Category Archives: National Board Certification

The Important Practice of Vulnerability

Lindsey Stevens, NBCT, is a regular blogger for Puget Sound ESD’s CORElaborate blog , where this piece first appeared, and is republished here with the permission of both the Lindsey and Puget Sound ESD.


I just spent another amazing weekend at the National Board Certified Teacher Leadership Conference. This time it was at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson Washington and it was amazing and beautiful. The surroundings were wonderful but even more that the atmosphere, I always leave appreciating what I have gained from this inspiring gathering of professionals. The biggest takeaway I have form this weekend is that I need to continue to be vulnerable in my practice to really be a leader and to impact student learning.

At the conference we were greeted first by the fabulous Katie Taylor. Katie is the Director of Teacher Leadership and Learning at the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP). If you have not checked out or been in contact with this wonderful organization you should find out what they are all about. At any rate Katie was helping us to think about the traits and qualities of teacher leaders in her opening session. During her presentation we were asked to complete the sentence, “Teachers lead when we…” I sat and thought about that for quite a bit before I could fill it in. What do I really do that is true inspiring leadership? It’s not necessarily when I run a training, or when I plan a meeting. I realized that I truly do my best leading when I am vulnerable, when I make my practice, my trials and my tribulations transparent. This is really the only way to ask others to show me what they are doing and to be honest. I really think that vulnerability might just be the most important disposition for any teacher, especially teacher leaders to embrace.

Katie had us examine our leadership in relation to an article from Educational Leadership “Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders” by Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion. In this article the authors point out the following ten roles for teacher leaders: resource provider, instructional specialist, curriculum specialist, classroom supporter, learning facilitator, mentor, school leader, data coach, catalyst for change and learner. In the activity we were identified how we were and could be any of these roles. Later I began to think about how these roles as teacher leader and my personal insight into vulnerability when hand-in-hand. Each of these roles take a certain level and different kind of vulnerability.

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NBCT Reflections

A year into being an NBCT, I realize that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Going into it, I thought it would be a great way to improve my practice, gain the required professional certification in my state, and not least significantly, get a bonus for all of the hard work. There was also the somewhat less tangible prize that seemed to revolve around status and professionalism.

I first heard the call to “lift up the profession” in a presentation NBCT Jeff Charbonneau gave last spring. He spoke about teachers building up teachers and schools through positive talk. This past weekend I attended the Leadership Conference held by CSTP in Stevenson, Washington where I began to learn how to turn that talk into action.

Reflecting after the conference, I realize that National Board Certification is mainly about lifting up the profession. It is absolutely about making teachers more effective in the classroom, but it is also about empowering teachers to lead outside of the classroom. That less tangible piece I mentioned above is taking shape as I begin to participate in the NBCT network. I have a very different idea of what my role can be than I once did.

The journey that started with attending JumpStart and then working through and completing National Boards seems to have been but a prelude. As I come to the top of one small mountain I realize just how much farther the road goes. Traveling this road is a little daunting, but now I know I’m surrounded by a community of varied and vibrant NBCTs and organizations that support teachers.

Thanks to collaboration between WEA, OSPI, and CSTP, more and more teachers from Washington are achieving National Board Certification. If you haven’t already, consider following their lead – talk to an NBCT, you might be surprised what you find out. If you’ve taken that first step, take another – read the Teacher Leadership Skills Framework developed by CSTP. If you are farther down the road, tell your story. What doors has it opened up for you?

Accomplished Teachers, Congratulations!

Good teachers get results: students grow, learn, improve…

Throughout this week, teachers all over Washington are getting a different sort of “result”: They learn the status of their TakeOne or NBPTS candidacy portfolio. My hope is that, no matter the result, these good teachers will have learned from this process.

For me, earning my National Board Certification changed two things about me as a professional. First, it helped me understand the importance of reflective practice. Now, as I work on my renewal this year, the near-decade of reflective practice that was cultivated during my years of candidacy has become integral to how I work. The process encouraged me to think deeply and always keep “impact on student learning” at the absolute center of every decision I make.

Second, earning my NBPTS certification opened many, many doors of opportunity for professional and personal learning and growth. I have connected with organizations and individuals that otherwise I would have never known, all because I became a part of this professional network of accomplished teachers. I’ve developed skills as both a classroom teacher and a teacher leader, and this has gradually helped me find a place in my system where I feel I am not only impacting my own students’ learning, but also the learning of my colleagues’ students.

