Last year, Kay Staley and Jessica Scherer, literacy coaches in the Kettle Moraine district in Wisconsin, led groups of teachers in a book study on close reading—a complex and important skill emphasized in the Common Core State Standards.
Participants were paired with a coach and peers as they wrestled with how to teach kids to analyze details of an author’s narrative technique. At the end of the school year, the teachers documented how they applied close-reading instruction in class and how it impacted student learning. A panel of educators reviewed the submissions, and the best earned those teachers salary increases worth several hundred dollars.
Welcome to the brave new world of teacher “micro-credentialing,” an effort to make professional development more personalized, engaging, and relevant to teachers. All in all, the two Wisconsin teachers say, it’s a lot more focused and practical than the stereotypical continuing-education class.
“You think back to, ‘I took basket-weaving, and it moved me up on the salary scale,’ and people are like, ‘What the heck?’ ” said Staley, who works at the district’s middle school. “But with micro-credentials, you have to show that the learning applies right now. And that matters.”
A small but growing handful of advocates think that initiatives like Kettle Moraine’s have the potential to move the moribund professional-development field forward.
Among other things, they note, micro-credentials offer an opportunity to shift away from the credit-hour and continuing-education requirements that dominate the PD apparatus in most states, toward a system based on evidence of progress in specific instructional skills.
It is an appealing idea for an industry that has struggled to rigorously evaluate its effects—and that is grappling with a series of dispiriting studies concluding, invariably, that much of the training teachers get is ineffective.
That said, micro-credentialing is not without challenges. “You hope that, over time, people who have demonstrated these skills agree to become reviewers for others,” said Stephanie Hirsh, the executive director of Learning Forward, a teacher-learning membership organization that, with several partners, is exploring micro-credentialing. “And you hope that it never reaches the lowest common denominator, and that it really is a powerful peer-review, peer-learning opportunity.”