How to Collaborate with School Administrators for Strong World-Language Programs
We had a remarkable #langchat this past Thursday with a large turnout! Many participants shared their thoughts on a very important topic for world-language educators: How can we collaborate with school administrators to provide strong world-language programs?
Thanks to all our participants and especially to @SECottrell and @dr_dmd, our moderators for the night. As always, if you couldn’t make our discussion, it’s not too late to make your thoughts heard. Please feel free to share your comments on our topic below; we’d love to hear from you!
The Need for Collaboration
@tmsaue1 began our discussion with the question, “Why do we even have to worry about this?” Do our English- and History-teaching colleagues worry about how best to gain administrators’ support? Unfortunately, most participants stressed that we do need to work on ties with administrators to get the support and respect that we need. Why?
A common problem that interferes with world-language educators’ efforts is the recent focus on STEM funding (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), a part of the nationwide Race to the Top initiative. School administrators often focus on these disciplines, which leaves world language programs off their priority lists.
In addition, many administrators might have had limited or negative world-language education experiences. How many times have you heard the comment “I had two years of _____, and I can’t say a thing!” (@tmsaue1). On the other hand, others might not have had ANY exposure to studying a language.
We can’t expect administrators to understand all the benefits of studying world languages; sometimes, we must take it upon ourselves to demonstrate them. If no one fights for world languages, we can lose out on funding, respect and even students.
Developing Relationships with Administrators
It’s important to view administrators as allies and colleagues, not as enemies. Administrators cannot be experts in all fields; we must cultivate good relationships with them so that they are open to hearing our ideas and methods. If administrators see us as credible experts, they will rely on us for our input and support and seek us out for information (@dr_dmd).
@dr_dmd likes to sit down with administrators, go over world-language standards and advocate for the kids. He suggests that most administrators are receptive when discussing students, and the best educators advocate strongly for ALL kids.
@klafrench believes that world-language educators can really set the standards for other content areas by staying current in the field and collaborating with other teachers. Our use of technology in innovative ways is a great way to get administrators’ attention. We might not get the funding that STEM schools receive to spend on additional technology, but there are plenty of free Web 2.0 technologies available that we can make efficient use of (visit these past #langchat summaries for some great ideas suggested by your colleagues: Using Web 2.0 Tools in the Classroom and The Best Apps for World-Language Education).
This innovation and willingness to try new methods and ideas like grading practices can make us administrators’ best allies when it comes to testing new theories and initiatives (@DiegoOjeda66).
Several participants remind us that many administrators might not know what an effective language classroom looks like. We can invite principals and administrators to join us as guests at state world-language associations and welcome them to our conferences (@ DiegoOjeda66). It’s also our responsibility to train administrators in how to observe a world-language classroom (@gretafromtexas).
Sharing research studies can help to educate administrators as well as cultivate a strong professional relationship. The ACTFL is always working on new research-based standards for use in world-language classes. Even just taking the time to e-mail selected articles or studies to administrators (@SECottrell) is worthwhile and shows that you’re keeping abreast of current developments.
The Benefits of World-Language Education to Other Subjects
It’s important to view our job as not only educating students in the target language, but as educating them in multiple content areas and teaching them skills for future opportunities. Language and communication have purposes beyond themselves, and it’s our responsibility to make that known. What strategies that students learn in the world-language class can apply to other classes (@suarez712002)?
Find the connection between the language and the community, both locally and internationally (@SECottrell). Global experiences, whether a Skype conversation with students in South America or a class trip to Europe, are incredibly beneficial to students’ growth and learning. Pursue these opportunities, then make sure that administrators join you and your class, or share the results with the school.
In addition to furthering their education, including other content in your world-language classroom increases students’ interest in the material. As we’ve discussed in previous #langchats here and here, students really respond to material that encompasses multiple content areas. As @gretafromtexas points out, most 9th-grade students aren’t fascinated about learning colors. Bridge the language with other elements that students and administrators can really latch on to.
