Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Amy Seely Flint, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Tisha Y. Lewis, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Laura May, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Kara Kavanagh, Ph.D.


Educational policies and systemic inequalities have created “very different educational realities” for African American students and their white counterparts (Darling-Hammond, 2005) resulting in low literacy rates, low test scores, and high dropout rates. Culturally relevant pedagogy has been shown to increase the academic achievement of culturally diverse students (Gay, 2000; Howard, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 1994). However, many in-service teachers struggle to effectively implement a culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) (Esposito & Swain, 2009; May, 2011; Rozansky, 2010), and limited research has been conducted on professional development aimed at supporting teachers’ knowledge and practices around CRP (Knight & Wiseman, 2005; Milner, 2009). Guided by sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1934/1986; Wertsch 1991), critical theory (Freire, 1970), critical race theory (Delgado & Stefanic, 2012; Taylor, 2009) and critical pedagogy (Freire, 1970; Giroux, 2003), this study examined teachers’ changing beliefs and practices as they engaged in professional development on issues related to culturally relevant pedagogy and literacy development. Questions guiding this study were: (1) What shifts do teachers make in their conceptual and pedagogical understandings around CRP when engaged in professional development activities? (2) What factors enhance or inhibit teachers’ ability to implement CRP during literacy instruction? (3) How do teachers navigate contextual constraints to implement their beliefs in relation to CRP?

The methodology for this study is formative experiment, as its goal is to bridge the gap between theory and practice, (Bradley & Reinking, 2011). A continuous, teacher-centered professional development focused on CRP served as the intervention for this formative experiment. Data sources include audio-recorded interviews and teacher debrief session, video-recorded professional development sessions, and field notes from classroom observations. Findings of this study indicate that theoretical learning, critical self-reflection, collaboration, and longevity are integral to support shifts in teachers beliefs and practices around culturally relevant pedagogy. Findings also show that the shifting process is dynamic and complex and occurs differently for individuals. Implications of this study suggest that professional learning should be differentiated for teachers as it considers teachers beliefs, experiences, and work context during the learning process. Teachers can form communities of practice to support each other’s learning goals and implementation of CRP.