Developing Competencies for 21st Century Leadership

What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do teachers and administrators need to build and sustain learner-centered, personalized schools and learning environments?

As schools and districts look to embrace student-centered learning — learning that is personalized, engaging, competency-based, and happens anytime and anywhere — teachers and administrators find themselves in need of a new set of knowledge and skills. The Nellie Mae Education Foundation has spent the past three years supporting educators to develop the knowledge base and skillset needed to lead transformed classrooms and schools. This work began in 2015, when Jobs for the Future (JFF) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released the Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching, which provided a framework for what teachers need to know and do to be effective in a student-centered setting. In January 2017, we supported Hartford Public Schools (CT), Providence Public Schools (RI), and Noble High School (ME) to implement the Educator Competencies. Over the past year, we’ve followed the efforts of these three communities to understand how schools and districts bring the competencies to life.

But we knew that shifting classroom practice was not enough. Developing a student-centered learning community — in which students feel valued, supported, and have agency in their learning — requires that educators also feel valued, supported, and have agency in their professional development. Schools also need to embrace continuous improvement, shared leadership and improved transparency to shift school culture and practices. To support leaders in making these shifts, JFF and CCSSO developed the Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education in 2017. This complimentary set of competencies provides a new framework for what leaders need to know and do to effectively support teaching and learning in a student-centered school.

These competencies provide an ambitious roadmap for leaders on what to emphasize, how to make those decisions, and the perspective needed to build a transformative, student-centered learning environment. They have been tested with practitioners and incorporate feedback from over 125 experts nationwide. The Leadership Competencies are grouped into four domains:

  • Vision, Values, and Culture for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education
  • Personal Skills, Mindsets, and Values
  • Capacity Building for Innovation and Continuous Improvement
  • Shared Responsibility and Structures for Continuous Improvement, Innovation, and Assessment

In September 2017 we released an RFP to continue our support of the implementation of the Educator Competencies and to support districts looking to implement the Leadership Competencies. After a competitive review process, we selected three proposals that we are excited to fund:

  • Learn Launch Institute is working with five districts across Massachusetts to support school leadership teams through a targeted professional learning series aimed at strengthening their leadership of transformational teaching and learning models in their schools. Through this effort, school and district leaders will understand and apply the Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered Learning framework as they develop, implement and evaluate their leadership practices.
  • Providence Public Schools is adopting the Leadership Competencies to deepen leaders’ understanding of how to promote and lead a successful student-centered learning culture. Through monthly cross district professional learning community meetings, school leaders will collaborate on their leadership competency action plans. School leaders will also engage teachers, students and families in this work.
  • Salem Public Schools is integrating the Educator Competencies into its teacher recruitment and hiring strategies. Salem, in partnership with TNTP, will integrate the competencies into its teacher development approaches, including a summer training for early career teachers; incorporate the competencies into hiring processes and materials with a goal of attracting and hiring educators committed to personalized learning; and building student voice into the hiring process.

This year, we will learn a great deal about how the Educator and Leadership Competencies are being utilized in schools and districts nationally. We plan on regularly sharing our insights to help the field utilize the competencies, so stay tuned for blog posts over the next year! If you would like to learn more about the competencies or have already taken steps to utilize them in your own school or district, please contact me at — I would love to hear from you.