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Mindset Matters: What is keeping schools from adopting and adapting CBE as a mindset and practice?

Scroll down past this ChatGPT-created essay to read my reasons for creating it.

**The following essay was crafted using ChatGPT from the following three prompts:

  • Prompt 1: Write a short essay explaining the differences between what a "competency-based" learning mindset might look like at a school and what the underlying philosophy of the mindset involves based on the following definition of competency-based education: "[Aurora Institute's Definition of Competency-Based Education]".

  • Prompt 2: Revise this essay to incorporate details and examples to support its claims.

  • Prompt 3: Revise this essay to incorporate hypothetical examples to more deeply illustrate the importance of competency-based education in schools.

Competency-based education (CBE) stands as a beacon of innovation in the educational landscape, fundamentally reshaping the traditional paradigm to better serve students' diverse needs. This essay aims to delve deeper into the competency-based learning mindset, enriching its exploration with hypothetical examples that vividly illustrate the transformative philosophy underpinning this progressive educational approach.
At the heart of the competency-based learning mindset is the profound empowerment of students to shape their educational trajectory. In a competency-based system, students actively participate in decisions regarding their learning experiences, knowledge creation, and methods of demonstrating understanding. Imagine a high school student named Alex, passionate about environmental science, who chooses to embark on a semester-long project. Collaborating with local organizations, Alex investigates real-world ecological challenges, providing a practical demonstration of the personalized and engaged learning fostered by the competency-based approach.
Assessment, a linchpin of competency-based education, undergoes a radical transformation into a dynamic and enriching learning experience. Picture elementary students engaged in a hypothetical scenario where they undertake a project-based assessment to showcase their understanding of mathematical concepts. The assessment not only measures mastery but also provides students like Emma and Jake with tailored feedback, allowing them to refine their skills continuously. This departure from conventional assessments as mere evaluative tools underscores the competency-based mindset's commitment to utilizing assessments as catalysts for ongoing student development.
In the competency-based learning landscape, the concept of time as a metric for progress is supplanted by a focus on mastery. Consider a middle school setting where students like Maya excel in advanced mathematics. In this hypothetical scenario, Maya progresses to higher-level concepts without being tethered to the predetermined pace of a traditional curriculum. This mastery-based progression ensures that students advance when they are ready, fostering a more individualized and equitable learning experience.
Active learning takes center stage within the competency-based model, offering students diverse pathways and flexible pacing. Envision a high school history class where students, instead of passively absorbing information, engage in collaborative projects that explore historical events from multiple perspectives. This hypothetical example illustrates how the competency-based approach accommodates varied learning styles, fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter and igniting a passion for history in students like Liam and Ava.
Equity, a fundamental tenet of the competency-based learning mindset, manifests in tangible strategies embedded in the educational fabric. In a diverse urban school district, educators actively incorporate culturally relevant content into the curriculum. In this hypothetical context, curriculum modifications ensure that all students, regardless of background, see themselves reflected in their learning materials. This intentional effort to address disparities in representation exemplifies the competency-based commitment to fostering equity at every level of education.
In conclusion, the competency-based learning mindset represents not just a departure from traditional models but a comprehensive reimagining of education. Through empowering student agency, redefining assessments, emphasizing mastery, promoting active learning, and ensuring equity, competency-based education emerges as a transformative force. The incorporation of hypothetical examples underscores the practical application of these principles, highlighting the nuanced and impactful nature of this innovative educational paradigm.


My reason for sharing this ChatGPT-created essay about Competency-Based Education (CBE) is to highlight two ideas:

  1. The information surrounding the benefits of competency-based education is so widespread that ChatGPT had no issue creating a compelling essay including relevant and specific details and examples so it isn't necessarily that CBE is niche or unknown but rather that there is something else likely keeping people from adopting and adapting it as a mindset and practice in schools;

  2. The underlying elements behind CBE described in this essay - Empowerment, Equity, Mastery, Assessment, and Active Learning - though not comprehensive are not groundbreaking, so it isn't that CBE is introducing controversial ideas but rather that there is something else likely keeping people from adopting and adapting it as a mindset and practice in schools.

What is keeping schools from adopting and adapting CBE as a mindset and practice?

First and foremost, we must recognize that the implementation of CBE can vary across schools while still adhering to its core definition, values, and principles. Each educational institution has its unique context, student demographics, and community needs, influencing the manifestation of competency-based practices.

