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Aurora Institute

A Call to Action for Higher Education to Modernize Teaching

Education Domain Blog

Today, the Aurora Institute released an issue brief that calls on institutions of higher education (IHEs) to leverage three opportunities to transform the K-12 educator profession. They can support efforts to diversify the workforce; innovate preparation programs for modern, student-centered learning; and promote continuous professional learning and development.

Transforming Teaching: What University Presidents and Deans of Colleges of Education Need to Know about Modernizing the K-12 Educator Workforce urges a fundamental reimagination of the educator profession alongside the transformational changes happening in K-12 education systems. It also outlines actions that IHE leaders can take regardless of their starting point and varying operational contexts.


As K-12 education increasingly shifts its structures to help young learners meet the new economic, civic, and cultural demands of our global society, we need a simultaneous shift in the context, culture, and practice of teaching. One of the most important ways of modernizing the profession is to make it more diverse. Teaching is overwhelmingly white and female, but increasing evidence demonstrates that students do better when teachers match the communities they serve. 

To build a future-ready teacher workforce that is socially, racially, and culturally representative, universities and colleges of education should proactively recruit and support prospective teachers with diverse racial, cultural, and religious identities. There is no single roadmap for this work, but higher education leaders can consider several creative strategies and levers for change. For example, higher education leaders can be a powerful advocate for diversity by championing the value of a representative teacher workforce. They can pen opinion pieces, issue public statements, and commit to actions that position higher education as a leader in the movement to diversify teaching. 

The brief recommends that IHE leaders convene cross-sector collaboratives to identify regional recruitment goals and strategies, use creative and responsive marketing to reach new communities, and streamline the application and admissions processes for prospective educators. In addition, Transforming Teaching challenges leaders to partner with local education authorities and other providers to diversify pathways into the profession, increasing opportunities for individuals of color, low-income individuals, individuals living in rural areas, and others who might be unlikely to enter teaching without these opportunities. Such programs may offer high school students, as well as instructional aides and para-professionals, alternate pathways into the profession. 

Teacher Preparation

Higher education leaders can take a big step toward modernizing teacher preparation by creating learning experiences that allow new teachers to develop the competencies that will be expected of them in modern classrooms. We need leaders to develop 21st-century teacher competencies, and we need them to pilot and test innovative approaches.

Competencies that educators need to be successful in modern learning environments are manifold; they are outlined in detail in Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education. Briefly, educators need a body of knowledge that covers learners, the nature of learning, content and pedagogy, designing for mastery, universal design, cultural competency, assessment literacy, learner engagement and ownership, resource allocation, personalization, and relevance and connection. 

Educators also need intrapersonal competencies, such as a growth mindset, critical thinking, leadership, commitment to equity, innovation and change orientation. Interpersonal competencies for relationships, learning environments, partnerships, and collaboration are also vital.

Innovations in higher education programs should unleash discovery, and they should also encourage changes that align with the purpose, outcomes, and learning approaches of personalized, competency-based education. Among the innovations that the brief recommends prioritizing are those that:

  • Integrate adult learning aligned to research and the learning sciences. These might include personalized learning, residencies with clinical practice, problem- and project-based learning, mentorship and induction supports, and performance assessments.
  • Diversify professional pathways. These might include offering continuing learning and education, high-quality digital learning, offering specialized credentials, working with local education agencies to develop systems of micro-credentials, and developing advanced certificates and degrees to develop school and systems leaders for learner-centered, personalized, competency-based education.

Continuous Professional Learning and Development

Higher education houses the expertise and capacity to support professional learning beyond the college classroom. As such, it is suited for a much broader purpose, which could include working with state education agencies to develop multi-tiered systems of licensure and credentialing and creating opportunities for ongoing professional learning and micro-credentialing, and diversifying programs to develop distributed leaders. 

We envision a future in which higher education sets the table for state policymakers, professional standards boards, and community leaders to:

  • Align licensure and credentialing requirements to the knowledge and skill required in learner-centered, competency-based education;
  • Define multi-tiered licensure frameworks that articulate increasing levels of teacher knowledge and skill;
  • Define what it means to demonstrate competency at all levels; 
  • Require meaningful demonstrations of competency for teachers to attain licensure. 

Furthermore, colleges, universities, and preparation programs can partner with states, local education agencies, communities, and schools to promote ongoing learning. Specifically they could support induction and orientation, offer credentials for increased specialization, and harness micro-credentials to fundamentally redesign teacher professional learning and advancement. In addition, to develop distributed leaders, they can design graduate degrees in specializations such as student-centered, culturally relevant, competency-based, and personalized learning.

Methods of preparing teachers for the demands of previous centuries do not fit the demands of a future-facing education system. However, we know that IHE leaders who want to act on the ideas in Transforming Teaching will come into this work from different entry points and stages of readiness. To encourage their work, the brief offers a set of actionable ideas that leaders can use regardless of their political, economic, or cultural landscape. In addition, the brief offers four case studies of IHE partnerships that are making positive strides.

Download the full issue brief to explore these ideas in detail. 

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Katherine Casey is Founder and Principal of Katherine Casey Consulting, an independent organization focused on innovation, personalized and competency-based school design and research and development.