Four years ago, I changed roles, moving from service as an ESOL teacher at a school to the becoming the school district’s first ESOL Instructional Coach in the Teaching and Learning department at the district office. When I first accepted my current position, my Title III/ ESOL Director and I attended the SIOP® Conference in Atlanta— talk about fueling the fire for our professional learning plan for the upcoming school year! In addition to providing training for all the ESOL teachers, we were also being charged with the task of training all teachers at all 39 schools in best practices for English Learners. We knew we had to kick off the school year taking all ESOL teachers through a comprehensive three-day training on the SIOP® Model, so that August, we had SIOP® Trainers from Savvas (formerly Pearson K12 Learning) lead 2 three-day cohorts of learning for us. As for the rest of the educators in the county, that was up to me to redeliver the content in 30-minute chunks schools during teachers’ planning periods (not ideal, by any means, but I’d take what I could get).

Prior to developing a deep knowledge of the SIOP® Model, I was already (and quite frequently) sharing with the educators in my school that one of the biggest contributing factors in the success of ELs is the need to have a safe risk-taking environment. At the SIOP® National Conference in Atlanta, Dr. MaryEllen Vogt shared in her keynote John Hattie’s effect size, .82, for Interaction. That moment was an epiphany for me! And so, the following slide was born and included in the trainings I lead at schools.

As a member of Teaching and Learning, I’ve been able to attend professional learning opportunities for district and school level administrators. About two years ago, our Student Support department invited Krista Leh, with Resonance Educational Consulting, to introduce leaders in the district to this new educational “buzz phrase” we’d been hearing: Social Emotional Learning. As Krista led us through this full-day deep dive into what this new initiative is all about, I leaned over to my colleagues multiple times throughout the day and whispered phrases such as, “This has SIOP® written all over it”;  “that’s SIOP® Interaction”;  “SIOP® Building Background Knowledge states the same thing” or “if we could get all teachers to embrace the SIOP® Model framework, they wouldn’t have to address SEL as ‘another thing on their plates’.”

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The real “aha” moment came when Krista Leh began explaining the triune brain theory. Basically, if students are operating in the reptilian (lizard) part of the brain, the part of the brain that is responsible for critical thinking is unable to function to its full potential. Let’s be honest! Haven’t we all looked back at a time when we told ourselves, “I cannot believe I did/said/thought that!” Upon looking back, those times seemed to coincide with a time when my brain was in “fight or flight.”  Feeling a little better about myself in those moments by considering this information, I also thought about another situation where the “lizard brain” prevented the “human brain” from functioning at full capacity. My best friend’s son consistently received “Exceeds Expectations” in all subjects in all grades of the end of grade state tests. The one year he received “Meets Standard” (barely) in Reading was the year he was afraid to ask to use the bathroom during the test, and he was very scared he’d have an accident.  Sitting in the training with Krista affirmed the explanation I offered my friend about that situation; he couldn’t concentrate due to his emotional state.

While soaking in all the information from Krista Leh, I also immediately thought this understanding could be a huge factor as to why so many English Learners “struggle” in school. And I recalled something I read in Making Content Comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP® Model.

“The typical question-answer session in which teachers call on students may be threatening to students, particularly those unprepared to respond. Some students cannot focus on the content in this setting because it triggers the brain’s “threat response” Having young students talk in pairs or in small groups minimizes the risk and allow ideas to flow more easily” (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2017, p. 155).

I was determined to research further to “prove” my theory that by implementing the SIOP® Model teachers are able to address SEL without the need to “carve out additional instructional time.” I know, that’s an oxymoron…teachers don’t have additional time, which is why this is so beneficial. 

Although this connection between Interaction and SEL has been a major focus of the professional learning I’ve led over the past two years, intentionally addressing it in the fall as we continue to recover from the abrupt change in instruction due to COVID 19 is more critical than ever. As our department has been discussing the possible scenarios and planning for a return to instruction, the message shared with leaders has been loud and clear; no matter what school might “look like,” whether it be a continuation of distance learning, blended learning or welcoming students back to the buildings, the first month, at a minimum should be spent on targeted SEL and building relationships.  Karen Niemi, CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) President &CEO states, “When physical distancing is deemed necessary, social and emotional connectedness is even more critical. Now, more than ever, we understand how important it is to demonstrate empathy and resilience, build relationships across distance, and call upon our collective resolve to strengthen our schools and communities.”


Echevarria, J., Vogt, M. E., & Short, D. J. (2017). Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP® Model (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Leh, Krista. Resonance Educational Consulting SEL Training for Schools Leaders. November 29, 2017; July 26, 2018

Leh, Krista. Resonance Educational Consulting  SEL Training for Teaching and Learning. February 12, 2019

MacLean, P. (1960). The Triune Brain in Evolution

Niemi, K. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2020, from

Are your students taking risks in their learning? (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2019, from of Education University of Georgia News and Blog

Images retrieved from  10/30/2019 and compiled into graphic by the World’s Greatest Colleague, Michelle Mace.

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Michelle Slaton

Michelle Slaton

Instructional Coach

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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