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Aurora Institute

Public Reflection as Professional Development

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education

One of the most dynamic public discourse underway in competency education right now is the research and reflection occurring in Iowa. In May, Iowa state policymakers opened up the door to competency education innovation while also offering a mechanism to build vision and strategic direction with its Task Force.

With the use of blogs and a public Forum on Competency-based Education, Iowa educators are openly reflecting and discussing what it means to commit to all students’ learning by focusing on competencies and flexible resources (including time).

  •  There is a principal in Nodaway Valley, asking What If?
  • There is constant reflection and sharing of resources at the Forum on Competency-Based Education.
  • There are bloggers on CompetencyWorks sharing their questions and reflections as they move forward including Justin Ballou,  Mandi Bozarth, Shawn Cornally,  Jason Ellingson,  Josh Griffith and  Kari Webb.

These reflections don’t necessarily tell us what to do or how to do competency education. What they do offer are insights into the learning process that people have to go through as they shift the “paradigm”.  They open up the issues that we need to work through, district by district. You can see a similar process in the case studies of three districts in Maine — RSU 2 – Kennebec Intra-District Schools RSU 18 – Messalonskee & China Schools and RSU 57 – Massabesic Schools.

Based on these public reflections, I put together a short-list of questions that come up over and over again.  Would anyone who has been working on competency education want to tackle answering one or two of these questions from your perspective?

  • Why competency education?
    • Why is competency education important? What is wrong with the current system?
    • How will competency education help our children? Teachers?
    • How do we introduce competency education to different stakeholders?
    • What are the strongest messages to use in engaging different stakeholders?
  • What needs to be taken into consideration in building public will?
    • What are the benefits for different stakeholders?
    • Where are points of potential resistance?
    • What are techniques for building public support?
    • What questions will different stakeholders likely have and what are the best ways to address them?
  • What are the entry points to competency education?
    • As a teacher, school, district, or state, what are the best ways to introduce competency education?
    • What are the simplest points of entry?
    • Are there some entry points or first steps that are more productive and/or more likely to leverage change?
    • What are the pros and cons for starting in elementary school and rolling up, or starting in high school and rolling back?
  • What are the most important elements of competency education to implement?
    • Given that competency education can lead to questioning many of the assumptions of the current system, what are the most important elements to introduce?
    • Which elements are most productive to building capacity and understanding of competency education?
    • Which of the elements lead to higher achievement gains?
    • Which are the simplest to introduce?
  • How do we best support teachers, parents and students in the process of implementing competency education?
    • What are techniques for designing competencies? (See Issue Brief)
    • What professional development, technical assistance, resources and tools are needed by teachers to implement competency education?
    • How might staff roles change over time?
    • What are the best ways to introduce parents and students to competency education?
  •  Given that we know some students are going to need extra support, what needs to be in place to ensure all students are progressing?
    • What role does the district play in ensuring adequate supports and opportunities?
    • What role does the school play in ensuring adequate supports and opportunities?
    • How can teachers organize their time, instruction, and classrooms to respond to students quickly when they demonstrate that they are not progressing?
  • What needs to be considered in competency education for specific student populations and/or integrating it with other models of education?
    • What needs to be in place to ensure competency education is effective for students with special education needs and ELL students?
    • What role does online and blended learning play in competency education?
    • What is the relationship between project-based learning and competency education?
    • What is the relationship between the Common Core and competency education?
  • What are key elements of the education system that should be aligned with competency education?
    • How might we design/change human resources policies in a competency-based environment?
    • How is data used in a competency-based system to ensure quality implementation?
    • What are the design specifications for information systems? (Forthcoming issues brief)
    • What needs to be considered in ensuring students are able to be competitive in college admissions?
  • What are design choices that need to be considered in designing schools for competency education?
    • What are the variations in grading philosophy and implications?
    • What is your school culture and how is that reflected in the lifelong learning competencies?
    • How do your teachers ensure that there is horizontal and vertical alignment of what proficiency looks like?
    • How do students receive support or a different instructional approach?
    • How do you use time as a resource?
    • How do students accelerate or go deeper into their learning once they are proficient?
    • What is in place for students at the end of a module/course/semester when they are not yet proficient?
    • What educational technology are you using to provide instruction or supplement instruction?
    • What partnerships are needed to provide students with opportunities outside of the classroom to apply competencies?
  • What can states do to support competency education?
    • What are the different theories of change states are using?
    • What are the policy barriers that must be addressed?
    • How can  professional development or TA be organized?
    • What needs to be modified in state operations?
      •  information systems?
      •  accountability systems?
    • What can state leadership do to support districts and schools?
      • Engage higher education
      • Communications

It’s clear that this list can go on and on.  This is what CompetencyWorks is for — to build up knowledge and make it easier for folks to implement and work out the kinks.

Please let us know if you have any burning questions or want to describe what you and your school are doing to address these questions. Then over time we can begin to synthesize the approaches.