Launching an altogether different model for shifting from professional development sessions to a professional learning culture is a desire of many edleaders. And as we’ve discussed this spring, it’s more essential than ever to keep up with new variables affecting our practice. Getting to a place of continuous and iterative improvement that is personalized to the educator’s aspirations and contextualized to their practice can happen in our schools, however. It takes a commitment to establish a system replete with natural opportunities to invest in a teacher’s career advancement and Harmony Public Schools has made that commitment. As Harmony’s Robert Thornton said in his recent post, starting a microcredential track is often born out of a very near-future desire to close a gap in one’s practice. For Harmony’s leaders, the microcredential program surfaces the inherent and emerging talents and skills within the team.
Harmony teachers and administrators have earned 815 microcredentials since launching the program with funding from a TIF grant and technical assistance from their vendor partner, Bloomboard.
As we’ve discussed in prior pieces of this series, finding the path forward involves shifting an overall attitude about assessment and priority for self agency—just like with our students. Harmony has put systems and processes in place to facilitate this shift, and as the team has adapted to it, recognized the value of the program, and applied the work in their practice with their students, it’s perpetuated a culture of striving and growth, motivating each other to make the investment in Harmony’s overall quality of teaching and learning, one microcredential at a time. Harmony’s leaders realize this is not easy. It’s a rigorous process to consider approaching a microcredential offering, seeing a manner to apply it in your classroom or school, and developing an approach in conjunction with your respective administrator or coach. Director of Instruction for the school system Burak Yilmaz says, “this is a portfolio assessment… they get quality feedback on every piece they submit.”
Former Harmony Teacher of the Year and instructional coach Jason Fletcher has become known as “Mr. Microcredential” amongst his peers at Harmony. After earning a few in the early days of the program, Jason started to encourage his fellow teachers to participate. As an instructional coach, Jason helped his peers find a way to honor the expertise they’d been accruing informally in their practice. In fact, it was a natural transition for Jason to start aligning his coaching sessions with the microcredential options, suggesting to his teammates which ones would be most relevant. His peers joke that he should wear a shirt that says, “there’s a microcredential for that.” Advocating for the program was easy for Jason because of his commitment to improving his own practice. “I liked having an avenue that I can control, regarding my career advancement.”
Teachers coming to Harmony after working in other school districts know they are having a different experience in professional learning. Amber Conner is a Harmony teacher of six years who has noticed how Harmony’s professional learning program has improved her ability to respond to leadership opportunities in her school and across the Harmony network. She’s served as a department head, a PLC leader, and a system course leader, writing common assessments and providing instructional guidance to her peers. She says, “I would rather be in a system that values growth than one that has stagnated… I feel supported. If I wanted to advance up to a different position, Harmony would support it.”
She likes how this professional learning aligns with what she’s learned in her experience as well as in her own pursuit of an M.Ed. It supports her teaching philosophy of being the lead learner before her students. “I’m a student, just like you!” Amber says. It gives her a chance to share her own approach to learning and motivate her students by example. “Having a teacher that enjoys learning helps students realize that they can enjoy learning too.” She has appreciated the microcredentials that have immediate application, such as improving her understanding of how to use Google’s G Suite for Education with her students.
Learning new techniques from the program can be rewarding for an immediate return, but being able to routinely promote from within is one of the most invaluable benefits for Harmony. Kimmi McClure is yet another teacher turned administrator, serving for her third year as an assistant principal at Harmony Science Academy in Cypress, Texas. Now in her tenth year with Harmony, Kimmi is actively growing as a leader. She touts Harmony’s shared value of distributed leadership for building great culture because teachers no longer need to rely solely upon the principal for guidance.
For Kimmi, the microcredential program came about while she was still a classroom teacher with these growing leadership aspirations. She earned credits in short sprints, conducting research, recording evidence, and reporting on her findings with her students. Kimmi noticed other teachers were encouraging her to pursue more credits in the realm of education leadership. “As I became a district PLC leader, the microcredential program came up again, and working with Teach Plus, it really opened my eyes as to how to be a leader among adults.” Earning her last one in supporting teachers with high-quality feedback opened a door for others in her school to approach her for help on that topic. Kimmi is currently continuing her career advancement towards a vision of being principal of her own school some day.
Mehmet Cellik, an Assistant Principal in Harmony Houston’s middle school, came to the U.S. from Turkey in 2009, learning English along the way. He has an energetic and sincere personality with a clear heart for serving the students and families of Harmony. Over a decade later, Mehmet has served in a number of Harmony’s schools, earning his master’s degree along the way while mentoring new teachers, serving as department chair, and leading various clubs and competitions for Harmony students. But it’s his continued pursuit of microcredentials that keep his edge sharp, whether the track he’s working on is about education leadership or data-informed instruction.
He sees that participating in earning these microcredentials has prepared him overall to be a more effective educator. Mehmet said, “they helped me be more organized and more specific,” that “…using data correctly is very important for differentiating our lessons and also reteaching.” Another track taught him how to better serve ESL/ELL students after studying data from the TELPAS assessment, Texas’s language proficiency tool.
These are just a few stories from Harmony’s journey thus far. As an evolving professional learning experience, the value for the entire Harmony community cannot be understated as they continue to improve the education they offer families across the network.
In the next post of the series, we hear from one of the Harmony microcredential program leaders, Burak Yilmaz, as he explains the broader work of designing career pathways and how the program is evolving for Harmony.
- Harmony Public Schools Series Page
- Western Governor University: Professional development vs. professional learning
- Getting Through: Distributive Leadership
This post is part three of a five blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Competency-Based Career Advancement at Harmony Public Schools” produced in partnership with Harmony Public Schools (@HarmonyEdu).
For more, see:
- Meet the Culture Hackers: Microcredentials Aren’t Just for Students
- Back to School with Harmony
- Learner-Centered STEM: Meet Harmony Public Schools