At a recent university event I ran into Bob Ellis, a former principal at the high school where I was a teacher. We had a great time reminiscing about the good ol’ days, and also discussing the important role of administrators. We talked about effective leadership and chuckled about principals we knew who tried a heavy-handed, top-down approach to leadership. Bob was the epitome of a good leader and I was fortunate to have worked with him. He dedicated his life and resources to education — but that’s another story.
Effective leadership is consistently listed as an important factor in the literature on effective schools. The importance of good leadership is evident in the attention given to developing effective principals, which is gaining traction nationally.
In addition to the multiple responsibilities principals and other administrators have, changing demographics require them to develop awareness of the instructional needs of English learners. An estimated 25 percent of school children come from immigrant families and live in households where a language other than English is spoken. As the fastest growing student population, English learners will soon be represented in every school in the United States, joining the thousands of schools nationwide that already educate English learners as part of their student body. This new reality has significant implications for schools — and administrators.
In our book for administrators, we suggest a number of points to consider when leading the implementation of a research-validated approach for teaching English learners such as the SIOP Model. They include:
- Check out your English learners’ academic performance for the past few years and decide on a focal area such as Lesson Preparation or Building Background.
- Determine a point person for SIOP implementation and define that person’s responsibilities. You might want to form a team who share responsibilities.
- Be realistic about what can be accomplished in the short term given available resources and competing initiatives, but also plan for ongoing, long-term implementation. We’ve found that it takes 1 to 2 years of practice for teachers to become high implementers of SIOP.
- Identify strategic cohorts of teachers who will be the first to receive SIOP training. It may be best to go with the “goers” — those teachers who are open to learning and changing their practice to meet all students’ needs. Positivity is often infectious and might win over resistant teachers.
- Work with the staff developers to plan a sustained program of professional development for teachers, making sure that it includes time for teacher learning and reflection.
- Ensure that job-embedded SIOP training and coaching are part of the implementation plan. Coaching is an important part of professional learning.
In order to be most effective, you’ll need to demonstrate instructional leadership by learning what good instruction for English learners looks like in the classroom. Then, demonstrate interest and support for SIOP implementation through activities such as these:
- Allot time during staff meetings to discuss SIOP implementation successes.
- Create an online newsletter with teaching tips, descriptions of effective lessons or activities, and lists of resources to assist in teaching English learners and working with culturally diverse families.
- Post a SIOP bulletin board with photos of teachers’ classrooms. They might be photos of students engaging in activities, posted content and language objectives, or visuals that scaffold instruction such as posters showing language frames or rules for collaborative discussions.
The job of administrator is a challenging one for sure. But, addressing the instructional needs of all students is one responsibility that cannot be overlooked.