When Pittsfield Middle High School, a combination middle-high school just north of Concord, decided to pursue a student-centered learning model in 2008, they discovered something inspiring. Students were encouraged and excited to learn when they were put at the center of their education, and their voices have motivated teachers to embrace the new model. CompetencyWorks visited the school to learn more about their implementation process and the lessons they learned along the way.
Once the district decided to switch to a personalized learning model, there were three major steps to implementation: community engagement, communicating the academic competencies, and supporting teachers:
On engaging the community: PSD used a multi-pronged approach to engage the broader community. First, they worked with NH Listens to organize forums facilitated by community members. Then, partnering with Pittsfield Youth Workshop and other local organizations, they held a pig roast in a downtown park to attract community members unlikely to come to the school. Computers were set up so that teachers could show what competencies and reports cards would look like…
On writing the competencies: Danielle Harvey, instructional coach, explained, “Writing competencies is really about communication.” The goal is to create transparency about what is expected for students to learn and how it will be assessed. PSD has valued competency education because it “opens up the door to personalized learning as it helps teachers and students be very clear about whether students are ‘getting it’ or ‘not getting it’”.
On supporting teachers: Harvey strongly recommended making sure that teachers have weekly planning time when schools begin to convert to competency education… She also said that it was invaluable to have received professional coaching courses before they began the process of conversion to competency education… Building respect among teachers is important if they are to take risks in learning how to operate in a personalized, competency-based environment. Chassie emphasized, “Risk taking and valuing mistakes as learning opportunities are role modeled starting with the superintendent.”
As teachers become more comfortable with competency education, there is more discussion about depth of knowledge.
Read more about Pittsfield’s implementation of student-centered learning here.