New Jersey Department of Education

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New Jersey Student Learning Standards

World Languages

Supervisors as Agents of Change: Creating Innovative Structures
to Support Teaching and Learning

Janis Jensen
Fall 2002

Leading in a time of rapid change is significantly different from and more challenging than leading when conditions are stable. Today, if you are not a visionary and if you are not creating change, you are not leading. Furthermore, if you are truly leading, you are probably upsetting some people. Those who think stability and tradition will protect them are condemning their followers to a collision with future conditions (Schwahn, 2002, p.182).


The adoption of the "second generation" of New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards in 2002 is an optimal time to reflect upon what has been accomplished in meeting the implementation challenges of the "first generation" of standards since 1996. It is also a fortuitous time to reexamine the vision of the standards, and to create new implementation strategies based on what the field has learned over the past six years. In some school districts, the standards were embraced with wholesale zealousness, while in others, the standards were met with skepticism, and treated as another new educational fad that didn’t quite fit in with the district’s current program dogma. This article will examine the role of supervisory leadership in implementation of the standards focusing on the content area of world languages, although the ideas and findings presented are applicable to all content areas. It will explore the relationship between successful district supervisory leadership and successful district implementation of the standards. The article will further discuss the creation of a new world languages supervisors’ statewide initiative that has catalyzed the development of a variety of innovative standards-driven projects impacting teaching methodologies, curriculum development, and assessment.

The Need to Build Capacity at the District Level

A qualitative analysis of district implementation of K-12 world languages standards through site visitations that included classroom observations, curriculum and program review, and/or discussions with teachers, students, parents and school administrators reveals consistent data. World languages programs that are achieving the vision of the standards exemplify to a greater or lesser degree all of the following attributes:

  • Effective world languages supervisory leadership

  • Evidence of well-informed administrators and board members who have been provided with necessary information on what constitutes effective second language learning practices, and on how second language learning benefits students throughout the educational process

  • Curriculum based on both state and national standards (communicative-based, organized around themes incorporating real life situations, assessed by a variety strategies)

  • Ongoing professional development for teachers that is directly focused on student achievement and learning needs

  • Inclusion of all students

  • Regular program evaluation

  • Articulation from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school

  • Support from the parents, classroom teachers and other members of the community

In examining why some districts are able to successfully implement programs with these attributes, it is evident that regardless of district socioeconomic status or a myriad of other factors, the quality of world languages supervisory leadership has a significant impact on the development and maintenance of good programs. World languages supervisors who possess specialized knowledge of second language acquisition, materials, content, methodology, assessment, second language learning styles, and knowledge of current research and best practice have the necessary background to provide ongoing leadership in the design and implementation of standards-driven world languages programs. Additionally, there seems to be defined commonalities among these supervisor leaders. All possess the ability to "see the big picture" and have the capability to lead people to build a collaborative vision of what needs to happen. They instinctively bring promise to problems, and they are passionate and relentless in their mission. For the world languages supervisor, this is an absolute prerequisite for developing the drive and motivation necessary to convince the educational community that achieving competence in a second language takes a long time, and happens best in well-articulated programs with appropriate time allocations and state-of-the-art instructional practices! In addition, they are able to clearly articulate how the goals of second language learning support the learning of other concepts and ideas from the core curriculum as well as current state and national literacy initiatives. They provide a transparent and powerful rationale for why it is necessary to devote a variety of resources to develop a quality language program. Most importantly, they are visible within the entire school community and are viewed as innovators, collaborators with other curriculum areas, active members of local, state and national educational associations, and lifelong learners engaged in a wide range of professional activities. Consider New Jersey Supervisor X as an example.

