Professional Development

Competency-Based Professional Learning Gets Test Drive

Two years after Teaching Matters shifted its focus to competency-based professional learning, this non-profit that works on initiatives to increase teacher effectiveness, especially in urban public schools, has issued a 17-page report that profiles use cases from its work in three teacher leadership training programs and four lessons it has learned from those experiences.

The first lesson is that educators value micro-credentials. Second, teachers need "sufficient time" to complete the micro-credentialing process. Third, they're more willing to invest in that process if they're induced to do so, either in the form of pay or new leadership responsibilities. And fourth, coaching, feedback and support are important to help educators show competency and encourage their persistence in pursuing micro-credentials.

As "Competency-Based Micro-Credentials for Educators: Powerful Lessons from Two Years in the Field" explained, competency-based micro-credentials are "smaller snippets of learning" that focus on a specific skill needed by the educator. Since 2015, Teaching Matters has issued 546 micro-credentials to 154 teachers in one large urban school system and a much smaller suburban district.

"Micro-credentialing allows you to take a personalized, job embedded approach and apply it at scale," stated Lynette Guastaferro, the organization's executive director in the report. "Furthermore, it puts the emphasis on outcomes versus inputs. It puts the onus on the teacher to apply what he or she has learned, and demonstrate impact." The result, she added was "deeper, context-based learning and the greater likelihood the practice will stick." Another advantage of the micro-credentialing approach, she noted, was that it makes expectations "very transparent" to both the teacher and the coach.

The first initiative profiled was "Assessment Matters," a project with the New York City Department of Education to improve formative assessment practices. Micro-credentials were an "optional support" to recognize teacher-leader competencies. Teachers attended a three-day induction program and received bi-weekly onsite coaching from 12 Teaching Matters coaches. Participants were given the chance to submit evidence to qualify for a "teacher-leader" micro-credential. Of the 50 teachers that participated, only two pursued a credential, even though "large numbers" could have done so.

"This was really different and unlike other PD," said Victoria Dedaj, who was one of the two to earn the micro-credential. "I was able to use the process to set goals for myself. It really empowers the teacher to drive the learning."

Among those who didn't go after the credential, 56 percent said they didn't bother because it wasn't required; 38 percent said they didn't bother because there was no incentive.

A second use case came out of Teaching Matters' work with Mineola Public Schools in Long Island, NY. There, district leaders negotiated with the teachers' union to arrange for a $500 permanent salary increase and a new teacher role for those who earned the teacher-leadership credentials in three areas.

Ten teachers from three elementary schools participated, receiving induction training and "intensive on-site coaching and support," including in-person coaching, workshops and cohort meetings. The initial goal was for all 10 teachers to lead professional learning teams and demonstrate skills associated with earning 18 micro-credentials in one year, a goal that proved "daunting." While all earned "many" micro-credentials, only two completed the full set during the year. However, Mineola is continuing the program, backing off on the count of credentials a bit; the district has also opened it up to teachers in its middle and high schools.

The third use case also took place in New York City and involved creation of competencies specifically for helping teachers move into teacher-leader roles. The reward would be the chance to interview for formal teacher-leader roles and earn a bump in pay of up to $12,500. There, 191 teachers joined the professional learning effort; 123 of those teachers earned 414 micro-credentials.

In that program the teachers had online coaches who offered targeted help, which, according to the report, "improved participation and completion rates." Participants would typically submit evidence two to three times and get feedback each time before they met the competency criteria.

Of the people who didn't earn microcredentials, 70 percent reported that it involved too much work; 56 percent said they'd likely earn micro-credentials in the future if the effort earned them continuing education credit.

The report on competency-based professional development and micro-credentialing is being released during a Council of Great City Schools conference in Miami.

It's available on the Teaching Matters website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.