Culturally Competent and Racially Conscious Professional Development for School Leaders: A Review of the Literature
by Daniel D. Spikes - 2018
Scholars have argued that leaders should be more culturally competent in light of the changing demographics and dynamics of schools. While professional development has historically been used as a mechanism to develop the skillset of in-service educators, little is known about the aspects of this in-service training that lead to the type of transformation needed to meet the needs of all students. Therefore, this chapter will review and synthesize the relevant literature on professional development, cultural competency, and transformative learning to highlight critical components of culturally competent professional development. The findings from this chapter will enable school district and building leaders seeking to promote racial equity within their schools to provide meaningful learning opportunities for their staff.
In the fall of 2014, students of color made up the majority of students attending public schools for the first time in U.S. history (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). As schools continue to diversify, it is important now more than ever that educators have the skills necessary to address the needs of a diverse student population, especially in light of the fact that schools have traditionally underserved students of color. For example, Black and Latino students often lack access to high-quality teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2014) and are disproportionately overrepresented in low-track classes, while more White students are placed in high-track classes (Condron, 2007; Greene, 2014; Oakes, 2005). Further, Black and Latino students are overrepresented in the number of children who are suspended and/or expelled from school (Bryan, Day-Vines, Griffin, & Moore-Thomas, 2012; U.S. Department of Education, 2014; Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008) and are given more severe punishment for the same offenses (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). These practices directly contribute to the persistent racial disparities that are evident in various performance indicators (Carter, 2010; Gooden, 2012; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Milner, 2012).
T. C. Howard (2010) suggests that a more comprehensive understanding of race and culture can play an important role in helping to close the achievement gap (p. 1). To improve the educational experiences of students of color in U.S. schools will require educators who are culturally competent (Diem & Carpenter, 2012; Gooden & Dantley, 2012; T. C. Howard, 2010; Jones & Nichols, 2013; Khalifa, Gooden, & Davis, 2016) and can respond to the unique needs of diverse populations in ways that foster academic growth (Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009).
Unfortunately, many of our educators are unaware of the institutional racism that is subtle though pervasive in todays schools. Specifically, they are also unaware of their own individual biases, which greatly impact how they educate students. This is why many of todays education scholars are suggesting that educators be required to engage in anti-racist/cultural competency training (Jones & Nichols, 2013; Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009; Skrla, Scheurich, Johnson, & Koschoreck, 2001). Cultural competency is defined as
the acceptance of the significance of sociopolitical, economic and historical experience of different racial, ethnic, and gender subgroups as legitimate experiences that have a profound influence on how people learn and achieve inside and outside of formal and informal education settings. (Jones & Nichols, 2013, p. 8)
In addition, culturally competent educators recognize that schools are inherently oppressive and work to transform these schools into more equitable spaces.
Several researchers have called for educator preparation programs to integrate anti-racist pedagogy into their curriculum in order to improve the cultural competency of our future principals and teachers (K. M. Brown, 2004; Diem & Carpenter, 2012; Gooden & Dantley, 2012; Young & Laible, 2000). Various programs have done so, while others are moving in that direction. There is also evidence of school districts throughout the country engaging their staff in in-service training on cultural competency (Lawrence & Tatum, 1997; Vaught & Castagno, 2008); however, more work is still needed to make this professional development an institutionalized practice.
While historically professional development has been used as a mechanism to develop the skillset of in-service educators, little is known about the aspects of in-service training that lead to the type of transformation needed to meet the needs of all students. Therefore, this chapter will review and synthesize the relevant literature on professional development, cultural competency, and transformative learning to highlight critical components of culturally competent professional development. The findings from this chapter will enable school district and building leaders seeking to promote racial equity within their schools to provide meaningful learning opportunities for their staff.
Before outlining the specific components that should be included in a professional development program aimed at developing educators cultural competencies, it is important that we first have a brief discussion on professional development in general. A definition of professional development was recently codified in federal policy with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), on December 10, 2015. This act defines professional development as
[activities that] are an integral part of school and local education agency strategies for providing educators (including teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, and, as applicable, early childhood educators) with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed in the core academic subjects and to meet challenging State academic standards.
