Category Archives: Teacher Leadership

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!


A Voice From Inside the Cabinet

By Sean McGrath April 17th, 2014 10:00 AM

The non-descript clock on the conference room wall clicks slowly towards five. From what I’ve heard, the Chancellor is notoriously prompt, as her packed schedule forces her to be. The murmurs from around the room blend together in an indistinguishable tongue; to me, it’s background noise. The sounds I focus on come from within: my beating heart, the surge of adrenaline, the slightly labored breathing. The last time I felt this nervous, I was standing in front of a room filled with eager students for the first time. I struggle to discern my feelings and wonder why my nerves seem to be getting the best of me. I search for an answer and it comes in the form of nineteen nametags lining the perimeter of an ovular table. Mine is number twenty. The Chancellor walks in promptly as expected and it’s then I realize: I’m a part of something really meaningful.

In 2008, then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee created the Chancellor’s Teachers’ Cabinet as a way to “give teachers a stronger voice in shaping the future of DCPS.” Twenty teachers were selected to give the Chancellor feedback about what is and is not working in our schools. This was the first time that DC Public Schools had created an avenue for conversations between the person who, ultimately, makes the decisions that run our school district, and the people who are on the front lines of education.

This innovative idea shattered the barriers between “them” and “us” and strengthened the idea that we are all part of the same community. Among the reasons why teachers express job dissatisfaction is that they feel underappreciated and that they are kept in the dark while major policy decisions that affect their jobs are being made without their input. The pronoun “they” is crucial here. While there are myriad difficulties I face as a middle-school teacher in Washington, D.C., disengagement is not one of them. That’s because in DCPS, I have so many opportunities to have my voice heard and to express my opinions about the present and future of our profession.

DCPS recently rolled out a new program called the Leadership Initiatives for Teachers (LIFT). According to Chancellor Henderson, it “aims to guide outstanding teachers on the path to a long, fulfilling career in our district.” Indeed, on page 31 of this guidebook, the Chancellor lays out well over fifty leadership development opportunities for teachers. Among them being the very cabinet where I now sat, admiring the institutional knowledge Chancellor Henderson brings to DCPS.

A typical one-hour session with the Chancellor begins with Chancellor Henderson leading a quick ice-breaker, then telling us about upcoming initiatives or recent happenings within the District as it pertains to education. The last half-hour is dedicated solely to teachers voicing their opinions, concerns, or questions, and receiving honest feedback and earnest responses from someone who is in the position to make big ideas big realities. This cycle, called the feedback loop by Charles Duhigg, author of the transformational book, The Power of Habit, is important, because it breeds innovation and collaboration among teachers, but it also fosters a sense of dedication both to the profession and to the District. A teacher sitting across from me at the table listened intently to Chancellor Henderson as she responded to his query about the increased funding next year for middle schools. When it was his turn to speak, he cleared his throat, sat up straight, and summed up my experience in the cabinet thus far, “Kaya, the reason why I love these meetings is because I get straight, honest feedback and I know you are doing all you can for our students. I trust you.”

Teacher Recognition Elevates the Profession

By Angelique Kwabenah March 25th, 2014 10:00 AM

While I know that my work as I teacher is challenging, I love my job and the rewards that it brings.  I would do it no matter what, but it always feels good to be recognized in unique and innovative ways.

For me, this recognition came through my participation in America Achieves.  America Achieves is a fellowship that selects highly qualified teachers from around the country and provides them with an opportunity to network and learn more about the educational policymaking process. In addition, fellows participate in the yearly Education Nation Conference where they are given the opportunity to meet local and state education policy makers. When I attended this conference, I had the opportunity to speak with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and share with him my concerns about the state of education today. The fellowship also helped me network with other exemplary teachers from around the country and exchange ideas about strategies for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Teacher Professional Development Models. I really enjoyed this opportunity to network at the local and national level, and this unique experience made me a better advocate for my profession.

As a DCPS teacher, this recognition has not been limited to fellowships and leadership development.  Highly Effective teachers are eligible for several teaching awards, all of which are presented at the annual Standing Ovation Awards Ceremony at the Kennedy Center. I had the distinct pleasure of being selected as a DCPS Teacher of Excellence in 2011, and the district played a video montage of my class during the celebration. I also received a monetary award of $ $10,000 and that left me absolutely speechless! This was followed by a call from Chancellor Henderson during my summer vacation congratulating me for all of my hard work, and I was truly humbled.

Leadership opportunities through LIFT and the Standing Ovation Awards Ceremony are just two of the ways that the District of Columbia Public School System shows how much teachers are valued in the system. Every day, students are being affirmed and encouraged by their teachers for their hard work. As a teacher, I feel that we are being affirmed and encouraged by DCPS for the hard work that we do as well.

Becoming a Teacher Leader

By Jennifer Krystopowicz March 11th, 2014 10:30 AM

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs

At any moment in the day you can walk past Room 304, one of the classrooms where I co-teach, and see other teachers from my school observing, taking notes, debriefing, or interacting with me and Mrs. Jennings, the general education teacher. This year, Room 304 has taken on the role as the “model classroom” at Tyler Elementary,  where teachers at any skill level can come to observe highly effective colleagues who excel in a particular skill. The observing teachers take notes, process what was observed, and then meet with the lead teachers for a debrief session.

Thanks to a new District of Columbia Public Schools initiative called Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI), I have the opportunity to serve as an innovative leader at Tyler Elementary.  TLI enables teachers and school leaders to design and implement innovative teacher leadership roles that allow a teacher to spend part of the day teaching and part of the day leading other adults in the building. Designed at the school level, with support from central office, the TLI roles are specifically tailored to a school’s needs and priorities.

As one of the teacher leaders selected to pilot this program, I have developed the concept of a model classroom at my school.  The theory of action for the model classroom at Tyler is: teachers have been attending valuable, hands on, and resourceful professional development during their careers at DCPS.  However, many still lack the skills to implement these lessons and strategies in their own classroom. One reason why teachers, especially new teachers, lack the ability to incorporate these new strategies is because they have not seen them utilized and put into practice in front of students. For example, one of the initiatives this year at Tyler is to focus on improving the inclusion model, which consists of a general education and special education teacher working together in the general education setting to support students with special needs.  To support this initiative, teachers can sign up to observe me and Mrs. Jennings model a lesson following the expectations of our school and IMPACT, the district’s teacher evaluation system.

This experience has been invaluable for my development and has directly impacted multiple teachers at my school.  I have gained further insight into effectively aligning the common core standards from the general education side to creating a successful curriculum for students with special needs. In addition, I work with three new special education teachers at my school where I lead weekly special education meet-ups and create times for classroom observations and debrief sessions.  These meet-up are designed around the needs of the new teachers.  For example, meetings have focused on creating math centers, leading guided reading sessions for students with special needs, and behavior intervention plans. As a result, participating teachers have transformed the way inclusion works in their classroom and performed well under IMPACT in their first year of teaching!

My recommendation for those of you who want to take on new leadership opportunities and become an innovative leader is to start within your own school. I was not selected to participate in TLI because of the work I do at the district level.  Instead, my leadership involvement has blossomed within Tyler the last seven years, thus leading to district level leadership opportunities. Be an agent of change by focusing on a specific need, and your leadership abilities will naturally evolve.

Jennifer Krystopowicz is a special education teacher at Tyler Elementary School and a 2012 Rubenstein Award Winner for Highly Effective Teaching.


By Clare Berke March 5th, 2014 9:00 AM

My sister and I , who are less than two years apart in age, have always been competitive.  We went to a small high school in a small town, so we had frequent opportunities to compare our achievements.  Speech team medals, honor band awards, GPA, college scholarships, even a role in a one-act play incited competition (I was cast as her real-life-boyfriend’s on-stage fiance’).

Although most of our competitions died down with time and distance between us, I discovered a new competition a few years ago: job title and salary.  It’s not that my sister or I chose our jobs because they are highly profitable — I am a public school teacher; she works in the nonprofit sector; we are the children of a nurse and a minister.  What bothered me was the fact that she could ask her boss for a raise, and if she made her case, she could reasonably expect to get it.  I had no such opportunity to discuss with my principal the monetary value of my service, and there were few options for moving to a position that would warrant a change in title or a  significant pay increase.  Although my sister had been able to advocate for a new title and salary, I was stuck waiting for the years of teaching to pass.

Then came LIFT.  LIFT (the Leadership Initiative for Teachers) is a career ladder designed to keep teachers in the classroom, while rewarding and recognizing them for their success.  You can check out the details of LIFT here and here, but suffice to know that it involves paying highly effective teachers more – and quickly.  The lowest rung of the ladder is “Teacher”, followed by Established Teacher, Advanced Teacher, Distinguished Teacher, and finally, Expert Teacher.  Each first-year teacher begins at the “Teacher” phase.  A teacher who is new to the District, but has experience teaching elsewhere, begins at the Established or Advanced Teacher phase.  Moving up the ladder requires successive scores of effective or highly effective on your annual IMPACT evaluation.  When you move up to the Advanced, Distinguished or Expert phases, you have the option of applying a two to five  year service credit to your salary base, in addition to receiving bonus money if you were rated highly effective.  Leadership opportunities also broaden as you move up the ladder; and, once you’re LIFTed, you can’t return to a lower rung.

Although the introduction of LIFT in the fall of 2012 brought out the puns in many a teacher (“I’m trying to be LIFTed.”  “LIFT me up.”  “Can you give me a LIFT?”), its inception also opened the doors of recognition and reward for many new and emerging teachers.  Whereas a friend of mine who has taught in Fairfax County for the past four years feels like he has reached the apex of his teaching career, I know that there are many opportunities – and perhaps more money – in my near and distant future.  Despite receiving a minimally effective IMPACT score in my second year of teaching (which consequently froze me for a year on the pay scale), in my fifth year of teaching, I am now an Advanced Teacher on year six of the pay scale.  I have also served in leadership positions, including as a grade level team leader, a lead ELA teacher, a professional development facilitator, and a curriculum developer.  Recently, I was asked to open my classroom for new and developing teachers to observe.  Only two and a half years ago, I was the developing teacher who took advantage of observing the more experienced teachers.

Not every year of teaching will be a highly effective year, but I feel more confident in my career choice knowing that I will never drop below the Advanced Teacher level.  I am also encouraged, and my teaching is strengthened, by the leadership opportunities I have learned from and enjoyed.  When I get to sit down with a group of teachers and hash out a plan for strengthening students’ skills for analysis or examine student writing for growth areas, I am better prepared to teach, and my students benefit.

I may never have the title of Director in my email signature, as my sister does, but perhaps one day I will be called Distinguished, or even Expert.  The possibility is enough to keep me content — and our healthy sibling rivalry alive.

Clare Berke is an English teacher at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.

Using the Goldilocks Parable to Impact School Culture

By Sean McGrath February 26th, 2014 11:30 AM

Every day, there are unscientific surveys that seem to point an accusatory finger at my generation – the so-called Millennials – and inculpate us for just about every social ill and societal moor. Why don’t millennials have relationships? Because we’re “selfish narcissists“. Why are we depressed? Because we have a “strong sense of entitlement.” Why are so many members of Generation-Y unemployed? Because we’re frustrated at work and expect more of our employers and society. While some people think that these traits are troubling our workforce and threatening the country’s future, I’d argue that it’s these very traits that are going to change our world, especially in the classroom.

From childhood, we millennials have been exhorted from all corners of the country – from our parents’ advice, to teachers, and even commercials – not to settle for something that doesn’t fit us; to strive for something better. We were the first generation who grew up not only reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but watching them on loop in our VCRs. This repetition and inculcation of the story’s moral has become a parable for our lives: If you don’t like the culture of your job, and you can’t change the culture of your job, change your job until you find a culture that’s right for you.

When I finally began visiting colleges, I went to seven before I found the one that was right for me. I went on ten job interviews before landing my first job, and sat down with six principals before I was handed the keys to my own classroom here in DC. We are, admittedly, idealists. We want our jobs to be like a pair of pants and fit us well. Those fashion-savvy among us wouldn’t settle for too-baggy or too-high slacks, so why should we expect that our jobs be any different?

In addition, we are a generation of doers, a generation that wants to take on the responsibilities to advance goodness in the world. We see it as our civic duty, and we take this mentality with us into the classroom. It’s not enough for us to become teachers and then say, “Okay, I’ve done my part in educating kids.” We are obsessed with progress, we thrive on moving things forward, we make sure to ask “why?” and we encourage our students to do the same.