New Jersey Supervisor X

Supervisor X began his career as an alternate route teacher. During his initial teaching years, he embraced the traditional view of second language education focusing on memorization of vocabulary and mastery of grammatical concepts. As a beginning teacher, he realized the importance of professional development and became a member of the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey, and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Through ACTFL, he applied for and was selected to participate in a summer institute focusing on the national standards conducted by experts in the field. The following fall, after earning a second master’s degree, he assumed a supervisory position in a district with 3,000 students where his responsibilities included supervision of the existing 6-12 program and the implementation of a K-5 elementary program to meet the requirements of the 1996 standards. That summer, he was asked to participate on a task force convened by the Department of Education to develop the New Jersey World Languages Curriculum Framework. His knowledge of second language acquisition, national and state standards, and alternative assessment quickly became apparent to the members of the taskforce, and he emerged as a project leader. In district, he faced the challenges of implementing a new elementary program by sharing his passion and vision for early language learning, advocating for it, and taking the many detailed steps to put it in place. He began by educating district administrators, board members, classroom teachers, and parents. He held countless meetings with the PTA and with staff at each elementary school in the district discussing the benefits of early language instruction, and the program that would soon be piloted. He developed a K-12 world languages instructional committee with representation from all members of the community to look at current district articulation issues, implementation of the standards in existing programs, and to provide feedback in the development of the elementary pilot. Issues of language choice, time and intensity of program and inclusion of all students were addressed by the committee, among others. He investigated and eventually hired the first foreign visiting teachers to come to New Jersey through an international program and spent countless hours assisting them in adapting to their new environment. This included involving them in all aspects of program implementation and other district activities. During the elementary pilot year, he obtained a GOALS 2000 grant for $215,000 to direct a training institute for 160 world languages teachers in the central region of the state. The model he developed has been highlighted in professional publications and was highly successful in providing sustained and specific professional development for the 18-month duration of the grant. Shortly after, he was recognized for his contributions to world languages education by the state language association and nominated as president-elect of the organization. He was then called upon by ACTFL to serve as a member of the taskforce that would develop the first assessment of foreign languages for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This past school year, he assumed a position as K-12 world languages supervisor with a larger district where he has designed an intensive professional development program focusing the development and implementation of district wide performance-based assessments, and the role of the teacher as action researcher. Recently, he was nominated by his new staff, with whom he has worked for only a short time, to receive an award for New Jersey Supervisor of the Year. Supervisor X has described the leaders of the foreign language profession in the 21st century as "people who can work well with others both within and beyond the profession articulating a vision for the future of our field." This is manifested in his everyday practice.

Supervisor X is a model of the new breed of instructional leader that is also a learning leader. He exemplifies that leadership is inextricably linked to constant learning and change. Imagine if every content area in every school had comparable supervisory leadership! Leaders are needed in all areas of an organization and at many levels to create and sustain the conditions necessary for education reform. "Sustainability depends on many leaders-thus, the qualities of leadership must be attainable by many, not just a few (Fullan, 2002).

New Jersey Regional Roundtables of Supervisors of World Languages

In recognition that capacity building at the local supervisory level is a critical factor in facilitating standards-based reform in world languages as it is in all content areas, a pilot project was initiated in 1999 to cultivate and enhance supervisory leadership. The project, now in its second full year, was conceptualized in the Office of Standards and Professional Development at the Department of Education, and has been overseen by a staff content specialist. The New Jersey Supervisors of World Languages Regional Roundtables initiative serves as a forum for district supervisors of world languages and other administrators responsible for the implementation of world languages programs in their school districts. The goals of the initiative are to:

  • Assist supervisors with the ongoing design, assessment and implementation of world languages programs;

  • Provide professional development for instructional improvement based on cognitive research, second language acquisition theories, current practices in second language teaching, and district needs;

  • Promote advocacy for the study of world languages;

  • Work collaboratively with colleagues in other content areas and professional organizations to facilitate standards-based reform in New Jersey schools; and

  • Recognize and cultivate supervisory leadership throughout the state.

Regional meetings are held in the northern, central and southern areas of the state four times a year, and are hosted by school districts in each respective region. At regional meetings, supervisors are given the opportunity to dialog about common problems, discuss problem-solving strategies, and share success stories. The thrust of the meetings is devoted to collaborative work on one or several of the projects selected by the group as priorities during the academic year. During 2001-02, world languages supervisors provided ongoing feedback during the revision of the world languages content standards, developed the Novice High School Curriculum Project, and developed and participated in the World Languages Model Programs Project.

