Renewal and Professional Growth

I’ve just spent an exhausting, invigorating day with 36 of Washington State’s finest teachers.

This group of teachers, all National Board Certified, are in their eighth or ninth year following initial certification. In order to remain NBCTs, they are faced with the task of renewing their certificates.  Most look forward to this process with residual fear and trembling from their initial certification experience. As one who completed the renewal process fairly early in its evolution, Washington Education Association asked me to develop a facilitation protocol and workshop to support NBCTs through the renewal process, so I did.  And that’s where I was today. Here’s why it’s the best path to growing accomplished teachers. And here’s why it’s the very best renewal, ever.

The renewal process is much shorter and sweeter than initial certification. Compared to the initial certification work, renewal a very open process, allowing NBCTs to truly showcase the ways they’ve chosen to grow professionally since the beginning of their teaching careers. The portfolio itself is 23 written pages (as opposed to nearly 100 in the initial certification process) and has 1-2 videos and 8-16 pages of products for 4 entries. There is no assessment center in renewal, where initial certification has a very rigorous written assessment. The renewing NBCT selects any 4 professional growth experiences and describes each.  One PGE demonstrates the teacher’s application of content and/or pedagogical learning in his/her classroom and the direct impact on student learning that occurs as a result of the teacher learning.  A second PGE can demonstrate more of the same, or it might demonstrate the NBCT’s learning and work with adult learners in a mentoring others, in university courses, as a member of a PLC or committee. Again, always, the focus is on the impact on student learning, more indirectly this time. Finally, the NBCT writes a 4-page reflection on his or her practice. Reflection.  What worked well? What didn’t?  What modifications will be made? Why?

The Profile of Professional Growth is independently assessed by at least two NBCTs who hold the same content and developmental level certificate as the renewal candidate.  If there is not sufficient evidence that the candidate’s professional growth in content knowledge, pedagogy, technology, diversity, and equity of access for all students resulted, directly and indirectly, on student learning, the candidate will not be renewed. 

This Profile of Professional Growth is the most useful bit of information I’ve ever experienced as a window into my students’ learning. It’s far more useful than a set of standardized test scores, which never seem to give me enough information. Using the standards and reflective practices learned in the initial certification process, a teacher can mine a complete picture of student learning and can make informed decisions on how to help each student grow in his/her learning.

Washington State will award an NBCT or renewed NBCT a continuing certificate for staying with this process.  Most state certificate renewal, for example my current state, Oregon, will allow me to renew the Continuing certificate I was awarded, just by attending all my district’s “sit-and-git.”  I don’t have to do a thing to show that I actually learned as opposed to sitting through sessions while Facebooking on my phone. (Which I would never do, BTW. I’d more likely live-tweet the whole thing.)

The difference in renewing a National Board Certificate and any other teaching license is that to renew the National Board Certificate, the actual, honest-to-goodness impact on student learning must be demonstrated. To insure that every child has an accomplished teacher who is continually learning and growing, perhaps it’s certificate renewal that needs a higher level of accountability. I’ve renewed certificates in 3 states, usually by jumping a hoop such as obtaining a masters’ degree (in educational leadership, in a program in which I really didn’t learn much.) I renewed once by simply documenting my attendance at workshops and “professional development” events sponsored by my district. Again, I did not have to document that any student learning occurred as a result of my participation.

I propose that states accept the National Board renewal process as sufficient professional growth for their highest level of certification. For teachers who are not National Board Certified, I propose a similar means of documenting professional growth; one that does not necessarily include standardized test scores except as an option for the teacher to use in reflection and appropriate modification of his or her practice. 

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