January/February 2016

National Board Certification challenges teachers

Jim Hook is communications director in North Palos SD 117.

Ten teachers from North Palos School District 117 are embarking on a two-year journey that will challenge them and force them to reflect on their craft as they strive to become even better teachers while earning their profession’s highest honor.

These teachers will meet monthly as a cohort while collaborating on the shared goal of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). Currently, District 117 has six NBCTs, including Marilyn Marino, the district’s first teacher to receive the distinction in 1999, who now serves as the district’s mentor-coordinator.  

One advantage this cohort will have is that they will collaborate and take classes together after work for two hours at a school in the district, Dorn School. Kim Dignin, a reading specialist at Conrady Junior High School and a National Board Certified teacher, teaches the class. Previously, teachers were on their own and attended classes at off-site locations. Marino said her cohort met in Springfield, which made things a bit more difficult. She said having familiar faces in class with whom to bounce ideas off should be helpful, but it won’t take away from the rigor associated with the program.

“It’s tough,” she said. “They have their work cut out for them. But when they finish, they will have an immense feeling of personal satisfaction while knowing that they will be better educators to better educate their students.

“Looking back, I honestly don’t know why I did it,” Marino said. “I guess I looked at it as a personal challenge.”

After the group’s first meeting, some were asking the same question Marino did nearly 20 years earlier. “Why are we doing this?” said Jennifer McCormick. “I guess I have some doubt in my head as to why. There are a million other things going on in my life.”

Dignin told the group that they will “be giving up something,” but that the process will be well worth it in the end. She said she thought about quitting many times. “I guess I also looked at this as a personal challenge,” Dignin said. “The feeling I got when I accomplished my goal was incredible.”

She said the NBC process came about because teachers were not viewed as professionals, like lawyers and engineers. “Completing this program you are licensed to teach in all 50 states,” Dignin said. “I have to tell you that when I became National Board Certified, I looked at all the job prospects in Hawaii.”

Teachers across Illinois and the country realize the benefits of enduring the certification process. When Marino completed the program there were 2,000 NBCTs throughout the country. Today, that number is more than 100,000. However, that percentage is still relatively small given that teaching is a profession of more than three million practitioners.

Michelle Naumann, who is in her 13th year as a teacher in the district, said she is excited about participating in the program and hopes it will help her become an even more effective teacher to her students.

“I think this will provide us with a different way of looking at our profession,” she said. “I’m hoping this will allow me to reflect even more on the individual needs of my kids while rejuvenating my enthusiasm for teaching.”

Because District 117 was able to secure a cohort of 10 teachers to participate, the $1,900 fee (per person) was paid for by the National Board Resource Center at Illinois State University, which supports the program in the state.  

Naumann is joined by Brian Boam, Shadia Salem, Samar Abousalem, Jennifer McCormick, Andrea Hogan, Carrie Stacy, Kate Brody Webb, Stephanie Calahan, and Amanda Leyden. Leyden said she considered participating in the program a few years ago, but decided against it after realizing the nearly $2,000 cost.

Since 1987, the National Board has established the profession’s definitive standards of accomplished practice and created a system to determine whether teachers meet those high and rigorous standards. Created for teachers, by teachers, National Board Certification is a voluntary, performance-based, peer-review process that recognizes the complex nature of teaching. NBCTs are having a significant impact on student achievement across the country. Research has shown that the students of NBCTs outperform their peers in other classrooms.

Marino spoke of the transformative nature of the certification process as it increased her focus on reflection, collaboration, and ongoing improvement to help her meet the needs of the diverse learners in their classrooms.

“Personally speaking, I think this process helped me become much more of a well-rounded teacher,” Marino said. “The engagement with the kids is so important. In my mentoring role now, I love going into the classrooms and observing and then making suggestions to help them become even better educators.”

The National Board Certification process offers educators an option in terms of completing the program. Some finish it in a year or two while others may choose to complete the program over several years, depending on schedules. Participants take tests and submit portfolios and videos showing the teachers in their classrooms applying their craft. While maintaining the same level of rigor, the process is grouped into four components:

Content knowledge

In this computer-based assessment, teachers must demonstrate knowledge of and pedagogical practices for teaching their content area. They must also evidence knowledge of developmentally appropriate content, which is necessary for teaching across the full range and ability level of their chosen certificate area.

Differentiation in Instruction

This classroom-based portfolio entry is primarily comprised of samples of student work and an accompanying written commentary. Teacher participants submit selected work samples that demonstrate the students’ growth over time and a written commentary that analyzes their instructional choices.

Teaching Practice and Learning Environment

This classroom-based portfolio entry requires video recording of interactions between teacher and students. Participants also submit a written commentary describing, analyzing, and reflecting on teaching and interactions. Both the video and the written commentary demonstrate how to engage students and impact their learning.

Effective and Reflective Practitioner

This is another portfolio-based entry that requires evidence of the teacher’s impact across professional responsibilities as an educator, including students, peers and community.

National Board Certification work is guided by five core propositions, which state what the board values and believes should be honored in teaching and school counseling. Those five core propositions include the following:

  • Teachers are committed to students and their learning;
  • Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students;
  • Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning;
  • Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience;
  • And teachers are members of learning communities.

In North Palos District 117, participating teachers meet weekly at each of the schools in Professional Learning Communities to collaborate and determine best practices to employ that will help every child be successful. Collaboration allows teachers who are having success with students in their classrooms to share their insights with other teachers who may be struggling to get through to students in their classrooms.

And it’s been the road most traveled to reach academic success in North Palos School District 117.