Various practitioners, policymakers, and scholars note that professional development is critical to school improvement efforts (Borko, 2004; C. Brown & Militello, 2016; Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). However, professional development efforts have often been criticized as being inadequate and ineffective due to their lack of specificity and focus (Fullan, 2007); their single-day, shotgun nature (C. Brown & Militello, 2016); and their perceived lack of relevancy (Borko, 2004; Hunzicker, 2010). It has also been noted that there is often insufficient follow-up and support provided for participants engaging in professional development as well as insufficient measurement efforts to evaluate the impact of the professional development (Darling-Hammond, 2013).
Research suggests that professional development is most effective when it is job embedded, has an instructional focus, is data driven, is collaborative, and is ongoing (C. Brown & Militello, 2016; Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Easton, 2008; Hunzicker, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2015). According to Hunzicker (2010), when professional development is job embedded, it makes it both relevant and authentic (p. 4). Educators view staff development as being relevant when it meets their individual, professional needs and/or when there is a direct connection made between the staff development, the needs of their students, and their job responsibilities (Hunzicker, 2010). Professional development is deemed authentic when it is woven into the daily activities of the educator. These professional learning opportunities can involve coaching and mentoring sessions, study groups, action research and other job-embedded projects.
Effective professional development is also focused on instruction (C. Brown & Militello, 2016; Hunzicker, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2015). More specifically, there is great attention placed on student outcomes and the skills needed by educators to effectively teach the content so that all students can achieve student outcome goals (Hunzicker, 2010). Attention paid to addressing instruction also helps to ensure relevancy and authenticity because most educators view instruction as central to their duties in schools (Hunzicker, 2010).
Local data (both input and outcome) should drive decisions on the kinds of professional learning opportunities that should be undertaken (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; U.S. Department of Education, 2015). For example, if reading scores for a particular grade level are not meeting expectations, then it may be more appropriate to only engage the relevant stakeholders in that professional development and engage others in professional development that is more relevant to their needs. If data reveal a school-wide concern, then it would be appropriate to engage the entire school community in a professional learning opportunity directly connected to that data. It will also help to establish buy-in (relevancy and authenticity) if you can point to the data as evidence that professional development is needed when informing the educators why they will be participating in the staff development.
As social learning theorists support, learning is a social process and we learn through our interactions with others and the environment (Vygotsky, 1934/1962). Therefore, it is most appropriate for professional learning experiences to provide opportunities for participants to collaborate (C. Brown & Militello, 2016; Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Hunzicker, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2015). The literature suggests that professional development is most effective when educators are actively engaged physically, emotionally, and cognitively in collaborative experiences (Hunzicker, 2010; Tate, 2009). This active engagement can occur through activities like role-playing activities, discussions, and reflections (Hunzicker, 2010).
Finally, it is widely stressed in the literature that for staff development to be most effective, it must be continuous/ongoing/sustained (C. Brown & Militello, 2016; Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Easton, 2008; Gabriel et al., 2011; Hunzicker, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Research reveals that educators who engage in over 14 hours of relevant and quality professional development positively impact student outcomes (Marek & Methven, 1991; McCutchen et al., 2002). Those who engage in professional development for less than 14 hours demonstrate no positive impact on student achievement (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007). The literature suggests that these are fundamental aspects of effective professional development. The type of professional development needed to promote transformative individual and systemic change, however, requires additional components. The next section discusses these components as offered by the literature.
CULTURAL COMPETENCY AND TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING
The aforementioned aspects of effective professional development also hold true for professional development on cultural competency. However, there are additional considerations when seeking to address the cultural competency of educators. Culturally competent educators recognize that students experience schools and society differently, based on their sociopolitical identities (Jones & Nichols, 2013). However, many of our educators, a majority of whom are White, often view schools as culturally neutral spaces and are dysconscious (King, 1991) of the fact that White privilege is embedded within our institutions, benefiting White students and creating conflicts for students of color (Milner, 2012). In addition, they are often dysconscious of their own sociopolitical identities and how these identities are connected to their beliefs and behaviors.
Thus, in order for leaders to develop the cultural competencies needed to promote equity within schools, some transformative learning has to occur. According to K. M. Brown (2006), transformative learning changes the way people see themselves and their world (p. 84). Transformative learning brings about a change in ones frame of reference (K. M. Brown, 2004, 2006; Mezirow, 1997).
K. M. Brown (2004) provides a model that helps to support this transformative change. It guides the learner to understand themselves, understand themselves in relation to others, and understand themselves in relation to systemsan inside-out approach to transformative change (Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009). Although not explicitly stated, this pedagogical framework often undergirds the culturally proficient/competent professional development that is most often shown in the literature to be most effective (G. Howard, 2007). This next section will cover the critical components of professional development on cultural competency that promotes transformative change. In addition, potential activities will also be discussed.
THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CONTENT
This section will provide some step-by-step guidelines, based on selected literature, on what to incorporate in transformative professional development focused on cultural competency. This section is largely informed by the work of K. M. Brown (2004, 2006); Derman-Sparks and Phillips (1997); Diem and Carpenter (2012); Gooden and ODoherty (date); Lindsey, Robins, and Terrell (2009); Shields (2010); and Singleton and Linton (2006). A brief overview of their approaches will be provided before diving into specific steps.
Singleton and Linton (2006) offer up six guidelines to follow when engaging groups in a dialogue on race and racism aimed at enhancing ones cultural competence:
Establish a racial context that is personal, local, and immediate.
Isolate race while acknowledging the broader scope of diversity and the variety of factors and conditions that contribute to a racialized problem.
Develop an understanding of race as a social/political construction of knowledge and engage multiple racial perspectives to surface critical understanding.
Monitor the parameters of the conversation by being explicit and intentional about the number of participants, prompts for discussion, and time allotted for listening, and reflecting.
Establish agreement around a contemporary working definition of race, one that is clearly differentiated from ethnicity and nationality.
Examine the presence and role of Whiteness and its impact on the conversation and the problem being addressed.
In addressing how school and school districts should engage their staff in transformative professional development, T. C. Howard (2010) offers up five phases that he suggests are vital components to these types of professional development sessions: building trust, engaging personal culture, confronting social justice and dominance, transforming instructional practices, and engaging the entire school community. Gooden & ODoherty (n.d.), in providing a framework/module for leadership preparation programs developing anti-racist leaders, advocate a similar approach, breaking their approach into four sections: building trust to enhance racial dialogue; defining and highlighting race and White privilege; distinguishing between individual, institutional and societal racism; and emphasizing racial awareness and leadership. K. M. Browns (2004, 2006) pedagogical framework for preparing transformative leaders advocates engaging preservice leaders in critical reflection, rational discourse, and action as policy praxis. Diem and Carpenter (2012) also recommend that educational leadership programs employ a transformative pedagogical approach in their development of preservice leaders. They offer that this preparation should refute color-blind ideologies, counteract the misconceptions of human differences, recognize that student achievement is not always based on merit, engage in critical self-reflection, and examine the silencing of voices. Derman-Sparks and Phillips (1997) approach in working with preservice teachers is to (1) begin explorations of racism, (2) explore the contradictions, (3) work towards transformation to an understanding of self and society, and (4) to work with teachers to adopt anti-racism as a new beginning.
Each of these authors all advocate for some exploration of race, with most suggesting that this exploration require individuals to explore their own racial identities and experiences while also becoming more critically conscious that others may have different experiences based on their racial identity. Inherent within this theme is also the idea that educators should examine and discuss how race and racism impact schooling. A majority of their approaches suggest that this should occur through rational discourse and critical reflection. Another common theme amongst all of these approaches involves educators engaging in transformative practices once they have developed the skills necessary to do so. Finally, several of these authors emphasize (in their own way) the importance of setting the stage for a productive conversation. This includes establishing group norms, facilitating a meaningful dialogue (where diverse perspectives are shared), and establishing trust so that participants are willing to be vulnerable.
