(Modified from the original document written by Madeline Uraneck and Paul Sandrock.)
The best way to prevent cancellation of an elective is to run an excellent program in the first place. Become proactive long before the first signs of decreasing class enrollments. For Japanese language classes, here’s a sample checklist for program building:
Yes, you already do these things, and many more! What is happening is not your fault. Budgets, scheduling, politics, and enrollment fluctuations are out of your direct control.
Although it’s extremely difficult at this point, try to be upbeat, positive, and professional. Avoid rumors or accusations, “us vs. them” positions, or “worst case” scenarios. Use understatement rather than exaggeration. Avoid placing blame, including self-blame.
If a situation becomes heated or controversial, it is important for you to be careful when corresponding with parents or making statements in class to your students. Try to review your actions with an outside eye: Are you asking people to take a role that advocates for learning and for what is best for students, rather than merely asking them to advocate for “your” job or program?
Understand the district’s decision-making process. Make an appointment with a key administrator and try to get a clear idea of the timeline and when decisions will be made. Ask how parents, teachers and students can share their opinions. Ask how you can provide data that would be informative to the decision-making process.
When you attend these meetings or provide data, talk about the district's areas of concern: overall district budget issues, declining enrollment, or the perceived value of having a world language program in the district. Listen!
Give the administrator a sense of the importance of the program. What investments has the district already made in the Japanese program?
Make it clear that you will be seeking opinions from others, and say that you look forward to working with him/her on resolving the “crisis.” The administrator will then be not as surprised when he or she later begins to hear from parents, students, and others about the value of the program.
Make a list of things you can do to be proactive. Here is an "Action Plan Handout" that will help you begin.
Draft a timeline:
During the process, remember that it is important to keep up your emotional health. Your plan should include opportunities to relax, to spend time with your friends and family, to laugh, and to renew your own energy.
Advocacy involves taking risks. For most of us, this is scary. When you are in a position that requires bravery, conjure up an image of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or Malala Yousafzai. You are worthy of this challenge, and the challenge is a worthy investment of your time and energy.
Don’t be shy. You are not maintaining the program for yourself, you are working on behalf of your students and their future global competency, and for students of future generations.
Start communicating with parents as early in the process as possible: Create a mailing list or newsletter. Remind them about the value to their children of learning a world language. Mention student progress and upcoming events that students are looking forward to. Send copies to your immediate supervisor so that he/she is always in the loop. Tell parents that you will keep them updated on the current situation.
As the “crisis” ensues, try to keep your communications to parents non-emotional and non-exaggerated. Present facts and give them the dates and places that key decisions will be made. Parents have to make their own decisions about participating in the process.
Likewise, inform students. International job fairs, Foreign Language Week, International Education Week, or world language club activities may present special opportunities to involve students and to showcase the program.
Know your district’s policies and precedents. Some districts do not allow staff to make direct appeals to parents.
Meet with other world language teachers. Be honest about the pros and cons of program cancellation. Enlist their support. Listen to their ideas. Include teachers in other schools. Elementary and middle school teachers, community speakers of your and other world languages, and other colleagues have a stake in the continuance of this program.
Your district and/or state probably has a supervisor for foreign language education. If contacted, they would be happy to clarify issues or program requirements and to advocate for global competencies to key administrators or before a Board of Education.
Keep your union representatives updated on the program situation. They may or may not be able to do something for your program, but knowledge of its status may link to other on-going negotiations.
Bring additional speakers or read support letters from people like:
Be positive, not accusatory. Speak of your “concerns,” of “opportunities,” of “critical timing,” of “crucial points for decisions.”
Emphasize the benefits to students who study a world language, benefits to a community that is connected to global programs, and benefits to a district that has a reputation for being progressive and proactive. Find relevant research at our Useful Resources Page.
Propose steps that will delay the decision-process by asking for time to do a student or parent survey. This gives you time to gather support. Change.org is a great website where a student could start a petition, for example.
Make an appointment with a writer, editor, or reporter of the local newspaper or news website. Talk about different options for covering the developing situation. You may need to write a draft yourself, but try first to talk to someone about the article, to guarantee it will be published.
If you do a board of education appearance, ask the media to come too and tell them what is at stake. Ask the local or regional newspaper to send a photographer to your class. Once the newspaper has invested staff time in taking a photo, they will be more likely to run a related article you submit or to follow-up on the initial story.
Media means more than newspapers.
Consider updates in the local PTA/PTO newsletter, teachers’ union newsletter, and professional organization mailing list. It is better and easier to target a specific audience, than to cast a wide general appeal.
When a board or administrator starts hearing from a lot of different people and organizations, they might change their decision. Even if it looks like the program is ending, explore all the avenues (parents, professional organizations, administrators, media) one last time to see what actions may be in process. An elementary school may be beginning a language program, for example.
Don’t be so focused on or frustrated with the program ending that you fail to see other opportunities that are opening for you. This is one more reason for your positivism and professionalism throughout the “program phase-out” process. The very colleagues, administrators, parents and friends whom you are asking for help will be thinking about you and considering you for other positions they know of that are opening. You win their admiration with your committed advocacy for students and with your eloquence for something in which you strongly believe.