Connecting with other NBCTs provides the support that Teacher Leaders Need

September 4, 2019

Like many National Board Certified Teachers, I am proud to say that I serve in multiple teacher leadership roles in my school and within our district. My most demanding responsibility is serving as the leader of our school’s brand new Literacy Committee. Our school-wide instructional goal for the 2018-19 school year was to increase the number of grade-level readers in our building. And we did – increasing from 2.7% of students reading at grade level to 21.3%.

This accomplishment took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears; our team was allotted 25 paid hours throughout the year to analyze data, assign interventions to students and teachers, hustle our district to finance materials for these interventions, plan six school-wide professional development sessions, and update our school’s governing board and administration.

Our team spent about 80 hours on this work, and, due to the time restraints and shifting priorities we face, communication and input from school and district administration was a challenge; as a result, we were given complete agency over our work. This example illustrates both the blessing and the curse of distributed leadership in our context of a large urban district where everyone spends more than their compensated time at work– high expectations, low support.

However, in terms of garnering the support that I craved, a significant bright spot this year was a National Board Professional Learning Facilitator Training at the Boston Teachers Union. The two-day professional development for NBCTs as well as candidates pursuing National Board certification in our district provided an overview of how to support candidates through understanding of adult learning, practices to encourage diversity, and the ethics of facilitation.

While the content of the training was engaging and informative, the most important part for me was the opportunity to engage with other teacher leaders. Some of the participants were old friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile, while others were people who I wanted to get to know better. Everyone I spoke with at the training was striving to be the best teacher and teacher leader in order to most effectively serve students.

I discovered I wasn’t alone in terms of the high expectations and low support I experienced – the other teacher leaders were facing the same dilemmas of too much work and too little time. Discovering that I was not alone in my anxiety and stress actually relieved some of my worries and made me feel connected within a community of other accomplished teachers.

After the event, I applied and was accepted to the brand-new Boston National Board Leadership Team. Since starting my work with this team of NBCTs, I have felt re-energized through connecting with other NBCTs and candidates multiple times a week. While our primary focus in this work is candidate support, another part of our vision is to provide virtual and face-to-face opportunities for accomplished teachers to share best practices and to have the social support needed to lead from within the classroom.

A year from now, my hope is that we deepen the sense of community amongst teacher leaders under all the pressures of working in the Boston Public Schools. I envision a network of teachers that will improve one another’s well-being and support one another through the ups and downs of the work we do each day in our schools. I am thrilled that our team is already working together to transform this vision into a reality.

While the formation of the National Board Leadership Team was prioritized by our district and teachers’ union, I have found similar satisfaction in finding or creating other opportunities to get together with teachers from outside of my school building. At district-mandated PDs, I try not to always sit with the same people, and I go out of my way to introduce myself to new faces, to say where and what I teach. I have also connected with other professionals through taking online courses and through creating and participating in summer book clubs.

It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of specific issues in a school building, but when I share my ideas and concerns with a broader group of educators, I find that it is a healthy way to get solutions from people outside of my direct context. In addition to district PDs and online classes, teacher networks can be found through social media and local and state professional organizations.

If you’re not finding what you need within your own building, reach out and see what you come across – you might just find the support you need.

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.