Implementing Competency Education with Resolute Leadership

Sanborn Regional High School

I work for the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, a district that was an early adopter of a K-12 competency education model, one that is now in its fifth year of implementation. My fellow administrative team members and I regularly receive questions from educators around the country who are looking to implement a similar model in their schools. One of the most popular questions we receive is, “What kind of leadership is necessary from district and school-based administrators in order to effectively implement a competency education model?” When I am asked this question, I am reminded of a passage in Dufour and Fullan’s (2013) book on sustaining reform, known as Resolute Leadership:

“Ultimately, the most important factor in sustaining reform is the willingness of leaders at all levels to demonstrate resolute leadership in the face of adversity. Resolute leaders anticipate opposition and honor opponents rather than vilify them. They don’t quit in the face of resistance. They don’t become discouraged when things don’t go as planned. They don’t divert their attention to pursue the newest hot thing. They stay the course. They demonstrate determination and resilience. They maintain their focus on core goals and priorities, and they continue to work, year after year, on improving the system’s ability to achieve those goals, but they are also open to innovations that might enable them to go deeper. More than ever, our educational systems need leaders with the collective efficacy that enables them to persist in the face of problems, plateaus, and paradoxes.”

The concept of resolute leadership has been a foundation for the work of our administrative team at Sanborn. There is no doubt that a move from a traditional to a competency education model is a significant shift for teachers, students, and parents alike. In five years, our teachers have had to completely relearn what they have come to know about best practice instruction. The process is one that some of our team members have coined as Advanced Teachership because it is akin to taking a completely new practicum course in instruction. We have implemented a series of common grading practices that have completely disrupted the way we look at the purpose and function of grades. Our students have had to learn how to interpret learning expectations and outcomes by way of rubrics. They have been put in the driver’s seat to really influence the personalization of their learning pathways at school. For parents, the shift has been one that has taken them very far from the traditional system they grew up with. They have wrestled with questions around understanding how grades are calculated and how this system better prepares their children for later college and career success.

The concept of resolute leadership has been a foundation for the work of our administrative team at Sanborn. There is no doubt that a move from a traditional to a competency education model is a significant shift for teachers, students, and parents alike. In five years, our teachers have had to completely relearn what they have come to know about best practice instruction. The process is one that some of our team members have coined as Advanced Teachership because it is akin to taking a completely new practicum course in instruction. We have implemented a series of common grading practices that have completely disrupted the way we look at the purpose and function of grades. Our students have had to learn how to interpret learning expectations and outcomes by way of rubrics. They have been put in the driver’s seat to really influence the personalization of their learning pathways at school. For parents, the shift has been one that has taken them very far from the traditional system they grew up with. They have wrestled with questions around understanding how grades are calculated and how this system better prepares their children for later college and career success.

Our journey to make this significant shift with our stakeholders has been one of ups and downs, one that further emphasizes Dufour and Fullan’s point about the need for leaders to display determination and resilience. I am reminded of a time a year or two in our implementation when I was challenged by this. In that year, we had decided to start to make the shift from using a 100 point percentage scale to a 4 point rubric scale to report final grades. As part of the transition, we decided in year two to reduce the 100 point scale from 100 to 50 values, an effort to start to simulate the 4 point rubric experience. By the first two months into that school year, it became apparent that our approach had a fundamental flaw: By eliminating the values of 0-49, the new lowest recordable grade became a 50. Teachers, understandably so, were having a difficult time with the notion of giving a child a 50 for work of poor quality, or even for no work at all. They dubbed it a fake fifty because they felt they were giving students something for nothing. The use of the term fake fifty bothered me a great deal, because I knew that our decision was not having the desired impact on our teachers or on our students. Two months into that year, we altered our policy to introduce special override codes of Not Yet Competent (NYC) and Insufficient Work Shown (IWS) for teachers to use when students produced work of poor quality or no work at all. The codes eliminated the need for giving students 50s, which were indeed a false representation of their competency level. Until our school was ready for a school-wide rubric scale, that was a better compromise for us at the time.

As a leader, that example stood out for me as an example of resolute leadership because my fellow administrators and I had the courage to recognize a decision we made was not working, and we were able to make a change mid-year. It would have been very easy to use that mistake as an excuse to go back to our old system, but we managed to stay true to our vision for competency education and find a way to overcome the hurdles and roadblocks that were put before us.

