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Aurora Institute

Practicing What They Preach: Micro-Credentialing at Kettle Moraine

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the eighth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Kettle Moraine School District (KM) is practicing what they preach. If one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for students, why would we think it would work for teacher professional development?

KM is embedding personalized learning throughout their organization. (Reminder: In Wisconsin, personalized learning has three core elements: learner profiles, customized learning plans, and proficiency-based progression.) With the support of the school board, they have organized learning for adults the same way they do for students in the personalized learning campuses. As one of the district team members explained, “Micro-credentials are about embedding design thinking and research into the professional lives of teachers. But it doesn’t stop with just knowing. The important step is implementing it with classroom.”

Here’s how it works: Teachers develop and submit learning plans that indicate the specific skills they want to develop. Educators can choose from micro-credentials offered through the district, select ones available through the partnership with Digital Promise, or suggest ones of their own making, thus ensuring they can meet their various needs. Teachers build the skills, apply them in their classrooms, and then submit artifacts of their learning for approval of their skill. Artifacts might include teacher self-reflection or student work. A panel of their peers reviews the artifacts submitted and award the micro-credential. After receiving a micro-credential, teachers are awarded an increase in their base salary.

Although interest in micro-credentialing is high, the interest in linking it to teacher pay is not. When Wisconsin state legislature passed Act 10 that limited collective bargaining to wages, KM was able to design a strategy to link learning with teachers’ base salary. As teachers earn micro-credentials, it increases their base salary from anywhere between $100 and $600. Patricia DeKlotz, Superintendent, explained, “If districts are going to fully transform schools, we need to make sure everything we do is aligned with our strategic goals. We need to support our teachers in a way that allows them to become familiar with personalized learning and to build the skills to effectively implement personalized learning strategies.” To date, KM may be the only district that has fully linked their micro-credential professional learning strategy to teacher salary. 

Thus far, 80 percent of the educators at KM have been awarded a micro-credential, with over 1,500 micro-credentials awarded last year. Micro-credentials have included close reading, competency-based models, and fostering resiliency in learners. I asked about what happens if teachers don’t complete the micro-credential process. Assistant Superintendent Theresa Ewald explained, “Teachers either earn the micro or are told ‘not yet.’ If they are ‘not yet,’ it is because they don’t have enough evidence to prove that learning occurred, reflection occurred, and students were impacted. If they are a ‘not yet,’ I personally meet with them to provide more detailed formative feedback toward their submission. They can then resubmit.” Throughout KM, “not yet” is taking hold as a powerful aspect of proficiency-based learning.

As I listened, I realized there were several benefits to this model:

  • Making learning safer for risk-taking: It has to be tough to be a teacher trying to learn how to do personalized learning when you haven’t seen it. How scary is that? The probability of some level of failure or just not getting it has to be pretty high. Micro-credentials allow teachers to take baby-steps to learn one practice at a time. Teachers often say that the hardest part of the shift to personalized learning is letting go of control. Well, micro-credentialing would allow teachers to do that one a little bit at a time and get recognition from the district that they are trying, stumbling, learning, and succeeding. That’s what we mean when we say “success is the only option.”
  • Learning what you need when you need it: One of the big problems with district- or school-developed professional development is that all teachers get the same dosage of training regardless of whether they need it or not. Micro-credentialing allows tailoring of learning to teacher needs and creates more safety for teachers to take next steps.
  • Making sure professional learning makes a difference for students: Another problem with traditional professional development is that teachers can go to a class, but there is no requirement that they actually apply it. Assistant Superintendent Teresa Ewald explained, “Micro-credentialing is job-embedded. In the micro-credentialing process, teachers can learn something in many different ways. The expectation is that they will learn to apply those skills effectively so that it improves the student experience. The credentialing happens after they show evidence of application.” With the increase in base salary, the micro-credential policy at KM is aligning their values. In other words, they are putting their money where their mouth is.

Assistant Superintendent Theresa Ewald shared lessons learned from their micro-credentialing intiative:

  • When given the opportunity to create their own learning plans, teachers embrace the power of social learning. Most micros are small groups of teachers working together to learn to solve a problem they have in common.
  • When teachers experience the opportunity for voice in creating their own learning, they see how powerful it is and are more likely to engage in this type of learning in their classroom.
  • Allowing for the space for anyone to engage in a learning opportunity at the time that best suits their needs is powerful. Nothing the teachers at KM have done is something the district couldn’t offer in a full group manner, but the reality is that teachers are more engaged because they selected the time and mode.

Going forward Kettle Moraine would like to develop a badging platform. They also want to gather student feedback to make sure that micro-credentials are actually benefitting them.

In the next article, distributed leadership strategies used by Kettle Moraine School District will be discussed.

Read the Entire Series: