Professional Development Week 4: Module 7

Anticipating Barriers to Implementing Culturally Relevant Professional Development (Week Four)

The design of new approaches to effective professional development is only part of the challenge. Many promising practices lead nowhere because they are not effectively implemented. Indeed, anticipating possible obstacles to effective implementation can inform the design of programs. In this part of the module, you will learn about ways to address some potentially significant challenges to implementing culturally relevant professional development. These include:

  • Overcoming doubts about the need for culturally relevant professional learning
  • Fostering productive collaboration among staff
  • Finding time for collaborative learning

Of course, there are other barriers to effective implementation of professional development including limited financial resources, access to needed expertise, big differences in the capabilities of the teaching staff, and the absence of data needed to specify the problems that are impeding student learning.

Enhancing Receptivity to CRP

Some of the reasons why teachers might discount the importance of CRP are:

  • They think they already do it.
  • They think that it is faddish and lacks a research base.
  • They have been to a “cultural awareness” or “cultural sensitivity” workshop and think that that is what CRP is.
  • They think that race and ethnicity should not be considered in teaching because this is a form of stereotyping or is contrary to their beliefs that all students should be treated the same.
  • They believe that it is really hard to do and do not think they will receive adequate support.
  • Teaching effectiveness is being measured by instruments that do not specifically include descriptions of CRP practices.

Some of these reasons for teachers skepticism or reticence about CRP have been dealt with in the learning resources in weeks one and two of this part of the module. You might ask yourself whether what you know at this point in the course would allow you to address these possible barriers to effective professional development on CRP. If you think you can, write down your answers so that you can compare your answers to those you gave after examining the learning resources provided in the next sections.

The best place to start bringing about an awareness of the need to develop the skills and dispositions that describe CRP is to examine disaggregated data on student learning. However, be sure to go beyond the conventional demographic groupings. For example, among students who are Asian/Pacific Islanders there may be large differences in achievement. This can be true for all ethnic groups. Looking at data over at least two or three years is important; test scores can vary a lot from year to year.  You may also consider other outcomes of student academic success, such as attendance or retention rates. 

Resources to Learn More

If there were good examples of effective CRP, teachers could be asked to compare their work with those.  Such examples are being developed. An approach that some school districts have used to motivate teachers is to have them examine their beliefs about how best to teach students from diverse racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.  Teaching Tolerance, a program of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has developed a “Common Beliefs Survey.”  This survey includes a substantial number of resources that explain why these common beliefs should be questioned and why they may result in ineffective teaching.  To take this survey and read the materials that will help you better answer questions about why CRP is important, go to

[Instructors will be advised that the Common Beliefs Survey includes resources and could involve several hours of learning so they should guide the students accordingly. For example, they could limit the items to which student respond or use the survey for discussion purposes without the resources.]

Until recently, teacher evaluation was a joke in most school systems. No more. Teachers pay attention to what the evaluation instruments describe as effective teaching. But, most evaluation instruments being used do not deal adequately with CRP. To read a paper by Jacqueline Jordan Irvine and others that summarized research in CRP and shows how commonly assessed behaviors would be described if they embodied measures of CRP, go to

Most people believe that they are largely free of racial prejudice. But most are not. To take a well-researched test of one’s racial dispositions, which are often subconscious, click on This test could be used to encourage teachers (or school leaders) to be less sure that latent biases might influence their behaviors. The point is not that we are racists but that we live in a culture in which negative characteristics are attributed to some racial/ethnic groups and positive characteristics are assumed to be more common in other groups. These beliefs influence our thinking. We can’t easily change these dispositions but we can learn to manage them. See, Banaji and Greenwald, Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Delacorte, 2012.

You might want to reexamine your previous answers now that you have learned more.

Collaboration and Professional Learning Communities

Since the most effective professional development is that which is targeted to specific challenges teachers confront in particular settings, collaboration within the school among administrators, teachers, and school staff is critical. Indeed, a 2009 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research suggests that increases in teacher effectiveness are linked to the growth in effectiveness of their colleagues.

As we saw in Week Three of this part of the module, effective professional development is driven by what teachers need to know to address the needs of their students. This means that the content of professional development should be shaped by collaborative problem-solving centered on the analysis of differences in student performance. While this seems obvious enough, collaboration is difficult and issues of race and ethnicity do not often get thoroughly explored for at least three interrelated reasons: (1) such discussions can be awkward and stressful, (2) collective knowledge about how race and ethnicity affect learning is often inadequate, and (3) differences within conventional categories of race and ethnicity are not evident in the way data are collected. With respect to the last point, federal and state reporting requirements implicitly encourage oversimplification and stereotyping.

Among the skills and dispositions that foster collaboration are:

  • Listening skills
  • Non-judgmental communication
  • Perspective taking
  • Openness to new ideas

Resources To Learn More

To learn about how to build teacher learning teams, click here:

Finding Time for Teachers to Learn With and From One Another

As with most professions, the most useful professional development activities can be in the context of face-to-face professional relationships with colleagues. It is not only that teachers must have time to work and learn together; the time they have must be extensive enough to engage in serious work (a class period is better than nothing but probably inadequate given logistics) and must be used well.

Nationally, teachers and principals overwhelmingly believe that more time for collaboration would increase student achievement (MetLife, 2009). However, on average, teachers have less than three hours a week to work together, much less than teachers in many countries where students achieve at high levels.

 There are a number of ways to find time within the school day, week or year. These include:

  • Double existing planning time in alternate days
  • Schedule common planning time around non teaching time
  • Combine classes to create larger classes to free up some teachers, e.g., physical education
  • Combine classes on an ad hoc basis to free up a teacher to visit exemplary schools or attend conferences and bring back knowledge to the team or school.
  • Create student learning activities that do not require the presence of certified teachers
  • Early release days once a week or twice a month

Some questions that you might ask about how to increase the amount of professional learning time include:

  • Is the time we do have for professional development well used? If not, why not?
  • Have you tried any of the strategies listed above for increasing the time for teacher learning? If not, why not?
  • If you tried these or other strategies without success, why didn’t they work?
  • What are the major obstacles to increasing teacher time to work together and what can be done to address these obstacles?
  • How can professional development been made part of the routines of the school, i.e., be more “job-embedded”.  For a discussion of “job-embedded” professional development—what it is, who is responsible and how to do it well, CLICK HERE.

Resources To Learn More