Welcome to May, the month when most school administrators begin the process of filling open positions in their schools for the upcoming school year. Maybe my administrative team and I are getting picky as we mature as a team, or maybe we are just getting wiser, but we honestly believe that our hiring practices have changed dramatically since our school made the shift to competency education four years ago. For those of you who are thinking about applying to work in a school like ours, we would like to offer you some words of advice before you get your résumés and cover letters together for us.
1. We need team players. In our school, very few big curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions are left to teachers to make on their own. Most are made by teams of teachers as part of their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). If you join our school, be prepared to share and collaborate with your PLC on just about everything you do. With your PLC team, you will build common performance assessments, you will administer them to your shared students, and you will analyze the data with your team. We strongly believe that PLC teams work far more efficiently than individuals ever could towards advancing our vision of learning for all. Our PLC teams are organized by grade level, not by subject area. This allows them to share kids and focus their work on student learning. At our school, there is no such thing as a traditional department meeting.
2. Before you apply, make sure you agree with our philosophy on grading and competency education. If you are selected for an interview, don’t be surprised if when you arrive we ask you to spend a few minutes reading an article on grading by Guskey or Wormeli and then responding to it via a writing prompt. For us, having someone who will support the competency education grading philosophy is a must have. We would rather be up front with you before you commit to us to make sure you are on board. If you have reservations, perhaps our school is not for you and that is okay. Some of our most important grading philosophy ideas include the use of rubrics and a letter rubric grading scale, separating academic skills from academic behaviors in course grades, and allowing for reassessments for all students.
3. Make sure you fully understand your content area. With competency education, our teachers organize their content into reporting competencies as well as teaching competencies and performance indicators. If you don’t have a solid background in your content area then you are going to have a very difficult time assessing students in various competencies, developing quality performance assessments and the associated rubrics to measure student performance on them, and integrating your content area with others as you collaborate with your PLC team on interdisciplinary experiences. Whether it is the Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards, or other similar national standards and curriculum frameworks, our teachers need to have a working knowledge of these in order to do their job effectively.
4. Competency education gives new meaning to differentiated instruction. Many of our courses, especially in the ninth and tenth grades, are heterogeneously grouped so that we can support small learning community models. We offer honors contract options for students who consistently demonstrate that they are meeting our expectations and want to challenge themselves to demonstrate that they can exceed them. We also provide extra support and time to students who need it. Differentiated instruction takes on new meaning with competency education, and we need teachers who are willing to think outside the box on behalf of kids.
5. We believe in providing focused re-teaching, re-learning, and enrichment time during our school day. We have a daily focused learning period that all students use to get the personalized support that they need for their own learning. It is expected that each PLC team decides how students spend some of that time each day. Planning an effective focused learning period for all students takes time, energy, and patience from our teachers, but the reward when planned correctly is always increased student learning.
Are you ready for a new challenge in your teaching career? Do you want to think differently about how you approach learning and student assessment? Do you want to work with a motivated team of teachers who work interdependently to achieve common goals for which team members are mutually accountable? Do you want to leave your job each and every day feeling fulfilled and supported by your colleagues? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, perhaps you are ready to work for a school that has made the move to competency education.
Brian M. Stack is the National Association of Secondary School Principals 2017 New Hampshire Secondary School Principal of the Year. He is Principal of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH, an author for Solution Tree, and also serves as an expert for Understood.org, a division of the National Center for Learning Disabilities in Washington, DC. He lives with his wife Erica and his five children Brady, Cameron, Liam, Owen, and Zoey on the New Hampshire seacoast. You can follow Brian on Twitter @bstackbu or visit his blog.