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National Board Certification to Build Professional Capital

July 8, 2014

The blog post below is copied from a comment I left on José Vilson’s blog. You should probably read his entire post (click here to open it in a new window/tab), but here’s a taste of what he was saying about teacher leadership, empowerment, and National Board Certification. The event described is the recent NEA Empowered Educators Day:

For one, I found the diversity (i.e. the number of educators of color) somewhat refreshing, and the strongest presentations in the main plenaries came from representatives of color. I found Monsterrat Garibay’s contributions to the first panel on leadership powerful because she added the contexts of equity and race to her work. None of our work is without context, which is why I found NBCT educator and Mitchell20 protagonist Daniela Robles’ contributions also sparked me. For many of us who work in turnaround schools, which are predominantly of color, it’s refreshing to hear someone say, “I used my expertise BECAUSE of the conditions I was put in, not in spite.”

Even with these powerful stories, I still left with more questions than answers.

What, for instance, is National Board, and why would folks want to try National Board in the age of VAM-validation? Is it enough to say that we want to de-emphasize alternative certification programs in favor of professionalizing / streamlining the teacher recruitment process and why? How do we address career changers and an economy that accosted teachers of color who often work in high need areas? How will getting NBCT-certified address the often subjective ways in which leadership is chosen, even with ostensible application processes?

As someone who’s a candidate for National Board, these are questions I might have as someone who had never heard of National Board. Also, is NBCT the end-all-be-all of teacher leadership, and what exactly am I entering?

Furthermore, is Daniela Robles any less of an educator if she doesn’t do National Board? Does she not deserve a movie for tolerating the nonsense of mid-level executives posing as educational experts telling her what she’s doing wrong? How do we harvest the power of all the educators in that auditorium to not just do better as teachers, but flip the image of what it means to be an expert educator? How does the NEA as both a collective bargaining organization and professional organization endorse and support the work of educators trying to elevate the profession in a substantial way, without the resentment and pettiness that sometimes comes with the territory?

To which, I responded:

Hi José –

Yes, that was a thought provoking, and question provoking post. If I may be so bold, I’m wondering if we might have a more helpful look at these issues by expanding the frame a bit. “Mitchell 20” is a compelling bit of storytelling, and yes, Daniela is the spark or the center for that story, and yes, she’s a wonderful spokesperson. I don’t think either of us begrudge her any of what has come her way. But that’s the storytelling part, not the hard work. Let’s focus on the “20” – because what happened there was a shift in the culture of a school, and I think those can be hard to come by. Yes, we all know those “above and beyond” teachers who deserve recognition. We need them, admire them, we’ve been them – or maybe have moved in and out of those roles as our energies and life circumstances permit. But in the long run, I hope National Board Certification is not only an expectation for the individual teacher (as Renee Moore advocated in her comment), but also a centerpiece for shifting the cultures of schools and the culture(s) of the profession.

I’m reading Professional Capital right now, and that’s the one of the key take aways so far: we need to discuss teaching quality as a systemic issue, and we need systems that are supportive of the individuals who make them work – but we need less focus on the heroes-and-villains narratives of great teachers and awful teachers. What is it about our systems that make teachers thrive or flounder?

Of course, for that to happen, there will be some heavy lifting necessary, important matters of equity and access to address. From what I understand, the new format and requirements for certification have been designed in part to provide flexibility that was introduced with teachers’ needs in mind (more family friendly to spread it out, and maybe more possible to embed it in our work at school). There are also issues of race and class involved (ha – I’m telling you?) – in terms of incentives and supports for certain teachers, schools, communities. How do we expand these circles of inclusion, strategically and intentionally? We need NBPTS, NBCTs, and policy makers to share the responsibility of advocating, and call attention to the differences between certification and what currently passes for “highly qualified” in education policy. The individual narratives can provide a hook for those conversations, but in the long run, we need to help create, and then tout, systemic benefits that generate more professional capital – and better schools for our students.


Watch José perform his poem, This Is Not A Test, at the Save Our Schools March (2011), and check out his book, too!

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