By Tom

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to take a few minutes to express my gratitude to the people who make it possible for me to do the best job in the world:

Parents: I can’t thank parents enough for supporting what I do in the classroom by doing what they do at home. All I have to do is run off homework and send it home. The parents have to structure a time and place for my students to do it. And then check it so my students can redo it. Neatly. And then make sure it gets back into a backpack. All this while trying to cook dinner after an exhausting day at work.

Custodians: I just finished a science unit with my fourth graders called “Land and Water.” Do the math. There was sand, soil, clay and mud on my classroom floor for six weeks. Yet every morning it was clean again.

Para-educators: The lady who works in my class, Miss Natalya, was once a math professor in Russia. Now she works on our para team, doing all the other stuff that makes it possible for us to focus on teaching; working one-on-one with the neediest students, supervising recess and lunch, and doing crossing duty.

Office Staff: I was on the hiring team for our current office manager. When she came in for her interview, she asked what the job entailed. “You get interrupted for a living,” I replied, and it’s true. These people take care of all the logistics and paperwork for an entire school, when they’re not dispensing Adderall, Band-Aids and ice packs or supervising the kids who stop by to “visit with the principal.”

School Administrators: My principal spends his long days conducting focused and comprehensive evaluations, talking to upset parents, conducting focused and comprehensive evaluations, setting up the lunch tables, conducting focused and comprehensive evaluations, supervising the lunchroom, conducting focused and comprehensive evaluations, facilitating meetings, conducting focused and comprehensive evaluations, and supervising the bus lines. Yet he’s always smiling.

District Administrators: There’s a lot going on over at the administration building. There’s curriculum to order, trainings to run, human resources to manage and budgets to balance. My district is blessed with some incredible talent at the district level; they push us to rethink how we go about our jobs and support us while we learn.

Our Association: There’s a reason why we have planning time, dental care, health insurance, collaboration time, teacher-led professional development, National Board bonuses and representation when have a conflict with our administrators. It’s because we have a union.

Educational Service Districts: I never really understood the weird little “ESDs” wedged into the bureaucratic niche between the state and district. But I’ve recently done some work with the Puget Sound ESD and I’ve come to appreciate their work in supporting professional development and advocating for the most marginalized families in our school communities.

The Elected People: School Boards, state legislators and US lawmakers all have a say in what and how I teach. We all have the right – and responsibility – to question what they do, but not one of us can doubt their intentions. Ultimately, the only thing they really want is the only thing we really want: student learning.

Higher Ed: Teachers don’t train themselves; colleges and universities do, and I’ve had the privilege over the years to work with a lot of the people who work in those colleges. I’ve always been impressed with their dedication and focus on training the next generation of teachers.

And finally, CSTP: There’s a whole lot of non-profit organizations focused on education, but my favorite by far is The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. Their name says it all; they focus on promoting teacher leadership and amplifying the teacher voice on educational policy. And they sponsor this blog!

Your turn! Who did I miss? Who else needs to be thanked?

Putting Our Best Faces Forward

I firmly believe that my job is more than teaching my students in my classroom. It’s more than meeting with their parents and connecting with the staff at my school and my district. Part of my job is making the public aware of positive stories from school.

Recently our district community relations person started emailing all staff every month, reminding them to send her notices of any good news she should share. Every month I try to be aware of things going on that I should highlight for her that would make good news stories.  Over the years my class–alone or with other classes–has been in the paper or on local TV for Decade Days or Amigos Centers or Market Day. I know that in our area, the newspapers are eager for positive stories about our schools, which is heartening!

The last few years I’ve wanted to push that idea even further. I’ve started taking more opportunities to nominate people for awards–even awards that seem like a stretch. Ok, the first one wasn’t so hard. A year ago I nominated our head custodian Thad Bayes for the STAR 101.5 school support staff award, which he won. That was cool.

Then I put together a team from my school to nominate our former principal Joe Davalos for one of the WEA Human and Civil Rights Awards. He won the Community Service Award in April! That was amazing!

This fall I saw an ad in the Kitsap Sun for the “20 Under 40″ award. I read the requirements: the person had to work on the Kitsap Peninsula, had to be under the age of 40, and had to have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in the workplace and/or community. The award was sponsored by the Kitsap Sun and the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal. They said they were looking for professionals in business, medicine, and education. 

