Implementation in Three Phases

Phase One: Explore

Explore—During the Exploration phase, leaders form a team to investigate the possibilities of competency-based education systems, and they ask deep questions of those who would be most affected by this change.

During the Exploration phase you:

  • Read
  • Partner
  • Ask


When considering the adoption of competency-based education systems or really any education model that may differ from the current model, you might consider creating a reading list, visiting other schools and discussing what you read and see with others.

Look before you launch. 

As Blended (Horn & Staker, 2015) clearly delineates, competency-based learning and personalized learning are equal parts to student-centered learning. They claim that the model for education, the factory-based model (their words, not ours), has not changed for a hundred years. Supposing Horn & Staker and Chris Sturgis are correct, they would suggest adopting a student-centered model of education which is drastically different from the model currently implemented in the vast majority of public schools in the country. We say this not to pass a judgment on whether one model is good or bad, but rather to highlight the high degree of transformation a leader may be considering when seriously investigating student-centered learning. Therefore, before you move you should read, seek and listen.

Read intentionally.

When you develop your reading list, we recommend that you read for the big picture, the small picture and in between. Plan your reading list in advance, find a small group to read with you, and put yourself on a schedule with discussion meetings planned in advance. This will provide accountability to you and your team ensuring you stay on task and complete your exploration phase in a timely manner.

Three Strong Recommendations

These three sources are the foundation for this implementation guide.

get the book

Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools

Blended is the practical field guide for implementing blended learning techniques in K-12 classrooms. A follow-up to the bestseller Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson, this hands-on guide expands upon the blended learning ideas presented in that book to provide practical implementation guidance for educators seeking to incorporate online learning with traditional classroom time.

get the paper

Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

This paper describes effective district implementation strategies to convert traditional, one-size-fits-all models of education into more personalized, competency-based learning environments to meet students’ needs. This paper highlights strategies to engage, motivate, and teach all students to proficiency and mastery; depicts shifts in instruction toward deeper learning and meaningful assessments for learning; while exploring models of distributed leadership and educator empowerment.

get the paper

The Bootcamp Bootleg

The Bootcamp Bootleg is an overview of some of our most-used tools. The guide was originally intended for recent graduates of our Bootcamp: Adventures in Design Thinking class. But we’ve heard from folks who’ve never been to the that have used it to create their own introductory experience to design thinking.  The Bootcamp Bootleg is more of a cook book than a text book, and more of a constant work-in-progress than a polished and permanent piece.  This resource is free for you to use and share—and we hope you do.

The Big Picture List

Here is a list of recommended books that you can read to support your exploration of student-centered learning from a general and inspirational context.

get the book

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

In this instant New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”

get the book

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with agrowth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.

get the book

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

get the book

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the critically acclaimed bestseller Made to Stick. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

get the book

Steve Jobs

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

get the book

The Absorbent Mind

The Absorbent Mind was Maria Montessori's most in-depth work on her educational theory, based on decades of scientific observation of children. Her view on children and their absorbent minds was a landmark departure from the educational model at the time. This book helped start a revolution in education. Since this book first appeared there have been both cognitive and neurological studies that have confirmed what Maria Montessori knew decades ago.

get the book

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people—at work, at school, at home. It's wrong. As Daniel H. Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others) explains in his paradigm-shattering book Drive, the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today's world is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

get the book

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter more have to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control.

get the book

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World

In this groundbreaking book, education expert Tony Wagner provides a powerful rationale for developing an innovation-driven economy. He explores what parents, teachers, and employers must do to develop the capacities of young people to become innovators. In profiling compelling young American innovators such as Kirk Phelps, product manager for Apple’s first iPhone, and Jodie Wu, who founded a company that builds bicycle-powered maize shellers in Tanzania, Wagner reveals how the adults in their lives nurtured their creativity and sparked their imaginations, while teaching them to learn from failures and persevere. Wagner identifies a pattern—a childhood of creative play leads to deep-seated interests, which in adolescence and adulthood blossom into a deeper purpose for career and life goals. Play, passion, and purpose: These are the forces that drive young innovators.

The Small Picture List

Here are list of articles that will help you think about the details or nuances of competency-based learning.

get the paper

Blended Instruction

Digital technology is here to stay, with new tools and media for learning finding their way into schools and young people’s lives each year. But even as interest in technology-enhanced instruction grows, many educators struggle with how to use technology in ways that promote student engagement and achievement. One promising approach, blended instruction, combines web-based learning with face-to-face classroom interaction.

get the paper

An Up-Close Look at Student-Centered Math Teaching

Today, far too many students see mathematics as a subject to be endured, rather than a subject of real-world importance and personal value. That doesn’t have to be the case. When teachers use student-centered techniques to engage students in more active and authentic ways, they can transform math classrooms into lively learning environments in which students take charge of their own learning, collaborate with others, persist in solving complex problems, and make meaningful connections to the world around them.

get the paper

Student-Centered Schools: Closing the Opportunity Gap

The Student-Centered Schools Study, funded by the Nellie Mae Foundation, looks closely at four California high schools that use either the Linked Learning or Envision Schools model to achieve positive outcomes for all their students. These schools all serve predominately low-income students and students of color. These signature models of student-centered learning can inform efforts to address the national opportunity gap through student-centered practices.

