Successfully Implement Competency-based Education: A Simple Recipe

What can successful system-wide shifts to learner-centered, competency-based models look like? Take a look at three districts and schools with whom we partner in Vermont:

  1. Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union is in year 2 of “going gradeless”. Instead of letter grades, teachers provide opportunities for skill acquisition and track proficiency.

  2. Two Rivers Supervisory Union created a process by which instructors can systematically step away from a content focus and rewrite their curriculum to be competency-based.

  3. Bethel School is emphasizing flexible pathways, where mastery of graduation requirements can be demonstrated through extracurriculars, classes, personalized project-based learning, and activities with professionals in the community.

Collectively, their students are engaged, community members are informed, and teachers are innovating as they take on the challenges of instructional change.

Fortunately, the secret sauce that helped these schools and districts make significant shifts and transitions is not dependent on state policies or local school boards. And, there isn't "something in the water” in Vermont. Rather, their recipe for success can be replicated and effective in any type of school, any size of district, and in any state. 

What is this little-known recipe? Prepare yourself, because its simplicity may be disarming as it’s very common sense. Are you ready? Here it is—

Walk the talk: do as you ask others to do. 

  1. If you ask teachers to give their learners voice, then give your teachers voice in their professional learning.

  2. If learner choice is expected in the classroom experience, then choice is also made available for teachers as they shift their instruction and curriculum.

  3. If teachers must raise student engagement by providing learners a sense of purpose and ownership, then concurrently teachers and parents are provided such opportunities in the change process.

These schools and districts have progressed rapidly and successfully to be learner-centered and competency-based because they walk the talk. 

As a principal at one of these schools sums it up, “We’re all learners”. I agree, and this leads me to ask, if we’re all learners, why would schools or districts not utilize the same research-driven strategies of learning science with their educators? Professional learning and the constructs of initiatives can, in many ways, embody the new modes of instruction, curriculum design, and assessment which schools and districts are asking their educators to practice and adopt. In this way, integration of a new model happens within the process of the implementation.

Following this simple recipe of learner agency with teachers, learners, and parents, you can build a community of learners who will feel and believe, know and understand, that they are in this all together. They will be invested and committed to the shift you’re trying to make and you’ll see results.