I nominated one of our teachers, Kristy Dressler.

By the way, I went into the Sun website much later to look through the past winners. I couldn’t find them all–they don’t post the winners back to the first year they gave out the awards. But I found very, very, very few representatives from the world of education. I think there were two principals and two private school teachers–a music school owner/teacher and a Montessori teacher. If I’d looked there first, I might have been scared off.

Nevertheless, Kristy won!

The Sun called to tell me the news and I started to cry. I went to Kristy’s room and told her and we both cried. Then she asked me why I nominated her when there are so many good teachers out there.

I have good reasons. First, she’s under 40. There are a lot of good teachers who aren’t! Second, I have been impressed with her from day one. She doesn’t just teach her class. She gets deeply involved with the school, parents, and the community. She trains staff. She works on district and regional committees. She’s a powerhouse. And she was a National Board candidate last year. (By the way, a couple of weeks later we learned she had passed, on her first try. Just another example of how she’s amazing.) Third, of course there are other teachers I could nominate. But I could only do one this year.

I can always nominate someone else next year.

How many ways can I find to shine the public spotlight on my really exceptional colleagues? I’m having so much fun finding out.

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?

Live Blogging from the NBCT Leadership Conference: Part 4

By Tom

Last session!

Today began early – for me at least – with breakfast and a morning session. I led a discussion on blogging with about 20 attendees. After a second round of “networking” we all convened in the large room for the closing session.

It began with Jeanne Harmon giving the context and background for NBCT support in our state. She was there from the get-go and has played a huge role in the growth of Washington’s Accomplished Teacher community.

After Jeanne’s talk, we got up and shared our strengths – a certain skill we bring to the leadership table.

After that, Nasue Nishida, Executive Director of CSTP,  explained the process whereby attendees could apply for leadership grants; a chance to have their leadership ideas funded and put into play.

Next we had the traditional “Pinning Ceremony.” From the first time we had this conference, all new NBCTs receive a National Board pin from another NBCT. It’s a fun way to welcome them into the Accomplished Teacher community.

Then it was lunch, followed by closing comments by Gunnar Guttormsen. Gunnar is an NBCT from the Kelso area. He spoke of his own journey: becoming a teacher, an NBCT and now an administrator.

I’ve gone to this conference every single year and I always leave energized and motivated. There’s a certain energy that comes from a room full of amazing teachers, all of whom are focused on the same thing: making Washington’s education system the best it can possibly be for our students.

Live Blogging from the NBCT Leadership Conference: Part 3

By Tom

First breakout session: Navigating the Systems of STEM, by Al Gonzalez, who teaches middle school in Chimacum, Washington. He’s what you might call a “Techie.”

He began the session by pointing out the fact that most adults now travel to events like this conference with more than one internet-compatible device.

Al acknowledged that teachers are overwhelmed right now, but asserts that a lot of what we do overlaps with other stuff. (Think TPEP and Common Core) He also encouraged us to use technology to ask for help, in particular; places like Yahoo Groups. He uses practically every conceivable form of social media to connect with his students, their parents and other teachers. Technology, of course, can be fickle. To wit: most of the activities Al had planned were based on-lined; yet the room had limited connectivity. Fortunately, Al had plenty of “Plan Bs.”

Al talked about “branding.” Teachers need to establish and maintain their digital identity. We need to think about how we look when someone googles our name. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest are a part of our “brand.”

Another aspect of technology is “curating.” Curating refers to the collecting and rendering of the vast amount of information that’s out there. His favorite collecting tool is something called “Feedly.” which he uses to collect information from a vast amount of teacher bogs and other sources.

Al spent some time talking about advocacy. Starting at the classroom level, he invites legislators into his room to co-teach or just visit. And then he blogs about it. At the district level, he makes sure that school board members, as well as the superintendent, know what’s going on in his classroom. He videotapes a lot and posts on YouTube, showing what his students are doing in his room. We had a nice discussion of various platforms for displaying student learning on-line.

