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Teaching and Learning – Reflections from a new NBCT

NBCT Spencer Olmsted is a new NBCT in Early Adolescent Mathematics and has been teaching 5th grade in Olympia, WA since 2006. He recently attended NBPTS Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC.

I’m a fifth grade math and science teacher. I spend most of my work day in the company of 10 and 11 year-olds, helping them develop critical thinking skills so they can learn how to read the world. We work on getting better at collaborating, accessing and analyzing information, and communicating our findings and questions to others. It’s good work, but all too often I work in isolation of other adults.

When I became a new NBCT this past year the thing that surprised me most was my sudden connection to new network of teachers and education advocates. I began to receive regular communication from people looking to engage and empower teacher-leaders. One of the emails that caught my attention was an invitation to attend the Teaching & Learning Conference in Washington D.C. I was instantly excited by the expanding line-up of impressive speakers, but as I live in the other Washington, on the other side of the country, and would need to pay for airfare, hotel, and arrange for a substitute to teach my classes (I had never considered the possibility of doing this during a school day!) I struggled with the decision. Around this time the Seahawks were imagining a Super Bowl win, and Russell Wilson was famously asking “Why not us?” I asked myself the same question, why not me, and decided to go.

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Teacher of the Year is Dyslexic

Jeff Dunn 1

Our guest blogger, Jeffrey Dunn is 2014 Regional Teacher of the year from ESD 101. Jeffrey is an educator, cultural critic, & backwoods modernist currently teaching in Deer Park, Washington. He invites others to read bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Richard Brautigan.


Try and imagine the impact this fact has on my students. No longer am I a model of all that is correct. No longer am I the authority on all that is academic. In this case, I am learning disabled as defined in Washington State law (WAC 392-172A-03055). This law reads that learning disabilities may include “conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.” In short, I am not the model of perfection students are led to believe all we teachers are.  

Researchers from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity's Sally Shaywitz (Overcoming Dyslexia) and the College de France and  Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale'sStanislas Dehaene (Reading in the Brain) estimate that between 10-20% (call it the midpoint, 15%) of all human populations are dyslexic (variation  is a result of definition and assessment practice). Think of it, in any class of 25, we should expect 4 of our students to be dyslexic. My thirty-six years of teaching experience has proven this statistic to be true.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – Gratitude from an NBCT

The following is a guest post by NBCT Shelly Milne who serves as the teacher librarian at Cashmere Middle School. Shelly is the current president of the Washington Language Arts Council, and this summer she was part of a team that created and presented a 4-Day Common Core Jump Start for Washington Educators. 


In August my grandson, Dylan was preparing to start kindergarten. His family had just purchased a new house. Since they were busy with renovations, I was lucky enough to get to take him to buy school supplies. Dylan and I strolled enthusiastically down the school supply aisles at Target filling our cart with paper, glue sticks, pens, and the promise of a year filled with new discoveries. As we filled the cart, it occurred to me that after twenty-six years of teaching, I was just as excited as Dylan to start the school year. Instead of getting bogged down with many challenges facing today’s educators, I looked forward to the promise of a year filled with new discoveries just like Dylan starting his first year of kindergarten.

However, before I achieved my National Board Certification eight years ago, I was feeling isolated and powerless in my profession. A feeling I wrote about at a writing retreat funded by the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.  At the writing retreat and other professional development activities I attended after I certified, I finally felt like my voice mattered. I also realized that there were others who had gone before me on this NB journey who were ready, able, and dedicated to helping me develop my leadership skills. When I made the shift from feeling powerless to feeling empowered and supported, everything in my world changed.

Last spring as I organized my professional growth experiences for my Renewal Portfolio, I reflected on the many leadership opportunities that marked my growth as an educator since becoming National Board Certified in 2004.  As I put my renewal portfolio together I asked myself an important question, “What made each of these experiences so beneficial to my professional growth?” One answer bubbled to the surface. These professional growth opportunities had provided me with the chance to learn, grow, plan, collaborate, stretch, work, and create with talented, dedicated, forward-thinking professionals. More than anything else, I concluded, as I reflected on my eight years as an NBCT, I was grateful for the people I had worked with and the opportunities presented to me.

