This is the sixteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.
In competency-based schools, a collaborative and empowered cadre of teachers is the engine that drives learning. Student learning depends on a strong adaptive instructional cycle that, in turn, depends on skilled teachers using their professional judgment that, also in turn, depends on the structures and cultures of the organization. Missy DeRivera, a homeschool teacher at Chugach School District, explained, “The leadership question is always central to our work. Is this best for kids? That is at the core of our entire district. We identify what is best for kids and then we figure out how to make it happen.”
Strong Professional Learning Communities
It is difficult, if not impossible, to build the calibration mechanism that is essential for competency education to be effectively implemented without strong professional learning communities. It is also an ingredient for an empowered cadre of teachers. Sanborn Regional School District placed PLCs as core to operations right from the start. Their administrative team recognized that reorganizing in the district would require an investment of time, and opted for Professional Learning Community meetings over weekly informational staff meetings. As Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, stated, “Doing this has been challenging and the administrators have worked hard at communicating to staff in other ways, but we believe PLC time is important and our calendar reflects this belief.”
Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary, emphasized that one of the principal’s most important leadership functions is to support PLCs, making sure they have the time to meet and are staying true to the norms that allow them to be a source of collaborative, professional development. “Principals and district leaders have the power to make sure there is freedom to have hard conversations in safety,” he said. “It starts with distributed leadership models that understand and value teacher leadership in creating a dynamic learning culture within the school.”
Aligned Human Resources System
Soon after converting to competency education, many districts find that they need to modify their human resources operations, including hiring, orientation, professional development, and evaluation.
Hiring and Orientation
Competency education is changing the way districts think about hiring. In the traditional model, they searched for teachers who had experience in teaching the curriculum for a specific grade. “Now we look for teachers who are interested in teaching students and know the discipline so they can help students who are in different places along their learning progressions,” explained Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum Development at Sanborn Regional School District. Doug Penn, Districtwide Principal at Chugach, emphasized this with, “We don’t hire teachers, we hire members of a team. We don’t want people to compartmentalize.”
At Lindsay Unified School District, the hiring process is more robust now than it has been in years past. Prospective employees are introduced to the model ahead of time to gauge their interest, and the final step is an in-depth conversation with the principal regarding the district philosophy. “We always empower our staff,” said Jaime Robles, “so we need to make sure we hire individuals who share our belief systems on how students learn and what motivates them.” At Sanborn, much of the orientation takes places within PLCs, while new teachers at Pittsfield School District are assigned a mentor to help them align competencies, rubrics, and assessments, as well as learn how to manage a personalized classroom. (more…)