Sunday, November 8, 2015

Relationships: World Language Advocacy in Education

Bonjour! Hello!

After spending a few months settling in to my new school, I'm happy to sit down and write a quick post. As of last week, I stepped down as a moderator of the weekly Twitter #langchat, so I'm hoping that I'll use the extra time to blog more regularly while exploring new possibilities in world language teaching and learning. Please feel free to contact me if you have a mini or long-term project in mind. If you like to think outside of the box and have an idea that's just been taking up space in your head, let's chat!

So, the inspiration for this post came to me yesterday while in attendance at the annual fall workshop for members (and possible recruits) of the South Carolina chapter of the American Association of French Teachers. We were a small group, sadly, but we had rich discussions, mostly in the target language, before heading to the local French restaurant for some crêpes and/or croissants.  The workshop was geared more towards university French, but there were elementary, middle, high, and university educators all in attendance -- Bravo!

What was fantastic about our time together was the fact that we chatted about advocacy and, specifically, the need for better relationships between high school and college/university faculty. While our language teaching and learning methods don't always compliment each other, we were all on the same page regarding our desire to build and sustain world language programs in all of our schools. Of course, there are many examples of strong relationships between secondary and post-secondary institutions, but this is not the case in many areas of the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere in the world, and it's easy to know this fact if you talk to a few language professors.

What can we do right now to better advocate for world language programs of study? I argued that all of the efforts to tell folks about conferences, resources on social media, and any other opportunities do not always make a difference. The desire to make change MUST come from within, and this is applicable in so many situations, including educator professional learning. A driving force for change in one's personal or professional life can most certainly come from interactions with others. The bottom line: relationships matter. 

While we sometimes have community or school events to enjoy together, there is not always a strong relationship between professors and, specifically, high school educators. We're all busy, but it would be great if we could reach out to one another and propose a coffee meetup to discuss what we could do to not only entice high schoolers to study a language beyond the required number of years, but also to encourage them to continue their language study in college.  Email is great, but it doesn't have the same power as a one-on-one conversation in a nice coffee shop atmosphere. 

It is not forgotten that not all educators live near a college or university, so this can be a real challenge for face-to-face communication, but a coffee meetup via a videoconferencing tool could be the solution. What a great opportunity to find out how both (world language) departments could better establish partnerships for the benefit of the learners -- who are the reason for what we do -- as well as our programs that we work so hard to grow.

Here are some ideas for an initial meetup:

-Find out what types of college majors are offered that include a language component. Let's face it, only a small percentage of people are going to study literature or linguistics after high school. We need to get the information out that there are lots of pathways one could take if s/he enjoys languages. (One might think this info is widely shared already, but it just doesn't seem to be the norm.)          

-Find out if a university professor or adjunct faculty member could visit the local high school to share ways that a students could incorporate a world language in to his or her program of study. (I learned that there are more and more programs that are now offering degrees that include a world language (e.g. political science and French or dental hygiene and French. Who knew?? )) At any rate, we ALL need to know what kind of choices young people have these days. It's 2015. The world is changing, and language programs have to change, too.  

-Get a conversation going about what we actually offer in our classrooms. If we don't REALLY know what's happening at the high school or university, how can we help each other prepare our learners to choose a pathway that includes world languages? Conversations need to happen. And it wouldn't hurt to have those chats over coffee or tea in a nice ambiance. 

-Find out what opportunities are actually in place for study abroad. There has been talk of summer programs for language learners that would help lower the cost that goes along with a semester or junior year abroad. Do our learners know about these options? 

-As for elementary and middle or middle and high, world language educators also need to have a coffee meetup to discuss (and take action) to strengthen enrollment. 

This can all seem overwhelming, especially since our time is stretched thin, but the message I gleaned from our conversation yesterday was that we just need to get conversations started and take small steps to build partnerships. Our profession depends on it. I can say that my plate is super full at the moment due to the transition to a new school, but I am inspired to reach out to the language department at two nearby universities. As a matter of fact, if a university professor reached out to me and asked if I'd meet at the local coffee shop for a chat, I would be more than happy to take an hour out of my afternoon to do so. I'm hoping that the university professors I'll soon contact will feel the same way. (I'll update this post once I make some progress on that front.)

Are you inspired to reach out to one of your state's colleges or universities or to an elementary/middle school? Why or why not? Do you already have a solid partnership (beyond the once-a-year university language event for a certain number of upper level language learners) with a school in your area? If so, please share what you do in the comments.


  1. Hi. You can check out some programs and courses here connecting k-16. Still more out there to find and share.