Professional education today is all about data and results.
Yet, “you don’t get results by focusing on results,” said Aux Sable Middle School Principal Dr. Christian Rivara.
“You get results by focusing on the actions that produce results. Excellent teaching practices are the actions that will produce the results we want to see for our students,” Rivara said.
With that idea in mind, Rivara and a team of teachers are piloting a “micro-credentialing” initiative at Aux Sable with the goal of expanding it to other schools soon.
Micro-credentialing lets teachers identify something they want to improve on in their instructional practice, said Paula Sereleas, director of middle school curriculum and instruction.
Then they do self-study and work with colleagues as instructional coaches who are more skilled in those targeted areas, Sereleas said.
The key, Sereleas stressed, is that the teachers must do something that is measurable.
“The challenge with micro-credentialing is the accountability,” Sereleas said. “It has to be implemented with fidelity. The teachers must be accountable to themselves, their coaches and building administration.”
District 202’s middle school principals have done a good job helping teachers improve instruction, she said.
“But we need to find new and effective ways to guide and improve instruction given the many time constraints and professional challenges and responsibilities teachers have today,” she said.
Rivara was happy to lead the charge after serving on a state teacher leader committee the last two summers. The committee met with seven different states and talked about teacher leadership.
“The greatest impact on student success is the quality of the classroom teacher,” he said. “Improving the professional practice of teachers is the greatest challenge in education today.”
Micro-credentialing helps teachers meet that challenge by getting consistent feedback from a trained coach.
“Teachers are teaching all the time,” Rivara said. “It’s difficult for them to find the time to really talk about the art and science of teaching. Having instructional coaches in our own building allows us the time to have those conversations on a daily basis.”
Eighth grade English Language Arts teacher Tess Daskas and sixth grade Social Studies teacher Carrie Offerman are serving as Aux Sable’s first instructional coaches.
The biggest challenge this first year, Offerman said, is convincing teachers to give micro-credentialing a try.
“If you’re going for a micro-credential it’s not because you are weak,” she said. “It’s because you want to be better.”
Ultimately, the goal is to build a cadre of micro-credentialed teachers who can then serve as resources for other teachers, Rivara said.
Daskas agreed. “Micro-credentialing creates new leaders and gives them permission to be excellent.”
So far, four Aux Sable teachers have completed the process. Two more are still working.
Aux Sable band director Karen Bedore and 8th grade social studies teacher Jason Hrechko recently became the first to earn their micro-credentialing certificates.
Bedore jumped at the new opportunity given her job’s routine time constraints, “especially since there are not a lot of examples of these educational practices as they specifically relate to band,” she said.
She created a project in which her students composed their own selections based on newly-learned foundational rhythms.
Similarly, Hrechko focused on teaching and learning methods that pushed students to move beyond rote memorization of facts “just to pass a test. Now they’re analyzing primary source documents and discovering what else can be done with the knowledge they gain,” he said.
Both agreed the experience was a lot of work, but in the end, worth the effort.
“I guess you could say that would make me a better teacher, but it’s not about what I can do,” Bedore said. “It’s about what my students can do and how they respond to the instruction.”
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