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Professional Development (PD). What connotations, associations, and memories does this term call up for you in your life as a working person? In K-12 schooling, many educators in our experience believe, first, that growth and continuous learning are vitally important and that too often, professional development is not focused on the immediate needs of educators and their students. Instead, it takes a “one size fits all” approach mandated by those outside the classroom, and ultimately, often doesn’t help educators get better at teaching students. Micro-credentials may be transformative in professional development for teachers.

Believing in the value of PD but being regularly disappointed is a hard cycle to break. Certainly, at times, teachers engage in learning experiences that move their practice forward, but what if PD could focus on meaningful, evidenced-based practices that honor the intellectual and practical challenges of teaching children and resulted in teachers gaining useful skills and knowledge? And what if that learning had evidence to certify its value in advancing student learning?

What is Micro-credentialing?

One of the ways to improve professional learning RTI International has been exploring in partnership with digiLEARN is micro-credentialing. Micro-credentialing is an innovative practice that shifts to personalized, outcome-focused professional development. During conversations conducted with educators last year, we heard clearly that the continuing education unit (CEU), which is the current system for ensuring teachers can renew their license, is not an effective system for improving practice. With the emphasis on the time spent learning rather than the competencies to be gained, the CEU approach has little to do with the science of how humans learn.

In North Carolina, teachers are required to document 80 hours of professional development every 5 years to renew their license, without any requirement for showing or applying what they’ve learned. In contrast, a competency-based system would change the focus of PD from time to acquired skills. An effective system would focus on a set of competencies aligned with what each educator needs and values, provide learning opportunities aligned with those needs, and assess the targeted competencies in a rigorous and valid manner, to document the acquired skills. Educators would start at their own level of readiness rather than at the same place as everyone else, and progress at their own pace via micro-credentials.

North Carolina to Pilot Micro-credentialing

The North Carolina Partnership for Micro-credentials, a cross-sector partnership between NC State Board of Education and digiLEARN is exploring and piloting this work to imagine a system of professional learning for all teachers aligned with high quality standards that provides personalized professional learning opportunities in multiple formats, times and ways.

Ensuring that micro-credentials reflect what we know about learning science, aiming learning experiences for each teacher at specific competencies that they need and value, at their pace, within a community of learners, while documenting progress in those competencies, may prove an effective approach for ensuring growth. We emphasize personalized, collaborative, and competency-based learning for our students. It is time we apply the same standards to our educators.    

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Michael Martin (Educational Consultant), Angela Quick (Senior Vice President, Education Practice Area), and Katherine McKnight (Senior manager, education research) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.