• Ph.D. 2019 – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Learning Sciences and Psychological Studies
  • B.A. 2006 – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Communication Studies

Areas of Expertise

  • Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
  • Teacher Critical Consciousness Development
  • Collaborative Learning


Kelly Barber-Lester (she/her/hers) is an experienced teacher, having taught upper elementary grades exclusively in public, low-income schools. She has experience teaching in both traditional and bilingual (English/Spanish) classrooms. She has also taught in both urban and rural settings. She has experience in educational program development, implementation, and supervision. Dr. Barber-Lester was drawn to the field of education out of anger and concern for the ways in which our educational systems in the United States are inequitable, an issue which continues to drive her work with pre-service and in-service teachers today. Through her teaching and research, she aims to advance understanding of issues of power, oppression, and social inequity and how those things intersect with systems of education and our work as teachers.


Kelly Barber-Lester’s research focuses on how teachers (and white teachers, in particular) develop critical consciousness that they bring to bear on how they think about education and the world. She explores that process by drawing from qualitative research traditions including life-history, qualitative description, and narrative inquiry. She views this development of critical consciousness as imperative for any truly culturally relevant and equity-oriented pedagogy. She leverages the findings from her work to inform recommendations for teacher selection, preparation, support, and development towards the ultimate aim of a more critically conscious teacher workforce.

Dr. Barber-Lester has also conducted research in the field of science education, utilizing design-based research methods to develop collaborative, project-based science curricular materials; the work of her team focused on tailoring those materials to the contextual affordances and demands of an under-resourced rural middle school. Her included consideration of how collaborative script theory can be utilized to improve collaboration and sense-making in small groups.