Professional Development Week 1 & 2: Module 7

The Content of Professional Development (Weeks One and Two)

Ideally, the content of diversity-related professional development should be an integral part of professional learning about how to teach specific subjects. However, the first stage of enhancing teacher effectiveness in working with diverse students must deal with general concepts and teaching strategies that are the focus of these two weeks of the course. The best-practice approach to teaching diverse students is commonly called “culturally responsive pedagogy” or CRP. There are many conceptions of CRP but almost all include three broad inter-related topics: instruction, relationships with students, and family and community engagement. The first week of the course will deal with instruction and relationships with students, and the second week will deal with family and community engagement. See the LSDL module on family and community engagement for curriculum for the second week of the course

It is important to recognize, that all students—regardless of race or ethnicity—bring their culturally-influenced cognition, behavior and dispositions with them to school. Thus the efficacy of culturally relevant pedagogy is not limited to students of color even though the term is most often used to describe effective teaching of racially and ethnically diverse students.

A Primer on Culturally Responsive Instruction

The term “culture” plays a big role in discussions of how best to improve the teaching of racially and ethnically diverse students and students from low-income households. It can be used broadly or narrowly. For purposes of assessing the responsiveness of teaching, it seems useful to use the following definition by Harvard sociologist, William Julius Wilson: Wilson says that in order to understand the influence of “culture,” group norms, values and attitudes toward family and work should be considered (2009, p.1). But, he argues that we also need to consider “cultural repertoires (habits, styles and skills) and micro-level processes of meaning-making and decision-making—that is, the ways groups and communities develop an understanding of how the world works and make decisions based on that understanding” (2009, p.1).. This way of thinking about culture is important for understanding why CRP requires considerable expertise and reminds us that all students bring their culture to school, with both its group and individual dimensions.

The content of professional development should be focused on how teachers can best teach the subjects students are expected to learn. But, teaching students of diverse races and ethnicities requires that teachers have skills and knowledge that are particularly relevant to their students’ racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity.. Sometimes, diversity-related professional development assumes that a focus on teacher awareness and dispositions is adequate to improve instruction and student learning; however, it is not. Teachers need to master diversity-related pedagogical skills if they are to enhance the learning of racially and ethnically diverse students. Moreover, teachers need to know how to build productive interpersonal relationships across student subgroups. The difficulty of developing such relationships, which are essential to student engagement and motivation, is often underestimated. And, the importance of these caring relationships to student success appears to be greater among many students of color than they are for White and Asian students (Ferguson, 2002).

These two interrelated dimensions of professional development–instructional strategies and building relationships with students—are captured in Rubrics A and B. Being good at only one of these aspects of CRP is not enough—excellent teachers have both effective pedagogy and positive, caring relationships with students.

Activity.  Using a school you know well, assess the professional development opportunities related to culturally responsive instructional strategies available in that school by rating the school on the following aspects of culturally responsive instructional strategies outlined in Rubric A. To determine where your school or district fits in Rubric A, consider what proportion of the professional development opportunities available to teachers explicitly address culturally relevant pedagogy, and of those opportunities, what proportion deals directly with instructional strategies.

As you consider this partial list of what the content of professional development focused on CRP should include, you can learn more about some of these strategies by clicking on the ones that are underlined.  

[Note: Underlined items are linked to one resource. Most of the resources are three minute videos, one page research briefs, or summarized reports.  Instructors will be advised that they can delete the paragraph above if this they feel that the time involved in going a bit deeper on some of these behaviors is unwarranted.]

Rubric A: To What Extent is the Content of Professional Development Related to Culturally Responsive Instructional Strategies




Pretty Much


Not So



1.  Build on students’ prior understanding of issues being studied and the possibility that how they see the content will be different from the intentional curriculum


2.  Use student values and experiences that are related to their cultural context


3.  Avoid stereotyping of students’ (e.g., “Latino students learn best when….”)


4.  Do not assume that students should be taught according to their “learning style”


5. Use “ability” grouping flexibly and in focused ways

6. Maximize heterogeneous learning opportunities


7. Adapt instruction to students’ semantics, accents, dialects and language facility


8. Use culturally diverse learning resources and learning activities


9. Engage students in higher order cognitive development, e.g., complex problem solving even when they need attention to “basic skills


10. Learn from families how best to meet the needs of their children







Let’s turn now to the second major strand of culturally relevant pedagogy, building caring and trustful relationships with diverse students. Many of the instructional strategies just listed will build positive relationships with students. The behaviors listed below are integral to improving instructional strategies. Rubric B asks you to assess the extent to which a school you know well provides teachers with the opportunities to learn the behaviors that experts say are particularly important in building caring and trustful relationships with students.

Activity.  As with Rubric A, to determine where your school or district fits in Rubric B, consider what proportion of the professional development opportunities available to teachers explicitly addresses culturally relevant pedagogy.  Of those opportunities, what proportion deals directly with behaviors—not with attitudes and dispositions—that strengthen relationships with students and students’ opportunities to learn?

Rubric B:  To What Extent is the Content of Professional Development Related to Building Caring and Trustful Relationships with All Students?




Pretty Much


Not So



1.  Respect and have interest in individual students’ racial and cultural backgrounds and personal experiences


2.  Support and encourage students’ learning at high levels


3.  Apply rules relating to behavior fairly and sensitively


4.  Engage families directly in their children’s learning


5. Understand and adapt to students’ nonverbal communications


6. Support student empowerment, self-efficacy, and positive self-regard related to learning while maintaining high standards of academic performance







When school districts decide to enhance the capabilities of teachers and administrators to better meet the needs of students from diverse racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, they often focus on racial awareness and sensitivity and/or professional development activities that are not directly linked to content. By itself, a focus on teacher dispositions and attitudes is insufficient to improve instruction. Implications for teacher behavior need to be addressed. An understanding of the characteristics of CRP identified in Rubrics A and B is essential to improving educators’ capabilities to enhance the learning outcomes of diverse students but teachers also need to know how to apply aspects of CRP when teaching specific curricular content.

Resources to Learn More.  After you have examined the learning resources below, go back to your assessments above in Rubrics A and B. Would you change your ratings? Would you change the rubrics?

  • In this video, Luis Moll discusses his concept of “funds of knowledge”—the resources students bring to school that teachers can use to facilitate student learning and suggests how teacher study groups can guide curriculum development in diverse settings.

Before moving to examine the material for the next week, you may wish to summarize what you have learned that you would incorporate in the memo you are going to share with your leadership team.