Making the transition from traditional to competency-based grading is messy. No matter how much you plan for it, administrators and teachers will feel a sense of building the plane while flying it in those first few years of implementation. My advice to administrators looking to make this transition is simple. Practice the idea of resolute leadership. Stay the course in the face of adversity. Stay true to yourself and to the model. Trust that your teachers will stand with you, and together you will face the challenges that will lie ahead and find a way to work through them as a school community. Your patience and persistence will be rewarded.

Read the article by Brian Stack originally posted on Competency Works at

Brian Stack is the principal of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, N.H. He is a strong advocate of personalized learning, competency-based grading and assessment, and high school redesign for the 21st century. He has presented his redesign work in local conferences in New Hampshire and Massachusetts as well as national conferences and think-tanks in Chicago; Portland, OR; and Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @bstackbu or visit his blog at

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New Online Resource: The Guide to Implementing Digital Learning

SETDA Launches The Guide to Implementing Digital Learning

A free online resource to assist states and school districts to plan for and implement smart digital learning initiatives.

Registration open now for a January 15, 2015 overview webinar
December 17, 2014 (Washington, D.C.) – SETDA, the principal membership association of U.S. state and territorial educational technology leaders, today announced the launch of The Guide to Implementing Digital Learning (GIDL), a free web-based resource to support school and district leaders as they work to ensure that investments in digital learning spark positive results. “Digital learning is more important today than ever before. Our students are digital natives and when students utilize technology in the classroom, they are true 21st century learners,” stated Tom Luna, Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Guide to Implementing Digital Learning is free to access at:

SETDA also will host a free webinar for educators and other interested parties on January 15, 2015 at 2pm ET, which will feature the insights of state educational technology leaders on effective digital learning implementation and on how to best use The Guide to Implementing Digital Learning. Reserve your seat today by visiting

GIDL was developed through the input of state educational technology leaders who collaborated across state lines to develop guidance and aggregate resources for, and examples of, effective digital learning implementation. SETDA is proud to have partnered with the Tier I GIDL sponsors, Copia and Curriculum Associates that contributed related resources. “With the announcements of new state and federal investments in support of digital learning, including $1.5 billion annually in new E-rate support for school broadband, it is critical that leaders consider the full range of issues in implementing and scaling up new digital learning opportunities,” said Douglas Levin, Executive Director of SETDA. “Our intent in releasing The Guide to Implementing Digital Learning is to help schools and districts assess, plan and execute digital learning opportunities more effectively.”

GIDL includes six topic areas: planning, professional learning, content and software, broadband, devices and tech support. Each topic’s section includes background information, key considerations for implementation, resources and exemplars of digital learning in action.

“As we strive to better prepare our students for college and career, it is imperative that we equip our educators with the instructional strategies and technology support necessary to ensure a smooth implementation of digital learning, with the goal of improved educational outcomes for all students,” shared Rob Saxton, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oregon Department of Education.


Founded in 2001, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is the principal non-profit membership association representing U.S. state and territorial educational technology leaders. Our mission is to build and increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology policy and practice. For more information, please visit:

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Are you “Speaking Up” about digital learning this year? Make your voice heard participate in Speak Up 2014

This is your last chance SpeakUp New Hampshire!  The last week of the SpeakUp Surveys is upon us.  Surveys close Friday, December 19th.

Sign up to be a part of this year’s Speak Up National Research Project, a quick and free survey designed with you and your district’s needs in mind! With the survey period closing on Friday, December 19th, this is your last chance to learn what your students, parents, faculty, and community think about education, technology, and 21st century skills.

Take the survey this week and not only will your district receive its data in February 2015 to help with your digital learning plans, but your district will also be entered into drawings to win free BbWorld 2015 and iNACOL’s 2015 Blended and Online Learning Symposium conference registrations!

Start learning about the aspirations of your district and sign up to take the surveys on our New Hampshire SpeakUp page at

Below you will find a summary of all the great promotions and happenings we have going on this week!  For additional information regarding promotion rules please visit:

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7 Online Learning Myths that University Administrators Believe

Online learning myths abound among higher education administrators. Yahoo! C.C. 2.0 license.

Online learning has been hailed as a faster, cheaper way to provide education — but it doesn’t do half of what administrators think it will.

With the help of a few experts, we’ve compiled a list of major myths that administrators believe, how they match up against reality and why administrators believe them.

