Editor’s Note: Ambereen Khan-Baker, NBCT, teaches AP Language and Composition in Rockville, Md. As an Ambassador for the Montgomery Institute, a partnership between NEA and Montgomery County Education Association, she works with teacher leaders across the country on collaborative problem solving to improve the quality of teaching and learning. The views expressed in this blog are her own.
If you want to support another teacher pursuing National Board Certification, what skills are essential to your effectiveness?
This question was our focus this summer for the Candidate Support Provider (CSP) Foundations Committee at the National Board Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, where NBCTs from all over the country met to evaluate our current resources and develop a toolbox for CSPs. Our goal is to create a system that allows for all teachers to pursue Board certification with quality and equitable support.
In redesigning our own CSP training for Montgomery County this summer, I realized that two important skills were involved: (1) CSPs must communicate effectively, and (2) CSPs must facilitate a candidate’s reflective thinking about teaching and certification. Knowing the National Board’s Core Propositions and the standards of accomplished teaching helps us think about our work with teachers as well as students.
Core Proposition #1 states that teachers are committed to students and their learning. Similarly, we must be committed to our candidates and their learning. We treat teachers equitably and act on the belief that all teachers will continue to grow and to reflect on their own practice.
CSPs must communicate effectively, and one way is through sharing a story of self, focusing on the positive aspects of our own journeys. During our training, we asked coaches the following question aimed at having them create a story of self: "What are the experiences in your life that have shaped the values that call you to be an NBCT?" In listening to their stories, we heard a common theme: No matter how challenging the process was, it was worth the effort and time, because our reflective practices transformed our viewpoints and benefited our students.
As CSPs, we must recognize that for each candidate, the certification process belongs to the teacher, not to us. We want to use questions that probe the teacher’s thinking in order to allow the teacher to experience his or her own "aha" moments. In one module of the CSP training, I created candidate responses to questions taken from Component 2. For example, one question, taken directly from the instructional context, is "What are the relevant features of your teaching context that influenced the selection of this instructional sequence?" The fictional candidate’s response: "I have a Promethean board and two computers in my classroom. My desks are arranged in rows. This class is first period."
A candidate must not only identify the relevant factors, but also analyze the relevance of these factors in designing the instructional sequence. Obviously, this teacher did not fully address the question; however, the CSP has to guide the teacher towards the recognition of an inadequate answer, rather than simply suggest the change. In a training role-play activity, I heard CSPs ask questions such as, "How does a Promethean board influence your instruction?" "How does having this class first period affect your instruction?" "What other factors affect your instruction?" “Why is this feature important?" and so forth. Every course is different, and every class of students is different from every other class, so there is no one way to answer a question. As CSPs, we have to ask questions to encourage candidates to think more deeply and analytically about their teaching practice.
As I reflect on our goal of creating equitable and ethical support for teachers, I want all certification candidates to have the support they need. We have to be open-minded in drawing out our candidates’ strengths, building on their motivation, and helping them reflect on their practice. By doing so, we are also helping students beyond our classroom door.