When NBCTs Find Community
I wanted to share a story about why you, and the rest of the Center for Teaching Quality community, are important to me.
I started teaching in 1997. By 1998 I was a teacher leader. I felt empowered as I took on the role of technology lead teacher in my elementary school. I enjoyed the challenge of empowering my colleagues but I felt isolated. Except for the couple of other tech people I met in our lead teacher meetings most of these folks were tech heads, not teacher leaders eager to build a better profession. In order to fulfill my credo I craved the community of a group of passionate leaders interested in transforming education, not merely tweaking it with computers.
In 2002, when I began the NBCT candidate process, it was partially with the hope that I would find the professional community I craved. I was excited because I had heard of Virginia’s online forum for accomplished teachers, this was about the time yahoo groups hit the Internet and Web 2.0 was just taking off, at least in education. During the process I engaged with a great group of candidates in an online NB support forum. I thought, “Surely when I achieve I will finally find the professional community I will need to help transform education.”
The National Board seeks to elevate the status, voice, and role or accomplished teachers in shaping a true profession.
When I achieved in 2004, I logged onto NBCTlink to find out who I could contact nationally that was on the same path as me. There was no discussion forum, no real content at all, there was only a list of NBCTs. I looked through the lists to find out who was also a Head Start teacher or even a male early childhood teacher. But, it wasn’t there. I even Googled the names of recently certified NBCTs to see if they taught Pre-k and emailed some of them but, it was fruitless.
In 2005 I attended the NBCT conference in D.C. on a hunt for a transformational community. Finally I found it, but it wasn’t with the NBPTS, it was with Bill Ferriter and Susan Graham NBCTs who were presenting as members of TLN, the Teacher Leaders Network. I heard them present and went up to Bill afterwards. I told Bill, “I want in.” He said, “Ok buddy, just shoot me an email next week and I will put you in touch with the right people.” That was all it took and it was the most important step I have ever taken as a professional. Every good thing that has happened in my career since that day has been because of the professional community I found on TLN.
I heard the other day that the NBCTlink was shut down. That is probably a good thing. It was a false promise.
Recently empowered professionals, like NBCTs, need a true community with hearth-like sustenance, easy access to support a network, and a space that is safe to trust each other and to share vulnerabilities. I would like to think I might have found that on NBCTlink if it had that ability. I am afraid though, the passionate network of caring professionals I’ve found may have never happened in a community comprised entirely of NBCTs, focused on being NBCTs, not on being great teachers. If I were engaged in an exclusive NBCT community, as I was in the yahoo group I created for our local NBCTs, I think I may have felt the need to uphold the standards at every turn. In our local group I found we talked more about how our schools and colleagues didn’t understand us. Instead, when I joined TLN I found several hundred NBCTs as well as state teachers of the year, Milken educators, and outstanding seasoned professionals. They were all there for just one thing, to engage in a community to build a better education for all students. This common ground but varied experience helped us to connect at deeper level of understanding about accomplished practice. Since that time TLN has grown to become a powerful group for teacher voice, without the identification of a particular ideology or understanding of what it means to be accomplished teacher. The strength of the community is in the diverse experiences and perspectives on excellent teaching.
With the recent demise of NBCTlink I hope that the NBPTS will see this as an opportunity to fulfill an unfulfilled promise. I hope the the NBPTS can work with NBCTs and other transformative teacher leaders to find a way to create a vibrant professional community of practice in which they can engage. As many NBCTs will tell you, they are merely the accomplished teachers who have a) taken the risk of the NB process, b) been able to communicate about their practice, and c) demonstrated their successful practice. There are over one hundred thousand accomplished NBCTs and hundreds of thousands more accomplished teachers who have not engaged in the NBCT process. If the National Board is to become the beacon for the actualized teaching profession it will take more than NBCTs, it will take a community of thousands of professionals dedicated to one thing, to engage in a community to build a better education for all students.
The National Board may be the fulcrum on which teaching becomes a true profession but, as Barnett Berry said 10 years ago when he started the Teacher Leaders Network, “If it’s not a community, it won’t work.”