Myth 1: MOOCs are the same as online learning

Reality check
The Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) model is one of a number of online learning models. Three more established models give students credit for course completion, unlike MOOCs: Fully online programs, ad hoc online courses and school-as-a-service models, said Phil Hill, an industry analyst and blogger.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Before MOOCs gained national attention a few years ago, online learning existed in pockets such as continuing education units and masters programs. “It wasn’t strategic, so the top administrators really didn’t have any insight, nor did they care about what’s going on over there,” Hill said.

The popularity of MOOCs showed new presidents and provosts how important online learning was. But they didn’t understand the extent of the online learning programs they already had, what models existed or how to choose one.

Myth 2: Online learning is cheaper than face-to-face learning and an easy money maker

Reality check
Traditional universities spend more time, money and training to prepare faculty for online teaching while continuing to maintain physical campuses. They also have to build a strong support structure to help distance learning students. The only way to make money from online programs is to spend years working on them, scale to tens of thousands of students and actively reduce capital costs, Hill said.

Why university administrators believe this myth
This perception stems from the examples of early for-profit universities, which made significant profits because they don’t have the level of on-campus expenses that traditional universities do, said Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield Online.

Myth 3: Faculty members cannot interact as well with students online as they can in person

Reality check
Typical classroom environments only allow faculty members to interact with a handful of students who raise their hand to answer questions. Online environments give the whole class a chance to share their views, which means faculty members get to know more of them better.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Some faculty members who feel threated by online technology tell administrators that they can’t engage students without looking into their eyes. Many of these faculty have never taught online or haven’t had an opportunity to participate in faculty development before they taught online, Schroeder said.

Myth 4: Quality online courses come from individual faculty efforts

Reality check
A team approach is the best way to develop high-quality online courses because faculty need guidance on what works, Hill said. By pulling together a team, universities can build in structures and support that allow them to develop online courses in a systematic way.

Why university administrators believe this myth
A long tradition of faculty working on their own has translated to the online space by default — and that’s not the best approach to begin with, Hill said. Faculty don’t have as many examples to follow because online education has only been around for 15 to 20 years, and the Internet scales both good models and mistakes.

Myth 5: Faculty must be available 24/7 to teach well online

Reality check
While it is important for faculty members to respond promptly online, they can do that without spending all their time online, Schroeder said. Faculty members can set a response time like 24 hours or specify which days they’ll log in so students know what to expect.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Faculty members who are making a case for additional compensation share this myth with administrators because they think they’re expected to be available all the time. But that’s not the case, Schroeder said.

Myth 6: Students don’t need support online because they know more about technology than faculty

Reality check
The average age of online students is in the mid-30s for many programs — not far off from the age of their faculty, Schroeder said. While many of them do know their way around consumer technology, the tools that online learning uses are different, and students do need help understanding how to navigate them.

Why university administrators believe this myth
Administrators hear from faculty that they’re not capable of keeping up with their students because they don’t use the Internet the way other people do. This misconception comes from “faculty members who had trouble setting the clock on their VCRs, and since those days have really not progressed with technology, so they feel insecure,” Schroeder said.

Myth 7: Online learning is infinitely expandable

Reality check
Online learning is not infinitely expandable because it’s not effective to teach large lecture classes of hundreds of students — whether in person or online, Schroeder said. “There’s no effective way to teach a very large section of students without making affordances for interaction and engagement with smaller groups of students or individual students.”

Why university administrators believe this myth
Part of this belief comes out of desperation as administrators are looking for ways to economically meet the needs of more students, Schroeder said. Another part comes from the fact that there are no physical seats in an online program.

Your turn
What other myths do you think administrators believe about online learning?

The article by Tanya Roscorla appears on the Center for Digital Education at

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FCC Raises E-Rate Cap Despite Opposition

The FCC’s leadership (from left to right) is comprised of: Commissioner Ajit Pai, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Michael O’Reilly. Federal Communications Commission

Their mission was the same: Help all students learn by providing them greater access to broadband in schools and libraries. But members of the Federal Communications Commission sharply disagreed about how to carry out that mission.

The three Democrat commissioners wanted to increase the E-rate spending cap permanently by $1.5 billion to $3.9 billion. The annual cap limits how much funding the commission hands out to schools and libraries who qualify for discounted services, including broadband.

And they got their wish. The new E-rate order went into effect after a 3-2 vote at a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 11. But the two Republican commissioners dissented, calling the order’s approach fiscally irresponsible.

