I Can Accomplish Difficult Things, and So Can My Students

November 21, 2017

In mid-October, I opened an email containing National Board renewal scores and saw “Congratulations!” It was a high point of my day. The 129 likes and 23 congratulating comments on Facebook left me with warm fuzzies, but as I sit and reflect on the most rewarding part of this renewal journey, I have to admit that the ways that I’ve become a better teacher through completing the National Board certification and the renewal process mean the most.

Entering my initial certification process nine years ago, I saw myself as a strong teacher. The process made me analyze my teaching. I was forced to confront aspects of my teaching that were not as strong as they could have been. Through that experience in 2008 and my recent completion of the renewal process, I realize I have improved as a teacher in many ways.

  1. Completing the National Board Certification process enhanced my ability to focus. Going through the initial certification process in 2008 was intense. The workload required time management, organization of resources and paperwork, goal setting, and intense focus. Completing it in one year required reflective planning with the big picture in mind. The year I initially certified, I had twin seven year olds and a two year old. Each night after putting them to bed, I dedicated at least an hour to working on certification. I can truthfully say that I have never felt so intensely focused and productive as I did during that year. These are skills that have stayed with me, helping me to complete myriad necessary tasks in a fast-paced school environment on a daily basis.
  2. Completing the National Board Certification process compelled me to try innovative teaching methods and strategies. While completing my certification, I saw that a component asked me to demonstrate students’ active engagement in listening, speaking, reading, and writing, while students built on each other’s ideas, all in a 15 minute filmed segment of a lesson. Designing a lesson that addressed all of the requirements was a daunting task. I remember being near tears, spending an entire Saturday trying to design a lesson that would meet all that was being asked. What resulted was a highly engaging, interactive literacy-based game using social studies content that gave students authentic opportunities for writing, as they used their knowledge from their reading to add onto the game. The game has grown and evolved from year to year as students have added to it. I would never have been compelled to put forth that kind of effort or creativity without the National Board process, and students have benefited from that work.
  3. Completing the National Board Certification process helped me gain confidence in my ability to accomplish difficult things that I’ve since instilled in my students. Achieving National Board Certification was a landmark event in my life. It was not an easy task. I proved to myself that I am capable of accomplishing difficult things. I have greater belief that my students can accomplish difficult things, when given the tools, instruction, and resources matched to their needs, and that my actions are key to their success. For the past several years, I’ve had the motto “I can do difficult things” posted above our classroom door, and we refer to it often. My students internalize this message.
  4. Completing the National Board Certification process opened doors for additional opportunities to grow. Completing my renewal helped me to realize the impact my efforts have made. When I became certified and became part of the network of National Board Certified Teachers, I began to receive invitations to participate in new activities that caused me to continue to stretch my abilities. I was asked to participate in two state policy symposiums, to address legislative work groups, to participate on state level committees, to become a fellow for an educational website, to present at state and national conferences, and to become a facilitator for National Board Candidates. All of these activities expanded my skills and experience in valuable ways and made real impacts on students’ learning. Reflecting on these experiences while working on renewal last year helped me to see the broader impact on students’ learning that engaging in these activities has made.
  5. Completing my National Board Certification renewal helped me be a better instructional coach. Because of my renewal work last year, I was looking for ways to determine impact on student learning due to my efforts as an instructional coach. This work led to my sending a perception survey to teachers. Because of my need to provide evidence during my renewal process, teachers in my building engaged in reflection about their growth due to participating in coaching activities with me, and how that impacted their students’ learning. This reflection increased teachers’ awareness of the effectiveness of instructional strategies and their practices, which elevated teaching practices in our building.

Had I not embarked on this journey of pursuing, accomplishing, and renewing National Board Certification, my students, my colleagues, and I would not have experienced all of these positive outcomes. I’m so glad that I decided to start down this road almost ten years ago.

Heather Byington, NBCT

Heather Byington is an NBCT in the area of English as a New Language and also a Facilitator for National Board Candidates. She is bilingual and bi-literate in English and in Spanish. Since 1997, she has taught students in almost every grade level in various education models, including dual language education. She currently teaches fifth grade and is an English Language Arts Coach at Lydia Hawk Elementary, a high needs school in Lacey, Washington. She engages in state level work advocating for the needs of English learners and at-risk learners.