How Professional Development Can Contribute to a More Equitable School Environment

by | Oct 22, 2019


Of all the factors contributing to our schools’ equity gap, it may not surprise you to learn, the teacher shortage is one of the most important and alarming. A 2016 Learning Policy Institute report estimated the teacher shortage would quadruple between the five years separating the 2012-2013 school year and the 2017-2018 school year…and this shortage is only expected to get worse as we approach 2025. One of the biggest reasons for this shortage is the high rate of teacher turnover, primarily due to the lack of professional development opportunities.

Does your school offer appropriate professional development opportunities to support an equitable school environment? The following factors contribute to a professional development program which facilitates a more equitable school environment for students and teachers:

Your school’s professional development programs train educators about Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices.

Each school and classroom has a unique makeup of students representing a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, cultural identities, and learning abilities. When your school is “culturally responsive,” teachers develop lesson plans which:

  • Are student centered — Students direct their own learning through a mix of individual, paired, small group, and whole classroom activities. Within each lesson plan, students are able to explore questions and learning goals they develop themselves to complement the teacher’s broader learning objectives.
  • Value people’s differences — Students learn about a variety of viewpoints and perspectives in each lesson plan as they’re encouraged to think critically about different cultural attitudes. In this way, students and teachers alike can feel their backgrounds are celebrated and valued. School leaders use data from a variety of sources to inform teachers about the cultures and heritage represented in the student body.

You can learn more about culturally responsive classrooms in our recent blog post about MTSS and CRPBIS. We also recommend viewing this short video (less than five minutes) from Teaching Tolerance about what it looks like to have a culturally responsive classroom.

Through professional development, teachers learn about standards, curriculum, and instructional resources which address the needs of all students.

Your faculty and staff should understand a “one-size-fits-all” approach will not lead to equitable student outcomes because each student comes from a unique background. Teachers need to learn how to get to know each student’s background, including their prior knowledge about each school subject, relevant skills, available resources, and any special learning needs. As you develop a professional development program, teachers must learn to:

  • Select curriculum and instructional resources based on the needs of their students. Some of our favorite resources to support equitable curriculum development include Teaching Tolerance, the National Equity Project, and YourCommonwealth.
  • Continually analyze student achievement data. Teachers cannot modify their lesson plans to meet student needs if they aren’t able to collect and analyze students’ growth over time in each curriculum unit.
  • Understand how their implicit biases could be impacting student learning. When we talk about the “equity gap,” you may immediately think about academic performance and test scores. However, inequity impacts certain student groups in other ways as well, such as through disproportionate disciplinary action and referrals to the special education system. We recommend having teachers take Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Tests to learn how their personal biases could be affecting the way they teach different students.

Your school’s professional development has an underlying commitment to creating a culture of excellence, equity, and inclusiveness.

Professional development opportunities must be created with a focus on improving instructional excellence, closing the equity gap, and fostering inclusiveness for minority teachers and students. Highly effective professional learning opportunities are characterized by:

  • A collaborative culture among educators and school leaders. Successful implementation of a Professional Learning Community can transform your teachers’ and students’ experiences of your school’s environment. Teachers are able to develop a professional support system and learn instructional best practices more efficiently.
  • Bite sized, actionable feedback provided by leaders, supported by demonstration and modeling. Harvard University reports professional development is most effective for teachers when provided through ongoing coaching sessions with teaching mentors, with each session containing focused, action-oriented feedback. ASCD also shows teachers can learn better instructional practices through observation of other educators.
  • Alignment with school improvement targets. The Learning Policy Institute reports the most effective professional development is sustained over the long term, with content and training directly related to a school’s broader goals and mission (such as closing the equity gap).
  • More funding for low performing schools. The Learning Policy Institute finds evidence that low performing schools need funding equal to or greater than funding provided to high performing schools in order to provide equitable education to all students.

The experienced consultants at CSAS are ready to help your school leaders implement impactful professional development training for principals, assistant principals, teachers, and support staff to create an equitable school environment. Schedule a free call with us to learn more about our services and develop a customized plan for transformation.