National Board Revises its Renewal Process


pinBy Tom

Earlier this month the National Board for Professional Teaching Process announced a new process for NBCTs to renew their certification. For the last decade or so, renewal consisted of submitting a Profile of Professional Growth (PPG), a four-part portfolio in which NBCTs provide evidence that they’ve continued to grow as a teacher in accordance with the National Board standards.

Beginning in 2017, new NBCTs will have to renew their certification through a process called Maintenance of Certification (MOC). Those of us who have certified already will continue to renew using the PPG process, at least through the next cycle. The complete rollout chart is available on the National Board’s website. Beware, though; it’s complicated.

The MOC is a different process than the one with which we’ve become familiar. Continue reading

Inspiring the Next Generation of Teachers

Tuesday night I was at an award ceremony for teachers. One of the teachers being honored was described as patient and kind. She described the teacher who inspired her to go into teaching also as being patient and kind.

That made me sit up and take notice.

Now I already know the two words students most often use to describe me—strict and fun. My fourth grade teacher Mrs. Hester was the first teacher who inspired me to become a teacher. She was a-MAY-zing. And the first two words I would use to describe her would be strict and fun.

Do we as teachers get imprinted by our first great teachers?

I started thinking about the next teachers who would come into the classrooms.

Right now I see two movements heading toward us on a collision course.

My principal was talking at lunch about the lack of substitute teachers and about how thin the pool of quality applicants there was for teaching positions right now. There is a shortage of teachers across the state of Washington. The problem goes beyond our state, which means we can’t look beyond our borders to find quick solutions. Nationally, enrollment in teacher training programs is down as much as 50%.

Governor Inslee’s new budget proposes lowering class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, which is a step in the right direction. Once those class sizes are lowered, there will be positions open across the state for K-3 teachers. If we actually lowered class sizes K-12, which is what the initiative mandates, that would require even more teachers.

It sounds like there will be a lot more jobs and not enough teachers.

That worries me.

It worries me because I don’t want districts scrambling to find teachers. I don’t just want warm bodies filling positions. Nobody wants that! We all want amazing teachers.

It frustrates me that salary is a negative issue, a reason people flock away from education as a career. I’ve watched college students check out which degrees pay well and choose their college programs accordingly.

You can look at the data yourself. Go to the graph of The College Degrees with the Highest Starting Salaries put out by Forbes. You won’t find an education degree anywhere on the list! Starting teacher salaries typically range from just under $31,000 to just over $34,000.

According to the Bellingham Herald, “Washington allocates about $34,000 for a first-year teacher, even though the state determined that it should pay about $52,000, to be competitive” (emphasis mine).

It concerns me that lack of respect is another negative issue driving people away from careers in education. How many of you have met people who hold teachers, especially public school teachers, in low regard?

The truth is everyone has gone through school, some sort of education. They carry that experience with them. It colors the way they look at education—and educators—the rest of their lives. If you can get them to realize that you are not the teacher they had, that your school is not the school they went to, that the curriculum you are teaching is not the same that they had to learn, that the whole experience is different now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, sometimes that’s where you can actually start a conversation.

So how can we draw students into the world of education in spite of the problems? How can we inspire the next generation of teachers?

I’m actively recruiting.

A boy in my class did his social studies CBA on the Berlin Wall. Well into his presentation, he suddenly asked, “How would you like it if your city was divided in half—like this?” And he took a roll of crepe paper, taped one end to the counter at the front of the room, and unrolling the paper, walked to the back of the room to tape the paper to a bookcase in the back. All eyes snapped to attention and followed his every move. “You,” he pointed, “are East Berlin and you,” he pointed, “are West Berlin.”

He went back to the front of the room and continued his presentation. As he described various escapes and escape attempts, student volunteers that he had prepared ahead of time acted out what he read. Students were enthralled.

At the end I called for our standard “Three Stars and A Wish.” There were more than three stars as the compliments poured in. There was no wish. No one had any suggestion for improvement. Then I said, “I have a wish.”