For this book chapter, each of the components offered by the authors above has been incorporated into what I consider to be the four essential components of transformative staff development on cultural competence: setting the stage, building trust, inside-out approach, and transformative leadership practices. The next section will provide an overview of these categories for staff development along with activities that can be utilized to promote cultural competence.
SETTING THE STAGE
One of the first steps that one should take when engaging in staff development on cultural competency is to establish group norms/ground rules (Gooden & ODoherty, n.d.; Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012; Singleton & Linton, 2006). These agreements serve as guides for a safe and inviting conversation although it is discussed that there will be some uncomfortable moments. Thus, safe does not necessarily mean comfortable.
There are several established guidelines on agreements in the literature (see T. C. Howard, 2010; Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009; Michael & Conger, 2009; Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2009). One of the more widely used sources is Singleton and Lintons (2006) text, Courageous Conversations about Race. These authors suggest that one should begin with these four foundational agreements:
Speak your truth
Expect and accept non-closure
After listing these agreements, it is encouraged that facilitators discuss them. With staying engaged, it is offered that as participants, they are asked to stay physically, emotionally, and intellectually engaged. This agreement provides an opportunity to discuss protocols regarding cell phone/laptop usage, bathroom breaks, and communication. When discussing this norm, the facilitator can also stress that there will be some uncomfortable moments, but participants are encouraged to not check out when they are uncomfortable or may disagree with something. This discomfort is probably occurring because something is being presented that brushes up against their existing frame of reference.
Related, the next agreement asks participants to experience discomfort. Again, there will more than likely be some uncomfortable moments. In these moments, participants should be encouraged to acknowledge this discomfort and critically reflect on what is making them uncomfortable and why. They are also asked to wrestle with the information and engage more in the session.
Speak your truth highlights that multiple perspectives may be present in the space. Everyone is encouraged to share their perspective so that perspectives/frames and references can be challenged. It is a way for people, especially those from the dominant culture, to become more critically conscious of the fact that people experience the world differently. As Anais Nin (1961) stated, We see the world as we arenot as it is. The final agreement asks the participants to expect and accept non-closure. This agreement speaks to the fact that cultural competency/proficiency is a journey (CampbellJones, CampbellJones, & Lindsey, 2010) and that participants should continue to learn even outside of the sessions.
Once these four agreements have been discussed, then there is space usually given for the group to offer up any additional agreements. The facilitator can spend a few minutes discussing these agreements, and the group can decide whether to adopt any of the additional agreements offered. These agreements (including the four foundational agreements) are to be reviewed and displayed at each subsequent session.
In order to create an environment for participants to be vulnerable and feel safe, one should take steps to establish a positive learning environment where participants can reflect and grow and not feel judged (G. Howard, 2007). One of the ways to accomplish this is to recognize that we all have been socialized by these oppressive systems in some shape or form (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012). Where one is in his/her level of critical consciousness is largely due to personal experiences and education (or lack thereof) as it relates to these concepts (Jones & Nichols, 2013; Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009; Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012). Therefore, it is important to demonstrate compassion and understand that much of the ignorance as it relates to race and racism is largely due to institutional and societal oppression and not individual intent (Friere, 1970; Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012).
Strategies that can be utilized to develop trust include the facilitator 1) being vulnerable and sharing any cultural blind spots that he/she may hold or may have held at some point and 2) modeling compassion in his/her interactions with participants (Gooden & ODoherty, n.d.). In essence, the facilitator should position him/herself as a learner and facilitator.
Activities that have been utilized to build trust include cultural artifacts, I Am Poems, and the Name-tag Activity, amongst others. These activities allow for participants to share personal stories and/or something personal about themselves, while also allowing them to begin to critically reflect and dig into their cultural identities. As with all of the activities that will be mentioned, the facilitator should model by completing the activity and perhaps sharing first.
This activity asks participants to select 25 artifacts that address the following questions: What is unique about you? What has influenced you on your path to teaching/leadership? What do you want others to know about who you are? Artifacts may include a variety of items, photographs, or mementos, etc. Depending on the size of the group, participants can share in smaller groups or as a large group (preferable). Regardless of how the share out is structured, the facilitator should share his/her artifacts with the entire group.
I Am Poems
This activity asks participants to write a poem where every line begins with the words I am. It is recommended not to give too much guidance so that participants can express themselves freely but also so that the facilitators can see where participants are in terms of how they think about culture. These poems should be shared with the group.
This activity asks participants to write their name in the middle of an index card. Then, they will write three adjectives that are often used to describe them. Then, the facilitator can come up with a category for participants to write something in each corner of the card. For example, they can write where they were born in the top left corner of the card, and maybe their favorite food in the top right corner. Facilitators often reserve one corner to ask a question related to a concept addressed in that days session. For example, one may ask: What is one thing you know about race? and ask them to write their response in the bottom right corner.
These are only a few examples of activities that help to establish trust. However, there are several others. T. C. Howard (2010) and Lindsey, Robins, and Terrell (2009) provide a compendium of activities in their texts. Any of these activities would be sufficient to utilize in sessions. Trust building, however, should not be relegated to one activity on one day, but should be something that is practiced throughout.
Lindsey, Robins, and Terrell (2009) argue that cultural proficiency should be an inside-out approach. In essence, one should begin with the self before learning about the system and the self in relation to the system (K. M. Brown, 2004). According to Jones and Nichols (2013), in education in general, the significance of knowing self in an educative setting is viewed as critical toward the effort to know students (p. 89). Individuals must critically reflect and come to recognize that they are cultural beings and that their experiences are largely shaped by their cultural identities. As stated by K. M. Brown (2004), when adults learn about their heritage and contributions to society, they participate in a process of self-discovery and growth in social consciousness (p. 90).
Scholars have suggested various activities that can contribute to this self-discovery (K. M. Brown, 2004; Gooden & ODoherty; G. Howard, 2007; Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009; Singleton & Linton, 2006). The one most often discussed, however, are racial/cultural autobiographies.
Racial/cultural autobiographies. These activities provide an opportunity for participants to unpack their cultural identities, particularly as it relates to race. Questions are asked about how they identify racially and about their first awareness of race. Additional questions asked are what influences their understandings of race. These autobiographies should be written in narrative form. It is up to the facilitator to decide if these autobiographies are to be shared with the group or not.
Other activities include diversity lifelines, cultural portraits, and other activities mentioned in the building trust section. These activities can be used in conjunction with the racial/cultural autobiography or as substitutes (depending on the time allotted for professional development). Ideally, however, one would use these activities in addition to the racial/cultural autobiographies (K. M. Brown, 2004; Gooden & ODoherty, 2015).
Self to Others
A key component of the inside-out approach is also to help participants understand that others may hold diverse cultural/racial identities and therefore experience the world differently. There are various activities that provide opportunities for participants to learn about others and their experiences. One way is to create opportunities for rational discourse.
Transformative learning can occur through engagement in rational discourse (K. M. Brown, 2004; Mezirow, 1997). This form of discourse is vital for adult learners to interrogate and validate what they know and how they know it. Rational discourse involves structured conversations that allow for one to hear other perspectives on specific issues and how each of us differently constructs those issues (K. M. Brown, 2006, p. 93). Further, K. M. Brown (2006) argues that engaging in rational discourse about issues of social justice can provide opportunities for growth (K. M. Brown, 2006).
Gooden & ODoherty (n.d.) provide some guiding questions that can elicit such a dialogue. These questions allow participants to give percentages on how race impacts their life in specific areas. For example, questions asked are: How does race impact your decision to buy a car or house? and How much does race impact your social activities for the weekend? Once participants write their responses, then they engage in a whole-group discussion. In a racially heterogeneous group, multiple perspectives are likely to be offered. In the absence of racial heterogeneity, then it would be up to the facilitator to bring about diverse perspectives in response to those questions. The literature suggest using documentaries, video clips, and the literature to provide those perspectives.
