Building Essential Skills Today
for the Future

improving student learning in partnership with research towards large-scale change


When teachers choose to improve the way they teach, get the support they need, and are able to lead, we believe that is when real change happens to how and what students learn.


Research has much to learn from what teachers are doing and teachers can be more powerful when informed by research. Strengthening the bridge between the two is a critical step in our process.


Start with where teachers and schools are at, map change to esisting systems and realities, throw in a trusted intermediary or two, create a common framework and langauge and watch it grow.


An effort to elevate the teaching and assessment of essential skills in our schools

BEST is working to shift how students learn and demonstrate essentials skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and self-direction (aka Work-Study Practices). We are doing this through a developmentally backed research framework, teacher professional development, new instruction in the classroom, and use of a statewide performance assessment system rooted in competency-based education (PACE). We are also building the evidence base that this works for ALL students.

BEST is a dynamic group of teachers and leaders in four New Hampshire school districts (Laconia, Rochester, Sanborn and Souhegan), the New Hampshire Learning Initiative (NHLI), the Center for Innovation in Education (CIE), the New Hampshire Department of Education, and KnowledgeWorks powered by JFF with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Our 4-Part Recipe

Making changes to how students learn is no easy task.  It requires a unique blend of elements to make it all work. Here is what the BEST collaboration sees as key ingredients to successful large-scale change.


New Hampshire’s Work-Study Practices are four essential skills and dispositions — collaboration, communication, creativity, self-direction — backed by a developmental research framework. Studentts need to learn these skills through intentional instruction if they are to master them.


Teachers work within an improvement cycle frame to learn how to design, instruct, and assess competency-based lessons on work study practices. This opt-in training strengthens teacher ownership and agency. No change in education happens without teacher expertise and buy-in.


New Hampshire’s statewide performance assessment system for competency-based education (PACE)  has been shown to validitly and reliably assess student content knowledge. BEST believes this same system can be the backbone to scaling success skills (aka Work-Study Practices).


The Work-Study Practices (or essential skills) in New Hampshire are grounded in a research-based developmental framework. This framework is being translated into rubrics and used by teachers in classrooms to pilot and improve for use by other teachers.  In turn, we are working to take what we learn from practice to improve evidence in the research domain. The two must be in dialogue.


Testing Essential Skills in the Classroom

BEST is working with teachers and leaders in four New Hampshire school districts to design, pilot and assess the use of grade-banded rubrics for the SELF-DIRECTION essential skill (aka Work-Study Practice).  Their work will feedback into the larger performance assessment or competency-based education system of over three dozen districts.


Ensuring success with every student, every day, in every way


Personalized for all students to be, responsible, and contributing citizens 


Committed to promoting respect, academic excellence, and pride by encouraging independent thinking within a culture of collaboration


Putting the student at the center to provide the foundation and encouragement for success

Change in action!

To change student learning, we first need to support teachers with the knowledge and skills they need make the improvements necessary to bring essential skill learning and assessment to their classrooms 

Voices from the field

Hear what students, teachers, and employers have to say about learning essential skills.

Collaboration is my strength.  Being able to talk to other people and work together is something I’ve excelled at in the work study practice projects.  They have shown me that, yes, collaboration is a strength.


Grade 12 Student

Everyone needs to learn these skills before they graduate.  It doesn’t matter if the person next to you does it faster.  What matters is that when you leave here you have the skills and knowleldge.

Angel Burke

Laconia School District Leader


We are looking for people who are interested in what they are doing and in growing their education.  We don’t want people who are waiting to be told what to do.  We want people ready to be part of the modern workforce.

Val Zanchuk

President of Graphicast 

Want to know more? Send us an email.

What’s New?

Regular updates from our work in the field including videos, photos, refletions, and leading thoughts from the many great people that are working on this effort.

Student and Teacher Agency in Action: the Self-Direction Toolkit Development Process

Researchers tell us, and employers confirm that individuals who demonstrate the 21st-century skills of self-direction, communication, creativity and collaboration excel in post-secondary and career experiences. So the more schools can[…]

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A Roadmap for Student Self-Direction: Building Essential Skills for the Future

For the full roadmap visit Students at the Center Hub. The BEST Self-Direction Toolkit is a collection of resources for teachers to use in the classroom for instruction and assessment that focuses on self-direction. The[…]

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BEST Self-Direction Toolkit for Grades K-12 is LIVE!

Check out our newly released Self-Direction Toolkit to support instruction and assessment in K-12 classrooms. A Roadmap to the toolkit can be found at the Students at the Center Hub.The[…]

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Guiding Organizations

with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation