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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ENTRY POINTS – First Steps Toward a Lifelong Profession

February 4, 2019 by

This is the seventh post in a ten-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in the Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education report accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

“A lifelong profession engages, develops and sustains educators over the course of their careers. Educators are supported and trusted as respected members of a respected profession. They are meaningfully and adequately prepared for the roles they will take on, they have opportunity to grow and specialize in their careers, and they are evaluated in ways that support improvement and promote advancement.” – Moving Toward Mastery, p. 51

Becoming a masterful educator does not happen overnight, or in a year, or in two. It is a continuous process of learning and growth. As Peter Senge wrote, “personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline.” Getting to equity for our students and families means finding, developing, and keeping exceptional people in the classroom.

Moving Toward Mastery paints a picture of teaching as a “lifelong” profession. But admittedly, of all the ideas in the paper, “lifelong” can seem the most abstract. Of course we want teachers to have powerful experiences in their preparation programs, to be able to learn and grow as educators, to be evaluated in fair and meaningful ways, and to stay in the profession while they develop mastery. But the changes needed to bring about these conditions can seem far away, especially for people working in schools or districts.

(more…)

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VOICES – Lisa Simms on Leading and Sustaining Innovation

February 1, 2019 by

This is the sixth post in a ten-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in the Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education report accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

“Competency-based districts and schools are innovative at their core. Educators are at the forefront of innovation, leading the way as they test and share new practices. But, it is a mistake to think about innovators as lone actors or rogue agents of change. Innovators are collaborative practitioners focused on trying, testing and growing new ideas that improve student learning and support school improvement.” – Moving Toward Mastery, p. 48

“Creating a culture of innovation” gets talked about a lot in competency-based education. Almost everyone can agree that implementing dramatic changes in education at all levels requires that everyone, from students to superintendents to state leaders, be willing and able to try, test, and refine new ways of working. What’s sometimes harder to understand is how a “culture of innovation” actually happens. As I listen to teachers and leaders reflect on challenges in their work and as I reflect on my own leadership in the field, here are some questions that come to mind for which there are no easy or clear answers:

How do leaders actually create environments in which people can innovate well? How can leaders balance the need for innovation with the pressures for performance? In what ways does innovation look different (and require different leadership and structures and activities) in early-stage endeavors compared to late-stage ones? What does it look like to sustain innovation over time?

To help answer these questions, I spoke with Lisa Simms. Lisa is a founding design team member and current principal at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design. DSISD opened its doors in fall of 2015, offering competency-based and project-based learning in early college pathways. In this post, Lisa reflects on what it means to lead for innovation in the fourth year of a new competency-based high school: how she supports teachers to innovate and stay the course as they prepare to graduate their founding class. (more…)

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In Real Life: How can CBE systems ensure learning is deep, ongoing, and integrated?

January 30, 2019 by

This article is the fourth in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Long before she had GPS on her mobile phone, my mother would navigate for our family road trips using turn-by-turn directions printed out from the American Automobile Association. While my father drove, she would call out the next set of turns so that he always knew where he was headed and what to do when he got there.

In much the same way, growing numbers of educators across the country are building competency-based systems designed to help students navigate the learning journey ahead. Such systems define learning targets or competencies that serve as guideposts for what students should know and be able to do as they progress through their learning. Many systems also sequence competencies (although not always linearly) into instructional learning progressions and utilize technology to display students’ progress in real time.

The goal is transparency: students need not wonder what is expected of them, but instead have a clear roadmap for the knowledge, skills, and mindsets they are expected to master next.

At the same time, some question whether such transparency has a downside of reducing learning to a shallow check-list of tasks that students race through to complete. After all, if we improve highway visibility, won’t cars be prone to speeding? (more…)

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Webinar on Submitting Your Proposal to Present at iNACOL Symposium 2019 (February 4, 3:00 p.m. ET)

January 29, 2019 by

iNACOL WebinarInterested in presenting at the 2019 Symposium in Palm Springs, CA? Please join iNACOL for a webinar focused on developing session topics and presentations that will stand out in the upcoming Request for Proposal (RFP) process, on February 4 from 3:00-4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

We also have tips to help you generate meaningful collaboration, foster engagement, and effectively share knowledge during your session.