Demonstrating Students Ability and Progress to Build Collaboration
Demonstrating students’ ability and progress is a fantastic way of showing administrators the value your program brings to the table. Simply discussing progress is useful, but we can gain a greater hearing by showing how it is done instead.
Our most powerful advocacy is what our students can actually do (@SECottrell). @dr_dmd says one of the most useful and important things we can do is to show what students can produce with their new skills and how they engage with others.
A challenge you might face is that students’ production is often incomprehensible to administrators — is this a problem? Most participants think not. Often, any amount of production impresses non-speakers, especially when they can see the language used to authentically communicate. If we can show administrators what the production means, what to look for and why it is important, the actual comprehension isn’t necessary (@dr_dmd). Sometimes, just seeing kids engaged, excited and expressing themselves is proof enough.
Documenting results and presenting them to administrators builds credibility and educates administrators on best practices (dr_dmd). Be sure to tell administrators about your efforts and achievements at every opportunity. When @SECottrell connects with the community, she lets the administration know. @cadamsf1 terms this approach a “blitz” — everything the language department does that promotes the school or the students is relayed to administrators; make sure they know!
Other academic disciplines have social studies and science fairs, academic teams, and national tests, so create your own world-language events as an opportunity to display your students’ progress. Participants shared many great ideas for activities that can demonstrate your students’ language skill and ability to administrators and parents alike, and we’ve reproduced a lot of them below.
- @sylviaduckworth hosts French assemblies and likes to invite the administrators. They’re usually impressed with what they see, and it’s a good way to promote the language program as well.
- Many participants like to ask administrators to visit their classes and sponsored activities. Field trips are great ideas — several mentioned success with administrators joining language students, ranging from trips to local museums to trips to Europe.
- @klafrench gets students involved with her department’s open house. Students add their input to videos and really work to sell French as a world-language choice.
- When hosting student-led conferences, open houses or other events, display student portfolios to parents and administrators to demonstrate progress and ability (@js_pasaporte).
- In these portfolios, @js_pasaporte has students reflect on their progress in the state standards with sample work, goals set and met, and other achievements.
- Some tools for portfolio creation include LinguaFolio and Google Apps for Educators.
- Show administrators examples of students’ progress outside of events, too. Portfolios, interaction with native speakers and international classrooms, and tangible benefits such as student blogs are all great ways to do this.
- Arrange for students to interact with students around the world, and then invite administrators to join in the fun or watch videos of the event (@js_pasaporte).
- @SECottrell has had great success with her program’s relations with administrators after her classes had a Skype conversation with schools in Honduras.
- @js_pasaporte plans to create a Global Connections Club to encourage connections between the school and other world classrooms.
- @CalicoTeach points out that just encouraging exchange programs with other classrooms can improve the world-language department’s reputation within the school.
- @cadamsf1s’s advanced students make pamphlets for use with ELL (English Language Learner) students for when they arrive at the school. She suggests that tangible evidence of ability such as this is very beneficial.
Students and Parents Building Relationships with Administrators
Students are great advocators when they can relate positive experiences to administrators. Parents are as well. After demonstrating students’ progress to parents, give parents opportunities to influence administrators, too. @tmsaue1 asks, how many schools have world language parents’ clubs or support groups?
@SECottrell asks whether students’ choice of a language major is a useful tool in demonstrating the important of world language education. It could be a good statistic to show administrators the percentage of students who move on to take the language as a major or minor in university (@cadamsf1). @DiegoOjeda66 suggests always showing off where former students have gotten in life thanks to their world language education. Keep track of them on Facebook.
Host an Administrator’s Day!
Good luck in building strong relationships between administrators and your world-language programs! To start, @dr_dmd suggests holding an Administrator’s Day soon — take one of your classes to the office to sing a song in the target language, just for fun. Be sure to let us know how it goes!