Author: Chris Sturgis

San Antonio Here We Come: Competency Ed at the iNACOL Symposium

August 17, 2016 by

El PasoI’ve just been looking at the schedule for the competency education strand at the iNACOL Symposium on October 25-28. It is definitely the best set of sessions yet, with a much stronger focus on equity than ever before. For anyone new to competency education trying to understand or to think about how to move forward, I definitely recommend starting with the full-day workshop with the Charleston County School District team. (Check out the series on CCSD.) If you stay around to the very end, Susan Patrick and I are facilitating a “meet the expert” discussion. And we’ll be posting information about where to find us for the CompetencyWorks meet-up at the President’s Reception the evening of October 25.

Here is an overview of the strand:

Equity and Competency-Based Education

Proficiency as a Pathway to Equity

Tony Lamair Burks II and Angela Hardy, Great Schools Partnership will focus on the rationale for, the critical elements of, and the policies that support a proficiency-based learning system as a means to achieve equity for all students.

How Competency-Based Education Drives Equity and Cultural Responsiveness

Joy Nolan, Jeremy Kraushar, and Julianna Charles Brown, Mastery Collaborative: an initiative of Model Redesign team, NYC DOE Office of Postsecondary Readiness will discuss the major shifts that happen when schools become competency-based and how this increased cultural responsiveness.

Redefining Equity in Competency-Based Systems of Learning

David Cook, Kentucky Department of Innovation and Dr. Carmen Coleman, Center for Innovation in Education will begin to develop a new definition of equity that makes sense in a personalized, competency-based environment.

Culture, Practices, Rituals and Routines

Competency-Based Education and Self-Directed Learning Practices in the Classroom

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Vote for Pop Up Problems of Practice in CBE

August 15, 2016 by

Screenshot 2016-08-15 10.49.52We need your help between now and September 1. Virgel Hammonds, KnowledgeWorks, Susan Patrick, iNACOL and I have submitted a proposal for SxSWedu called Pop Up Problems of Practice in Competency Ed. I’ve become enamored with Problems of Practice as a way to unpack issues so that we better understand the assumptions we hold about how to solve problems and to push our thinking about how to be student-centered in thinking about solutions. So we are going to use a fun, rapid problem of practice approach where a problem is introduced and two of us give a quick analysis and solution and then we ask all the other participants (not audience) to pop up with their ideas as well.

The reason I think this is important is that competency education has not been a major part of the discussions at SxSWedu yet (it’s definitely been on their agenda but could be a lot stronger) and it’s time to engage that network as allies.

So when you want to procrastinate about something else….go to Panel Picker and create an account and then go to Pop Up Problems of Practice in Competency Ed to give us a thumbs up.

Recommended Summer Reading 2016

August 12, 2016 by

Summer ReadingIn case you haven’t signed up for our monthly newsletter, here is our recommended summer reading.

Many teachers and leaders use the summer months to catch up on reading and advance their own professional learning. Start with Competency Education Across America, where you will find links to mini case studies to make it easy for you to learn what other schools and districts are learning.

If you haven’t yet read the following reports, we highly recommend these thought leadership pieces to deepen your knowledge around competency education:

If you prefer to delve into books, we offer the following recommendations:

What resources have you read that helped strengthen your understanding of competency education? Let us know via email or on Twitter: @CompetencyWorks.

Talking Equity with John Duval

August 11, 2016 by
john_duval

John Duval

This is the ninth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, EPIC North, and New Classrooms

“Mastery-based learning can reopen a conversation about equity.”

With just these few words, John Duval launched us into a dynamic conversation. Duval leads the Model Redesign Team in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness, which houses a number of initiatives related to high school innovation around areas of whole school design, competency-based education (including the Mastery Collaborative), culturally relevant pedagogy, and effective uses of school time. Previously, Duval led the launch of the New York City Department of Education’s Expanding Success Initiative (ESI). This initiative, dedicated to improving education for African-American and Latino young men, launched the EPIC model, which will have four schools in both district and charter variations this coming September. Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

The Intersection of Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

ESI designed the EPIC model with four core concepts, including competency-based education (CBE) and culturally responsive education (CRE), or the belief that “achievement is anchored not just in building from one’s existing strengths but in full engagement of one’s self and lived experience.” (See the EPIC Playbook for more information.) Duval explained how the intersection of these two concepts transforms the classroom and school dynamics. “Let’s start with the idea that mastery-based learning is a better way to do school,” he said. “When you focus on competencies, you are focusing on the ability to transfer skills and you are focusing on the important higher orders skills. In CBE, this is real shift for the teaching force in two ways. First, from a design perspective, it requires creating more complex learning arcs for young people. This is very difficult, especially if you’ve never been trained this way. Second, it creates more transparency and accountability for everyone involved. Once a student – especially an African American or Latino one – knows what skills he or she is supposed to develop, he or she can pinpoint what a teacher is or is not doing to help them.”

