I was a bit fearful at the beginning of this school year. Budget reduction days loomed ahead, which—understandably—would be carved out of our non-student contact days, or our professional development in-service days. I worried that we would not be able to continue to make the great strides we have made in recent years in developing teacher leaders through our PD days.

Numerous questions weighed on my mind. How would we maintain the positive perspective we’d developed about in-service training? How would we sustain the momentum of growth we had come to experience, expect, and look forward to as part of the teaching and learning culture we had created together? Had we even become dependent on prescribed PD days for the bulk of our opportunity for growth? Like so many challenges, this was just one more opportunity for growth, and a learning experience aboutgrowth as well.

Professional Development Overkill

As I tackled this problem of how to deliver rich professional growth opportunities without dedicated in-service time, I reflected on my personal approach to staff development. In past years, I would meet three times a year with each teacher and discuss, set, and review professional growth goals. With around 30 teachers—meeting three times a year, an hour or more each meeting—the amount of time I spent on this task added up to more than 100 hours of precious time. And there were some obvious issues with these meetings as well; for instance, by the third meeting, we often found ourselves digging through past forms to even remember what goals we set at the beginning of the year.

Though these meetings were well-intentioned, I quickly realized that this kind of measurement was overkill and not really worth our time. So, what could we put in its place that provided educators with authentic learning experiences to grow as professionals that wouldn’t take up so much time?

Micro-credentials and Badges to the Rescue!

To find a solution, we looked to a growing model for professional learning: micro-credentialing and badging. Micro-credentialing takes professional development online and allows individual educators to self-direct their learning and identify skills and competencies they want to master.  Companies such as Digital Promise and BloomBoard offer a variety of web-based programs where teachers earn digital certification, or a micro-credential, when they demonstrate mastery of a specific skill or competency. Our staff have earned micro-credentials for a variety of achievements, including Google educator certification and design thinking.

Badging works in a similar way, except that it is our informal, in-house version of micro-credentialing. Teachers earn a badge when they demonstrate a unique skill or accomplishment, much like a scout would earn to reflect individual progress. Our staff have earned badges for becoming in-house experts for project-based learning, participating and sharing experiences from learning walks, and becoming a certified common-sense media educator.

Our In-House Badging Program

Our staff worked collaboratively to design our badging system, which we based on our successful student badging program. I have found that co-creating a system with teachers has enabled us to design a system with a variety of meaningful opportunities. As we work to implement similar successful student programs through collaborative processes and innovative practices, we are now modeling our professional learning by that same concept.

For our purposes we have identified a common cycle of learn, implement, reflect, and share, required for earning any particular badge. Within that framework, our badges are relevant to our needs as a whole and to individual teacher goals and passions. We can define activities that make sense for each of us, and our goals can be individualized within a collective framework. Furthermore, learning is not dependent on scheduled days; it’s practical, purposeful, and ongoing. The level of teacher buy-in is high because they are invested in the process and know their learning is real. Another added bonus is that we can identify and measure our success based on clear criteria, meaning we will all know if we have met our set professional growth goals.

A New Culture of Professional Learning and Growth

Micro-credentialing and badging offer educators a way to tailor their individual professional growth and provide an easy way to track their progress that others can see. Earning a micro-credential or a badge means something to busy teachers. It has helped us recognize our progress, evaluate what we’ve learned and where we still need to grow, and realize continual growth.

Though our badge system is new this year and we have not yet seen the full effects, I can tell already that it has changed things for us. Like our students, adults have varying learning styles, interests, and experiences, and our badges provide an avenue for growth that blends motivation and passion into goals, which leads to sustained and memorable growth. The authenticity is truly motivating. It’s a win-win for us all.

How might we develop personalized learning options that recognize staff for their work and passions, identify them as in-house experts, and build a culture of growth and learning? Let’s work together to drive growth in schools to benefit our kids for their futures!

Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He is one of the 2017 Digital Principals of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.

About the Author

Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He is one of the 2017 Digital Principals of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.

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