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Aurora Institute

Invest in Educators as Learners in Competency-Based Education

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality, Support Professional Learning

This post first appeared on CompetencyWorks on December 20, 2018. 

Man walking up steps to represent investment Competency-based education believes that all students, with the right supports, can learn. Similarly, advocates of competency-based education believe that all educators, with the rights supports, can learn the skills needed to help each and every student to learn.

Personalized, competency-based education is rooted in the research on how children and adults learn. Neither learning nor teaching are simple linear processes. Learning is dynamic, involving an interplay between cognitive and emotional processes. Teaching draws on an enormous body of knowledge including domains (understanding mathematics or biology; understanding the learning progressions of how students learn the concepts; where there are likely misconceptions and how to correct them; and effective instructional strategies); child development (physical, cognitive, and psychological); special education issues (how to be alert to issues such as dyslexia and understanding how to use accommodations); assessment literacy, including how to provide effective feedback and moderated understanding of what proficiency is within each curricular or grade level; and how to design and/or adapt learning experiences and curricular resources.

Wow. How is anyone supposed to know all of that? I personally don’t think it is possible except for master teachers with years of experience and study. Thus, we need to think about the schoolwide capacity rather than just individual teacher capacity. In New Zealand, many of the modern schools have embraced team teaching with 2-4 teachers, as they are able to tap easily into their collective knowledge.

Whether teachers are working individually within a classroom or as part of a team, competency-based schools are going to want to support teachers’ learning within the context of their specific set of students. Are students not catching on to the concept of numeracy? It’s possible they just need more time. It’s also possible that the teacher could improve their instructional skill in helping students to catch on to the concept. It’s a both/and. It’s always a both/and. Competency-based schools invest in teaching as inquiry so that teachers are supported in reflecting and questioning if there are ways that they are impacting student learning both positively or negatively.

This isn’t an easy thing to do…to take a stance of “I might not know what I need to know.” Jed Palmer, Head Teacher at Tatitlek Community School in the Chugach School District explains, “Sure, we could make it easier for teachers, but then our students don’t succeed. The other option is to admit that teaching is a complex system, invest in the systems, nurture the culture to support professional teachers…and have the kids actually learn. It’s obvious which one is the better choice.”

The two most important things to do to invest in your educators as learners is 1) make sure they have time to plan, collaborate, and learn and 2) use the same competency-based approach to structure personalized learning for adults that you want to create for students. If you are interested in the topic, Moving Toward Mastery has loads of ideas about how to support educators.

Read the Entire Series:
  1. Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education
  2. Purpose-Driven
  3. Commit to Equity
  4. Nurture a Culture of Learning and Inclusivity
  5. Foster the Development of a Growth Mindset
  6. Cultivate Empowering and Distributed Leadership
  7. Base School Design and Pedagogy on Learning Sciences
  8. Activate Student Agency and Ownership
  9. Design for the Development of Rigorous Higher-Level Skills
  10. Ensure Responsiveness
  11. Seek Intentionality and Alignment
  12. Establish Mechanisms to Ensure Consistency and Reliability
  13. Maximize Transparency
  14. Invest in Educators as Learners
  15. Increase Organizational Flexibility
  16. Develop Processes for Ongoing Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning