Author Archives: CSTP Staff

National Board Certification, the Second Time Around

Shelly Milne

Lately, I have been reading a lot about the importance of helping students develop a growth mindset. A student with a growth mindset knows she can grow through hard work and perseverance. Right now, I am totally embracing the concept of the “not yet” mind set. Thank you, Carol Dweck, for celebrating the idea of encouraging students to ‘stick with’ hard things. This concept is especially important to me because I have been a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence English-Language Arts (EA ELA) since 2004, and three years ago I decided to attempt certification in new area.

After renewing my certification in English-Language Arts, I moved to the position of Library Media Specialist in my building. As a Jump Start trainer and year-long National Board candidate support provider, I started reading the standards for Library Media Certification, and, yes, I saw some connections to my language arts standards, but I also noticed other areas that were unique to Library Media. I started thinking, “I need to learn these new standards and work on a second National Board Certification.”

Now achieving National Board Certification in Library Media is important to me because, after spending over three years working as a Teacher-Librarian, I realize the role and importance of Library Media Specialists is not fully understood. I earned a Library Media Endorsement from Antioch University three years ago, and before that experience I didn’t really know the significance of the role either. Earlier this school year, I was asked to cover another teacher’s class. I said, “I would, but I have a 5th grade library class coming in at that time.”

I was surprised when I heard this response, “We’ll get someone else to cover the library, so you can cover a core language arts class.” Fortunately, I have been around awhile, so I felt comfortable saying, “No, I am going to stay with the class I prepared to teach because I am doing important work in the library.” This attitude that library media is an extra add-on that isn’t as important as core classes is something I would like to address as a teacher-leader and earning my Library Media Certification will help me with this task.

I may be feeling anxious about finding out my scores, but working on a second certification has reminded me of just how much courage it takes to open up your practice for evaluation. It’s more than just a considerable time commitment. As a National Board Candidate, you tell assessors what you did; how and why you did it that way; and share student results and your reflection on the process. Then you send in your work and wait…and wait…and wait some more. Waiting for the score report where assessors tell you how much evidence of accomplished practice they found in your written commentary and other submitted artifacts. No teacher wants to read the words: shows little or no evidence of accomplished teaching practice.

So like all candidates who are waiting for their scores, I am nervous. As a National Board support provider, I am also nervous for the candidates I have been working with for the last three years. I know first hand how much energy, time, and commitment they have invested in this process. When they started in 2014, they didn’t know what score it would take to certify, but they were willing to open their practice to scrutiny and start the journey toward certification. I have the utmost respect for the pioneers of the NB 3.0.

I have been rehearsing what I will say to people if I don’t certify on my first attempt in this new certification area. When people ask I plan to remember the work of Carol Dweck and simply say, “Not yet.” This mindset is actually not a new concept for me. I have always embraced the “not yet” mindset. Not yet just means I am continuing to grow. As a 30+ year educator, a growth mindset makes sense. In over thirty years in this profession, I have never completed a school year, and yelled at the end, “I nailed it! All of it!” This teaching thing is complex. Like all accomplished educators, I always end the year reflecting on where I nailed it, and where I missed the mark.

So even though I am a little nervous as I anticipate Score Release Day on December 16. I do know this if my score is 110 or more, I will celebrate with all the thousands of new NBCTs across the country, and if my score is 109 or less I am still going to celebrate the growth I have experienced so far after digging deeper into what an accomplished Library Media Specialist knows and is able to do. After seeing my scores, I will do what I have always done. I will roll up my sleeves and decide what I need to learn, understand, and show in my next attempt because that’s what accomplished teachers do every single day.


Biography: Shelly Milne is National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence English Language Arts. LA. She certified in 2004, and renewed in 2012. Four years ago, she moved from a 7th grade Humanities classroom teacher at Cashmere Middle School into the position of teacher-librarian. She earned her endorsement in library media from Antioch University. She is currently a National Board Candidate in Library Media. She provides candidates with yearlong support and works as a Washington Education Association Jump Start Trainer. She’s also member of the National Education Association Jump Start Team.

The Critical Friend (and why we all need more of them)

NBCT Joanna Tovar Barnes

This guest post is courtesy of Joanna Tovar Barnes. Joanna is a NBCT in EMC Literacy. She teaches third grade at Lydia Hawk Elementary in Lacey, WA. Her areas of professional interest include English Language Learners, social justice and integrating art, science and social studies into elementary curriculum.  She facilitates for North Thurston School District’s National Board cohort.  When not teaching Joanna travels the world seeking culture, food and understanding.

