This is the final article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.
Many districts are converting to competency education in states that have not yet begun to take the steps toward creating the vision and policies to support competency education. Even in states that have embraced competency education, leaders may need to respond to policies that have not yet been re-aligned. Thus, leaders must learn to stay true to their vision and purpose in navigating state policy. They may turn mandates into opportunities or actively work in partnership to co-create the new policy infrastructure. Essentially, they operate beyond the boundaries of the policies so that decision-making continues to be student-centered.
One of the leadership functions needed to stay the course is being able to turn top-down compliance requirements into opportunities to reinforce the empowered culture of learning and improvement. Superintendent of Chugach School District Bob Crumley talks about how he manages mandates by stating, “I’ve learned to see mandates from the state as opportunities. We will meet the letter of the law, but we aren’t going to let the tail wag the dog. For example, we have a state mandate about including state assessment scores in teacher evaluations. We have a great teacher evaluation tool developed by teachers and our administrative team. I’m not going to make any changes to the evaluation tool that causes a loss of ownership. Instead, I’m going to tell our teachers that there are state requirements we need to meet, and we’ll take this opportunity to see if we can improve the evaluation tool to help us get better at serving our kids. If we said that we were doing it only because the state required us to, it would send the wrong message to teachers and students. We look to see the value and opportunities that develop when outside forces require us to change and adapt. Continuous improvement is a core value and process at Chugach School District.”
States and districts are also finding ways to work together to advance competency education. For example, four districts in New Hampshire are partnering with the Department of Education to pilot the development of local performance-based assessments that will eventually lead to a state-wide system. These assessments, known as Performance Assessment for Competency Education or PACE, are designed to provide richer feedback to teachers and students in a much more timely fashion than state assessment systems.
Sanborn principal Brian Stack advises school and district leaders that, “Making the transition from traditional to competency-based grading is messy. No matter how much you plan for it, administrators and teachers will feel a sense of building the plane while flying it in those first few years of implementation. Stay the course in the face of adversity. Stay true to yourself and to the model. Trust that your teachers will stand with you, and together you will face the challenges that will lie ahead and find a way to work through them as a school community. Your patience and persistence will be rewarded.”
Bottom line, leaders will need to turn to shared leadership strategies to empower educators and engage the community through the ups and downs of the change process, even though there will be pressure to become the sole decision-maker. (more…)