The Core of Our Competency-Based Program
The master’s in education program at the Woodrow Wilson Graduate School of Teaching & Learning uses a competency-based model to prepare the next generation of STEM teachers. To progress through and complete the degree program, teacher candidates (TCs) must show they have mastered the required competencies — the skills and knowledge needed to be a successful teacher. While TCs learn, practice, and demonstrate numerous competencies throughout the program, there are five core competencies at the heart of the WW Graduate School’s curriculum: Thinking Like a Designer, Grounding in the Learning Sciences, Relating to Students, Building a Community of Trust, and Teaching for Justice.
These core competencies are considered critical to the kind of teacher the WW Graduate School is preparing. For that reason, teacher candidates must demonstrate their proficiency in each core competency in multiple contexts and in multiple ways as they progress through the program. TCs encounter the core competencies across each of the challenges (the Graduate School’s project-based coursework) and apply them during their clinical placement in Boston-area STEM classrooms. Each of the core competencies draws on a different element essential to molding effective, caring, and thoughtful teachers.
Thinking Like a Designer requires TCs to look beyond traditional education models by using a problem-solving method called design thinking. TCs use this methodology to think deeply and carefully about their students and their educational circumstances, to consider multiple ideas to address their needs, to experiment with solutions, and to learn quickly from outcomes. Design thinking encourages TCs to craft learning tailored to their students and to develop a mindset of “try, learn, try.” As designers, TCs have a way of solving the challenges they’ll face in the classrooms of today and tomorrow.
Grounding in the Learning Sciences teaches TCs to draw on the research-based insights from education, learning, and development. Studying evidence-based instructional practices, TCs cultivate a rich understanding of the ways in which students engage, learn, and remember. From structuring a unit to assessing student progress, TCs weave these insights and best practices into every aspect of their teaching. This core competency is essential as teacher candidates learn to create positive, effective, developmentally appropriate STEM learning experiences for all students.
On the walls of the Graduate School, between posters and pictures, sits a quotation from Theodore Roosevelt: “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This statement embodies the sentiment behind another core competency integral to the development of effective educators: Relating to Students. Teacher candidates work to develop an understanding of their students’ identities, lives, and interests in and outside of the classroom so that they can better deliver the content that they teach. By striving to understand students, TCs can teach in a way that responds to the strengths, needs, and motivations of individual students.
In the Building a Community of Trust core competency, TCs learn tools and strategies to develop a set of community values that support learning. For example, TCs learn how to work with their students to create understandable, inclusive, and encouraging standards of conduct. These standards inform everything, including their teaching styles, their classroom norms, and their expectations for how students are assessed. Demonstration of this core competency ensures TCs will create learning communities where students feel respected, valued, and fairly treated.
Another core competency, Teaching for Justice, not only influences the STEM curriculum, but relates it to equity and social justice. As TCs confront and address the privilege, policies, and practices that reproduce injustice, they strive to become teachers who ensure equitable access and opportunities for all their students.
Teacher candidates enter the WW Graduate School of Teaching & Learning with strong STEM content knowledge and the desire to become a skilled and inspirational teacher. With these core competencies, TCs not only gain the tools necessary to enter the classroom well-prepared to be effective educators, they also gain the tools to become continuous learners who know how to get better at their craft. By focusing on the core competencies, TCs graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to become successful teachers who prioritize their students and promote learning, achievement, and belonging.