Navigating The New World: Dual Language Administrators

Whether you are back in the classroom or digital learning, this year’s back to school creates unique challenges for many dual language school administrators and teachers.  We invited experts from the field to share their insights on the most important things administrators and teachers should pay attention to.   This is a four-part weekly series.  The first 2 articles will focus on dual language school administrators and the last 2 are for dual language teachers. 


Ruth Kriteman, Materials Development Coordinator, Dual Language Education of New Mexico 

SY 2020-2021 promises to be as unique and challenging as any we have experienced.  As administrators of DLE/DLI programs, we must maintain focus on the essential structures that ensure progress toward the primary goals of a well-implemented program: effective language development, rigorous content instruction, intentional biliteracy development, appropriate language allocation, and an asset perspective of both our students and their families.  As return-to-school models are being considered, we can be sure that some districts are taking the specific needs of our bilingual/biliteracy enrichment programs into account, but many are not.  This means that the dual language instructional team must consider those structures that are key to the program’s success, such as the curriculum and language articulation plans (CAP). Given the limitations of the district’s response to the pandemic, how closely can the CAP be followed?  In a hybrid program model, only some students are on campus for only part of the time. This limits the availability of linguistic and cultural peer models, requiring different instructional practices.  Online teaching and learning presents many, many challenges ranging from equitable access to teaching and learning tools such as computers, internet, and the availability of supportive adults who can intervene as necessary, to maintaining quality linguistic, sociocultural, and academic experiences for all students. Response to these challenges will surely be as varied as our contexts, but I can offer a universal bit of advice: prioritize relationships.  By giving the relationships between student and teacher, student and family, teacher and family, and school and community your undivided attention, you will set the stage for the collaboration necessary to ensure essential language/literacy time and experiences (especially in the non-English language) that is rich, of quality, and cause for great celebration.  The rich sociocultural experiences and relationships of home, community, and school can be built and nurtured.  By strengthening the family and community’s connection to their language, traditions, and experiences, we will ensure students’ success when they return to face-to-face classes by keeping our young people socio-emotionally healthy and connected.  

José Medina, Author of Lo Que Se Dice Se Hace 

Dual language administrators, when returning to school in fall 2020, must above all continue to protect the DL program model.  As a result of remote instruction, following COVID-19, some district leaders and campus administrators considered modifying the program structure and/or the language allocation plan.  This would be detrimental to the program, and most importantly, to the emergent bilingual students served.  Fidelity to the program model is key to ensuring that students are able to effectively work on becoming bilingual & biliterate, striving for grade level academic achievement in both program languages, and ultimately, understanding that sociocultural competence is a life-long journey.  As decisions for fall 2020 are made in terms of in-person instruction, remote facilitation of all services, or implementation of a hybrid model of schooling, for DL administrators, the dual language program model must be at the forefront of all decisions made. 


Lisa Tabaku, Director, Global Languages and Cultures Education,  CAL 

Given the abundance of uncertainty, it will be more important than ever for dual language (DL) school leaders to inspire their staff to act in unison to support plans for teaching and learning in two languages, whatever the state and district polices are for re-opening. In my opinion, DL schools and programs will have an advantage in this regard: I rarely visit non-DL school programs in which staff have the same commitment and dedication to their students’ education, identities, and well-being as I see in DL programs. This drive to serve the cause of DL education – a cause that goes beyond the purely academic – will ensure the grit and fortitude of staff needed for emergent bilingual students to continue to thrive linguistically and culturally. 

  Successful DL administrators will ensure clear communication with all staff about district re-opening requirements and will create opportunities for collaborative problem-solving to make those requirements work for the staff, students, and families in their schools. They will know that overcoming COVID-19 and meeting the needs of their students and families will take solid teamwork – teamwork that will come not from coercion but from common beliefs and values. 


Kathy Escamilla, Co- Author of  “Biliteracy From the Start” 

The most important thing to focus on for Dual Language Program Administrators when they return to schools this fall is the connections and relationships with children and families.  Everyone in this nation has been traumatized by COVID-19 and whether students return to school in person, in a hybrid manner or in a distance learning mode, it is important to begin the year by establishing that we are all in this business together.  While developing two languages and academic skills is important, we can only be successful in academics if the socio-emotional needs of our children and families are being met.  It might be a good idea for schools to schedule a set of virtual meetings for parents thanking them for everything they did during last spring to help their children learn at home.  Virtually overnight schools moved into living rooms and thanks to the heroic efforts of teachers and parents, learning continued.  We should not let the efforts of our families go unnoticed and unrecognized.  I would start the year in the most positive and supportive way possible including detailing for parents the school is going to insure that children are safe.   