The class waited. What more could I possibly expect?

I said, “I wish you become a teacher.”

He smiled and nodded, and the class agreed. He would be an a-MAY-zing teacher.

What I Learned From Finland


Whenever I go to a conference I act selfish. I’m there only to improve myself as a teacher and bring new ideas back to my own classroom. It was with that attitude that I attended a session at last weekend’s Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington DC. It was about education in Finland. The presenter was a man named Pasi Sahlberg: a real, live Finn, apparently with a Finnish name.

“Finland,” I thought, “Those guys are supposed to know what they’re doing. If I can’t get some teaching ideas from a Finn, then who?”

I was completely wrong. Continue reading

T&L 2015: Teaching & Learning, Teaching & Leading

Despite my best intentions of “live blogging” (which I really don’t know how to do) at the 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C, the confluence of too much to learn, a really old laptop and spotty wi-fi gave me permission to just sit back and learn. Warning: lots of links ahead…each worthy of exploring!

My singular focus at this conference was on teacher leadership and creating systems that will develop and sustain teacher leadership. I started on Friday with a session about Teacher-Led PD, then was a panelist in sessions to promote teacher voice through blogging (with David Cohen, Ray Salazar, Renee Moore and Daniela Robles…whose collective resumes are astounding) before being on another panel about how NBCTs can use their own leadership stories to help other teachers find their own pathways, where I also shared about CSTP’s Teacher Leadership Skills Framework, and mentioned the work of the Auburn SD and Camas SD Teacher Leadership Academies.

Saturday was a day for learning, first about a unique partnership between the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), NEA and NBPTS. This “trifecta” of sorts parallels our big three here in Washington state (CSTP, WEA and OSPI) and the power of bringing those three partners together at the national level was evident. This partnership helped to produce the Teacher Leadership Competencies. Like CSTP’s Teacher Leadership Skills Framework, the Teacher Leadership Competencies point out that there are unique skills necessary for effective leadership, and takes the added step of differentiating these skills for instructional leadership, policy leadership, and association leadership. These competencies are also deconstructed into leveled scales that describe what teacher leadership performance in these various skills might look like.

I also had the opportunity to spend a little time in a workshop facilitated by Leading Educators, which focuses on supporting teacher leadership skills for promoting change. In particular, the publication “Leading from the Front of the Classroom” (among others) offers much food for thought about creating systems of teacher leadership that are sustainable.

Lots to read, lots to think about. Good thing I had a cross-country flight to digest it all.

There was much more at the conference, including plenary sessions that were webcast live and were recorded (currently available if you click on the scrolling banner at the top of Visit there and take a look!

Last but certainly not least, at my group panel session about amplifying teacher voice through blogging, I met a handful of teacher-bloggers when the five of us panelists broke into small groups for discussion. Take a look at what teachers across the nation are writing about:

T&L 2015: Teacher-Led Professional-Based Learning

Some initial reflections from my time so far at the Teaching and Learning 2015 Conference in D.C.: 

The first big takeaway: teacher leadership positions need position in the system.

Ad-hoc or “anoint and appoint” teacher leadership simply does not last.

In other words, for teacher leadership to matter, it has to have a place…a permanent place…in a district’s system, hierarchy, contract and culture. It cannot be something someone does for a while because they’re good at it: rather, it must be an expected part of the system.

The first session I attended was “Teacher-Led Professional-Based Learning,” hosted by Lucy Steiner, Mark Sass and Chris Poulos. The info they shared built upon a foundation based on the Pahara-Aspen work ( which explored teacher leadership and building systems that work. Their goal: to help teacher, their schools, unions, and districts implement collaborative, job-embedded professional learning that leads to better student learning.

The panelists shared a shocking statistic: across the nation a school district will often spend six to nine thousand dollars per teacher, per year on professional development. Their point was simple: that investment, often on “outside” experts, wasn’t paying off. Instead, districts and systems would be better off investing that money back into their own system through teacher-led, job-embedded professional learning. Mark Sass put it succinctly: “workshops just don’t work.”

