Interview

Inching Toward Relicensure, One 'Microcredential' at a Time

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Tennessee is one of a handful of states experimenting with “microcredentials” within their continuing education systems. Teachers earn the badges by submitting evidence that they’ve mastered small components of instruction; their submissions are scored by outside reviewers.

They can now earn up to five professional-development points for each approved microcredential they complete. (It takes 60 to renew a license.)

About 60 teachers piloted the microcredentials last year, and close to 300 are participating this year.

Education Week spoke to Paul Fleming, Tennessee’s assistant commissioner in the division of teachers and leaders, about the system.


What was the theory of action behind your pilot?

We wanted to provide more specialized learning relating to indicators and competencies in the teacher-evaluation rubric. And in our teacher-survey data, teachers said they wanted more specialized and flexible professional learning opportunities that fit their needs. We curated the microcredentials we offered so they were aligned to the needs we saw statewide.

And what were they?

One was around questioning, which is a very specific skill: how teachers scaffold questions and design questions that are aligned to standards and curriculum. We also had an indicator called problem-solving, which is about helping students learn how to solve a math problem or decode a paragraph.

The beauty of the microcredentialing structure is that teachers can’t just talk about what they’re going to do; they have to provide evidence from their classroom, either student work or some other demonstration of instructional practices, and that was really powerful; they had to practice, develop, and learn about different types of questioning and problem-solving and try them out in their classrooms.

What were pilot teachers’ reaction? What do they see as being particularly relevant or challenging about this process?

Teachers in the Year One pilot found it to be challenging but relevant to what they had identified in their own area of growth. And they found that rigor to be valuable, even if they did not pass, so to speak, when they submitted their microcredential [for scoring]. In that process, they got very detailed feedback from the peer reviewers.

They also liked the flexibility, that they could work on it from home, rather than go for eight hours in August for a one-day workshop. A few of them noted that, because they were flexible, there was a tendency to put it off if they got busy—they really had to think about how to manage their own work or time because it wasn’t scripted.

This year, you have expanded the pilot to include some competencies related to teacher leadership. Why did you create this new path?

We have a statewide teacher-leader network; about half of districts belong. The districts want to continue to help develop teacher leaders, and we thought this could be a way to boost that.

There are four microcredentials in the teacher-leader pathway, and it’s open both for teachers who are thinking about becoming a teacher leader, and already-established teacher leaders. It’s a baseline to determine whether these microcredentials help these aspiring teaching leaders to gain competencies that will allow them to take on the new roles in their district. Secondly, we will be asking the teachers, are these microcredentials helpful? Valuable? Rigorous?

Earlier this year, your state board of education permitted teachers to gain credit toward renewing their licenses using the microcredentials. What was the thinking there?

Once we kind of vetted the quality of some microcredentials, the board felt more confidence offering it as a menu option for advancement and renewal. We also have a strategic compensation law [which requires districts to base pay on at least one factor beyond experience and degrees], so this is one way we could help that be more accurate.

Your policy still translates these microcredentials into a specific number of professional-development points for licensing. So isn’t it still a bit of fitting square pegs in a round hole?

This is really in the spirit of trying to push both teacher-prep providers and leadership-prep providers to be more thoughtful in providing outcomes-based learning and experiences. … We’re doing that through microcredentials and also our statewide teacher-preparation report card that emphasizes the shift to outcome measures.

It’s consistent with, and in the spirit of, helping prep providers and districts think more strategically about professional learning and programs that all align to these greater equity and instructional shifts that require districts to think differently about providing high-quality instruction to all students.

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