Collaboration with EL Education

EL Education: Thinking in a New Direction

Mount Holyoke College's Master of Arts in Teaching, Initial Licensure Program (M.A.T.) is the only graduate teaching program in the country created and developed in collaboration with EL Education, a nonprofit educational organization that is transforming schools across the country. Students in our program take EL-based courses along with workshops taught by Mount Holyoke faculty and visiting EL teachers and mentors.

M.A.T. students will benefit from EL's innovative approach to professional development, which is designed to help teachers apply their theoretical learning to classroom practices so that all students can achieve at high levels and engage deeply in school. The National Staff Development Council concluded that EL was the only program of 26 studied to meet all 27 standards for high-quality professional development.

EL emphasizes project-based, purposeful learning grounded in the community—which leads to high levels of student achievement, engagement, and motivation. EL's core practices are based on current research about how both students and adults learn.

What Is EL Education?

EL Education, developed out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education in collaboration with Outward Bound and is a teaching model that challenges students to think critically and to take active roles in their classrooms and communities. EL partners with school districts and charter boards to open new schools and transform existing schools at all levels, K-12, and in all settings—urban, rural, and suburban. When President Barack Obama visited Capital City Public Charter School, an EL Education school in Washington, D.C., he cited it as an "example of how all our schools should be." EL offers professional development, coaching, and online tools to help schools achieve excellence in all areas: curriculum design, classroom teaching, assessment, school culture, and leadership.

Why EL Education is successful

In EL schools, learning with a purpose helps students develop the academic skills and work ethic that prepare them for college and beyond. In EL schools:

Teaching and learning are active

Students are scientists, urban planners, historians, and agents of social change. With their peers, they investigate existing community problems to develop practical and creative solutions.

Teaching and learning are challenging

Students at all levels are inspired and supported to go beyond what they think they can do. Excellence is expected—and achieved—in the quality of their work and thinking.

Teaching and learning are meaningful

Students directly apply their skills and knowledge to real-world issues and make positive contributions to their communities. They see the relevance of their studies and are newly motivated by observing that learning has a purpose.

Teaching and learning are public

Presentations, exhibits and dynamic feedback sessions teach students to take ownership of and pride in their work and to build a shared vision of pathways to achievement.

Teaching and learning are collaborative

School leaders, teachers, students and families share high expectations for quality work, rigorous application and respectful behavior. Trust, engagement, responsibility and joy in learning permeate the school culture.

What makes EL Education different?

EL Education's core practices drive whole-school improvement within five key dimensions of education:


EL's approach to curriculum, which links learning to real-world issues and needs, makes content and skill standards come alive for students. Academically rigorous learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork and service learning inspire students to think and work as professionals do, applying knowledge and skills to environments beyond the classroom. EL schools ensure that all students have access to a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. Teachers and school leaders uphold a clear alignment to curricular standards and are committed to helping all students reach those standards.

Elementary school teachers who teach all academic subjects as well as middle and high school math, science, technology, English, history, social science and language teachers find that the EL principles of interdisciplinary, project-based learning help their students produce meaningful, high-quality work with exceptional results.


EL classrooms are alive with discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. Teachers lecture less. Students speak and think more. Lessons have explicit purpose, guided by clear learning targets for which students take active responsibility. In every subject area, teachers carefully tailor their lessons to specific and ambitious learning goals, a practice that brings out the best in students and cultivates a culture of high expectations and achievement.


Teachers and staff in EL schools don't just believe in the value of their approach; they verify it. EL has developed a variety of proven methods for assessing student progress toward standards-based learning targets.

Teachers review data

Teachers review everything from patterns in student work to results on critical examinations, using data analysis to track student achievement and provide systematic support.

Teachers provide models

Teachers become partners with students in evaluating student work. "Models of excellence"—exemplary work created by students in classrooms just like theirs—are used to give students a clear and concrete picture of what excellence looks like. Students learn to gauge their own progress against the models and to define learning rubrics for themselves. Step by step, they begin to internalize learning targets and reflect on their own and others' work on their way to success.

Teachers bring in experts

Students receive feedback from experts in the field who review their work as professionals. For example, students at an EL school who completed a comprehensive energy audit of city schools had their final presentation evaluated by a city facilities engineer. Going "public" with their projects raises the stakes for students, who learn how their work holds up against the standards of the profession.

