Shifting from Competency to Inclusion: Using Professional Development Practices to Build Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Teaching

Spring 2019

By Ray Yang and Meg Anderson-Johnston

Ten years ago, University Prep, a 6-12 independent school in Seattle, WA, launched the Individualized Teaching Improvement Plan, or ITIP, with the goal of personalizing each teacher’s  professional development experience and fostering a culture of the teacher as learner. The ITIP is mandatory for all faculty and consists of a three-year cycle centered around a self-selected set of Characteristics of Good Teaching (CGTs) that range in focus from lesson design, delivery, and assessment to classroom environment. The three years of an ITIP cycle are a mix of observation, professional development, and reflection, with Year Three culminating in a presentation to a larger group of faculty, staff, and administration. Throughout the process, teachers are advised by their division director, department head, and a faculty or staff member who has demonstrated expertise in the CGTs they are currently exploring. Teachers choose a specific focus for their three-year cycle. During Year One, they are observed with that focus in mind and receive feedback to create their plan. In Year Two, they seek out professional development opportunities to improve in the chosen area and are again observed. In Year Three, they focus on the implementation of new practices developed during the cycle.

When the CGTs were first drafted in 2009, they did not include a section that reflected the need for teachers to address the many identities present in their classrooms and the world at large. A short while later, the category “Culturally Competent Teaching” was added, with an eye toward looking at the other CGT categories through a culturally sensitive lens. However, because of the structure of the ITIP process, faculty sometimes shied away from choosing one of the more difficult-to-observe CGTs, worried that, after three years, they wouldn’t have enough evidence to demonstrate that they “interrupted biased behavior” or that they had made sure that students knew that “sharing various viewpoints and personal stories is both safe and welcomed within the classroom.”

There was a feeling that people were interested in attempting to achieve these goals, but that, at the end of the process, they might not have anything tangible to show for it. Teachers wondered how they would know when they finally possessed “a working knowledge of cultural competency.” Whose cultural knowledge were they addressing? And how could competency be defined? One of our main goals when rewriting the CGTs was to address these questions and provide teachers with resources, strategies, and concrete methods for documentation and reflection when thinking about how they create an inclusive classroom.

The process of reviewing the current CGTs began with an analysis by our SEED working group, which had taken on several projects to review and work on during the 2017-2018 academic year. SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) is part of the National S.E.E.D Project based at Wellesley College, and University Prep had already hosted several SEED cohorts. In reviewing the criteria for Culturally Competent Teaching, participants noticed that the information closely mirrored descriptions in other categories and did not go in depth into ways that teaching could be improved through cultural competency.

Through a survey, we collected input on what teachers considered to be the four most important observable criteria under the umbrella of “culturally responsive,” not just “culturally competent” teaching. From that survey, five categories (Interruption, Curriculum and Teaching, Student Support, Personal Reflection, and Equitable Experience) emerged and helped us focus our work. The data also led us to the conclusion that we needed to completely rethink the CGTs, rather than rewrite the existing ones.

Ultimately, after a long vetting and feedback process with various stakeholders, the criteria were condensed into eight new recommended criteria under a new title, Inclusive Pedagogical Practices. We believed that this title was more inclusive of the many identities students and teachers bring to school, like race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, ability, and much more. It also moved away from the ways in which cultural competency often seemed to refer only to racial diversity. After additional feedback from faculty and staff, the final criteria were formulated as in the chart below:
Old CGTs: Culturally Competent Teaching New CGTs: Inclusive Pedagogical Practices
  • a commitment to ensuring an equitable educational experience for all students
  • an ability to recognize, and commitment to, interrupting biased behavior in and out of the classroom
  • a working knowledge of cultural competency
  • a willingness to engage in self- reflection with respect to teaching content and practice and its impact on students
  • lesson design that addresses multiple learning styles, cultural backgrounds, viewpoints representing a variety of cultures and perspectives throughout the curriculum
  • creating assignments and assessments that take into account differential access to resources along with varying family structures and cultures
  • providing opportunities for multiple perspectives to be shared
  • sharing various viewpoints and personal stories is both safe and welcomed within the classroom
All teachers will work to be just and equitable in their planning, delivery, and assessment of materials and in their interactions with students, families, and the school community by…
  • Creating a classroom environment that is working towards freedom from exclusionary and oppressive behaviors, whether implicit or explicit.
  • Recognizing, interrupting, and responding to any student or adult behaviors that are biased or perpetuate discriminatory ideas or actions.
  • Recognizing their own implicit and explicit biases, developing an understanding of these patterns, and working to interrupt and break them.
  • Developing course content and curriculum that recognizes issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, class, biases, representation, and oppression.
  • Designing and implementing lessons that address multiple learning profiles, cultural backgrounds, and diverse viewpoints of students.
  • Providing students with opportunities to demonstrate mastery of material through a range of assessment types that address multiple learning profiles, cultural backgrounds, and diverse viewpoints of students.
  • Providing structures that support student safety and ability to bring their whole self to this community through clear, flexible expectations, responsive plans, and acknowledgement of the range of what could be considered disciplinary knowledge.
  • Developing and utilizing an understanding of the unique backgrounds of all students, families, and colleagues in and beyond the classroom.
The overall process was a much-needed reflection on and revision of the previous CGTs. The previous CGTs defined cultural competency as more about access to a UPrep education than the experience of inclusive and meaningful instruction within a space. While the intention was there to encourage teachers to practice culturally responsive teaching, the focus was also largely directed outward, looking at social justice as an idea that exists in the world and which we should examine academically; it was seen as a problem with a solution rather than a reflection on difficult questions such as these: Are there diverse voices in my curriculum? Do my students all have access to the internet?

