From Isolation, to Collaboration, to Leadership
This guest blog post comes to InterACT from Cate Kruse Schroeder, a bilingual-kindergarten teacher from San Jose, CA. A member of Accomplished California Teachers, Cate wrote this post by request, to detail her recent leadership in promoting National Board Certification in her district. (DBC)
On the wall at my district office hangs a plaque. My name is on it with the name of about 20 other teachers. In 2007, I worked hard to get my name on this plaque; that is the year I became a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). This small plaque is a display of accomplishment. But truth be told, it breaks my heart a little.
Perhaps it shouldn’t. Accomplished teachers are being recognized, and that is a good thing. They deserve to be recognized. They did important work on behalf of their students. At the moment, however, my concern is not about what they accomplished, but how they did it. Each one of these teachers pursued and achieved certification in a culture of isolation. With no support or encouragement from their employer, they sought collaboration where they could find it. Once they did receive certification, they received little acknowledgement. This dusty plaque, which is even missing some names, has become a symbol of that isolation. In a district of 1,700 teachers, only about 20 of us are Board Certified. Two teachers achieved certification in 2011 and only two more are attempting it today.
Prior to the spring of last year, it did not occur to me that this was wrong. But then, the district began working to build capacity around coaching and collaboration. It occurred to me, why were they not tapping NBCT’s to help develop collaborative strategies and coach? Why were they not encouraging and supporting candidacy? When I asked these questions to administrators, the response was mostly silence. My first lesson was learned: I went to the wrong people first.
I licked my wounds and retraced my steps. I wondered if I was perhaps the only NBCT with this experience. Since I had no other way to find the NBCT’s in my district, I returned to the plaque and copied down the names I saw. This was an incomplete list, but it was a start. Then I emailed them and introduced myself. Some NBCTs replied and we began a dialogue. I came to find my experience was not unique. We were all feeling quite voiceless. Here was another lesson: find some kindred spirits.
I took the suggestions of my new friends, added my ideas, and formulated a document that spelled out ways to encourage National Board candidacy, to support candidates, and to apply those lessons to classrooms all over the district. One NBCT who was now a principal offered to take this document to the director of curriculum if she thought the ideas on it were cogent. So I sent my document to her, but never heard from her again. So it was with every recipient. I learned two more lessons. Don’t start with documents; people are too darn busy to read them. Most importantly, this group was dynamic, but still too small.
I began this school year discouraged and in a slump. One small window did open for me, however, when I became a union representative for my school and was invited to the union’s symposium at the beginning of the year. Since I was in a room full of teachers, I thought that maybe my ideas on National Board might gain better traction. I approached the president of San Jose Teachers Association (SJTA), Stephen McMahon. To my surprise, he responded to me! We talked about how the union might play a role. The conversations remained light, and informal but we were beginning to build cadre of supporters.
Then, in February, my union president invited all the NBCTs in the district to the Good Teaching Conference held in San Jose and organized by the California Teachers Association. About six NBCTs accepted the invitation. At a day-long workshop and forum about National Board Certification, all the ideas my colleagues and I had swimming around in our heads became focused. We learned that National Board Certification is a priority with both the NEA and CTA. Leaders designed and provided a roadmap we could easily follow. First, we would need to build awareness about National Boards. Then we would then begin the process of building in support systems for candidates. Finally we would advocate for leadership roles that utilize the strengths of NBCTs. We got to work applying our next lesson; listen to the smart people and do what they do!
This lesson was reinforced when David Cohen invited some NBCTs and members of Accomplished California Teachers to view the film “Mitchell 20″ at Stanford University, and participate in a discussion afterwards. We were all enlightened and inspired by the film and by the speakers, all of whom a validated our work. Afterwards, we formulated a plan to bring National Boards to teachers in San Jose.
Our local union liked our plan and offered to host an informational meeting for National Boards. At this meeting we invited the institutions that support candidacy, so that teachers who decide to attempt certification could connect to cohorts or candidate support providers. Sandy Dean, from the Stanford National Board Resource Center, and Ronarae Adams and Joanna Eagan Murray from National University Professional Teaching Development Center were happy to reach out to teachers in my district. In addition, NBCTs within the district offered to support candidates as well.
Our informational meeting happened earlier this month. My goal was to get 25 teachers to show up. To everybody’s amazement, 40 teachers came. The NBCTs who shared their stories took initiative. After the meeting, they facilitated impromptu groups. To a person, the response from teachers was “Where do I sign up?” And the NBCTs made sure they made contact with each potential candidate walking out the door so they would know what to do.
Now that the informational meeting is behind us, we are now tackling the issue of support for teachers. My next steps are to connect with teachers who came to our meeting and begin to build collaboration among the candidates. I also need to talk with our bargaining team to explore the potential roles National Board Certification might play in our work. All indications are that they are open to bargaining for better candidate support.
I also plan on reporting of our success to the San Jose Unified School Board. The union, to its credit, has taken the lead; the district can also act in partnership with SJTA to support candidates. The school board can recognize and congratulate our district’s newest NBCTs. They might pen a note of encouragement to candidates, and perhaps offer them two days of release time to work on their portfolios (as happens in some other districts). Perhaps they would support candidates through their Title I funds, especially at schools where groups of teachers have committed to the process.
Finally, I may remind the district about that dusty little plaque hanging on the wall outside their chambers. They may want to consider a bigger one. I have a feeling they are going to need it!