Category Archives: Professional Development

National Board Certified: To Be or Not To Be?

By Jennifer Krystopowicz May 13th, 2014 10:15 AM

National Board Certification. Perhaps you’ve thought about it, researched it on the Internet, or even thought about registering for more information. However, something held you back: money, time, requirements, etc. These feelings are absolutely normal, especially when you are thinking about embarking on any certificate or degree program in your professional career. The unknown can be scary and intimidating, so I hope that my experience will help you in your decision.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to earn my National Board Certification, I felt many of the same emotions discussed above. I had heard about the certificate, but didn’t really know much about the process or whether I wanted to commit to writing more papers after already completing my Masters degree. Not to mention, balancing life as a student and full time teacher was challenging. As a result, I was hesitant to jump back into that lifestyle to earn my Boards. I also didn’t know how much I would benefit from this process, since I planned to complete the boards on my own without the guidance and support of classmates or a professor. However, after much consideration and research, I decided to move forward and become a candidate for National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist.

The defining factor that led me to make this decision came from the mission of the National Board. According to the website, “The mission of the National Board is to advance student learning and achievement by establishing the definitive standards and systems for certifying accomplished educators, providing programs and advocating policies that support excellence in teaching and leading and engaging National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) and leaders in that process.” I loved the idea that I could be a part of a systematic process where one could honor excellent teaching though a rigorous professional certification process. For the first time in my career, I felt like I would be able to be a part of what expert teachers share in their craft and be amongst a select group of teachers who are advancing student achievement.

Perhaps you are still on the fence as to why you should become board certified. Besides becoming part of an organization that is deeply respected and valued by leading educators, the Department of Education, and our Secretary of Education, completing the national board process will give you a profound understanding of your practice, thorough time for self-reflection, and an opportunity to celebrate your success.

To become Nationally Board Certified, I had to complete four entries that comprised of data analysis, reports, analyzing artifacts, self-reflection, and a video submission. I also had to complete a computer-based exam. The road to earning my certification was not an easy one, and I had to commit one day a week to my “board work” to complete the process (much like being back in graduate school!).  If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone who is thinking of or in the process of preparing for writing their entries, I would tell you to have someone else, outside of the education field, read your work.  This person preferably has a graduate or writing degree and experience editing work, and can serve as a lens from outside of the education field. A close friend of mine read my work and gave me great insight into what I was missing in my entries. For example, she told me that I was not “selling” myself enough in my accomplishments, and as a result I was cutting myself short. I truly believe that her support in meeting with me countless times to read my paper played a huge role in my successful completion!

As a National Board Certified teacher, I walked away from this experience with a new set of skills that now defines me as an educator and helps me stand out in my profession. Most importantly, this was a time of true self-reflection and analysis of my success and challenges as a teacher. This was a time that was dedicated to my own growth, which is something that, as teachers, we don’t do enough. This process has taught me to take the time to celebrate my work and even the smallest of successes! Still thinking about the process? National Board Certification… To be!

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Why DCPS?

By Rabiah Harris May 7th, 2014 3:00 PM

“But why, Ms. Harris, why?” one student pleaded. I can still remember the day I told my chemistry students that I was preparing to leave Wilson High School to move to New Orleans.  It was a gut-wrenching day, as this was the first time since student teaching where I was leaving a group of students before they graduated high school. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined that five years later, I would return to DCPS as a middle school teacher. However, I couldn’t be more excited about my decision.

My reasons for coming back to DCPS this school year were clear, but I will note that it was not an easy decision. I was a leader and hard working teacher at a DC charter middle school, and I had developed great relationships with the families of students I taught. Yet, there were still some things I felt were missing. In spite of the year’s challenges, I am happy with my decision and still see it as an opportunity to grow.

