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Aurora Institute

Building 21’s Leadership Competencies to Facilitate Competency-Based Learning

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Sandra Moumoutjis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation, Support Professional Learning


This is the fourth post in a series by Sandra Moumoutjis, Executive Director of Building 21’s Learning Innovation Network. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

In order to change outcomes for our students, we must start by helping the adults make changes as well. My previous blog post—Building 21’s Teacher Competencies to Facilitate Competency-Based Learning—outlined the skills, mindsets, practices, and beliefs that we intentionally focus on with our teachers to support their personal growth and development so that they can better support students on their competency-based education (CBE) journey.

Continuing with our backwards design process, what does that mean for our leaders? How do we need our leaders to change, and what skills, mindsets, practices, and beliefs do our leaders need to have to support the community in changing outcomes for students?

There are many qualities that all leaders need to be effective. But there are specific qualities that we are looking for in leaders of an innovative change process, in this case, a journey to personalized and competency-based learning. Leading innovation requires passion, commitment, courage, and the ability to inspire others. It also requires leaders to be comfortable with ambiguity and with not having all the answers. Leaders of innovation need to communicate openly and often, collaborate with all stakeholders, listen to feedback, and use data to make informed decisions, course correcting along the way.

Leading the change process to personalized and competency-based learning takes time, patience, and an unwavering commitment to the vision. Transparently modeling the learning and growth process is critical to achieving student and staff buy-in.  While leaders need to be coaches, it is equally, if not more important, that they are open to being coached themselves. Creating opportunities for all adults, including leaders, to get regular coaching and feedback is essential to the growth and development process but also to the success of the journey to CBE.

Here is a summary of the six Leadership Competencies we believe are essential for supporting leaders on their journey to personalized and competency-based learning:

LC.1 Create a Just, Equitable, and Caring Learning Environment

As I have mentioned before, we believe that every good school is built upon a foundation of strong relationships. This is particularly important when you are working to personalize education for every student. Leaders must create an environment where all stakeholders feel valued; where their cultures, identities, and experiences are viewed as an asset to the community; and where there are routines and rituals in place to create connections within the community. Leaders also must transparently and frequently communicate with stakeholders and find ways to engage them in building a just, equitable, and caring learning environment.

Table Showing Aspects of Leader Competency #1 -- Create a Just, Equitable, and Caring Learning Environment

LC.2 Personal Growth and Development

Leaders of innovation need to be comfortable managing risks and experiencing setbacks. What they do in the face of failure will ultimately define their success. Being able to seek support and resources, get feedback often, and know what you do not yet know while finding a way to learn it, needs to be a regular part of a leader’s personal and professional growth and development plan. Leaders also need to lead by example because they cannot expect their teachers or students to take risks and persevere through setbacks if they are unable or unwilling to do this themselves.

Table Showing Aspects of Leader Competency #2 -- Personal Growth and Development

LC.3 Foster a Cohesive Vision

Creating a shared vision and understanding of the why for innovation is essential to getting buy-in and support from all stakeholders. Innovative leaders need to be able to effectively communicate their vision and their why in a way that inspires others and allows them to see the possibilities that CBE holds. Leaders also need to think differently about their recruiting and hiring processes to attract and retain staff committed to the vision, the instructional and structural shifts, and the personal and professional development required of CBE.

Table Showing Aspects of Leader Competency #3 -- Foster a Cohesive Vision

LC.4 High Quality Instruction and Learning Experiences

In personalized and competency-based education, teaching and learning look and feel different. Leaders must support teachers in making this transition through regular professional development, ongoing support in adapting and designing high-quality curriculum, and regular coaching and feedback. Leaders need to be in classrooms often—to model, co-teach, talk to students, observe, and give feedback. They must also activate the talents and resources of their instructional leadership team to build a community of improvement and development. Leaders must create regular opportunities for instructional staff to engage in a process of norming student work and evaluating the design of performance assessments. Everyone needs to be looking at student work products to know if the CBE shifts are truly changing outcomes for students.

Table Showing Aspects of Leader Competency #4 -- High Quality Instruction and Learning Experiences

LC.5 Build the Capacity of Others

Leaders cannot and should not lead this journey to CBE alone. Building the capacity of others to lead is essential to the success of CBE. Strong leaders will create opportunities for collaboration and distribute leadership based on the strengths of their staff. Through ongoing coaching and goal setting, leaders will balance support with accountability to move teachers along the continua of the teacher competencies. This approach will develop more leaders within the building, ultimately supporting the success of the school’s CBE implementation. Leaders must rethink time and resources to create regular and consistent opportunities for teachers to engage in professional development, collaboration, and review of curriculum and student work.

Table Showing Aspects of Leader Competency #5 -- Build the Capacity of Others

LC.6 Continuous Improvement Through Data-Driven Decision Making

An ongoing commitment to collecting, monitoring, and analyzing data ensures that you are keeping students at the forefront of your decision-making. Leaders must ensure there are effective systems in place to collect and monitor this data and to transparently share the data with all stakeholders. Through strategic planning and goal setting, leaders can use data to monitor their progress, solve problems, and make informed decisions to iterate and improve all of the shifts happening throughout the CBE journey.

Table Showing Aspects of Leader Competency #6 -- Continuous Improvement Through Data-Driven Decision Making

Remember, transitioning to CBE is a journey not just for students but for the adults as well. This change takes time, commitment, and patience and will not only change outcomes for students but will change everyone involved along the way. Building 21’s Leadership Competencies are currently under revision but will be available to view shortly. Bookmark this link and check back soon!

I hope you are enjoying this blog series. Stay tuned for my next blog post, which will focus on the design of the learning experiences and the instructional shifts that are necessary in transitioning to competency-based learning and assessment.

Learn More (other posts in this series)

Sandra Moumoutjis PhotoSandra Moumoutjis is the Executive Director of Building 21’s Learning Innovation Network which is designed to grow and support a community of schools and districts as they transition to competency-based education. Through professional development and coaching, Sandra supports schools and districts in all aspects of the change management process. Sandra is the co-designer of Building 21’s Competency Framework and instructional model. Prior to working for Building 21, Sandra was a teacher, K-12 reading specialist, literacy coach, and educational consultant in districts across the country.