Being a Monolingual Administrator for a Dual Language Program

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As this new school year begins, district and school administrators are filled with the typical excitement and anticipation, but additionally, perhaps a novel sense of anxiety.  This anxiety may stem from the fact that the start of this school year is characterized nationwide by a record number of teacher vacancies.  Perhaps it comes from the fact that Covid shows no signs of slowing down, meaning normalcy may still be a distant hope.  But one thing that should not be on the list of anxiety-bearing fruit is being a monolingual administrator of a Dual Language program.  (To be fair, when I refer to monolingual administrators, I may be referring to bilingual or even multilingual administrators who do not speak the partner language of the Dual program.)

In my experience, many administrators who do not speak the partner language often feel a loss of efficacy or purpose when Dual Language programs open.  One principal once said to me, “Maybe it’s time for me to look for another job.  My skills are no longer needed here.”  Her concerns were not atypical.  After all, nobody goes into education for the money.  We all go in to make a difference, and as much as we know that Dual Language programs are the best programs for our Emergent Bilingual students, it can be frustrating not to take an active role in the classroom.

Administrators who do not speak the partner language will have to take a quieter role in the classroom and often not interact actively with students when that interaction will break separation of language.  After all, it is important that during instruction in the partner language, we preserve the integrity of the language allocation.  Speaking in English even to the teacher sends the message that English is the language of adults and the language of power.  It works against the social justice framework of Dual Language Education.

But that does not mean that administrators who do not speak the partner language should be confined to visit only during English time.  In fact, it’s more important to visit during the time dedicated to the partner language because the visit then elevates the status of the partner language.  However, administrators are not useless during that time.  In fact, administrators who do not speak the partner language can have two very unique roles that administrators who do speak the partner language cannot have at the same level.

  1. Monitor Separation of Language: Monolingual administrators (or multilingual administrators who do not speak the partner language) can often better monitor separation of language than administrators who speak both English and the partner language.  The bilingual brain often doesn’t monitor which language is in use, and it’s easy to not pick up on adults switching languages because the brain is equally adept at processing both languages.  In my own case, I have missed when I (as a teacher or as an administrator) have heard others in the classroom translanguage between Spanish and English in the Dual classroom during times that were dedicated for one of the languages although I try to keep and help others maintain the language of instruction; however, I do not make the same mistake when entering Dual language classrooms in other languages.  There, I can give much better feedback when it comes to Separation of Language and also plan PDs around what I see.
  1. Monitor Language Acquisition Strategies: Dual Language teachers are both content and language instructors and therefore, should be using language acquisition strategies when instructing students.  This means that by focusing on the teacher’s use of language acquisition strategies, the administrator who does not speak the partner language should be able to at least get the gist of the instruction if not more.  The administrator should actively use the anchor charts on the walls, follow the gestures, listen for the repetition, and watch for the visuals to see how well they can understand the lesson.  If the administrator is totally lost, there are likely some students in the classroom (especially those who are simultaneous bilinguals or those who predominantly speak English) who are also lost.  Administrators who speak the partner language, while also able to look for language acquisition strategies, do not have the same vantage point guiding their observation.  

Does this mean that monolingual administrators cannot at all interact with students?  Of course not.  Learn a few key phrases such as “Good morning,” and “What are you doing?” and don’t forget to smile!  Smiles are universal.  You may or may not understand the response and the conversation may not be as in-depth as when you enter a classroom during English time, but that’s okay.  It will be uncomfortable to have to limit how much you speak, especially if you are as extroverted as I am, but remember that that discomfort is the same discomfort that our students’ families experience daily.  This discomfort in fact should remind us of the importance of ensuring cultural relevance in our schools and districts.  So feel the discomfort, work at learning the language (but give yourself time as it takes 5-7 years to learn a language), and be grateful that your students are getting an opportunity to develop their linguistic repertoire in two languages. Remember that when it comes to our Emergent Bilinguals, it is their Civil Rights.

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