Teaching Profession Opinion

Educator Competencies for Personalized Teaching

By Contributing Blogger — August 14, 2015 5 min read
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This post is by Sarah Hatton, program manager at Jobs for the Future, and Rebecca E. Wolfe, director of Students at the Center at Jobs for the Future.

In part one of this post, Launching Personalized Teaching in the Classroom, we introduced the newly released “Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching,” a document developed by Students at the Center, an initiative of Jobs for the Future, and the Innovation Lab Network, an initiative of the Council of Chief State School Officers. We discuss what makes this moment the right one for a resurgence in personalized learning, why we’re focusing on educators’ role in this movement, and its links to deeper learning. (For a short summary of how we use and define the terms learner-centered and personalized, see A Note About Key Terms, page 1.)

Rebecca E. Wolfe, Students at the Center Director and lead author of the competencies, moderated a panel this Monday with Carmen Coleman, Next Generation Leadership, Center for Innovation in Education, Patrick Halladay, Coordinator of Professional Standards, Vermont Agency of Education, and Amy Pillizzi, second-grade teacher at Southport Elementary School, representing the national/university, state, and teacher perspective respectively.

These three, along with the other almost 50 participants from nine state teams, received pre-release copies of the Educator Competencies for Personalized Learning. The panelists, leading adopters in their fields, spoke to both their experiences with personalized learning and their reactions to the competencies document.

Wolfe: Why bother? If this builds so much on existing frameworks and many of those are extensively tested, normed, and have deep rubrics to support implementation, why do we need yet another educator competency list?

Coleman: The existing standards like InTASC and ISLLC are good and necessary. But they also include every component of teaching, from collaboration to planning to scheduling. It’s far too easy to skim those and feel that you are doing, as a teacher, exactly what you should do. This list of competencies sets those behaviors apart that are truly transformational, that are truly going to move the ball forward for kids and focus on their learning.

Halladay: I agree. And it’s precisely because there are so many frameworks out there that we need this one. At the state level, a framework like this can help guide professional development around a common language for personalization, and the potential creation of credentials or micro-credentials to support it. Nationally, having a common language that links personalization to established standards helps provide consistency within and across states.

Pillizzi: As more of us teachers get interested in personalized learning, these competencies provide a common language (e.g., the glossary) that can help guide both individual and collective reflection of practice in a way I haven’t seen before.

Wolfe: The guiding principles in the introduction to the competencies lays out that these should be “embedded within a holistic education vision supported by school culture” and “applied to groups of educators or school teams,” not as an individual check-list for a superhuman teacher. What does that mean to you? What would it look like?

Pillizzi: When I started out, I was the only teacher in my building doing this [personalized teaching]. But now my colleagues see what students coming out of my class can do and they come and ask me “How did you do that?!” And slowly it’s beginning to grow. And now my students understand they have voice and choice.

Coleman: Although these competencies were written as teacher competencies, there are many implications here for leaders. We can’t expect teachers to create these kinds of environments for kids if we don’t work to cultivate these same kinds of environments for teachers. We also have to mirror what we want for the students in the system with the adults. Professional development, for example, has to be personalized rather than more of the one-size-fits-all approach. A good example of this can be found with CESA #1‘s personalized learning endorsement. For this kind of collaborative environment to become business as usual for schools and districts, state systems have to be designed in such a way that help foster this kind of environment. Systems that have competition at their core, for example, make it very difficult for schools to become collaborative.

Halladay: The state agency can also have an impact driving the direction that we value. There will always be individual interpretation by teachers, but the state can help by providing the frameworks to schools so that we can scale up the kinds of common discussions that Amy [Pillizzi] was talking about. By using common language, it makes it that much stronger.

Wolfe: How do you envision you or your colleagues using the Competencies?

Pillizzi: I could see making these available to teachers, and having teachers examine their own strengths in relation to them.

Halladay: Typically states allocate their Title II funds to districts to do what they want with. However, state can provide guidance in terms of these finite resources and professional learning that the state can underwrite as part of Title II funds. Perhaps the use of these funds could be preferenced in this way. Then, the state can “guide from afar,” encouraging but not requiring this, which could immediately kill a lot of its creativity and complexity. We may also use it to simply provide guidance for definitions of high-quality professional development for teachers.

Coleman: I’m hoping as a field we’ll use these to redesign what we emphasize in teacher preparation and also use it in self-reflection and planning for next steps in professional growth for teachers as Amy mentioned. I will keep this document as the focus of our work with our Next Generation Academy participants in KY. It will become a major driver for our work.

How might you use these competencies in your work? Let us know on Twitter @JFFTweets.

What’s next for the Educator Competencies? The state teams in attendance on Monday left with specific ideas for how to bring these competencies back home. As a group, we articulated three critical areas to move the competencies forward into wider implementation:

  1. Connect the new framework to other teacher development work that is already underway.
  2. Increase the comprehensiveness of the competencies to aid districts and states to embed the approaches.
  3. Communicate the importance, meaning, and timeliness of the competencies to state and district leaders, teachers, parents, and in national contexts.

Images in this post are excerpted from graphic facilitation provided by Emily Shephard of The Graphic Distillery.

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