He continued, “Just knowing that grading is more objective based on progress toward standards rather than the highly variable, subjective conventional grading can bring a huge change in the student experience. Then when the practices are in place for students to have more agency and responsibility for their education, there can be a tremendous cultural shift in the school. There is more respect for students. And there is the expectation that when there is tension or conflict between a student and teacher, listening to each other and understanding each other’s perspective is the avenue for resolving it, not taking the student out of the classroom or the school. The practice of exclusion inhibits learning on the part of students and adults.” (more…)

Curious about Competency-Based Education?

August 10, 2016 by

WorkshopAre you going to the iNACOL Symposium in October? There is a great opportunity to learn from an incredible team of educators who have been implementing personalized learning (competency-based, student-directed learning, and flexible learning environments). On October 25th, a pre-conference workshop led by some of the leaders in the Charleston County School District will be sharing their approach and lessons learned. They’ve organized it as a full day – so you can go deep and ask as many questions as you want. The description of the workshop is below and you can register here.

You might want to read our series on Charleston County’s approach before you go!

Putting It All Together: How to Create a Personalized System of Education (Capacity: 60)
Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Charleston County School District
Rebecca Mestaz, Marzano Research

Charleston County Schools (SC) has developed an integrated approach to personalized learning based upon student-directed learning, flexible learning environments and competency-based progressions. If you are in the initial stages of learning about personalized learning and competency-based education or in the planning and early implementation phase, this session will offer an in-depth look at what it looks like in the classroom and lessons learned from the implementation strategies used in Charleston County School District.

The session will be hands-on and follow a blended learning format with a station rotation model. Attendees will learn how to: (more…)

Anchoring the Learning: A Discussion with Joel Rose at New Classrooms

August 9, 2016 by

AnchorThis is the eighth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, and EPIC North

Joel Rose and Sue Fine of New Classrooms introduced me to the concept of anchor weights and tethering. I had sought out their insights into how we can better engage and teach students who are missing pre-requisite skills needed for grade level curriculum. (Truly, we need to figure out a shorthand phrase for this phenomena.)

New Classrooms has invested heavily in research and development to create an instructional model that “reimagines the classroom around each student.” Their framework is based on personalized pathways, competency-based learning, valuing relationships, and regrouping based on common needs. It’s a blended model with a combination of live and online instruction. At this point, they have focused solely on math, although they are considering developing the model for other academic domains as well. (Their video on personalizing education is great).

Math is why I wanted to talk to Rose and Fine. I have heard too many educators say that a student who doesn’t understand numeracy, fractions, and a host of other skills is going to have a difficult time – impossible, even – to learn and apply algebra. So why are we having students take algebra over and over? Are they building their pre-requisite skills, or is this some form of torture to take the same class over without any hope of learning it? The challenge facing competency-based school as well as any type of school is how to help student learn the grade level skills and learn the pre-requisite skills so that they begin to backfill all the skills they are going to need for higher and higher level work. (more…)

Engaging Others: A Short Reflection on Leadership

August 5, 2016 by

ConversationI’ve been thinking about leadership a lot recently. Just about every technical assistant provider and intermediary I speak with refers to two challenges they face working with districts: lack of capacity and lack of leadership. The former is a phrase so general it lacks meaning except to reinforce the existence for the TA provider. We know that implementing competency education puts everyone outside their comfort zone to some degree. We know that everyone is climbing steep learning trajectories to build out the skills to better meet student needs. The phrase lack of capacity echoes a fixed mindset – as if people do not have the capacity to learn rather than a need to build specific knowledge or skills.

The latter issue is problematic as well. First, it is difficult to separate a leader from leadership skills. Obviously positional roles such as school board, superintendent, and principal means that there are leaders in districts in schools. So this must be referring to leadership skills. Second, it is not clear if it is inadequate leadership skills or the wrong type of skills.

