CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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Maine: At the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning

February 19, 2016 by

AutumnA few months ago, I had the opportunity to do a road trip through Maine to visit seven districts and one university (scroll to the bottom for links). Just as the leaves were bursting into reds and oranges (and I even saw what I might call magenta!), it felt as if district after district was bursting with new practices and ideas to improve student learning through proficiency-based systems. Here is a summary of the trip:

On the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning

Really and truly, I think Maine is going to become proficiency-based. They have a very strong foundation based on helping students be successful – not just focusing on flexible pacing. Most of the schools I visited had a schoolwide approach for students to be self-directed in the classroom. They are walking the talk at the state level. They are working collaboratively. They are trying to figure out how to help all of their students be fully prepared for lifelong learning. (Well, we have to see about this. The legislature is considering a bill to only have students demonstrate proficiency in math and ELA and two areas selected by students.)

In fact, I’d say that they might be leading the nation in terms of districts converting to personalized, proficiency-based learning (PBL). New Hampshire and Vermont are putting into place very strong systems of support and the policy infrastructure needed for competency-based education and learning to be sustainable. If Maine can stay steady through this period of rising tension to increase innovation and responsiveness to students, it is likely that they will see a rapidly expanding stream of high school graduates who have the self-directed lifelong learning skills that will change the course of their lives and the economic strength of the state. Eventually, Maine’s Department of Education will want to re-design the policies and structures to support and sustain PBL.

I’m sure there are districts in Maine that are not thrilled with the idea of a state-legislated proficiency-based diploma. For example, one of the districts I visited described their motivation as complying with state policy rather than doing what was best for kids. Yet, as we talked more, it was clear that they were finding substantial value in many of the transitional steps and were bringing on a strong team of people who already understood many of the elements of PBL. Generally, they thought PBL was a good idea, just not one they would have done on their own.

There are also growing concerns that districts are not going to innovate enough in time to help every student meet the graduation requirements in all eight domains by 2018. This has caused legislators to try to ease up on the expectations. It will be important for Maine to find solutions that continue to strengthen schools and motivate students and not fall under the wheel of the blanket statement that it is “practically impossible to get every student to become proficient.”

The Reasons Maine is Making Headway

What’s the reason Maine is making such headway? First, there was a convergence of three efforts that built upon each other to produce a strong shared vision: (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Windy Hill Middle School

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WolvesThis post is the fifth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Kathy Halbig, Coordinator of Personalized Learning at Lake County Schools (LCS), described Windy Hill Middle School as “a high performing middle school with a strong level of trust. The staff are confident in their ability to manage change and take risks.” Yet, the team at Windy Hill knew they still weren’t reaching every student, which is why they decided to make the transition to personalized learning with implementation beginning the fall of 2015.

We had a rich conversation with Assistant Principal Abby Crosby and Personalized Learning Facilitator Mary Ellen Barger. Here are the highlights:

Building a Common Understanding of Personalized Learning: The journey to personalization at Windy Hill started by engaging everyone, including the school advisory committee, business community, teachers, and parents.

Four (Overlapping) Steps to Personalized Learning: The Windy Hill scale up strategy has four components that are not entirely sequential. First, invest in the culture of personalization, including growth mindset. Second, go with the teachers who are ready, willing, and able. Third, build capacity through a train-the-trainer model so Windy Hill teachers can train others in the personalized learning classroom design and delivery skills. Fourth, build the capacity for writing units that take into consideration that students are starting at different points and using a variety of multiple assessments. (more…)

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Will Maine Stay the Course?

February 18, 2016 by

MaineAyyy! Maine legislature has a bill to reduce the expectations of high school graduation from meeting all standards in all eight domains to only meeting the standards in math and ELA + two domains selected by the student. As I discussed earlier, the original policy is creating tension in Maine; however, this is a swing way too far the other direction, as it allows students to not have any expectations in the other four domains. At least that’s how I understand it.

I’ve received a number of emails regarding this reconsideration of the graduation requirements. It certainly feels like we need more conversation about how we can make sense of proficiency-based graduation requirements that will create meaningful diplomas, provide students with the skills they need for their transitions into their adult lives, and not penalize those students who might be bumped around by the transition. I think what is needed is a facilitated dialogue with people from different perspectives and who are creative (as in can unlock themselves from assumptions and build off each other’s ideas) to talk through what meaningful policy regarding proficiency-based diplomas might look like.

In the meantime, I’ll share what is zipping around in my head regarding this issue. These are just initial ideas and certainly do not take into consideration all of the work that it takes to move ideas and legislation within a state.

