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Aurora Institute

Learning Through Micro-Credentials Enables Student-Centered Teaching Philosophy

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Aubrey Ukuku

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

This blog post is one of a series that highlights different experiences with the multilingual learner (MLL) micro-credential program developed by UCLA’s ExcEL Leadership Academy and highlighted in the Aurora Institute report: ExcEL Leadership Academy Micro-Credential Pathway Adoption in Rhode Island

A Pursuit of Credit Hours Through Micro-Credentials Leads to a Passion Reignited 

When I was presented with the option to participate in the UCLA ExcEL Leadership Academy last summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I must admit that, with my certification being up for renewal at the end of that school year, the prime deciding factor for me was that the program promised not only free, but paid Continuing Education Units. I am a dual-certified teacher with teaching credentials in Elementary Education and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I have worked with newcomers and multilingual learners in Manchester, New Hampshire, for almost ten years. Hearing that this program is designed to help teachers become more effective educators of multilingual learners, I was excited to participate in a program already in my wheelhouse. 

I arrived at the summer cohort not necessarily thinking I would get a lot out of it, but hopeful to learn something new to bring to my colleagues and students. To my surprise, I left with a renewed passion for what I do, excited to continue in the micro-credential units of study where I could create meaningful and achievable goals that would positively impact my multilingual learners and our overall school community. 

graphic of excel micro-credentials

The two-day summer cohort centered on the Ensuring Professionalism through a Multicultural Lens micro-credential, where we had the opportunity to hear from Omar Bah, author of “Africa’s Hell On Earth: The Ordeal of an African Journalist,” and a panel of other multilingual educators from New England. During this panel, we heard the stories of adult refugees and immigrants and their first-hand experience as multilingual learners in the American school system. Hearing these stories fueled my drive and passion to positively impact my student’s lives. 

The reality is that many of our multilingual learners have negative experiences in the public school system. They often feel unheard, misunderstood, unwelcomed, and unsupported. It is our job as educators to flip this script and create positive and safe learning environments for all our students, no matter their cultural backgrounds. I was left to wonder what my students would say if they were sitting on the panel. What would they say about me as their teacher? What would they say about their experiences as multilingual learners in our school/district? Have I just been assuming that my students feel supported and safe in our school? 

It was at that moment that I realized that I had not been doing all that I could to ensure that my students had a voice in my classroom. I was renewed in my excitement to implement new ideas and strategies that would create a safer and more supportive learning environment. 

Embracing Linguistic Diversity: Strengthening My Skills to Reflect My Teaching Philosophy

I believe that linguistic diversity is a valuable asset that should be celebrated and embraced in the classroom. Recognizing that every student brings their unique linguistic background and cultural identity to the learning environment is crucial to me as an educator. 

In my years of teaching, I have always strived to celebrate the diversity of my students and create a learning environment where they feel empowered and welcomed. When I first started teaching, I worked in a magnet program. This program allowed me to be the primary teacher to newcomer students whose English proficiency levels were “entering” and “beginning.” The program’s purpose was to allow the students to settle into the American school system and develop the academic and social vocabulary that would allow them to succeed in a mainstream classroom. Now, I work as an English Language teacher in a school where I pull students into small groups for targeted English Language Development (ELD) instruction and work alongside mainstream teachers to help them meet the language needs of our schools’ multilingual learners.

In the micro-credentials, we are challenged to create goals to improve our pedagogy and positively impact our classroom environment. Adopting more student-centered approaches and prioritizing open communication, active listening, and collaboration has significantly shifted my classroom dynamics. Completing the Supporting Student Voice for English Learners micro-credential through the ExcEL Leadership Academy reinforced my commitment to implementing linguistically appropriate practices that respect and honor my students’ diverse language backgrounds. I discovered numerous ways to empower students with more voice and choice in their academics and the school community. 

Creating a student voice survey, for instance, allowed my students to provide valuable input on the effectiveness of my teaching methods and the inclusivity of our academic choices. It reinforces the idea that their voices are important and impactful in their learning environment. 

When I administered the survey, I was encouraged by my students’ willingness to share their thoughts with me. My students expressed how frustrated they were with the reality that they often have no say in what they are learning about in their classrooms. I took this comment and, instead of being hurt or annoyed by it, I let it inform my teaching. Following the survey results, I gave them more opportunities to engage in activities and projects aligned with their interests and passions. 

I implemented the project-based learning model into my fourth- and fifth-grade groups, providing them the space to participate in the learning process. I sat down with each of my groups and asked them what they wanted to write about. The units in our language arts curriculum are heavily focused on social studies topics, but they all expressed a desire to dive into science more. My fifth graders all decided to do a “Who Would Win” series, in which each student got to do a project on two animals of their choice. I also did a project all about plants, where students got to plant seeds and watch them grow over the course of a month. Both projects were simple, yet they centered around the topic of choice and allowed students to show their learning in a variety of different forms. These projects went a long way in helping to cultivate a sense of purpose and motivation, ultimately leading to more meaningful and fulfilling learning experiences for my students where every student was engaged and excited to show their learning. 

Coaching and Collaborating on Micro-Credentials: A Student-Centered Philosophy

As educators, our role extends beyond imparting knowledge. We can be facilitators of open communication, active listening, and collaboration. By creating an environment where students feel safe to share their diverse experiences, knowledge, and perspectives, we foster a culture of peace that is conducive to learning. My teaching philosophy has always centered around creating a student-centered environment that prioritizes linguistic diversity and inclusivity, preparing students to thrive in a multicultural society. I see this as a responsibility that we, as educators, must embrace.

I was given the opportunity to become a facilitator for the ExcEL Learning Academy, which allowed me to live out this philosophy practically and professionally. As a facilitator, I have the privilege of working alongside other participants to help them create and implement their own learning goals as they work to complete the micro-credentials. I have found this work to be both encouraging and inspiring. As educators, it can be easy to stay in the little bubble of our classroom, but when we branch out to collaborate with our colleagues we get to learn and grow through our shared experiences. 

When teachers have a multicultural approach to education, it encourages our students to have this same approach, including both our multilingual learners and our native English-speaking students, who may or may not have a limited cultural perspective. As educators, we get to be role models, showing our students that culture is not something to be afraid of but something to be celebrated. I encourage my students to speak up for themselves, take responsibility for their education, and share their thoughts, perspectives, cultural mindsets, and ideas with their peers, teachers, and, ultimately, the world! The ExcEL Learning Academy helps educators strengthen this mindset. Our students are the future, and how we teach them will shape how they enter society, a privilege that should not be taken for granted. 

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Photo of Aubrey UkukuAubrey Ukuku resides in Londonderry, NH, with her husband, two children, and their puppy named Rottie. She married into a large Nigerian family with many cousins and aunties in the area. Growing up, she faced challenges due to a learning disability that made reading very difficult for her. However, thanks to her high school English teacher, she transformed her aversion to reading into a love for learning. Aubrey is passionate about positively impacting her students by inspiring them to achieve their full potential, surpassing their perceived limitations. She holds a Master of Education with a concentration in TESOL and has taught immigrants and refugees in Manchester, NH, for nine years.