Editor’s Note: Luann Lee is an NBCT teaching chemistry and AP/dual credit chemistry at Newberg High School in Oregon. She is a founding member and current president of Oregon Accomplished Teachers, Oregon’s National Board network. The views expressed in this blog are her own.
The goal of every educator is to help students learn. Perhaps our more important goal is to help students become independent learners, actively guiding their own learning. There’s nothing sweeter in my classroom than when students own and drive their learning. This kind of learning is not just student-centered; it’s also student-driven. Getting students to this point is not easy. It’s a process.
The National Board Certification process is a model for student-driven learning. The process itself is a vehicle for teachers to demonstrate the same kinds of strategies and perseverance we all want to see in our students. When a teacher is involved in the process of National Board Certification, and makes that work transparent, students see what we mean about lifelong learning and continuous improvement. The certification process immerses teachers in practices to be incorporated in the learning experiences we design for students.
What does it mean to make our own learning process transparent for students? It is naturally different for different age levels. Students and parents sign releases, so they have initial information about how their teacher is using and learning from student work. High school teachers can also explain the process in further detail, describing the effort polish their teaching skills and achieve the highest national level of teaching certification. We can also share how we expect our process to lead to the very best instruction possible as a result, and share some of our own ah-ha! moments along the way. Students and parents will see a different level of feedback on student work, and see teaching that is differentiated and personalized to each student’s needs.
The certification process is a wonderful model of project-based learning. National Board candidates direct their own learning much the way a student must when tackling a complex project. There are constraints within which the learner must work, standards to meet, and criterion on which the project will be evaluated. Teacher-learners get a daunting set of open-ended directions and have to work to own those directions. Then, they have to create each portfolio component in the way a student would create a project that showcases the learning that led to the project completion. Teachers’ PBL experiences as learners parallel student PBL because we now have done what we want students to do, and to the extent possible we’ve modeled the process for students.
Students often feel challenged when they have to problem-solve their way through a scenario. Teachers model behavior as they experience challenges and rise to meet them, examining complex problems and successfully implementing the solutions. Students see that overcoming setbacks is not only part of most careers, but can be a useful life skill as well.
The process models risk-taking because just submitting a component is a risk. Candidates opens the doors to their classrooms and the soul of their practice and ask for an evaluation of both. It’s a risk when you try something new in your classroom and we model for students what to do when we take a risk. Sometimes, we also model failure. Most importantly, we model how to turn a failure into a better plan B.
The process itself is reflective practice. We model for students how we reflect on what we do. We model how to make our work better. It’s a great lead-in to opportunities for students to begin to analyze, reflect on, and revise their work.
We model how to collaborate with others. If you have a facilitator or are in a cohort, working on a portfolio is like regular formative assessment from your facilitator or cohort members: you receive feedback and follow-up questions, but not evaluation. And, magically, as you see the value in formative assessment for yourself as a learner, you are better able to provide it for your students.
When Peggy Brookins of National Board spoke at the first meeting of the Oregon National Board Certified Teachers network, she said of the certification process, “The transformation I saw in my students was the transformation they saw in me.” The lasting impact of the National Board Certification process was witnessing the value of modeling my own learning process in my classroom. Students see that I’m not asking them to take on challenges more daunting than what I’m prepared to take on for my own learning.