The first and last meetings of each school year are statewide, involve supervisors from all regions, and focus on a relevant topic(s) of concern in world languages education addressed by a recognized authority on the subject. In addition to these meetings, professional development workshops, designed specifically for supervisors, are offered at intervals during the course of the year, many in conjunction with the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. This past year, supervisors were offered sessions on how to train their staffs in the use of performance-based assessment that included materials to be used as training tools, suggestions on conducting training sessions, participation in troubleshooting discussions related to training, sharing training results, and planning for continued training and evaluation of the process. A yearly calendar of regional and statewide meetings and professional development workshops is posted each August on the world languages homepage at to facilitate supervisor planning.

A Professional Community

The supervisors’ roundtables can be likened to a professional community of learners who have discovered the power of discussing practice together. Roundtable activities have allowed supervisors to learn about and through different perspectives, and the value of giving and receiving meaningful feedback. They have also enabled supervisors to meet at regular intervals to build knowledge, examine each other’s work, and keep abreast of the latest research. Furthermore, the roundtables have empowered supervisors to participate actively in creating structures to facilitate change both at the district and state level. This professional community of supervisors has exerted leadership in the area of reform and renewal of world languages as seen in the development and implementation of the Novice High School Curriculum Project and the Model Programs Project. A detailed description of both projects follows.

Innovative Projects

The Novice High School Curriculum Project

We need to see language through the students’ eyes and interests.
Beth Klemens, New Jersey District Supervisor, Southern Regional HS District

The Novice High School Curriculum Project reflects the commitment of New Jersey supervisors of world languages to meet the goals of state and national standards. In an honest self- assessment, supervisors expressed concern that many traditional high school courses of study using a linear "cover the chapter" and "teach, test, and hope for the best" approach to curriculum and assessment are not meeting New Jersey’s standards. Supervisors expressed strong agreement that the standards-driven approach to second language teaching and learning requires a student-centered, success-oriented, interactive program that utilizes both the latest instructional and assessment strategies. Historically, second language programs have targeted only college-bound students since it was once thought, and unfortunately is still a commonly held misconception, that only academic achievers are able to successfully learn a second language. Decades of scientific research on the workings of the brain have proved otherwise. Findings indicate that all students can benefit from learning another language when instruction is based on second language acquisition theories, and appropriate methodologies and materials are used. This project therefore addresses the necessary changes in curriculum design and delivery to prepare all students to function linguistically and culturally as novice speakers of a language other than English.

The Novice proficiency level is defined in the 1998 Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). The performance guidelines represent what the student should be able to do with a language after a certain period of study. Novice Range may refer to students enrolled in a K-Grade 4 or Grade 5-8 programs, or Grade 9-10 programs, since Novice performance descriptors reflect the language use of students beginning the study of a language for the first time, whether at the elementary, middle or high school levels. Students who have studied another language at the elementary or middle school levels would still be Novice learners at the high school level if they were beginning the study of a new language in Grade 9.

How is the Novice High School Curriculum different from existing curricula?

The Novice High School Curriculum focuses on student understanding and what students can do with language. It is founded on some of the latest research on the thinking and learning process. Using the Backwards Design model (Wiggins & Mc Tighe, 1998), this curriculum first identifies the expected student performance assessments. These assessments reflect meaningful, purposeful tasks that are tied to real-life language use. Students know from the outset the requirements for authentic performances and what they must do to demonstrate understanding. Tasks involve multiple skills and a variety of subtasks, and require global forms of scoring to measure performance. While traditional pencil-and-paper testing reduces a student’s classroom life to a collection of scores or grades, performance testing allows for students to see an immediate connection between what they have been rehearsing in class and tasks that they may be asked to perform in a real world where the target language is used exclusively for communication. This accounts for increased motivation in students, who often fail to see connections between traditional "classroom " language and the real world (Duncan, 2000).

