"By providing your teachers with as much knowledge as possible about the structure and possibilities of competency-based learning, you set your entire building and district up for a much smoother transition!"
As competency-based learning (CBL) continues to grow in popularity across the country, many administrators find themselves beginning the school year at the helm of new competency-based initiatives. Embracing CBL is a major shift for everybody within a district, from administrators and teachers to students and parents; however, the most important aspect of successful rollout is buy-in and investment from the teachers who work to develop skills and knowledge with students 180-plus days a year.
Longtime administrators know well that enthusiasm from teachers is the difference between a new approach or initiative thriving or dying on the vine. Here are a few strategies or conversation starters that administrators can use in the opening weeks and months of competency-based learning rollout to help teachers build comfort with and zest for CBL:
Ensure Each Teacher Understands the Competency-Based Mindset
If you’re an administrator, you probably trust that your faculty members are up-to-date on trends in education and evolving pedagogical techniques within their subject area, but it’s still a mistake to transition toward CBL without bringing your teachers together to define the philosophy and outline the methodology.
In spite of our best efforts, education is a field where negative rumors and misconceptions about new approaches and directives spread and become entrenched much more quickly than the truth. As an administrator, you need to provide clarity as to what competency-based learning is and how they are specifically expected to augment their approaches or assessment strategies.
If your district has contracted consultants to assist in the transition toward CBL, advocate for your teachers and ensure those experts have ample time in your building to help create a strong knowledge base and brainstorm with your team. If not, be sure to find relevant literature and training videos for your team and set aside time for everybody to review and discuss them together. By providing your teachers with as much knowledge as possible about the structure and possibilities of competency-based learning, you set your entire building and district up for a much smoother transition!
Start by Unpacking What Each Teacher Does Best
Remember when we said that teachers find it easy to cling onto negative counter-arguments against embracing change? Well, that happens because most teachers take a lot of pride in the things they do best, and they’re frequently afraid that those things will be taken away from them by shifts in curriculum or mandates about classroom approach. If you want your teachers to see CBL as a chance for them and their students to thrive, ask them to reflect on which skills they think their current approach is the best at passing along to students.
Once teachers have identified a skill (or two or three) that they feel they’re excellent at teaching or refining, ask them what methods they use to introduce that skill to students, how they break the skill into lessons, components, or digestible chunks, and how they gradually ramp up complexity, rigor, and expectations to ensure that each student has either mastered or significantly improved their competence in that skill by the time they’re done in that classroom. When teachers reflect upon how they teach or coach the skills they feel they’re the best at, it helps them connect the philosophy of CBL to the enthusiastic, impactful teaching they’ve been doing for years. A short discussion about competencies between an administrator and a teacher framed as a chat about what they already do best can easily break down the walls of resistance for many teachers who are having trouble embracing CBL.
Apply the Competency-Based Learning Mindset to Teaching
Modeling is one of the strongest and most effective teaching tools we have available to us. One of the most direct and effective ways administrators can help teachers develop the CBL mindset is by shifting discussions of practice and teacher assessment to be more competency-based in nature. That means transitioning the daily teacher-admin dialogue away from discussion about what assignments, projects, or units teachers are working on and toward what skills teachers are working on which students, and which aspects of their own skill sets and toolkits are individual teachers developing?
In your year-opening meetings, it can even be useful to have your teachers and paraprofessionals brainstorm a list of “competencies” that each educator can or should exhibit. Then, your staff can use those competencies to guide their thinking as they set professional goals for the year. This work at the beginning of the year can serve as a touchstone for both your official evaluations and informal conversations with teachers. If you can guide teachers toward thinking of their own practice in a competency-minded manner, you’ll also be guiding them toward becoming better CBL teachers.