This spring, the Delaware Department of Education launched a “microcredentials” pilot program for Delaware educators.
It’s an exciting step for teachers. Here’s why: All teachers must train and submit 90 hours of professional development over the course of five years (or 18 hours per year). Most PD courses are passed down from district administrators and cover broad topics to cover as many teachers as possible. But microcredentials, which can be earned for an array of specific topics, online, and on a teacher’s own time, are an innovative way to personalize professional development and hone skills. Ten states, including Delaware, are already piloting microcredentials for teachers; five others are experimenting with microcredentials in some way.
Though microcredentials may be a relatively new model of professional learning, they give teachers choice and flexibility in developing their skills in the classroom.
Microcredentials help teachers develop skills relevant to their classrooms
What are microcredentials? The National Education Association defines micro-credentials as “a competency-based, digital form of certification that show competency or mastery in specific skills for an individual.”
But actually describing microcredentials in practice is a bit trickier. Districts will have to answer some questions about what experiences will count as a microcredential and what proof educators should submit for approval. Sites like Digital Promise and BloomBoard offer their own courses for teachers to take, but it’s also up to districts to vet any courses by online providers.
Once districts figure out what a microcredential will look like for their teachers, educators can begin personalizing their professional development. Teachers can earn microcredentials in a variety of ways, from taking a course on an uber-specific topic (say, adapting lessons for English language learners), or by attending a conference on a topic like integrating technology in the classroom.
Other hands-on experiences, like a summer fellowship in a community center learning from specialists on special needs students, or drafting a new discovery lesson with hands-on material that can be personalized for each student—can also occupy this category.
So long as their district approves it, teachers can earn a “digital badge” for their experience to demonstrate their competency.
Imagine your very own “Adapting Instruction for EL learners badge” on your digital portfolio, LinkedIn profile, and other websites. Microcredentials emphasize personal choice and demonstrations of skills so that teachers can be better prepared to work with their students.
Teachers can earn microcredentials in a variety of ways, from taking a course on an uber-specific topic (say, adapting lessons for English language learners), or by attending a conference on a topic like integrating technology in the classroom.
Microcredentials allow for personalized professional development
Microcredentials give teachers more choice over their professional development based on their individual needs and the needs of their classrooms. According to a Rodel Teacher Council survey of educators across the state of Delaware, only 11% of educators believed that current professional development offerings have a high impact on student outcomes. Microcredentials provide an alternative way to engage teachers in order for them to learn and hone skills that will best assist them in the classroom.
Educators from the Rodel Teacher Council will participate in the state pilot
The microcredential pilot is currently underway for a group of educators from around the state of Delaware, including three members from the Rodel Teacher Council. These teachers will complete their choice of micro-credential offering by fall 2019. The selected Rodel Teacher Council members participating in Delaware’s micro-credentials pilot are:
Kendra Moritz-Rosner, Appoquinimink School District
Tim Brewer, New Castle County Vo-Tech School District
Robyn Howton, Brandywine School District
These three teachers have been instrumental in advocating for improved professional development through publishing policy briefs and meeting with the state education professional standards board. This microcredential pilot is a testament to their work; with it, professional development for teachers takes an exciting step in a more innovative and engaging direction.
The Rodel Teacher Council are no strangers to social and emotional learning (SEL).
In 2017, they surveyed more than 200 educators spanning every school district in Delaware to better understand the beliefs and perceptions of educators on SEL. That work resulted in Educators Speak Up: Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware.
The following year, they published Creating A Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, a research brief based on national and local research and meant to serve as a resource for anyone interested in learning more about how to intentionally integrate social, emotional, and academic development.
Their research led to a connection with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)—a national leader that today is helping Delaware develop a common language for SEL.
We caught up with RTC members Kevin Lair (Freire Charter School Wilmington) and Lindsay Hudson-Hubbs (G.W. Carver Academy) to hear about their continued work on SEL this year and where Delaware might take things next.
On this year’s goals…
Kevin: After spending the last two years researching the Delaware and national SEL landscape, we prioritized stakeholder engagement this year. We sought to find out what students, families, teachers, and administrators really want and need. This would provide a holistic view of what SEL looks like and what the needs are of those in our communities.
