What an inspirational and transformative year for Arizona teachers! Many have found themselves speaking on behalf of their students in new ways—bold ways—to advocate for policies and practices that promote educational progress for their students. As I’ve seen teachers step into these leadership roles, I’ve been wondering: What will they do next with their emerging teacher voice? I would like to suggest a courageous and important career decision: National Board Certification. I believe that NBCT candidates develop significant skills that contribute to improved teacher collaboration.
During grad school, our class read an article about a failed teacher collaboration project. In essence, the study fell apart when teachers discovered their pedagogical differences and felt uncomfortable talking about them (Waters-Adams, 2006). As a National Board Certified Teacher, I remember feeling surprised by the failed outcome of the study. Wouldn’t teachers be interested in different ideas? Why were different ideas so threatening? Reading the article reminded me how much National Boards had changed me as a teacher.
About five years earlier (prior to National Board Certification), I experienced challenging collaboration problems with a colleague. We had very different approaches despite similar teaching assignments. My colleague started mid-year and soon began criticizing me behind my back. The stories from other colleagues kept coming and coming! I was shocked and devastated. I approached her to see if I could improve the relationship, but the conversation was not productive. I felt vulnerable and defenseless. Who would she talk to next? Worse, I felt worried about my methods and confused by her criticism.
Getting through that time was so challenging for me professionally. I was doing my best and seeing good results with students, but I felt unsure of myself. I had no official “proof” that my teaching methods were effective. Instead of realizing that we were two different teachers working with two different groups of students, I questioned myself when I discovered our differences. Perhaps the other teacher felt the same way. Today, I can see how much I learned from the experience. Further, I can see how National Boards transformed my confidence and ability to describe my teaching practices without fear. And I think we need fearless teachers who can embrace different teaching approaches and think collaboratively today.
The National Board Certification process requires deep self-reflection as teachers study their own teaching practices and their influence on student learning. National Boards empowered me to find my own “proof” about why my teaching methods work for me and promote student learning. It was like forging a coat of armor that equipped me with self-understanding and fearlessness. When I meet teachers with different approaches now, I feel interested instead of afraid. I take the opportunity to say “How interesting” or “Tell me more.” I understand that differences in teaching approaches simply reflect how each teacher is an individual, teaching a unique group of students. And I think that awareness is key to open, authentic teacher collaboration.
In education today, we are faced with a competitive culture that may not promote teacher collaboration. To counter that dialogue, teachers need opportunities to increase their self-confidence so they can clearly articulate their practices in non-threatening conversations with colleagues. For this reason, I believe that National Board Certification is very important in schools today. All teachers deserve the opportunity to understand themselves and find their own “proof.” This year, during my teacher evaluation conference, my principal commented, “Everything you do in your classroom is intentional.” I beamed with pride and thought, “That’s the best compliment you can give an NBCT!”
As school districts reflect on this year and prepare for the next, I think it would be wise to consider how they can promote National Board Certification in their local contexts and support teachers who are beginning or continuing their NBCT journeys. For teachers considering the NBCT process, I encourage you to check out a recent blog from Leah Clark about why the journey is worth the challenge. Additionally, reach out to your local school district leaders to find out about district level supports. Finally, check out the many supports and scholarship assistance available from the Arizona K12 Center, and read about becoming a candidate on the website for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.
Current NBCTs and NBCT candidates, share your reflections about the biggest benefit(s) in the comment section below!
Be bold AZ teachers. Your NBCT journey starts now!