When I was a novice teacher more than 25 years ago, I was keenly aware that I had a great deal to learn. Like so many new educators, I poured lots of energy, heart, and time into the work I was doing. As the year finished and I met with my principal for my evaluation conference, he pushed the paperwork toward me, saying, “You really need to work on your questioning. That’s a weak area for you.” Though I was disappointed by this, I was determined to improve.
In my second year of teaching, I wanted to focus my professional development on questioning skills. Instead, my district had me focusing on cooperative learning. While this was certainly worthwhile, I wished I’d had the flexibility to focus more specifically on questioning. Instead, I pursued that work on my own, without any kind of credit toward the renewal of my state certification.
Nearly a decade later, I pursued National Board certification. District administrators supported my decision by giving me hours of professional development credit for the work I put into my portfolio. The process of earning my initial National Board certification (and subsequent renewal) have been been among the most powerful professional-development activities I’ve experienced, and being able to count my hours of work toward my state certification renewal was valuable, too. I had a clear purpose, and I was given the flexibility to pursue my goal.
When I think back on the processes I’ve experienced in state teacher certification and National Board certification, I’ve always craved purpose and flexibility. My professional needs have changed over the course of my career. This is why microcredentials—badges that reflect mastery of small components of instruction—have so much potential in teacher recertification. As I read through Education Week reporter Stephen Sawchuk’s article on Tennessee’s experiment with microcredentials and recertification, I envisioned how that first-year post-observation conference could have been so different if my principal had been able to add, “There is a microcredential focused on questioning that would be a good option for you.”
An effective, meaningful recertification process needs the flexibility to include options ranging from traditional graduate courses to workshops to action research to microcredentials. The process of license or certificate renewal needs to be purposeful and flexible, giving us teachers the opportunity to pursue the learning we need. When this comes together, education is improved for everyone: teachers, administrators, and most importantly, our students.
Tricia Ebner, M. Ed., a National Board-certified teacher, is a graduate of Miami University (in Ohio) and Indiana University. She recently joined the Summit Educational Service Center as a consultant and coordinator of gifted child education after spending the past 23 years as an English language arts and reading teacher of gifted learners at Lake Local Schools in Hartville, Ohio. Tricia is an adjunct instructor with Malone University, teaching courses in gifted child education. Additionally, she is a member of the Ohio Standards Advocates and a blogger and facilitator with the Center for Teaching Quality.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.