A Few Reactions To The NEA Empowered Educator Day 2014

What does it mean to be a teacher leader, and what does it mean to be empowered?

These were two of my inquiries as I headed to Denver, CO, for the National Education Association Empowered Educators Day, co-sponsored by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the General Electric Foundation. I was very familiar with the work of all folks involved, and, even though this was the first event of its kind for NEA, I still saw this as a good first step to having this discussion about teacher leadership and all its forms.

For one, I found the diversity (i.e. the number of educators of color) somewhat refreshing, and the strongest presentations in the main plentaries came from representatives of color. I found Monsterrat Garibay’s contributions to the first panel on leadership powerful because she added the contexts of equity and race to her work. None of our work is without context, which is why I found NBCT educator and Mitchell20 protagonist Daniela Robles’ contributions also sparked me. For many of us who work in turnaround schools, which are predominantly of color, it’s refreshing to hear someone say, “I used my expertise BECAUSE of the conditions I was put in, not in spite.”

Even with these powerful stories, I still left with more questions than answers.

What, for instance, is National Board, and why would folks want to try National Board in the age of VAM-validation? Is it enough to say that we want to de-emphasize alternative certification programs in favor of professionalizing / streamlining the teacher recruitment process and why? How do we address career changers and an economy that accosted teachers of color who often work in high need areas? How will getting NBCT-certified address the often subjective ways in which leadership is chosen, even with ostensible application processes?

As someone who’s a candidate for National Board, these are questions I might have as someone who had never heard of National Board. Also, is NBCT the end-all-be-all of teacher leadership, and what exactly am I entering?

Furthermore, is Daniela Robles any less of an educator if she doesn’t do National Board? Does she not deserve a movie for tolerating the nonsense of mid-level executives posing as educational experts telling her what she’s doing wrong? How do we harvest the power of all the educators in that auditorium to not just do better as teachers, but flip the image of what it means to be an expert educator? How does the NEA as both a collective bargaining organization and professional organization endorse and support the work of educators trying to elevate the profession in a substantial way, without the resentment and pettiness that sometimes comes with the territory?

How many teachers do we know who’ve had to “rally the troops” at their school during their “free” periods just to keep the school running? Or recreated curriculum from scratch or any number of things we could consider “above and beyond” and do those things constitute “the top of the profession?”

These questions were answered for me when I first entered the Center for Teaching Quality circle. When I got the chance to meet educators like Renee Moore, John Holland, and Shannon C’deBaca, I knew I wasn’t just meeting educators, but a set of folks who, humble as they come across, really knew their students and wanted to strive for their students, their schools, and their communities. They also wanted to uproot the idea of the docile and comfortable teacher. They preferred when conversations got hot because that’s when they could flex their intellectual, classroom-bred muscles. This is the community I had the fortune to come into, and they were all National Board Certified.

The bonuses for them were nice, I’m sure, but they cared far too much for it to be just about those bonuses. They wouldn’t extend themselves to an educator from New York, who at the time, didn’t even know what National Board is.

Now, I’m in the position to do the same for other educators across the country, and perhaps the world. Even though I’m not National Board Certified (at least not yet), I find myself in places where I can empower others. I want them to see themselves as I see myself as equally deserving to be on the panels, presentations, and offices that others have. I want them to seriously consider sharing their expertise in micro- and macro-levels. I want them to stop allowing folks to keep selling us stuff by selling us down the river.

That’s real empowerment. I don’t mean this as a hit piece, but a growth piece. Some of us needed a bit more time to chew on these notions, network with one another across group lines, and raise issues of teacher leadership in so many different contexts. Those of us who truly want to empower educators are in the business of making ourselves as unnecessary as possible. This might be the first step. What’s the next one?

p.s. – I liked Ariel and John’s recaps as well.

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  • ReneeMoore

    Beyond Certification

    Timely insights, indeed Mr. Vilson! 

    I view National Board Certification for teachers as a step on a journey, not a goal. I believe earning NBC should be the understood and expected goal of every professional teacher–by that I mean those who intend to make teaching their career for an extended period. I could get my taxes done by the nice young person at the stand in WalMart or the one who learned to use the H&R block software to make some extra money during tax season. But there are a lot of things they can’t do, those are the times when I need a Certified Public Accountant.

    Right now, this type of certification is still not the expectation in our profession. Only 100,000+ teachers in the country are NBCTs; that’s a very low percentage. So, we still have many more teachers who are NBC quality, who do not yet have that credential. The credential matters because its one way of helping us change the perception of teaching–by society and by teachers ourselves. It’s one way (but certainly not the only way) to get more teachers to see ourselves as the experts we are. It also matters because NBC is performance-based on standards written BY teachers FOR teachers.