When I first heard my role at the Teach to Lead Summit in Long Beach, CA was a “critical friend” I wrinkled my nose and thought “that doesn’t sound like a good thing, who wants a critic?” The term ‘critical’ conjured up images of a group of reporters dissecting a starlet’s wardrobe choice or a food critic berating a chef for his uninspired appetizers. “The Critical Friend asks probing questions” the organizers of the event said, “They make suggestions about possible resources, and offer a fresh perspective on a problem.”  I unwrinkled my nose a little and thought “Ok, maybe I can be a critical friend.  I can do those things. That sounds helpful instead of scary. Also, maybe I need more of these ‘Critical friend’ people in my life.”

I think the opposite of a critical friend could be called an ‘echo-friend’. We all have them. You go to these friends when you want your conclusions validated, not questioned. When prompted they say things like “you’re absolutely right!”, “of course” and “obviously”.  “I’m right and she’s wrong, right?” I ask “of course you are” my echo friend nods knowingly.  I feel better.  My own conclusions were echoed back to me and now I feel justified, reassured and comfortable. No questioning or suggestions, no discomfort.

Here’s the problem with the echo friend; eliciting this kind of feedback leaves us right back in the same place we started with our problem.  In fact, now that our choices have been validated we are even more firmly rooted in the patterns that got us to our frustration point when we sought out our echo friend.  I admit that sometimes I don’t want to go deep and think critically about big problems, I want to vent, or have someone tell me I’m right. However, I can’t be surprised when I still have the same problems with no new strategies to tackle them when I’m done with my echo-session.  If I want to move forward in my problem solving I need a critical friend.


Teach to Lead Summit participants work together to process problems they face in their work. Teams and their critical friends use a logic model over two days to identify causes, outcomes and next steps.

From my time at Teach to Lead I am beginning to formulate some important steps in the art of being a critical friend. (it’s a good thing)

  1. A critical friendship begins with connection

Ok, we know that the critical part can help us move forward with a problem but that ‘friend’ word also really matters. As a teacher leader I’ve found that if people don’t know you and see you as a person outside of the current context they are less willing to accept critical feedback. People need to know that their critical friend is just that; friendly. That they assume positive intentions and competence and are there to be helpful.

I try to share something that tells people who I am professionally and personally. “I am passionate about social justice and interested in bilingual education” gives a quick glimpse into who I am at the core as a teacher and person.  It makes me vulnerable and encourages the person I’m working with to do the same.  I also present something I am still working to understand such as “I’m still learning about the new National Board component too, let’s look at the directions together”.

  1. Next it’s time to listen

The listen part is where the connection you built will allow you to get at what the problem is through how much the other person shares, which details they include and how they frame the problem.  Without the connection you may not hear much, or you may hear only a small window into the problem at hand.  You may need to go back and establish more of a connection before they will tell you more. Listening carefully will help you know which questions to ask. But hang on! There’s an important next step.

  1. Before questioning it is helpful to validate

Remember the echo friend we sometimes seek out? You’re going to want to meet that need too by acknowledging that this problem is frustrating, complex, etc.  You can use some counseling 101 phrases like “That sounds really frustrating.” Or “There are a lot of different needs you’re having to think about.”  This part matters because now you can strengthen your connection as a friend and you can meet their need to be validated. If we weren’t a critical friend we’d stop here.  But here’s where the magic happens and we become something more than an echo friend. Here’s where we push our friend forward.

  1. Time to ask some questions

I know enough to know I know very little about the art of questioning.  Luckily I have some awesome role models when it comes to this. Peers, friends and coaches who have challenged my thinking with thoughtful questions that at first made me huff, and then made me think much more meaningfully and deeply about something.

If you’re like me and are just starting to question critically maybe some sentence frames can help you. “I wonder…” “What if…” “Why do you think…” are some of my standbys because they’re open enough to allow the person wrestling with the problem to say something about them but encourage deeper investigation of one element of the problem.

  1. Now you can suggest resources

Oh boy, what you’ve been waiting for. Now you can tell them how to solve their problem if they would just…wait! Do not start telling them what you would do.  This is not about you. (I can’t help it, it’s the bossy older sister in me) It’s about them and their problem.  You can help by suggesting a resource you know of that might hold a missing piece of the puzzle, or someone who is struggling with a related problem.  The suggestion part needs to be connected to what you heard initially and when you questioned.  It’s important that the person you’re working with knows you’ve been hearing them when they shared.

