National Boards Process: Shape/ke Up Teaching & Learning

Until I finished up the National Board process, I always felt like a puddle of good ideas. I loved what I did. I liked trying new things. I LOVED learning new ways to bring learning experiences alive to my students. But, again, all these things seemed to always pool up into a ginormous puddle of stuff. I still liked it all, until, eventually, I started finding it too thick to wade through. Of course there were also my transitional factors. My first five years teaching comprised of earning my initial degree in one state, yet teaching in two other states – three contracts with different districts, three different induction programs, etcetera. Then there are all the programs learned, curriculums visited, grade levels swept through. By the time I settled in my current district at year five of my career, and approached my new superintendent about applying for National Boards as a newbie (3rd time newbie), my self-confidence was floundering. I had to really convince myself I had what it would take.

I applied for and began my Board process in the fall of 2013, which became the last year for a candidate to be able to complete the requirements within one calendar year. I was anxious to get started, and of course convinced this was my year! Very quickly though, it made me see that while I knew I was a good teacher, I wasn’t always fusing everything together the most effective way, I wasn’t always keeping the right goals in mind, and I wasn’t always keeping students as my central focus. Any teacher first needs their feet planted, and now that they were, going into year six of my career, I grew more frustrated with myself because it became crystal clear that I was not making the perfect pie even though I knew I had the makings of a GREAT recipe! In short, National Boards brought me to new levels of self-awareness that quite frankly started making me question everything (which, come to find out, is not exactly a bad thing).

I have never been afraid of getting involved in a district and growing myself from that perspective. I love to work on curriculum, push onto tech integration teams, and jump into any administrative meeting and/or action team they allow me to. But how do I sort out the most fundamentally important piece? How do I sort out my self-proclaimed incompetencies as a teacher? Over the 2013-2014 school year, these reflections and self-revelations forced me to review, analyze, and evaluate nearly everything I did as a teacher – from lessons, to parent communications, to student and administrative interactions, and to professional development choices. It wasn’t only about the teaching that was happening in my classroom, it was also bout the learning – their’s and mine. I became hyper-conscious of every aspect. This would actually become a huge motivator as I later built my portfolio for submission. Never would I have realized how much I innately did in a day had I not needed to review, analyze, and evaluate the teaching and learning that occurred throughout a general lesson – never mind in a day, a week, a month, a school year.

A benefit of being the only candidate from my district to be going for my Boards was that I was not constricted to any time restraints. I used my own small tripod camera or walked around with my personal device as often as I wanted to. I filmed lesson after lesson and used only what worked best. This allowed me to use what I learned from the surplus of filmed lessons to grow as a facilitator and to work on my craft. Being able to step back and see myself teach, see what the students were/were not learning by the varying levels of engagement caught on film, see whether or not I was equitably meeting the needs of all, and to see how well outcomes were delivered was one of the most significant forms of professional development I could have ever obtained. There is nothing more concrete than that piece right there: being able to hit the replay button from an omniscient viewpoint.

As educators we cannot simply film day-to-day learning in a classroom without parental consent, so having this permission from every parent from on-set was a necessity. I did have one student, in one course, without permission, and though I worked hard to explain the purpose of my mission to the parent, I conceded, because it was far more important that I maintain a positive report than push the boundaries over concerns the parent was rightfully leaving private. This student was never excluded from any activity captured on film, I just had to be more conscious of where the camera was placed and where I directed my line of questioning during specific segments.

It wasn’t until April, right as the deadline approached, that I was making finishing touches to my portfolio. It was truly a race to the finish, and more emotional than I ever anticipated. As I reviewed with my facilitator, Marcy, it provided an awesome reflexion on my school year. All too often, by the month of April, you feel burnt out and pushed beyond the limits, and this was, in it’s own way, refreshing. There’s state testing looming, observations (and in my case, unannounced, and literally the day after I was up till the wee hours with nerves hitting that submit button), the pressure to maintain pacing as you wrap up programs and curriculum standards, cabin fever is at it’s height with the coming of spring and loss of yet another spring break due to inclement weather days, and kids are certainly antsy about the coming summer vacation. Yes, April is a difficult month in the field of teaching. Everything seems to come to a head at once. So, as I sat with Marcy, fidgeting over phrasing for cover pages at eight o’clock in the evening in the midst of April, I fought back tears over the smallest of details. She encouraged me the best she could, but I still headed home with my tail between my legs. All my documents were loaded. All I would need to do would be to hit “submit” a couple of final times.

The final scrap of courage I was missing came after I sat and fanned through the pages of evidence I gathered for submission. For the portfolio, you not only write about your experiences and submit video feed, but you also have to compile physical documentation of student work and other evidence that relates to the various qualifiers. As I combed through the parent letters that were written on my behalf, the student work that exhilarated me more now that I was removed from the lesson for some time, and the various other documents that captured the variety of teaching and learning that was snapshotted through the year, a refreshing hope and renewed confidence fueled me at that moment, and has quite literally never left my side since. Wow! We did this in one year?!

In the months following submission, I was of course nervous about the results. A whole new school year started and months would pass before I would find out more. As luck would have it, my loan cheerleader, the superintendent that approved me, the first ever Board candidate from my district, resigned and took a new job at a bigger district over the summer (gggrrreeeaaatttt). So, I taught in my new classroom, with my new students at a new grade level, excited for an achievement all alone. The key was – I was still excited! I hadn’t realized how broken I had felt until I felt fixed. I began teaching fearlessly. I no longer questioned myself or my pedagogy. I knew I knew my students. I knew I knew my content. I was liberated from so many self-created barriers of doubt.

When I received an overnight email that results were in, I felt more realized seeing this across my screen:

Boards

Every day I now go into my classroom and teach with conviction. I have had supervisors tell me I do great. I have had evaluations show me I am doing great. I needed something to convince me what greatness meant and to lead me through my own levels of self-actualization. For me, National Boards created a fusion I will be forever indebted for. Over and over, the process reminded me that there are many paths to greatness.

This journey continues to give me the confidence to seek and explore my craft to its infinite measure.

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