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Topic 2: Professional development

Teachers in immersion schools have unique staff development needs that a district may have difficulty meeting either because there is little district level experience with immersion or because immersion teachers make up such a small percentage of the district’s instructional staff.

Practitioner Perspectives

Practitioner Perspectives

What challenges surface in providing relevant, immersion-specific professional development experiences?

Because immersion teachers often come into immersion teaching from other disciplines, professional development needs are varied and inconsistent. If teachers have come from traditional foreign language education backgrounds, they may need training in elementary pedagogy or in a discipline, such as science or math, for secondary immersion teaching. It can be assumed that teachers without immersion experience will need, at the very least, an introduction to the principles of content-based language learning and teaching. Teachers who already have elementary certification or licensure in a secondary subject area may need opportunities to improve their language proficiency although it is assumed that the hiring district has established an accepted level of proficiency that is required to be considered for an immersion teaching position.

What are the most effective means for meeting the professional development needs of immersion teachers within a program or school?

  • Have teachers share their best practices on a regular basis
    One way to provide structured, quality staff development for teachers is to arrange for time, preferably on a monthly basis, to share resources, activities, strategies, and ideas. For example, a mini-conference can be organized where a small number of teachers each prepare a short presentation that colleagues can choose to attend. If the presentations are repeated twice in an afternoon, each person can hear two. The following month another group of teachers can present on something they are doing successfully or can present a challenge they’d like help addressing.

  • Have experienced teachers mentor new teachers
    Mentoring relationships between new and experienced teachers are sometimes part of formal staff development plans, but even informal arrangements should be encouraged where novice teachers can observe experienced teachers in the classroom. Both parties can benefit from discussions about best practices in second language learning and instruction; lesson planning, curriculum development, and assessment; expectations for student behavior and parental involvement. Recently licensed teachers have probably studied some of the most current research in immersion pedagogy and can reciprocate in the mentoring dyad by sharing their views and understandings. Teachers new to the country, especially, will benefit from the cultural orientation they can receive from a mentor, but even American-born and -educated teachers new to a community will appreciate the help a mentor teacher will provide adjusting to the school and new location.

  • Include non-immersion staff in selected training
    Immersion programs that are a strand within a school would do well to offer staff development to the whole school on topics such as second language acquisition, the goals and objectives of immersion/dual language programs, and other issues that may help create community and dispel myths and misunderstandings.

  • Involve parents in a school improvement plan that raises money for staff development activities
    Since some of the staff development needs of immersion programs cannot be provided by routine district plans, there may be additional expenses that immersion schools incur to address those immersion-specific needs. Parent-teacher organizations which can be extremely adept at raising funds for immersion programs can be asked to divert some discretionary funds for staff development: registration fees for CARLA institutes (see question regarding out of district staff development) or an institutional membership to the American Council on Immersion education. One school that participated in our focus groups even partially funded a librarian’s and teacher’s attendance at a book fair in a South American country.

What are the most effective means for meeting the professional development needs of immersion teachers within a district?

  • Cultivate a relationship with the district staff development supervisor
    As immersion schools, it is important cultivate a close and amicable relationship with the district staff development director. When that person understands the unique needs of immersion teachers, it is easier to get permission to do something different, yet parallel, to what other schools are doing during district-wide staff development time. Having a person on staff, other than the principal, who is dedicated to planning staff development and is available to attend district meetings concerning staff development is a wise use of staffing dollars and scheduling. If your district has multiple dual language programs or schools (including one-way and two-way immersion programs and/or developmental bilingual programs), your district may consider providing some in-house staff development.

What are the most effective means for meeting the professional development needs of immersion teachers outside of a district?

  • Keep abreast of offerings by universities, National Language Resource Centers, professional organizations, and other districts
    The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota offers week-long summer institutes for new immersion teachers (with a 2-day strand for administrators), Immersion 101, and one for veteran immersion teachers, Challenges in Immersion, which focuses on a specific topic. These are intensive staff development opportunities that introduce teachers and principals from around the country to current immersion research, methodologies, and best practices. Institute attendees have also consistently expressed their enthusiasm for the opportunity to share experiences with and learn from one another.

    The CARLA institutes cannot, however, take the place of regularly scheduled professional development activities at the school or district level. Administrators and school districts would do well to plan follow-ups to the institutes during the school year when teachers are immersed in their teaching and can benefit from workshops and meetings that provide immediate and relevant information and feedback (see question about in school staff development).

    CARLA also offers a Dual Language Immersion conference once every four years hosted by the University of Minnesota. Information concerning the most recent conference can be found at CARLA conferences/.

  • Consider collaborating with other districts that have immersion programs
    Collaboration among districts, either within a metropolitan area that may have several school districts or across a whole state, allows schools to pool resources and share expertise. As an example, the metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul is home to 21 immersion schools in 8 districts (including 1 private school and 3 charter schools). Even the large urban districts do not offer immersion specific staff development to their immersion employees so the immersion schools across the metro area collaborate annually with teacher educators from the University of Minnesota to provide a half-day (late afternoon or evening) professional development meeting. One of the schools plans and hosts the event based on input from teachers and administrators at previous monthly meetings. A boxed meal from a local restaurant is served for dinner. Panel discussions, grade level sharing, presentations from researchers – these have been some of the programs that have occurred in recent years.

What are the most effective means for meeting the professional development needs of immersion teachers on-line?

Using current internet technology allows teachers to plan and carry out their own professional development based on individualized needs. The archived articles from the American Council on Immersion Newsletter is a good place to begin. The Language Immersion in the Americas (LIM-A) list-serv, maintained by CARLA, is another resource for sharing ideas among colleagues and posing questions to other immersion educators.

Readings from the ACIE archives:

ACIE Articles Make Versatile Training Aids - Aoki, ACIE, November 2005
Standards for School Leaders: Implications for Leadership in Foreign Language Immersion Programs - Locke, ACIE Bridge, February 2004
Immersion Teacher Education through Audiographics - Erben, ACIE, May 2002
Immersion Teachers in CoBaLTT - Miller, ACIE, February 2001
Immersion Teaching Strategies Observation Checklist - Fortune, ACIE Bridge, November 2000
Content-Based Language Teaching Through Technology - Zachmeier-Ruh, November 2000
Peer Coaching: A Partnership for Professional Practitioners - Belisle, ACIE, May 1999 Saving What? – Gerard, ACIE, February 1998

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