It might also be a good idea if schools were to have a plan ready in the event that schools need to be once again closed because of a surge in virus cases and if this plan could be shared with parents and families at the beginning of the school year.  Having a plan will hopefully avoid the need to start from scratch if on-line teaching becomes necessary once again. Intermittent but regular times that children are doing work on-line may also serve to keep student and family skills current when the environment is less stressful.   

Finally and most importantly, I think administrators need to assess the socio-emotional health of all their children as they return to school.  It is critical that we insure that our children are ready to take on the challenges of dual language learning and the rigors of a dual language curriculum so that they can benefit fully from our our programs have to offer them. 

Lisa Dorner, Associate Professor, Co-Founder of MODLAN 

I think the most important things to remember, when school leaders and administrators return to schools this fall, are flexibility, forgiveness, and family. All schools, whether dual language or not, will continue to grapple with the best way to approach education in the midst of our ongoing health crisis. First, we will have to be flexible, understanding that at any moment we may need to shift course. We may not be able to do our favorite fall “Open House” or “potluck family dinners” like normal. Second, we will each make mistakes or not know what to do at times. We will want to give others, and ourselves, some grace when things don’t go as planned, when we cannot meet our typical goals, such as privileging the use of languages other than English in multiple contexts with various stakeholders. Third, let’s keep our focus on our families. Addressing youths’ social and emotional needs will be paramount in supporting their overall well-being and educational success. But we can’t do this without thinking about how to best reach family members at home and develop relationships in new ways with them, over the phone or through creative apps that allow us to communicate easily in various home languages. Flexibility, forgiveness and family have always been at the center of language and culture education, so I am convinced that our dual language schools can succeed in the face of our current challenges! 

Sandra Mercuri, Sandra Mercuri Educational Consultants,  Author of Pathway to Biliteracy 

Administrators should focus on: 

1. Lifting up their teachers by putting systems in place, but first they should dismantle systems of oppression that exists and have been amplified by the current situation.

Administrators should ensure: 

  2. Equity in both types of instructional deliver and languages by engaging all stakeholders to rethink the master schedule in order to build ample time for planning so that teachers can coordinate virtual and face-to-face learning. 

3. That facilitators and/or support staff that leads teachers in planning for delivery of instruction do not do so from a monolingual perspective but rather from a bilingual perspective through high quality professional development on the goals of dual language education.  Quality staff in a dual language program should be inclusive of dual language classroom teachers as well as those that support teachers and students in the program. 

4. Conversations with parents on how the program goals of bilingualism and biliteracy, high academic achievement and sociocultural competence will be achieved through remote learning. 

5. Teachers assess students from a holistic perspective through which knowledge is evaluated in its entirety from an interdependent and bidirectional lens across both program languages.

Kris Nicholls, Nicholls Educational Consulting 

For many dual language programs this past spring, the focus of the distance learning was on providing instruction in the partner language for students who were partner language learners. The rationale was that the students who were English Learners either had access to English language support at home or in the community, whereas the students learning the partner language likely did not have access to support in the partner language at home or in the community. However, all students in a DL program are language learners, and the language learning needs of students learning the partner language should not be prioritized over the students learning English. English Learners need daily instruction in English language development just as much as the students who are learning the partner language need daily instruction in partner language development. Moreover, providing English language development for English Learners is a federal requirement under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA;  

It will be of utmost importance to the success and sustainability of your dual language program that the teachers receive whatever support necessary from you and the team to provide instruction in the partner language and English as outlined in the program’s language allocation plan. Many video conferencing apps and platforms allow for the teacher to establish breakout sessions where small groups or partners can interact and then return to the main group. The teacher can even “drop in” to interact with the students in the group. This type of interaction more closely parallels the interaction in the regular classroom and is more engaging to students in a distance learning setting. Moreover, it is in this interaction that much language learning occurs, which is important for students in a dual language program. We recommend you consider offering professional development opportunities for teachers to learn how to set up various types of small groups and partners and use the groupings strategically to increase the student-to-student interaction in their distance learning classroom. 

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