Making the shift to a competency-based learning environment may seem like an overwhelming task. For administrators, how do you get everyone on board? As a teacher, how do you manage the shifts in grading and curriculum? And what about if you’re a parent or a student? How do you adapt to the changes, or even be certain of what new standards, or even possible new grading, means for your education and future? A new system can meet with apprehension if there’s uncertainty about what it is, how it works, or if it will even be successful. No one wants to endanger a student’s learning.

And yet, competency-based learning (CBL) is centered around helping students to truly learn. It’s not about seat time or letter grades. So how can competency-based learning (CBL) be a success? Recently, we hosted a webinar with Brian Stack and Jonathan Vander Els. These competency-ed experts have seen major success at their schools, and have worked hard so that the model has served students well. They also know what makes CBL tick, as well as some of the pitfalls that can get in the way. They shared a “Top 5 List for Successful CBL”. Enjoy!

5. Include all stakeholders in the work

The stakeholders are everybody, teachers, parents, students, community members. So many will be involved in and effected by a major shift of school model. Not only will helping them understand the changes make the process go smoother, but involving them in that process will help bear the load of work, build enthusiasm, create new ideas, and ultimately make sure that the end result is something that really benefits students.

4. Be a prophet of research

Do your research, know what is out there currently for informaton and best practices. What are current best practices for example, for competency-based grading? Do you know? Being about to understand and be able to explain CBL is crucial to making the shift.

Jonathan Vander Els brings out the importance of doing your research, especially when it comes to helping stakeholders understand decisions that are being made. “We really made sure that people understood the research base behind some of the decisions we were making,” he said, “because it’s really important to have that. I can’t stress enough the important of insuring that you’ve done your research, because you will have stakeholders asking questions about why decisions were made and you want to make sure that there’s basis for those decisions.”

3. Don’t compromise the model

“You can’t decide hey we like these parts of competency-based learning but we’re going to keep these traditional pieces, because they’re tradition, and we think they’d be too hard to change,” says Brian Stack. This in an all or nothing approach, it requires dedication. “Don’t compromise to try to find a blend because you may actually create more problems for yourself when you do that.”

2. Keep student learning at the center

With competency-based learning, what really matters is the students. Not how long they’ve spent in a seat or how well they are able to memorize facts. Vander Els adds, “It’s really important to just remember that student learning is at the center of what we do. There should be a focus on learning, and in a competency model we are able to gather information about where students are specific to their learning progressions. So, literally if people, teachers within schools are thinking ‘Well I taught it but they haven’t learned it,’ that’s nothing more than presenting. It’s really around what students have learned, and making sure that that is what the basis of our decisions are going to be made by.”

If competency-based learning is being implemented at your school, most likely it is being done in order to serve your students better. That should remain to be the focus. Students, and their learning.

1. Start today

“You’ve got to start somewhere, right?” says Stack. “Don’t be afraid to jump in. It’s an exciting time to be in education and it is an exciting time to be thinking about this kind of a model and how much more it can do for students than the models that we’ve had in the past.”

Stack mentioned the Chinese proverb, ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.’ And truly, that says it all. It’s true that schools have functioned doing things the same way for decades, but that doesn’t mean things were being done the best way. It’s hard to break away from tradition, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of the changes that need to be made, perhaps making you wish they you had started 20 years ago. But don’t let that get in your way. The best time to start making changes is now, and there is certainly a wealth of information to help along the way. To learn more from Brian Stack and Jonathan Vander Els, watch our recorded webinar here, where we talked with them about competency-based learning, as well as the flex-time model that has helped provide time for student supports and enrichment. In addition, they have co-authored a book, ‘Breaking with Tradition,’ which offers powerful insights to help schools use PLCs to make the competency shift.

Let’s build a path to close the learning gap and enrich students’ futures.