Here’s the cool thing about the role of critical friend-you can do it with anyone starting right now! Just start connecting, listening, validating, questioning and suggesting.  If you’re an echo friend already, you have a connection and must be someone they trust to listen.  The next step for you will be questioning. I’ve pulled this trick on several people in my life since the Teach to Lead Summit.

I’m getting better at finding my own style of critical friendship and am recognizing when I see someone else who has mastered it and I seek them out to be one of my CFs.  If we want to move forward in our understanding we need to embrace the discomfort of someone giving us more than an “uh-huh.” We all need more critical friends in our lives so we can become better educators and people.  Isn’t that the point?


My amazing Teach to Lead Summit group who I served as a critical friend with our logic model.

Teacher Preparation – A Shared Responsibility


This guest blog post is courtesy of Amanda Ward, who is a National Board Certified teacher from Bainbridge High School (BHS) where she has taught Social Studies for 15 years. This year Amanda is serving as a part-time teacher and part-time instructional coach at BHS.  She also is a National Teacher Fellow for Hope Street Group, focusing on teacher preparation issues in the U.S. 

Last year, if someone had asked me about my thoughts on Teacher Prep, I likely would not have had much to say. I completed my teacher preparation program nearly twenty years ago and it really is a distant memory. The job of a teacher has changed in those twenty years and I have evolved as an educator to meet those new demands. Frankly I really hadn’t thought much about my training and early development, until recently. Now, after a number of new experiences this year, I have a lot to say about this topic and the need for all teachers, particularly experienced teachers, to take active roles in teacher preparation.

For the past year I have served as a National Teacher Fellow for the nonpartisan nonprofit Hope Street Group. One of the primary responsibilities of that position was participating in a national research project on teacher prep. Over six weeks, the 17 other fellows and I conducted in-person focus groups and distributed surveys in order to gather the opinions of nearly 2,000 teachers in 49 states about how they were prepared and their wishes for aspiring educators. We produced a report called On Deck: Preparing the Next Generation of Teachers that features the findings and recommendations from our research. What is not surprising was that teachers emphasized the importance of deep clinical experience as well as training in how to effectively work with high-needs populations. But this research also reminded me that practicing teachers need to take an active role in both assisting in the training of teachers as well as demanding that universities and school districts provide the preparation and support needed for individuals to be successful entering this incredibly challenging job.

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Secrets Student Share Help Me to Help Them


This guest post comes courtesy of Irene Smith, an EA ELA NBCT in Yakima, Washington, who teaches English Language Arts, Social Studies and more to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at the Discovery Lab School.  She and her students produce a full length Shakespeare play every year, and she is currently writing a companion text for The Tempest.

You may find this strange.

I collect students’ notes that they pass to each other. Sometimes I catch them passing their little missives and keep them. Sometimes I find them left on a desk or floor, tucked into a drawer or left on a filing cabinet. My students are aware of my fixation with their notes. Sometimes they even purposefully pass one in class in hopes that I’ll collect it in order to find the “Hi Mrs. Smith!” folded up inside. Some students purposefully intercept or find notes to bring to me.

I never read the notes aloud. I just save them until I’m alone to see what the message is. Mostly they are of relative unimportance- I m bored L. But not infrequently, they are full of mystery and angst.

Middle school students are careless, but I suspect they may sometimes leave these notes in order to let me in on their secret communications, to become more closely acquainted with their private worlds, and to help me understand them better.

Dear people at my school, I’m so sorry I’m weird. I’m sorry I don’t fit in. I’m sorry I don’t look pretty like all of you.

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Welcome to the dark side. . .


We are thrilled to have guest bloggers from time to time at Stories from School, and this offering is from Michelle Carpenter who is a MC-Gen National Certified Board teacher in Walla Walla, Washington. She teaches fifth grade and blogs about teaching, running and motherhood.

When one of our own is going into administration, we’ve all said it. “You’re going to the dark side?” “You are switching teams?” “You’re going to become THEM?” I’m just as guilty as the next.

For years, I have been told, “You would make a great administrator.” Not only did I not know what that meant, I didn’t know to ask, “What do you mean by that?” Normally, I just smiled and carried on, assuming that my organization and Type A personality was what they were referring to. I was always the one willing to take on any given task.

