Managing Programs for Adult English Language Learners, a facilitated discussion held January 12-16, 2009, on the NIFL Adult English Language Learners Discussion List, is summarized below. The original announcement of the discussion, including brief biographies of the facilitators, may be found at the following URL: http://lincs.ed.gov/lincs/discussions/englishlanguage/09programs.html. If you wish to read the individual postings, visit the NIFL archives at http://lincs.ed.gov/pipermail/englishlanguage/2009/thread.html#3371.
The three facilitators of the discussion were MaryAnn Florez, Project Director for the Adult Education Professional Development Center at DC Learns in Washington, DC; Donna Kinerney, Instructional Dean for Adult ESOL & Literacy programs at Montgomery College in Maryland; and Brigitte Marshall, Director of Oakland Adult Education in Oakland, California. These and other participants began by discussing the many roles that administrators play in programs. While many spoke of how they enjoyed their roles as advocates for students and visionaries within their programs, they also pointed out the extent to which they had to learned to maneuver politically and lamented a high number of administrative responsibilities, decreasing resources, and, in a few cases, unsupportive communities. Many stated that they began as instructors and came to management not only because of their commitment to students and their own particular abilities and energies, but also for the benefits and full time work that the position offered. Others added that improving program quality and work conditions for teachers were high priorities for them. In fact, one facilitator spoke of prioritization itself as a key skill for managers and stressed that she finds that she cannot play all roles at all times and still fulfill her vision for the program. In those cases, delegation of roles is necessary.
The discussion of paths to management led to one of the principal questions of the discussion: Can a person who has no background in ESL instruction be an effective and credible manager of an adult ESL program? Participant response was nearly equally divided between those who felt that an instructional background - including the direct contact with students and with fellow teachers - was a must for administrators due to the deeper level of understanding it afforded them, and those who felt that this experience was not necessarily a prerequisite, but instead highly dependent upon the individual and the program. Those who voiced the latter opinion noted that effective managers without teaching experience could have knowledge about fundraising, board development, strategic planning, and other skills fundamental to the success of a program, as well as the ability to listen and ask questions about topics with which they have less experience.
Other participants raised particular management issues, such as how and if to honor special student requests, such as a female teacher (for religious reasons) or a native English speaking teacher. Respondents generally suggested resolving these requests on case by case basis, making smaller adjustments when necessary (same-gender pair work, allowing breaks from class for prayer) and staying firm when the school is unable to compromise.