In the Wake of the Pandemic: Potential Bright Spots in Professional Learning for Dual Language Educators
Professional Learning (PL) for Dual Language (DL) educators poses its own unique challenges. DL teacher candidates rarely receive DL-specific preparation during pre-service training at college or university (Kennedy, 2018). Once in the classroom, DL teachers are frequently required to participate in PL designed for teaching in monolingual English classrooms and schools, leaving little time or energy for DL-specific learning to occur. Limited access to DL-specific PL during regular work hours, and relegation of DL PL to optional after-school or weekend sessions, can lead DL educators to feel exhausted, frustrated, and potentially ill-equipped to deliver effective DL instruction.
Despite these challenges, some surprising bright spots in PL have emerged for DL educators in the wake of the pandemic. First and foremost, the pandemic pushed issues of equity, access, and inclusion front and center in US society, including in K-12 schools. As educators were forced to shift to virtual learning to keep children and staff safe, it became clear that more was needed to ensure that students from linguistically, culturally, racially, and socio-economically diverse families had the tools necessary to overcome the digital divide and participate fully in virtual and hybrid learning. The Black Lives Matter protests further eclipsed the nation’s attention to historical inequities and current systemic concerns.
In this context, space was created for new (or renewed) attention to be paid to the needs of diverse students, including emergent bilingual children participating in DL education. School- and district-wide conversations focused on increasing linguistic and socio-cultural equity have become more common-place in the wake of the pandemic, making DL education less of an outlier and potentially positioning DL education more centrally within the broader educational reform context. The pandemic has also necessitated an increased focus on meeting the wellness needs of staff and students (i.e., Social-Emotional Learning – SEL). These shifts potentially provide fertile ground for a broadening of interest and traction in engagement in PL addressing DL’s Third Pillar: Socio-cultural Competence (Howard, Lindholm-Leary, Rogers, Olague, Medina, Kennedy, Sugarman & Christian, 2018).
In addition to increasing attention to issues of equity and access that align with DL Pillar Three goals, the pandemic also necessitated rapid development of an enhanced technology infrastructure to support delivery of virtual K-12 instruction. This infrastructure has the potential to expand educator access to DL-specific PL. Researchers have long recognized that PL is most impactful on educator practice when it is ongoing, continuous, and distributed over time (not just a “one-and-done”), and when it is job-embedded and focused on developing the specific skills teachers need in their unique teaching contexts (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, Garner, & Espinoza, May 2017). A bright spot of the pandemic, then, is that it created the basic infrastructure (hardware, software, educator technology skills) for PL to be delivered virtually by DL researchers and recognized experts, in shorter chunks of time, at greater frequency, and targeting DL-specific knowledge and skills development. Widening the net of access to DL-specific PL via virtual delivery systems has the potential to increase uptake of these services. Availability of federal funding (ESSER) further enhances district capacity to engage DL educators in high-quality, DL-specific PL.
In closing, we must acknowledge the devastating impacts that the pandemic has had on our most vulnerable staff, students, families, and communities. At the same time, we hold hope that the pandemic brings some potential bright spots for DL educators by raising awareness of the need for DL-specific PL (including PL focused on Pillar 3) and increasing access via virtual platforms to PL that is distributed over time, job-embedded, and focused on DL-specific topics.
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., Garner, M., & Espinoza, D. (May 2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Retrieved from Learning Policy Institute website: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/effective-teacher-professional-development-report .
Howard, E.R., Lindholm-Leary, K.J., Rogers, D., Olague, N., Medina, J., Kennedy, B., Sugarman, J., & Christian, D. (2018). Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Kennedy, B. (2018). Teacher Preparation for Dual Language Classrooms. In M.B. Arias & M. Fee (Eds.), Profiles of dual language education in the 21st century (pp. 103-114). Bristol, UK; Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Multilingual Matters.