Dual Language Series: Part 2- Dual Language Programming: Know Your Internal and External Drivers

by: D. Garcia

This is the second blog in our Dual Language & Biliteracy series by Dual Language Specialist D Garcia.  Read Part 1 and Part 3 in our Dual Language Series.

Analyzing Your Drivers

Dual Language Programing has as its main tennant the concept that students can and should develop not only bilingualism, but Biliteracy, and that the school plays an inherent role in this endeavor. (For more on guiding principles for dual language education, see here: http://www.cal.org/twi/guidingprinciples.htm).  In my work leading and developing Dual Language Programming, I have come to notice that there are often internal drivers leading this work; people whose job it is to be an innovative leader/s, or a district or school historic commitment to an existing bilingual program. Other times there are external drivers motivating the work; those outside the district who provide access to financial resources to build a program, a strong desire from influential parent or community group, local laws, or increasing enrollment of linguistically talented youth (ie. English Learners from a similar language background).  Assessing internal drivers--staff, students and school/district leadership, and external drivers--community, policy, and others external to the school itself like the surrounding community, will support your choices about initiating the work of starting a Dual Language Program or reimagining bilingual services already in place.

When developing pathways for students to access Dual Language Programing, I have worked with both strong internal and external drivers.  A great start when determining need and fit of a Dual Language Program in your district is to build a coalition of thinkers around these questions:

  • Who are your drivers?
  • What is driving you?
  • Why?   

An honest and thorough evaluation of these questions can help the team of thinkers to become knowledgeable leaders in preparing for Dual Language Programing.

Creating New Programs

One of my experiences in starting a new program where one previously did not exist occurred as a result of a strong district commitment to serve English Learners and those interested in learning Spanish together as a way to increase equity and access.  We knew that xtrong teacher leadership for this vision meant that our strongest advocate and teacher willingly offered to teach the first 5K cohort; knowing that her role as teacher leader would be much greater than “classroom teacher”. She simultaneously built parent buy-in, strengthened community across families and languages, and did a fair amount of managing up by building the expertise of school leaders and colleagues who were experiencing Dual Language for the first time.  The teacher in this scenario was able to start the program, and became a strong internal driver. Strong parental interest in the program has been a great driver as well. Parent commitment to the program has the potential, when harnessed and developed, can be a tremendous driver when instruction is strong and commitment and engagement are high.

Expanding Existing EL/Bilingual Services

Transforming existing ESL and transitional bilingual programs towards Dual Language Program has been a challenge for me as instructional leader.  I have found that the internal drivers are often concerned with quality, and the “pobrecito” disposition towards instruction and learning opportunities for English Learners, where parents, the school and the district are concerned about student outcomes (An Asset-Based Approach to Latino Education in the United States By Eugene E. Garcia, Mehmet OzturkI).  I have found that parents are already believers and are a driver, but in many communities, parents of English Learners strive for voice in environments that struggle to access or value them.  Often, internal drivers are by far the most persuasive. My experience as lead me to conclude that strong and collective teacher disposition, can change the world for linguistically talented youth-maybe I am blessed, but this has been my experience.   I have found a few truths in transforming these cultures: leadership makes ALL the difference.  

Taking a current ESL or bilingual program and transforming it requires more than the individual teacher as driver.  The work this entails requires the collective capacity of all levers in the school (every teacher, aide, parent) to move in the same direction and steadily build pace.  The work does not always originate with the building principal, but this work cannot be done in spite of the principal, for they are the only position in the building that can ensure an alignment between the clear goals a building sets, and the system for professional learning and inquiry, monitoring of practice and impact of student learning as a result increasingly effective instructional practice.  The principal must have the ability to create a clear and very tight alignment between the vision, the program, instructional and student learning goals, and the systems to ensure that their is clarity, precision and increasingly deep practice. In my experience, no Dual Language Program has developed or persisted without this key internal driver: the principal. 

The Role of the Principal

The most effective principals in Dual Language are not always who you’d think. We might think that a former Dual Language Learner, a person whose ethnic origin, or someone who is fluent in the target partner language is key.  While key, these characteristics would never be maximized without the following. The most effective principals lead with this second truth: systems and strategies do not work-indeed cannot work, without relationships. These principals are very strategic, and yes, very systematic, but they too know their drivers: a quality teacher in front of every Dual Language student. As they define quality, they bring clarity to the vision, and build collective efficacy, which in turn builds the next biggest internal driver: the collective efficacy of skilled teachers. These principals take responsibility for the quality of teaching and learning happening under their leadership. They learn how to harnas teacher, parent and community capacity and approach their roles as learners.   Parent influence, state aide, and state laws may come and go, without the concert of roles between the principal and teachers, Dual Language cannot sustain. Great principals commit to knowing what they are leading and make schools they’d want their own children to attend-stopping nothing short of ensuring it. These principals do not share a common background based on race, ethnicity or language-but they take their leadership role seriously as they know the impact it can have on instruction and student learning. They use their roles to build strong school communities where teachers, parents and students have a voice.  Their roles ensure that teachers have every opportunity to get great at their jobs and make it absolutely clear what is important in teaching and learning.

Our Moral Imperative

The last truth that I can say is key to transforming current school practice into Dual Language is an absolute commitment to a moral imperative around multilingual instruction from the perspective of the underserved members of the community.  Dual Language has the opportunity to right wrongs that have kept multilingual communities from access to learning. Transforming current programs must have as one of its driving truths the ethos that Biliteracy is a civil right for a child who enters school with a language other than English.  It is through the lens of this child, that leaders must position the work, because when the do, ALL students benefit. That these students be the emotive center of why we do this work, is the most persuasive internal and personal driver a leader seeks to develop in every collaborator around Dual Language.

In closing, I encourage you/invite you think about the drivers in your district or school.  How does work get done?How are new programs or curriculum initiated? Take an honest view and assessment of the internal drivers you might have available, and how you can use your leadership to develop those drivers.  Don’t stop short at assessing your external drivers as well, although more temporary, they can build a support or an impetus if a status quo keeps “business as usual”. Be attentive to all the drivers towards Dual Language, as well as drivers working against it.  If you are a teacher, start a conversation with your colleagues about these drivers-include your administrator and together build capacity. If you are an administrator, engage your parent and teacher community with questions about the drivers-let the voices of this team be heard, and engage with them.


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