9 Takeaways of an NBCT from the Teaching and Learning 2014 Conference

Nine years ago, I attended the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards conference in Washington, D.C. It was the most important thing I have ever done, after becoming an NBCT, for my professional soul.

I just got back from this year’s conference, and it was awesome. It was the conference I hoped to attend nine years ago. Here are my nine takeaways from the 2014 Teaching & Learning Conference.

Nine years ago, I attended the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards conference in Washington, D.C. It was the most important thing I have ever done, after becoming an NBCT, for my professional soul. But it wasn’t important at the time because of the conference; I only attended one session that year that seemed relevant to my needs. It was important because of a session where I met Bill Ferriter and Susan Graham, who connected me with the Center for Teaching Quality and the Teacher Leaders Network (now the Collaboratory).

I just got back from this year’s conference, and it was awesome. It was the conference I hoped to attend nine years ago. Here are my nine takeaways from the 2014 Teaching & Learning Conference.

1. More and more people are acknowledging that teachers are ready to lead the profession without leaving the classroom. From Bill Gates to Arne Duncan to Tony Wagner, at the conference it was generally accepted that teachers need to be involved in charting the course of education. How that is going to happen without their vision being co-opted is another plot line.

2. The Common Core, with its intentionally vague standards written to be assessed at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, MAY be the way that teachers wrest the power of curricular decisions from textbook companies and the tyranny of fidelity education.

3. Teachers want to learn from other teachers, not externally anointed experts. In every session I attended that was led by NBCTs, there were more people in attendance than other sessions (even if it meant standing room only or sitting on the floor). At 8:30 on Saturday morning, I walked past five empty presentation rooms to sit on the floor in a room meant for 35 (but filled with 60-plus) teachers to hear Jonathan Gillentine from Hawaii talk about project-based learning in early childhood. It was worth it, and I left inspired.

4. Teachers are ready to accept and build next wave accountability. There seemed to be a general acceptance of the value of student assessment in teacher evaluation, but it needs to be built to help students and teachers, not to rank or quantify them. Linda Darling-Hammond continues to lead the charge for better teacher evaluation with razor-sharp humor and solid research as blunt weapons.

5. Teachers approach their profession differently than traditional professions. For example, they tear up when they talk about their students and the power of their profession. From Barbara Kelly to Omari James, I was inspired. I don’t think Bill Gates tears up when he talks about Windows (well, maybe a little).

6. Accomplished teachers know more about education than pedagogy. Many, without a deep understanding of the context of teaching, consider teacher leadership to be about taking on supervisory or content area specialist roles. Clearly, based on presentations from people like Megan Allen, Sarah Wessling, David Cohen, and Maren Johnson, their expertise is vast. From enabling political leadership in education policy to supporting accomplished practice to building distributed leadership within schools and systems, the current generation of teacher leaders are ready to transform the profession.

7. The fourth wave of teacher leadership is upon us. The Center for Teaching Quality has been leading the way in education for so long that its influence could be felt in every session I attended. From the mention of hybrid teaching roles by Arne Duncan to the explicit use of the term teacherpreneurs by Barbara Kelly, its influence has started to generate the fourth wave of teacher leadership. It is subtle but it is real. It reminds me of the effect of the moon on the tides. Gradually we will see a sea change. The tide is rising.

8. Teachers have started to feel a sense of community that will transform education through virtual networks like the Collaboratory. Big players in education like National Geographic and the (Gates-funded) Teaching Channel are finally starting to realize the power of networks in influencing and strengthening teaching practice. The Center for Teaching Quality has been saying this since 2003, when it began the Teacher Leaders Network forum.

9. The NBPTS is ready to move beyond talking about the process of certification while remaining committed to the Five Core Propositions. Presenters were invite only, and almost zero were down-and-dirty candidate support sessions. There were a number of content-specific sessions aimed at supporting NBCTs in leading in their schools. While I would like to see a Request for Presentations at next year’s conference, I was pleased with the quality of every session I attended.

The NBPTS is clearly becoming something different than it once was. When I was certified in 2004, I finished the process and felt what many of my friends have described as the “I’m an NBCT!!!! Now what?” I was mobilized, sure of my practice, and ready to influence education for the better. But the NBPTS was not there. It seemed like transforming the profession was neither the focus of the NBPTS nor its concern. Now I think maybe it is. With Ron Thorpe in the pilot’s seat, there has been a culture shift at the NBPTS, with more NBCTs working for the board in key positions. It also seems that the board is ready to start mobilizing NBCTs to action through partnerships like the Teacher Leadership Initiative with the NEA and Teach to Lead with USED. Most importantly, at the Teaching & Learning Conference, I felt like everyone—from the other NBCTs to the university professors to the policy makers to the thought leaders—knew I wasn’t there because I was an accomplished teacher. I was there because I was an agent for change.