Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Yes, that title was for shock value. It’s something we hate all hate to think about, but my suggestion is that we all begin planning for failure as soon as we are back in the classroom this Fall. That’s a bit dramatic, I guess.
As I type this, I swear I hear a resounding “UGH” across the nation. But odds are at least one of your scores will be questionable— will be in a range where you realize you might have to revisit a component or two. The process of National Board certification was written BY teachers, FOR teachers. So what separates those who achieve from those who do not?
Teachers who achieve National Board certification are generally teachers with a growth mindset. So it’s not so much as planning for failure as it is planning for growth. I personally believe that teachers who see the National Board certification process as a growth process are the ones who will achieve. Let’s face it, on any given day we are, each of us, excellent teachers. We can be great teachers even if we don’t understand differentiation or know the word “formative assessment.” So some of the process we are undergoing is proving that we are aware of new trends in teaching. Part of achieving your NBCT is realizing that National Board Certified Teachers are lifelong learners in their professional development and in their classrooms.
I know plenty of amazing teachers who did not achieve their NBCT on their first try. I know of several teachers who missed achieving by five or fewer points! Some achieved by the skins of their teeth, as it were. One of those was me. I managed my certification in one year with 12 points to spare. And I say that not to brag nor to demean myself. I say that to you because it’s a great thing to be prepared to try again.
“It’s a great thing to be prepared to try again.”
As I began school the Fall after I submitted, my mind wandered to how I might feel if I didn’t “get it.” I was the first teacher in my building and the fifth teacher in my district to attempt National Board certification. Would I be a laughingstock? Probably. After all, only 30-40% of teachers who attempted their National Board certification actually received it. (Based on unofficial data— this still seems to be the trend.) So I thought about the mindset I’d need to survive the blow that failing to achieve in such a public arena might deal me.
Why do I say public arena? Because you have to get signatures from parents and colleagues and sometimes your Principal. You need support of tech people sometimes and other teachers who will read your work. Talk about putting yourself out there! This is why so many really good teachers won’t even attempt National Board certification. It requires the willingness to fail publicly on your first try.
I advise all candidates to have a canned answer when their friends, relatives and colleagues ask about the results of their National Board pursuit. Something like, “You know, it’s a 1-5 year process and I really don’t know when I’ll be done. There will probably be parts I will have to retake since there is a 30-40% pass rate the first time you take a component. It’s meant to be a growth process, not a check list.” Hopefully they will understand. And I’m betting they will.
The reason teachers say the process is the best PD they’ve ever done is partly because your mind never quits growing after you’ve begun. You will enter your classroom the next Fall thinking about what your work would look like if you were going to submit it this time. And to my way of thinking, that will benefit you.
Now you know more what you are doing— the product you are trying to synthesize as you pull together the requirements of a component, the NBPTS Standards®, the Five Core Propositions®, and the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching® in the context of your classroom with these students at this particular time. Believe me when I say, the sequence of instruction I taught the Fall after I submitted to the National Board was superior to the one I gave them. Because coming into school after the summer with time to reflect on my experience the year before was powerful.
This is the power I hope you will harness as you await your scores in December. Rest this summer knowing your mind works behind the scenes to assimilate the learning you did this past year. Then, put that learning to work when you enter your classroom by going ahead and re-doing any or all of your components. If you find out that your scores aren’t high enough, you will be well on your way to a better product anyway. If you achieve— well, heck. Your kids just had a great semester with you and you can breathe more easily. You’ve lost nothing since you didn’t have to pay anything before February.
There’s a lot of great research about the positive effects of failure. Failure makes us stronger when we dig deep and demonstrate grit. I’m sure that’s what you want for your students. One NBCT said she embarked on her National Board journey because she asks her students to challenge themselves every day and she thought maybe she should walk the talk.
So this is planning to fail, but let’s put a more positive spin on it. What if we look at it as putting our experience with the National Board process to good use— which is what great teachers do. What if we look at doing our best work next Fall as what good teachers do.
Do it because you learned a lot this past year, and You Rock!
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