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Aurora Institute

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #9: Ensure Responsiveness

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality

This is the tenth article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #9 Ensure Responsiveness on page 66. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted.

We don’t blink if you are at the second-grade level when you are in the fourth grade. If teachers really understand the standards and the progressions that are needed to help students move, then we can bridge the gaps. We don’t pretend anymore that students can do higher level work if they don’t have the prerequisites. It makes teaching much more complex as we are teaching students, not just going through a curriculum. Jennifer Denny, Teacher, Red Bank Elementary School, Lexington School District, SC, 2016.

If we are going to move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional system, then we have to move toward something that takes each student into consideration. You may think of this as being student-centered, personalized, or customized. It doesn’t mean that every learning experience is individualized. In fact, students benefit from working collaboratively in groups. It does mean that the academic, emotional, and developmental status and progress of students is considered. This, of course, starts by knowing where they are. However, the art and science of teaching is knowing how to optimize learning so that students are making progress toward our common goals of having every student college and career ready.

The major shift for schools in moving from teaching curriculum to teaching students is becoming more responsive. Schools have developed as highly bureaucratic organizations. This is partly because teachers are operating under the weight of at least four levels of policy and regulation: federal, state, district, and school. That’s a lot of rules. Consider New Zealand, where schools are autonomous except for a few core regulations set by the Ministry of Education. Schools and educators are more empowered and can be more responsive when the only thing driving behavior is what’s best for students.

Thus, responsiveness as a capacity in the United States actually requires some degree of courage and a large dose of leadership. It means choosing not to operate with a compliance, fear-driven mentality. It means building schools with a strong sense of purpose, creating opportunity for dialogue to build trust, being transparent about decision-making, and empowering teachers. Thus, responsiveness begins with the district and school leaders.

At the classroom level, teachers can use practices that increase responsiveness to students. Knowing where students are in their learning and providing daily small group or individual attention can increase responsiveness. Creating opportunities for small group discussion that provides students opportunity to have voice or choice can increase culturally responsiveness. Thus, responsiveness is a broader concept than instructional differentiation. It is a mindset, a value, a strategic way of thinking about what is going to be more effective in helping individual students and cohorts move forward. And if more is needed than an individual or team of teachers can provide, responsiveness requires school or system-wide adaptation or reallocation of resources.

In the end, responsiveness must be data-driven (including teacher observation) about whether students are progressing and, if not, what needs to be in place. Responsiveness means that there are plans if students are not where they should be at the end of the semester so that they continue learning rather than simply being passed on to the next course or the next year.

Where responsiveness is found, so can the roots of accountability be found.

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
  17. Advance Upon Demonstrated Mastery