Culture and character

EL schools build cultures of respect, responsibility, courage, and kindness. Adults and students alike share a strong commitment to quality work and citizenship. School structures and traditions such as community meetings, classroom dialogues, exhibitions of student work, and the careful nurturing of strong adult-student relationships create an environment of safety and civility. Students learn to trust that teachers will know and care for them, celebrate their achievements, and cultivate their capacity for leadership. Throughout the school, students and staff are supported to do better work—and be better, more thoughtful people—than they thought possible.


EL school leaders build a shared school vision focused on student success, and they make sure all school activities align with that vision. Leaders use data wisely, boldly shape school structures to meet student needs, celebrate joy in learning, and devotedly build a culture of collaboration, trust, and creativity. EL schools go beyond a single person, team, or classroom; they uphold—and fulfill—expectations for all.

Students in EL schools score significantly higher in reading and math, demonstrate greater engagement and motivation, and have a higher acceptance rate into college. Ten of EL Education's 47 high schools boasted 100 percent college acceptance in 2010. Students also gain skills critical to college readiness and success—problem solving, critical thinking, persistence toward excellence, and active citizenship.

EL approach across the disciplines

The core practices are designed to apply across the curriculum. Elementary school teachers who teach all academic subjects as well as middle and high school math, science, technology, English, history, social sciences and language teachers find that the EL principles of interdisciplinary, project-based learning produce exceptional results and create a classroom of active, engaged learners.

Expeditionary Learning in the U.S. and abroad

While not all M.A.T. program students will choose to train or work in EL schools, the core practices of EL Education are readily transferable to a wide range of educational settings. Centered on excellence in curriculum, instruction, culture and character, assessment, and leadership, these core practices are key to successful teaching in any classroom environment. They are also highly valued by all schools seeking teachers who can make a unique and positive contribution. Teachers who can apply EL research-based practices have a significant advantage in the education job market, and are better prepared to meet the challenges of teaching in diverse communities.

EL Education in the United States

EL schools are a mix of public and charter; both the Renaissance School (public district) and Four Rivers Charter Public School offer placement for Mount Holyoke student teachers. In addition, many local schools that are not EL schools welcome the kinds of innovative practices that make the EL model so successful. Students in any school can benefit from EL's approach.

EL Education abroad

Students planning to work abroad will find that EL Education’s emphasis on student engagement, close analysis of student work, alignment with disciplinary standards, application of learning to address community issues and opportunities to develop collaborative relationships with other professionals will translate well to any school dedicated to excellence and positive student learning outcomes.

Career advantages of EL Education

The powerful EL Education network can connect new EL teachers to excellent EL schools across the country. EL has thriving clusters of schools in many U.S. cities, including:

  • Baltimore, MD
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Denver, CO
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Hartford, CT
  • New Haven, CT
  • Portland, ME
  • Rochester, NY
  • Springfield, MA
  • Washington, D.C.

Career advising is a strong part of our M.A.T. program and we work closely with our EL partners to help make introductions and set up interviews. We also offer practice and screening interviews prior to interviews with schools.

What teachers say about EL Education

Keith Wright
Middle school/high school science teacher
Founding teacher at Renaissance School

"The EL approach has helped me to be a more effective educator by making me aware of and able to do the following:

  • Embed basic skills in my content
  • Incorporate student voice in my classroom
  • Aim for authentic audiences
  • Make inquiry a key component of the classroom
  • Design compelling lessons
  • Embed character development into the educational process
  • Make learning linked to students' community"

Marisa Mendonsa
Middle school assistant principal
Former founding social studies teacher at Renaissance School

"I learned that when you can connect your curriculum to your students' lives and their community they are more willing to learn - in fact they are excited and will ultimately do more than you ever could have asked from them."

Jessica Wood
Grade 6 ELA Teacher
Renaissance School

"I am currently working to go back to school and get my first master’s as a reading specialist. I think if I weren't trained in EL I would have opted to go back for a less involved choice, just to get my master’s done, basically. The difference EL has made in my choice is simple: inspiration. I feel so connected to my colleagues and their classrooms, to my students and their learning, that I truly want to grow by specializing in the integral area of reading."