In this post, I interviewed Elissa Whelchel, the President of the Harrison County School District “NBCT Facilitators and Friends,” an exemplary support provider organization in West Virginia. She discusses how the group was organized and the ways in which others might want to begin a support cohort.
Four years ago, leaders at our county Board of Education wanted to place emphasis on increasing the numbers of National Board Certified Teachers as one means to improve the overall quality of education in our school district.
At that time, there were at least five NBCTs in leadership positions at our Board of Education office, including our Assistant Superintendent. Support for the National Board process was strong. In addition, our district hired an Instructional Specialist whose job description was “teacher improvement of any kind.” This was Joetta Schneider, an NBCT who decided that the National Board Certification process was a great platform for all teacher improvement efforts.
In 2014, when the process was still being revised, our state held training sessions and Joetta asked Jenny and I if we would attend with her. We learned all we could about the new process because we wanted to make sure we were advising candidates correctly. From that time on, we aligned ourselves with the mission and goals of the state National Board leadership. There were NBCTs from two other counties in our state with successful networks who offered us all their information as we began our support program— both Ohio and Wood County. This is how we became a cohort associated with the NBCT leadership in our state.
We designed our network with two distinct groups that served two distinct functions: the Board of Education would provide professional development, and the non-profit support group would function to honor NBCTs, and provide support in the form of mentoring and reading for candidates.
When forming a support network of NBCTs in our county, we automatically included all NBCTs in our county in this network and provided training in ethical mentoring for any who wanted to participate in reading for candidates or any form of mentoring.* Each NBCT who wanted to be involved had to attend training and sign an ethical mentoring form. So we had this very loosely formed group that we included via email and word of mouth, which was very successful. We called this group the NBCT Network Group. At that time the network was mostly an information and communication disseminating body, which later became a non-profit, Harrison County NBCT Facilitators and Friends.
I was chosen to be the President of the network, with Jenny Santilli the Vice-President; Joetta was the Director of the network, with the duty of liaising with the County Board of Education. Connie Bowers, Treasurer and Dinner Chairperson, had moved back to our county after being in Wood County (our inspiration for starting the tradition of a yearly celebratory dinner.)
We had a learning curve that was hampered by the fact that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was putting out the components one at a time rather than all at once. The entire process was not completed until November of 2017. This kept us on our toes, learning alongside our candidates.
We learned from Ohio County, who used a “blind reader” program that allowed the readers and candidates a comfortable anonymity. When we tried that, it was well-received and we have kept it as a part of our program. Our program was the first of those in our state that I know of to have a dedicated blog for our candidates.
We had our first Spring recognition dinner in April of 2015, when we honored the first NBCT renewal in our county as well as a teacher who certified under the old system. We invited the Superintendent of our school district and key people in our district with the school board, as well as the Principals of our new candidates.
At the dinner we presented our candidates with personalized gifts. One of the members of our Board of Education gave a heartwarming speech about his mom becoming the first National Board Certified Teacher in the county, and she, in turn was the Keynote Speaker. So in a neat turn of events, this first-ever recognition and celebration dinner was attended and entertained by an inspiring speech by the first-ever teacher to certify as an NBCT in our county! The evening was a huge success and we decided to make this a yearly event. Our network has provided funds for the dinner, which cannot be funded by money from our school system.
Our process at a glance: we sought out support from NBCT leadership at the state level, we aligned ourselves with them and provided ethical mentoring training for any NBCTs interested in helping to facilitate or mentor candidates; we designed monthly cohort meetings with good instruction in pedagogy, and we kept all of the county NBCTs informed of opportunities to be involved. We instituted a “Blind Reader” program, and then implemented a celebration dinner for all county NBCTs. In the Fall of 2017, we added an afternoon get-together at a local eatery. NBCTs came to enjoy a time to socialize with coffee, cookies, and tea—and to meet with new candidates, and found ways to make money to fund both the Fall Social and the dinner.
As I think about this, I realize that I’m hoping to prompt those reading this blog to reach out to others in their state and support both new and existing NBCTs. It’s been rewarding for me, as the President of the Harrison County NBCT Friends and Facilitators to see how these efforts have helped our program for National Board teachers in Harrison County to grow and bloom!
*note—the cohort support from our Board of Education is formally a facilitation process; the organic, individual interactions that spring up between NBCTs and candidates is what we call mentoring.
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