From this particular session, I’m bringing home this key learning, among other great ideas. In their research, this team uncovered the key needs around teacher professional development that works:

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I Oppose SB 5748

By Tom

There are two students in my class with attendance issues. They sit three feet away from each other. One student is the son of a banker and his mother is able to stay home with him when he’s sick, like recently when he missed about a week of school with bronchitis. His mom emailed me once or twice a day with updates on his health and requests for assignments so he wouldn’t fall too far behind. 

The other student also has health issues that affect his attendance. His mother has a low-wage job and doesn’t have the time – or the computer – to contact me twice a day when her kid is out sick. Not only that, when I called her in this week for a conference to talk about how her son was falling behind and how important it was to get her son to school “each day no matter what,” I quickly discovered that the root cause of everything was the fact that they were about to become homeless and she was at her wit’s end trying to figure out where to go and where to put their stuff while they couched-surfed for the foreseeable future.

As I was winding up my conversation with this desperate mom, racking my brain; trying to come up with resources that she hadn’t already contacted, the Washington State Senate was busy passing SB 5748, a bill that would tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.

When I heard about the bill, I immediately thought about those two kids, sitting three feet away from each other, both missing too much school, but with very different family situations. And I thought about how their physical proximity in the classroom belies the enormous difference in the level of support they receive from home and ultimately, their academic achievement level.

I doubt there’s an amendment to that bill that would take into account the living standards of the students taking those tests.

As we enter the Testing Season, it’s important for stakeholders to understand the enormous impact family life has on the performance of our students. It’s all fine and good to expect the best from both of these boys – and I do – but to expect their best to be comparable is simply unrealistic.

Accountability is important; for students, teachers and administrators. But please, hold me accountable for what I can control: how I plan my lessons, how I deliver those lessons, how I assess my students and how I communicate with their families.

I’m hoping the House will defeat their version of this bill. But I’m also doing everything I can to get all of my students to come to school each day so I can teach each of them the best lesson I know how to teach. 

And I’m also trying to find that mom a place for her family to live.

Teaching and Learning 2015…

public domain image

This morning I begin the cross-country trek to the other Washington for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference. I’m lucky to be attending both as a panelist for two sessions (one on blogging, one on cultivating teacher leaders through NBCT initiatives and district support systems) as well as a participant.

It was at last year’s T&L that Secretary Duncan shared the vision for Teach to Lead. While my natural skepticism initially pinged (was this just hollow teacher patronization in a climate of rampant teacher vilification?), after seeing the work of teacher leaders who are moving this initiative forward…and after attending the Teach to Lead Summit in Denver…I believe that this work is genuine. It helps, also, that this year’s T&L schedule is filled with sessions centering on cultivating and sustaining teacher leadership at various levels.

I know that whenever NBCTs get together in our Washington, I always learn and return home with new ideas and energy, and I’m confident that T&L will do the same. Many other Washington teachers will be attending T&L as well, including my fellow writer Tom… who through great fortune is stuck with me as a roomie yet again. Tom and I will no doubt be writing here to share our reflections about T&L in the coming days!

Balancing Teacher Leadership



This guest post is contributed by Shari Conditt, 2015 ESD 112 Teacher of the year. An NBCT, she is her union’s co-president and facilitates a NBPTS cohort for her district.

Sometimes I feel like I’m balancing on a tightrope, fifty feet in the air holding a yellow notepad in one hand and a hot mocha in the other.  Teacher leadership is a lot like that.
I work in a small, rural school district as a full time teacher.  I see over 120 students a day and teach two different AP courses. I developed my district’s national board cohort, a program I created in my district to facilitate teachers as they seek certification.   I am also the teacher’s union co-president, a position I’ve held for the past eight years. I’ve bargained four contracts, implemented TPEP, and worked extensively to mentor teachers and am now in the midst of trying to help teachers as we have a massive shift in our district due to the construction of a new high school.  Despite all of this work, I’ve remained incredibly positive and determined to provide our teachers with as many supports as possible.
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Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, Erin Marzwick, Betsy Cornell, Beth Spaulding, Mark Gardner, Shari Hills Conditt liked this post

PLC, Vulnerability and Student Work


Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky to participate in Professional Learning Communities with creative, student-centered, and dedicated teachers; the kind of teachers whose classrooms I would be happy for my own offspring to someday join (and let’s be honest, we all have those in our buildings for whom that sentiment isn’t true).

