New Hampshire School Administrators Take On Competency-based Learning

Our team at 2Revolutions recently had the honor of designing and facilitating the annual New Hampshire School Administrators Association (NHSAA) fall conference on Best Practices in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for more than 200 educators. Rose, Erica, Adam, and I are adult learning aficionados and deeply committed to the work of competency-based education, so were thrilled for the opportunity. 

Participants sharing their "Big Whys" with each other. Why competency-based education? Why now? 

Participants sharing their "Big Whys" with each other. Why competency-based education? Why now? 

In the months leading up to the conference, our team articulated two major goals for our conference design. First, we wanted participants to leave understanding that making the shift from a traditional education system to a competency system involves nothing less than complete transformation. Competency education isn’t simply about replacing or supplementing traditional assessments with performance assessments; and just because a school or district has a competency framework in place doesn’t mean that students are empowered to move on when they’ve demonstrated mastery. We certainly didn’t want participants to be disheartened about the current limitations of their work; instead, we wanted them to develop a much deeper understanding of the significant shifts entailed in transforming the traditional system and to experience a sense of hopeful urgency to continue to lead this transformation. No small goal!

To get us there, we grounded participants in iNACOL's principles of competency education, and we prompted district teams to use a great rubric, created by one of New Hampshire's own, Brian Stack, a principal at the Sanborn Regional School District to self-assess their stage of development based on performance indicators associated with each of the design principles. Next up, creating space for participants to practice and understand the importance of being able to compelling articulate their "Big Why" for taking on the hard work of transformation toward a robust competency system. We watched a video from Lindsay Unified School District in California as a model, and then we pitched our “Big Why” to one another (after some practice first)!

After the whole group session, participants moved into targeted breakout sessions on key shifts involved in transforming from a traditional system to a competency system. These shifts including curriculum, instruction, assessment, and grading. In the afternoon, breakout sessions focused on understanding and addressing key issues in competency education, including equity, learner agency, and scale.

The second major goal of our conference design was to build real capacity in district leaders and educators to further transformation in their schools and districts. We didn’t want to spend the conference lecturing about the importance of personalizing learning, and we didn’t want to use the typical fire hose strategy of blasting participants with content without the opportunity to reflect and apply their learning.

In order to build this capacity, participants had to reflect, play, and apply their learning, and experience content in a way that was personalized to their needs. Although we didn't have diagnostic information about where participants were in their learning, we designed each session using learning progressions, giving participants frequent opportunities to self-assess and identify appropriate follow-up resources and next steps aligned to their stage of development. And the second day of the conference was largely dedicated to this application of learning (building on the work done during the first!), with the focus on designing an actionable plan to take back to their context, whether that be a classroom, department, school, or district. To do this, participants engaged in a Future Protocol, which helped them palpably envision a projected future in which many of the promises of competency education had been realized. They then identified key drivers in service of their vision and developed actionable plans to implement those drivers upon their return from the conference. We all worked together to embrace challenges as learning opportunities and not let constraints limit our vision and action plans.

Capacity building is no small feat! Especially in a mere two days at a conference, but we were thrilled with what participants designed. And as educators, we were psyched to see that participants felt the time was well spent. One administrator told us in a survey that they now see competency-based education as "reasonable and doable" a huge success, and that the design was "validating and non-condemning," a key goal of our design. Another wrote, "You have built my capacity to lead this work." Woohoo!

Facilitating experiences like that is what makes our team at 2Rev tick. We love it and we wish our competency-based education enthusiasts much success as they move their schools and districts towards the future of education.