Ideas, Influence, Impact

Posts tagged ‘personalized learning’

The 5 Shifts of Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) is a transformative educational approach for classrooms and systems that is emerging across the country. It has its deepest roots—and greatest success—in the state of New Hampshire, as its legislature and state department of education have worked to significantly change how education occurs in the state. CBE also has strong roots in Iowa and Kentucky; it is growing in numerous other states through the work of the CCSSO’s Innovation Learning Network (ILN) and several organizations, such as iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks.

At its core, competency-based education can be defined by five major shifts in how an educational system operates:

  • Learner agency
  • Learner experience (commonly known as curriculum)
  • Learner facilitation/support (teacher instruction)
  • Learner evidence (assessment)
  • Learner environment (both the culture and the physical space).

Please note that I intentionally reworded some common educational terms, such as using learner experience instead of curriculum. The reason is that a CBE system is built on the learner. It is not just learner-centered; it is learner-driven. A CBE system is built to fully support the passion, purpose and needs of each and every learner. The learner works to reach his or her potential in all aspects of life, college, and career readiness. Therefore, I have chosen to rebrand some common educational terms to make sure the “learner” is always at the forefront of the work we need to do.

If you are interested in adopting CBE in your school or district, these are the five shifts you will need to make in order to truly transform your educational system. You cannot change your educational system merely by changing the terms you use to describe it. There are a myriad of details that need to be addressed in overhauling a system. These shifts provide a conceptual framework to address those details.

Learner agency focuses on making sure the student has a voice and choice in his/her educational journey. They are involved in setting their goals, setting their learning objectives, setting their assessment levels and setting the pace of their progress.

Learner experience means that a curriculum is not just the content standards given to the students; it is also the context that a student brings to the content.

Learner facilitation and support flips the model of teacher as sage on the stage and cements the role of guide on the side.

Learner evidence revamps the entire notion of assessment of learning to assessment for learning.

And learner environment refocuses the culture to ensure that students have a significant presence in the ownership and direction of their learning.

This framework is designed to focus on the learner foremost, and to build an educational system that supports the learner completely. It was developed based on my experiences implementing competency-based education in my school district, as well as several publications from iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks. I curated the information and attempted to conceptualize it into a framework that can be easily understood by educators and community stakeholders so there can be action taken instead of confusion and inertia.

You can use this general overview of the five shifts to begin formulating a framework for transformation in your school or district. In future blog posts, I will address each shift in greater detail.

* This blog post first appeared on the Educause/NGLC blog site on May 2, 2017.


Personalized PD

Our district took an important step forward in its journey toward a competency-based learning system this semester.  Last month, our teachers began a personalized professional development plan.  Below is the document used to introduce this work:

Vision / Intent – (Why?)

  • For teachers to experience an individually-driven learning experience, similar to what is being discussed for competency-based education for students (CBE team)
  • Learn from our struggles implementing with teachers to make it a smoother transition for students

Timeline – (When?)

  • 2nd semester of this year
  • May still have some building or district PD sessions on Tuesdays – AIW, CBE, literacy, technology, etc.

Logistics – (How?)

  • Teachers are welcome to work independently or in a group – address your learning style
  • Maintain your reflections in the same PD reflection GoogleDoc
  • Complete the new iPD form  {below in bold}

Expectations – (What?)

  • Stretch yourself – focus on new learning
  • Use your time wisely – time not to be used for grading papers
  • Demonstrate professional integrity – support each other, share success and concerns
  • Need to share out with another teacher that day (Social Collaboration)
  • Need to share out with principal (Accountability)

Possible Examples –

  • CBE
  • Literacy
  • Standards-based grading
  • Technology integration
  • Performance-based assessment

Summative Evaluation – End of year

  • What worked?
  • What should be changed?
  • How does this impact PD plans for next year?
  • What are the success criteria?

Teachers need to answer the following questions:

  • What do you plan to learn?
  • How will you know you’ve learned it?  (What will be your evidence of learning?)
  • How does your learning support the work of your building and/or district?
  • What resources will you need?
  • How will your administration (building principal, superintendent) need to support your learning?
  • How will your building principal know of your progress in learning?