As one of only three science teachers at my past school and five total in the charter network, I sought to be a part of a larger network of teachers who taught similar subject areas and grade levels to my own.  I have found that in DCPS.  From New Teacher Orientation to district-wide professional development, I thoroughly enjoy networking with other science teachers in the District. I was also recently picked to be a part of the STEM Master Teacher Corps, where I get to connect with other teachers in DCPS on a the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) alignment for the District.  All of these opportunities provide professional growth that is incomparable to what is available at a small school with a smaller network.

I receive specialized coaching around leadership development for my school’s science vertical teamThis resource, provided through a partnership with TeachPlus, enables me to receive weekly coaching personalized to my growth. For instance, I needed to get a group of teachers (including myself) aligned around the work of science and scientific inquiry.  At my school, science teachers were allowed to work in silos when it came to the day-to-day work and my coach assisted me with tools and techniques to work at bringing my team together on a common goal. While my former schools were whole-heartedly invested in my growth, they just didn’t have a large enough staff to make that a reality. I still have a long way to go before I feel like I am a phenomenal leader, but I am happy to continue working towards that goal. Through this experience, I know I have made more growth with the assistance of a coach than without.

Lastly, I am a product of public schools across the country (I lived in 7 places by the time I was 18). I wholeheartedly believe in neighborhood schools and that every school in the city should be great. I have returned to DCPS because I want to be a part of the growth of schools and the work of so many other talented educators.  I also want to do my part in making sure that every student gets great educators- and that those great educators help to ensure that students, regardless of whether they attend a neighborhood school, get a great education.

Great Teachers Aren’t Born… They’re Coached

By Amanda Jonas January 9th, 2014 4:30pm

You walk into a messy, slightly hot, and rather disorganized classroom. You aren’t sure what time of the day it is, because all of the shades are drawn and the light is off.  A projector (which sits slightly crooked) faces the white board projecting an oddly angled worksheet. The students in the room are talking loudly, which is alarming considering their teacher is also talking loudly. Calls of “I don’t get this work!” “I can’t see the board!” and “I hate this class!” reverberate through the room. You wonder what the objective is, since none of the students seem to be getting it. You look at the board and under the word “objective” you see the word “SURPRISE!” The teacher continues to loudly ramble on, and then flips the lights on. You are blinded and confused as she hands out the same thick packet to each of the students and tells them to work on it silently (you laugh to yourself because the class hasn’t been silent since you got here) for the next 45 minutes. The class erupts in commentary as students complain that this is “too much work,” that it is “too easy” or that it is ” too hard.” You look closely at the teacher. Even though she seems to be young, her eyes have this glazed over look that tells you she feels about 900 right now. You sneak out the back door just as you hear three voices scream, “MS JONAS CAN YOU GET HIM!”

Welcome to my world. You just experienced what my classroom was like during my first few months of teaching. The above scenario is entirely true (I was observed by my principal for the first time with the word “surprise” written as the objective) except I edited out the bad parts in an effort to make myself look good…kind of just ruined it by telling you all that, huh?

What’s worse than all this? Can it get worse? Even though I wanted my kids to learn desperately (the kind of desperate that makes you wake up in the middle of the night thinking to yourself, “how the heck am I going to get James to learn his multiplication tables??”) my kids were not learning. I was boring. My lessons were the same- guided notes, 20 pages independent work- I think I personally caused a paper shortage at my school my first year.

If you would have told me that a year later I would increase proficiency scores in 5th grade math from 10-39% on the DC CAS, receive a $25,000 highly effective bonus, AND hold a leadership role at my school, not to mention strong positive relationships with my students, I would have thought you were crazy. I would have told you that it would be impossible for me to do that…and I would have been right. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make all that good happen on my own.

Instructional Coaching

During my first year of teaching, my instructional coach Mikel was in my classroom everyday. She wasn’t there to rate me on a scale from bad to worse, or to tell me all the things I was doing wrong. She told me how to make things better. Real concrete things! Not just platitudes like, “just be more creative” or “fix the culture in your room.” She would instead say “use these fraction circles in your lesson tomorrow,” and “show them to multiply like this.” We would meet for hours in her office, where I would lay out ten things that I thought were going wrong, and she would lay out twenty things she saw going right. She would hear me and let me vent my frustration, but she would never let me wallow in it. It was always about moving forward and getting better.

