Building Confidence and Competence through Personalized Professional Learning – Digital Promise

Building Confidence and Competence through Personalized Professional Learning

May 31, 2016 | By

Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school district in Texas, has launched PowerUp, a district-wide initiative aimed at transforming teaching and learning. To facilitate robust opportunities for personal and authentic learning, the PowerUp Initiative has provided all high school students and teachers with 1:1 laptops and access to digital content through the HUB, a district-wide learning management system.

To support teachers in developing the necessary skills and knowledge to facilitate optimal learning experiences under this new initiative, HISD and the University of San Diego (USD) teamed up with Digital Promise to pilot a competency-based professional learning model supported by micro-credentials. This model of professional learning provides educators access to diverse learning opportunities and prioritizes demonstrations of learning over seat-time. Micro-credentials honor teachers’ existing knowledge, interests, and expertise while still allowing them to deepen and explore new knowledge and skills.

Based on the HISD teacher profile, the University of San Diego’s Mobile Technology Learning Center has developed with Digital Promise micro-credentials to identify specific skills, resources, and evidence that support the optimal learning environment for students. These micro-credentials empower HISD educators to redefine their own professional learning and make decisions based on their unique contexts and learning goals.

During the pilot year, we worked with HISD’s Career Pathway Teachers, approximately 400 teacher leaders in the district, to get feedback on the strengths, challenges, and questions they have about how micro-credentials can support a new model of personalized professional learning.

The feedback from these teacher leaders identified three major themes: personal growth, recognition, and clarity of structure and expectations:

Personal Growth

Educators are looking to develop skills in particular areas based on their needs. Many shared that having voice and choice in the process honored them as professionals. In addition to supporting personalized professional growth, one teacher noted the power of collaborating with peers throughout the process, sharing, “It’s a great way to get teachers involved in sharing best practices and building a more cohesive team. The more we have to share as a team, the better our student outcomes will be.”


Micro-credentials allow educators to build their personal portfolios and gain recognition for newly-learned best practices to improve student outcomes. Many teachers also felt that micro-credentials would provide opportunities for them to serve in a mentorship capacity and build on the strengths of other educators.

Clarity of Structure and Expectations

The clear objectives, resources, and evaluation criteria provided by micro-credentials give educators a goal and structure for their professional learning journey, while still creating the room for educators to drive their own path, place, and pace. One teacher shared, “It provides direct feedback, background research, examples, and best practice on how to genuinely and authentically build relationships with our students. I think it’s a great resource to show student growth.”

Lessons Learned

Through the pilot phase in HISD, we have learned more about how we might leverage micro-credentials to support educators in their professional learning and classroom practice:

  1. Determine Value: To help educators prioritize how and what they want to learn based, it is critical to communicate the value of earning micro-credentials and how they are connected to the district initiatives and personal learning goals. For example, districts can provide educators with stipends, professional development credits, or certification or endorsements.
  2. Time and Resources: Educators have diverse expertise and preferences about how and what they learn. Micro-credentials can provide clear learning goals and allow for choice and voice to empower teachers in this learning process. Providing flexibility in time and the ways they can demonstrate competence is critical to support the learning process.
  3. Empower Communities of Practice: Even though micro-credentials recognize individuals, when teachers collaborate and work together to learn in a network or community of practice, they became more invested in the process.
  4. Provide Models: To help educators understand the process and guide their personal learning, it is helpful to provide models of exemplary submissions and share case studies of how teachers are accessing resources to learn and develop their practice.

Educators thrive when there is a shared vision aligned to clear expectations, yet they must be given the autonomy to get there in a way respectful of their unique context. HISD is leading the way with professional learning that prioritizes the application of new learning, aligned to the Global Graduate, ensuring it actually impacts student outcomes.

To learn more, start exploring over 140 micro-credentials on the platform.

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