Center of the Circle Nancy Kelley

Center of The Circle – A History of the Competent Learner Model

“Learners. Who’s teaching who? The truest form of learning is teaching.”   ~ Vicci Tucci

Vicci Tucci is, for me, boss, mentor, friend and inspiration. We first met 31 years ago when I was an instructional aide working in the same classroom where Vicci was working with a challenging learner. These were early days for Vicci working for the Monterey County Office of Education and developing what would come to be her revolutionary framework for intervention called The Competent Learner Model.

I first heard Vicci Tucci’s name when I came home from college working summers but it wasn’t until I went to work full-time in 1992 that I was introduced to her while she was working with that student in the classroom in which I worked as an Instructional Assistant. The way she worked with this learner consumed my thoughts. I began to use her words and thus found my own voice. She formulated the scripts on what to do, why, how, when, where to establish, to strengthen, and/or to weaken behaviors in students. There were constant “light-bulb” moments. We analyzed delivery methods: what works, what doesn’t work. Bard Blades School became the center of the work but the laughter, the teasing fun was contagious!

Programming looked so playful no one realized it was work, not even the students! Vicci and her then developing Competent Learner Model were the talk in every classroom and discussed daily in the teachers’ lounge. This challenged the engaged staff to think, talk, and deliver programming with this new language. It just made complete sense to me. My confidence came from these instructional conditions working and being able to name them. The new Competent Learner Model framework was universally effective because it was conducive for ALL learners, at ALL levels of ALL ages. The joke was that it even worked on spouses because they fit right into the Pre-1 Level of Naïve Learner!

The classrooms of the Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE) became Vicci’s research laboratory, and the teachers her lab assistants. She gathered committed colleagues and became the natural and unequivocal center of a group working in classrooms with learners to develop the foundations of a non-coercive, play based approach to changing behaviors for all learners, even the most challenging.

The magic of finding a lifelong mentor is being at the right time and in the right place personally when that person crosses your path. I was drawn to Vicci. She pushed me to think in new ways, ask new questions that sparked a search for bigger answers. Vicci was the well that I returned to over and over for inspiration, validation, and the motivation to continue to grow as an “education professional”.

Try, analyze, adjust, deliver, analyze, observe, modify, run, 

…and repeat.

Was the mantra of those years.

The videotaping was endless! Running formats to document skills/repertoires for training purposes for ourselves and others. It’s amazing what you can learn about timing, prompting, positioning, etc. to better the instructional delivery and outcomes when you watch yourself on video.

I was in-decision about my career path at that time because I was in the teaching credential program but feeling “boxed in” and so made a huge career decision for myself. I went to work for Tucci Learning Solutions, Inc. and CEO Vicci Tucci. One of the best decisions of my life! There were 3 of us, then 5, then more when I left in 1996 to have babies. When I returned in 2003 there were at least 100 employees and a well-built Competent Learner Model curriculum in place. Honest first thoughts to myself were, “Wow, big circle! I don’t want to share her with all these people!”

But her vision was so much bigger than what I had imagined. I have had the pure joy of watching the progress of students, parents, and teachers. I watched Vicci take her Competent Learner Model curriculum from the interior walls of Monterey County classrooms to the world. The technology progressed from bulging binders, to DVD’s, then online units. With the progress came the ability to impact classrooms all over the United States. Today Vicci’s Competent Learner Model curriculum and her teams are supporting families, classrooms, and individuals all over the world!

Tucci quilt

My favorite aspect of the Competent Learner Model has to do with the hands-on delivery of programming in a playful manner. That was my strength. The play of “Play, Learn, Achieve” is the ticket in! In other words, you are stopped in any program plan unless you motivate participation which is best achieved through play. The four instructional conditions of Participation are the starting point; Teacher directed, Semi directed, Peer directed and Non-Directed. These conditions encompass the other seven repertoires constantly circling all programming across individuals and environments. Understanding that participation is foundational to generativity in development was the light-bulb for me. Participation is the consistent go-to in progressing toward mastering criteria, and toward competency and growth which produces a Competent Learner. As Vic would say, “Do we have a participator? Why?”

There is a handmade quilt (thank you Anna Mae) from a teacher in the original circles/teams that feature the very first CLM learners. Actually this quilt should be showcased! I am beyond proud to be a member of those original teams (with Deborah Thomas) that worked with those students on that quilt. Never forgetting those learners and what they taught us!

Vicci Tucci has been a huge influence in my career and my daily life-even for the last 31 years. She even helped name my daughter. I am extremely thankful our paths crossed way back when. Proud to call her my mentor, my friend, my boss!  Treasuring the good ole days and those still to come.

Forever Thankful,

Nancy Kelley



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