The fact is, when I started to continue my education, I felt a shift inside. I know that we need to view teachers as the experts; even when they might not see themselves as such. We need teachers to step up to leadership roles and be the voice for our students. We need to reach beyond our comfort zones and start having conversations with school board members, legislators and community members. They must be in our schools to understand the demands facing education today at the grass roots level. I knew I could do this and was feeling more and more confident in my ability to do so.
When I earned my Masters Degree and Professional Certification, I did a lot of reading, research and paper writing. I gained useful knowledge from that experience. It was when I earned my National Board Certification, that I felt the true change in me and how I positively impacted the teaching profession.

I was being asked to look deeply at my teaching. To question how I was affecting student’s learning and to think about how I could improve. I couldn’t do it alone. I needed colleagues, mentors and supervisors to help me understand the right questions to ask. I suddenly realized that there wasn’t one right answer, but there were a TON of right questions available to ask! During this time, I found myself in the position to do the same for my fellow colleagues pursuing their National Board Certification. I knew that I didn’t have the answer to their queries, but I could certainly offer some questions to help them seek an answer. I felt more “professional.” I knew that I had skills to share. And I felt more confident taking on district leadership roles.

One of my high school teachers, who I had remained friends with, kept planting the seed in my ear. “You are a great leader. You should take it to the next level.” I thought that meant chairing committees, mentoring teachers and continuing to earn those clock hours. I did all of those things. I enjoyed all of those things. But still, I just didn’t want to become one of “them.”

I’ve been doing this long enough (20+ years) that I have seen a lot of demonstrations of what administration means. I take the good and leave the rest. In fact, I’ll be honest. For the first 10 years of my career, I thought I knew what was best. And I did — for my lil’ class of 25 students. But I certainly wasn’t considering the larger picture or the players involved. That’s what time on your feet and in front of those eyes does for you. I have had administrators who were heavy handed, who were more bosses than leaders and controlling. I’ve had administrators who stayed in their office, didn’t have a voice and avoided the hard conversations. I knew education was changing and that none of the above were making a positive change in education.

And then we got a new principal in our building, and I felt, well … INSPIRED. Inspired to push my limits, to look deeply at my teaching with colleagues and to dream big. I spent the summer listening to and talking with a wide network of people — people who work at the community college, people who work at universities and people within our own district. The picture was becoming more and more clear. Education needs leaders who empower others; who weren’t afraid of tough conversations and who have a vision of change they are willing to sustain. National Board Certified teachers have been trained to do this.

I took advantage of leadership seminars, started reading books and looked into administrative programs. I earned scholarships to pay for my continuing education and I am currently enrolled at Gonzaga University moving full steam ahead. I know that the certificate at the end is going to be awesome. But this journey–right now–is pretty amazing in and of itself. I am meeting new people, seeing things from a new perspective and am taking this experience straight back into my classroom each and every day. I am using my skills from the National Board certification process with purpose. I reflect on conversations I’ve had, think about how it impacts student learning and am finding my voice in this changing role. Teachers need advocates. Teachers need to feel empowered. I can do this.

I may be going to the “dark side,” but it’s my plan to light that side up with clarity, inspiration and hope. What started out as a flashlight, has gained power and is becoming a flood light. At whatever level I work at, I know I can be the change and continue to provide the best education possible for students. Because at the end of the day, we are only at our best when we are on the same team with clear goals, reflective practices in place and effective communication.

I know I am going to make mistakes along this journey. How I learn from those and improve from those experiences are what count. It’s going to be hard. I’m sure there will be disappointments, frustrations and pure exhaustion. However, I feel the responsibility to my four sons; my current 24 students; and the thousands of students I’ve had and that are coming in the future. Ensuring the best education possible and having staff members that share the same vision because they are believed in, makes this calling even more important to me.

So as I heard this fall, “You’re going to the dark side?” I said, “There is no dark side. I will always be a teacher, no matter what the title. I’m following my heart. We are all in this together. The only way to change is to have people who are willing to light up this team. When administrators and teachers are leaders, students will always prevail. I’m in. Are you?”

For English Language Learners, Intentional Collaboration is Key

Tamar Krames

Guest blogger Tamar Krames is a NBCT in English as a New Language, a certified GLAD trainer, and an ELL instructional coach currently working with OSPI. Prior to her work at OSPI, Tamar worked as a district GLAD trainer and coach, taught ELL classes and co-taught sheltered ELL content classes. 