The design of this work is to have our teachers begin to experience the freedom (or fear) of personalized learning and use those experiences to develop a better system of learning for our students.  As we continue to look at our world, it is becoming more customized all the time.  Our educational system finally has the philosophy, tools, technology, resources, and leadership to transform itself into a personalized learning system.  We are proud of our step in this direction, and this work will allow us to take more steps faster.

iNACOL 2014

It was an extraordinary opportunity to attend the 2014 iNACOL Symposium.  I was able to learn so much about competency-based education, personalized learning and blended instruction.  Throughout this conference, one key them continued to arise – “change the mindset”.  Session after session spoke about the need to change the mindset of teachers, of administrators, of parents, of community members and of policymakers.  For our system to truly be transformed, each of these groups need to think differently about what is learning and how we develop a system that fully supports it.

Every group, that is, except students.  Students were lauded as willing and able and excited to learn in a new system, a new ecosystem.  Students are ready for this new system.  From this international conference, and from my interactions back home, I know there are teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and policy makers already with mindset to change the system.  In fact, they have not only the mind for it, they have the heart for it.  They have the fire for it.  And, with each day, we gain more skills for it.

From the WILL set to the SKILL set, we are ready.  We need to be.  My sons and daughters – and yours – need this transformed system of learning NOW.

Personalized Education, Not Personalized Learning

Before you condemn me after only reading the title, let me state clearly that I am FULLY supportive of personalized learning.  I am working hard to support philosophies and practices in my district, in my state and across the country that address and support personalized earning.

But, I realize that my goal is not to personalize learning.  Learning has always been – and will always be – a personal process.  It’s kind of like breathing. I do not think there will be any “personalized breathing” reforms any time soon.

The real goal of educators, parents, and community stakeholders should be personalized education.  We really need to focus on how we make our system of learning (education) more open for personalized learning.  We need to build our system anew.

Our right will always be to have learning be personal; the goal is to make our system of education personal as well.

Teachers as Validators of Learning

As I continue to read about competency-based education and personalized learning, I continue to see a shift in education for the role of teachers.  For years, we have discussed that teachers should not be the “sages on the stage” but rather “the guides on the sides.”  We continue to discuss that teachers should be facilitators of learning.  They should support students in developing metacognitive skills, and they should help students apply knowledge instead of just teaching content.


As we continue to transform our industrial, factory-style model of education to a more personalized learning ecosystem, I am excited and intrigued with the transformation of the teaching profession as well.  I believe that for a truly personalized learning system to occur, teachers will need to let go of some of their “instructional” duties as currently defined.  There are so many opportunities to gain knowledge and practice skills beyond the scope of the classroom, that teachers will need to do less “teaching” and more validating.  No one, especially I, believes that the role of the teacher will be less in a personalized learning system.  I think the role will change.  In fact, I am inclined to believe the stature of an educator will actually grow.


As teachers will be called upon to check the learning progress of students, to see that the students are meeting the learning expectations of the school system whether through blended learning, direct instruction, or community internships, it will be teachers that will be looked to to validate the learning of the students.  Teachers will need to have strong content knowledge, learning styles knowledge and assessment techniques.  The stature of teaching should increase as more specialized skill sets will be needed in a new personalized learning ecosystem.  It is only be teachers who will have the brain research, the social skills knowledge, the content knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge to truly determine the extent of a student’s learning progress.


As we move toward a more personalized learning system, I am excited that the role of the teacher will be enhanced not minimized.  I am excited that new skill sets will be developed, and teachers, once again, will be at the forefront of the education profession.  I look forward to their leadership being validated – as it should be.

If the Ladder is Leaning on the Wrong Structure …

“If the ladder is leaning on the wrong structure, it doesn’t really matter if you can climb it.”

At ASCD’s Leader 2 Leader (L2L) Conference this past weekend, participants were presented with an educational forecast by the KnowledgeWorks organization that demonstrated a significant shift in the workforce and our educational system.  Based on the presentation, a group of us educators decided to focus on what new system of education would be needed to fairly prepare our students for this new workforce and new society.

