When Margaret Wilson read about the division’s Learning Specializations in her school’s newsletter, she saw it as a flexible form of professional learning.
“I loved that I could [learn] on my own time,” said Wilson, who teaches AVID at Salem High. “I didn’t have to go to a conference or stay after school to attend meetings.”
Learning Specializations help teachers develop and receive recognition for skills they learned formally and informally.
“They are a personalized, self-paced, job-embedded form of professional learning that are taking root nationwide,” said Chelyse Miller, professional learning specialist in the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation. “Our Learning Specializations recognize recipients for having proven competency in areas of teaching and leading.”
Learning Specializations support one of the strategies of Compass to 2025: “provide a variety of personalized professional learning opportunities to all staff to support their professional growth.” Teachers create their own learning path and document their competence through artifacts.
VBCPS offers the following learning specializations:
- Culturally Responsive Practices
- Language Literacy
- Performance-based Assessment
- Personalized Learning
- Professional Learning Leader
- Recognizing and Understanding Gifted Learners
- Team Leader
Since the introduction of Learning Specializations in spring 2016, teachers have earned 74 Badges, 104 Master Badges and 13 Specializations.
The Performance-based Assessment Specialization helped Wilson improve the rubrics she uses to help students measure strengths and areas that need improvement. For example, she developed a specific rubric for an exercise where students used an online database to research how well their skills match up with different career paths. They then created a plan to move forward by choosing classes and researching colleges and universities offering majors that aligned with their career goals.
Wilson and one of her peers at Salem, Victoria Marie Finnegan-Copen, talked about their progress while pursuing Learning Specializations. They also received support and encouragement from Katie Cirilli, coordinator for K-12 programs and grants in the Department of Teaching and Learning.
“The feedback cycle and collaboration were especially valuable,” Wilson said.
Ashley Rankin, a language arts teacher at Centerville Elementary, earned a Culture and Community badge by demonstrating she could regularly incorporate student input and decision-making in her classroom community. For example, her fifth graders decorated their notebooks with pictures from home and phrases that represent their interests. They used the notebooks to introduce themselves to the peers at the beginning of the school year and continue to record their thoughts and experiences every week.
Rankin reflected on the value of the learning that took place through her work toward the Metacognition badge, “It wasn’t until I took the [Metacognition] course that was offered in Frontline to support that learning that I fully understood what metacognition looked like in my classroom.”
For the Personalized Learning Specialization, Anthony Nobles had his Plaza Middle School students look at their life goals, and personal behaviors that help and hinder their progress. All the while, the learning specialization process helped Nobles at his own goal setting.
“It required something of me in a good way,” said Nobles, who teaches eighth-grade civics and economics. “I could set goals for myself. And I could do the learning that was necessary to meet those goals.”
The internal sense of pride and accomplishment in doing something that benefits students is the greatest incentive. In addition, engaging in Learning Specializations provides teachers:
- license renewal points
- digital badge to include on resumes and on professional social media sites such as LinkedIn
- a tangible, self-adhesive badge
- evidence for Career Teacher application,
- letter of commendation for the teacher’s file
Teachers can pursue one or multiple badges at a time and build their collection within a learning specialization. Learning Specializations is a type of professional learning that gives teachers the freedom to choose what they need, when they need it, and whether they want recognition for their learning.
Additional specializations are in development.
Rankin said the program made her think of additional career goals.
“I’m thinking about seeking National Board certification,” she said. “I hope this is a steppingstone onto other things.”
VBCPS educators who are interested in learning more about specializations are encouraged to visit the Career Lattice intranet site.
Congratulations to the teachers who’ve earned learning specializations:
VBCPS Performance-based Assessment Specialization
- Victoria Marie Finnegan-Copen, English teacher at Salem High School, earned May 2019
- Adrienne Kravchak, gifted resource teacher at White Oaks Elementary School, earned June 2019
- Melissa Ross, gifted resource teacher at Salem Elementary School, earned June 2019
- Ann Simon, teacher at Renaissance Academy, earned June 2020
- Elizabeth Smith, gifted resource teacher at Creeds Elementary School, earned June 2019
- Margaret Wilson, AVID instructor at Salem HS, earned June 2019
VBCPS Personalized Learning Specialization
- Jenn Vedder, health and physical education teacher at Bayside High School, earned January 2020
- Victoria Marie Finnegan-Copen, English teacher at Salem High School, earned January 2020
- Ashley Rankin, Centerville Elementary School, earned February 2020
- Kristina Berney, social studies teacher at Princess Anne HS, earned April 2020
- Melissa Ross, Salem Elementary School, earned July 2020
- Anthony Nobles, Plaza Middle School, earned February 2021
VBCPS Language Literacy Specialization
- Victoria Marie Finnegan-Copen, English teacher at Salem High School, earned December 2019
- Chelsea Lamb, teacher at Alanton Elementary School, earned May 2021
VBCPS Team Leader Specialization
- Jenn Vedder, health and physical education teacher at Bayside High School, earned May 2020