You see, the thing about an incredible instructional coach, and Mikel is beyond incredible, is that they see you and your potential, but in no way try to make you into the mold of a “perfect teacher.” Mikel allowed me to discover who I was as a teacher, what my style was, AND how to use all those good things to my student’s advantage. At the same time however, she pushed me out of my comfort zone into the scary world of small groups, discovery based learning, and student centered/run lessons. Throughout my three years at Stanton, Mikel has been the constant driver in my professional development, never allowing me to be satisfied with “good enough” or to ride the wave of previous successes. Yeah cool, I was highly effective last year. But what’s next? How can I reach my students in new and more meaningful ways? How can I be a better version of myself so that I can truly give my students my best?

So the next time your Mikel walks into your classroom, here a few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s not about you. Even though teaching is highly personal, and some of us spend more time in our classrooms than in our real homes, at the end of the day it’s about your students. Period. This was a big lesson for me personally, taking my ego out of the picture and just taking feedback and running with it. If something you try doesn’t work, own it, and give it another go. Appreciate the honest and difficult feedback when you get it because it will only make you a stronger and more successful teacher.
  • Just do it. Your instructional coach wants you to try small groups? A new seating arrangement? Go for it. Even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone. Your instructional coach has your back, and if what you tried didn’t move mountains like you thought it would, I promise you that your instructional coach will find something else that will.
  • Go ahead and ask! There is truly no such thing as a dumb question in teaching. For a few months, I was too embarrassed to ask Mikel what centers were supposed to look like. One day I got up the nerve to ask her, and I wish I hadn’t hesitated for a second. Your instructional coach is there to help you. If you need a lesson modeled or you aren’t sure how to correctly teach lattice, go ahead and ask!

My final take away is to remember that exceptional teachers are not born. They are created, or rather, they are coached. And even the most turbulent start can have an exciting and still improving finish.

Amanda Jonas is a 5th grade math teacher at Stanton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Problem Solve(d)

By Tanesha Dixon January 8th, 2014 11:00 AM

Many, many…many moons ago I completed the often-dreaded pre-service teacher right of passage: student teaching.  I was actually looking forward to the experience.  It was a chance to leave the safe confines of the college classroom and finally put theory into practice.  Unlike my colleagues, I didn’t compete for the coveted Honors, AP or IB placements.  Instead, I requested a general education classroom on the “other side of town.” I was a product of inner-city public schools and knew the importance of having not only an effective teacher, but one who was passionate about the learning and lives of her students. But passion will only take one’s teaching practice so far.  I still had to produce results supported by achievement data.  With so many of my students performing well below grade level, there was no time to waste. Every student needed to make gains and do so before the standardized state test at the end of the school year.  Enter the teacher’s dilemma: how to balance creating rigorous and engaging lessons, giving timely feedback, and personalizing learning so every student moved towards mastery.

It was not until I became a DCPS educator that there was an explicit and earnest attempt to address and solve the teacher’s dilemma.  At my school, I’m currently collaborating with teachers on ways to integrate technology and blended learning into the classroom.  We have been critical thought partners for each other and have a Professional Learning Community that not only provides camaraderie but tangible ways to positively impact student engagement and achievement.  On the district’s professional development days, I have authentic opportunities to learn and connect with colleagues teaching the same subject area.  Working in grade level cohorts, we share teaching materials and resources, learn new teaching strategies from a content specialist, and receive training from educational networks and organizations such as DiscoveryEducation, NBC Learn and the District of Columbia Geographic Alliance.  What is more, there are an abundance of learning opportunities in and around the city, from the much anticipated Smithsonian museum nights and workshops to the FREE university courses and seminars.  However, the pièce de résistance has been my time as an Education Innovation Fellow.  For the past year, I (along with eleven other DC teachers) have been introduced to the most promising innovations in blended learning and offered opportunities to pilot blended models in our schools.  While I was intimidated about the tremendous amount of work and responsibility ahead of me, I knew this would be yet another golden opportunity to contribute to DCPS becoming the quintessential model of urban education.