Lindsay: We took information that we’ve gathered over the last couple of years regarding social-emotional learning, and tried to dive into the community more, with parents, other stakeholders, individuals in stakeholder communities, and get their feedback from what they would like to see happening with social-emotional learning.
Big picture is to get SEL information spread throughout the state so that all of the districts are on the same page. Districts and community alike are already on the same page with understanding how SEL can impact all children.
On engaging Delawareans…
Kevin: Our focus was on engaging Delaware students and families, schools, and community organizations across all three counties. We engaged with various interests through a combination of focus groups and events, including workshops with Teach For America Delaware corps members and Relay Graduate School of Education students. These efforts sought to gauge their interests, understand their definition of SEL, and explore the ways in which they were already implementing SEL practices in their classrooms.
On what you heard from Delawareans…
Kevin: The feedback we received was truly inspiring–the vast majority of educators want SEL training and commitment and most felt that they have received some level of training from their current school.
As reflected in our previous surveys, there is clearly a thirst for SEL in Delaware. Teachers want it, administrators want it, and it is just a matter of what is the best method of effectively implementing it. And I am so glad that CASEL, with the work that they are already doing alongside our state collaborative, is already in the process and with resources to support teachers, students, and families.
Often when teachers hear that we are “trying to make a statewide initiative or commitment to SEL,” they think that it means another program to worry about or more work for us. We were trying to highlight just how much of the SEL work educators are already doing in their classrooms and ways that we can replicate effective practices throughout the state.
Lindsay: There’s a general understanding that kids with special needs or in special classes or schools need SEL help. But it helps in all classrooms, and there are kids dealing with trauma in so-called “typical classrooms” too.
For example, “Hey, there’s a student in a classroom that has 30 kids, who is a typical student, who experienced three deaths in one week.” Those are traumatic events, and children might need some assistance.
With social-emotional learning, it goes even deeper. It goes into a social aspect of kids and being able to understand feelings and express them. If kids don’t know how to interact, they don’t know how to handle disagreements and get anything done.
And we heard this sentiment when we spoke with parents too. Many appreciated the fact that SEL skills are being taught in typical classrooms and agreed that it should be supported in all aspects of their lives. This confirms what we as teachers believe everyday—it takes a village to help children grow and develop.
On next steps for Delaware…
Kevin: The state collaborative is currently working on a Delaware SEL framework and what exactly it entails, and we will continue to be the folks on the ground trying to engage the community throughout the process.
The good thing is that regardless of how soon the state really makes this a priority, districts and schools are already doing it. And even if it is not the exact same across all districts and schools, social and emotional learning practices are growing in Delaware and we all benefit from it.
Thanks to an increased focus on social and emotional learning, we’re witnessing an interesting convergence among education, business, scientific, and local communities.
In the education world, SEL is about preparing our young people to go out into the world as healthy, caring, community-minded adults. It’s about creating safe and creative environments in schools so our kids can flourish. It’s about providing supports and compassion to all kids. Roughly four out of every 10 Delaware public school students are now living in poverty. And when poverty is paired with issues like violence and addiction, it can not only impact a child’s ability to learn, but weigh heavily on their family and educators.
Brain science is telling us that SEL is foundational to learning. We learn not by just being exposed to information, but by interacting with peers and teachers, by speaking, by reading the listener’s facial expression, and adapting. It’s this process of volleying back and forth that builds our understanding of the world.
We also know that the opposite is true. The absence of these interactions (and/or the introduction of high levels of stress and trauma) can actually adversely affect how a child’s brain grows. Experts are finding that these social and emotional factors can have lifelong impacts on our health and income. There is even promising research showing that children can overcome challenging circumstances with the right support from caring adults.
That’s why the business community is invested. Over the next eight years, Delaware will hire or replace around 30 percent of its workforce. The next generation of our workforce is on the way. So it’s up to us to provide them with not only the academic and technical skills, but those less tangible skills like communication, problem-solving, drive, and persistence. That’s all a part of SEL. So too are the “people skills” that are needed to work in a complex environment. Employers tell us that they can teach the technical skills, but these 21st century skills are critical—and much more difficult to teach in adults.
So whether you call it “soft skills” or “trauma-informed care” or “school climate” or “growth mindset” or any of the other terms we might use to talk about this work, SEL is a big umbrella, and we hope you’ll join us to make this idea a reality for all of Delaware’s students. It really is up to us as a community to determine the path forward. We know SEL can’t be a top-down edict. It has to come from genuine engagement and collaboration. As a community, we need to expand our thinking and work together to try new, inclusive approaches.