I was the first in my building to earn my National Board Certificate. The reaction from some of my peers was a surprise, since this was a “new” thing to our school culture. When the principal came over the intercom at the end of the day to announce I had certified, one (jaded and consistently negative) teacher even cornered me to say “So you think you’re a better teacher than I am now?”

My response is the one I’ve stuck to: “No, I am a better teacher than I was.” It is not about sorting and comparing teachers; this process is about helping teachers grow.

Congrats to all of you new NBCTs and those who continue your candidacy. Take a moment to reflect not only on what you’ve accomplished, but what you learned as well.

Teachers and Their Unions

PropanetankBy Tom

Most gas stations sell propane. But they usually keep the propane tank as far as possible from the main building. To me, that says something. It says, “Even though our entire operation consists of simultaneously selling gasoline, cigarettes and Bic lighters to anyone with a car; that propane tank scares the hell out of us, and we don’t want to be anywhere near it.”

That weird mix of trust and suspicion also seems to apply to teachers and their unions. According to a recent survey, three out of four Americans trust their children’s teachers, while only half believe that teachers unions have a positive effect on schools. That seems weird to me, since teachers union are – by definition – simply a group of teachers; the same teachers that people trust when they aren’t in a group. I understand what’s going on, of course; when teachers are working in their classrooms, they’re doing things for children: teaching them, keeping them safe, etc. But when teachers get together in a group – a union – they sometimes ask for things like fair compensation and job security, and that’s when the trust disappears. People don’t like it when teacher unions act like other unions. That’s when they accuse teachers of not acting in the best interests of the students.

There are two problems with that. First of all, unions are supposed to act on behalf of their members. That’s their essential purpose. They were invented in order to secure collective bargaining agreements with employers. They sit down across the table from administrators and bargain. And at some point in the conversation, the administration will insist on less money for more work and less job security. The union, on the other hand, will ask for higher wages in exchange for less work and more job security. That’s what every worker – with or without a union – is supposed to do in regards to their employment conditions. Teacher unions, as it turns out, have become pretty good at it, and people don’t like that.

But here’s the other thing: despite the fact that teacher unions act like unions because they’re supposed to, our unions actually do a lot more. I spent a couple days earlier this week in Denver, where this year’s NEA Representative Assembly is being held. Before the convention started, I attended an event called “Empowered Educators Day.” It was awesome. The entire day was focused on ways in which the NEA is working to improve teaching and learning. National Board Certification, of course, was a big part of the conversation. The National Board has had the support of the NEA and the AFT from the get-go, and it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the support of the teachers unions.

On this Fourth of July I’m holding my head high. I’m a proud member of a great union. A union that works hard for its members and works just as hard for our students.


Want innovation in the classroom? Get teachers involved in Policy

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by Maren Johnson

I spent the weekend in Washington DC at the Teaching and Learning 2014 Conference. It was dazzling. Famous and thought provoking speakers, incorporation of art and music, huge diversity in education viewpoints and experience.

With all the hubbub over the big names at the conference, what I'm heading home thinking about is a session led by a middle school science teacher from Washington state. From the small town of Cheney, no less.

Teacher Tammie Schrader's session was titled, "Coding in the Classroom." I went into the session expecting to learn a bit about coding itself, and perhaps a bit about how to use coding to teach concepts in life science. I came out of the session thinking about innovation and education policy.

Tammie started out the session by introducing herself and her classroom programs. She has been facilitating student coding in her science classes for several years now. That, itself, is innovative, but not extraordinarily unusual.

Then Tammie started talking about education policy. My ears perked up. What was going to be the tie-in here? I've been to sessions on innnovative instructional methods. I've been to sessions on education policy. I have rarely been to a session incorporating both.

Tammie's point? She wanted to do cutting edge things in her classroom. In order to be free to do these things, she needed to be released from some of the usual considerations of what might be expected in a classroom. There were a few non-negotiables, however. She would still need to assess; she would still need to show student growth. She wanted to assess and show student growth in a way that would fit her classroom. The solution? Get involved in policy. Tammie has done this, in a big way, at state and national levels.

I thought to myself, "This woman's message needs to get out there." So there I was, like the paparazzi, taking photos and tweeting. Not that Tammie isn't already well known in many education circles, but I wanted to do my part!

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The policy involvment has allowed Tammie's innovative classroom work to become systemic. Tammie has worked on state assessment committees and on designing frameworks for Career and Technical Education. She helped write the state science test. Because she knows what students are expected to do, she's not ignoring the state science standards or the Next Generation Science Standards. She's not letting all of that go. She's just helping to shape policy and then use it in a way that helps herself and other teachers be innovative in their classrooms.

