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Beyond Compliance: Toward Effective Principal Leadership of English Language Development Instruction


English Language Development instruction (ELD) is at the forefront of scrutiny in many schools and districts at-large. Within the Bay Vista Unified School District (BVUSD), a storied history, highlighted by a class-action lawsuit and resulting consent decree, has set the context for large scale decision making around language instruction and how schools are held accountable. Lau v. Nichols (1974) began with a group of Chinese-American families alleging that the school district failed to provide the necessary language instruction to provide access for English learners to the core curriculum, much of which was presented in English. The result of the litigation was a lengthy consent decree mandating that BVUSD provide a minimum number of minutes of daily focused ELD instruction. District officials worked under the intense monitoring of a federal court judge to hold all schools accountable for the provision of this ELD instruction daily. Principals quickly became tasked with formulating a structure at school for leveled ELD instruction and a system to monitor its implementation. Items to be monitored heavily involved classroom environmental tenets of “quality” instruction.

Forty years later, Lau is still alive in BVUSD and principals, among the many other roles they play, are still responsible for this compliance-driven task of monitoring ELD instruction. The prevailing principal support, at the district level, is in the professional development on how to use the district’s monitoring tool to assess the level of implementation of ELD in classrooms.

The following design development study aimed to shift principal practice beyond simply monitoring for compliance into a practice of understanding the instructional indicators of effective ELD instruction and how to observe for them, thus building the capacity to acknowledge compliance, but observe and offer feedback to teachers on the highest leverage instructional tenets of truly high quality ELD instruction. The three dimensions of this design include an awareness of compliance orientation, a shared understanding of the principals’ loci of control, and the technical competence necessary to move practice forward, from environmental/compliance driven observations to instructionally sound ones. The intervention design involves ten one-hour sessions designed to have principals engage in a reflection on their reliance on compliance, come to a shared understanding of the principal locus of control, goal setting, skill building, and working toward efficacy. Through these design features and intervention activities, principals became aware of their reliance on compliance, what they, themselves, could actually impact in instruction, were able to engage in goal setting, and actually engaged in observations though the lenses of an acknowledgment of compliance and focus on instructional effectiveness.

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