“Enabling wasteful spending like this isn’t courageous or compassionate,” said Commissioner Ajit Pai. “It’s just crazy.”

While both Republican commissioners said they support the E-rate program, their major beef with this proposal is twofold:

  1. The E-rate cap increase is not offset by reductions in the Universal Service Fund, the pool where the E-rate program gets its money from. This means the entire fund’s budget would grow from just over $8 billion to just under $10 billion per year.
  2. This order does not adequately safeguard the funds, and actually removes or decreases the safeguards put in place over the last two decades, Pai said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler dismissed their claims about safeguards, saying that the Republican commissioners were exaggerating to make their point. John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, an E-rate consulting firm, has worked with hundreds of schools on the paperwork they need to turn in for E-rate, and said the entire process is audited and exhaustive.

“The controls that are in place in the E-rate program are far more intense than any other program that I’m familiar with,” Harrington said. “It is highly regulated with a great deal of oversight.”

As for the argument that the cap increase is not offset, the FCC did decide back in July to reduce support for telephone services and eliminate support for services including email and Web hosting.

On top of that, this is the first major modernization effort since E-rate started in the dial-up days of 1997. Now broadband is more expensive, just like gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While gas prices rose from a little over a dollar to over $3 today, school districts still pay for school buses at the higher rate because students need transportation. And if the commissioners support the E-rate program, they need to spend more for Internet access, Harrington said.

What this decision means for schools

The order that passed today will raise the E-rate cap permanently by $1.5 billion annually and also increase the Universal Service Fee on phone bills by about 16 percent from $0.99 to $1.15 a month. Schools and libraries will now be able to collectively request up to $3.9 billion in discounts for services including broadband.

This means that next year, school districts are more likely to receive support for on-campus Internet connections, which has historically been hard to get because the supply of money has not kept up with demand. Schools and libraries typically request $5 billion each year for Internet access and discounts on Internet components, but the fund was previously capped at $2.4 billion, Harrington said.

Another important change removes the pressure on school districts to submit applications for connections and equipment they weren’t sure they needed. Back in July, the FCC set a limit on the amount of money that schools and libraries could request over two years for internal connections. But that money was available on a first come, first serve basis, and there was no guarantee that the money would still be there when they needed something in 2017. An increased funding cap and new five-year time table reassures schools that the money will be there when they need it.

To prepare for these changes, school district leaders should take three steps, Harrington said.

  • Figure out where they will get the money for hardware
  • Decide how to pay for the telephone services that the FCC is no longer discountinng
  • Plan for what they need over the next two to three years so they can strategically apply for E-rate discounts

This article by Tanya Rosorla appeared on the Center for Digital Education at

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7 Ways to Use Technology With Purpose

Why are you using technology? Or more importantly, how are you using technology to better the learning in your classroom and/or school? If you are like me, then you’ve had your fair share of technology screw ups. Projects that didn’t make sense (but used the tech you wanted to bring in). Activities that were ruined by a crashing website or some technological problem. And of course you’ve probably dealt with the students, parents, and teachers that want to do things “the old way”.

In order to make sure you are using technology the right way, you must first “start with why”. If your students understand the “why” behind your technology use, then the class will have a purpose and technological glitches and issues can be worked through. If they don’t understand the “why” then any small issue could turn into a major problem.

Here are 7 ways I’ve been using technology for a purpose in my classroom and as a staff developer in my school. I’m sure there are many other ways to use tech with purpose, but these are some of my favorites!

1. To Collaborate in Real Time
Remember when Google Docs broke onto the scene? It was magic. Students writing and sharing in real-time, able to see what the other students are doing and saying, while still working on your own part of the project or activity. Flash forward 7-8 years and now “real-time collaboration” is a must for most online software. This type of technology allow project-based learning to be monitored, documented, and done outside of the school hours.

2. To Reflect and Share
I used to have my students journal in their marble notebooks. And during certain activities I still do (like Writer’s Bootcamp). However, what’s nice about having students journal online and share “in the cloud” is the ability for their classmates to see what they have to say.

3. Better Research
After I finished writing my Master’s thesis on ‘peace education in the 21st century’ I talked with my mom about her writing process in graduate school. It sounded awful… She would have to go to the library, find a resource, read almost the entire resource, make copies of the pages she wanted to use, and literally “cut it out” and “paste it on” her typewritten document.
Technology has made research simple and more time efficient. I’m not talking about typing a question into google, I’m specifically focused on searching journal databases like ERIC through places like Ebscohost. A nice search phrase will turn up hundreds of peer-reviewed results which can be sorted many different ways (such as by date or full-text article). Those articles that you choose can then be automatically scanned for your keywords, read the specific parts you want, and use what is applicable with a simple copy and paste and proper citation already set up and ready to go.

4. Write and Re-Write
Using tools such as Google Docs, the new Microsoft Word, or Draft students are able to write and edit on the fly. They can get feedback from peers and teachers…and then choose whether or not to accept that feedback on their writing. Technology has changed the writing process in much the same way it has changed the research process.
The most important part of writing is the revising and editing. Yet, we often take it for granted. Instead let’s use the technology to track what types of changes students have made, and if they are making the same mistakes in their writing over and over again. That way, the “re-writing” process can have a direct impact on how much they improve and change some of their writing habits over time.

5. Make Something (that matters)
This may be my favorite way to use technology with a purpose. Students now have the ability to make movies, songs, pieces of art, websites, apps, games etc–with technology. However, too often we ask students to make something that does not matter. We ask them to make a movie or poster or presentation that has no direct impact on the world around them.  Instead, let’s challenge ourselves to start making technology matter. Make iMovies that can be uploaded to Youtube and have a purpose. Make games with a meaning. Make apps that matter.

6. Keep a Digital Record
Digital portfolios are a must. Not because colleges will want and need them in the future (which is happening sooner than you think). Not because it is a cool way to show off what you’ve done in class. Digital portfolios are a must because they show learning growth.
The best way to show how much a student has learned is through a digital portfolio. You can look back over time and what they’ve created, written, and done in school. And how that work has improved (and in what ways) throughout their schooling. When students know their work will be on display and recorded, they also take pride in what they do because it will last.  Ask yourself, are you making “digital fridge art” or something worth keeping?

7. Mastery Assessments
Think about the last time you gave an assessment. I’m sure you prepared students for it during class, gave them materials to study, and supported them during the assessment.
Technology should change the way we do assessments forever, yet sadly many of us still give tests the same way we did 10 years ago. This is a tech purpose we can’t avoid any longer.

Read the entire article by A.J. Juliani on Teach Different at

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What the Techies Say About E-rate Modernization

Anyone who is familiar with the E-rate program has hopefully stayed on top of the modernization efforts and countless opinions, informational Webinars, and meetings with E-rate consultants concerning the changes. E-rate works in the past, present, and future, and we tend to think more about these kinds of programs as we prepare for funding the next year’s requests. Even though I personally have stayed abreast of these changes, the reality of the phaseout and elimination of services gives me mixed emotions about some of the modernization efforts.

Phasing Out Programs

The E-rate program has been around for the last 17 years. During this time period the program has remained relatively unchanged. However, with any program, change must be a part of the road map to ensure that you keep up with the ever-changing landscape to remain relevant. The overall goals of modernization make sense, but these improvements often come at the expense of existing program areas that school districts have come to rely upon. A few of the affected areas for phasing down and elimination for 2015 include support for voice services, certain phone features, email, Web hosting, voicemail, and data plans.

Re-evaluating Category 2 Services

Priority 2 services, now known as Category 2, will focus on providing Wi-Fi connectivity throughout school buildings. As a district, we have not seen Priority 2 funding for many years due to our eligible rate falling under the percentage awarded, so the per-student formula is a bright spot. However, much of the controversy surrounding the modernization effort revolves around how funding will be sustained in this area. At this time, the Category 2 funding plan is based on a five-year budget and, depending on whom you speak with, only the first two years of funding is guaranteed. If you have not begun to review your existing network infrastructure or plan to implement wireless, now is the time.

Reaching Out to Your District

There are so many things to discuss concerning the modernization plan, both on a political and philosophical level. I feel there is a valid argument for the continued funding of a couple of the services being eliminated and the importance of having a long-range plan for Category 2. The conversation about phaseouts and elimination is over, but there is still time to ask questions and advocate for a more solid, long-range plan for infrastructure hardware. At any rate, if you do not work with an E-rate consultant or do not have a strong group of peers that can assist you through the filing process at this time, I would suggest reaching out to your district as you make preparations for 2015. Good luck!

Read the article by Jon Castelhano on Tech & Learning at

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