The In-Between List

Here are a list of books and articles that are in-between big picture and small picture. They may support you and your team to begin connecting the dots.

get the book

Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don't Learn

The model presented in Pyramid Response to Intervention (PRTI) shows how Response to Intervention is most effective when implemented on the foundation of a professional learning community (PLC). It gives educators the information, tools, and processes they need to do that work, including over 2 dozen reproducibles. It uses engaging fictional narratives and examples from real schools that have benefited from PRTI. This book is readable, impassioned, and grounded in the experience of practitioners. Pyramid Response to Intervention makes RTI accessible and understandable.

get the book

Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning

Meeting the individual learning needs of every learner, every hour, of every day although espoused by educators, has only been a impossible dream for educators facing student-teacher ratios of 25 to 1. But, alas, it is now a reality....a reality that is hiding in plain sight. Inevitable: Mass Customizing Learning (MCL) describes a detailed vision of how schools can change from the present outdated Industrial Age, assembly line structure to a mass customized learning structure with the capacity to meet the individual learning needs of every learner.....that's every learner, not some, not most, but every learner.

get the paper

Building a New Structure for School Leadership

In this major research analysis, Richard Elmore explores the problems with the structure and leadership of public education, while explaining the dangers of public funding for private schools. He urges educators to study the schools whose leaders and best practice are succeeding in meeting high standards, including through the use of collaboration and distributed leadership. The report features successful efforts in districts where exemplary superintendents and principals are making it possible for teachers to offer excellent instruction.

get the book

Lessons From the Mouse:

What can you learn from a mouse? When that mouse has been delighting and entertaining hundreds of millions of people for decades - it turns out there is plenty to learn. Dennis Snow's Lessons From the Mouse provides ten no-nonsense, practical principles that anyone, anywhere can apply. He entertains while he educates with chapters like 'What Time is the 3:00 Parade?' Is Not a Stupid Question.The mouse is very candid here - no Disney pixie dust blinds the reader. Backstage snafus, onstage errors, and occasional chaos emerge in all their drama, humor, or irony. At its heart, though, Lessons From the Mouse presents ten lessons that guide readers in applying excellence in their own organizations, careers, and lives. Whether being used as a tool for increased organizational effectiveness or a pocket guide for the college grad or new entrepreneur, Lessons From the Mouse offers timeless, straightforward advice.

Write your reflections

Writing and journaling is a way to intentionally remember and reflect on what you have read and discussed. In short, keep a journal.

Visit other places

Take this time as an opportunity to see for yourself what others are doing. There are several schools in Oklahoma that have begun adopting student-centered learning, blended learning, personalized learning, competency-based learning or some combination of them. Find them, and go see what they are doing.

Designate time and space for discussion

Schedule dates, times and places to discuss reading and site visits before you begin your journey. This will provide you with some semblance of accountability and will allow others to provoke your best thinking.


Build teams that can explore and design with you. You will not activate all the teams during this phase, but you should be looking to create a pool of names and stakeholders you may want to include later in the process.

Exploration Teams

These teams are small, honest and thoughtful. They will help you ask the right questions, keep open minds and consider possibilities.

Design Teams—Horn & Staker (2015) describe four kinds of teams:

  • Functional teams are best suited to deliver sustaining innovations for problems who solutions do not require coordination with other teaching groups or department (p. 121).
  • Lightweight teams suit situations in which more than one group must work together to solve a problem, but the interdependencies between the groups are predictable (p. 123).
  • Heavyweight teams are led by a manager with significant clout and can be formed by choosing experts from different parts of the school community. The most important rule for this team is to leave behind departmental interests and instead work collectively to meet the project’s goal (p. 124).
  • Autonomous teams are best suited for disruptive innovations that may replace the traditional classroom. They have the freedom to rebuild budgets, staffing plans, facilities designs and curriculum from the ground up (p. 126).

Launch a Team

This team executes the design. Individuals on this team know their roles, responsibilities and their objectives. We recommend choosing a board member, a parent, some school leadership and teacher leadership at a minimum.


Deepen empathy with those who potentially will be most affected by the change.

Students know best

Before starting your program, ask your students three basic questions:

  • What do you like about school?
  • What do you not like about school?
  • If you could change anything in the school, what would you do differently?

Teachers matter

Teachers who connect with students personally and demonstrate compassion are often the best teachers for student-centered learning. Competency-based systems require that teachers know their students individually. Ask teachers about why they teach, how they connect, and seek to understand their goals and desires.

Go deeper, share the experience

Find ways to experience what students experience, to do what teachers do. This will deepen your empathy and will ultimately help you understand them.

The Stanford Bootcamp Bootleg says that you should definitely do these three things:

  • Observe the users' context and their behavior.
  • Engage the users, interact and interview them.
  • Immerse yourself in the users' experiences.


Take time to read your journal, revisit resonate texts and conversations. Know your people and as Horn and Staker (2015) say:

“Leaders do not need to know what model of blended learning they want to deploy or what the design of the program will be at this point. But they do need to have a sense of the scope of change that they want to realize.”

(Horn & Staker, 2015, p. 132)
© and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center 2017. All Rights Reserved.