It’s for that reason that I’ve already started encouraging my daughter, a first year teacher in Washington, to start planning when she will begin her National Board Portfolio.  Teachers need support and inspiration to grow and the National Board network provides members with both. Sir Isaac Newton knew that when he stated, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I want my daughter and other young educators in Washington to have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of innovators in education just like I was able to do. The National Board provides a support network that encourages growth, leadership, innovation, and reflection.

In this season of gratitude, I would like to thank all of the giants who have made this journey so meaningful to me. Thank you to all of you who have sent me an email about an opportunity available for NBCTs! Thank you to all of you who sat beside me in in-service classes and shared your ideas, hopes, and dreams! Thank you for organizing events, making travel arrangements, presenting, and planning. I would like to express my gratitude for educators who have inspired, led, and pushed me to reach higher, dream bigger, and see further. As I enter the next ten years as an NBCT, I am mindful of the giants who paved the way for me and aware of my responsibility to provide inspiration, insight, and hope for the next generation of NBCTs in Washington State. 

Translation from Finnish

The following is a guest-post from Sarah Applegate, an NBCT teacher librarian at River Ridge High School in Lacey Washington. She is passionate about quality information literacy instruction, working with teachers to provide a wide range of resources for students, and dark, bitter Finnish licorice.

I have a confession. 
I am a “Finnophile” (“one who
loves all things from Finland”) and a “ChauvaFinn”
(“one who displays excessive pride in Finland”) yet I hold an American passport.
 My friends and colleagues will
tell you that since I returned from a Fulbright study in Finland in 2011, I
have sought out every opportunity to reflect upon and share what I learned and
observed during my research on the Finnish education and library system.  Some might say I sought out TOO many
opportunities- during casual dinners, on long runs, and while watching our kids
at the park,  to share memories,
insights and observations from my time in Finland. While embracing my Finnish obsession,
I have continued to reflect on what I observed while in Finnish schools and
libraries. I have constantly considered how schools in Washington could learn
from Finnish education practice and translate them into Washington state

On September 21, I was finally able to make connections
between what I had learned and observed in Finland through a Finnish Education
Conference, funded by the US Department of State with support from CSTP and
WEA. We gathered 50 teachers from Washington to hear and think about what makes
Finland’s education system work and how their approaches could be used in
Washington state schools. I brought together four US Finland Fulbright
teachers, as well as two Finnish teachers, to speak on how Finland organizes
their education system, designs and delivers instruction and trains their teachers.
During the morning, participants were able to learn about Finnish education practices
and in the afternoon, teachers a chance to “translate” what they had learned to
their own teaching context and plan for potential implementation of Finnish
practices in their Washington state setting. What we translated has some promising implications for us in our schools – read on to see what we cooked up.

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An NBCT’s Reflections, Transitions and Opportunities




Stories from Schools is pleased to have the following post from Michaela Miller, a Washington NBCT, who is currently the Director of State Policy and Outreach for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Formerly, Michaela worked at the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction directing the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project, National Board, and the Beginning Teacher Support Program. Prior to that Michaela taught English in the North Thurston School District. 


An NBCT’s Reflections,
Transitions and Opportunities

years ago this week, two major events clouded my thoughts. The first: “How am I
going to attempt to explain the horrific events of 9/11 to my students?” The
second thought was ”When is the almighty "Blue Box" coming from the National
Board?” The first was incredibly challenging as my social studies partner and I
struggled not only to explain the events to our new 9th graders, but
to understand the tragedy ourselves. Somewhat selfishly, however, I couldn't stop thinking about the second question as I anxiously awaited directions to what
would prove to be a turning point in my teaching career.

that time, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was undergoing
a revision in 2001 and I was somewhat naively entering the process during the transition
from the first version of the assessment to the second. I spent the previous four
months with only three secrets to the new process: The Adolescent Young Adult
English Language Arts (AYA ELA Standards), the Five Core Propositions
and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. In the end, this solitary
confinement with these three touchstones created a critical foundation to my
year as a National Board candidate. The standards and the architecture are the
backbone of the National Board process and, with my students leading the way,
these touchstones came alive in my practice.

the National Board stands ready for yet another transition– and I can only
imagine that candidates are wondering what it will mean for them. Certainly,
revising the assessment process again will mean changes not only for them, but
also for support providers and National Board champions to understand and adapt
to. The assessment will evolve over the next three years—moving to 4 components, lowering the cost to around $1,900 and continuing to
streamline the electronic submission process.