Tammie has spent time talking to policy makers at all levels. Having a teacher involved in these areas allows education policy to encourage innovation as opposed to stifling it. Want innovation in the classroom? Get teachers involved in policy.

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. 

The National Board Wait

by Maren Johnson

The Wait. It can be stressful. One National Board candidate-in-waiting said a few days ago: "Just rip the band-aid off!" A renewal candidate emailed his thoughts in the week before renewal decision release–here's his exact quote: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggghhhh!"

It's a bit like Christmas Eve, but you don't know what kind of present you will be getting in the morning. All across the country right now, National Board candidates are waiting for score release, the day they find out if they certified, or did not certify yet.

National Board Certification has a cycle. First candidates make the decision to pursue the rigorous certification–it's extraordinary professional development, but also a lot of work! The next phase of the cycle? Completing a portfolio based on a set of national teaching standards. Finally being able to hit "submit" on the ePortfolio is a big moment. Taking the assessment center exercises can be intense, and often happens near the end of the school year. The shared experiences throughout this cycle contribute to National Board teachers having something of a group identity–when meeting for the first time, they know they have a background in common!

We are now in the waiting portion of the cycle. The wait is a unique time. A few years ago, in the last few weeks of waiting to find out if I certified, someone pointed out to me that adults don't always get as many opportunities for anticipation as kids do–and waiting to find out the results of National Board Certification is one, so try to enjoy the period of anticipation! It wasn't bad advice.

Then, of course, the ever-cheerful candidate support providers weigh in with a chirpy, "It's a three year process!" And it is a three year process. And while it may sound trite, simply submitting a complete National Board portfolio is in and of itself a huge accomplishment–it's almost impossible not to develop as a reflective practitioner just by pursuing certification. Candidates who do not certify the first time face disappointment, but often those who decide to continue a second or third time report even greater professional growth. Score release is a time to congratulate those who certify. It's also a time to support those who do not certify in providing more evidence next time if they wish to continue.

So there is a cycle, and with National Board 3.0, that cycle is going to be changing. What will that look like exactly? Well, we should be finding out more this upcoming year. For the moment, however? Let's put our thoughts towards the candidates, the individuals who have worked so hard this past year. Good luck to all those current candidates-in-waiting!


Just a Tweak? Educator Effectiveness and the Evergreen Effect

Evergreen EffectBy Maren Johnson

Educator effectiveness is where it’s at right now in Washington state. Student teachers are currently filming themselves and analyzing student learning for the edTPA (teacher performance assessment). We have a challenging ProTeach evidence-based assessment for teachers trying to get their professional certificate. Approximately 13% of the teachers in our state are National Board certified. In addition to all of this, we have a new teacher principal evaluation system that is currently being piloted and will go into effect next school year.

Against the backdrop of all these educator effectiveness programs, last week Chad Aldeman, with an organization named Education Sector, released a report titled, “The Evergreen Effect: Washington’s Poor Evaluation System Revealed.” You can read a short summary blog post or the full report. When teachers and administrators across our state are working hard right now to get a new evaluation system up and running for next year, such a report deserves a closer look.

Mr. Aldeman starts by painting the picture of five elementary schools in Pasco. Aldeman talks about how the students perform poorly on state tests while the teachers, despite the low test scores, are almost all evaluated as satisfactory. My fellow blogger Tom White wrote more about this. What does Aldeman not mention? These particular schools in Pasco have 50-70% of their students learning English–some of the highest percentages of English language learners in the state. Our state tests are given exclusively in English—clearly students who do not speak English are going to be at a huge disadvantage. Giving teachers poor evaluations because their English-learning students do not perform well on tests in English is not going to improve student learning!

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National Board cohort goes on a Road Trip

by Maren Johnson

We set out in a big red van with a fiery primary school teacher at the wheel. Watch out! This teacher sometimes uses her van to haul her miniature horse, but today, she hauled us, the local National Board cohort. Our destination? WEA Home Stretch, an opportunity for National Board candidates to give and receive feedback on an entry and prepare for the assessment center exercises. The intrepid candidates from our local cohort have only a short time left before their final deadline.

We picked up a math teacher hanging out alongside the highway and we were on our way. Oops, we're missing the band teacher, but not to worry, we finally found him on the ferry. We drove over hill and dale, canal and bridge, and then set sail on the 6:25 am boat across the Puget Sound.

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