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A learning-by-doing solution to career advancement for teachers

Tanya Queen
September 1, 2021

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Retaining and growing talent in education has never been more pressing. New survey data from the nonprofit RAND Corporation suggests that one out of four teachers nationwide is considering quitting due to increased pandemic-related demands. 

There are ways that school, district and state education leaders can reverse this trend and build the teaching profession. One option is advocating for (and providing) teachers with job-embedded opportunities for career advancement.

I’m currently enrolled in a micro-credential-based learning program in Kentucky, which has enabled me to get on track to advance my certification from Rank II to Rank I. Rank change is Kentucky’s vehicle for career recognition and associated salary advancement. 

The Kentucky Educational Development Corporation and BloomBoard created one such program which I’m currently enrolled in. Open to all teachers in Kentucky, “Foundations in Teaching and Learning” enables educators to earn career and salary advancement entirely through on-the-job learning in their own classrooms. 

Being involved in this program has opened my eyes to the benefit and need for an affordable alternative pathway to the traditional master’s degree program. I’m encouraged to share my experiences with other teachers who might also seek flexibility in advancing their teaching profession. 

Why now?

Educator preparation program enrollment and completion has progressively decreased in recent years, and Kentucky falls below the national average. It’s clear there’s room for growth to better prepare teachers in my home state. 

In August 2019, Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board removed the requirement for teachers to earn Rank II through a board-approved master’s degree program in their first 10 years of teaching. Kentucky Administrative Regulations now state that districts can develop their own Continuing Education Option for rank change and certificate renewal.

As a result, districts, groups of districts (e.g., educational cooperatives) and Kentucky-based higher education institutions are eligible to submit continuing education plans to the EPSB for approval. This has resulted in new, flexible options for advancement–and opened doors to salary increases and role specialization for more teachers. And, higher earnings positively impact Kentucky’s calculation of teacher retirement benefits.

Flexible programs remove many of the barriers that can hinder working adults from enrolling in traditional master’s degree programs, such as required on-campus attendance, expensive course materials and exams.

I was initially drawn to the pilot of “Foundations in Teaching and Learning” because of its proving-by-doing approach. I’m able to put learning into action right in the classroom and with my own students. The program is also much more cost-effective and less time consuming than earning a traditional master’s degree.

Show what you know

The program is designed to be completed at your own pace, with built-in milestones that support a three-year timeline for completion. Participants are encouraged to meet each target according to their own schedule, however, the program may not be completed in fewer than 12 months or take longer than four years.

After completing 12 core micro-credentials, participants select an individualized path. These courses cover a range of topics, including computer science, student equity, early literacy and STEM. As a special education resource teacher, I’ve found the “Teaching Students with Disabilities” content area to be especially valuable.

Throughout the pandemic, teachers have adapted and pivoted to meet the needs of their students, school and district. This has included participating in professional development and training opportunities, which according to research, are key.

A hybrid learning program provides a more realistic way for teachers to get ahead. In “Enhancing Professional Development for Teachers”, authors cite the many benefits of online training, including the improvement of teacher retention by enabling teachers to become more directly involved in their own learning and professional growth.

With COVID leaving educators feeling burned out, school and district leaders must remain diligent in creating supportive environments that are built for professional development. It’s a proven way to improve teaching and learning.

Gaining school and district-level support 

Achieving Rank I won’t only benefit me -- the advantages extend to students, principals, administrators and more.

Since my program is job-embedded, I haven’t had to wait to try out new practices in the classroom. The micro-credentials fit seamlessly into my everyday teaching, even when I began the program as preschool teacher. The required tasks have encouraged me to analyze my situation, and have helped me establish routines and physical spaces that enhanced learning while building a climate of respect and rapport. 

In addition to my own exploration of course material, I’ve had access to personalized supports, including a program mentor, micro-credential coaches and professional learning communities. Since the entire program is completed online, I can access model videos, case studies and activities whenever I need them.

Nontraditional assessment -- not just for students

Flexible, micro-credential-based advancement programs are built perfectly for alternative forms of assessment. For example, in my program, I’m required to provide ample evidence of demonstrated competency for each of the 10 Kentucky Teacher Standards.

To demonstrate progress, I submit evidence in a variety of formats, like video recordings and lesson plans, which are then critiqued by two expert reviewers from BloomBoard.  Through this practice, I’ve built a portfolio of actual work–removing the need for exams or tests.

We’re seeing the ways flexible assessments can positively impact students. This impact can and should extend to teachers, too.

Help teachers grow

To truly help educators grow, school, district and state education leaders must begin thinking outside of the box. If more states work to provide affordable alternative options for advancement, we can avoid the widespread impact of the pandemic on the teacher pipeline. These opportunities ensure more teachers can grow within their career, and are better equipped to serve every student -- a goal we can all stand behind.

Tanya Queen is a special education instructor at Catlettsburg Elementary School in Catlettsburg, Ky. More information on the micro-credentials geared toward COVID learning recovery is available on BloomBoard’s website.

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