Finding Meaning in Challenging Times

May 11, 2020

In times of crisis, humans seek meaning.  The ripple effects from the COVID-19 pandemic shook my existence. In the blink of an eye, my school was closed.  My colleagues were distanced. My materials and resources were across town. My students were out of reach. I was disoriented and disconnected. I went in search of answers. I turned on the news, flipped through social media, reached out to friends only to find confusion, misinformation, and catastrophizing. What I needed was guidance, clarity, and direction.

The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) emailed about a webinar concerning their response to the pandemic.  As a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), I was curious where they would fall on the spectrum of responses I had already encountered.  So, somewhat reluctantly, I tuned in to one more Zoom meeting that day.

To be clear, the panel of professionals had no magic or secrets to share.  They couldn’t predict what was coming next any better than anyone else.  Their immediate audience was close to 1000 frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, and exhausted teachers. We were all in search of meaning.

What they provided was a beacon of humanity in the chaos. All the teachers on the video conference were passionately committed to their students and their learning. Our hearts were breaking from not being with those students.  Our souls were heavy from worrying about their well-being and safety. Being reminded of that shared truth started to bring things into focus.

While we knew the subjects we taught and how to teach those subjects to our students while we were in our classrooms, doing that through a pandemic was terrifying uncharted territory.  We didn’t know how to teach while homeschooling our own kids, worrying about our family’s health, and caring about our larger community.  But, we were eager to figure out how to be responsible for managing and monitoring student learning even with all those other considerations. We needed leadership and guidance and hadn’t been able to find it anywhere else.

By reminding us that we are integral members of learning communities, the panel helped shift us out of our panic and back into our familiar place of thinking systematically about our practice. At one point, one of the Directors at the National Board teared up, reminding us all of our shared humanity.  We were not alone! You could almost feel the audience, spread across the country, pause in their individual panic, and share in a deep breath.  At that moment we knew that, no matter how many questions remained, we would learn from this experience and find a path through together.

I had not been inspired by the news or the hours of websites I had paged through as COVID-19 spread. No soundbite or graph had helped me make sense of this new reality. But, I was awed and inspired by this example of graceful leadership.  The panel, and much of the audience, were NBCTs.  From across 50 states and 25 certificate areas, there was the one shared trait –  we were educators who had chosen to take the extra step engaging with the National Board’s standards of an accomplished teacher.  The 5 Core Propositions that underlie National Board certification united us.  We spoke the same language and could come together during this time of crisis to build on a common foundation.

More than 125,000 teachers across the United States have achieved Board certification. 20,000 more are in the process currently.  Those are the ranks of the passionate, the driven, the accomplished!  They are my people.  They are where I found solace, inspiration, and guidance.  My fear was replaced for a moment with pride in the organization that represents the most respected professional certification available in K-12 education.

In the weeks I have been out of my school, I have ridden the emotional roller coaster that the rest of the nation also finds themselves on.  To find my footing and return to a path that makes sense, I have regularly turned to the National Board.  Through almost immediate creation of a nationally crowd-sourced collection Teachers Helping Teachers resources and weeks of ongoing webinars to guide teachers around the country through the complexity of their new distance learning reality, teachers had a lighthouse. The leadership, grace, and flexibility of The National Board continue to encourage me and help me find meaning during this tumultuous time.

Laura Havill, NBCT

Laura was born and raised in upstate NY near Keuka Lake. As she finished her BA in Deaf Studies from the University of Rochester, she realized she wanted to teach and pursued alternative certification in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. In 1998, she went home to NY and was hired by the Turning Point Program of Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES as a special education teacher for middle school students whose emotional and behavioral difficulties made being in a less restrictive placement challenging. She transitioned to an elementary position in the same program and then to TST's first Instructional Coach. Across her career, Laura strives to foster a culture of collaboration and support as a teacher leader and as Teachers Association President. She has facilitated the district approach to APPR mandates. In 2011, she joined the NBC ranks as an Exceptional Needs Specialist and is currently the Southern Tier Regional Co-Director of the National Board Council of New York. Laura is passionate about ensuring that teacher voices are heard in district, regional and state-wide discussions.