  • Managing Personalized, Student-Centered Organizations: We know that district and school leaders need to tap into both leadership (motivate, inspire, and nurture culture) and management (plan, coordinate, monitor, and develop employees) skills, sometimes using both at the same time. It is very difficult to manage something if it is totally new to you, which is the case when we are in the midst of the conversion process. So this might be referring to leaders who are learning and need to become more adept to be able to manage new technologies, new systems, and new metrics. In addition, if we want schools to be more responsive to student needs, leaders will need to learn how to manage an agile organization – an entirely different approach from managing a bureaucratic one.
  • Paradigm Shifters: We believe that in order to fully and effectively implement competency education, the community, students, educators, and staff need to become comfortable with a new set of values and assumptions, including growth mindset, strategies to develop intrinsic motivation, cultural responsiveness, and empowering students (student agency). Neither a memo nor a speech will help people jump from one paradigm to another. There needs to be dialogue, experiences, and reflections as they understand the implications of the previous values and seek understanding of the new ones. Thus, leadership draws on facilitative approaches that can create experiences for others and nudge people toward new values, navigate the blindspots, move past discomfort and fear, and nurture leadership in others so that they might take active role in helping colleagues and the community embrace the new values.
  • Leadership that Engages Others: Perhaps the concern of lack of leadership means that leaders are using traditional leadership approaches when what they need is a different approach. It is going to be nearly impossible to introduce and guide the conversion to personalized, competency-based education using the traditional, hierarchical leadership styles based on the deployment of positional power over those lower down in the organization. In talking to leaders in competency-based schools, the concept of shared leadership is often raised. Leadership strategies that create shared leadership, including distributive, adaptive, and transformational leadership. These strategies depend on engaging others in solving problems. They are also very aligned with the values and assumptions that form the foundation of competency education. Thus, a very cohesive organization can be formed. Engaging others can also include engaging the community in on-going inquiry and dialogue. Continuous improvement means learning never ends.

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High Expectations at EPIC North

August 4, 2016 by
Rites of Passage

Students in EPIC North’s Rights of Passage program meet to support each other academically, socially, and personally.

This is the seventh post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, and North Queens Community High School.

As with my first visit to EPIC North, the conversation started with students. I was thrilled to have the chance to talk with sophomores who now had a year and a half under their belts in a mastery-based school. In this post, I’ll review some of the main elements of the EPIC design – cultural relevance, project-based learning, competencies and attainments, and high expectations – while drawing upon the insights of students. (Check out the Epic Playbook for more information.)

Cultural Relevance

Competency-based or mastery-based education can be a powerful enabling force upon which to build cultural relevance. Cultural relevance, one of Epic Schools’ core elements, was a concept developed in the 1990s that “recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning.” Mastery-based education allows for students to co-design projects or have choice in how they demonstrate their learning. This is what personalizing education is all about.

However, cultural relevance reminds us that adults may not have the same life or cultural experiences as their students. Adults might not understand what is particularly meaningful or particularly demoralizing without first creating a way to have dialogue. This is particularly true when the race and ethnicity of the teachers are different than the student population. Cultural relevance requires us to go beyond the “golden rule” toward the “platinum rule” of seeking out what is important to other people rather than using our own culture and priorities as a starting point. Essentially this is what building relationships with students is all about – finding out what is important to them. (See the report Culturally Relevant Education (CRE) and the Framework for Great Schools, produced by the Expanding Success Initiative at the NYC DOE, for examples of culturally relevant practices drawn from schools.)

Epic North has developed a weekly Rites of Passage to support young people as they reflect on their lives and develop the attainments that are more related to adolescent development. I was invited to sit in on one of the teams, Brothers for Life (Rites of Passage have been broken into gender specific teams). One of the young men led a call and response for the code of cooperation they had created as the opening activity: (more…)

Education Evolving

August 3, 2016 by

Challenge

I had the opportunity to re-read Maine’s strategic plan Education Evolving, which was developed in 2012. The opening essay is so powerful and so beautifully written I just need to share it with the CompetencyWorks readers. I think it will definitely help all of you in districts and states that are developing communication strategies to explain why competency-based education is needed. When I read the core priorities at the end, I once again realized how visionary Maine’s Department of Education was at that time. 
 

The Case for Change

The Challenges We Face and a Way Forward

For generations, the educators in Maine’s public school system have worked tirelessly to meet the educational needs of the students in their care, and their unwavering effort has been evident. Maine’s schools routinely score highly in national rankings of educational outcomes and Maine people have a long history of strong support for their local schools.

However, a new age is upon us. Where our schools once needed to prepare young people for work in a predominantly natural resource-based economy of forestry, farming and fishing, they must now prepare students for a global economy in which many of the jobs of Maine’s past have become automated or moved offshore. Maine’s young people need an entirely new set of skills to succeed in an information-age economy where ideas and innovation move at the speed of light. These new skills are not just related to advances in technology, they are a product of the way society and business work and think: flatter organizations that require more independent thinking and problem-solving; collaboration with people and teams across the aisle and in offices around the globe; and more advanced critical thinking, even in jobs that once were considered manual labor and did not even require a high school degree.

This new age poses a series of challenges that will require us to not simply reform our schools, but to re-imagine them; to build on the successes of the past while creating a model of schooling for this new age.

Challenge 1: Our schools are struggling to accomplish what they need to accomplish

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