Monthly Archives: December 2012

National Board Certification and the Teaching “Profession”

Want to be qualified to practice law in this country? Do the college coursework and pass the Bar Exam. Interested in working in the medical field as a physician? Complete a three to seven-year internship following your coursework and pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Want to teach children? See what your state requires for licensure. In some states, a bachelor’s degree will do just fine while in others, an advanced degree is required. It varies where you reside.

The gripe against teaching as a “profession” is, among other things, the ease in which one can be certified to teach. There are a multitude of pathways prospective teachers can go through to get licensure, which is one reason not all states recognize out-of-state licensure. A lack of rigor in some state’s certification requirements are another issue. However, if you want to practice law or medicine, you will have no problem working anywhere in the country as long as you’ve got your degrees and passed the national exams.

Does the lack of a national certification process impact teaching as a profession? Ask your family and friends what they think. Are teachers held to the same level of respect and honor as doctors? Lawyers? Do teachers quake in fear at the prospect of passing their certification exams as do lawyers and doctors? Let’s face it, for teaching to get the respect it deserves in this country (teaching has certainly garnered great respect in other countries), then we need to raise the bar on certification requirements. Some states have already begun the important work of teacher certification reform through the Teacher Performance Assessment, however the capstone measure is National Board Certification.

Last week’s  lead story in the local/regional section of The Post Star read, Teachers earn top state credential, beneath which were six pictures with names of the honored teachers (Kudos to Carol Geruso, Mary Kruchinski, Sheila Morris, Colleen Rayno, Stephanie Ruel, and Jessica Spellburg.). Honored because these exceptional individuals had earned National Board Certification–not an easy task. Less than 50% of educators “achieve” National Board Certification their first time through, and for many, the process takes two full years to complete. The task is challenging with four portfolio entries and a rigorous examination. From the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website:

“Your portfolio of classroom practice consists of four entries:

  • One classroom-based entry with accompanying student work
  • Two classroom-based entries that require video recordings of interactions between you and your students
  • One documented accomplishments entry that provides evidence of your accomplishments outside of the classroom and how that work impacts student learning

Each entry requires some direct evidence of teaching or school counseling as well as a commentary describing, analyzing, and reflecting on this evidence. 

The online assessment portion of the National Board Certification process asks you to demonstrate your content knowledge in response to six exercises developed and designed by practicing professionals in your certificate area. You will have up to 30 minutes to respond to each of the exercises.”

Wow, that is what we’re talking about! Assessments that are rigorous and comprehensive, and portfolio entries that require teachers to describe their work, analyze and assess the impacts on students, and reflect on next steps!

In many schools and communities, school teachers are seen and treated as professionals. However, if want teachers to be valued as professionals in all schools, then we need to push for a national examination process that adds rigor and relevance to the certification process. We have national measures in law and medicine, it’s now time for the same standards of rigor for teaching. Oh, and we also need to incentivize the process of pursuing National Board Certification.

Celebrate!!

It’s easy to overlook the simple things. Busy days and pressures of the holiday season can weigh on people, particularly as hours of daylight wane in the northern hemisphere with approach of the Winter Solstice. Against the backdrop of recent events, one can be forgiven for being cynical, melancholy, nostalgic, and feeling a sense of helplessness. And yet, there’s so much good in this world if we’re willing to look at things with fresh eyes.

A couple of years ago one of my Esteves School of Education ed leadership professors, Dr. Ann Myers, had my classmates and I watch a Star Thrower movie titled Celebrate What’s Right With the World. Narrated and featuring the photography of Dewitt Jones, the short video is one of the best inspirational messages I’ve ever watched. Through Jones’ lens, he asks us to see the possibilities, to use our energy to make things better, to push ourselves to be all we can be, to persevere and push through change efforts, and to work together and act with dignity and grace. My favorite quote Jones makes in the video goes, “By celebrating what’s right, we find the energy to fix what’s wrong.”

There are many, many things right with the world, and with that in mind, we can indeed find the energy to fix what’s wrong. Whether it be new gun control laws and greater attention to mental health services, or top-notch Student Learning Objectives and common core integrated instruction, the point is change is doable if we have the proper mindset.

If you need a pick-me-up this holiday season, check out Celebrate What’s Right With the World. Star Thrower offers a free preview, though I accessed the video through the university library. Whatever the case, enjoy the holiday season upon us. Be safe, healthy, and renewed.

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A Race to Mental Well-Being and Gun Control Laws

What happened last week in Connecticut was horrific, sad, and worrisome. Sadly, what has occurred over the past year is equally tragic. Innocent children and adults gunned down by a madman makes you wonder what is going on in this country. Have we lost our collective responsibility? Seven incidents in one year! Really??!! 61 victims!!! Why??!! What will Fox News say about this? PBS? CNN? BBC? How will the politicians respond?

