From Isolation to Collaboration via National Board Certification

August 27, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Jennifer Dines, NBCT, is the Special Education and Student Services Coordinator at the Gardner Pilot Academy K-8 School, a Pilot School in the Boston Public Schools. The views expressed in this blog are her own.  

Becoming an NBCT has enabled me to articulate my thinking about our profession, with the confidence and credentials to be an outspoken advocate for our students and their needs. The National Board assessment process served as a catalyst to my transformation from teacher to teacher leader. Although I showed strengths in many areas on my National Board assessment, the scores I received on my portfolio suggested that professional practice was my weakest area. And, at the time, this was absolutely true. 

I had my strengths as competent, research-oriented teacher, but I was also one who shut my door and kept to myself. However, receiving my lowest score in professional practice prompted me to take the risk to collaborate with others, and I have grown immensely from pushing myself in this area. Since 2012, I have challenged myself by taking on experiences as a union representative, a mentor to early-career teachers, and, most recently, a National Board candidate support provider. I am extremely proud of this role because it enables me to support others in transforming their teaching practice and their professional trajectories.

Moving from my comfort zone of isolation into collaboration has not been easy. I have had to work on attending to the ideas of others in group conversations rather than becoming lost in my own thoughts and vision. I have also struggled with the anxiety of giving up control of a situation. Yet, honing this skill set has benefitted not only me as a professional, but also benefitted my colleagues and also our students.

In May of this year, I was driving to school when I received a call from Kisha Davis-Caldwell, National Board’s Director of Outreach and Engagement.

“Your ‘Teach to Lead’ team has been selected to host a Leadership Lab!”  

Our “Writing Is Thinking” team began our work together at the Boston “Teach to Lead” Conference in February. We created a 90-day plan for how our group of teachers could systematically support ELL students and students with disabilities to express their understanding by thoughtfully implementing writing across the curriculum. The work has continued with monthly meetings.

“This is the best news!” I nearly shouted, pulling over to the side of the road. ”Wait…what exactly is a Leadership Lab?”

Kisha explained that the Writing Is Thinking team was responsible for gathering a group of teachers, administrators, and stakeholders for a full-day event at the end of June, only five short weeks away. Our team needed to present to this audience our mission, vision, and the products of collaborative work thus far; then we would engage them in “think tank” discussion sessions to elicit their feedback, constructive criticism, and, ultimately, their support on how to move our work forward.

I was smiling as I spoke with Kisha, but my hands were also shaking. School would end on June 29th, and my teammates and I had calendars packed with field trips, graduations, IEP meetings, and end-of-the-year grading. I wasn’t sure how we would pull off this Leadership Lab event, but I knew we could do it. Prior to becoming an NBCT, I would not have been so optimistic, but now I am courageous in my collaboration; my attitude is that the worst that can happen won’t be that bad!

The work that “Writing Is Thinking” began doing as a team this year has been a professional vision of mine for close to a decade. However, it’s the power of our team’s collaboration and collective voice that allowed my dream to develop into a shared and improving reality.

Thus far, we have set up a collaborative blog, served as consultants for national organizations, and successfully organized and led professional development within our district. We had forty people come to our Leadership Lab event on a busy Friday in late June, including Boston’s brand-new schools superintendent and several members of his transition team, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, from the Boston Public Schools’ Office of English Language Learners, and, best of all, our teaching colleagues.

My journey from isolation to collaboration has not been a straight and narrow path; there have been missteps along the way. I give myself a lot of credit for challenging myself, and I acknowledge the role of my National Board journey in serving as a catalyst for my ongoing growth. I am proud to be an NBCT who continues to grow as a professional and as a human being through my work in education.

I would encourage any educator to explore becoming a National Board Certified Teacher and to apply for Teach to Lead conferences. Both of these professional endeavors are worthwhile, creative, challenging – and most importantly, manageable – as long as you can muster a little courage and an open mind and heart to attempt a transformation.



Jennifer Dines, NBCT

Jennifer Dines is the Director of English Language Learners at the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, a Pilot School in the Boston Public Schools. Jennifer is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of English as a New Language. She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, Lesley University, Northeastern University, and the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. In addition to blogging for The Standard, Jennifer currently maintains her personal blog as well as a newer collaborative blog focused on writing across the curriculum: Follow her on twitter @literacychange.