People were not being asked to push themselves to examine their own biases or to consider the identities students bring to the classroom. Instead, ensuring that everyone had access to a similar experience in the classroom was prioritized. The new CGTs ask us to do the difficult work of looking inward at our own biases; to examine how our curriculum has a personal impact on students; and to acknowledge the perspectives, viewpoints, and knowledge that children bring to the classroom as resources for learning. This rewrite also recognizes our colleagues and families as community members with whom we are in relationship as educators, and the fact that our interactions with those groups can impact the school community just as much as our interactions with students.

One challenge in this process was moving past the fear that this work would simply be too hard. We hosted two faculty feedback sessions during professional development days. During these sessions, the faculty and administration were asked not only to comment on the language of the drafted CGTs but also to brainstorm ways they might observe, document, or develop in these areas. During the initial writing process, to ensure that we were creating a set of criteria that would serve to guide faculty to develop inclusive pedagogical practices, we often went back to these guiding questions: How would I approach this criterion? What might happen if I saw this in my class? How might I pursue growth in these areas? We compiled the feedback and ideas from those sessions to create an appendix to support those who have chosen to do this work.

To provide additional support for teachers, they are  required to participate in a SEED group on campus at some point during their three-year ITIP cycle. This reinforces the reflection component of the process and helps with an important clarification around the ITIP for faculty—that the ITIP and Inclusive Pedagogical Practices are meant as a journey; that teachers would endeavor to improve within the criteria but there was no expectation that they would always be able to interrupt biased behavior or take into account every student accessibility need. Diversity and Equity work requires a degree of practice and allows room for mistakes. Growth within the criteria is considered success. We are all always learning and growing within this work.

Ultimately, we hope that these statements will plant seeds for institutional change as we move from being a community of learners that values cultural competency to a school that is built around culturally responsive, inclusive, and equitable pedagogy, thus creating a space that is intrinsically just and liberated. As we continue, we hope that we can strive to be an educational institution that values and legitimizes the knowledge and experiences our students bring to that space. The Inclusive Pedagogical Practices provide a fresh lens on the task of creating an inclusive classroom and create additional accountability measures for the process, as well as push teachers to be reflective and action-oriented around their work. When looking at ITIP proposals from this year, we can already see a noticeable shift in the number of people choosing to pursue inclusive pedagogy. Approximately half of the new ITIPs include at least one Inclusive Pedagogical Practice CGT. In the past, when Cultural Competency was chosen, it was usually related to auditing the curriculum to include diverse voices or thinking about access to resources or differentiated assessment. This time around, many faculty members have chosen to work on their personal biases, providing opportunities for student voice or working on ways to create a classroom environment that is free from oppressive behaviors. It is exciting to witness this shift in thinking around professional development as a truly personal process. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of future cohorts as they work to progress and improve within the Inclusive Pedagogical Practices.
Ray Yang

Ray Yang ([email protected]) has taught middle and upper school Art at University Prep for three years, as well as serving as a Middle School grade-level dean. Together, Meg Anderson-Johnston and Ray Yang co-lead the UPrep SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) group.

Meg Anderson-Johnston

Meg Anderson-Johnston ([email protected]) has taught Middle and Upper School Spanish at University Prep in Seattle, Washington, for six years, as well as serving as an Upper School grade-level dean.