Despite these changes, the foundation of National
Board Certification will remain constant. National Board Standards will always
be created for teachers, by teachers, the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching,
the Five Core Propositions will not change. These are the critical elements at
the heart of the assessment that all ultimately ensures that National Board
Certified Teachers positively impact our students and are always striving to be
more reflective practitioners.

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Welcome Back – from our homegrown National Teacher of the Year

The following entry is a guest-post from Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year, 2013 Washington State Teacher, NBCT, and Chemistry, Physics and Engineering Teacher from Zillah HS. 




What will this year

For me and so many other teachers, the start of the school
year is a magical time filled with energy, new plans, ideas, and instructional

A great many of us have spent the summer reading up on a
vast array of educational trends. 
Ranging from flipped classrooms to keeping cursive in the schools, we
have been knee deep in professional communities, conferences and followed
#edchat tweets until late into the nights.

With all these new tools hanging from our belts, I have to
ask, what will be different this year?

My hope is that this year will be the year that (among many,
many other things):

1.  We maintain an emphasis that education goals
are more important than the tools.

Don’t get me wrong, as a STEM
teacher who uses a smart phone, tablet, laptop, and a traditional pc daily (if
not all in the same hour), I strongly advocate for tech tools to help improve
instruction.  However, there are
times when paper and pencil are simply the best tools for the job. The past few
years there has been a trend to value tech integration for the sake of
technology integration.  However,
the tools are not the goal!

We, as a community of educators,
need to ensure that the tools we employ are used to improve learning.
Certainly technology can do that. 
However, I have seen far too many purchase technology and then try to
make it work; rather than determining the learning goals first, followed by
selecting the right tool (tech or non) for the job. 

I am an early adopter of technology
in both my personal and professional life, but sometimes there is nothing
better than paper and pencil.

Pick the goal before the tool!

2. We celebrate and communicate the success of
our students and staff.

 As a profession, we do an excellent job at
pointing out issues and problems within our system.  I do not deny these issues; they are
real and it is vital that we improve in several areas if we are going to meet
the needs of all of our students.

However, if we are to move forward, we must be willing to acknowledge the
successes that are all around us!

When one of my physics students incorrectly
answers a problem, I do not label them as failures, publicly ridicule, or place
blame. Instead I look for what that student did correctly, then help them to
understand the key places for improvement and work side by side in order to
help them succeed. 

As teachers, we know how to motivate our
students, let’s do the same with our profession.

Let’s make a conscious decision to showcase
the abilities and the progress that our students are making.

I fully admit that we have our problems, and
we need to continue to identify and communicate them with our parents and
community at large.  All I am
asking is that we put the same effort into identifying and sharing our success

Now it’s your turn, as a teacher, what will you do to make
this year personally and professionally exceptional? 

The New 3 R’s

Stories from School would like to welcome Brian Sites as a guest-contributor to our blog. Brian Sites is an alternative educator and National Board Certified teacher, who has earned recognition at the state and national level for his work helping students achieve their full potential at River's Edge High School in Richland, WA. 

This post is an excerpt of his self-publisehd book "Who's Teaching Who? Stories of hope and lessons learned from my first 10 years of teaching" available in pdf format, and free of charge  at:


The New 3 Rs:    Relationships

The original 3 R’s (Rigor, Relevance, Relationships) always made sense
to me, but I felt as though it missed the mark. To me, I saw an underlying
assumption that teachers did not offer enough rigor to their students, and that
teachers were clueless about how to teach in ways that make content relevant to
the lives of their students. As for relationships…being the third “R” somehow
seemed to diminish its importance, as if by somehow doing the other two very
well, the Relationships will come naturally.

