Choosing the Right Bilingual Program: Organizational Structure

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The Importance of Evaluating the Organizational Structure of Bilingual Educational Programs

You like the bilingual teacher/s (see part 2and  the curriculum (see part 1) used at a particular bilingual program.  Satisfied with both, you are now ready to enroll your child or yourself in the bilingual educational program.  But wait!  What do you know about the organizational structure of the program?  Why does it matter?

The managerial organizational structure is absolutely important in determining the effectiveness of language learning.   A structure that is too top-down driven can impede teachers’ effectiveness in teaching a language by limiting the teachers’ ability to respond to the needs of students.  Alternatively, a structure that requires no accountability or guidance for teachers will also be ineffective as it creates a lack of ownership and motivation for teachers to encourage students’ progress.

Here are five key indicators to help you determine the effectiveness of the institution’s managerial organizational structure.

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1. Do teachers and staff have opportunities for professional development?

Providing professional development and/or ongoing training opportunities  is a clear sign of an organization’s commitment in investing in its staff and in maintaining high quality bilingual education.  It also indicates that the organization is more likely to be interested in current research findings on language acquisition and thus more likely to implement those findings.  As such, an organization that invests in its staff will  be more committed to advancements in bilingual education and will be more open to try new methods when previous ones are shown to be less effective.

Find out what programs and options are available to staff for continued professional development.  Talk to the administrators and find out what their process is for reviewing research data and how they decide when and how to implement those findings.

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2. Does the leadership maintain a positive relationship with the teachers, parents and students?

Many things can strain a relationship between interested parties.   Some leaders or administrators may seem too aloof to the needs of its staff or constituents.  Others may micromanage their staff too much.  Teachers, students and parents all need to feel valued and to be seen as important members and contributors.  Leaders and administrators who forge relationships with constituents through effective communication and mutual respect create a working environment that will be most successful in accomplishing its goals.  Bilingual education is no exception.

Talk to existing parents and students and hear what they have to say about the institution’s administration and its relationship with constituents.  Find out how they view  the relationship with teachers, parents and students.  Observe the teachers and their interaction with administrators.  Find out about the student and teacher attrition rates and the factors that contributed to them.

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3. What is the Institution’s criteria for measuring teachers’ effectiveness?

Investment in professional development and positive relationships are key starting points.  But how does an institution evaluate teachers’ effectiveness in teaching language?  Test scores alone are poor indications of how well a teacher performs in the classroom.  A more effective way to evaluate teachers’ performance is to establish a defined learning continuum  and measure the progress of the students on that continuum periodically throughout the year. Students should also be provided frequent opportunities to demonstrate their language skills and knowledge through meaningful projects and real world application.

Ask how the institution’s management evaluates their teachers and the students’ progress  and be very wary if the response is based on simple test scores taken once or twice a year.  Inquire about opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and language skills.

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4. What are the policies for resolving internal conflicts?

Most organizations have a system in place for resolving internal conflicts as well as policies governing financial concerns and early withdrawal from a program.  Find out what those policies are.  How are teacher and parent conflicts resolved?  How are financial conflicts resolved? How does the organization address expectations that are not being met?  Is there a provision to ensure that each party is treated fairly and with respect?  Does the administration appear flexible and open to working out differences?  A clear answer to these questions may not always be apparent, but asking the questions will give you an idea on how the organization is managed and help establish clear expectations moving forward.

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5. Does the program promote diversity among staff and families?

Unfortunately, this is a very important area that is often overlooked and commonly misunderstood.  Being bilingual and raising our children to be bilingual, we hope to become better citizens of the world through multicultural exchange and greater tolerance and empathy for others.  However, multiculturalism, tolerance and empathy has to start in one’s community. Communing in a positive environment with others from diverse backgrounds is how one learns to become more tolerant, understanding and empathetic. Learning a second language only enriches that experience. Thus, an institution that promotes diversity among its staff and families demonstrates not only strong leadership skills but also a commitment to champion tolerance and compassion across diverse groups.  After all, this is a key reason we seek bilingual education.

How diverse is the staff and the families that attend the program?  Do students and/or families from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to engage with each other in positive ways?  If so, how often?

We want to hear from you. Please feel free to leave comments or questions.  If there is a topic you want to learn more about, please submit a comment or send an inquiry to thinkbilingual@gmail.com.