Education Opinion

All Dressed Up... And Heading Out

By David B. Cohen — July 16, 2009 3 min read
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Before flying out to Atlanta, I asked a number of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) who aren’t attending the conference to share their thoughts about the event and the organization. The cost of travel was naturally one impediment, while other teachers had to make choices about which learning opportunity to take and ended up at other programs this week. Most teachers who replied to my queries would have liked to attend, but some feel little connection to the National Board after certifying.

There’s that idea again - all dressed up with with nowhere to go. But maybe some change is coming; there are projects underway to provide NBCTs with outlets for leadership and advocacy. Jolynn Tarwater is an NBCT from Maryland who was been working for the past year to try build up the NBCT Link. This online resource can serve as a discussion board, a place for groups to organize, and an avenue for increased communication between the Board and teachers. With a document library and a calendar function, NBCT Link could be an effective tool for teachers looking for tools to support their leadership efforts. However, Tarwater had hoped to see more teachers online. Those who are using it most tend to be recently certified, she says, though she has been able to boost participation somewhat by encouraging discussion of news items found in the the Accomplished Teacher news summary email provided by SmartBrief.

Terese Emry is another NBCT trying to boost teacher leadership. She is the Associate Director of The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP), in Washington state. The Center has run workshops that train teachers to craft an effective message for a particular audience such as the media, a school board, or state legislators. This kind of direct political advocacy and action from the grassroots level represents a shift for many teachers who might look at the complexities of policy and budget and feel powerless, thinking I’m just a teacher. But with a little guidance and practice, teachers can be quite effective advocates. “A teacher leader has a specific, unique voice,” Emry says. “When decisions are made about schools, teacher should be in the room. They have that lens – what does this mean for real teachers and kids?

These workshops have been so successful that CSTP now receives calls from the media and government asking for referrals to speak with classroom teachers about various issues. Emry relates with great satisfaction the story of one teacher leader who faced some challenges from a legislator in a committee hearing, but held her own and helped move the committee to adopt her position in its subsequent report.

And in the past few years, with the help of CSTP, Washington has seen tremendous growth in National Board Certification. In 2008, the state raised its number of NBCTs by 89%, with half of its NBCTs in high-needs schools. The percentage of NBCTs in the state teaching force is over 5%, more than double the rate for the nation.

It’s also worth noting that this teacher leadership initiative has succeeded in partnership with the Washington Educators Association (WEA, an NEA affiliate) and the state office for education. WEA was represented at this conference by Jim Meadows, and the state office by Michaela Miller, who has teamed with Emry to deliver a Grassroots Advocacy Training for NBCTs in Florida, California, and Washington, D.C./Arlington, VA.

It’s encouraging to see NBPTS and other organizations stepping up to ensure that teacher leadership becomes more distributed, and at the same time more central to education policymaking. We’ve needed this growth for a long time, and must continue to build our leadership capacity. I issue that challenge not only to NBPTS and other teacher organizations, but to the would-be teacher leaders out there (including me) who have waited too long for invitations rather than seeking out or creating opportunities.

The opinions expressed in Live From NBPTS are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.