Defining Success through Competency Standards

Why do you come to school? To get an education, which will help you become successful in life. Now success may be defined differently by different people – you may define it by your own standard or by what is expected of you.  However, as you are part of a larger world, you should understand how your work impacts others and hence what may be their expectations from you. It is also critical to know that these expectations are not fixed but evolve over time. For example, what is expected from you when you are in primary school is different from when you are in middle school or high school.

Another important point is that expectations based on your competency – your ability to do something effectively – are different from expectations based on your age or class. Say you are learning martial arts, then whether you are a white belt, green belt, yellow belt or black belt depends on the skills you have,  not on how long you have been learning martial arts or on your age.  Martial Arts taught like this has ‘expectations based on your competency’. On the other hand, if you are expected to be in class VI at the age of eleven, this expectation is based on your age.

Now, all of you may have your own standards to measure yourself but consider that in a connected world like ours, if everyone operates per his/ her own standard how will your standards affect another person and how will we operate together? One way to address this is to have a commonly-accepted and well-defined roadmap, or standards of competence, that provides (a) clear and consistent expectations, (b) is known to all, and (c) is an objective method to measure your current competency levels and to assess improvement areas.

Competency Standards are important not only for individuals but for performance improvement of any organization or system whether it is technology, healthcare or education.Let’s talk about how this can be important in your world. For example, all of you would have come across great teachers and would have your own list of ‘favourite teachers’. Have you thought why are great teachers great, or favourite teachers favourite? Is it because they favoured you, or is it because they were unbiased? Is it because they believed in you and pushed you hard, or is it because they helped you deal with your constraints? Is it because they were strict or lenient or is it because they knew when you needed them to be one or the other? Is it because they knew their subject well or is it because they knew how to make you understand it well?

Looks like, all of you assess your teachers as per you own expectation, which may vary from one student to another, making it difficult for the teacher to get an objective and fair feedback and tune her approach accordingly. On the other hand, Competency Standards which are a refined collection of expectations of different people – students, parents, teachers and principals, researchers of education etc., – provide an objective guideline to teachers and help them teach different sets of students effectively.

Across the world, there is much thought and discussion on Competency Standards for Teachers. In US, the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) has a standards document called the “Model Core Teaching Standards and Learning Progressions” which outlines what teachers should know and be able to do for teaching success. Likewise, high quality teacher standards have been developed in Singapore, Australia, and UK, among others.

My organization – Centre for Teacher Accreditation (CENTA) – is currently working to develop and establish similar Competency Standards for India. These Standards cover a teacher’s subject knowledge, her way of teaching the subject, her way of managing the class, how she helps in your holistic development, and how she interacts with other teachers and supports the development of appropriate policies for improving education.

A teacher who develops herself using such Standards will understand what she needs to teach you and how to engage you in your learning. She will believe in you and your potential. She will know when you need support, and of what kind. She will know expectations of different sets of people from education, and will be able to impart relevant learning to you, making you ready to succeed in an adult world.  And would such a teacher not be a great teacher?  Competency Standards can be used as a mechanism to help teachers identify what they need to do to meet expectations and to be more responsive to your needs. And, Competency Standards are also a way to identify, appreciate and recognize outstanding teachers because these teachers are living proof of what Competency Standards mean!

(Originally published in ‘The Hindu in School” in 2015.

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