As a state, we need to expand our definition of student success. To get on the same page, we need a common understanding of what we actually mean when we say “SEL,” and how SEL can be used to support students. It’s why Rodel spearheaded A Broader Vision of Student Success: Insights and Opportunities for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, a report that focuses on the efforts underway across Delaware to support students, families, and educators in developing their SEL skills.
It’s also why we gathered around 100 community members together this month to put our heads together to begin to discern how we can build meaningful efforts in a given school or even statewide. We didn’t anticipate coming out of that morning with clear consensus but some common themes, work underway, and next steps emerged. Ultimately, we wanted to connect unlikely partners, nonprofit leaders with healthcare providers and CEOs with classroom teachers, and to plant the seeds for innovation.
Attendees split into groups and discussed a range of topics. The teams covered everything from out-of-school supports to cultural competency, and they came up with some solid next steps:
Building broader awareness around SEL and how it impacts kids
Creating more mental health supports for students, both inside schools and in the community, with schools and local nonprofits and healthcare providers serving as conduits
Professional development and trauma training for educators, educators in-training, and community members
But the strongest and most consistent message was the need for deep and genuine community engagement. This will take creativity and passion, and not every effort will work. But we know that that’s what it will take. This needs to be built school by school and community by community.
It seems like a simple ingredient, but it’s a crucial one.
There will be opportunities in early 2019 to get involved and lend your perspective. Groups like the Rodel Teacher Council will be gathering input from communities to help inform a statewide framework along with national partners like the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Local leaders ranging from First Lady Tracy Quillen Carney to Delmarva Power CEO Gary Stockbridge are engaging educators and thought-leaders to forge our collective next steps. In the meantime:
Advocate for mental health supports in schools
Teachers, check out the Compassionate Schools Test Lab for some promising practices
Join a Delaware Readiness Team, and help your local community focus on the skills students need to succeed in kindergarten, including SEL
Get informed. Read A Broader Vision of Student Success: Insights and Opportunities for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware
The more we reach across our fences and talk about SEL through the networks of schools and community centers and government agencies and healthcare providers, we start to see how all our work might fit together into a more comprehensive approach.
Over the past two weeks, members of the Rodel team had the opportunity to visit some 2018-19 Rodel Teacher Council (RTC) members in their classrooms.
When we interact with the RTC members it is usually after school hours and in a formal meeting environment. The opportunity to witness them in action, in their classroom and in their element is truly powerful and eye-opening.
We first checked out EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, where RTC member Michael Williams was teaching pre-algebra and differential equations to a seventh grade math class.
His students learned to make the connections between equations and the real-world as Mr. Williams walked them through buying bags of chips with a limited amount of money.
Beyond the lesson, we also saw some great examples of social and emotional learning displayed on classroom posters. Personally, I loved the poster themed around Drake’s “In My Feelings” but with a college and career readiness twist.
The following week we took a trip down to Southern Elementary School in the Colonial School District to visit two more RTC members, Stephanie Alexander and Elena Miller.
We first stopped by Stephanie Alexander’s classroom. Stephanie is a special education teacher in the school’s Intensive Learning Center (ILC). Her students ranged from kindergarten through second grade.
We enjoyed helping students to color in their holiday bingo cards and asking them what things they were thankful for as they added feathers to their “Thankful Turkeys.” The students listed many things they were thankful for—everything from their teachers to their families to monster trucks and banana bread.
Mrs. Alexander also put a bucket outside to track how much snow was falling outside, which had everyone excited.
After visiting Mrs. Alexander, we were able to meet with RTC member Elena Miller. Elena is a district special education coordinator at Southern Elementary. She walked us through her day-to-day role at Southern, including her work overseeing the CASEL and ILC programs, coordinating IEP meetings, and providing support as a teacher resource.
Both teacher council members demonstrated that special education educators are truly a great asset to their school communities.
Our thanks go out to Mr. Williams, Mrs. Alexander and Ms. Miller for allowing us to witness them in action! Stay tuned as we continue to visit Delaware classrooms and learn first-hand about the exciting things happening for the teacher council.