You can register for the webinar here. The presenters are Bruce Friend, iNACOL Chief Operating Officer, and Natalie Abel Slocum, iNACOL Strategic Partnerships Director.

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In Real Life: Designing Outcomes Aimed for Equity

January 28, 2019 by

Cynthia Green, Executive Director of Secondary Programs and Pathways, Madison Metropolitan School District; and Karyn Stocks Glover, Principal, Capital High

This article is the third in a nine-part “In Real Life” series on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Because competency-based education (CBE) systems expect all students to reach mastery on all competencies, how those competencies are defined (and who gets to define them) becomes critical. For district and school leaders aiming to promote equity in their systems, this question is only heightened. How inclusive and representative are vision-setting and decision-making processes? How can leaders garner support from various stakeholders and help reconcile differing perspectives on what equity means or how to achieve it?

To better understand how competency-based school systems reckon with these fundamental questions, I sat down with Cynthia Green, Executive Director of Secondary Programs and Pathways for Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), and Karyn Stocks Glover, Principal of Capital High in MMSD.

(more…)

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ACTIONS – Ideas and Strategies for School Leaders

January 25, 2019 by

This is the fifth post in a 10-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

School leaders are closest to teachers, who in turn are closest to students. As a school leader, your daily actions, the values you model, and the decisions you make about resources like time and people have a direct impact on teachers and on the quality of education. Toward the end of Moving Toward Mastery I describe the leverage that school leaders have in their roles (page 69). But, I stop short of describing specific actions leaders can take. This post picks up where the paper left off, offering three big ideas and ten action ideas for school leaders who are trying to grow, develop and sustain educators for competency-based education. 

School leaders, my goal is not to tell you what to do — developing a change strategy is a very specific, local process. And, my goal is not to give you a lecture on what “should” be happening in your school. I recognize the complexity of the roles you play day to day. My goal is simply to offer ideas for actions that can serve as conversation points, entry points, or points of continuous improvement. (more…)

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Entry Points: Moving Toward Learning-Centered Practice

January 23, 2019 by

This is the fourth post in a ten-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in the Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education report accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

“Development is a process, not a destination. Learning spans the course of a lifetime, and professional development spans the course of a teacher’s career as they try, test and extend new practices that help them improve student learning and advance equity. Like learners, teachers pursue learning progressions along competency-based pathways and are met where they are with timely, differentiated supports. Their personal learning is rooted in student learning and closely connected to improvement at the team, school and system levels. Competency-based approaches are supported by growth-oriented and flexible systems of support, feedback and evaluation. For students and teachers alike, teaching and learning are grounded in meaningful demonstrations of learning rather than seat time.” – Moving Toward Mastery, p.35

To adopt new practices and improve their instruction, teachers need to learn. Simple, right? And yet this often does not happen in the traditional education system. The majority of “learning” happens during teacher training. After that, most formal “learning” is constrained to mandatory professional development, while the on-the-job learning that teachers do on their own is rarely recognized, supported, or evaluated. The end result is that much time and money spent on professional development activities may do little to improve teachers’ knowledge or skill. This is a problem for any system trying to improve teaching and learning. It is a particular problem for systems trying to navigate the shift to competency-based education, because this shift requires so much learning for teachers.

So, what would it look like if education systems addressed these challenges of professional learning for teachers? And, how can you cultivate these conditions in your school or district? The next three paragraphs paint a vision of what a learning-centered system would look like. After that, I offer tools to help leaders and teachers assess learning practices in their school or district and identify entry points for action. (more…)

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In Real Life: Who Gets to Decide Which Student Outcomes Matter?

January 21, 2019 by

Dianne Kelly, Superintendent, Revere Public Schools

This article is the second in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

One tell-tale feature that sets a competency-based education (CBE) system apart from a traditional school system is the naming of competencies – specific sets of knowledge, skills, and abilities – that each and every student must master in order to move from one stage to the next. Inherently, this feature can also be one of the most controversial.

At first glance, the idea may not appear unique. Every school system in America has education standards, adopted in part by states and added to by districts and schools, to help ensure consistency in what students are learning. Standards shape lessons and tests, and students must do well enough to pass their classes and receive a diploma. We are all familiar with this traditional notion of standards.

In CBE systems, competencies often represent bigger-picture ideas when compared to traditional standards, and they often differ in one other important way: every student is required to master all of them. Because the competencies are designed to represent sets of knowledge and skills that are essential for postsecondary and lifelong success, insisting on mastery is one way CBE systems ensure that every student graduates ready for the next phase.

It is this insistence on mastery that has tremendous implications for how the competencies themselves are defined, and in particular, for the process through which the competencies are decided. Who gets to say what knowledge and skills are so important that every single kid must master them? Whose opinions are consulted? Are these decisions being made by parents and local communities through democratic processes, or are the competencies determined by outsiders with little input from local communities?

To better understand how competency-based school systems reckon with these fundamental issues, I sat down with several practitioners including Dr. Dianne Kelly, Superintendent of Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts.

(more…)

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In Real Life: How competency-based systems wrestle with education’s stickiest, most human questions

January 18, 2019 by

This is the introductory article to an eight-part series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.”

“Why should we educate? What are the benefits that individuals legitimately should expect from education? What are the benefits that society should expect from an educated citizenry…? How can we achieve them?”

Over 30 years ago, Patricia Albjerg Graham penned an article that questions the purpose of schooling and challenges readers to consider how well the design of American public education fits its purpose.  Still today, people working both within and outside the education system question its design, seeking ways to more effectively prepare students for college and career (or whatever is their desired purpose for public education).

Why would people question the design of the education system? For some, it is because the landscape of the American workforce is changing, requiring the education system to prepare students with different skills and abilities than before. Others are propelled by the fact that, despite a rise in public high school graduation rates, too many new college-goers are still underprepared for the next phase and find themselves in remedial courses. In fact, too many find themselves without good postsecondary options at all.

For me personally and for many colleagues who are educators today, we seek change because we know that educators’ daily heroic efforts to reach every child fall short without substantial support from broader systems that configure time, space, and resources in ways that enable educators to know every child and to partner with them and their communities to advance their learning.

If we can admit that change is necessary, the next question is: how? (more…)

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VOICES: Stacey Wang and Jane Bryson on Developing Teacher Mindsets

January 16, 2019 by

This is the third post in a ten-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in the Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education report accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

What mindsets matter for teachers in competency-based, personalized classrooms? How do we know? How can leaders help teachers shift existing mindsets and develop new ones? These are questions that teachers and leaders grapple with every day. Moving Toward Mastery communicates the importance of developing teacher mindsets, but does not provide specific strategies for how to do this work. This post picks up where the paper left off. I co-authored this post with leaders from Transcend Education, Stacey Wang and Jane Bryson. We reflect on a few big questions. What are mindsets? Can you change them? If so, how? And, how do we do this in our own work?

Background

The “Mindsets Project” did not start as such. Initially, Lindsay Unified School District, Summit Public Schools, Transcend Education, and Columbia University’s Center for Public Research and Leadership came together to co-create a student impact model that would help define quality personalized learning (see Figure 1). As we developed this model, we realized that teacher and leader mindsets have a huge impact on student outcomes and that we needed to make these mindsets more explicit. We studied mindsets research, reflected on hiring practices and success conditions at Lindsay and Summit, and engaged experts around the country. Through this process we found that there are six critical mindsets for teachers to hold about “learners and learning,” and six critical mindsets about “myself and my role.” These are shown in Figure 2 and explained in more detail in An Early Inquiry into Educator and Leadership Mindsets. (more…)

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