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Aurora Institute

Flashback Friday Inspired by #Aurora23

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Laurie Gagnon

Issue(s): Aurora Institute Symposium, Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation, Learn Lessons from the Field

Palm Springs, CA
Palm Springs, land of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

Even two weeks after returning from the Aurora Institute Symposium 2023, I am still processing all of the ideas, inspiration, and provocations. In the lead up to #Aurora23, I set an intention to translate my ideas and learning into future action. As I settle back into post-symposium to-do lists and seek to make sense of all of the possible actions, I feel the challenge of honoring my intention. It is clear that we need to collaborate and support each other to truly “Unlock the Future of Learning,” as the theme of Symposium invited us to do. While it is not a time bound endeavor, I hope we can bring a thoughtful urgency to our next steps. 

I have been thinking about how many stories, insights, and ideas already exist within the CompetencyWorks body of work (and of course beyond, but for today, I’ll focus on my immediate domain). In this short “flashback Friday” post, I share five of the blog posts that are surfacing for me as I reflect on and synthesize my learning at #Aurora23. 

A Learner’s CBE Journey

Jay Jay Pina in cap and gown after graduating from COA.This recent post by Jay Jay Pina, a graduate of and current academic support mentor at the Chelsea Opportunity Academy in Chelsea, Massachusetts, embodies the power and importance of listening to our learners and providing them with opportunities to develop and use their voices. There were nearly 50 K-12 students in attendance as presenters at the Aurora Symposium. One participant offered that “It was powerful to listen to the voices of students. This is how we stay centered in our work when it feels difficult and we hit barriers. More of this.” I couldn’t agree more and look forward to finding new ways to elevate and authentically include students as a natural part of our work. 


How Being in a Competency-Based Learning Environment Prepared Me for College

Three students
Paolo Freire Freedom School students

Continuing on the theme of learner voice, another common thread in the feedback from #Aurora23 participants encourages us to broaden the range of student voices to include graduates of competency-based education (CBE) systems, as well as younger learners. In this post by current CompetencyWorks intern and junior at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Briana Medina, who served as an inaugural Youth Group Steward at Symposium, shares her experience transitioning from a competency-based high school into a large university. 


A Primer to Indigenous Education: A Case for Tribal Competency Crediting

While we talk about innovation and new approaches, the elements of CBE have roots in prior world views and bodies of knowledge from storytelling traditions to apprenticeship. In fact, the standardized, industrial model of education is relatively new as an approach to education. Indigenous peoples in the U.S. had thoughtful, place-based ways of educating learners holistically through stories, observation, modeling, and experience. Many of these traditions were erased in the decimation of Native American populations and cultures by Europeans and the U.S. government.

We should take time to learn from these teaching and learning traditions because they offer a different perspective than the one-size-fits-all status quo and, in many cases, align to what we say learning should look like in CBE systems. This post makes a case for honoring Indigenous peoples’ traditions as a pathway to rethink the design of our current educational systems. 

Strong Evidence of Competency-Based Education’s Effectiveness from Lindsay Unified School District

A decade and a half into its change process, Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) illustrates that systems can successfully enact personalized, competency-based learning. A decade and a half into its change process, Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) illustrates that systems can successfully enact personalized, competency-based learning. As part of the systems keynote panel and in multiple sessions at #Aurora23 we heard a range of voices and stories from LUSD district and board leadership to K-2 educators. 

Norms on a classroom wall
LUSD elementary classroom vision and norms

I also had the opportunity to spend a day in LUSD after the Symposium. Throughout the visit I noted how much students were front and center. Students were on the opening panel. Students were our tour guides at both a K-8 school and Lindsay High School. In every classroom we saw evidence of students creating their vision for learning and class norms. 

This post is one of many that has been written about LUSD on CompetencyWorks showing that systematic efforts towards a shared vision yields results. I appreciate the people from LUSD for their willingness to share their journey. 


Implementation with Integrity

This post frames last year’s CBE Starter Pack series. The idea of implementation with integrity invites us to shift our mental models away from one-size-fits-all, one right way thinking in educational change efforts. We can be guided by the CBE principles, along with many other relevant and supportive frameworks and ideas, but ultimately we need to design for each and every learner in our respective communities. Multiple pathways to implementation exist. It will not look the same in every place. 

People in a conference room
A pre-conference session at #Aurora23

#Aurora23 raised many big questions to wrestle with, for me as an individual and for all of us as a field. How do we foster clarity about our broader vision, while allowing for multiple approaches? What communication strategies will help our value proposition resonate? How do we catch ourselves when we replicate inequities despite our intentions? How do we balance on-the-ground strategies educators can use now with big picture paradigm-shifting explorations? Do our actions matter if they aren’t done in partnership with learners? I’m excited to continue to find ways to reflect and take action as I keep learning and keep doing. 


Laurie GagnonLaurie Gagnon is the CompetencyWorks Program Director at the Aurora Institute. She leads the work of sharing promising practices shaping the future of K-12 personalized, competency-based education (CBE). #Aurora23 was Laurie’s first opportunity to visit Palm Springs and she was excited to get in a short hike while she was there.

Follow @LaurieGagnon98 


Laurie Gagnon

Program Director, CompetencyWorks

All blog posts from Laurie Gagnon