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ESL Programs: Vision & Mission

By Bonnie Billak
ESL Programs: Vision & Mission

Does your school have a vision and mission statement for the ESL program that clearly defines the role of the program and how it fits into the overall school picture?
This is especially important so that the work of the ESL program does not become overshadowed by other school initiatives. The ESL program will also function at a higher level of efficiency if everyone knows the vision, mission, and time frame for reaching goals.
First, the school needs to decide what the overall mission is for the English language program at the school and who its customers will be. Will the school be accepting students at all levels of English language proficiency, or just those at advanced levels? Will the school’s goal be to develop an English language program of excellence at all grade levels that will motivate parents to enroll their children?
Next, the vision of the ESL program needs to be clearly defined. Will the program be a strong content-based program that strives to teach English to students with English proficiency levels of zero and above, while keeping them on grade level academically, or will it be a program that only offers minimal language assistance for students, requiring parents to hire tutors for their children?
Clearly defining this vision will help everyone at the school to understand what services the ESL teachers offer, the level of priority the school gives to their work, and how they fit into the big picture. In addition, if ESL classes are pull-out classes, will ESL teachers be given adequate time for pulling students out each day, or will programs such as Writer’s Workshop, reading support, or others be given priority, a practice that greatly restricts the time available for ESL classes, thus hindering and weakening the program?
Next, strategies for reaching the goals need to be discussed. This will be the path the school will take to meet the objectives. Once these are established, then the organizational structure necessary to carry out the strategies needs to be put into place.
Lastly, a time frame should be established for reaching the goals outlined in the vision and mission statements. The time frame may be adjusted as time goes by, if necessary. However, it is of utmost importance to establish the timeline so that all the key players in the process will see the importance that school administrators are assigning to this program and the speed at which results will be expected. Having a goal such as this to work toward is very motivating and may be a key factor in the success or failure of the program.
Along the way, it is important to periodically review progress to make sure that all the key players are on the same path and that no one has strayed off on a tangent. Also, once the established time frame has been reached, a review and assessment process should be carried out to determine if the vision and mission goals were met and to make any necessary changes based on feedback from the key players in the program.
Without a clearly defined vision and mission statement, the ESL program can easily become blurred or lost in the myriad of new initiatives that schools implement each year, resulting in a lessening of services for students in great need of English language instruction. It can also shortchange parents, since the school will not be providing their children with the English language instruction for which they are paying.
Bonnie Billak works as an ESL Specialist at The International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile.

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