These traits have been on display since joining DC Public Schools five years ago. I have been a team lead, a social media ambassador, a liaison to an Afghani embassy, a presenter at a conference, a member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet, a sponsor of Student Government, a Geoplunge! coach, a baseball coach, and a disc jockey at school dances. Not to mention the five classes of U.S. History I teach per day. These positions obviously bring me great joy, but the reason that belies that joy is that connection, that fit that I mentioned earlier. The reason why I love my job, and why I strive to do more than the bare minimum, has little to do with money or incentives (though those both help, especially around the holidays). Instead, it is about feeling that connection to a school or a district solves that Goldilocks parable- we want to get it just right. I feel a sense of connection to my community and a greater sense of self-worth. Moreover, human beings are social creatures who crave communal acceptance. As a teacher, that doesn’t mean throwing down the latest slang in class or wearing fashionable clothes to class. It means sending the message, through your work, your lessons, and through your commitments to the school, that you are a part of a community of learners just like your students.

I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful administration that encourages me to build my role of a teacher into one that is challenging and rewarding. Sometimes, as was the case at previous jobs, that didn’t happen. I often had to claim minor victories, such as when I convinced a former principal to get teachers to start using online grade books. These mini-wins affirm the notion that progress is inevitable, and I implore all teachers who care about their school culture as well as their students to take part in this great culture shift. Change that old pair of pants for one with a better fit. It’s what’s been happening on the macro-level within DCPS for the better part of the decade.

Sean McGrath is a social studies teacher at Stuart Hobson Middle School and a member of the 2013-14 Chancellor’s Teachers Cabinet.


“As College Graduates Hit the Workforce, So Do More Entitlement-Minded Workers.” University of New Hampshire,, 17 May 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Denny, Judy. “Millennials Rising the Next Great Generation.” Rev. of Millennials Rising, by Neil Howe and William Strauss. Federal Consulting Group, Oct. 2004. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. 

Donegan, Ryan. “The Numbers Behind Why Millennials Are ‘Generation Frustration.'” The Huffington Post,, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2014 

Woodman, Dan, Dr., and Johanna Wyn, Dr. “We Love Labels, but Should Know the Limits before Libelling Gen Y.” The Sydney Morning Herald., 10 Mar. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Three Tips for Successful Teacher Leadership

By Rabiah Harris January 16th, 2014 3:45 PM

“How is it going?” she asked me.  She asked every day whether I had a smile or a frown. She asked and waited for my answer, never rushing off to complete her own tasks.  I was grateful.  Whenever I stopped in her room, she wanted to help and would offer countless resources and ideas.  When I came up with a new idea for the chemistry teachers to try, she, a 40-year veteran of teaching, would listen to me and try it out herself.

That woman was Ms. Petree.  She wasn’t my department chair, instructional coach, or principal.  She had no higher job title other than “Chemistry Teacher,” but she was more than a teacher to me.  She was a leader, defined as someone who guides a group, and she did it without the title or the monetary rewards.  She had many years of experience teaching what I had been teaching for just weeks, and I relied on her tremendously. When I look back at her mentorship during my first three years teaching at Wilson Senior High School, I feel nothing but grateful.

When I began teaching in DCPS almost nine years ago, I would never have imagined that I would one day be a teacher leader, helping to push achievement in academic areas and to build on the great work already being done. Yet, here I am. I am a science teacher and a TeachPlus Teacher Transformation Team (t3) member as the science team lead.   I have learned many things in my roles, but here are the three tips that led me to success:

  1. Be humble.  Whatever leadership position you take at your school or in your department, it’s not about you.  It’s about the work you do to raise student achievement.  Ms. Petree never reminded me of her many years of teaching experience when she was introducing her own ideas or listening to mine. She was humble in the work that she did, always focusing on the progress of those around her rather than herself.
  2. Maintain purpose.   Always keep sight of the reason you are doing the work. Whatever you team’s goal is, whether it is family engagement, positive behavior systems, or content mastery, keep what brought you to the position, school, and profession in mind.  When our chemistry division meets, we have goals in mind of what we want to do, whether it is making common assessments or reordering units. This keeps us grounded in the work of student achievement and tracking data across groups of students and teachers for equity.
  3. Grow capacity within your team.  Always remember that everyone on your team has something to bring to the table. Find ways to make sure that not only does each member feel included, but he or she also knows that their expertise is valued and needed.

Want to continue the conversation? Connect with Rabiah on Twitter at @dcSTEMspark.

 Rabiah Harris teaches science at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7.