Less than a month after I read Ilana Horn's thoughtful post on teacher professional development, "Professional Development is Broken, But Be Careful How We Fix It," I came across this article from Education Week:
Here's a brief definition of micro-credentialing from the article:
The article goes on to say that sometimes these badges are accompanied by salary increases worth several hundred dollars.
While this trend isn't likely to replace traditional professional development, it strikes me as an interesting response to the need for teachers to develop new and improved skills.
Fundamental to the idea of micro-credentialing is the belief that there are specific competencies that are crucial to teaching, and that these skills can be learned and measured. The folks at University of Michigan's TeachingWorks would agree. They've defined what they call high-leverage instructional practices and are working to create a National Observational Teaching Examination which uses on-demand performance assessments to measure teacher readiness. Researchers at Massey University, New Zealand, explain, "Routines capture the certainties within teaching, and as such can be anticipated and can become part of a knowledge base for learning how to teach."
Here's what I like about micro-credentialing for developing these routines:
1. Jim Knight says, "Goals that others choose for us seldom motivate us to change." Micro-credentialing could allow for self-organized cohorts of teachers to select a teaching practice, connect with an instructional coach, explore the teaching practice together, interact with students, and collect evidence of their implementation. That's sound practice.
2. Micro-credentialing could place the burden of proof in the hands of the teacher: collect student work, create a video of your practice, utilize peer observation. In other words, you choose the evidence.
3. Teachers who participate in this process are encouraged to implement, submit for approval, and then serve as reviewers for colleagues. This could generate a culture of adult-learning that could be contagious.
Inherent in any system that assigns rewards is the understanding that much of what goes on will be unrewarded. In my work with teachers, a consistent tension is present between developing proficiency in specific competencies and developing a general adaptability to students in the classroom. From Anthony and colleagues at Massey University: "Signifying adaptive expertise, they (teachers) pursue the knowledge of why and under which conditions certain approaches have to be used or new approaches have to be devised."
Teacher: I adapted to my students today. Do I get a badge now?
Reviewer: Sorry, there's no micro-credential for that.
Now on to some concerns about micro-credentialing:
1. External reward systems obscure and often negate internal rewards. Are external rewards necessary because we've done such a poor job of helping teachers recognize the indirect, sometimes hidden, rewards in the lives of their students? As Parker Palmer writes, "As important as methods may be, the most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it."
2. Much like online safety-training modules or traffic school courses, computer-based "quests" that issue a micro-credential upon completion can't guarantee that any real learning has taken place.
3. Who determines what competencies are worthy of micro-credentials? How are reviewers selected? How do schools or districts ensure that all teachers have equal access and opportunity to participate in the process?
In the article from Education Week, Brent Maddin, provost of Relay's Graduate School of Education, questions whether micro-credentials atomize teaching to a fault. He asks, "Is there something powerful about how multiple techniques, or moves, or strategies, or competencies move together that are an even better indication of what a teacher can know and do in the classroom?"
The short answer is yes. But there's already a credential for that.
Anthony, G., Hunter, J., & Hunter, R. (2015). Prospective teachers development of adaptive expertise. Teaching and Teacher Education, 49, 108–117.
Knight, J., & Learning Forward. (2011). Unmistakable impact: A partnership approach for dramatically improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.
Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.