As Director of Professional Learning Systems for Tennessee’s Department of Education, I have the privilege of being able to witness teachers get excited to learn a skill they not only need to learn, but want to learn, and in the way best suited for their unique learning style. Through micro-credentials, the number of teachers experiencing this type of powerful professional learning is increasing.

I am now seeing groups of educators across the state experience professional learning as a tool for empowerment. Like many other education agencies, Tennessee’s Department of Education realized that if we were asking educators to provide differentiated and personalized learning experiences for students, it only makes sense that we help districts provide teachers with that same level of personalization in their professional learning. Tennessee’s strategic plan for education, Tennessee Succeeds, identifies five priority areas to help the state reach its education goals by 2020. Educator support is one of those areas, which set the stage for our exploration of micro-credentials.

“How many times have you said or heard, “We have to differentiate everything for our students, so why don’t we have differentiated professional development for us?” This is it! We get to choose, adapt, and create work that is meaningful to our students that already aligns to what we’re doing in class. These micro-credentials are rigorous, adaptable, and allow for the all-important step of reflection that teachers rarely have time to do.” – Amy Kate McMurry, Tennessee Educator

Tennessee’s first year of the pilot directly engaged teachers earning micro-credentials. In doing so,  we were able to understand from the positive feedback we received the need for state policy change to grow this work and reach more educators. As a result, micro-credentials now count toward the professional development points (PDPs) educators need to advance and renew a teaching license.

We soon realized, however, that to truly maximize the potential of micro-credentials, district-level understanding and support is critical. To that end, year two of Tennessee’s micro-credential pilot is focused on building district capacity to leverage micro-credentials at the system level. As we scale our work from 58 teachers to 15 districts, Digital Promise’s Micro-credential Implementation Roadmap has been an invaluable resource.

This new tool provides a variety of resources to support organizations’ readiness for and management of micro-credential implementation. The Roadmap frames micro-credential implementation as a cycle with the following phases:

  • Exploration
  • Planning
  • Preparation
  • Implementation
  • Supporting, Engaging, and Tracking
  • Reflection, Calibration, and Resetting

Let’s see the Roadmap in action: when a district pilot coordinator asked me for ideas on how to incentivize teachers to participate in the pilot, I referred her to the “Preparation” phase of the Roadmap and pointed out the Spurring Educator Engagement report as a place she might want to start. The Roadmap is a tool that will continue to guide Tennessee, and no doubt other states and districts, in clarifying their pilot processes regardless of their levels of experience with micro-credentials.

While there is still a lot to be learned about micro-credentials, Tennessee has gathered some key takeaways:

  1.  Don’t be afraid to keep things small while you work through kinks and details.
  2.  Always seek and heed teacher voice and input.
  3.  Communicate very clearly about the goal(s) associated with micro-credentials.
  4.  Find the “gap” micro-credentials are filling, rather than trying to force micro-credentials   without a rationale or theory of change.

We are excited about the great promise micro-credentials can offer Tennessee educators in shifting their instructional practices. Micro-credentials give teachers voice and much greater choice in their professional learning. In Tennessee, we recognize educator support as a key lever for impacting student achievement. Micro-credentials may be one of the keys to achieving that goal.

I find that teachers often say it best, so I’ll leave you with this quote from a teacher in Wayne County School District: “I knew before I started that micro-credentials were for me. Personalized learning is relevant not only for our students but also for us teachers. To be able to bring my students along with me on my journey has been more meaningful than other PD that I have participated in.”

We owe it to our students to provide them with the best, most well-equipped teachers possible. Micro-credentials just might help us do that.

Learn how other states and districts are implementing micro-credentials here.


About Machel Mills

Machel Mills is Director of Professional Learning Systems for the Tennessee Department of Education.

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One Comment

  • Teachers are like any other professionals. They do not necessarily want to make an investment in their careers until they are comfortable with the new role. When we can introduce a process that makes assuming a new role less risky, we will have more professionals exploring that new role. A good example of this the increase in the number of medical professionals that are now nurse practitioners or physicians assistants. Many of these people did seek to become medical doctors, but their roles are very parallel to what we would only allow medical doctors to fill in the past Once we allowed professionals to seek explore these roles, we saw many willing to fill them. The micro credential path seems to make a lot of sense.

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