Dual Language SchoolsDesigning and Implementing Effective Professional Development and Coaching for Dual Language Programs

Author Photo: Dr. Sandra Mercuri

By: Dr. Sandra Mercuri

Teacher Educator | Sandra Mercuri Educational Consultants

By: Vivian Pratts

Bilingual Educational Consultant

Photo for: Designing and Implementing Effective Professional Development and Coaching for Dual Language Programs

During this age of academic accountability, both at the state and national levels, the growing number of students who speak a language other than English presents a challenge to schools across the country. Schools are faced with the difficult task of helping these students develop the academic language needed for school success while learning grade-level specific content connected to district and state standards (Mercuri & Mercuri, 2018).

In order to address the linguistic needs of this growing population of emergent bilingual students, many school districts have implemented dual language programs to provide students identified as second language learners of English and English speakers with the possibility of developing biliteracy skills and academic content knowledge (Hamayan, Genesee & Cloud, 2013; Freeman, Freeman & Mercuri, 2018). In order to effectively implement these programs, teachers and administrators need professional development and coaching for effective implementation tailored to the program model selected.

Research studies demonstrate the importance of training to promote more successful administrators, teachers, and staff (Epstein et al., 2016; Valdés, Menken, & Castro, 2015), as well as higher student achievement (Master et al., 2016). However, while professional development may be provided, many teachers still find that the opportunities for professional growth offered to them are of little or no use. In most cases, staff development has consisted on one-day workshop designed around a district goal and rarely implemented in the classroom (Collinson, 2000). Moreover, research shows that training is most successful when it is sustained and embedded in the daily routines and practices of teachers (Coleman & Goldenberg, 2011). 
For that reason, effective programs tend to align the professional development needs of teachers and administrators to the goals and strategies of the instructional program.

Dual language programs emphasize the use of two languages for academic instruction with the goal to prepare bilingual, biliterate and bicultural students for the linguistic complexities and demands of a globalized society. While these goals are worthy, putting them into practice is difficult, especially because many teachers feel ill-prepared to support emergent bilingual (EBLs) students in their classrooms. Even when teachers know what the best approach for teaching EBLs is, they find themselves following ineffective practices in an attempt to prepare students for tests they are not ready to take. Customized and sustained professional development opportunities could mitigate those challenges and improve instruction.

A professional development and coaching model that is intentional, strategic, and ongoing will enable teachers and administrators to grow in their ability to understand the particular features of the dual language model selected, as well as address the myriad of learning needs of the students they serve. This alternative model to the one-day, one-size-fits-all professional development offered to many teachers today is twofold: It supports the implementation and/or enhancement of your dual language program through biliteracy practices for all and sustains the program implementation and practices through coaching. This model is composed of a series of interrelated modules that address the different components of dual language to meet and extend teachers and administrators’ understandings of dual language practices such as types of dual language models; equity issues in dual language education; a balanced approach to biliteracy and differentiate instruction based on students’ language abilities to increase students’ language competencies and access to content for academic achievement.