Adventures in Micro-Credentialing – The Power of Teacher Leadership

This is a five-part series exploring how one district has embraced micro-credentialing as a way to improve professional learning and increase teacher investment. If you’d like to read the whole story now, download the e-book

Did you miss last week’s episode

When I first started teaching, I experienced the traditional rite of passage that many first year teachers experience: committee work. It seemed like if there was a committee, I ended up on it. My social card was completely booked…Monday night mentoring committee, Tuesday curriculum writing,  Wednesday school improvement, Thursday North Central Accreditation, and a quarterly technology committee meeting. It was amazing that I had time to lesson plan and actually teach students. I remember questioning veteran teachers about this and hearing, “You’re a new teacher. It’s important to really get involved and show what you know.” I later realized that this was code for “We’ve done our penance. It’s time for the new teachers to take a turn.”

What struck me about these committee meetings was that I was always surrounded by the same people making the same suggestions. Realistically, though, those of us participating had limited power and/or influence to actually make things happen. And, after a year or two, the conversations would start all over again with a new crop of “teacher volunteers.”  I wish I could say that my experience was probably unique, but I fear it’s more the norm than not. This is a paradox that needs significant rethinking. We have to find ways to empower teachers’ voices and influence beyond simple committee work.

There is great need for effective teachers to expand their influence–from their classrooms, to colleagues, and to policy leaders in their school and beyond. Teachers live in the trenches. They are the experts when it comes to making decisions about curriculum and instruction. They are the cheerleaders who advocate for their profession. Teachers can directly implement changes in a comprehensive and continuous manner within the walls of their classrooms. Teacher leadership should be about harnessing talents for common goals.  

At West Aurora, the first step in developing teacher leaders is building a common and deep understanding of effective instructional practices. This is done through a robust micro-credentialing program.

The teacher leadership program design consists of five targeted areas in which a teacher can earn a credential. These areas are based on the needs of the district and individual buildings, and are also directly linked to the Charlotte Danielson Clusters.

Courtesy of West Aurora University

Following best practice curricular design, each credentialed area is broken down into five specific standards (or Essential Learning Outcomes). These learning outcomes are the basis of content for a sequence of 15 courses that an educator must take in order to earn the credential.  These courses are further broken down into 100-, 200-, and 300-level courses; each has a different focus and expected level of expertise. The 100-level courses are focused on theory.  The 200-level courses are focused on classroom integration. Lastly, the 300-level courses move a participant closer to expertise.  

The capstone of this sequence of courses is an action-research project and core competency seminar that shifts a participant’s thinking from personal expertise to teacher leader. This seminar focuses on adult learning theory, peer coaching, cognitive coaching, and crucial conversations. We strive for teacher leaders at West Aurora to be instructionally sound within their own practice; we also encourage them to influence, challenge and support their peers.  

Courtesy of West Aurora University

Ultimately, the teacher leadership credentialing program is designed to change as the demands of our educational system change. Since it is all taught by in-house experts and internal staff, the program has flexibility to adapt when data suggests and to provide real-time support in identified areas of need. It allows for teacher autonomy, but also encourages a common instructional language amongst staff members. Since its inception in the fall of 2016, 731 participants have registered for a course.  Twelve teachers have completed a credential. And over 800 hours of focused, professional development have ensued.

Next in the series: Micro-credentialing and Performance Matters


Brent Raby, PhD – Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning – West Aurora School District 129, Illinois

Dr. Brent Raby is in his fifteenth year as an educator and currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning for West Aurora School District 129 in Illinois. Prior to his work in West Aurora, Dr. Raby served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at McHenry Community High School District 156. In addition, he has served on the boards of the Illinois Association of Title I Directors and the McHenry County Cooperative for Employment Education.

Throughout his career, Dr. Raby has dedicated many of his efforts to developing frameworks that provide high-quality professional learning for all staff members. This work has included establishing instructional coaching models, integrating teacher graduate programs, and merging the teacher evaluation process with effective, real-time professional development. His responsibilities have included overseeing curricular alignment, supervising English language learner and special education programs. Dr. Raby started his career as a high school social studies teacher.

Dr. Raby earned a doctoral degree in educational leadership, a master’s degree in teaching, and a certificate of advanced studies in technology and staff development from National-Louis University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and sciences from the University of Iowa.