With the explicit support of its community, Burlingame School District (BSD) created a director of innovation position in 2017, a role I was excited to take on. BSD was motivated by the desire to evolve teaching and learning approaches that would offer increasingly relevant and interesting learning opportunities. These learning experiences would elicit deeper levels of engagement and improved outcomes for—and also beyond—academic achievement.
The job description emphasized professional development as a key focus area. BSD clearly understood the critical importance of supporting teachers working to improve their abilities to design and facilitate rich student learning experiences. With this in mind, I began my work in this role to catalyze, sponsor, and facilitate our district’s efforts to develop innovative (“new/different/better”) approaches to learning.
A newly launched grant program in 2018 from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) provided an opportunity. SVCF was keenly interested in exploring compelling approaches to professional learning for teachers and education leaders to effect changes in practice. Additionally, SVCF wanted to explore how technology-enabled approaches could support providers of professional learning to build capacity and share resources. These interests strongly aligned with BSD’s priorities, so applying for this grant made sense.
I was involved with competency-based approaches to learning in previous jobs, and had interacted with Digital Promise’s Micro-credentials initiative. Given its expertise, I knew Digital Promise would be a powerful grant partner for our change efforts and was delighted when the organization signed on. Our proposal was funded, and in fall 2018 we began our collaborative work.
We first introduced micro-credentials to our district leadership team, knowing that a successful effort to expand and diversify responsive approaches to professional learning would require thoughtful, sustained sponsorship. We grounded our team in the “why” and “how” of these digital certifications—both the offering and the earning—by doing a deep dive into the principles, practices, and processes of micro-credentials via Digital Promise’s ecosystem. Perceiving how teachers could select relevant micro-credentials to pursue, based on what was relevant to their learners’ needs and where they wanted to grow their own abilities, highlighted one of the key value propositions micro-credentials offer. Seeking to balance teacher choice with district framing for directions in professional learning, we decided we would curate a list of endorsed micro-credentials from which teachers would select.
With our leadership team onboard, we took the next step.
Before we could launch our micro-credential pilot with teachers, we had to develop our district “infrastructure” for supporting and recognizing micro-credentials earned by our teachers, including compensation. One challenge we encountered was providing consistent compensation for achieved learning when it is competency-based and not time-based. Different educators pursuing the same micro-credential will possess varying levels of existing knowledge and skills relative to the target micro-credential requirements, and will need to invest varying levels of time and effort to develop the new knowledge and skills necessary to earn the target micro-credential.
Digital Promise helped our district team develop a compensation model where BSD would award district continuing education units (CEUs) for any micro-credential earned from our district list. The wins for teachers? They could advance on the salary schedule while experiencing rich professional learning, the focus of which they were able to select. The wins for the district? The ability to help shape the focus of teacher professional learning in alignment with district goals and having confidence that BSD was getting a great return on investment for the costs of funding micro-credential compensation.
We’ve been fortunate that SVCF grant funding allows us to also offer stipends as an incentive to earning a micro-credential in this pilot. This is especially important as an incentive to veteran teachers who have already topped out on the salary schedule.
With a recent award of year two funding from SVCF, we’re excited to continue our collaborative engagement with Digital Promise. We’ve begun promoting our micro-credentials to all BSD teachers outside of our original grant cohort. We’re experiencing how learning via micro-credentials makes effective use of time available for professional learning and growth. We’re seeing teachers respond positively to how micro-credentials recognize their already acquired knowledge and skills while propelling their continuing growth. And we’re sensing that adding micro-credentials as an option in an array of approaches to professional learning and growth is contributing to our district’s positive culture of continuous learning and improvement.