Additionally, this curriculum focuses on themes and related topics that use essential questions as the organizing principles of the lessons. These questions are applicable through time and across cultures. They are designed to cut to the heart of the discipline, reoccur throughout the unit, and broaden student understanding of concepts (Jacobs, 1989).

The Novice High School Curriculum challenges students to use language in meaningful contexts every day in order to broaden their understanding about themselves and their world. Rather than focusing on the mastery of grammar and isolated vocabulary as the primary objectives of a second language course, the Novice High School Curriculum allows students to communicate about relevant and developmentally appropriate topics that are intrinsically interesting, cognitively engaging and culturally connected. For example, they will show understanding of and communicate about adolescent and social concerns, such as curfews and personal freedom, wellness and environmental issues, and the effects of media and propaganda. The emphasis on the interrelationship between language and culture, as well as cultural comparisons of products, practices and perspectives, remains a strong recurring thread throughout the curriculum. Higher order thinking skills, collaborative skills, and problem-solving skills are enhanced as students interpret, use and create meaning with language through a curriculum that fosters in-depth learning.

Using the Curriculum

The Novice High School Curriculum may be adapted for use in current world languages high school programs with technological resources, texts, and other supplemental materials supporting instruction. However, as used in this curricular design, themes and topics must relate to the students’ immediate world and our ever-changing society. They are selected to provide a practical and functional framework for student learning (Krashen & Terrell, 1983).

The curriculum is organized into five sections that include: a curriculum overview that contains three themes and related topics, thematic planning webs, the backwards design planning framework, unit planning inventories and an appendix. Below are examples of two of the components of the curriculum, a thematic planning web and a backwards design planning framework for the theme Education and Career Exploration

The Novice High School Curriculum Project is a work in progress and will continue to be modified as supervisors and teachers implement curriculum themes and topics. Since publication of the curriculum on the world languages homepage, supervisors have utilized the novice curriculum concept and template both to develop new district curriculum and to revise existing curriculum after participating in curriculum training sessions. Professional development workshops will continue to be offered for supervisors and their staffs on novice curriculum design and implementation throughout the 2002-03 school year. New topics and performance assessments that have been developed by districts will be added to the curriculum after a review process. The entire curriculum may be accessed on the world languages homepage at

Supervisor Reflection: Through the many discussions that took place at the roundtables on the development of the novice curriculum, I began to reflect on the current high school curriculum we are using in my district. I brought the concept back to my staff, and while it was first met with many concerns and questions (What about our textbooks? How will we have time to do the performance assessments? This can’t be done!), we decided to take a topic from one of the themes and try to develop our own units using the backwards design approach, thematic webbing and planning inventory. As I led my teachers through the process, I sensed increasing buy in for this innovative approach that was a "far cry" from what had always been done in my district. Teachers then began implementing the units in their classes, and assessing students using the tasks they had created. They did peer observations of lessons, and worked together on the development of rubrics to score the newly designed performance tasks. We are now in the process of revising our curriculum based on the 2002 state standards, and have collectively decided that we want to use the novice curriculum template. In this case, perseverance in the face of protest paid off!

The Model Programs Project

A supervisor commented at a roundtable meeting over a year ago that he felt there is a strong need for administrators, classroom teachers, parents, and board members to see in action the vision of standards-based teaching and learning in world languages. Other supervisors discussed the importance of providing ready access to clear and reliable practices in second language education for various members of the school community. This initial dialog served as the catalyst for the development of the New Jersey Supervisors of World Languages Model Programs Project. Supervisors envisioned that schools selected as model program sites would serve as regional resource centers for other districts in their geographical area. They would enable educators to witness firsthand exemplary practices in world language instruction and assessment through visitations of district personnel or through the use of technological resources. They would allow for dialog among administrators and teachers about issues of mutual concern, and foster the potential for collaboration on world languages implementation, articulation or professional development projects. Model program resource centers would also conduct local action research in several areas involving assessment including the effects of early language learning on basic skill areas and standardized test scores in mathematics and language arts literacy to support national studies.

