Relationship-Based, Site-Embedded Professional Development: Decolonizing Tribal Nation Early Learning
Anna Lees

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Research Development Award

Award Year



Western Washington University

Primary Discipline

This research highlights the impact of a relationship-based, site-embedded professional development model working to expand a tribal community’s educational sovereignty by centering Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies in early childhood curriculum and assessment. The focus of this study examines how a relationship-based, site embedded professional development model with a Tribal Nation Early Learning (TNEL) program supports the development of tribally specific curriculum and assessment. The professional development model is built on trusted relationships with classroom teachers where professional development activities occur in classrooms alongside teachers in their work with children. The Tribal Nation Education Director and program administrators requested the PD model serve the TNEL program with aims toward developing tribally specific curriculum and assessment toward educational sovereignty and strengthened nationhood. The immediate goals are1) targeted professional development around culturally responsive language and literacy instruction in preschool classrooms, with emphasis on oral language development, and 2) development of a tribally specific curriculum and assessment system. Each of these goals must be addressed in conversation with state and federal education leaders to maintain public funding of the TNEL program. The study utilizes Critical Indigenous Research Methodologies and single case design methods within a theoretical framework of decolonization. Outcomes of this study build on established understandings of culturally responsive education for Indigenous children and contribute to the Indigenous early childhood education field by offering insight into how a relationship-based, site-embedded professional development model may support in-service classroom teachers to develop tribally specific curriculum and assessment within the publicly funded sector.
About Anna Lees
Anna Lees Ed.D. (Little traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, descendant) began her career as an early childhood classroom teacher in rural northern Michigan. Now, an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University, she partners with schools and communities to prepare teachers for the holistic needs of children, families, and communities. Anna is committed to developing and sustaining reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities to engage community leaders as co-teacher educators, and center Indigeneity in early childhood and higher education settings. She is currently engaged in research around a land education professional development model led by tribal nations and a relationship-based site embedded professional development model with tribal nation early learning programs. She has published with the Journal of Teacher Education, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Early Childhood Education Journal, Multicultural Education Magazine, Wicazo Sa Review, and Routledge Research. She is co-editor of the Tribal College and University Research Journal.

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