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WIDA's Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing info@wida.us with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.

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Lori Hanna: Featured Educator

July 2014

Since 2012, Lori Hanna has been the director of ELL curriculum at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She previously served as an ELL instructional specialist at the University of Missouri and as an ELL teacher in the Camdenton R-III School District in Missouri.

photo of Lori Hanna
Lori Hanna

Q: Describe your background a little bit. When and where did you get your start in education?

LH: I started teaching later in life. For many years, I concentrated on raising my children, and only got the bug to be a teacher after they grew older. I started teaching fourth grade in 2000, and in 2003, I had my first student who was an ELL. I felt like that student just wasn’t getting enough support, and so I started attending workshops to find more ways to support that student. That’s what lit the spark for me for ELL education. The next year, my husband and I moved across the state, and a school district I was applying for had an opening for an ESL teacher. That was at the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. I applied and received provisional certification, then started classes and became an ESL teacher in a K-12 district. The district was really proud to have an ELL teacher and a paraprofessional even though it only had 18 ELL students. But when I got into the school, I found more ELL students who weren’t being served. The number of ELLs went up to 40, and we were also experiencing growth. By the middle of the next year we were up to 80 ELLs.

I taught at that district for five years. In the beginning, I was working with almost all ages. My students were scattered among different buildings and were all in pullout settings. As we identified more ELLs and had growth, we started developing actual programs. By the second year, I had started ESL sheltered classrooms at the high school and the middle school.

Q: How did all those changes come about in such a short time? What was the catalyst?

LH: I was very proactive and very vocal; I got the reputation of a bulldog with a bone. My philosophy has always been the kids come first. I negotiated and ruffled feathers, and quoted No Child Left Behind when I had to. Then, the last year I was teaching at that school district, we made a big push for co-teaching, which was really good but didn’t come without struggles. I realized there was a lack of awareness on how best to support ELL students in the content classroom.

Q: What was your next step after leaving the Lake of the Ozarks?

LH: For the next two years, I provided professional development and technical assistance to over 80 school districts in Missouri from one of the Regional Professional Development Centers. That was just as Missouri joined the WIDA Consortium. My first day as an ELL instructional specialist was at a statewide WIDA training to teach everybody in the state how to give the W-APT, which was interesting. I provided technical assistance to help districts establish their ELL programs, did training on how to do language acquisition assessments, completing Title III and LAU plans, and additionally, I would show them some ELL instructional strategies. So there was a mix of professional development and technical assistance.

Two years ago, I started working at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) position I have now, which was created in order for Missouri to be awarded their No Child Left Behind waiver.

When I started the position, I had just gone to the Common Core and More training, and right after, I became a CLIMBS facilitator, so I was learning a lot about how to include ELLs at all proficiency levels in all areas of instruction. That’s what I focused on at the beginning.

Q: What do you do in your job?

LH: I’ve been working on many different projects. One of my major projects is the Diverse Learners Amplification to the Model Curriculum. During my first year at the department, I attended the WIDA Spring Academy in St. Louis, which focused on lesson unit design the combined content and ELD standards. I had previously been working on Model Curriculum for the state of Missouri, and I realized what had been put into that curriculum for ELLs was not going to be accessible to most ELLs. So I developed a plan for how we would add diverse learner amplifications to the model curriculum by creating strands of MPIs to differentiate the task for ELLs. Then I taught teams of ELL teachers and model curriculum writers how to amplify units. At this point we have between 35-40 units finished.

I have also been working on the issue of identifying ELLs with learning disabilities. Since last August, we have been researching and developing ways to improve our procedures and policies. In January, we did our first webinar, that was an overview which explained the legal pieces behind ELL services, and how to identify students as ELL, and then we discussed special education requirements and ELL/SPED myths on top of this. We wanted to our educators to understand the process to identify the differences between language acquisition and learning disabilities, so we developed a flow chart that shows the steps for pre-referral. This past May and June, I worked in collaboration with personnel from compliance and effective practices to produce our second webinar in our series. This webinar featured the WIDA RtI² publication, discussing effective instruction and interventions for ELLs at each tier in regard to the flow chart.

Q: You received your CLIMBS facilitator certification two years ago. Has it benefitted you and your work, and if so, how?

LH: The course was so valuable to me. It gave me inspiration to do CLIMBS courses throughout the state. I firmly believe in WIDA’s philosophy of collaboration. ELLs spend a majority of their time in their content classrooms. If we can’t build capacity for working with ELLs with that mainstream teacher, we cannot affect student achievement and language acquisition at the rate we need to achieve it.

After I took the course, I knew I wanted to have all my staff become CLIMBS facilitators. I started talking with WIDA about it, and we decided to run a CLIMBS Facilitator Institute here in Missouri. Once that fell into place, I made the decision that I would also include some ELL teachers in the training and that my instructional specialist staff would partner with to build our capacity.

Q: How do you integrate language standards with content standards, and how have you supported Missouri’s educators in their efforts at that?

LH: You cannot teach language outside of something; you have to be teaching something when you’re teaching language. If you’re a teacher and you understand the language demands of each of your content lessons, then you’re able to develop specific targets for the language itself as well as whatever content piece you’re teaching.

Q: How have you worked at integrating Common Core into Missouri’s existing ELL programming and curriculum?

LH: Wherever any content piece is being worked on in Missouri, whether it’s out of the ELA department, or the math department, we have trainers go out to school districts to train our educators on how to implement math or ELA Common Core standards into their classrooms. Oftentimes, I’ll put one of my ELL instructional specialists on those teams, to make sure they’re asking, ‘”Are you thinking about language demands of this? Have you identified where it could be differentiated?”

Since 2007, we have run the Missouri Migrant Education ELL Conference, which is a statewide conference that I help organize. More than 400 educators from Missouri come every year for the three-day conference. Its general purpose is to provide professional development and support for the state’s ELL teachers. Last year, we had as speakers Margo Gottlieb, Barb Marler, Andrea Hollingsfeld, and Lydia Stack, and we had local Regional Professional Development staff and teachers do breakout sessions. I’m hoping that the conference will make a difference. I know many ELL teachers who are the only ELL specialists in their districts. Some of them feel like they’re on islands, especially those working in districts with large populations. We want them to feel a greater sense of community, and I think this conference goes a long way in doing that, as well as giving them more skills and resources they can take back to their schools.

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