I recently sat at a table in a windowless conference room with a 3rd grade team of teachers. As you might expect, the table was covered with grade-level ELA curriculum materials, open laptops, and copies of Common Core Standards. Far less common were the open and highlighted English Language Proficiency Standards (ELP), Tier 2 vocabulary lists, and the laminated pictures piled on the table. Two teachers were pulling up engaging image files related to an upcoming unit on their personal tablets and one was searching her phone for affixes and Latin roots to support their vocabulary mini-lesson. While the driving force of the co-planning session was ELA content and standards, addressing the profound language needs of their dynamic students was inspired. This is it, I thought, this is what best practice for ELLs looks like. These teachers were clearly committed to their craft and to their multilingual students. But what made that collaborative moment so powerful was the shared focus of the whole building to best meet the needs of their particular student body. The teachers had common understanding of second language acquisition and ELP standards because a team of teachers had requested ELL training for the whole staff. The planning session had the full support of the building’s leadership. Collaboration was not happening on the fly. It was intentional and deliberately supported.

As a traveling ELL instructional coach, I visit diverse school communities across WA State. The geographic context and demographic mix varies greatly. One school community is comprised of Spanish-speaking migrant families living in a small town surrounded by orchards and mountains. Another school has no clear ethnic majority, the students speaking 15 different languages in one urban classroom. Regardless of setting, I walk into my first building visits with one central question; What might best practice for ELLs look like in this unique school community? I ask this question to school leadership right off the bat.

More often than not, the answer to this question disappoints me. Consistently the first answer points to a single focal point. “ We are so lucky to have a wonderful ELL teacher named A” or “ We just purchased this amazing online language program called B”, or “ our ELL Para has attended a training called C!”. Clearly this singular view of best practice begs the question – What happens when A, B, or C leaves the building?

As far as I can tell, there is no right answer to this question of best practice for ELLs. The learning needs of multilingual students are complex and always changing. A linguistics professor once said to my class, “ if you remember one thing about second language acquisition, remember this – language acquisition is without fail developmental”. For teachers this means that the ELLs support structures (scaffolding) must change and flex as their students’ English proficiency and content mastery develops. On top of that, the rate at which ELLs develop proficiency and mastery varies drastically in relation to a seemingly endless set of factors (literacy in first language, status of first language in the dominant culture, educational background, poverty, learning disabilities, access to quality instruction…)

If you need further proof of the complex and ever-changing learning needs of ELLs, try navigating though the English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards (An amazingly thorough matrix that outlines language development by grade level in relation to common core standards). Best practice for ELLs is truly a moving target as students trudge through the stages of second language development and academic literacy at their own unique pace.

More than a “right” answer to this question of best practice for ELLs, what I hope to hear is a plural answer that points to shared ownership instead of pointing towards one program or person. Whatever the site-based vision for ELL support entails, it must involve intentional and ongoing collaborative structures. Collaborative structure is different from collaboration as it is proactive and systematic – it implies a deeper commitment than amazing content teacher, X, that collaborates with one-of-a-kind ELL specialist, Y. Intentional collaborative structures answer questions such as, How and when do counselors, administrators, content teachers and ELL specialists work together to best schedule ELLs according to their developing proficiency level? How and when do content teachers investigate and integrate ELP standards into their grade-level planning? If the ELL specialist is ‘pushing in’ to core instruction – how and when do teachers learn about, experiment with, and reflect on co-teaching models?

Ultimately, the goal of any ELL program model is to expedite the academic English language/ literacy development of multilingual students so that they can meet grade-level standards and breeze through any gatekeepers they encounter on their path towards earning a diploma. Supporting ELLs through the K-12 system is not about finding the right teacher, program, or PD session. It is about shared ownership and commitment to refining best-practice, uniquely designed for each community, together.


The above drawing is an original piece done by Tamar Krames.

On Test Scores in Evals and Changing My Mind


The following post is by Nate Bowling is a 2014 Miliken National Teaching Award recipient and a founding member of Teacher’s United. He teaches AP Government & Politics and AP Human Geography in Tacoma.

The following excerpt is posted below with Nate’s permission, and was originally published on his website, “A Teacher’s Evolving Mind”. His writing represents his own thinking and not a policy statement of any organization/entity with which he is affiliated.

I have always been obsessed with how and when people are willing to change their minds. In my mid 20s I was fascinated by the book Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party. Well, that’s not really true. I was obsessed by what Cleaver did after the book. After seven years in exile in Cuba, Algeria, and France, Cleaver went on to become a Republican. I was fascinated: how did a founding member of the Black Panther Party become a Reagan Republican? That is a Tarzan swing across the political spectrum in the US. How does one change their mind so much on so much?

All that said, in regards to education policy when confronted with compelling evidence, if we are being true to our calling as teachers we have an obligation to evolve. Or put differently, people who are too stubborn to change their minds when confronted with overwhelming evidence aren’t worth listening to and I want you to listen to me in the future.

