How professional learning has transformed since the pandemic
1. How would you say professional learning has changed since the pandemic?
At the start of the pandemic, all of us – schools as well as organizations like CAL – were caught off guard. Our first response was to try to serve the need for continued professional development for dual language programs, so we offered a set of free webinars on dual language education in the early months of COVID to anyone interested in attending. The response was off the charts, so much so that we couldn’t accommodate everyone’s participation. Our next step was to transform in-person professional development (PD) to digital formats. We, like teachers, had to bring ourselves up to speed and in a hurry. We learned an immense amount in a short amount of time and made the pivot from almost all in-person delivery to all digital delivery.
2. How have teachers’ professional learning needs changed since the beginning of the pandemic?
During the pandemic, teachers were asking for guidance on providing instruction to language learners (whether English or partner language) using online synchronous means. We relied on national research that had been done on supporting English learners (generalizable to language learners, period) with digital tools that had been done prior to the pandemic (https://tech.ed.gov/edtech-english-learner-toolkits/educators/) and recommended these digital tools for teachers working in online settings. Most interesting is that, during my recent visits to schools, I see many teachers continuing to use these digital tools in person that make learning for language learners more accessible
3. What were the challenges posed by the pandemic on professional learning?
The main challenge posed for us at CAL was that we are a research-driven organization; our recommendations are based on research, and there was no research on what to do when a pandemic strikes and, from one day to the next, teachers need to serve students completely digitally. As mentioned above, to some extent, we were learning side by side with the teachers. This was especially true when districts asked us about how to continue the implementation of dual language allocations amidst the many other COVID-related impediments to learning. We simply had no immediate answers.
As for now, teachers are struggling with so much: intermittent absences of staff and students due to COVID; learning loss on the part of many students, and especially English learners; reduced staff because many teachers are leaving the field; incessant standardized assessment requirements, to name some. Participating in PD sessions can seem like too much to ask under these circumstances. At the same, districts with foresight realize that this crisis will pass, that PD must continue so that all concerned have the knowledge, skills, and insights to provide quality dual language instruction to our students.
4. How do dual language programs stand to benefit most from professional learning?
DL programs stand to benefit in numerous ways from PD depending on their needs. What is very important is for a needs assessment to precede the provision of PD. What do observations and reflections about the current program say about PD needs? For example, does the district’s central office not fully understand the dual language program and its needs? In that case, training for central office staff is critical so that central office can assist in providing the qualified teachers, curriculum, materials, supports for PD, assessments in the partner language(s), etc. that are needed for DL programs to be effective. Is it that the Board of Education members are on the fence about DL? They could use PD in that case informing them of the many academic and social benefits of being bi/multilingual. Do staff in schools know the importance of linguistic and cultural equity and how to work toward equity? Do teachers have the knowledge and skills to teach and assess content for students who may be learning the language of content instruction?
5. Do you think professional learning offers solutions for the teacher shortage? If so, how?
That is a most interesting question. I think the causes of the teacher shortage are many (some of them are mentioned in Q. 3 above.) I think the major promise of professional learning for DL programs is the need for staff at all levels, district and school-based leadership and school staff, to understand all of the strands of the Guiding Principles so that the many programs coming into existence are beyond reproach. After all, we don’t want any states to outlaw bilingual education again.
6. Can you tell us a bit about CAL’s professional learning and why it is an effective professional learning experience?
Although CAL responds to district requests for discrete PD workshops on DL topics, the DL unit at CAL prefers to undertake longer term relationships that begin with needs assessments or evaluations. In these cases, it can be determined what kind of technical assistance and professional development will be most effective. CAL provides longer term support to DL districts in the following categories:
- Districts that are embarking on the journey to develop dual language programs,
- Districts that have been in existence for many years but are looking to enhance their programs,
- Districts that have had early or late exit transitional programs and want to transform those programs to full-fledged dual language programs.
In each of these scenarios, a needs assessment/evaluation is conducted, a strategic plan is developed for development, enhancement, or transformation by the district with stakeholder input and with guidance from CAL, and the strategic plan is effectuated. Usually, professional development (training and job-embedded coaching) from CAL begins before the strategic plan is finalized.
7. How did you create CAL’s professional learning?
I didn’t create CAL’s professional learning. CAL has been providing supports to entities to improve services and ensure access and equity related to language and culture since 1959. The work of my colleagues and myself has been to build upon CAL’s legacy as a provider of culturally and linguistically sound, relevant, and responsive professional development for educators.
Director, Global Languages and Cultures Education
Center for Applied Linguistics