The group decided that a new system of education needed to focus on personalized learning, a system that supports anytime, anywhere, any pace, any pathway for student learning.  We believe that there needs to be greater student voice and student choice in student learning.  Students must have a greater say in what they learn, how they learn, how they demonstrate what they have learned, and how they know that they have learned.

Our current system of education does not adequately prepare students for the non-academic skills of flexibility, adaptability, problem solving, collaboration, and metacognition that are increasingly more important in the workforce.  Our 20th century education system is not the right structure to which we should be leaning our students and educators.

KnowledgeWorks provided the L2L participants with several new educator roles, roles that align to the guiding purpose of a personalized learning education system.  As we explore these new roles within a new paradigm of education, ASCD has a unique opportunity to lead this transformative change in educating our students.  Leading a massive overhaul of the country’s education system will not be easy, and ASCD has the reputation, resources and resolve to move this work forward for the betterment of our students.

First, ASCD has an opportunity to communicate a sense of urgency. KnowledgeWorks explained that the changes in society and workforce are already occurring, yet we still have an educational system that is not fully preparing students for these changes.

Second, ASCD has devoted significant time and resources to the Whole Child Initiative, making it one of the cornerstones of its work.  ASCD can review the five tenets of the Whole Child to demonstrate alignment with a personalized learning education system.

Third, like its work with Whole Child schools, ASCD could select pilot schools or districts across the country that can be leaders in the personalized learning education movement.  ASCD could create a network of support and collaboration that would allow the pilot schools to share resources and build collective capacity.  Further, ASCD can partner with foundations and businesses to provide funding to collect and share out this evidence of innovative practices.  ASCD affiliates could even help by sharing names of schools with ASCD and providing support closer to the field.

Fourth, a major area of leadership for ASCD could be with a new teacher development and evaluation system for personalized learning.  With increasing focus on teacher performance, ASCD could provide guidance into new teacher roles, feedback systems and evaluation tools to support the growth of educators in a personalized learning system.  This would be a major step to overhauling the current system.

Finally, ASCD can use its established social media tools – Twitter, ASCD Edge, and website – to share resources, establish collaboration networks, and highlight new practices.  The use of social media tools will allow for faster and broader dissemination of ideas and information, causing more educators to be involved in this important work.

We have the opportunity to “lean our ladder” on a new, more robust, more personalized educational system.  I hope ASCD helps lead the way for the betterment of our learners.

Rainbows and Reflections (#ASCD13)

The 2013 ASCD Annual Conference ( was a highlight of my career for many wonderful reasons.

1. I presented at my first national conference!  It was on personalized learning and competency-based education efforts in my school district and my state.  I was lucky to have my 6-12 principal, Josh Griffith, there with me to present.  It was great to connect with other educators passionate about this work and willing to share their questions and answers with me.

2. Two teachers from my district gave their first presentation at a national conference.  It was great to know that the passion and knowledge they share every day with their students was also shared with educators who can impact thousands of other students because of their message.

3. The individual presentations that I attended such as Design Thinking, Socratic Seminars, and Off the Clock (competency-based education) truly stretched my thinking.  All presenters demonstrated a passion for improving the educational system as well as specific strategies for supporting all learners in the system.

4. The session with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was informative and entertaining.  She explained to us her video game project, iCivics, as well as shared stories from her groundbreaking life.  Justice O’Connor had me thinking and chuckling at the same time.  She is an incredible woman, a great legal mind, and a late-in-life comic!

5. Finally, the general session with Dr. Maya Angelou will be an experience I hope I never forget.  Confined to a wheelchair with one eye going bad, Dr. Angelou energized the crowd, bringing fits of laughter and moments of tears.  She reminded all of us that we are “rainbows in the clouds” – sometimes in situations we may know, but many times in situations where we had no idea we made an imprint.  She shared stories from her life about the rainbows that guided her, supported her and nurtured her.  In turn, she applauded us for being rainbows to students, to parents, to community members and to educators both in the next classroom and around the world.  I am rarely speechless, yet Dr. Angelou said all that could – and should – be said for us.

I am a better educator now for having attending the 2013 ASCD Annual Conference.  I hope I can remain inspired by what I heard, saw, and felt.  I know my rainbow is needed!

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