The evolution of the project took place in several phases. Regional teams of supervisors first identified selection criteria based on both state and national standards, and research on effective second language instruction and assessment practices. They then developed a written district application form that could be used to apply for model program status or to serve as a district self- assessment tool for evaluation of its world languages program. Supervisors realized that many districts were still in the early stages of the implementation process and not ready to apply for model program status. They wanted the application to serve more than one purpose, and felt that using it as a tool for self-evaluation would be highly productive in assisting districts with effective implementation of the standards. Supervisors later reported that the criteria were also used to stimulate discussion during staff meetings while setting goals and objectives for their programs. Model program applications were then sent to all districts, and a total of 25 applications were received for review. Of the 25 applications processed, 14 were selected for phase two of the process, the site visitation. The visitation team was comprised of three or four supervisors, who in addition to doing classroom observations, conducted interviews with students, teachers, parents and administrators. The site evaluation process of the seven district finalists began in December and ended in March. A full day meeting was then conducted with the entire 12- member visitation team to determine districts that would be designated as model program sites. The model programs application/district self-assessment form may be accessed at

Supervisor Reflection: Participating on the model programs site visitation and evaluation team was probably one of the best professional development experiences I could have at this time during my practice as a district supervisor. I can compare it to a form of action research. What amazed me was the variety of approaches I saw in schools in meeting the needs of students who learn in different ways and who come from diverse cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I feel that I have grown through these observations and through the ensuing dialogs with my colleagues. I have developed a clearer vision, and a realistic plan of action for my department based on what I have learned through being part of this team. There is no doubt in my mind that the model programs resource centers will contribute to the knowledge base on the teaching and learning of world languages in New Jersey, and promote well-informed changes in practice.

Model Programs Overview

The seven world languages programs designated as model program resource centers are all early-start programs that begin in preschool or in the elementary grades that offer content-enriched instruction. In content-enriched programs, second language lessons include concepts from other core areas such as math, science, language arts, or social studies mostly as a reinforcement of subject matter taught in English. While each meets the criteria previously outlined for successful implementation of world languages programs on page 2, they are unique in their own way. Some are in stable middle-class neighborhoods; others are in far more fluid or less affluent communities. Several receive funding through federal or state grant programs, whereas others are supported entirely by local district funds. The amount of world languages instruction varies, and some programs offer only one or two languages, while others offer four or five. The seven programs also vary in how fully they exemplify the identified attributes for successful programs. As model program supervisors would agree, none is perfect. Each of these programs has faced the kind of challenges typically encountered by innovative educational programs: Budgets are cut, grants expire, and skeptical administrators question the value of the program. Model program supervisors have each had to find and keep qualified teachers, develop practical and reliable assessment procedures, and generate or maintain community support for their elementary programs. However, supervisors, teachers and administrators in each of the seven model programs have addressed these challenges in creative and collaborative ways and as organizations of learners (Gilzow & Branaman, 2000). A listing of the 2002-04 model programs containing both contact information for arranging visitations, and program information for the reader’s reference may be found at

Reevaluating the Role of Supervisory Leadership

The leadership role of each content area supervisor in this era of educational reform is to promote collaboration and change, rather than maintaining the control, order and efficiency of the current system (i.e., writing observation reports, scheduling, ordering materials, etc.). A professional learning community, such as the supervisors’ roundtables, provides educators with the opportunity to influence or change set practices within and across their respective areas of specialization. In order to implement the vision of New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards, supervisory leadership must move beyond technical management, organization and information transmission. Leaders for change become learners in real reform situations. In order to respond to the need for an innovative approach to curriculum development or to provide statewide exemplars of well-articulated standards-based programs, supervisors needed to take on new leadership roles and move beyond the traditional definitions of supervision. According to (Donato, 2000, p.116) Leadership emanated from collaborations to understand one’s local situation, the various perspectives on critical issues, and the possible futures of fundamental change that potentially improve the lives of teachers, learners, and the profession.


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