This December, my school district became home to eight more National Board Certified Teachers. There are now 22 in our district of 238 teachers. This is quite an accomplishment for a rural district that has struggled both to ensure we have equitable funding compared to our metropolitan counterparts and to find qualified teachers who can meet the needs of our diverse student body. I live in a beautiful resort town that, for many, is the place they vacation and retire, but for those of us who reside here year-round, making sure this community has quality schools is a passion that drives us.
Our district was named a National Board Accomplished District by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. We are the first in Arizona, named an Accomplished District for our work incorporating the Five Core Propositions into professional practice from the moment a teacher joins our district. Not all teachers will choose Board Certification, but the Core Propositions define who we are as teachers, no matter our context.
I reached out to NBCTs in our district to ask them how the process changed their practice and what they learned. From that I found, there are two overwhelming themes about why a district in a resort town that most Arizonans couldn’t even point to on a map was identified as an Accomplished District. The answer is service and leadership.
Christie Olsen became an NBCT in 2002. She was the first in our district. She had earned a Master’s Degree, wasn’t interested in administration but knew she wanted something more. She found National Board on the internet and just did it. As she grew from the process, she began to think about her daughters and the wonderful teachers they had, and she wanted to ensure that our district had accomplished teachers at every grade, in every subject, at every school. So she began shoulder tapping. Slowly a couple of teachers here and there – me being one – pursued candidacy. Support was individualized, and most of us went through the process alone or with a very small cohort from our district. As the number of NBCTs grew, support became systematic and defined.
Christie helped create a culture of service among educators in our district. It is common that teachers now expect to learn from one another, rather than need to learn from a professional development expert. Teachers in the National Board process saw the power of feedback from students, peers, and administrators and became more skilled in giving feedback as well. Teachers saw the investment in time working with other teachers as an investment in students.
As NBCTs coached candidates and candidates worked with one another, doors opened, and guards began to come down. Supporting effective instruction in our own classrooms is only one part of the reason why National Board Certification is important. The other, and possibly more important reason, is supporting others as they work to become reflective practitioners. A strong school is a school where no parent feels the need to request this or that teacher; a strong school is where there is trust for every teacher in a building. That is the service Christie brought to our district almost 20 years ago. As educators, we are in service to one another to improve our classrooms for ALL of our students. A very veteran teacher who certified this year stated that she is most comfortable being an island, but she realized that wasn’t what was best for kids. Collaboration inspires everyone to be better. National Board helped our district foster a culture of trust and learning from one another.
The other overwhelming transformation National Board has helped usher in is leadership. National Board has given teachers the power of reflection and the courage to ask themselves and one another, Why? Why are we doing what we are doing? Is it effective? How do we know? Going through candidacy left many excellent educators feeling exposed and unsure of themselves; however, the process is about change and growth. It is a leadership process grounded in learning.
In preparing for this blog, I asked NBCTS in my district about leadership. They shared statements like “allowing others to flourish” and “removing barriers so others could succeed” and “inspiring someone to leverage their strengths” and “finding someone’s area of strength and supporting that area.” I saw that leadership and service are intricately linked, and our service to other teachers and our students develops leadership within ourselves. Veteran teachers who have received numerous awards shared that the process boosted their confidence and helped them see that leadership was much more than sitting on a committee. It was about the work they did with others and how they viewed themselves as educators. NBCTs saw their leadership path in helping others and knowing when to lead and knowing when to follow.
More than anything, our district is a National Board Accomplished District because of a profound need to be the best district we can be for our students. Our service and leadership to one another is focused on carrying out something Christie saw 15 years ago: teachers in every classroom in every school ensuring that all of our kids succeed.
Thank you to the NBCTs in LHUSD for taking the time to talk to me about the process. It was so powerful to read your words and reflect on how National Board has made an impact in your practice – in our practice.