Ace in the Hand: Principal Support for National Board Candidates

October 9, 2018

In a game of cards, drawing the right card at the right time makes all the difference. It’s primarily a game of luck, and skilled players have better chances. In schools today, having the right teachers makes all the difference. But this is not a game of chance. Skilled principals can stack the deck to nurture teacher success, especially when teachers are pursuing their National Board Certification. So how can a principal make a teacher feel like s/he has an ace in the hand?

A few months ago, I started asking myself this question. I’m a Candidate Support Provider, and I’ve been looking for ideas to share with principals who want to support their National Board candidates. When I searched online for tips and strategies, I didn’t find much guidance for principals. So, I reached out to National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) and candidates in my Professional Learning Network.

I used social media platforms to ask: How can administrators support the National Board journey? Twenty-five teachers contributed to the discussion, sharing their positive experiences and suggestions. I printed all the quotes and sorted them into groups to find the main themes. I shared the findings through social media to get feedback, probe further, and gain additional insight.

The following ideas represent the collective thinking of 25 NBCTs. I hope they empower principals with concrete suggestions to support National Board candidates. And I hope they inspire candidates to ask for the support they need.

Principals Can Provide… Release Time

Overwhelmingly, teachers said that National Board candidates need release time. According to one NBCT, “Any time that can be spared for work time is great.” A full day of release time gives candidates a chance to dig deep and have big breakthroughs. But release time can also be small chunks of time during the professional day. A principal might take candidates off extra duties, allow them to leave early or miss staff meetings, find staff to cover a class period, or excuse them from professional development. According to a current NB candidate, “Professional leave to work on NBCT is huge.”

Principals Can Provide… Genuine Interest and Understanding

Teachers felt that principals should connect regularly with candidates, showing genuine interest and understanding. One NBCT suggested, “Talk with [candidates] about what they are doing and how it is supporting their classroom. Give them grace when they cannot do everything they used to do while pursuing.” Another NBCT shared, “My administrator didn’t require me to strictly adhere to district pacing guidelines, giving me freedom to take risks and try new things.” At the core, teachers felt that a principal’s words and actions should communicate the messages I believe in you and I support you. This holds true even if the principal does not fully understand National Board Certification. One NBCT shared, “My [administrator] didn’t know what NBCT was or fully understand the significance. They humored me and let me work on it.”

For principals seeking supportive questions to ask National Board candidates, teachers offered some suggestions:

  • How are things going?
  • How can I support you?
  • What are you learning?
  • How is this helping your practice?
  • What can I take off your plate today?
  • How can this help your peers?

Principals Can… Connect Candidates with Local Support

Many teachers wrote about the importance of gathering with other National Board candidates. One NBCT wrote, “I was glad to have a support cohort managed through my district.” Some teachers wrote about cohorts that met after school hours. Others suggested that principals allow candidates to work together during professional development time. Local support seemed to be an inspiration for starting the NBC process rather than just a support for those already interested. One NBCT wrote, “I chose to pursue because I knew others on my campus were [pursuing] and I felt they were people I would want to share the process with.” Principals might not always be able to control whether their district has a cohort or trained Candidate Support Providers. However, a principal can encourage teachers on their campus to begin the process together and provide them time and resources to do their work.

Principals Can Provide… Professional Space

There is something about cramming into tiny desks or finding a student’s wad of gum that makes teachers feel a little less professional. When National Board candidates gather to work on portfolio components, it can be helpful if principals provide a location with adult sized tables and chairs. Teachers also need enough space to spread out and work. Candidates might need office supplies, snacks, an extension cord, privacy, and permission to print anything they need using the school’s paper and printer. These may seem like small gestures, but they take pressure off candidates so they can focus on more challenging aspects of National Board Certification.

A Principal Can Provide… Tech Support

Since videotaping is part of the National Boards portfolio, candidates need help locating equipment and assistance with videotaping. According to one NBCT, “My admin checked in frequently and provided support with videotaping.” Another NBCT shared, “Our district tech person lent us cameras and trained us to use them. He also helped us prepare the video files for upload.” Principals can connect candidates with these resources, consider purchasing equipment, and facilitate staffing solutions to help candidates with filming and other technical aspects.

Principals Can Provide… Recognition

Though it was not a common topic, teachers occasionally mentioned how their principals provided recognition and treated them as leaders when they accomplished National Board Certification. This gave teachers a sense of pride and also seemed to inspire others to start their NBC process. For another form of recognition, an NBCT shared, “One thing my principal did was acknowledge my hard work in the NBCT process in my evaluation. Giving me props in that official capacity was cool.”

There are times when National Board Certification feels like building a house of cards during a hurricane. A supportive principal can be the ace in the hand that steadies a candidate and keeps the winning streak going. I look forward to your reactions to these ideas and your additional suggestions in the comments below!

Jess Ledbetter, NBCT

Dr. Jess Ledbetter is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA) with thirteen years teaching experience in Arizona. She teaches Developmental Preschool and supports an afterschool cohort of National Board candidates. Dr. Ledbetter attended Arizona State University, earning a B.A.E. in Special Education, a B.M. in Music Therapy, a Masters in Early Childhood Curriculum and Instruction, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation. She blogs on Stories from School AZ and coordinates a blog collaborative for Arizona teacher leaders at Dr. Ledbetter is an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni. She was named the Matt O’Hanhila Inspirational Educator in 2011 and Teacher of the Year in 2011 at Melvin E. Sine Elementary in Glendale, Arizona. Connect with her @JLedTeach or