How to Adapt Your Professional Learning to the Speed of Change

Lead Features March / Top Feature March / March 17, 2019

-Terra Graves-

Just to refresh your memory (or if you didn’t read the January or February pieces), I shared with you the progress of our district-wide project around using the Microsoft Teams platform for digital learning and collaboration in Reno, NV (Washoe County School District). Our district has over 100 schools, 3600 teachers, and 64,000 students. Some schools have a lot of technology available while others don’t. Some schools are using Google Classroom, some Edmodo, some Schoology, and many are still rocking it old school with paper and pencils. Changing both the literal (product) and figurative (process) system is no easy task.

Last month, I highlighted several of the Global Elements (GEEFL) which support our thinking and planning for opening three new schools in the fall (2019) with a 1:1 program (each student has a device which is theirs to use 24/7 during the school year). This involves comprehensive pedagogy and technology professional learning for the schools’ staffs.

At the time of publication last month, this project was yet to be named. We now have a name: TeamWCSD, Empowering Equity Through Digital Learning and Collaboration (WCSD = Washoe County School District). Now, we have a name, a steering committee, and some progress with the building of the digital curriculum piece, which is the first domino to fall in the master plan. Once the curriculum is repackaged into OneNote notebooks, our essential strategies will be able to put their lens on instructional materials so that teachers can have every possible strategy to use with students around a concept. For example, essential strategies would include: 21st-century competencies, gifted and talented, English language development, social and emotional learning, learners with special needs, family engagement, equity, and diversity. The way it is now, teachers need to access these strategies in isolation, and the burden is on them to integrate these into their instruction. Maybe they attended professional learning, and they have a binder with resources. Maybe they go to the district website for links to resources, maybe they don’t even know about strategies or resources that are available to them. This is the problem we are trying to solve.

This month, FLR is focusing on the role of recognition in education (i.e., awards, certificates, badges). These terms are clarified below to make sure we have a common understanding of each of these types of recognition:

Awards:  These would be honors bestowed upon us because someone else has noticed the work we are doing or the contributions we make. They might be something like, “Educator of the Year,” “Employee of the Month” or “Most Valuable Player.” This type of recognition can validate us in a different way than the ones we intentionally seek.  

Digital Badge:  Think about a Boy Scout earning his First Aid badge. It represents that he has knowledge and skill in the criteria set forth by the organization regarding first aid. Instead of wearing a patch on a sash, digital badges are typically viewed in email signatures, professional websites/blogs, LinkedIn, or in an online storage platform linked to an employee evaluation system. Badges can be earned by completing either a large body of work or just one skill. For example, completion of the FLGI courses award the learner with a physical certificate she can print out, an email signature badge, and both of them represent a certification. On the Microsoft Educator Community, learners can earn digital badges for completing a lesson focused on one tool. The badges can then be combined into earning the Microsoft Innovative Educator certificate, MIE Trainer, and eventually, the learner can apply for the MIE Expert certificate. All of these also come with an email signature badge.

Certificates usually represent the completion of learning or the acquiring of certain skills and experience. These are typically “one and done” achievements.

Certification tends to be understood as more in-depth learning, usually costs money and takes a good amount of time to complete, and may expire or need renewing (like the FLGI certifications). Because of this, the issuing agency and the learner share an understanding of the value the certification holds. It’s not a “one and done” situation. Ongoing skill development and staying current on related research is at the heart of the certification.

Credentials are typically required by city/county/state/federal laws for certain careers, like education, nursing, law, etc. to show that the person has completed the required education and achieved a certain level of expertise in order for the agency to approve and allow the person to practice in their specific field. These also expire and require ongoing learning and training to renew.

A few years ago, I made the decision to go for various certifications instead of pursuing a doctoral degree. As much as I am in awe of people who have those credentials, I understand that in the work that I do now, and want to do moving forward, I need to show my expertise in a variety of things NOW. A doctoral degree takes a lot of time, money, and energy. The certifications that I have earned over the past few years have related directly to the work I do. I can apply my learning immediately, and I believe they have given me more credibility with people doing similar work within my organization, and globally as I present at conferences, write articles, and consult with schools.  

The Value of Micro-Credentials Is Growing

There are compelling reasons why employees and employers are starting to value these micro-credentials more than traditional degrees. The time that it takes for the higher education system to keep up with the intensely changing world of information is crippling. There’s really no way for them to keep up.

Three new schools are opening in our district next year that are working at being selected as Microsoft’s USA Showcase schools. They have already registered for the initial status of Microsoft School. This supports teachers in best practices and gives them other resources for implementation. Throughout the school year 2019-2020, teachers at the three new schools will participate in earning their Practitioner Badge with our department and their Microsoft Innovative Educator, and possibly Trainer and/or Expert, certificates and badges. This will give them a well-rounded professional learning experience as they learn to function in their new digital learning environment with students who have 24/7 access to learning through technology. Teachers will be motivated by each other as they earn these badges and certificates. These common learning goals will not just strengthen their expertise, they will create personal bonds among the staff.

In our staff meeting last week, the topic of certification came up because I want my whole staff (including myself) to become Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts by the end of the school year. I think everyone appreciates recognition for hard work, achievement, creativity, etc. However, most people feel uncomfortable promoting themselves. For example, all of my certifications are in frames, and I happily display them on the wall in my office. My coworkers have different reactions to this–some feel “less” by comparison because of all that I have done. Others do not want to display their own because they don’t want the attention. I think that having badges in your email signature shows your dedication to learning. It also “challenges” others to earn those badges too. I have had several people email me and ask, “How do I get that certification?” I think it is motivating to others. It’s the adult version of stickers; like getting a sticker on your paper from your teacher that says “Good Job!” (BTW–even adults still like getting stickers in professional learning classes).

I encourage you to take a look at the tools you use with students every day and see if there are some badges or certifications you could earn to both strengthen and validate your expertise. Doing this might also lead you into other professional relationships with others who hold the same certifications. If you haven’t earned your Flipped Learning Certifications yet, that would be the BEST place to start!

Click here to access the course catalog and register!  






Terra Graves
Terra Graves
Terra has been an educator for over twenty years. She is the Project Coordinator/Administrator for the 21st Century Learning Department in Washoe County School District, NV. Prior to this position, she taught elementary and middle school, supported novice teachers as a full-time mentor, served as an Ed Tech Specialist, and a Program Specialist in the 21st Century Learning Department. Terra is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level-II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.




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