To read the full post, go to Nate’s new website “A Teacher’s Evolving Mind”


Why I’m Not Opting Out

Katie Taylor is a recently renewed NBCT (AYA/ELA) and serves as the Deputy Director for the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. The views represented in the blog post are her own and not representative of the organization for which she works.


Why I’m Not Opting Out

My third grade daughter came home from school on Tuesday, “too pooped to practice.” This is unusual for her, because rain or shine she cannot wait for Tuesdays and Thursdays because those are “soccer practice days.” She wasn’t ill, the weather was perfect for practice, so what gives?

Tuesday was SBAC testing, the third one so far in the last two weeks. When I sought the source of her exhaustion, I calculated that excluding stretch and snack breaks, recess and lunch, 4.5 hours of her 6.5-hour school day was spent testing.

4.5 hours in front of a screen, taking a test. Looking at her face, my mother bear instinct kicked in and I thought,  “I’m not having her go through this again” despite the fact that she still has at least two more days of testing to go.

And yet, after thinking it over, I decided not to opt her out of the rest of her tests.

I’ve been an educator for 18 years, a National Board Certified Teacher for 10, and a parent for 11 years. As an educator with children in public school, it is sometimes difficult to find the line between when I am engaging as an educator and when I am engaging as a parent. This year of testing has been particularly hard from both stances.

As a parent I am tempted to excuse her from testing, the educator in me knows the undue burden it would do to the other children, teachers and administrators at her school. Her discomfort was for a day, and no more than 5-7 partial days in one month. The pain inflicted on teachers and schools for low participation and low-test scores lasts entire school years.

I believe the solution lies in removing the punitive nature of what the test scores mean for schools in terms of resources and performance evaluations. I do not believe that my pulling my daughter out of school during the state tests accomplishes that. Being part of public education is being a part of a collective community, and I fully recognize that there are parts of her community that do not have the luxury of opting their children out for a myriad of reasons. For many of these families, the high-stakes tests are even more high-stakes since it’s many of these children’s scores on which resource allocation decisions are made.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like how much my children are tested, but I also don’t have any interest in returning to a time when it was okay to ignore the opportunity gap. Her teacher doesn’t want to spend his time testing, nor does her principal and I won’t affect a change in that outcome by having my daughter miss testing days.

As an educator and as a parent, I can make a change by being active in policy conversations and using my voice to change current and future testing practices.

As a parent, I can do what I did this week – listen to my daughter’s concern, tell her I’m proud of her perseverance and that all I want is for her to do her best, and then take her out for ice cream and tuck her in bed early with a good book.

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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The Christmas Tree Light Analogy

The following holiday offering is a guest-post from Brian Sites, an NBCT since 2009 who teaches and mentors at-risk students in a blended-learning program in Richland. He also currently serves as a Regional NBCT Ambassador Coordinator for the WEA.


It was time. Storage bins were cleared, the ladder was brought down, and the Christmas lights were dug up from beneath the layers of decorations that had been piled on top of them for the past eleven months. It was a frigid day; but the first snow had yet to fall, and I knew if I waited any longer, it would be a decision I would regret putting off. It was time to hang those darned Christmas lights (bah-humbug)!

As I began to unwind the wound-up balls of icicle lights, it dawned on me. The tangled lights represented a student. We all have those students, the tough ones who challenge our abilities as a teacher on a consistent basis. Within each of these students, there is so much they are dealing with, that it takes time to unravel what is going on beneath the surface.

Just like the unwinding of the Christmas lights, we must be patient with our students. The work can be frustrating at times, and although one approach seems to be working, all of a sudden, things seem to get even more tangled than when you first began. With patience, however, the tangles become less. The lights begin to unravel before our very eyes, and we see the fruits of our labor. Pretty soon, that ball of knots becomes something much greater than it once was.

It was cold, and there were times when I felt like giving up, and just going and getting a new set of lights. But, I persisted, and in the end, received what I set out to accomplish in the first place…creating something beautiful, that brings a smile to my face due to the joy I get knowing I had a part in the end result.

Our students are the same…we work to create something of beauty. We know the potential they have, of becoming that shining light that deserves the attention it has drawn. We are driven to work harder, knowing that we could give up and move on, but we choose not to because there is still work to do. We choose to hang in there, undoing the tricky knots, maneuvering every which way until we find what works.

In the end, we see the amazing beauty that was once hidden becomes visible for all to see, and our work was well worth the time spent.