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Aurora Institute

Welcome to Mastery Communications Week!

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Springpoint Schools

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

Educators implementing mastery-based learning can enumerate a list of priorities to conquer. But all too often the strategy for communicating what mastery means for students, families, and community partners can be left until the end, or ignored all together. Mastery-based learning — also known as competency-based education (CBE) — has the potential to transform how students learn content and acquire skills. Messaging this fundamental truth is key to building understanding, garnering buy in, and implementing a successful mastery-based system.

That’s why Springpoint has joined forces with national partners and schools to present Mastery Communications Week — five days devoted to exploring how to communicate about mastery that starts today.

We’ve partnered with Great Schools Partnership, Mastery Collaborative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, KnowledgeWorks, iNACOL, and CompetencyWorks to share expertise around some of the most common questions about mastery communications. Throughout this week, principals, teachers, students, district leaders, community partners, and parents will share their experiences with mastery and their role in ensuring that it supports and accelerates student learning. We hope this compilation of best practices, tools, tips, ideas, and open questions can spark an insightful conversation and prove useful for educators and school leaders as they prepare to engage key stakeholders on all things mastery in the coming school year.

Defining Mastery-Based Education

To communicate effectively about mastery, educators first must get clear on their own working definition. While mastery can mean many things to different people, we generally cite CompetencyWorks’ five elements:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

At Springpoint, we’ve expanded this framework to include a sixth bucket: Empowering learners to take agency over their own progress, which in turn can give them the flexibility to move through content at an individualized pace. No matter which elements educators decide use, it’s equally important that they intentionally and strategically design and roll out a mastery-based system in a way that honors the needs and aspirations of their school community. Some schools might begin by implementing one or two elements of this framework, while others have moved towards implementing all five elements with fidelity. We encourage practitioners to design a system that works best in their own context and iterate on their practices to continuously build something that works well for all their students.

Learning by Example

Modeling is a powerful teaching device often used by effective educators. We believe in the power of sharing strong resources and tools in order to build out the collective knowledge of the CBE field. That’s why a major component of the Mastery Communications Week is devoted to finding and sharing some of the best communications resources out there.

In our work, we’ve seen how learning from great practice can help educators as they build strong school models that meet the needs of students. We encourage our partners to both learn from each other and to facilitate even more sharing and collaboration. During this week, we hope to highlight and share as many resources as possible in the hope that practitioners can find useful and applicable materials that will help aid their conversations around mastery-based learning.

To kick off the week, we’ve rounded up some communications artifacts from our school-based design partners that were created for different audiences. These resources may be helpful to those who are planning their own communications strategies.

  • Urban Assembly Maker Academy’s Mastery-Based Grading Resource for Parents: Our partners at UA Maker value student voice and collaborated with a group of students to craft a deck that explains mastery to parents. The deck showcases each students’ perspective on mastery-based grading, an explanation of why it’s used, key definitions, and a side-by-side comparison of mastery to a traditional 100-point system. The deck also begins to introduce parents to UA Maker’s online grading platform. To learn more about UA Maker, visit their website.
  • Several resources from Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD), including:
    • Student-led conference guiding outline supports students as they prepare to run a student-led conference, prompting them to talk about essential mastery elements, including advisory, academic classes, intensives, and their Personalized Learning Plan.
    • Mastery Night deck was used at DSISD to give parents an initial overview of the school’s mastery-based approach — what it is, the supporting grading policy, how cognitive skills support mastery, and more. The final slide sums up exactly how parents can be advocates for their children in the school’s mastery system.
    • Launch Night deck helped the school’s leadership team walk parents through a thorough dive into the school’s mastery-based system. From graduation requirements, to grading policies, to cognitive skills, Personalized Learning Plans, college and career readiness, and even some neat parent hacks!
    • Additional structures: The school also runs a monthly coffee with the principal and Collaborative School Committee (CSC), which informs school governance. This year school administration is working to deepen their parent engagement with a monthly parent academy that focuses on building parent awareness and capacity for personalized learning and college readiness and planning. To learn more about DSISD, visit their website.
  • Lincoln-West School of Global Studies’ Community Partner Communications: A cornerstone of Lincoln-West School of Global Studies’ instructional model is an Exhibitions of Learning (EOL) event, which students do twice a year to demonstrate mastery. More than twenty-five partners from local businesses, colleges, nonprofits and other organizations attend the event and participate in the EOL assessment process. The school is committed to ensuring that partners — which include top thinkers from places like the NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland Council on World Affairs, and John Carroll University — have a shared understanding of the assessment process and a strong understanding of the school’s common rubric. This suite of external communications, paired with an in-person overview, contributes to a smooth EOL presentation and assessment experience for students, and invests community partners even more deeply in the school’s model. To learn more about Lincoln-West School of Global Studies, visit their website.

Participating in Mastery Communications Week

Everyone is invited to contribute to Mastery Communications Week by joining the conversation and sharing their best ideas, tools, questions, and resources on social media with the hashtag #masteryweek. We also encourage you to check out — the hub where we’ll collect great resources, tools, and articles. Here is what you can expect to see each day:

Monday, August 14 we’ll be sharing resources for communicating with diverse stakeholders, such as students, families, and community partners.

Tuesday, August 15th we’ll talk about how to communicate with colleges and universities about mastery-based transcripts.

Wednesday, August 16th we’ll dive deeply into mastery-based education and equity, particularly how to ensure your new system provides pathways to success for all learners.

Thursday, August 17th we’ll focus on how to be intentional when communicating about mastery with new staff.

Friday, August 18th we’ll close out with a big resource share that features some interesting multi-modal resources.

We’re so excited to hear stories from the field and answer questions that come up throughout the week. We hope you join us in sharing communication strategies that help make the case for mastery-based learning!