What administrators should know

This page summarises what administrators should know and do in order to provide maximum support for the English language learners in the school.

Further reading:|Changing Instruction for Language Minority Students to Achieve National Goals [A good overview of issues facing administrators of schools with large numbers of ESL students.]


The people who have direct and daily influence on the emotional well-being and educational progress of ESL students are of course the classroom teachers. But the influence of administrators, although indirect, is even more significant.

This is because administrators make decisions on the nature of the educational offering as a whole and on the teachers who are to deliver it.

Following is a summary of the main areas where administrators' influence is of crucial importance.

Funding of an ESL department

The essential first step for administrators is to fund an ESL department and an ESL instructional programme. The existence of such a programme will be of significant direct benefit to the ESL students in the school. Furthermore, an ESL programme will be of indirect benefit to the other teachers of those students and to the students' parents.

Of course, ESL teachers provide instruction which includes the development of the students' English language proficiency, as well as help with the work they are set in the other subjects. But ESL teachers also advise mainstream teachers and parents on the best ways to maximise the academic success of English language learners.

More on the importance of an ESL department in ensuring academic success for non-native English speakers (.pdf) in English-medium international schools.

Support of mother-tongue programmes

@ There is strong evidence that ESL students do better in English-medium schools when they continue the academic development of their own language. ~ Administrators are responsible for funding programmes that support such development.

The ESOL Online website has links to much of the essential research literature for administrators who wish to inform themselves of the educational and human rights case for the introduction of mother-tongue bilingual programmes in their school.

And in the Parents section of this website there is a summary of the pedagogical and other reasons for the maintenance and development of the mother tongue.


@@ There is plenty of research that supports a thematic approach for ESL students. ~~ It is clear also that ESL students do better and feel better in school when their cultures and cultural perspectives are integrated into day-to-day teaching.

Administrators who wish to be responsive to the needs of ESL students take these issues into account when planning new or assessing existing curricula.

Read more on curriculum planning .

Creating inclusive schools

An inclusive school is one that gives students the message that they are all equally valued. This message is most strongly conveyed through curriculum.

However, an inclusive school can also be achieved by the creation of a school environment that has posters and signs in the various languages and by the existence of an extra-curricular activity program that fully and equally reflects the interests of the various cultures.

It does not mean trivializing minority groups by the occasional "celebration" of ethnic dance or food.

Hiring of faculty

In hiring new faculty, administrators can look for evidence of an understanding of the needs of ESL students and an awareness of strategies to support them.

At the very least new teachers should show evidence of a positive attitude to the presence of ESL students in their classes. They should also be prepared to take part in professional development in ESL issues and to work closely with the ESL teachers.

Training of faculty

Administrators can make time and money available so that new faculty are given some training in how to support the ESL students in their classes. Tenured faculty can be encouraged to keep themselves up-to-date on the issues concerning ESL students. One way to do this is by reading some of the pages on this site and following relevant links to other recommended resources.

Evaluation of faculty

In schools where faculty are evaluated by administrators, one of the criteria for tenure should be the teacher's ability and willingness to modulate classroom teaching and assessments according to the needs of the ESL students in the class. The other pages of this teachers' site contain a great deal of advice on how to do this.

Placement of ESL students

There is a danger that ESL students may be misplaced as a result of misconceptions on the part of the administrator. For example, the student may be placed in a remedial class for native English speakers on the assumption that a lack of English language proficiency is synonymous with the kind of learning difficulty that needs remediation.

Another danger is that the student may either be prematurely exited from the ESL program, or not even placed in it, because "he speaks such good English!".

Administrators, therefore, need to be aware of the difference between everyday spoken language and the academic language proficiency necessary for educational success. They should also know how long it typically takes to acquire this proficiency.

These issues are covered on the research into second language acquisition page.

Involving parents

@@@ It has been shown that ESL students do better when their parents are engaged in their education and when their parents feel that they are welcomed in the school. ~~~

Administrators can build school-home links by organising meetings with ESL parents at which the parents can ask questions about their children's education and raise any concerns they may have. It is best to have a single language meetings and arrange for an interpreter to be present.

Administrators should be aware of the advice to parents on how to support their child, elsewhere on this site.


So a short answer to the question What should administrators know about the education of ESL students? is:

Everything that classroom teachers should know, plus the advice on this page and the advice in the parents pages.