Other activities that promote opportunities for students to learn about other racial/cultural experiences are through educational plunges, life histories, and cross-cultural interviews. Educational plunges require participants to engage in a cross-cultural activity they have never experienced before. The life histories activity asks participants to interview someone over 65. The interview questions get at life experiences as it relates to culture and race. Similarly, cross-cultural interviews involve participants interviewing someone from another cultural background (as it relates to race/ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, etc.). These questions are specific about each particular identity.
Self to the System
Once participants have come to understand themselves as racial and cultural beings, the next step is for them to understand race as a sociopolitical construction and a system of oppression (Gooden & ODoherty, n.d.; Jones & Nichols, 2013; Lindsey, Robins, & Terrell, 2009; Singleton & Linton, 2006). This can be accomplished in a number of ways. First, participants are often engaged in a rational discourse about race so that they can come to a common understanding of what race is and what race is not. Some use the literature to help participants understand race, while others show documentaries like Race: The Power of an Illusion, or other short clips.
Once the definition of race has been established, then it is necessary to cover concepts like power, privilege, oppression, socialization, implicit bias, and macro and microaggressions. This usually requires some discussion and some critical reflection (K. M. Brown, 2004). The discussion can then be reinforced through various activities. Activities can include taking the implicit association test offered by Harvard University; watching documentaries like Race: The Power of an Illusion, Ethnic Notions, 13th, The Color of Fear, etc; completing the Privilege Walk1, Color Arc2, and/or Beads of Privilege3 activities; and by reading and discussing the literature. Participants are often asked to critically reflect on their learning through journaling after these phases.
The main purpose of engaging in this staff development is so that educators can work to create equitable structures and promote equitable practices in schools. Thus, once participants have navigated through the first two phases of learning, then the next phase is for participants to engage in job-embedded tasks that will aid in transforming their schools. G. Howard (2007) refers to this as transforming instructional practices, and Brown refers to this phase as action as policy practice, while Gooden & ODoherty refer to this phase as racial awareness and leadership.
In this phase, participants often engage in activities like school and district equity audits (Skrla, McKenzie, & Scheurich 2009), community-based equity audits (Green, 2017), classroom and curriculum audits (A. L. Brown & Brown, 2009; McKenzie & Skrla, 2011), lesson planning, and activist action planning (K. M. Brown, 2004). According to Skrla et al. (2009), equity audits are a systematic way for school leaders to assess the degree of equity or inequity in three key areas of their schools or districts: programs, teacher quality, and achievement (p. 3). Similarly, classroom audits and curriculum audits allow for classroom teachers to evaluate inequitable teaching and instructional practices. The community-based equity audit allows educators to develop an asset-based view of communities by expanding their understanding of who the community is and what they have to offer. There are templates that guide participants through these activities (see Green, 2017). Educators then utilize the data garnered from these activities to either develop a lesson plan or some type of activist action plan that they are to implement.
As noted, students of color have not been served well by U.S. public schools. This is alarming in light of the fact that schools are becoming increasingly diverse, serving more students of color than ever before. However, there is hope. While these institutions are inherently oppressive, institutions do not operate in isolation of the actors within them. To transform schools requires that the educators within the schools transform. In essence, facilitating institutional change for racial equity requires that educators become culturally competent so that they can recognize and disrupt structures and practices that contribute to the academic and social disparities that are pervasive in schools. Because many of the staff in U.S. public schools were not provided these learning experiences in their preparation programs, it is critical that school districts and schools utilize their professional development structures to address this lack of skill development. These professional learning experiences should be job embedded, instructionally focused, data driven, collaborative, ongoing, and race centered, aiding participants in understanding race and the impact of race and racism on schooling. This understanding can be promoted by setting the stage, building trust, taking an inside-out approach, and by committing to transformative practices that promote institutional change for racial equity.
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