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Aurora Institute

Shaking up Credentialing: An Emergent Strategy

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Adam Rubin, Paul Ezen and Ray McNulty

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation

This post originally appeared at 2Revolutions on July 17, 2018.

“We can’t find teachers ready for our school district.” – District CAO
“Professional learning is not providing the knowledge or skills we need to drive the kind of transformation we want.” – District Superintendent
“Higher ed is perpetuating an outdated model of training that no longer meets our needs.” – Dean of School of Education

A Long Time Coming

The range of perspectives are representative of a felt need we hear over and over again across the country- demand for something fundamentally different. The world of pre- and in-service training is ripe for significant disruption. In an exciting new partnership between 2Revolutions, a national education design lab, and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), we are working together to think differently about three inherent problems with the current system of pre- and in-service professional learning:

It is time-based rather than learner-driven;

Knowledge acquisition is still more of the coin of the realm rather than the skills and dispositions that are sorely needed in the field; and

The credentials available are not aligned with demand in the most innovative schools, districts and charter networks.

Starting in the Fall of 2018, we are launching an M. Ed in Leading and Learning in a Competency Based Environment. We are doing this for a few related reasons- to meet significant demand for a different skill set in teachers and leaders; to push the teacher certification bodies within states to develop credentials more aligned with and supportive of transformation efforts; and to capture the opportunity for higher education to regain relevance with a more flexible and cost effective credential.

What We’re Doing

This program is designed to build capacity around the knowledge and skills necessary to realize CBE in the Classroom; across a School; and as a System (district/network). The Program includes three stackable Blocks that build on one another in a sequence that moves from the classroom to facilitating educator learning to leading a competency-based effort. Each Block has a defined set of competencies that participants move toward after self-assessing their knowledge and skills and then developing a learning plan to culminate in a presentation of evidence of the requisite knowledge and skills.  The blocks earn certifications from SNHU/2Revolutions in CBE. Participants can select one block at a time or they can elect to take all three blocks (Block 1 is 15 credits; Block 2 is 12 credits; and Block 3 is 9 credits and culminates in a Masters.

Program design aims to model a competency-based learning experience with the focus on demonstrating evidence of learning versus seat time expectations. Learning can leverage course content (online playlists and courses) or move directly to culminating tasks which provide opportunities in each course to demonstration competency. Regular tutorials will be set up for synchronous check-ins and then teams will be tasked to work on one individual and two collaborative bodies of work to demonstrate applied learning and shifts in practice indicative of progress toward a competency-based system.

The content will span a focus on instruction, assessment and the leadership necessary to manage the change needed to realize a competency-based system. Learning will occur through a combination of asynchronous online (80%) and synchronous virtual and in-person learning experiences (20%) with the focus on both individual and district transformation.

We see this Masters as a strategy to build capacity for transformation within a district- the program aims to work with cohorts of 5-7 districts/CMOs in all interested states to promote cross-site learning for people working in the same state policy context. Each district/CMO will have a team of ~15-18 educators (a mix of central office, building leaders and teacher leaders) to participate in the learning experience.

Why Now

As the demand to transform schools increases, there is a growing need for training opportunities that can build the capacity of a cohort within a district or network context. Learning is inherently social, yet we so often get our training, particularly credentialing opportunities disconnected from our peers and our context. This Masters is not intended to be theoretical and separate from the lived experience of day-to-day practice. Rather, this program is designed for teams that are interested in anchoring their learning to the context of their classrooms, schools and districts. Content will be contextualized to the places they work and all formative and summative tasks will build from their real world context and problems of practice with which they are wrestling.

Also, we think there is an important opportunity at this time to reshape credentialing. Seat time is a vestige of a different era. By anchoring learning to a progression of competencies, visible to the learner, and decoupling the culminating tasks from seat time requirements, learners can move at a pace driven by their unique needs. Course content is not about coverage but more about an opportunity to fill learner knowledge and skill gaps, with the goal of being able to demonstrate mastery instead of share back content knowledge.

Success Looks Like…

Given the design and our objectives, we hope to support transformation in participating districts by building a cadre of leaders at various levels of a system, who can drive forward change efforts with greater knowledge and skills, and the content and process to spread the learning and affect real change in culture, policy and practice.

More broadly, we are eager to provide a credible model of professional learning that is itself more competency-based, personalized and job-embedded. We see the significant opportunity to make the shift from delivering courses to providing learning experiences anchored to a visible learning continuum, where the learner gets to dictate more of their pace and content exists as a way to address gaps. We also see an important opportunity to provide a model for our higher education peers in ways that better meet market needs and drive down costs. Finally, it is our hope that this program provides an exogenous nudge to create more differentiated credentials for teachers and leaders that better support transformative schools and districts, better meeting their staffing needs and recognizing and rewarding deeper skill sets.

See also:

Adam Rubin is Founder & Partner, 2Revolutions; Paul Ezen is Director of Graduate Programs, SNHU; and Ray McNulty is Former Dean of SNHU College of Education