Considerations for Professional Development in Equity-Oriented Practices
Tammera Moore, Robin G. Jackson, Tiffany S. Kyser, Seena M. Skelton, and Kathleen King Thorius

Did You Know? 

Professional development is one of the primary strategies for supporting educators’ professional growth and acquisition of new or contemporary teaching methods. However, most traditional professional development focuses on technical skills that often miss other understandings, knowledge, and skills necessary to realize educational equity (King, Artiles, & Kozleski, 2009; Kozleski & Suity, n.d.).

Equity-oriented professional development “is grounded in research on teacher learning that is mindful of the role culture plays in the knowledge that educators bring to their practice, as well as how educators learn and make sense of their daily practice. It also emphasizes how educators’ biographies, professional identities, and awareness of the technical (e.g., how-to), contextual (e.g., how circumstances shape the ways things are), and critical (e.g., the social justice lens) aspects of education impact their professional practice” (King, Artiles, & Kozleski, 2009, p. 2). 

Professional development is more than ensuring that educators receive the technical skills (e.g. crafting lesson plans, developing an assessment, implementing cutting-edge instructional techniques, etc.) necessary to function in the classroom. Educators must also acquire a foundational understanding of equity-oriented practices via developing and cultivating critical consciousness and critically reflecting on their professional growth and practice in order to create effective learning opportunities for all students (Cole, 2008; Bay & Macfarlane, 2011).

Equity-oriented practices are those which critically examine--that is seek to surface beliefs, decisions or actions that produce inequities--all aspects of the learning environment including educators’ beliefs and attitudes about difference, as well as practices and materials used in the design and delivery of instruction (Jackson, 2015); in this way educators become responsive to, inclusive of, and sustaining of all students’ cultural identities (Ladson-Billings, 2014; Paris, 2012; Jackson, 2015). Although traditional professional learning experiences may be very specific in building educator’s content knowledge or expanding specific instructional strategies, most fail to incorporate or emphasize the need for greater critical consciousness for the educator, particularly as it relates to instruction. 

Equity-oriented instructional practices (see Equitable Science InstructionEquitable Mathematics InstructionCritical and Inclusive Practices in Literacy) center students’ identities and redress power dynamics at play in the instructional environment that privilege and oppress students along various identities (e.g. race, gender, sex, dis/ability etc.).Equity-oriented leaders ensure that professional learning opportunities offered to educators focus specifically on the importance of honoring, appreciating, and including students’ and educators’ personal identities and histories, community practices and cultural repertoires (Paris & Alim, 2014; Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2007).There is benefit in teaching technical skills in order to stay abreast of new instructional methods within a discipline, however to do so without incorporating culturally relevant and sustaining practice in professional development, inhibits quality learning opportunities for all students (King, Artiles, & Kozleski, 2009, p. 4).

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Why It Matters? 


Examining how we think of and benefit from professional learning matters because it is one of the primary ways districts and schools develop in-service educators’ capacity. It is one of the main avenues in which resources are framed and used to support educators in their pursuit of serving all students. It is also one, if not the most significant area, where school communities allocate their time and fiscal resources outside of actual interactions with students.

When leaders miss opportunities to be intentional about the types of professional learning experiences they provide, educators are deprived of access to knowledge, approaches and practices capable of transforming systems of inequity and addressing isolative, biased, and exclusionary practices (Kea, Campbell-Whatley, & Richards, 2006). Equity-oriented professional development helps educators develop new perspectives on power, privilege, and access; challenges them to critically examine their practices, materials, and the ways in which they serve students and families.

In addition, strong leaders are expected to be good stewards of resources, including funds and time. It is expected that leaders utilize the resources entrusted to them in the most ethical and fiscally responsible way possible. Because the average expenditure for professional development is equal to 5% of the total classroom costs, or about $4,600 per teacher (Odden-Archibald, Fermanich, & Gallagher, 2002), it is imperative that education leaders invest in experiences that will be most beneficial to staff and students alike. If educational transformation is to become a reality, educators must have professional development experiences that support, mentor, and critically examine their ability to engage culturally relevant and sustaining practices (Brown, 2007).

Furthermore, professional development is often conceptualized as a vender-focused enterprise. Meaning school leaders are frequently in search of “speakers” to present on a new topic, system, or strategy. When it comes to issues of educational equity, diversity, or culture in education there is no shortage of vendors who espouse expertise. Therefore, it is important that educators become critical consumers in the selection of service providers, as well as be intentional on how any professional learning experience fits within a larger professional development plan that includes multiple professional learning experiences that are ongoing and job-embedded.

When leaders provide professional development experiences that are deliberate in centering equity in practice, they invest their resources in building the overall capacity (Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000) of their school communities (e.g. educator knowledge, skills, and dispositions, program coherence, an enhanced professional community, etc.). Equity-oriented leaders understand that professional learning experiences should utilize a multi-modal approach; thus, equity-oriented professional development must be more than a set of “sit and get” experiences— placing educators in passive roles—toward engaging educators as active participants in the co-construction of knowledge.

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For Equity Now!
Equity-oriented educators must be equipped to recognize that not all professional learning experiences are equal. Although on the surface, some professional development experiences appear to have a critical and equity focus, upon closer inspection however, many do not. The following three principles will support leaders in their pursuit of leveraging equity oriented professional development to prepare equity-oriented educators.

Establish An Equity Vision: The development of a clear equity vision as well as core principles will assist in the planning of professional development experiences towards equity. 

Be A Critical Consumer of Professional Development: Educators should be equipped to interrogate the ideologies, merit, evidence base, and credibility of professional learning experiences. This ensures professional learning experiences are of high quality and aligned to their equity vision; including:selection of speakers, resources, materials, and use of and/or cultivation of language. 

Commit to Continual Learning: Professional learning should engaging educators in “joint, productive activity through discourse, inquiry, and public professional practice...[and afford] continuous, collaborative interaction with colleagues through discussion, knowledge development and understanding, and directed inquiry around professional practice” (King, Artiles, & Kozleski, 2009, p. 6)

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