We Need to Believe that Our Children and Our Educators Can Learn, and Fully Support Them in This. No matter what, we always need to believe in ourselves and that we can learn with the right supports and with extra effort (that’s the growth mindset, right?). It’s important to frame any policy question so that we ask, What would it take to get all of our students proficient in all domains? rather than start with the disabling position that “it’s practically impossible” to get all students to proficiency. We can’t give up before we even get started.

Tension is Not Always Bad. When Tension Leads to Creative Tension and Innovation, it is a Very Good Thing. I was trained as a policy wonk, and tension makes me crazy. I always want to fix it. And then, while at the Mott Foundation, I had the good fortune to meet incredibly skilled community organizers such as Ernie Cortez, Scott Reed, Steve Kest, Mary Dailey, and so many others who explained to me, over and over, that creating tension can lead to creative tension, which brings new faces to the table, and that a sense of urgency produces new solutions.

Maine’s graduation expectations are creating tension. High schools are still time-based – as one educator told me in Maine, “the clock starts ticking the minute students enter ninth grade.” Of course, the urge is to release it and to make it go away. However, I’d say keep that tension for right now because you want to hear the best innovative ideas about what could be done differently. Are there any schools not scared about the new requirements because they have been putting into place strategies that are working? Who has been the best at getting their low-income, special education, and ELL students ready for a proficiency-based graduation? What are they doing differently? What would superintendents and principals like to do if they could? (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Sawgrass Bay Elementary Increases Engagement with Personalized Learning

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Sawgrass1This post is the fourth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Sawgrass Bay Elementary (SBE) has fully embraced personalized learning. In the first year, eight teachers started piloting the new practices in math in grades 3-5. A year later, they have full implementation in math and ELA throughout the school. As we wandered through classrooms, the conversation with Principal Heather Gelb; PL Facilitator Amy Billings; and Instructional Dean Michelle Work was full of insights and observations. Gelb enthusiastically explained, “We are seeing a big culture shift. It’s only been a year, and the teachers are noticing that the kids are highly engaged. Personalized Learning is a more intentional implementation of best practices as they pertain to student autonomy. This will be a shift for everyone.” Below are a few of the highlights from our conversation:

Background: Sawgrass Bay is situated in the corner of Lake County and is relatively close to Orlando. Many families have jobs in the tourist industry, which has led to high mobility as they move to obtain higher paying jobs. SBE is the largest elementary school in Lake County Schools, serving 1,300+ students in grades K-5. Nearly half are ELL.

The Power of Student as Leaders: Work explained that SBE is infusing Covey’s seven habits of the Leader in Me program into the overall personalized learning approach as a means to increase students’ sense of responsibility and the skills they will need. She explained, “When students feel empowered, there is no reason to act out. Instead of feeling that things are being done to them, they feel more in control of their own actions.” Assistant Principal Maurice Simmons expanded on this point with, “The Leader in Me program is helping our kids see themselves as leaders. Before, they were kids or children or students. Now they see themselves through the lens of learners and leaders. They feel more responsible for their own actions and for helping their classmates.” I saw the strong emphasis on the “habits” in Mrs. Miller’s classroom, where there were celebrations of students demonstrating the different qualities and a strong culture of “I can” and “We can.” [Red Bank Elementary in Lexington, SC is also using this program.] (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Lost Lake Elementary is Putting the Fun Back into Teaching

February 17, 2016 by

lost lakeThis post is the third in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

When I visited Miss Green’s classroom at Lost Lake Elementary School, classical music was playing as students grabbed snacks and began to reflect on their day. Students explained to me their standards and, of course, the Dojo. Miss Green noted that PL has been particularly helpful, as she is an ELL teacher with four students with a variety of English skills in her class. She said that students are speaking more in class as part of the PL environment and she can provide more direct instruction to the student who is at the very beginning of his journey to learn English.

Michelle Mabry, Lost Lake’s PL facilitator, explained that at the Reinventing Schools Coalition training, they asked about how the ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students and the English Language Learners were doing. The conversation turned to the challenge of engaging students who were really struggling with the curriculum and the different strategies students develop, including learned helplessness. Lost Lake has turned to Mary Cay Ricci’s Mindsets in the Classroom to help integrate the growth mindset throughout the school. Assistant Principal Karen Hart noted that in the classrooms where teachers are embracing personalized learning, it’s difficult to tell which students are ESE. (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Moving at the Speed of Trust at South Lake High School

February 16, 2016 by
slhs map of learning

SLHS Map of Learning

This post is the second in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

My first stop at Lake County Schools was South Lake High School (SLHS) with Kathy Halbig, Coordinator of Personalized Learning, as my guide. Arriving a bit early, I had the chance to read all the posters and photographs that dotted the walls in the reception area, congratulating students for Future Farmers of America, bowling, golf, track, and national merit scholars. And I thought – normal American high school.

