Professional Learning

Adventures in Micro-Credentialing – Where to Begin?

This is the first in 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.

Whoever told you this gets easier lied!

In my three years of working in West Aurora School District 129, we’ve hired over 270 new teachers. Each year I’m asked to address the group of new teachers to provide some sort of inspiration. This is always a challenge for me; I never know exactly what to say. I’ve tried anecdotes, philosophy, open discussion…one time I even told them the story of how my mom had to wake me up for my first day of work.  Last year I decided to be honest and blunt. It went something like this: “Congratulations on a successful first year of teaching. I would love to tell you that your second year is going to get easier, but it won’t. It won’t get easier, but it will absolutely become more rewarding. And my promise to you is that we will support you on this journey.”    

I strongly believe in what I told the first-year teachers on that day. Teaching is hard, complex, and rarely perfect. We have to stop pretending like this is a profession that you can master. The quest for instructional perfection is a career-long goal. There are always opportunities to continually improve and refine our practices. This is why we have to simplify our efforts to improve education and focus on the one thing that we know improves learning: the classroom teacher.  We must recognize that professional educators have the skills, competencies, and expertise to do this job; they are the solution to the problems that confront us. Schools need structures that continually reinvest in professional learning. More importantly, we need to ensure that these structures foster professional conversations and collaboration.

At the time in my life when I was transitioning from a classroom teacher to a central office administrator, my wife (an English teacher) handed me a copy of Margaret Wheatley’s Turning to One Another.  We had just had our first child, and I had just completed a master’s program.  I can honestly say that I wasn’t super motivated to dive into deep reading on problem-solving and the power of conversation. If it wasn’t for my newborn son refusing to sleep, I’m not sure I would’ve found time to read. I remember sitting up late at night with my son in my arms reading Wheatley’s thoughts on the power of face-to-face communication and her faith in groups of people solving the problems that confront us. That book continues to have a profound impact on my thinking as an educator.  

Education is in need of more circumstances in which teacher leaders have the ability to transform educational practice through collaboration. Throughout my career, far too many conversations have started with educators expressing feelings of isolation and helplessness because there are limited opportunities to engage in meaningful conversation. We have to build professional learning structures that provide access for teachers to dialogue, learn, share, and problem-solve. Power lies in our ability to learn from one another. We need to challenge our personal educational beliefs, hone our instructional practices, deepen our understanding of the nuances of curriculum, and build solid assessment practices. This is because teaching is a craft, not a script, and we cannot go on this journey alone. So, I guess the real question that confronts us is How do we make this happen?

Next in the series: Access to Meaningful Professional Learning

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.