Being a DCPS educator gives me tremendous pride because I know the work we are doing is geared towards developing teachers to be and do their best, producing children who will lead and compete in a global marketplace, and engaging families and communities to support and advocate for their children.   “We are DCPS” is not just a catchy hashtag or marketing ploy, it is our call and (in many ways) our response to action. I answered the call four years ago and it has changed my magnificent intentions of personalizing the learning experience for every student in my classroom into action.

Are you struggling with a teacher’s dilemma? Click here to see how I let my cat out of the bag.

Tanesha Dixon is a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher and technology integration coach at Wheatley Education Campus.

When Google Doesn’t Know the Answer

By Nicole Bell January 7th, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Any smartphone user who’s ever had a random question can sympathize with a familiar routine: curiosity, phone search, instant gratification, and boom – the mental effort is over. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it’s incredibly satisfying. But what do we do when Google doesn’t know the answer?

More and more, I see my students falling into the instant answer trap. They want to know the answer, and when they get it, they want to move on. When a student is told they got the answer right, you can almost audibly hear their brain click off and move on to the next thing, just like my own brain often does once I get an answer from my iPhone. Knowledge acquired, case closed, on to the next thought. We live in a speedy age, in which information is instantly available and instant processing can be valued. It can seem counterintuitive to students when teachers make them laboriously show their work and explain their reasoning – or even worse, tell them “there is no right answer” and then make them argue for what they think. This kind of thinking feels slow and awkward, and out of step with the way many students live their daily life.

It’s through this slow thinking that we answer our most important questions, though, even if at times it seems outdated. Google is great at telling me differentiation strategies, but can’t tell me what each of my unique students need. Neither can it tell students how to make the hard tradeoffs and decisions that are part of growing up. I believe one of the most important things I can do in my job as a teacher is push my students’ critical thinking skills – but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I’ve appreciated the professional development I’ve received on critical thinking, since I feel like it’s one of the hardest skills to teach. As a science teacher in a district that’s adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, this professional development has focused largely on inquiry thought processes. For example, at a recent DCPS event I had the opportunity to be trained in and receive a trial of an online inquiry program. Using the program, students form a hypothesis for an interesting question and then try to prove it using multimedia evidence. To see how it worked, I started to poke around the physics module (since it’s a subject I don’t teach). When I got one of the assessment questions wrong, I flipped back to the evidence pages to figure it out. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that my first reaction to the article that popped up was “I have to read all this?? Can’t it just tell me the answer?” However, as I worked through it, I pieced together why I’d gotten that question wrong. I think that programs like this – that catch our kids with fascinating questions and then force them into difficult thinking – are a great way to slow down their thoughts in the ways that matter. Other professional development has focused on the same idea. Recently, a fellow DCPS teacher led an entire sample lesson about why candles burn. “Because they do” was rapidly replaced with a series of hands-on trials and slow, but productive, reasoning as we reconsidered things that we thought we “knew.”

I’ve noticed a similar trend even outside of the sciences. The math teacher next door to me has come up with a new way to lead students to value more than just the answers. He sometimes gives them quizzes that already have the answers on them – their job is to show the work needed to get there. While his students feel cheated that the most gratifying and straightforward part was taken away from them, it forces them to embrace the process instead of just hurrying past it to reach the end result. This teacher hangs the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice on his walls, and his favorite is the first: “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”

Teaching perseverance is hard, but it’s a prerequisite for lifelong learning. It’s an area of professional development that I think could use even more growth moving forward, especially as we become ever more reliant on instant answers elsewhere. In an era with so much speed and change, sometimes it’s the slow thinkers that we really need.

Nicole Bell teaches chemistry at Coolidge High School in Washington, DC.