However, once I met with Principal Rob McCue, Assistant Principal Kim Updike, and PL Facilitator Bobby Rego, I realized that South Lake High School is really the “new normal” – an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit committed to figuring out exactly how to personalize education so every student is achieving no matter what their level of skill and maturity when they first enroll in high school. With 1,820 students, of which 62 percent (or more) is FRL, South Lake High School has to design for students who are likely to be the first generation to go to college. The school is based in Groveland, Florida, where agricultural strength is on the decline and so are the jobs. In a world in which so many schools are not racially integrated, it’s worth noting that South Lake is 13 percent African-American, 23 percent Hispanic, and 64 percent white.

Powerful Understanding of Personalization: Immediately in our opening conversation, Updike and McCue stated, “Personalized learning means meeting kids where they are and taking them as far as you can by any means necessary.” The official definition of personalized learning is equally powerful, as it emphasizes student agency: Personalized learning is a broad spectrum of educational opportunities for students that provides students VOICE and CHOICE in how they learn and demonstrate mastery of standards. At South Lake High, we view personalized learning as simply meeting students where they are and taking them as far as they can go, and then some, while assisting them in making global connections to their interests, community, college, and careers. (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Designing a Strategy to Bring Personalized Learning to Scale

February 15, 2016 by

Lake CountyThis post is the first in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida.

After the iNACOL Symposium in Orlando, I had a whirlwind visit at Lake County Schools in Florida and an incredibly rich conversation with Kathy Halbig, Coordinator of Personalized Learning for Students. I first met Halbig two years ago at the iNACOL pre-conference symposium on competency education. She was just learning about competency education at the time. Two years later, a group of her schools are already in their first year of implementation. This district is moving fast, although one person referred to it as “moving at the speed of trust.”

In this post, I share a bit of background and an overview of the Lake County Schools strategy to transition to a system of personalized learning (including competency education). Each of the profiles of the schools shares insights and takeaways into the process of a medium-sized district making the transition to a competency-based, personalized system. Thanks to the educators at each of the following schools for their generosity in sharing their learning:

We didn’t have time to visit Umatilla High School – I hope to do that when I get back to visit Lake County. Or perhaps if you go to visit Lake County, you might be able to stop by and share how they are proceeding in their transition. (more…)

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10 Tips for Developing Student Agency

February 12, 2016 by

Influence of Teaching

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 22, 2015.

Agency is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives.

A new Harvard study, sponsored by the Raikes Foundation, suggests that student agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as basic skills.

The report, The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency, relies on the Tripod survey of teaching. Over 300,000 students in grades six to nine in 14 states were surveyed during the 2013-14 school year.

Developed by Ron Ferguson 15 years ago, the Tripod construction appears more relevant to traditional teacher-centered classrooms than student-centered approaches. As a result, there are some limitations of an instrument designed for measuring agency in low agency environments. However, next generation Bay Area models including Summit Public Schools and Education for Change (EFC) find the survey useful.

“Where this report is effective is in pushing us to think about agency in the context of what grown-ups have to do to facilitate it,” said Hae-Sin Thomas, CEO of EFC. “Tripod unfortunately is not a tool designed specifically to evaluate teacher practice specific to agency, but it’s as good as it gets with respect to student surveys and student-centered teacher practice.”

Why agency?

An important subset of Habits of Success (discussed last week), agency, the capacity and propensity to take purposeful action, is key to success in life.

Albert Bandura said:

Through agentic action, people devise ways of adapting flexibly to remarkably diverse geographic, climatic and social environments; they figure out ways to circumvent physical and environmental constraints, redesign and construct environments to their liking… By these inventive means, people improve their odds in the fitness survival game.

(more…)

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Reflections on Learning

February 11, 2016 by

Marie Watson, principal of Red Bank Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina just sent me a photo of a student’s reflection on her learning in preparation for sending our report cards. (To learn more about Red Bank, click here.)

reflections 1                   reflections 2

Victoria writes on her second nine week reflection:

In Reading I learned, how to apply strategies for passages. I can site evidence to support my answers. I quote text accurately to make inferences. I can also use key details to make strong sumaries. I feel good about making summaries and applying my strategies. I need work on finding evidence in the text. (more…)

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