, Internationals has developed a school model that emphasizes rigorous academics, linguistic dignity, and bilingualism. Internationals schools integrate language development across content areas while engaging students in deeper learning—pedagogical approaches, including project-based learning, work-based learning, and performance assessments, that allow students to explore their interests and learn academic content in personalized and inquiry-based ways. Deeper learning approaches help students think critically and solve complex problems using mathematical, scientific, and creative reasoning. To this end, teachers engage students in learning experiences that require collaboration, effective communication, and self-directed inquiry, enabling students to “learn how to learn” and develop academic mindsets that increase perseverance and productive learning behaviors.
In addition to these pedagogical features, Internationals’ students are further supported by school structures that address their social and emotional needs, including regular access to social workers, counselors, and wrap around services. The inclusion of language and content integration, a deeper learning approach, and a focus on the whole student has allowed Internationals to provide a range of coordinated supports that produce strong outcomes for English learners.
This report highlights how Internationals has managed to re-create, sustain, and spread its complex and equity-oriented model across the country, even in the face of the challenges that arise when seeking to create substantive changes to teaching and learning. The report begins with a description of the network’s model and how it designs schools with structures—such as mixed-age classes, teaching looping, interdisciplinary team collaboration, and advisories—to bring its vision and commitments to life. In addition, it identifies the systems and structures that have enabled
Internationals to re-create its model in a high-quality manner. The report suggests that:

  1. Internationals works collaboratively with local practitioners to establish its schools, helping ensure that its deeper learning model is feasible and sustainable.
    With its clear vision for teaching and learning, Internationals instantiates its vision and values in schools through collaborative processes that ensure the model is feasible and responsive to the community. On one hand, the network maintains a set of conditions that it strives to secure so that its complex model can be implemented, including Internationals’ input on staffing, flexibility on graduation timelines and requirements, and assurances that Internationals staff can incorporate language development into their core instruction.
    At the same time, Internationals staff do not establish their schools in a top-down fashion. Instead, they engage in ongoing discussions with district leaders and local educators about student need and the feasibility and fit of the model to ensure that it is a welcomed and
    responsive addition to the local community.
    Implications for schools and districts: Internationals’ ongoing collaboration with local communities suggests that deeper learning models can be well supported when local stakeholders are involved in establishing deeper learning schools. Similarly, school and district leaders seeking to implement deeper learning approaches can develop a clear understanding of the policies and structures they need to instantiate their visions and then consider how they can intentionally and authentically partner with the local communities from the onset.
  2. Internationals cultivates a culture of professional learning in which teachers and leaders learn about and experience Internationals’ model and hone their abilities to implement the model in collaborative and ongoing ways.
    Because the Internationals model varies from traditional ways of educating English learners, the network deliberately engages teachers and leaders in immersive professional development so that teachers can effectively implement its approach. The network invests early in its educators and leaders, onboarding them with a series of learning opportunities that allow them to experience the network’s instructional model and to learn with and from their experienced colleagues. The network also engages its teachers in professional learning with their colleagues via structured collaboration time and through the network’s characteristic open-door policy, wherein teachers visit each other’s classrooms to provide feedback or to learn new techniques. This policy encourages transparency and mutual accountability. The network also hosts cross-network workshops that gather teachers and leaders around specific topics and build communities of practice. Taken collectively, these professiona learning opportunities advance a culture of continuous learning in Internationals schools and provide a reinforcing system of support for educators as they implement the network’s complex model.
    Implications for schools and districts: Internationals’ approach to supporting teachers and leaders can provide lessons for those seeking to implement deeper learning for English learners in their schools. Findings suggest the importance of experiential and immersive learning for educators and the need to build and maintain multifaceted systems for professional support that
    emphasize continuous improvement and collaboration.