My National Board certification journey began as an idea, a seed. As a lifelong learner, I was seeking my next challenge, when a colleague who had achieved certification was looking to start a cohort at our school in which she would provide support to a group of teachers who would commit to being candidates. I chose to attempt to achieve certification over a two year time frame.

As I began to dig into the National Board Body of Knowledge, and the seed began to take root, I quickly realized that there was a lot of information to take in. There was the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching, which had strong parallels to writing and implementing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), something I do all of the time as a special education teacher. Then there was the 5 Core Propositions, some of which I felt I already strongly embraced, such as teachers are committed to students and their learning, and others that were a bigger stretch for me, such as teachers are members of learning communities. Early in my career I spent some years feeling like an island. I collaborated with general education teachers, but not effectively and in a way that was impacting my instruction positively. The other piece was the Standards for the certificate area I was seeking certification in, which still hold new meaning every time I read them.

In my first year as a candidate, I felt validated as a teacher that the decisions I made within my classroom were sound; however, I also sought out opportunities to build relationships with my students. I had always made it a priority to know where they were performing academically, but came to the realization that knowing them at a deeper level than that was just as rewarding for me and their achievement. For example, I learned about their living situations and siblings. I learned what their parents did for a living and how they spent their evenings. I noticed that there were teachers around me that did this naturally, and that I could leverage their knowledge in this area to improve my practice, impacting my school community at a larger scale. What started as a seed was now a small tree beginning to grow branches.

As time to reflect and digest some of this information passed, I implemented it as small changes to my practice that began to positively impact my students. Along with the above example, I began to take risks in the classroom and differentiate my instruction as I hadn’t attempted before. In my Resource Classroom, this was things like questioning, more purposeful scaffolding built into my small groups, and collaborating with general education teachers and learning strategists resulting in the content I was teaching being more relevant to students and what they were learning outside of my four walls. I looked for ways to better engage my students in their learning and assess their progress. It is now a regular occurrence for my students to explain their thinking, whether verbally or through writing. My formative assessment is ongoing, meaningful, informative, and deeper than it was before I began this journey.

In two long and challenging years of receiving support, writing about and adjusting my practice, filming my instruction, and reflecting on my assessment strategies, student engagement, and my participation in the learning community at my school; I felt as though I’d grown immensely as a teacher. This was not without personal sacrifice and challenge. Teachers have lives beyond our classrooms, though our young students may not always grasp that. Things at home were tough throughout this journey, but I committed to persevering. I knew life would never be free of challenges or the ideal perfect time, just as there are ideal growing conditions for a tree, but nature doesn’t always follow suit.

My first try would not result in achieving National Board certification. After the time invested, this was heart wrenching, but I knew I couldn’t give up, just as I wouldn’t allow my students to give up when they experience a failure. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” I saw how my students were achieving at levels I had only hoped for. Between this and the deeper relationships with my students, I was determined to become a National Board Certified Teacher. My two year plan was now a three year plan.

Through this extended portion of the journey, I branched out of my classroom and found new opportunities to engage in learning communities. As I pursued resubmission of one of the portions of my portfolio, I also embraced the role of a teacher leader. I joined new committees on my campus and within my school district. I pursued my mini passion, social emotional learning. My students benefited from these things as well. They were well informed about what was going on in their school, empowered to have a say, and better engaged in their learning; aware of upcoming events and how to access them, things I didn’t know two years earlier could exist in my four walls. When I felt like an island, I didn’t know where to find answers to the many questions we inevitably have as teachers, I didn’t know how to advocate for myself and my students. Now I do.

I persevered and resubmitted. After the painstaking wait to receive scores, I recently became a National Board Certified Teacher! My tree has grown and the branches have a reach I can only imagine, but the journey is not done. We are teachers, lifelong learners, committed to our students. What’s next? For me, I know it begins with paying it forward and helping others achieve the NBCT designation.

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