PD Anywhere Professional Development Blog

Competency-Based PD for Educators: What Does it Mean and What Would it Look Like?

July 8, 2018

The idea that teaching and learning should be competency-based is not new. Educators consistently expect students to demonstrate competencies—skills and knowledge linked to curriculum standards, goals, and objectives. These competencies are the yardstick by which academic progress is measured. But should we expect educators to demonstrate competencies related to their own learning? And, if so, what would it mean and what would it look like?

What does competency-based PD mean?

Competency-based professional development (PD) for educators focuses on demonstrated skills instead of accumulated seat time. For example, rather than requiring teachers to collect 20 hours of time in large group trainings, conference sessions, or small group team follow-up, districts might instead suggest a topic and create competency-based requirements that everyone must demonstrate. If the topic were formative assessment, for example, required competencies might include a lesson plan that includes a mid-cycle formative assessment, a demonstration of that assessment recorded on video, and a follow-up plan that reviews data and explains the changes to instruction. Educators would submit these products or artifacts, which would then be evaluated by instructional coaches, administrators, a campus team, or a designated evaluator.

As micro-credentials and online learning become more viable and popular options for professional development, professional educators are starting to define terms and make decisions about expectations that demonstrate learning and mastery. PD is being looked at as a two-part process: First the learning opportunity is provided and, second, the accountability happens. Some examples of essential question for educators are these:

  • Did this PD change anything?
  • Are the educators involved in the PD doing anything differently?
  • Can we see a difference in instruction based on this PD?
  • Has this PD impacted student achievement?

Of course, for each of the above questions, the follow-up question is: What is our evidence?

What does competency-based PD look like?

Both PD providers and learners can probably agree that demonstrating competency after exposure to new learning is a good idea. However, the reality is murkier. Figuring out what competency is reflective of mastery of the content, deciding how to evaluate it, and then trying to make sure that the demonstration of competency is more than a one-time only event are all important actions for educational leaders, coaches, teachers, and other professionals to take. As your team, campus, or district considers how best to provide professional development, here are some options for competency formats. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and some are definitely snapshots—one-time only examples. Deciding which formats fit the content and the skills is an important first step. Deciding how to ensure that that professionals continue to demonstrate them beyond the required first-time example is the real challenge.

Lesson/unit plans

Lesson plans can tell a lot about potential instruction: Is it aligned to the standards? Do the learning activities match the level of complexity and rigor of what is expected in the district curriculum? Does the plan include a pre-assessment and formative assessments? Has the team or the teacher planned ahead for differentiation? Does the plan include strategies for those students who don’t “get it” the first time or who struggle with one section or activity?

All of this can be gleaned from the review of a well-constructed lesson plan. Of course, implementation of the plan requires another evaluation method.


With today’s technology, teachers can make videos of just about anything—a teacher’s interactions with students, a segment of a lesson, questioning strategies, the use of formative assessment, specific components of an instructional sequence, responses to misbehavior, and almost anything that can be targeted in professional development. When teachers submit videos for demonstration of a competency, it is important to establish ahead of time what the purpose of the video is, what should be demonstrated, and how this snapshot of a lesson or unit fits into the big picture.


There is strong evidence that formative assessments contribute significantly to student achievement when the information gathered is used to improve instruction. Requiring teachers or coaches to create and submit actual pre-assessments or within cycle formatives is a great way to determine whether these tools are being used and, if so, what actions are taken after the data are collected. Submissions can include links to the actual assessments, visual examples, or, when the formative assessment is verbal or interactive, videos of the teacher and students.

Written Overviews, Summaries, and Reflections

It is important that teachers, coaches, and administrators sometimes express themselves through writing. Competency-based writing following PD should be guided by directions, questions, and specific requirements that encourage deep and authentic reflection about a specific topic or skill. Guiding professionals to express their experiences and then honestly evaluate the impact of those experiences can be a challenge. However, it can also provide important evidence of learning.

Technology-Based Evidence

Many teachers are highly proficient in their use of technology. Whenever possible, it is helpful to either require or allow teachers, coaches, and administrators to submit evidence of learning that has been created using relevant software and applications. Whether the teacher creates a formative assessment by using a Google© form and requires a posted video response using Flipgrid©, it is important to know that the educator is proficient in the technology required and, more importantly, uses the technology as a vehicle for effective instruction.


With technology that makes surveys easier than ever, educators can quickly survey students, teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators. Possibly the most useful surveys are those that are completely anonymous. Requiring educators to create, implement, collect, and summarize data can help them gain new insights into barriers, supports, effective and ineffective strategies, and social-emotional issues. When students have the opportunity to provide feedback to teachers about what strategies worked, which ones didn’t, and how they perceive the quality of relationships, content, and instruction, teachers often learn useful information that can improve their skills.


There are many other formats that educators and leadership teams can consider when designing competencies related to PD. The key is to create competencies that are easily understood, measurable, and can be sustained. If, as educators, we think it is important to master a competency, we must be clear about how to define mastery, how to demonstrate mastery, and then how to measure mastery.