Anticipating the NBPTS Conference
This blog post was written a couple days ago at about 35,000 feet. The pre-conference sessions are now underway. Here’s what I was thinking as I was heading in.
As I write this entry I’m in a plane over the Midwest, en route to Washington, D.C., for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) 2011 Conference. The conference theme is “Reboot! Teaching Transformed,” and of course the implication is that we should take a fresh look at our teaching and our field. The underlying need for a reboot on a computer could be positive or negative. The installation of new software or updates often requires a reboot, one that brings new and improved functionality to the computer. The reboot could also be the last remaining option when your computer freezes, crashes, or seems to be malfunctioning in some other way.
As a teacher, am I seeking to add functionality, or restore it? What about America’s schools? Upgrade, or escape dysfunction?
Individually, I can certainly say that I’m in a situation where I’m always looking to improve, and I have no doubt that I will, through this conference and other learning opportunities. Some aspects of my teaching practice feel settled and comfortable in a way that gives me confidence and stability as I face a new school year. Other aspects of my teaching practice are constantly moving targets, areas that I have under control but never quite pinned down quite to my satisfaction. Planning the right balance and ideal integration of skills and content is an annual challenge. Each year I come into the planning having learned important lessons from the prior school year, but the adjustments will be implemented with different students in a different year, and the results are not always predictable. My “best practices” or best lessons one year may flop the next. (Actually, the great lesson from the morning can be the afternoon’s flop – or vice versa – in a secondary school, where you repeat the lesson for a different class). Grading practices are also subject to constant tune-ups, impossible to perfect as long as we continue to reduce so much student learning and experience into a single mark at the end of a term – and for purposes that relate to external practicalities not always aligned with students’ educational needs. My annual “reboot” is usually more about adding and improving.
But I’m fortunate, entering my tenth year of teaching at an excellent school and district. We enjoy a level of support, both moral and financial, that provides the stability and resources teachers need to do their best work. I can focus on the upgrade, the new and improved. How many public school teachers in today’s economic and political climate in education can say the same thing? Far too few; the system is so far from optimization. Back to the computer metaphor, we’re straining the processors here, running too many applications, some of them untested and some that don’t work well together. It is my contention that while we can always improve our teacher workforce, the main problem we have right now is what we do to the workforce we have, and what we fail to do for them.
What would it look like to reboot the system to allow all teachers to do their best work? How do we resolve the conditions of the mess so many schools and teachers are facing? Those are the questions I’m pondering as my flight begins its descent. I expect that there will be plenty of good ideas presented this week in Washington, D.C. National Board Certified Teachers are problem solvers in the classroom, and increasingly, problem solvers at the school level. I’ll try to write about some of my learning in this area as the conference proceeds.
The NBPTS Conference also features some impressive and important speakers, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguerra, and Dan Pink, among others. I’ll be listening closely to what they have to say, hoping that they bring an understanding of both kinds of “reboot” – and how teacher leadership will play a vital role.