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Listening to the Voice of the Dual Language Principal Open Access

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Schools in the United States have more students who are English learners (ELs) than at any point in recent decades. Academic performance for these students, as measured by standardized tests, falls below that of their native English-speaking peers and, on some measures, is not making the sorts of gains that other groups appear to be making. Of the various program delivery models for ELs found in schools in the U.S., dual language has received a great deal of attention and interest in recent years due to some impressive long-term student achievement results. There is a great deal of research regarding the effectiveness of dual language and practices that have been shown to support that effectiveness. However, there is little in the research focusing on the perspective of dual language principals and listening to their voices. This qualitative study involving interviews of 15 elementary principals of dual language schools in the Eastern United States region was focused on understanding their experience as they contextualized best practices to meet the needs of their specific student population. The study drew on conceptual frameworks of transformative leadership theory, Fowler’s initiative implementation, and Cummins’s interdependence hypothesis. Analysis of the interview data revealed that dual language principals frequently found themselves playing a balancing act between two groups of people within their school. Another finding was that the dual language principal’s responsibilities are more complex than those of their colleagues in more traditional elementary schools. It was also learned that dual language best practices are generally followed faithfully. The final finding was that, despite the extra complications, dual language principals find the rewards to be worth the extra effort. The study reveals that dual language programs offer a powerful vehicle for transformative leaders to build community across language and culture. Implications for policy include recommendations for school systems to coordinate efforts to find qualified bilingual staff and appropriate bilingual materials. Future research is suggested to explore the perceptions that different language and cultural parent groups have about dual language. Several implications are outlined for practice, including creating meaningful and purposeful cross-cultural experiences for students and parents.

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