The last thing Al discussed was grant writing. His best advice is to contact district administrators and have them forward grant proposals his way. He reasons that grants proposed to teachers are going to be exponentially more competitive, since there are so many teachers. Administrators, on the other hand, are less numerous; the grants they have access to are therefore less competitive. He’s raised nearly $300,000 by writing grants, most of which went directly into his own classroom.

This was a fun session. All is obviously way farther down the road than most of us in terms of implementing technology into his classroom.


Live Blogging from the NBCT Leadership Conference: Part 2


By Tom

The first Group Session! After lunch we all moved into the next room for the grand welcome. One of our own bloggers, Maren Johnson, got things rolling with an introduction to Twitter, encouraging everyone in attendance to tweet out updates from the conference. We learned how to post tweets, retweet, use hashtags, and so on. Everyone went immediately to their phones and iPads and got busy.

Cindy Rockholt, conference co-chair, then took over, orienting all of us to the upcoming activities. Each session presenter stood up  in turn, introducing themselves and giving a quick blurb about their session. (Including me. It’s tomorrow and it’s on blogging.)

Beth McGibbon, the other co-chair, then took the helm. She guided us through an activity designed to familiarize people to the unique relationship in Washington State between OSPI, CSTP and the WEA. All three agencies have a stake in promoting and sustaining National Board Certification, yet each has a distinct role.

The WEA’s roll includes Jump Start and Home Stretch, both of which are focused on supporting candidates during their certification. The WEA also runs an Ambassador program, which is focused on encouraging teachers to consider National Board Certification.

OSPI plays three roles in NB Certification. They handle facilitator training and cohort coordination so that candidates have a quality experience during their candidacy process. They also handle the conditional loans, helping candidates afford the process. Last, but definitely not least, they run the stipend program, delivering a well-deserved bonus to Washington’s NBCTs.

CSTP’s purview is teacher leadership and advocacy. They help NBCTs find themselves as leaders and build their own capacity in the roles they choose. They also amplify teachers’ voices on education policy. (One of CSTP’s teacher advocacy projects is the very blog you’re reading.)

The big news of the day, shared by Michaela Miller and Cindy, was about the new certification numbers for Washington State. We have 946 brand-new NBCTs this year, bringing our state total up to 8285. 14% of the teachers in Washington are now National Board Certified!   Not only that, but thanks to heavy recruitment, 34% of our new NBCTs work in challenging schools: 53% of them work in STEM fields. In addition, Washington State now has nine of the top twenty school districts in terms of percentage of NBCTs.

Katie Taylor, NBCT from CSTP took the stage. She introduced the Teacher Leadership Framework, a tool designed to help teachers identify the knowledge, skills and dispositions for leadership roles to which they find themselves attracted. Participants had a chance to delve into the Framework and discuss their interests in teacher leadership, as well as the challenges teachers face as they move beyond the walls of their classroom.

If you haven’t looked through this document, I highly recommend it. I was in the room when it was conceived and written back in 2009.  The basic impetus was the realization that NBCTs have demonstrated their expertise in the classroom and were now being asked to take on leadership roles, for which they may or not have the skill set. It’s important for our profession, therefore, to identify what those various roles are and list the essential knowledge, skills and dispositions they require. Thence the Teacher Leadership Framework, which is now used across the state, principally by school districts that are trying to develop a leadership corps.

Now it’s off for “snack time” and then to the first breakout session.

Live Blogging from the NBCT Leadership Conference: Part 1

By Tom

For the next 24 hours I will be “live blogging” from the 2014 Teacher Leadership Conference at the beautiful Skamania Lodge along the Columbia River about 40 miles east of Vancouver, WA.

CSTP has held this conference every year for the past decade or so. The goal is to welcome new (or old, actually) NBCTs into the Accomplished Teacher community of Washington State and develop their interest in, and capacity for, teacher leadership. Like with most conferences, there’s a combination of whole-group sessions and breakout sessions. And lots of food.

I’ve been lucky to be involved in every one of these conferences since it started, mostly as a presenter, but also as a participant.

This year I’ll also be blogging live from the conference. I’ll try to attend as many sessions as possible and post what I see and hear. Look for frequent updates over the weekend!

