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ESL/ELD Steering Committee


By Naomi Lawerence, YRDSB


Why a Steering Committee?

The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) is situated just north of Toronto. We are the third largest school district in Ontario, with over 124,000 students in 180 elementary schools and 33 secondary schools. Students and families in YRDSB speak 119 different languages.  Currently, we have a total of 34,775 students who are acquiring English as an additional language in our Elementary and Secondary schools.


Over the years, our school board has put many intentional programs and services in place to support multi-language learners and their families.  Recognizing that change is complex and requires a system-level approach, our board has developed strategies aligned with system priorities and goals that address the needs of our most marginalized and underserved students.  

These priorities and goals are outlined in our Trustees’ Multi-Year Strategic Plan and the Director’s Action Plan (DAP). A shared vision of English language learners as more than “learners of English”, but as capable and competent individuals with many strengths, lived experiences, and intersecting social identities, is at the centre of our educational efforts. The development of the ESL/ELD Steering Committee was timely, in that it supports specific DAP goals related to Equity and Inclusivity by encouraging all stakeholders to:

  • Develop an understanding of how power and privilege operate in schools and workplaces to advantage some and disadvantage others
  • Engage in learning about marginalization and its impact, both historically and currently
  • Use available data including student voice to actively seek information about marginalized students in order to inform school and system level programs and practices
  • Demonstrate understanding of the importance of knowing our learners through Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy (CRRP)
  • Review existing policies, programs and practices in order to identify and address inequities and disrupt barriers to learning

Last school year, in support of system-level data collection, we established the first ESL/ELD Steering Committee in YRDSB in order to better understand the experiences of students and staff.


The goal of the ESL/ELD Steering Committee is to provide a formalized, system-level opportunity for multiple voices and stakeholders to notice, name, and interrupt barriers to students’ success and well-being as they continue to acquire English as an additional language.  


Through an anti-oppressive lens, the committee has collaborated to provide system direction to support inclusive and equitable learning opportunities for multi-language learners, Kindergarten to Grade 12.   This is an established committee, with rotating membership every two years. The current group has met four times over seven months, and their feedback and collective efficacy have supported the launch of a larger board ESL/ELD System Review, supported by our Research Services department.


Considerations for Membership


Who might you invite to participate in a  steering committee? 


Recognizing the diversity of our geographically large school board, it was critical for us to seek membership from a variety of school communities and stakeholders.  As such, the following groups are represented on the YRDSB ESL/ELD  Steering Committee:


School Principals and Educators:  Eight school teams (4 Elementary and 4 Secondary), made up of administrators and educators across our 4 geographic areas. ESL/ELD teachers in these schools are part of the school leadership team. 


Superintendents: A minimum of one area Superintendent of Schools and/or the Superintendent of Curriculum & Instructional Services.


Federation Partners:  A member of the Elementary Teacher Federation of Ontario and a member of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation.


Regional Staff:  Consultants/principals from the ELL team, Inclusive Schools and Community Services, Math, Guidance, Research and Assessment Services, First Nation Metis Inuit team, Reception Centre, School Settlement Services, Special Education, as well as International Education.



Goals of a Steering Committee

The group developed Terms of Reference that outline membership roles, timelines, as well as goals of the committee. Some of our committee goals include:

  • Enhance collaborative relationships with multiple stakeholders and together explore the knowledge, mindsets, behaviours, and skills needed to identify and build upon system strengths and eliminate barriers related to the success of English language learners
  • Build upon the Ministry of Education 2007, ESL/ELD Policies and Procedures for Ontario Elementary and Secondary Schools, Kindergarten to Grade 12, while providing the unique contextualization required to champion the strengths and assets of staff, students, families, and communities in YRDSB
  • Continue to build on school-based approaches to develop aligned system-level structures to supporting multilingual learners, through ongoing reflective practice and dialogue
  • Mobilize research and share evidence of promising practices to support the achievement and well-being of students acquiring English as an additional language (socially, linguistically, academically)
  • Provide recommendations to streamline and enhance current board initiatives and inform ESL/ELD related policy, procedures, structures and/or programs


“Think Tank” Discussion Process


What are the best ways to maximize the short meeting times with the committee?


To address this, we developed a structure to elicit feedback and solution-focused recommendations.  For a portion of every meeting, we divide the committee into smaller groups. Depending on the topic for discussion, sometimes these groupings were “like roles” (e.g., all administrators together, ELL teachers together, etc.), other times they were heterogeneous groupings.


Outlined below is a structure that helped us notice what was working in our board, identify barriers, and make recommendations to address these barriers in the form of policy, procedures, practices at the classroom level, school level and system level. 


  1. Individual think time is provided prior to moving into smaller groups. A 3-column organizer is provided to each member in order to record their thinking independently in relation to the topic/issue. They bring this organizer to their think tank.




  1. In these groups, we assign a conversation facilitator and a recorder. The facilitator is provided with discussion prompts and ensures that every voice around the circle is heard. They also jot down key points shared by the group on the same 3-column chart paper.  The recorder documents additional details of the conversation in a shared google document that is accessible by the entire steering committee. Below is an example of notes recorded in column 1 of the chart paper organizer.


  1. We consolidate the Think Tank with a brief whole-group share back, to ensure that members are able to hear what was discussed in other groups and ask questions. Each small group identifies a spokesperson who will share 1 - 2 key reflections and recommendations from their group. 


We recognize that this is complex work and it’s critical to take a system-level approach. Many of the recommendations gathered from our ESL/ELD Steering Committee thus far have been shared with our Board’s Senior Team, Executive Council, and Staffing Committees who require this information to support the development of ESL/ELD programs and policies.  


If your board is hoping to re-envision practices related to the academic success and well-being of English language learners and their families in your school board, you may find that establishing an ESL/ELD Steering Committee is a great place to start.


Naomi Lawrence has been an ERGO member for several years and greatly appreciates the collective voice and efficacy of this provincial association. She is also grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the ELL team at the York Region District School Board. Feel free to connect with Naomi at [email protected]


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