It’s easy to cast blame for the violence within our society. We could say technology has eviscerated our humanity leaving us mind-numbingly dependent on tweets, texts, emails, and updates from “friends”. We could say the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment Rights advocates are to blame. We could blame economic malaise and high unemployment as the culprits. Or, we could blame the media. Better yet, we could say we’ve lost religion and all sense of spirituality. Whichever way you slice it, there are many excuses behind the violence that defines our nation.  In my humble opinion, however, it is the easy, easy access to guns in this country and fewer and fewer school social workers and psychologists that have contributed to the senseless deaths of so many people.

I’m angry we allow psychologically unstable individuals ready access to guns, particularly semi-automatics. I’m angry many of our leaders have resisted pursuing gun controls lest they disappoint powerful political groups and lobbyists, and I’m saddened we just don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. I’m also worried about our schools which lack the resources to counsel students, particularly those with serious mental health issues. The recent hard times were especially devastating on schools, and unfortunately, oftentimes the first positions to go are student support personnel. Who takes care of the troubled child? Who build’s the child’s sense of worth and value? Who attempts to address the factors which negatively impact the child? It’s the school social workers and psychologists who bring calm and normalcy to our troubled youth. We talk volumes about school reform, something I’m all for, but let’s not forget that schools also play a big role in promoting students’ social emotional growth and well-being.

How many incidents are necessary to change the laws that practically allow anyone to buy a gun? How many innocent victims will die before we say “enough is enough!”? When do we allocate resources to the needs of communities? When do we restore the front line workers who make a difference in a troubled student’s life, seeking to get the child back on track? Or do we continue with the status quo in both gun control laws and societal mental health issues? What if we had a new federal initiative titled, “Race to Mental Well-Being,” with funds dedicated to restore and enhance schools’ social services programs?

Last week I lost my Aunt Jo to a stroke. It was sad. However, she was 87 and died peacefully of natural causes. I can handle that. However, I and millions of others can not handle the violence in this great country. It’s time we demand our politicians exercise leadership and legislate gun control laws, and it’s time we rethink our priorities when it comes to school programs and funding. We must regroup and evaluate what we are doing for the least among us. We can do better.

Chosen Change Versus Imposed Change

I am buzzing with creative juices as I network with new and exciting people, develop lessons and activities for my graduate classes, cultivate teacher leadership through varied grant activities, and hopefully make a difference in the field of education. Needless to say, I am exhausted. But it’s a feel-good exhaustion. The type that follows a vigorous workout or completion of a major project and brings a sense of satisfaction and endorphin rush that goes with the whole experience. And so it goes six months into my new position. The change of career and responsibilities I chose has been energizing, and that is a wonderful thing.

Change processes are interesting, and people’s perspectives and responses vary greatly depending on many things including how much skin they have in the game. In my case, the layers of skin invested are deep and the stakes high. I have to establish credibility in a new arena by quickly developing networks, skills and understandings necessary to serve at this level. My relationships with peers, subordinates, and supervisors will need careful attention and cultivation. That’s okay, however. I knew what I was in for when I began the application process, and I’ve willingly invested the necessary energy and efforts to make this change work. However, what if you’re not invested in the change process. What if the change was imposed and you have no sense of ownership or control over what’s being levied? What if you lack the confidence, skills, and knowledge to do the work? What if the whole experience leaves you feeling drained and helpless?

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Cartoon taken with permission from Let’s Change the World!

As I mused in last week’s entry, not everyone involved with Race to the Top (RttT) bought in to the program, and for many, the change processes associated with RttT are frustrating, stressful, and overwhelming. For them, the entire Agenda is one of imposition. Yet there are others who see RttT as a chance to rethink how we do teaching and learning in public schools. Such individuals appreciate the academic rigor of Common Core State Standards, and recognize that teacher and principal evaluations offer leverage to get the important work done. They know the process is far from perfect, but they also believe we can do a better job educating students.

Our profession is at a pivot point with major skin in the game, and proactively approaching the stressors of school reform can be energizing if we’re willing to trust our colleagues and administrators, explore our blind spot, and stretch ourselves.  After all, if we hope to raise student achievement and better prepare students for 21st Century success, then don’t we need to rethink how we respond to the reform effort? If we want students to write from multiple sources, use text-based evidence to support positions, be fluent with mathematics, and apply mathematical concepts in novel ways, then shouldn’t we embrace the changes RttT brings? The fly in the ointment has been and continues to be value added measures of student growth. Alas, that is a topic for another day. Meanwhile, though RttT is not necessarily something we all signed up for years ago, do we have any choice but to raise the bar for students, teachers, and principals? After all, as the saying goes, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”