Dr. Ruslana Westerlund


Hi, welcome to my page.

I am a proud Ukrainian living in the Midwest since my immigration day on September 4, 1995.  Since then my husband Rob and I have lived, loved, and raised two awesome boys in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in Madison, Wisconsin since 2013. I am a teacher at heart in everything I do: from teaching my friends how to bake sourdough and give it away to how to use Systemic Functional Linguistics and transform educational opportunities for all students.  My main area of expertise is English Learner/Multilingual Learner education with more than 25 years of experience as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, writer, keynote speaker and consultant.  

My areas of expertise are 

  • Teaching content area teachers how to teach writing in the disciplines through Systemic Functional Linguistics and the Teaching and Learning Cycle
  • Science of teaching reading with considerations for Multilingual Learners 
  • Use of the WIDA 2020 ELD Standards in unit planning and instructional design, professional learning communities, specifically making language visible through a Functional Approach to Language Development (I was one of the authors of the WIDA 2020 Standards Framework)
  • Disciplinary Literacy and providing access for Multilingual Learners.

Education and Most Recent Publications:

  • Master’s in teaching English as a Foreign Language from Cherkasy University, Ukraine (1995);
  • Postgraduate work in Second Languages and Cultures at Hamline University (2005);
  • Doctorate in Educational Leadership (2014).
  • Author of a cross-cultural memoir From Borsch to Burgers, processing my cross-cultural sense-making, recounting my Soviet childhood, and translating myself into a new culture of the Midwest.
  • Co-editor of Scaffolding for Multilingual Learners in Elementary and Secondary Schools by Routledge, with Dr. Luciana de Oliveira 

Most of my academic publications focus on equipping teachers with a powerful and pedagogically useful approach to language for learning as well as living.  My publications are diverse from research articles to teacher and administrator resources to poetry and appear in:

My sense-making and my work are influenced by my transcultural story which started with my bilingual upbringing growing up in Ukraine. In my memoir, I write about growing up with a linguistic inferiority, an erased identity as a Ukrainian.  Imagine growing up in a country where the official language is marginalized at the time of your youth and development.  Ukrainian and Russian languages are linguistically related and many people are bilingual, but many (not all) favor Russian because the Soviet regime aimed at wiping out the uniqueness of each Soviet Republic by imposing the Russian language as the unifying language.  Many efforts were strategically aimed at banning and erasing the Ukrainian language by prohibiting language use in schools as well as publications of theses and dissertations to disseminate knowledge only in Russian. As a result of more than a century of these efforts, many Ukrainians grew up feeling ostracized for speaking Ukrainian.  As a result, I have developed a heightened sense of justice toward linguistically or ethnically marginalized people worldwide. Today, we Ukrainians, are fighting for our existence as a people (we don’t ask for much, we ask that we have the freedom to exist) and for the flourishing of our language, and I am thankful to all who continue to support us. 

I was nominated for the TESOL Advocacy award in 2023.  Here’s what people said about my advocacy work:

“Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Ruslana has led numerous efforts to advocate for her people. 

  • Served on the board of a nonprofit and raised over $25,000 by speaking at public libraries and fundraisers informing the public about the historical context of the war, the rich Ukrainian culture, and the current needs of the Ukrainian people.
  • Organized multiple rallies at the Wisconsin State Capitol and public events to raise awareness of the war and the continued fight of the Ukrainian people for their independence and survival. 
  • Advocated for the Proclamation Day of November 26, 2022 as the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide (Holodomor) Remembrance Day. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed this proclamation on November 21, 2022. The proclamation raises public awareness of the genocide against Ukrainians denied by Russians.  
  • Appeared in media (newspaper interviews, TV, radio) to inform the public about the war. 
  • In cooperation with TESOL-Ukraine, designed and delivered an introductory course on Systemic Functional Linguistics to support teachers during the darkest times in their country. TESOL Ukraine President Olena Ilienko and Vice President Maryna Tsehelska said the following:

“Many members of the association needed support that they could receive in a supportive community with others. The best way to fight depression and fear is to learn something new, and Dr. Westerlund has greatly helped in this. She started a series of lectures in Systemic Functional Linguistics, which gathered TESOL-Ukraine members of various backgrounds and levels of expertise. More than 60 Ukrainians participated in Ruslana’s training, and even more watched it recorded. Dr. Westerlund has brought new ideas to the Ukrainian teaching community as she started introducing SFL genre-based approach in language education. Dr. Westerlund’s personality is a great support for Ukrainian teachers in times of war. She always finds words of support that help us go through hard times.”

A participating member added this feedback:

“Happy to be a participant of this course! The content of the course and Dr. Ruslana Westerlund’s presentations are so interesting, engaging and inspiring! The time spent at the course and the original hometasks are encouraging and appropriate for the needs both of Ukrainian teachers and students.”

Ruslana is what the TESOL field is all about: helping others, engaging co-advocates on common goals, supporting teachers to continue to learn and grow as professionals, and ultimately teaching multilingual learners to continue learning languages despite the horrors they may be going through.

I am available for public speaking engagements. Please contact me via my LinkedIn page