Skip to content
Aurora Institute

A Classroom Teacher’s Approach to Competency-Based Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Justin Ballou

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

Around this time of year, I am always reminded of one of the great things I did in life, which was graduate from college! And any of you that know or have experienced a college graduation before can attest… can be an extremely rewarding experience for those friends and family that have hit that milestone.

As I graduated 7 years ago, I can still remember my graduation experience. Minus the fact of my friends and I clustered together on the momentus occasion, (and one of them actually leaving their namecard on the seat when they went up to get their diploma…) the most memorable portion of that days events was the commencement speaker. He was funny, articulate, and had the ability to read the crowd to keep them in full engagement. Basically, it made for a rewarding experience as well as a fond memory….one that will carry on with me the rest of my life.

The question that I had at the time, and still remains; How did he do it? As an individual with a goal to keep better than 5000 people’s attention for 25 minutes, it takes a remarkable amount of skill and knowledge….of ones self, the information presented, and the crowd. Great public speakers are great for a number of reasons, and have much in common with the educational field dus to what they need to be able to do….sometimes planned; mostly on the fly….and expectations are usually VERY high!

As a teacher, we are constantly asked to be so many things….a coach, teacher, shoulder to cry on, family friend, advice giver, compassionate, energetic, focused, knowledgeable, organized, etc…..etc…..etc… And as we think back to all of those other professions that we sat next to during commencement…. marketing majors, business majors, meteorologists, pre-laws, pre-meds….. all of them have a set of expectations that are assumed to make them successful

A lawyer must know case law, plus be able to argue in court and analyze the opposition to place the best case in front of the judge/jury. A doctor needs to know the organs and be able to diagnose medical issues while also being able to evaluate progress created, (or broken) through medication regiments. Marketing majors need to be able to identify trends, manipulate materials, and convince- consciously or sub-consciously that the end consumer NEEDS their product. In all instances, it is a balance of major skills and knowledge that acts as the framework for many of the professions we see in the so-called “real-world”

In a nutshell, this is what competency-based education is. Just as I explain to my students the real world scenarios above when they ask the age-old question of, “Why do we have to do this?” Competencies are the knowledge and skills for success in a given area. They are the things NEEDED to be successful in the future. Without a balance, one cannot assume they are the best….and, under real-world circumstances, if you are not at least competent, you do not progress.

As we move forward in this, it is key to understand…..this is not a teaching style, or an “out-of-the-box” solution to education. It is a paradigm shift at how we look at success, ( and failure..) and how it is we provide the resources for our students to be successful and prove they have the knowledge and skillsets….no matter if it takes one attempt or 10. It is going to take hard work from dedicated people to show that this is the way that we must direct our efforts if we want to provide the opportunities for students to find success in their education which points them in the right direction towards being ready for their futures in the workforce, military, or the creation of their memories while sitting in the audience at their own commencement ceremony.

 __________About the Author__________

Justin Ballou is a high-school Social Studies teacher in New Hampshire. Besides teaching, he is active building/running an education startup called EduTech, several business ventures, and enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife. With competency-based systems, edtech and authentic learning as his go-to topics, you can reach him at [email protected] to ask questions or leave comments and follow him on twitter (@nhjbteach).