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Aurora Institute

Educator and School Leader Competencies Can Promote Systems Coherence in Competency Education

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong, Susan Patrick

Issues: State Policy, Develop Educator Capacity, Modernize and Diversify the Educator-Leader Workforce


Educator and School Leader Competencies Can Promote Systems Coherence In personalized, competency-based education, educators often take on new roles as they work individually and collectively to design customized pathways to graduation for every student. Before a state can transform its pre-service preparation, certification, professional development and evaluation programs to ensure educators have the support and resources to make this transition, educators should have a clear understanding of the knowledge and skills they they themselves will need to succeed in student-centered learning environments.

State policymakers might think about how they can support educators, school leaders, institutions of higher education and experts in the fields of competency-based education to collaboratively design and adopt these competencies.

One example of an effort to define clear educator competencies was led by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future (JFF). CCSSO and JFF created a set of educator competencies based on four domains: cognitive (need to know), intrapersonal (need to process), interpersonal (need to relate) and instructional (need to do). These competencies represent some of the knowledge, habits, mindsets and skills educators need to possess in order to foster personalized, student-centered learning.

Clear definitions of what educators need to know and be able to do run parallel to the idea of a profile of a graduate for students, in the sense that the competencies should emphasize knowledge, skills and dispositions that will lead to lifelong career success. This learner-centered, competency-based approach to building skills for adults and educators with different roles across the system could be a powerful tool to drive coherence in the systems that build the educator leadership, educator workforce professional learning and student success outcomes, including pre-service training, credentialing requirements, induction, professional development, evaluation and career pathways.

Certification and Licensure Requirements, and Educator Pre-Service Preparation

Traditional educator certification and licensure requirements based on one-size-fits-all schooling models can make it difficult for states and districts to build a workforce prepared for leading, designing and implementing competency-based learning environments. Most educator credentialing requirements currently focus on traditional roles and skills that do not reflect the methods, strategies and dynamics within a competency-based learning system. Educator preparation programs focus on the nuts and bolts of state licensure and credentialing requirements, which is one reason why we are not seeing a rapid increase in the shift to the more innovative pedagogical approaches in next generation learning taking hold in preservice educator preparation programs.

Two notable exceptions to this rule are Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University, which take a competency-based approach in their educator pre-service programs. Educators who come from these programs are more likely to be comfortable teaching in a competency-based learning environment because they have experienced it during their pre-service training.

In addition, certain school networks have created new pathways to certification and graduate degrees, to train teachers to succeed in their innovative learning models. High Tech High, for example, created an Intern Program and an Induction Program to create pathways to certification that align with the school network’s emphasis on project-based learning. High Tech High then created a graduate school of education to teach experienced educators innovative learning strategies and how to apply these strategies in their schools and classrooms.

School leaders from Uncommon Schools, KIPP and Achievement First worked to develop the Relay Graduate School of Education program, which uses competency-based approaches for teachers and school leaders on how to develop the academic skills and character traits needed to succeed in college and life for all students. Additionally, Summit Schools’ Teacher Residency Program prepares teacher candidates to teach in a personalized learning environment by placing them into a one year program where they are immersed in Summit classrooms while completing credentialing coursework.

Finally, the charter school management organization Match Education created the Sposato Graduate School of Education. Sposato offers a self-described “third way” for teacher preparation, combining the classroom-based training of traditional pre-service with intensive, ongoing residencies that put aspiring teachers into the classroom immediately, as with alternative certification routes such as Teach for America. According to the program’s website, what is different about the program is that residencies are exclusively in the highest performing charter schools that serve the most disadvantaged students, and that “training is hyper-prescriptive and detailed regarding the nuances of great teaching. Our year of training allows for extensive practice and coaching, to the point where subtle teaching moves become automatic.”

Policymakers might consider how they can work together with school and district leaders, institutions of higher education and teacher preparation programs to better meet the needs of future-focused, competency-based systems in K-12 education and align certification, teacher licensure and accreditation.

In the long-term, there is a strong need to create an effective, coherent educator preparation system that prepares teachers for the realities of a competency-based system in K-12 education. States leading the way are beginning to encourage innovative approaches through pilots with competency-based districts and schools to design new program models that prepare teachers to meet the needs of all students. A final step will be to create pathways that are competency-based toward licensure and certification, then work with accrediting agencies to recognize these elements and promising practices for accrediting competency-based programs.

In the next blog post, we will discuss creating multiple, high-quality pathways to educator credential to support teaching and learning in a personalized, competency-based learning environment.

Learn more from our report, Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education.

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