Professional Development Pathways through Social Justice Frameworks

By Sieben, Nicole; Johnson, Lindy L. | English Education, January 2018 | Go to article overview

Professional Development Pathways through Social Justice Frameworks


Sieben, Nicole, Johnson, Lindy L., English Education


We developed this special issue on professional development for equity and social justice in the hopes of disrupting commonly held notions of what it means to engage in professional development for and with teachers. Over the past five years, we have individually and collectively designed and facilitated several long-term professional development projects for inservice English teachers. In our conversations with each other, we often felt as though we were creating these experiences from scratch. We pored over literature reviews and incorporated the features of high-quality professional development they suggested, but most of our learning came as we worked alongside teachers to improve educational opportunities for their students. Our hope in this issue is to provide a roadmap of the various ways that intentional and powerful professional learning can occur. It may also offer some lessons of "what not to do."

Synergistically, Michie's (2017) talk at the CEE Summer Conference, titled "Same as It Never Was: On My (Re)Turn to Teaching," came at an opportune time in our writing of this editorial. Michie framed his professional learning experiences as a former professor who had returned to the classroom as an eighth-grade English teacher in Chicago Public Schools. His opening slide explaining "A few reasons I shouldn't be speaking to you today" resonated with us, as it laid bare his sense of inadequacy as a teacher-scholar with a vulnerability we found laudable. In the same spirit, we acknowledge that we may seem an unexpected choice to edit this special issue; as earlycareer scholars, we are just beginning our journey to understanding the complex issue of designing professional development with a focus on equity and social justice. We approach this work with the caveat that we know we still have much to learn about professional development practices, and this special issue has been one way for us to engage as critically reflexive scholars.

As Michie's keynote emphasized, teacher professional development should (a) focus on building relevancy into school curricula for students and (b) teach toward justice in communities. In his classroom example, Michie shared that he gave his students video cameras to record footage of their lives outside of school in Chicago. Michie found that having students record and (re)present their neighborhoods gave him many insights into his students' lives. However, when he suggested that practice be shared during a professional development day at his school, administrators shot him down in favor of a focus on the literacy issue du jour, close reading. Michie's example shows the ways in which teacher autonomy and agency, as well as the centrality of students' lived experiences, are frequently missing from the design and implementation of professional development.

Bringing the Issue into Focus: (Re)Framing Professional Development in Learning Communities

As English educators, we situate the English teacher's experience with professional development in the question, How can professional development be designed with equity and social justice goals in mind? Far too many professional development initiatives are a top-down affair where teachers' voices and goals are decidedly absent, as was true of Michie's example. We believe it is critical to consider teacher agency when designing professional development experiences for English teachers. Thus, in this special issue we consider the types of professional development experiences that teachers find most valuable in their efforts to promote social justice in their classrooms, arguing that the best people to solve the problem of professional learning for English teachers are teachers themselves.

According to te Riele's (2010) work on worthwhile goal-setting, it is not motivating for teachers to pursue arbitrary goals set for them by administrators, university researchers, or other lead teachers in a top-down approach to professional development. …

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