But I Did Stay at a Holiday Inn Express...

"The performance will be our credentials."
Ken Bouldin

One of the schools in our district, Kipling Elementary, has been engaged in a semester-long book study of Sal Khan’s One World Schoolhouse. As part of the study, each week a staff member shares their thoughts about a chapter of the book through a writing posted to the school’s blog, Learning and Leading in the One World Schoolhouse. Recently, I contributed to the school’s book study with my reflections on a chapter of the book titled, “The Future of Credentials.”

In this very short chapter, Kahn suggests we are mixing three different ideas together when we speak of “education.” The first is the idea of teaching and learning. The second aspect is socialization. The third idea is that of credentialing--giving a piece of paper to someone that proves to the world that they know what they know. Khan maintains that these three ideas get muddled together because they are all performed by the same institutions. He makes the case for separating the role of ”credentialing,” letting people gain credentials through alternative sources.

Although short, I found this chapter both powerful and validating. Currently, traditional credentials for students are the diplomas they receive at various stages along their academic journeys. At the college level, these “credentials” are time consuming and expensive. Moreover, they are a bit vague in terms of describing what, exactly, the owner of the diploma actually knows and is able to do. What is truly important is not the diploma itself, but what the owner of the diploma can do as a result. I am reminded of the old Holiday Inn Express ad campaign in which various people perform remarkably in any number of roles with their only “qualification” being that they had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before. Here is but one example from this ad campaign:

How is this humorous commercial advertisement applicable to credentials? Well, the fact that we possess a diploma--or that we have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express--is, ultimately, unimportant. What truly matters is whether we can perform the required skills necessary to succeed. Personally, I have actually earned the “credential” of staying at a Holiday Inn express. However, you certainly would not want me performing surgery on you any time soon. As the commercials suggest, however, the reverse may also be true. If one can perform the skills, the credential itself (a diploma) is subordinate in importance--possibly even irrelevant--and could actually come from an alternative source of credentialing rather than the typical source (a school).

Traditional credentials also pose equity challenges for students from underrepresented communities. To make the process more affordable, fair, and less time consuming, what if we, instead, designed specific credential opportunities for a wide variety of skills and allowed anyone to attempt to earn these credentials anytime and anywhere as a way to better themselves?

Like most things in education, what applies to students also applies to us, as educators. What if--instead of grad school--we were allowed to advance our pay level and degree level by proving we had acquired new knowledge and skills, instead of putting in the required seat time and credit hours to earn another diploma? Speaking only for myself and reflecting on my master's, specialist's, and doctoral degrees, I think such learning might have been more efficient, cost effective, and relevant than most of the traditional graduate-level education courses I endured.

I take pride in so much of what we have done and continue to do throughout our own amazing school district in Deerfield, Illinois. Among these many accomplishments is our own small initial foray into credentialing through our Deerfield University professional learning platform. This platform allows staff members to earn badges and incentive points on a voluntary basis by learning about a topic, doing something with their learning, and submitting evidence of their application of learning. It would be interesting to offer credentialing opportunities to our students as well. In fact, I wonder what credentials we would offer at various grade levels and subject areas? What would be the Top 5 credentials you would offer students the opportunity to earn if you teach 4th grade? Music? Art? PE? Calculus? Spanish? Maybe it would be fun to determine the “critical 5” for each area, the essential knowledge and skills that you would expect any student in the grade/course to earn along with another 5 that would be “growth” credentials, based on individual interest or exceptional aptitude in a certain area.

Khan labels this chapter, “The Future of Credentials,” but it seems as if too often in our noble profession we speak about “The future of…” when we need to shift our mindset and realize the future can be now. Identifying the key knowledge and skills we want our students and each other to possess, determining methods for measuring mastery of this, and then awarding a credential certifying such mastery are ways we can personalize learning for all today. They are also ways we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

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