To Fix a Broken System: Teacher Leadership

"Columbia river gorge from crown point" by Hux - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

This weekend in Skamania in southwest Washington, teachers from throughout the state will convene because of a series of simple truths:

1. Public education, as a system, needs to change.
2. Teachers constitute the largest number of professionals employed in the public education system.
3. When new initiatives or mandates are levied upon public schools, teachers are those who are charged with enacting these.

This weekend, these convened teachers will be learning about the unique skills and dispositions of being a teacher-leader. It is not quite the same as being a great teacher, and it is not the same as working hard. Like being a teacher, being a teacher-leader involves a complex and often hidden set of competencies.

Why cultivate this? The answer is in the simple truths above…with particular attention to number three: when new initiatives or mandates are levied upon public schools, teachers are charged with enacting these. There are two levels within this truth where skilled teachers can (and do) make a tremendous difference.

First, strong teacher leaders have the skills, dispositions, and confidence to step forward and influence the crafting of new initiatives and mandates. Teacher leaders know that complaining and protesting is not enough… instead, they know that engaging in crafting solutions is a way to improve the system.

Second, strong teacher leaders have the skills, dispositions, and confidence to take all of these mandates (good, bad, and ugly) and process them into practices that positively impact student learning. Teacher leaders know that neither complaints nor mere compliance are appropriate… instead, they know how to distill all the mess into a clear and consistent focus on students.

The USDE’s Teach to Lead initiative is helping to bring teacher leadership to the forefront. However, we have amazing teacher leaders all over the state of Washington whose work should be highlighted as well.

Stories from School readers: What are some teacher leadership success stories that help to prove that we, the teaching force, are the ones making meaningful change in our system? Respond in the comments below!

Photo Attribution: "Columbia river gorge from crown point" by Hux - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -


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.

PLCs and Question Four

Our district started the year with a huge professional development day—all morning with the secondary staff and all afternoon with the elementary staff attending an inservice designed to reboot, reenergize, and refine our Professional Learning Communities. Our administrative team from “the hill” flew a guru out from Utah to train us.

I have to admit, I was impressed with her style. Whatever it took to make PLCs work in her school, she made it happen. “You need a place and time to meet all together? I can coordinate that!” “You need pizza and Cokes? I’ll bring it in!” “You need everyone to have laptops? I’ll buy them!”

I was less clear where she found the money to make it all happen. Pizza and soda for every PLC meeting? New laptops for every teacher? Maybe she writes really great grants.

She led us through the process to the inevitable high point—the increase in test scores. The impact on the lowest performing students in math and reading was, again, impressive.

Then we took a break, and I was able to go up with my little sticky note question, “Did the test scores for your top reading and math groups show comparable gains with your low groups?”

When we reconvened she answered my question first. “No,” she admitted. And, she added, in their euphoria over their success, it took a while for them to notice the discrepancy and start to address the needs of their highest students.

It’s a nation-wide issue that, I believe, has been exacerbated by No Child Left Behind. The legislative emphasis is on “meeting the standard.” Politically, that doesn’t give much incentive to pouring a lot of time, energy, effort—and money—into children who already “meet the standard” in September. So what is the result?

In 2008 the Fordham Report showed that the lowest fourth grade reading group posted a 16 point gain over seven years while the highest fourth grade reading group posted a 3 point gain. The lowest eighth grade math group posted a 13 point gain over the same seven years while the highest eighth grade math group posted a 5 point gain.

In our PLC we have four questions. Unfortunately, there is a sense of order to those questions, almost a sense of priority. Often, we never get to grappling with question number 4 until we have thoroughly resolved questions 1, 2 and 3. Those kids on the high end need us to answer the question now, not after they have moved on to college.

The truth is, it is not enough for teachers to ask, “How will we respond if they already know it?” There should be an incentive in the testing system itself, not to bully individual teachers but to acknowledge high-achieving schools and districts.

When the WASL first came out (remember that precursor to the MSP?), districts earned one point for every child who moved from a 2 to a 3 in a test—math, reading, writing, or listening. But districts earned 2 points for every child who moved from a 3 to a 4. That system gave districts an incentive to continue pushing students past simply meeting the standard toward exceeding the standard. I have no idea what the points were used for, and unfortunately the incentive system disappeared almost immediately.

I was sorry to see it go.

I want to see the test scores for the top groups go up as much as any other group. Because right now, those are the children most likely to be “left behind.”