Passion and Purpose: A Portrait of Leadership Practices Supporting Implementation of a Dual Language Spanish-English Elementary School Program

Panfil, Jessica, Administration and Supervision - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Dexter, Sara, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

With the three goals of bilingualism, academic achievement, and cultural competence, dual language schools have grown in popularity across the United States, in part because of their unparalleled success to close the academic achievement gap between English Learner students and non-English learner students (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2018; Gándara & Escamilla, 2017; Kim, Hutchison, & Winsler, 2015). Longitudinal and large studies have established that dual language schools implemented with fidelity can achieve their stated goals. Compared to their peers who attend monolingual schools, students who participate in an elementary dual language school become bilingual, achieve academically as well or better, and are equipped with cultural competencies to navigate a diverse world (Collier & Thomas, 2017; Marian, Shook, & Schroeder, 2013; Steele et al., 2017).
However, several challenges confront the effective implementation of the vision of a dual language school, which is built on the premise of additive bilingualism, or the concept that all languages students speak are valued as much as English (Collier & Thomas, 2004; Howard et al., 2018). Leadership is critical for any school (Leithwood & Louis, 2011), but a dual language school requires additional leadership practices to address the challenges of implementing a dual language model (Hunt, 2011; Montecel & Danini, 2002; Roque, Ferrin, Hite, & Randall, 2016). Using three leadership frameworks (Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Honig & Hatch, 2004; Khalifa et al., 2016), this study paints a portrait of the leadership practices supporting implementation of a Spanish-English elementary dual language school.
The conceptual framework for this study posited that effective implementation of a dual language school was a combination of the clarity of the dual language model and a specific set of leadership practices. The first research question investigated if the components of a dual language model existed at the focal school. The second and third research questions sought to understand what leadership practices supported the model and the extent those leadership practices aligned to the Culturally Responsive School Leadership framework (Khalifa et al., 2016).
Three themes emerged from the study. First, the four practices of the Culturally Responsive School Leadership framework: critical reflection, promotion of an inclusive and equitable culture, development of responsive teachers and teaching, and inclusion and engagement of the community appear to be essential practices for effective implementation of the dual language model. Second, the model itself appears to attract people who are passionate about equity for English learner students, love languages, and are willing to do the additional work required. Thus, leadership practices which support staff’s capacity and tenacity to implement the instructional core are critical. Finally, the viability of the vision of a dual language model is always at risk. To address this existential threat of the program either being eliminated, or the mission being subverted, leaders must become advocates for dual language by educating and engaging families, the surrounding community, and colleagues at the district level.
Based on these findings, two sets of recommendations are provided. For practitioners who are implementing or sustaining a dual language school, the recommendations are to 1) maintain the mission and vision of the dual language model; 2) plan for the people who will implement the instructional core; 3) allocate the resources needed for full implementation; and 4) actively engage, educate, and advocate for the program. Researchers are urged to continue to investigate the leadership practices necessary to implement a dual language model in order to better understand how creating an equitable educational environment for English learners can be emulated in other schools, and furthermore how to continue to support the success of a school model which produces such positive linguistic, academic, and cultural outcomes for all students.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
dual language, leadership, English language learner
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: