Reflections on the Congrès annuel

In 2011 I made a motion at the AGA of the ACPIconference in Victoria that ACPI explore ways to support the principals and vice principals of Immersion schools, recognizing that many did not speak French but wanted to support the program, and that it was the principal who could set the culture of the school. From this unanimously supported motion began ACPI’s work to support leaders in the French Immersion program. A leadership group of FI school administrators was formed and we began to provide opportunities for FI administrators to learn more about working in the FI program, and provide opportunities for discussion and networking. Although controversial at first, ACPI offered some of the workshops in English, so that we could work with leaders in the program, those who make decisions about the program but didn’t speak French.

We soon began to see the breadth of leadership in French immersion. Not only are school administrators in a leadership position affecting the direction of the program but so are school trustees, consultants, clinicians, superintendents, teachers and parents. Everyone becomes an advocate for the program and can educate others on the benefits of a bilingual education.

After presenting at many ACPI conferences with the leadership team, and hearing the concerns of leaders across the country, I felt it was important to share our experiences, learnings and knowledge- thus the creation of A Reflective Guide for French Immersion Leaders, a handbook to help both French speaking and non French speaking leaders in the program reflect on relevant issues. The guide also enables leaders to discuss key issues with their staff in a non- judgemental way.

At the Quebec City conference, I was heartened to hear of many colleagues who are using the guidebook for personal reflection and for staff discussion. But at the same time it was disheartening to hear of some of the challenges faced by leaders across the country. Extreme challenges exist in finding qualified bilingual staff. Many provinces, with the desire to maintain high language standards, have French language testing which often discourages teachers from pursuing their French education. One principal told a story of a vice- principal who has taken the language test three times and failed each time, but has never been given any feedback as to how to improve his language skills. Universities continue to have limited enrolment of students capable and interested in teaching in the French Immersion program. More needs to be done to promote FI teacher training programs.

Supporting all learners in the Immersion program continues to be a topic of immense concern for leaders. We work hard to dispel the myth that some students can’t or shouldn’t learn a second or additional language. We know that struggling learners in any program require adequate support to achieve success, but so many schools across the country do not have bilingual resource or counsellors to support learning in both languages. Clinicians, psychologists and even teachers still counsel struggling students out of the program contrary to all research. If we cannot meet the needs of all learners in FI then we will become an eletist program and open to criticism. All leaders must continually advocate for the necessary resources to meet the learning needs of all our students. Sadly one principal related that her teachers did not have access to professional development. Her superintendent said that as the Immersion students achieved higher results than the English stream students, they did not require PD. What a sad state of affairs! We continue to see a lack of understanding on the part of many senior administrators and their decisions can have a significant effect on the success of the program. Best practices in the classroom, supporting learners new to our country and finding ways to create authentic language experiences in the French language were other topics that generated much discussion. Fortunately there are many dedicated individuals in leadership positions in our immersion schools, both bilingual and unilingual leaders, who believe in the value of a bilingual education and continue to meet the many challenges we face.

Gordon Campbell