Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning

By: Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark
Imagine a map of what a learner needs to know, different ways to learn it, and a collection of their demonstrations of competence. You’re probably picturing a blended learning environment for students. Instead, imagine that every teacher has access to their own professional map–reflecting common expectations differentiated by speciality, subject, level, and school type–that offers a clear description of what teachers should know and be able to do. Imagine the teacher is offered multiple ways to learn, differentiated pathways with opportunities to specialize, individual, and cohort models, interactive communities, and aligned learning opportunities. Imagine a series of ways for teachers to demonstrate competence through peer and/or expert review, automated assessments, and observations, interviews and demonstrations.
Six months ago, this vision started with a blogworthy conversation with Digital Promise’s Karen Cator that inspired a deep-dive into the topic of better preparing teachers to thrive in learning environments that encourage the development of what Hewlett calls Deeper Learningcompetencies. Today our organizations Digital Promise and Getting Smart jointly released “Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning: Competency-Based Teacher Preparation and Development,” a white paper that outlines the attributes of next-generation teacher preparation and makes recommendations to support teacher preparation and ongoing professional development. The paper is the third in a series from Getting Smart that explores the shift to Deeper Learning.
Last week President Obama directed the U.S. Department of Education to lay out a plan for strengthening America’s teacher preparation programs, signaling that the national conversation around personalized learning is shifting from a focus on students to the skills necessary for teachers to develop.
The paper’s guiding questions explore this trend: “If the goals of American education are being redefined, and the opportunities are expanded with the advent of technology, the Internet and digital content, how must the role of the educator evolve? And, how must teacher preparation and ongoing professional development evolve to fully enable teacher success in this new environment?”
In addressing these questions, we offer this core premise and shared belief among all three authors (each of us former educators or educational leaders): “If we truly are to harness the power that technology brings and seize the moment wrong by new college- and career-ready standards supported by aligned assessments, we must reexamine the processes and methods used to prepare teachers, accredit institutions doing the preparing, and support continuous development of teacher competency throughout their professional careers.”
In order to better prepare teachers for the increasingly personalized, blended and competency-based environments in which they will teach, the paper describes a new approach that would offer:

  • Some element of teacher control over time, place, path and/or pace;
  • Balance between teacher-defined goals, goals as defined by administration through teacher evaluation efforts, and school and district educational goals;
  • Job-embedded and meaningful integration into classroom practice; and
  • Competency-based progression.

One of the most exciting ideas presented in the paper is what we truly believe to be the future of teacher preparation and ongoing development–micro-credentials, likely displayed as digital badges–that would signify accomplishment and measure and reward competency-based outcomes for educators. We are excited about efforts such as Digital Promise’s Micro-Credentials Initiative. As founding members of the Badge Alliance, Digital Promise will work to develop a series of micro-credentials for teachers and establish a performance-based approach to assessing teaching practices. The paper features several other examples of promising practices in the area of supporting professional learning, both inside and outside of the field of education, upon which to build the next generation of teacher education and professional development.
“Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning” is co-authored by Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, Dr. Carri Schneider, Director of Policy and Research of Getting Smart, and Karen Cator, President and CEO of Digital Promise. In addition to the paper, a complementary infographic, ” Competency-Based Teacher Preparation & Professional Development ,” offers a visual overview of the paper’s key ideas. To learn more or to download the full paper, go to or follow along on social media using the hashtags #deeperlearning and #teacherprep.

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