I still believe that the best way to improve instruction is through professional development. Not everyone agrees with me. I know that many teachers groan when they even hear the words professional development. To illustrate the point, in Michael Fullan’s The NEW Meaning of Educational Change, (2007), he quotes a teacher who states, “When I die I hope it is during a professional development session because the transition from life to death will be so seamless” (p. 283).
An Education Week survey conducted in 2016 showed that 42% of teachers say they have little to no influence on the professional development available to them. Teachers perceive that a wide range of common professional development activities would make a difference in their classrooms, including common planning time and mentorship for new teachers.
Some districts are trying something new called micro-credentialing. Part of this movement allows teachers to choose their own learning and customize it. At least three states, Delaware, Florida, and Tennessee, are piloting micro-credentialing programs, along with New York City and other spots around the country.
Micro-credentials are often in the form of digital badges. Just like in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, when you spend time working on a specific task, you earn a badge.They are sometimes called mini-degrees or web badges. They can be described as a small certificate for taking a kind of shortened form of a college course. Some of the work may be done on-line, but work can also be completed collaboratively, or in one’s own classroom. A micro-credential can take anywhere from four weeks to a year, depending on the subject. Providers such as the nonprofit Digital Promise, allow educators to provide evidence of their knowledge, including student work or videos. Amid the growth in popularity, there is also increasing attention to the need for standards around rigor, value for stakeholders, oversight and teacher incentives for earning them.
Another provider, Learning Forward, requires educators to demonstrate the skill in practice with students.
While there is no empirical research yet on the impact for students, advocates say the benefits for students, are, as their name implies, on a micro level.
Still, as this form of PD becomes more popular, there are a lot of unanswered questions. According to Education Week, “Not all micro-credentials are created equal , and states and districts have yet to come to a consensus on the level of rigor they must meet and the value different stakeholders should put on an earned micro-credential” (Education Week, April 26, 2017). There are also questions regarding who should assess teachers’ work, and what kinds of incentives should be tied to the attainment of the badges.
Many teachers are required to complete a set number of PD hours each year. This new approach is certainly something to carefully examine. Sustained, personalized professional development is successfully provided in most fields. I think most teachers would welcome the change.
For more info on micro-credentials, Read the article in Education Week.