Creating Teacher Leadership Targets - and Hitting Them - with Micro-Credentials

By Leonard Sparks

As middle school English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Marlena Salubro grows, so do her students.

What began as an exercise she was assigned to in the researcher module for Teaching Matters’ new micro-credentialing program, led to her finding an article outlining successful reading and writing strategies for students. And it has already paid dividends.

“It took this article and the whole research module to make us realize okay, maybe we should just abandon this and try some of the other ideas that the article suggested did work,” she said. “We just did a benchmark recently, and actually the reading already went up.”

Salubro is part of a group of New York City teachers pursuing micro-credentials in the pilot program Teaching Matters is running. Those teachers can earn micro-credentials in 18 competencies built on a national model of teacher-leader standards.

Earning those credentials, or digital badges, requires meeting rigorous assessments, including observations of team meetings, and evidence of impact on classroom practice.

But the potential payoffs are numerous: recognition of teachers committed to improving their craft; improved retention for educators given leadership roles and a forum for their ideas; and more freedom for principals overburdened by wrenching demands.

“It recognizes their work; it values lifelong learning; it provides them some currency, via the digital badges, to demonstrate competencies they have,” said Mary Strain, Teaching Matters’ director of national partnerships.

As an expansion of its work coaching teacher leaders, Teaching Matters began the micro-credentialing program in January, starting with workshops on facilitating learning teams for both principals and a cohort of teachers.

At the administrators’ workshop, principals learned about the roles teacher-leaders can fill and how to use the skills of those teachers to improve learning. One important component is maximizing team analysis of data and student work.

Teachers selected for the micro-credentialing program attended a two-day “institute” covering the rubric for competencies, protocols, how to select the best focus area and how to measure impact.

Then they were assigned a Teaching Matters coach to guide them in developing and demonstrating the competencies. The coach also observes teachers as they practice those competencies in their schools.

In many cases, “These are teacher-leaders that have already been identified, that are already doing leadership work in their schools,” Strain said. “So they’re coming at it with a lot of skills already in place.”

The micro-credential-eligible skills are grouped into three main bands: facilitation and team-building; data and research; and pedagogy and instruction.

Within those bands teachers can earn credentials for such skills as facilitating groups of colleagues, using data to undergird their instruction and aligning curriculum to achieve the best outcomes.

Attaining a credential requires passing assessments that include observation, and evidence of effectively leading teams to influence classroom practice.

“As they demonstrate these competencies, we can then recognize the work that they’re doing by issuing a micro-credential,” said Jennifer Gleason, a senior educational consultant for Teaching Matters and a micro-credential coach.

Successful teacher-leaders are rewarded with more than a certificate. They are awarded a digital badge embedded with data showing the competency earned and the evidence of what they did to earn the credential.

Teachers can attach the badge to emails and resumes, show it on their LinkedIn pages or store the badge in their Mozilla virtual backpack.

“The micro-credentials are more than just a sticker,” Strain said. “Anyone, anywhere who has access to them can click on them and see exactly what you had to do to earn that credential.”

Salubro, in her fourth year of teaching, is one of two educators at IS 228 who has begun the micro-credentialing process. She had already established herself as a teacher who leads by facilitating professional-learning communities with colleagues.

Out of that collaboration Salubro and other teachers created a new way to do Socratic circles, filming a video they shared with their classes and other teachers.

“When you have support from other teachers during these group times, it motivates you to be even better in the classroom,” she said. “Even if you can’t take on the ideas in the current year, you know you could always use these ideas for the following year.”

She earned a badge in the researcher module, discovering the article that convinced her and colleagues to begin using paragraph templates to help students with analysis. They also incorporated quick-writes to strengthen students’ writing.

Next: The data-analysis module, and then goal-setting and assessment.

“I never really knew how to look at data before,” Salubro said. “Ever since this program, it really has helped me understand data and how to use information that I learned to help my students.”