To me, this is entirely backwards! I see Relationships as the cornerstone of good teaching. Building
students’ resiliency is what teachers are supposed to do, but why is it never
discussed? My experience tells me that because it is not easily quantifiable,
and it is not related to specific content areas, resiliency has been banished
from our pedagogical vocabulary.

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Math & the Common Core – glimmers of hope?

By Ginger, Guest Blogger


In the current state of the world, it can be far too easy to focus on the troubles and dangers that beset K-12 education and be drained of energy by that bleak viewing. It was therefore a particular pleasure to me when at a recent conference of WaToToM (Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics) a presentation on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)[1] permitted me not one but two patches of optimism. In a general effort to spread the sunshine, I decided to present them here.


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I have NEVER been prouder to be an educator!

Note: Debra Howell, a recent inductee to the Teacher Hall of Fame, authored this guest blog.


This past June I experienced something that I wish all teachers could feel about being an educator.  Along with four other educators from across the United States (South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Indiana) I was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHF). Being chosen was and continues to be something I am profoundly proud of.


 The NTHF celebrated their 20th year of inductions. The five days I spent there will always remain some of my proudest days of being an educator. The town, the citizens, the university, the board members…everyone we met treated us like royalty! My family as well was treated with the utmost respect and honor. No matter where they went they were given extra special treatment. Imagine that, family members of teachers being treated like royalty? Why shouldn’t that be the norm?


Everywhere the five of us traveled we were treated with honor and pride because we were teachers. One of the most unique activities we participated in was a large community band evening concert that played in the center of the town in a huge park. There were over 600 people that convened to come and celebrate teaching! People were in line to get free root beer floats while the Santé Fe railroad came steaming by the edge of the park blasting its horns. It was spectacular! It was a bit like being in Mayberry RFD! After they introduced us to the crowd we received such a rousing applause and standing ovation that I was really taken aback. As we walked through the crowd the many comments I heard were, “thank you for teaching our kids” and “we are so proud of you teachers”. It was then that I realized we were not there just to represent ourselves, our school and our community. No, we were being honored as teachers that represent ALL educators across the country.


The city of Emporia is so proud to host the National Teacher Hall of Fame and the induction activities and ceremony. I truly appreciated the respect and honor they showed for ALL teachers…  I have NEVER been prouder to be an educator! I left Kansas with a renewed sense of pride in my chosen profession. I have a heightened sense of the importance of working with kids and being a positive contributor to our society. I hope to carry that into the remaining years and help spread that sense of pride.


In light of all the teacher cuts, decrease in pay, larger class size, and fewer support staff to help us…I am still left with the feeling that the greater community DOES still value teachers. They do believe we are making a difference. They do respect us. There is a sense of honor for educators.


If you would like to find out more about the National Teacher Hall of Fame check out their web site at You must have 20 or more years of teaching experience in order to be nominated. The forms and additional nomination details are available there. Think about nominating someone you think is deserving of this honor.


Debra Rose Howell, NBCT

Monte Cristo Elementary 4-5-6 Multiage Teacher  Granite Falls SD


Almoststuck by Guest Blogger Sarah

I am in Finland from January 31 through May 30 on a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant. This grant is for k-12 teachers who are interested in doing research abroad. The program is running in 11 countries around the world this year.  My research is about school libraries and information literacy instruction.  I am living in Helsinki, but trying to visit schools around the country as much as I can.  Inevitably, the conversations I am having with teachers lead us to the question everyone is asking…what is their secret?

It is interesting to be here amidst all the talk in the US (and everywhere, I suppose) about the fabulous Finnish school system. At the school I was at this week, there were visitors from:
Germany, France, England AND Japan. And then me. In Helsinki, and especially in the teacher training schools, they are used to people, from everywhere, coming and going all of the time.  I have seen the 2 main schools I have visited, the teacher training schools, featured on many news clips about the “Finnish Phenomenon.”

So, what makes their education system work so well?

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