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Aurora Institute

Introducing Moving Toward Mastery

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Katherine Casey

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Support Professional Learning

In November, iNACOL published Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education. The report grew from a collaboration with educators, leaders, policymakers, and advocates across the country. When I set out on this project I asked dozens of these leaders to help define the “why.” This is what I heard.

To grow competency-based education, help teachers. The competency-based education movement has invested a lot of energy describing changes to the student experience, and how to get there. We can do the same for teachers. While many organizations have drafted teacher competency frameworks – a critical starting point – we can do more to clarify the how. How can teachers shift their practice? How can leaders support them? How will policies and systems need to adapt?

Support teachers, and transform teaching. We have pockets of success. What we need is systems change. Educators and leaders across the country are doing amazing work to shift teaching practices in alignment with competency-based education. But for the most part, our public education system still relies on traditional approaches. Many of us are asking for change within systems that uphold the status quo. Asking educators to make the transition to competency-based practices in spite of outdated systems and policies creates obstacles, even for those who are change-ready educators. And, it discourages others from even trying.

To shift practice, shift mindsets and beliefs. Changing teaching practices is very complex. But as much as these changes require technical clarity and precision, they also require changes in mindsets, beliefs and values. Leaders in the field are emphatic about the importance of the adaptive elements of change: clarifying the why, engaging teachers and families as leaders in the work and creating space and time for teachers and leaders to develop new beliefs and mindsets.

With this inspiration and direction from the field, Moving Toward Mastery found its purpose:

“Education is human-centered and human-driven. Its purpose is to support and shape young people as they grow, and to move our nation closer to our social ideals of equity and opportunity. At its core, education is not a set of policies or technical structures. It is the young people, educators, families and leaders who comprise our communities. Any conversation about improvement and innovation in education must, therefore, focus on people: what we are asking them to believe, what we are asking them to do and how we will support them.

This is a paper about people. Specifically, this is a paper about engaging and enabling educators to play new roles and take new leadership in the paradigm shift between traditional and competency-based education: a system of learning designed to ensure that all learners are prepared with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to be successful lifelong learners. This paper re-envisions professional practice, learning and development for competency-based education. It describes a teaching profession that is equity-oriented, learning-centered and lifelong, and details strategies that can help realize this paradigm shift. Throughout, the paper builds on exemplars of success across the nation and explores how communities can work together to coordinate and sustain complex systems change.”

At a high level, here is what the report covers:

  • Describes the ten distinguishing features of competency-based education;
  • Summarizes teacher roles and competencies in competency-based systems, drawing on existing knowledge in the field;
  • Describes what the teaching profession would like if it were fully aligned to the purpose and structures of a competency-based system: if it were equity-oriented, learning-centered and lifelong;
  • Describes fifteen specific strategies to navigate the change process toward this vision; and
  • Describes leverage points for state, district, school and higher education leaders.

Over the course of the coming month we will be releasing a ten-part blog series that aims to make Moving Toward Mastery accessible and transferable. The series will focus on translating key ideas to new audiences, elevating success stories for learning and prioritizing practical entry points for people in the field. The series will consist of posts in three related strands.

  • VOICES, How I Lead for Mastery posts will engage leaders in the field to reflect on three important concepts in the paper: teacher mindsets, teacher leadership and innovation, and teacher collaboration and learning.
  • ENTRY POINTS, Self-Assessment for Action posts will provide rubrics for three major themes in the paper: teaching as an equity-oriented profession, teaching as a learning-centered profession, and teaching as a lifelong profession. Rubrics are designed to help leaders and teams reflect, self-assess and identify starting points.
  • ACTIONS, Strategies for Leaders posts will identify and prioritize specific strategies for school leaders and district leaders. (iNACOL will also release policy and practice briefs for Higher Ed, State and Federal leaders in Spring 2019.)

We envision these posts as conversation pieces. We encourage you to share comments on the site, use the posts to engage your team or community, and engage in your own self-reflection as you read.


About the Author

Katherine Casey is Founder and Principal of Katherine Casey Consulting, an independent organization focused on innovation, personalized and competency-based school design, and research and development. Katherine was a founding Director of the Imaginarium Innovation Lab in Denver Public Schools, supporting a portfolio of almost 30 schools across Denver and spearheading the Lab’s research and development activity. Katherine was a founding design team member at the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design, Denver’s first competency-based high school. Prior to her time in Denver, Katherine worked in leadership development, philanthropy, public affairs and higher education. She received her BA from Stanford University and her Doctorate in Education Leadership from Harvard University.