Ten years ago, I became a National Board Certified Teacher. Ten years ago, there was not an explosion of fireworks on the computer screen like there is now to celebrate certification. What I saw was a simple blue screen that stated my score. This was an anti-climactic end to a grueling year of life-consuming work.
Completing my National Board certification was a new kind of professional development for me. Prior to learning about National Board, I thought the only way to advance in education was to accumulate degrees. I had already completed a graduate school degree, where I followed a prescribed set of classes and hoops that I jumped through with very little accountability or question regarding the outcome. National Board was so very different. It was scary to be in charge of determining my own needs through self-assessment and determining my own actions steps. It was overwhelming to immerse myself in the best practices across the full range and ability level of Literacy and come to the stark realization my implementation was lacking. With those challenges before me, I dove into my pursuit of National Board Certification.
A vital component of the National Board process was the opportunity for me to spend time in critical conversations with like-minded teachers in my district cohort. Teaching can be very lonely when you close your door and teach kids all day without talking to another adult. I would sometimes isolate myself in the name of efficiency, or to avoid the drama of my school culture. What I did not realize was that I was also closing myself off from opportunities for reflection. As a teacher, I make thousands of decisions a day. Many of those decisions are instinctual and intuitive. At the end of the day, I am planning what is going to happen the next day, not taking time to reflect and process on the decision making from the heat of the moment. In my cohort, I had the opportunity to hear other teachers reflecting and have deep discussions about my practice.
My best take away from National Board is that I love taking videos of my class. I do not love seeing myself on video so much, but I quickly learned that in every video I learn a tremendous amount about myself as a teacher and practitioner. The superficial takeaway from my first video was that I say “Ok” far too much. The deeper takeaway was how I sometimes got in the way of my students’ learning by rescuing them. When I was too eager to jump in and help them, the learning stopped. When I waited, my students said the most astounding things. What I realized is that the ‘why’ is very important to me. Consequently, I shared the reasoning behind every lesson with students, and thought I was doing a great job in providing relevance. One videotaped lesson started with students sharing something for which they were grateful. I started to tell the students why it was important to show gratitude and how that related to the book we were reading. I looked at my glassy eyed students and realized that while it is important to make connections and understand the ‘why’, I was doing all the thinking in that room. Instead, I asked the students why they thought gratitude was important. No one raised a hand. It was really quiet. And awkward. For a long time. But I waited. Finally, one student raised her hand and said, “Because dark doesn’t drive out dark. Only light does that.” Even writing that now, ten years later, it brings tears to my eyes. Not because it was a beautiful thing to say or showed how much she had learned from our unit on Martin Luther King Jr. even though both those things are true. It brings tears to my eyes because I almost missed it. How many opportunities to listen to my students had I missed because I was doing all the talking?
By the end of that year, there had been a lot of tears and frustration, but also a lot of growth. I remember hesitantly sharing a first draft of written commentary with my cohort. I only had half of it finished, but needed some feedback in order to move forward. It seemed like every sentence I had written prompted a question about clarity or specificity from someone in the group. I left the meeting in tears because I had always considered myself a good writer, but my flowery descriptions were not going to reach the depth of analysis required by National Board.
After completing my yearlong process, I could tell that I was better at wait time, at not rescuing students from their own learning. I was actively engaged in gathering student voice and using that information to drive my instruction. I was better at seeking out colleagues who would listen and engage with me in self-reflection. The change I was not expecting was how my focus expanded. I always wanted to be the best teacher I could be, but after completing National Board, I discovered that I wanted other teachers to be the best they could be as well. Moreover, I was open to that looking different from my own practice. I engaged at a local level in teaching pre-service college students at a local university. I sought out opportunities to mentor new teachers in the profession on a national level through NEA’s Early Career Learning Lab. None of these opportunities would have been possible if it had not been for the growth I made through the rigorous National Board process.
It was an easy decision for me to choose to renew my National Board Certification this year. I felt the flutter in my stomach as I started a video of myself working with students. I have the standards open and been diving in to them at all opportunities. They are my constant errand companion as I sit in the waiting room of the dentist office or while waiting for a flight. The National Board process helped me to grow both during and after my certification. I cannot wait to see how much I grow over next ten years.