For example, a suburban elementary school with a high percentage of ELL students might be looking for heavily language-focused assessments and tailored language support. This school's leadership might view other schools' use of CBE as insufficient if they are not illustrating the benefits of CBE in a way that addresses their need to support their ELL students.

In contrast, imagine a rural high school with a small student population and limited resources. This school may want CBE to address their desire for project-based assessments that leverage the local community's resources where students engage in real-world projects related to agriculture or environmental conservation. This school's leadership might view the suburban school district's use of CBE to be insufficient for their needs.

Now imagine an urban middle school with a diverse student body and varying socioeconomic backgrounds. In this setting, the school might be in dire need for culturally relevant content and support for providing differentiated instruction based on individual student needs. This school's leadership might view CBE as insufficient if it is not specifically addressing the needs that have already been identified by the leadership and their community.

What these schools struggle to understand about CBE is that purchasing a curriculum to support ELL students does not necessarily promote student empowerment; the project-based curriculum that incorporates agriculture and conservation does not necessarily address inconsistency in assessment practices; the culturally-relevant content may not necessarily address the fundamental issues plaguing the day-to-day teaching and learning in classrooms.

It is not the specific tool or procedure in a school or classroom that will define the effectiveness of CBE because it, like other effective solutions for different organizations, involves embracing a mindset as much as it may involve adopting new tools and processes. It is the mindset that requires a commitment to student empowerment, mastery-based progression, and a personalized, equitable learning experience. Adopting these kinds of core values and principles will likely require a shift in the kinds of tools and processes used across classrooms. However, what is far more important for schools exploring CBE is how they intend to shift their mindset to adopt elements of culture and shared values. This could involve shifting the balance of authority and responsibility between teacher and student, principal and teacher, or parent and school; how all of these stakeholders view different preferences for decision-making structures across grade level classrooms or among a school and its community; how the concept of respect, integrity, and responsibility are understood and discussed in and out of the classroom.

For example, to empower students is to shift the authority and responsibility of learning so that it is balanced between the student, teacher, and parent. The student must have a say in what, when, how, and why they are learning - it is unreasonable to hold a person responsible for a decision that they had no authority in making. The student who chooses to learn content in a course to avoid a failing grade and the resulting shame from family and friends was not given a choice in the first place.

Empowerment is a core value of CBE and will likely look and feel a little different in each classroom because the dynamics of the relationships among a community of teachers and students (and their families) will look and feel slightly different, but the empowerment can still be present in and out of the classroom. With this core value embraced as part of a shift in mindset, a larger solution will be addressed regardless of which curriculum specifically supports ELL students, focuses on projects involving agriculture and conservationism, or includes culturally relevant content.

So now go back and look at the ChatGPT essay and think about how its main points, while far from comprehensive, are underscoring a shift in mindset that your school may or may not know it is struggling to adopt, adapt, or maintain. Think about how the hypothetical examples in it shed light on how schools, driven by unique needs and priorities, may envision CBE differently and how the underlying challenges hindering widespread adoption of CBE are not in the lack of a specific tool or procedure but in the potential disconnect between the idea of certain tools or procedures and the foundational mindset required for their success. The effectiveness of CBE hinges on a profound shift in cultural values and shared beliefs - it is a commitment to values and principles that include and are not limited to student empowerment, mastery-based progression, and personalized, equitable learning experiences that require a transformation of mindset.

To truly adopt and adapt CBE, schools must navigate shifts in staff mindsets. Change the mindset, change the culture. In doing so, CBE becomes a powerful catalyst for addressing broader educational challenges and benefiting students on a profound and holistic level.

Greg Mullen

January 8, 2024

Image: Greg Mullen's (Developing) Framework for Self-Directed Schooling


Learn more from the author, Greg Mullen - schedule a consult session:

Greg Mullen is a credentialed educator who has spent the past few years developing an approach toward standards-based education through a lens of social-emotional learning. Inspired by his years as a classroom teacher in California public, private, and charter schools, his focus now is helping schools, teachers, and families troubleshoot obstacles in personalizing education. He enjoys spending his spare time researching across academic disciplines and occasionally performing as a rock musician. Having released his first book, Creating a Self-Directed Learning Environment, he continues to write and speak on topics of personalizing education across the country and around the world.

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