By Sharon Sáez, Senior Partnership Development Director for WestEd’s English Learners and Migrant Education Services team

This summer marks twenty years of Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) Summer Institutes, a professional learning opportunity in which educators from around the world gather to learn how to engage English Learners in high-challenge, high-support education that comes with high expectations. The goal is to teach English Learners in a way that allows them to thrive in school, in their careers, and as highly valued community members.

QTEL focuses on developing educator expertise to support elementary and secondary English Learners’ development of conceptual, analytic, and language practices in disciplinary subject areas. Teams of educators attend the institutes to learn and experience the QTEL approach, which is a powerful, strengths-based framework for teaching and learning developed around five guiding principles for teaching:

  • Sustain Academic Rigor
  • Hold High Expectations
  • Engage Students in Quality Interactions
  • Sustain a Language Focus
  • Develop Quality Curriculum

These principles can be witnessed in classrooms where teachers apply the framework learned in the Institutes. In many classes that implement the QTEL approach, students from different parts of the world engage in academic and intellectual discourse. Students participate in sustained dialogue—talking, debating, critiquing, and explaining concepts and ideas to one another.

Teachers design the lessons to be of interest and relevance to students’ lived experiences, have high expectations of the students, and provide them with the supports students learn to expect in order to succeed beyond classroom walls.

Accelerating Student Learning After an Extended Absence

This year the Institutes come at a critical time in education. During the COVID-19 pandemic many English Learner students and their teachers did not receive the services and supports they needed to fully engage in remote learning.

Some did not have access to the necessary technology for distance learning and some lived in areas that lacked accessible internet connections (Reed et al. 2022). Some students experienced tremendous trauma related to losing a family member or losing economic stability (Yunsoo Park et al. 2020).

Now that schools are up and running at full capacity, educators are eager to get English Learners engaged again and to find their voice and agency as they navigate through a growing and increasingly complex world. This sense of urgency was present at the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) Annual Conference held in Portland, Oregon. In his keynote address to a packed room of educators at the conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said:

I don’t have to tell you that we are at the doorstep of a teacher shortage crisis in our country. This is even more palpable in hard-to-fill areas like Bilingual education.

That’s why, last month, we announced our first-ever grants—totaling over $18 million—under the Augustus Hawkins program to increase high-quality teacher preparation programs for teachers of color and multilingual teachers who are uniquely situated to reach our diverse student population. And every single one of those grantees incorporated a priority to produce more multilingual and bilingual teachers into their plans for these funds (Cardona, 2023).

Nearly 2,000 NABE participants attended a special keynote given by WestEd’s Aída Walqui, who started the QTEL initiative and grew it into the signature program it is today. Walqui has spent her career elevating the education of English Learners. She is now the Principal Investigator for and Director of the National Research and Development Center for Improving the Education of English Learners in Secondary Schools at WestEd.

In Walqui’s talk Quality and Equity in the Education of English Learners: Our Reciprocal Responsibility she explored the tenets of QTEL’s approach to developing English Learners. “Students don’t need to be ready to engage in very complex texts,” she said, “Readiness is created by support and engagement.”  She also spoke about curriculum design for English Learners:

Most of our curricula are linear. But instead, curricula need to spiral… [A]mbitious, dialogic exchanges have to be at the center of the enterprise. If you walk into a class and the teacher talks and talks and talks, something is really wrong, and no learning is taking place. (Walqui, 2023)

She says teachers can frame an activity for students, “But then teachers need to cede.”

Promoting an Equitable and Quality Education for English Learners

Teachers and leaders know the vast cultural and linguistic assets English Learners bring to classrooms. Educators also understand the tremendous challenges these students face and the critical need for reallocating opportunities and resources for each students’ learning needs and ultimate success.

This summer QTEL Institute participants will be able to expand their expertise. In the spirit of collaboration they will be invited to bring the issues they face in their classrooms and schools so that they can work with QTEL’s expert facilitators and their peers and colleagues to find solutions that strengthen their own expertise to improve outcomes for English Learners.

The Institutes will take place in Oahu, Hawaii; Santa Cruz, California; and Washington, DC. Educators can take courses focused on elementary or secondary literacy, secondary mathematics, curriculum design, and leadership. Each Institute will feature a keynote address from renowned scholars Amanda Kibler, Nelson Flores, Francisco Jimenez, and our own Dr. Walqui.

Are you interested in growing your expertise in engaging English Learners in deep, generative learning? Visit the QTEL Summer Institutes event page to learn more.

Sharon Sáez is Senior Partnership Development Director for WestEd’s English Learners and Migrant Education Services team. Sáez supports the scale-up of professional learning offerings by creating partnerships and contributing to the team’s vital role in educational recovery efforts to ensure full and equal participation of English Learner students in their learning and growth.


Reed, S., Hurtt, A., Hibel, J., & Garrett, D. (2022, May). Serving English Learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Policy Analysis for California Education.

Yunsoo Park, Y., Nakamura J., Rush, J., & Fuxman, S. (2020, June). Supporting students experiencing trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic. Institute of Educational Sciences, REL Appalachia.

Cardona, M. (2023, February). Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona at the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) 52nd Annual International Bilingual and Bicultural Education Conference [Keynote speech transcript]. U.S. Department of Education.

Walqui, A. (2023, February) Remarks by Aida Walqui at the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) 52nd Annual International Bilingual and Bicultural Education Conference

Additional Sources

Kibler, A., Valdez, G., & Walqui, A. (2021) Reconceptualizing the Role of Critical Dialogue in American Classrooms: Promoting Equity through Dialogic Education. Routledge Research in Education.

Walqui, A., & Van Lier, L. (2010). Scaffolding the academic success of adolescent English language learners: A pedagogy of promise. WestEd.