It’s 7:00 am on a gray and chilly Saturday morning and I’m rushing out the door, dressed and coffee in hand. As I kiss my sleepy daughter and husband goodbye, my husband exclaims, “Have fun being a sidekick!”
We have a running joke in my family. When I talk about anything education related, my husband claims he hears, “Something-something students, something-something teacher leadership, something-something National Boards.”
After a few years of this, I finally explained to him that Candidate Support Providers (CSPs) like me cognitively coach National Board candidates by being available to help them navigate the certification process and provide guidance and support through Cognitive Coaching. Cognitive Coaching is a process during which teachers explore the thinking behind their practice. Questions asked by the coach reveal to the teacher areas of their thinking that may not be complete or consciously developed. When teachers reflect out loud about their thinking, their decisions become clearer to them, and their awareness and perception of autonomy increases. Candidate support programs throughout the state provide learning communities with an atmosphere of choice, support, professionalism, and trust as CSPs provide emotional and technological support through small group or individual facilitated coaching and self-reflection activities.
After that lengthy explanation, my husband summarized the work of a Candidate Support Provider for National Board candidates: “So…you’re basically their sidekick.”
That’s accurate. Just as I’ve always felt that my job as a teacher is to help my students accomplish their goals, my job as a CSP is to help my colleagues show evidence of their accomplished teaching practice.
My husband and others may wonder why we CSPs spend so much of our precious time outside of the school day working with National Board candidates. Many NBCTs have declared our mission as the “accomplished teacher army” to develop a culture of accomplished practice in every school. All students deserve to have an accomplished teacher, and all teachers deserve the professionalized learning and reflection experience that the National Board certification process provides. We are working to grow the number of NBCTs across Arizona and organize NBCTs to provide accomplished teaching and longevity in the profession.
That may sound noble, but being a sidekick isn’t selfless, at least not for me. In fact, it can be quite selfish. Learning from and with expert practitioners pushes my skills and helps me to continue to stay relevant and informed on best practices and research in many different learning contexts and settings. This valuable time with my local district and state-wide NBCTs, CSPs and candidates is a response to a need in myself to surround myself with and learn from accomplished teachers. Coaching and learning with other NBCTs is a cycle of learning for me as a professional teacher. Each time I coach or discuss the 5 core propositions and standards, or talk about teaching practice with candidates and coaches, it leads to deeper analysis and reflection to hone my own classroom practice, which benefits my students.
The need to identify our teaching tribe led a group of us to create the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network several years ago. We provide opportunities for Arizona’s NBCTs to exchange ideas, participate in learning and advocacy opportunities, and challenge each other to improve educational leadership throughout the state. We promote awareness around the National Board Certification process and plan ways to work together to make National Board Certification an essential part of every teacher’s career trajectory in our state. We plan teacher leadership and advocacy opportunities for NBCTs.
I’m not speaking about the impact of NBCTs only as an NBCT, but also as a parent. My daughter was privileged to have an NBCT in second grade. I knew something interesting was happening when I asked my husband how “Meet the Teacher Night” was at the beginning of the school year, he said, “She’s like you.” When I asked him to clarify, he explained that the classroom was organized carefully and purposefully, with the use of space to deliberately offer learning to students and an appropriate developmental level. He also said that when she spoke to the parents, she used words like “learning community” and stressed the importance of equity and two-way communication. In other words, “Something-something students, something-something teacher leadership, something-something National Boards.”
As my daughter’s second-grade year continued, I heard about my daughter’s learning and saw artifacts and evidence of that learning, and I found she was doing things in her classroom that amazed and inspired me. The real evidence came at home when I was playing school with her. My daughter plays school all the time at home, writing her lessons on her whiteboard for her class of ragtag stuffed creatures and a parent or two. We’ve always been able to hear her teachers’ words come out of her mouth. I could hear the standards of accomplished teaching in the “teacher talk” that my daughter used that year!
Research shows that NBCTs accelerate student achievement by between 1 and 3 months.
Imagine the possibilities if a student had an NBCT in kindergarten, and in first grade, and in second grade and right on through high school. Those possibilities make my time as a sidekick worth every minute.