West Fargo Public Schools has partnered with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and KnowledgeWorks to strengthen our goal of shifting educational practices toward personalized, competency-based learning (PCBL). Over the course of the past year, district leaders have been working to clarify what PCBL means in our district. Part of that process was establishing our beliefs about education and vetting them through our principals, directors, coordinators, deans, teachers, and support staff.

Belief No. 1: As an educational system, we believe that teaching is both an art and a science. We utilize research and study best practices to determine our instructional practices. We believe in a guaranteed and viable curriculum (GVC) as an entire district. This means that we have defined a progression of learning and proficiency scales to articulate student competencies aligned to the standards at each grading period. We believe that the GVC needs to be on a cycle of continuous improvement and needs to be created collaboratively with teacher teams and coordinators. We believe the district-wide curriculum teams can work collaboratively to determine that the proficiencies are attainable, and to select appropriate resources (including the learning environment) to implement in the classroom in order to facilitate the learning. We believe that teacher-student relationships are crucial, and that the professional teacher in the classroom needs the autonomy to determine the best course of action to facilitate student achievement of the proficiencies. While the GVC provides a firm foundation for instruction, it does not have a ceiling – there is no limit to where teachers and students can take learning and make meaningful connections.

Belief No. 2: We believe in foundational knowledge and understanding, and the use of whole-group direct instruction and gradual release, modeling the thinking process and guiding students through practice as they move toward independence. We believe that learning is social and requires humans to interact with other humans. We believe in the use of whole-class engagement, encouraging student agency and reflection as key components of the learning process. We believe in differentiated small group instruction that has flexible placement and pacing to help all students move forward in their learning. We believe in the use of targeted learner supports and in the use of a comprehensive assessment system to help ensure that students are receiving the supports they need to support them becoming life-long learners.

Belief No. 3: We believe that relationships are critical among students, between students and teachers, among teachers, between teachers and administrators, among administrators, and among our parents and community. We believe in social-emotional learning, and that our students need explicit instruction in order to build and practice skills for their mental health, beginning when they first enter our schools. We believe our teachers and administrators need to be given opportunities to grow in their own knowledge of mental health and that self-care is a critical component that needs to be promoted. We believe that modeling and teaching caring, kindness, and genuine interest in our student’s lives promotes student’s engagement in school.

Because of these beliefs:

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We are not looking to create a system that does not have grade levels.

We are not looking to have students spend the majority of their time learning on or from a technological device.

We are not expecting teachers to write individualized personalized learning plans for students.

As we shift, we are looking to increase learner agency and help develop students who have internalized self-efficacy. We believe that students who take ownership of their learning and are engaged in the process are more likely to learn and achieve their goals. We believe this type of learner is what the future needs, and that a structure of school that supports our district mission to “Educate today’s learners for tomorrow’s world” is aligned to our values and beliefs. We will do this by:

  • Increasing student choice opportunities that are articulated in the GVC and organically in the classroom.

  • Allowing students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways.

  • Engaging students in higher levels and depth of knowledge and more creation.

  • Increasing student voice by asking students for insight into their passions, thoughts, and reflections on the process.

  • Making a more deliberate connection to the purpose of learning. (I can … so I can…)

  • Providing staff and students with opportunities to learn about and implement strategies to promote mental wellness.

  • Providing students with enrichment opportunities.

  • Utilizing meaningful standards-based/referenced grading to provide students with meaningful, actionable feedback.

  • Fostering the development of the key dispositions outlined in the profile of a graduate.

  • Utilizing instructional tools that simplify the teaching and learning process.

West Fargo Public Schools is growing in more ways than just enrollment. We are leading the state in shifting the old model of schooling into a model that will prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world.