We shared lesson and unit ideas, we problem-solved the struggles our students presented, and the combined experience and innovation in the room each Friday meant that after nearly every weekly PLC I walked out with new ideas, strategies, or perspectives. Our PLC structure is supposed to follow the DuFour model, and with the focus of our building (and state) shifting toward monitoring meaningful student growth, that PLC model aligns well in theory.

My current PLC includes five of us, and three of us are teaching the course for the first time ever or for the first time after a several-year hiatus. While our classroom student growth goals aren’t worded precisely the same (we’re English teachers after all… and even the text of a student growth goal should convey voice), we’ve all focused on the broad concept of substantiation of claims, whether in analysis of literary or informational texts. This fits nicely with that giant elephant in the room known as the Senior Research Paper, which is a graduation requirement for our twelfth graders and requires proficiency at exactly that skill.

A while back, we took that big step across the threshold that every PLC must eventually broach: examining student work. In our case, a couple of us were sharing student work samples from the Senior Paper.

We tentatively distributed copies accompanied by disclaimers and pre-emptive apologies that built in a crescendo to the eventual appeal of please don’t judge my teaching by my students’ comma splices and inconsistent verb tense.

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Highly Capable and the Legislative Budget

Recently a teacher came to my room asking for advice. She had a little girl reading well above grade level, and she wanted to know how she could address her needs. We talked about options, and I shared some of the materials I use. She left feeling like she could better meet the needs of her exceptional student.

I teach fifth graders in a self-contained class for highly-capable students. My kids are bused to me from all over my district. Teachers in my school come to me for advice, but teachers in other elementary schools in the district do not have a HC teacher in their building as a resource. It’s not as easy for them to get help.

When I first arrived in this state in 1989, having a program for gifted students was optional for districts. The state had a pot of money set aside for gifted education. Districts that opted to offer a program could design a program that suited their needs—focusing on grades three through eight, for example—and then access state money.

These state funds, by the way, did not cover the cost of the program my district offered. My district ponied up the rest of the money.

Then a couple of years ago the state made Highly Capable part of Basic Education. Now every district is required to have a program for HC students. The program must run K-12. And according to McCleary, local levy money can’t be used for Basic Education.

Oh, yeah. The pot of money the state kicks in hasn’t really changed much over the years.

Wait a minute!

  • The participating districts have gone from voluntary (around half) to all required to have programs. Many are building programs from scratch.
  • The participating grade levels at each district have gone from some selected grade levels to all grade levels, K-12. I believe that’s an increase for every district in the state!
  • And after McCleary, districts can’t use local levy money to shore up any missing dollars.

Obviously, the districts need more money for quality programs to meet the needs of their Highly Capable students.

I’m on the executive board of WAETAG (Washington Association of Educators of Talented and Gifted). We saw this change in the law coming and realized teachers would need training. We worked with Whitworth College to train a cadre of WAETAG teachers as professional development staff to work with ESDs and districts to offer classes in Nature and Needs of Gifted, Differentiation, Critical Thinking, and Creative Thinking.

Attending those classes is, of course, voluntary.

Teachers who have HC students in their classroom need to be trained in HC students’ special needs and in how to meet those needs. It’s not fair to place HC students in a teacher’s classroom and tell the teacher to meet their needs without that training. (Most teacher training programs do very little preparation in terms of HC education. My original certification program in the 1970s? I think it had about a paragraph!)

I’m glad HC students are recognized as Basic Education students. I think they need targeted funding that meets their special needs. I think the legislature needs to fully fund both HC students as well as the professional development of their teachers.