From Concept to Competency


Aspire’s Teacher Support project is offering competency-based modules to Pre-K through Grade 2 Boston Public School (BPS) teachers in their second or third year of teaching
Aspire’s Teacher Support project is offering competency-based modules to Pre-K through Grade 2 Boston Public School (BPS) teachers in their second or third year of teaching

The concept of learning is constantly evolving. The classroom will always exist, but we as educators are now realizing that the learning process, for both students AND teachers, can involve so much more that sitting in a room, listening to an instructor, participating in class discussions, or completing class activities and assigned reading.

Transitioning away from seat time and the completion of assignments, competency-based professional development provides a structure that provides learners with greater flexibility, allowing them to progress as they master and demonstrate competencies, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning.

Through the Aspire Teacher Support program, Aspire has developed its own competency-based learning model. Specifically, Aspire’s Teacher Support program is offering competency-based modules to Pre-K though Grade 2 Boston Public School (BPS) teachers in their second or third year of teaching.

Each Teacher Support module is approximately eight weeks long, incorporating a mix of online learning and in-person sessions. The first module, Teaching Each Learner, focuses on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and their use as an effective framework for developing teaching strategies that meet the needs of diverse learning groups. The second module, Foundations of Reading, strengthens instructional practices that support the development of foundational literacy skills. The third module, Operations and Algebraic Thinking, will explore the progression of key mathematical concepts taught in operations and algebra, and the participants will have to demonstrate proficiency with multiple approaches and representations.

Each module requires teachers to submit evidence of proficiency in four competency areas. For example, in the Teaching Each Learner module, teachers modify and submit an existing lesson plan using at least three UDL principles. Then, they must tape this lesson and review successes and challenges in meeting UDL principles. All this evidence is then scored by the instructor using a rubric specific designed to assess that competency area. Further, the content and the competencies in each hybrid module are directly connected to current BPS learning and teaching goals, and the Massachusetts’ teacher evaluation system.

Teachers must demonstrate proficiency in all four competency assessments for each module in order to earn two in-service credits. Teachers have the opportunity to re-submit their competency if they do not demonstrate proficiency on their first submission.

To assist with the coursework, each participant was paired with a mentor to help facilitate the learning process of each participant. According to one participant of the program: “As teachers, we can sometimes feel beaten down by the systems in place and all of the ‘extras’ expected of us. It is so refreshing to have someone who gives unbiased, constructive feedback who wants me, and my students to be successful.”

Teachers going through the modules rave about the experience. According to Aspire’s Barbara Joseph, the leader of module development: “Competency-based, hybrid professional development keeps the teacher’s hectic professional and personal schedules in mind, and allows for flexible learning. The learner is in control of their own learning. They also feel that their time and prior knowledge is respected.”

Please check back to the Aspire Wire for updates on innovative projects such as the Aspire Teacher Support program.


Image found on Department of Education’s Flickr feed and used under a Creative Commons attribution license. 

Note about the author: Eric Burkes is a program coordinator at the Aspire Institute.