    Glad to see collaborations like this one that promote the concept of empowering teachers, and hope to see many more.

    • JoseVilson

      Of Course I Agree

      This is obviously a ploy to make sure that my candidacy doesn’t becoming invalid all of a sudden, but I was asked for my honest feedback. These are things to consider for NEA, NBPTS, and CTQ, all engaged in this type of work. When I went through my process, I knew *why* I was doing it, but when I saw folks on stage saying that they were NBCT, it seemed that the sole purpose of becoming NBCT was to get on the stage. This has a purpose of highlighting, but that, as you know, won’t be enough.

      In any case, I’m hoping this sparks something …

  • Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    When I was still teaching, I

    When I was still teaching, I looked at National Board certification. Alas, for my particular licensure area (Special Education), most of the requirements did not fit what I was doing in my small rural school. My district also didn’t support it, and with the caseload I had in my early years, I just couldn’t swing going for National Board. By the time I had five years in, budget cuts were going into freefall and I was down to part-time. I was one of those teachers who had to help rally the troops to run the school, and had to make up my own curriculum to match the needs of my particular school’s sped population. It came down to a choice between National Board or writing fiction, and I decided to write fiction because I just didn’t see a long-term future for me in sped, at my age, even with a National Board cert.

  • DavidCohen

    Professional capital

    Hi José – 

    Yes, that was a thought provoking, and question provoking post. If I may be so bold, I’m wondering if we might have a more helpful look at these issues by expanding the frame a bit. “Mitchell 20” is a compelling bit of storytelling, and yes, Daniela is the spark or the center for that story, and yes, she’s a wonderful spokesperson. I don’t think either of us begrudge her any of what has come her way. But that’s the storytelling part, not the hard work. Let’s focus on the “20” – because what happened there was a shift in the culture of a school, and I think those can be hard to come by. Yes, we all know those “above and beyond” teachers who deserve recognition. We need them, admire them, we’ve been them – or maybe have moved in and out of those roles as our energies and life circumstances permit. But in the long run, I hope National Board Certification is not only an expectation for the individual teacher (as Renee was advocating), but also a centerpiece for shifting the cultures of schools and the culture(s) of the profession. I’m reading “Professional Capital” right now, and that’s the one of the key take aways so far: we need to discuss teaching quality as a systemic issue, and we need systems that are supportive of the individuals who make them work – but we need less focus on the heroes-and-villains narratives of great teachers and awful teachers. What is it about our systems that make teachers thrive or flounder? 
    Of course, for that to happen, there will be some heavy lifting necessary, important matters of equity and access to address. From what I understand, the new format and requirements for certification have been designed in part to provide flexibility that was introduced with teachers’ needs in mind (more family friendly to spread it out, and maybe more possible to embed it in our work at school). There are also issues of race and class involved (ha – I’m telling you?) – in terms of incentives and supports for certain teachers, schools, communities. How do we expand these circles of inclusion, strategically and intentionally? We need NBPTS, NBCTs, and policy makers to share the responsibility of advocating, and call attention to the differences between certification and what currently passes for “highly qualified” in education policy. The individual narratives can provide a hook for those conversations, but in the long run, we need to help create, and then tout, systemic benefits that generate more professional capital – and better schools for our students.

  • danielarobles

    Every Single Day

    Why National Board Certification? Each of us enters the process for different reasons. You shared that you found a community of educators that you connected with that were NBCT’s. For me, National Board Certification was my answer to finding my voice for my practice and my profession. Now, some may believe that achieving National Board Certification is the end-all-be-all of teacher leadership, but I know, that it is ultimately the true beginning. Achieving National Board Certification is evidence that you demonstrated accomplished teaching practice during the process, but the real work is in maintaining and exceeding accomplished teaching and leading, every single day. While I believe that I hold myself to be an accomplished teacher and leader, day in and day out, the truth is my colleagues hold that expectation for me. This is the collective power that our profession needs, deserves, and craves. 
    Also, in response to your previous comment about the notion that a motivator to become an NBCT is to get on the stage, well…I’m proud to say that I don’t know any NBCT’s that fall under that category. As far as I’m concerned, and you have also mentioned, pettiness and resentment seem to plague our profession already. Perhaps, our next step is to ensure all teachers are celebrated and honored for their work, as we continue to live with professional courage– for oursleves and one another.