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Aurora Institute

What Do Teachers Need to Know and Be Able to Do to Succeed in Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Environments?

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick, Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong

Issue(s): State Policy, Develop Educator Capacity

The previous blog post, Five State Policy Action Steps to Modernize Educator Preparation and Development Systems, explored the need to transform educator preparation and development systems to build educator capacity to transform the K-12 education system to student-centered learning.

This blog post will highlight and explain the first of four essential strategies for states and school districts to transform educator workforce systems: Identifying clear, specific educator competencies needed for student-centered learning models. 

Identifying Clear, Specific Educator Competencies for Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Environments

A competency-based system of educator preparation and development would provide a seamless continuum in which aspiring educators:

  • Build and master instructional competencies through pre-service preparation;
  • Earn credentials and licensure upon demonstrated mastery of these competencies; and
  • Access customized professional development and evaluation opportunities to ensure continuous improvement throughout their careers.

States could build coherent and aligned systems around what educators need to know and be able to do to succeed in student-centered learning environments. Clear, specific educator competencies, developed collaboratively with education stakeholders, can be a powerful tool to drive coherence in pre-service training, credentialing requirements, recruitment, induction, professional development, evaluation and career pathways along a continuum of professional growth.

One example of an effort to define educator competencies for student-centered learning was led by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future (JFF). These educator competencies are based on four domains, as depicted in the following graphic:

These competencies represent some of the knowledge, habits, mindsets, and skills educators need to possess in order to foster personalized, competency-based learning.

The instructional competencies CCSSO and JFF highlight include:

  • Using a mastery approach to learning;
  • Using assessments for learning;
  • Customizing the learning experience;
  • Promoting student agency and ownership with regard to learning;
  • Providing opportunities for anytime/anywhere and real-world learning tied to learning objectives and standards;
  • Developing and facilitating project-based learning experiences;
  • Using collaborative group work; and
  • Using data and technology in service of supporting student learning.

Examples of competencies from the other three domains (cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal), include:

  • Conveying a dedication to all learners — especially those historically marginalized and/or least served by public higher education — reaching college, career, and civic readiness;
  • Engaging in deliberate practices of adapting and modeling persistence and a growth mindset;
  • Analyzing evidence to improve practice; and
  • Designing, strengthening and participating in positive learning environments (i.e., school and classroom culture) that support individual and collaborative learning.

Additionally, Margaret Heritage outlines some of the knowledge and skills teachers need for effective formative assessment — an important tool to determine where students are in their learning and how to help them progress — in her research, “Formative Assessment: What Do Teachers Need to Know and Do?

These include:

  • Domain knowledge: “Teachers must know the concepts, knowledge, and skills to be taught within a domain, the precursors necessary for students to acquire them, and what a successful performance in each looks like. With this knowledge, they are able to define a learning progression of subgoals toward the desired learning that will act as the framework to guide assessment and instruction”;
  • Pedagogical content knowledge: “To effectively adapt instruction to student learning, teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge must include familiarity with multiple models of teaching for student achievement in a specific domain and knowledge of which model of teaching is appropriate for what purpose”;
  • Students’ previous learning: “If teachers are to build on students’ previous learning, they need to know what that previous learning is”; and
  • Assessment knowledge: “Teachers must know about the range of formative assessment strategies so that they can maximize the opportunities for gathering evidence.”

Heritage continues, “Teachers need the skills to translate their interpretations of the assessment results into instructional actions that are matched to the learning needs of their students. This involves selecting the learning experiences that will place appropriate demands on the student and ordering these experiences so that each successive element leads the student toward realizing the desired outcome.”

Today, in our current educator preparation and development systems, few are focusing on the core skill of assessment literacy. Thus, few American educators are prepared to apply the knowledge and skills needed for effective implementation of performance tasks and assessments for learning. Heritage states, “If formative assessment is to be an integral part of professional practice, there needs to be a major investment made in teachers. This investment must begin with changes in preservice training. No teacher should exit a professional training program without the knowledge to assess student learning.”

These are only a few of the skills and competencies educators need to successfully implement future education systems designed with equity in mind. State policymakers could host a task force or commission to collaborate with educators, school and local leaders, institutions of higher education and experts in the field of competency-based education to identify educator competencies for student-centered learning to drive coherence and alignment in their state’s educator preparation and development systems. Designating an appropriate group of educators to identify the educator competencies needed for modern learning environments is crucial and an important first step.

The next blog post in this series will highlight and explain three additional, critical strategies for states and school districts to transform educator workforce systems:

  • Creating multiple, high-quality pathways to educator credentials and development;
  • Developing educator capacity and professional judgment; and
  • Building an understanding of assessment literacy.

This is the twelfth article in the Current to Future State series that explores the ideas in the iNACOL report titled: Current to Future State: Issues and Action Steps for State Policy to Support Personalized, Competency-Based Learning.

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