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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. 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.


megan commented on March 17, 2014 at 11:44am:


Amazing summary, John. I also left inspired, head swirling with possibilities, and so hopeful...many due to the optimism and expertise of change agents, such as you!!!!

Thanks for all that you do, Mr. Dr. Holland! 

John Holland John Holland commented on March 18, 2014 at 1:49pm:

TY Megan

Thank you for your appreciation. There is much more to be done. 

Mary Tedrow commented on March 17, 2014 at 2:22pm:


I sensed the same tidal shifts John.  We need to keep on swimming!

Michael Metcalf commented on March 17, 2014 at 4:16pm:

High School Mathematics

Common Core depth of knowledge and real world problem solving, changes the pedaogogical emphasis, becoming a student centered and inquiry driven student to teacher or student to student interaction and interplay.  We must create real learning opportunities for students.  Yet mere student exposure to our well crafted engaging learning exposes does in no way translate into learning, let alone student achievement.  Fellow colleagues please do not fool yourselves into believing that you or I are miracle workers.  We can neither allow politicians to mandate the specifics of a profession about which they know not.  CCSS by its implementation also changes how we evaluate our learners.  Formative assessments cannot be punitive.  So called quizzes can no longer be negative forms of reinforcement offputting to a student.  On demand assessments are positive forms of feedback that oncover one's lack of understanding or expose one's misunderstanding. We must learn to truly support the learning process not use it as a way to find the Achilles' heel of the learner and punish them.  So called "homework" is now a thing of the past. It is no longer a perfunctory exercise to be supposedly processed, completed, understood and submitted the next day with little or no feedback.  Let us rather consider learning a "Work in Progress", where less is more and students have time to ponder, reflect upon, and revise their work.  We must also learn to grade "graciously" and even evaluate "summative" assessments liberally.  We must keep in mind that we are the ones who support and nuture learning and educate the complete individual.  Students are not widgets to be produced on an assembly line, they are human beings.  CCSS can truly be a transformative process, an agent of real change for the student, the educator, and for society.

John Holland John Holland commented on March 18, 2014 at 2:02pm:

student centered and inquiry driven


Thank you for sharing your perspective on CCSS. I was urged to make the statement through hearing the plenary sessions at the TLCOnf But I was more moved by an experience Friday morning. 

I was in a session with Susan Neuman a professor at New York University. A participant asked her about early literacy and the common core and she had this (paraphrase) to say, "As teachers we have often approached reform as something being done TO US. What would happen if we changed the paradigm. What if we we saw the CCSS as an opportunity. An opportunity to say, "No." When I ask teachers this they say, "Oh we would get fired." really? Do you know how hard it is to fire a teacher? And you are standing up for kids and learning. Maybe its time we took this reform as an opportunity to change how things are done in our schools."

I think one of the important things about the CCSS is that teachers understand them better already than the policy makers, even if they didn't have much say in crafting them. Take Jessica Cuthbertson, Jessica Keigan, Allison Sampish, and Sean Woytek for example who stood up for the standards. This is the kind of leadership influence teachers could have and next time, maybe lawmakers will come to teachers first before proposing a law that endangers learning. I think your comments are right on Michael. Thanks for sharing. 

DrRajesh Sharma commented on April 29, 2014 at 4:05am:

High School Mathematics by Michael Metcalf

Dear Michael you absolutely right. As teachers we have great responsibility to nurture the next generation. With encouragement learning happens better and even student engagement is high.


Dr Rajesh Sharma

Patrick commented on March 17, 2014 at 5:03pm:


The National Boards is just a money-making scheme. I took the boards, did every task that was required of me and still received a low score. The scoring is subjective and unfair. I was sent a letter advising me not to worry since up to seventy percent of first time attempts failed to pass, a fact was not told to my group when we first started. Many states are not giving raises for those who pass the national boards. If you wish to challenge the scores, it will cost seventy-five dollars per score. THE BOARDS WILL NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER TEACHER.

If you wish to pqarticipate, please keep what I have posted in mind.

John Holland John Holland commented on March 19, 2014 at 1:06pm:

So sorry for your frustration

Patrick thanks for sharing your story. I know many have been frustrated with the NBCT process before. Perosonally, I knew I grew as a professional from the process. I know many other who felt the same but these are merely anecdotes, not research. There are someout there who would agree with you.


However, I would urge anyone else here on the Collaboratory to post their reflections on the process. 

P.S. Patrick, it is incredibly important, in a forum like this to stand up for what you believe like you have done. However, it will not get much credibiility if you don't use your last name and complete a profile. If you plan to participate as a member of this community there are some expectations of transperancy to adhere to. Otherwise you won't be take seriously.

Susan Graham commented on March 17, 2014 at 5:06pm:

Food for the Teacher's Soul

How far we have come! Since my field is Family and Consumer Science, please indulge me in food analogy.

Ten years teacher leadership often felt like a chili cookoff. A plethora of wonderful organizations were all producing great teacher opportunities, all with their special seasoning, but way too often, I felt that  that all those fabulous options were in direct competition for teacher engagement (and stakeholder funding) and viewed my appreciation of others as suspect. I went ahead and tried everything-- anyway because I didn't want to miss anything, but I struggled with having to choose between really digging into only one or two great flavors or doing some serious overeating.  I chose overeating.  

Ten years later, I see the teacher leadership table become a little more grownup. I sense that at last we may be moving toward a more complete meal where complementing each other rather than competing may be more common. Maybe at last we can begin to move toward a buffet rather than cookoff.

I give a chunk of credit for that to CTQ and its covered dish approach. Members bring their leadership work to share. Covered dish suppers are a little quirky--because no one controls the menu, but it builds on everyone's strengths.  It  requires sharing the fried chicken, being openminded about trying something new, being polite about what's not so great in your opinion. But when everyone brings something, there's always more than enough to go around and the most successful recipes are readily shared rather than hoarded.

This year I had the priviledge of bringing two new teacher guests, Harmony and Precious. See what they have to say about their first T&L experience here in the Collaboratory.

John Holland John Holland commented on March 19, 2014 at 1:11pm:

Thank you Susan


You have been a steadfast example of a teacher leader in my life. From leading that session 9 years ago, to mentor training together, to collaborating on the future of CTQ you have always led with grace and power. I really appreciate your analogy of the covered plate. I think it is the potluck approach that has kept me coming back to CTQ on an almost daily basis. It is the variety, excellent taste, and master "chefs" you can count on to put something on the table that is at the very least challenging but usually nourishing for the mind and soul. 

Paul Barnwell commented on March 17, 2014 at 5:51pm:

Wish I could have been there!


Thanks for sharing your insights.  Regarding point #2, I hope you are right.  But until high-stakes assessments are marginalized, I'm worried that creative instruction in regard to CCSS will remain a tough goal for most teachers.  I hope I'm wrong.  As for point #3, I'm totally with you.  Luckily, within my own building, our administration has supported the implementation of embedded PD led by teachers.  It's planting seeds for teacher leadership and it's nice to see what skills/ideas my colleagues bring to the table.


John Holland John Holland commented on March 19, 2014 at 1:28pm:

Testing and CCSS

This is something I have thought about a lot. What I think has happened is that teachers actually want better (more accurate, valuable for instruction, and less time consuming) tests. Not no tests or less accountability. For some reason I could see a collaborative effort of teachers in one or more locality working to raise the bar on tests  so that they supported teacher development and student learning. It may have already been done. It might take a couple teacherpreneurs focused on teacher evaluation or a teachersolutions team but it could be done. If policy makers were to see this hypothetical test for what it really would be, A BETTER ASSESSMENT, then it could change that testing paradigm. I don't think those who have supported the current slate of tests or those who have designed them really know what it is like to teach and test at the highest levels of Bloom's. It would take teachers to know that. I exect some push back on this. My students are assessed with a reliable and valid assessment of child development, the Child Observation Record. It takes approximately 3 hours per student three times a year. I am assessed on my practice by the Class Assessment Scoring System twice a year. The CLASS is a 2 hour observation of teacher-child interaction conducted by certified CLASS observers, my supervisors. What if we took the weight off of the student testing and put it on student performance assessment? What if it weren't punitive by grade but based on a developmental scale on a continuum of content? What if we made school leaders actually spend 4 hours instead of 4 minutes a year in a teacher's classroom? What would the perception of assessment and teaching look like then? 

In all practicality you may be right Paul. I just hope for something different.


Maren Johnson commented on March 17, 2014 at 7:30pm:



So glad I had a chance to meet you at this year's conference.

I love your takeaway #2 in this post about the Common Core--that's got me thinking!

Maren Johnson

John Holland John Holland commented on March 19, 2014 at 1:31pm:

Great Meeting You Too


Check out my reply to Paul for some more on my views on this. I really don't think teachers have a problem with accountability, they have a problem with false accountability. 

Justin Minkel commented on March 17, 2014 at 9:59pm:


John, this is the most holistic and coherent account of any conference/convening I've ever read. You gave me a lot to think about, and from the growing emphasis on teacher leadership to the truth that teachers want to learn from other teachers, it sounds like there are grounded reasons for hope.

Now I have to figure out how to get invited to attend next year--sounds like it was remarkable.

David Cohen commented on March 18, 2014 at 2:40am:

CCSS and teacher power

Maren - didn't realize you were on board here at the Collaboratory! Yay for that!!

John, and Maren - I think we might be on the same wavelength, and it's similar to what we've been talking about in CalTURN as well. I blogged about this idea at some point too. While I have major problems with the process, the underlying assumptions, and the hype of CCSS, I have decided not to actively oppose it. My thinking might be very different if I taught in a different district or different state, but here's the situation. 

California has dumped its old tests (with some minor exceptions that affect a small percentage of students in a low-impact way). We're phasing in the CCSS assessments. We have two years before the scores are reported, and when they're reported, they won't be used for teacher evaluation in most CA schools (we have some districts going their own way in this matter and I'm not sure what their status is, or will be two years from now). We have a lot of money for professional development aligned to CCSS. We have many teachers who like CCSS, and I respect them far too much to suggest that they must be ignorant if they like the CCSS. 

So, I could try to stir the revolution, but we're FAR from making that happen. This is not New York, or Texas. We're not floundering at implementation while demanding high-stakes accountability, and we're not politically averse to national standards. We ARE politically independent, with state leaders who have resisted the Obama-Duncan ed. regime and "won" an NCLB waiver battle on our own terms. I don't see the anti-CCSS battle making much progress in this climate, because most of it would depend on procedural or philosophical matters that don't interest or motivate most people. So far, it's hard to argue in terms of any harm done, and like I said, there's no consensus that any harm has been done. 

In my own district, CCSS has prompted the district to hire a really good PD director, and she has worked very well with union reps and teacher committees to improve PD offerings, mostly delivered by our own teachers, in both after-school mini-courses and in day long offerings. We're also talking about how to train the trainers, building long-term capacity and solutions. So, yes, I'm all over this - constantly in the ear of the district and union, prompting more and promoting these efforts at my school. If I dig in to fight, I'm going to marginalize myself, likely with little impact on the school or district, and potentially slow down the process of handing more leadership and PD to teachers. The CCSS will fade or evolve. By that time, I want to believe that teacher leaders will be more embedded throughout the system, and if I have faith in those people I also have to believe that we'll all come out stronger as a profession. CCSS is what we're doing now in my state and district, and people are certainly welcome to express their views. But an outright fight against it seems ill-advised in California right now when we have the chance to claim more control and influence by partnering with our administrators. I don't mean just nod and smile and say everything is good, but take advantage of the moment to make the CCSS transition happen closer to the way we want it to be: teachers in charge of interpreting the standards, developing curriculum and assessments, and creating leadership roles that will outlive the standards.

Precious Crabtree commented on March 19, 2014 at 8:19am:

Energized and refocused!


First, it was awesome to get to meet you and I enjoyed our conversations over calamari! You inspired me to think differently about VEA and what changes we need to make if we are to engage people like yourself in the association.

I agree the conversation is changing with more teacher leaders speaking out.  I was so inspired to be among such an amazing group of leaders who believe in what I do and have the same passion for leading our profession.  I loved being surrounded by a different voice that was very strong.  Let me explain… at my school I am seen as anomaly. I am our union rep, Superintendent’s Advisory Council rep, lead mentor, etc. I am asked to take on roles that others shy away from and I step up for roles that I know help to advocate for our children.  I am driven to be active at multiple levels in our profession and lead enthusiasitcally. Many colleagues don't think they could do what I do... My colleagues don’t always see the power within themselves to lead, so I have been trying to engage them with small “asks” to get them involved and make sure their voice is heard.  It is catching on and more of my colleagues are stepping outside their comfort zone, like calling their Board of Supervisor to talk about the importance of school funding!  One colleague actually made an apt with his BOS to discuss what it is really like in our schools. I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues.

Anyway, being surrounded by colleagues who are like minded helped reenergize, refocus, and reinforce my belief that as a profession, we should, can, and must lead the profession!  My biggest take- away was that while I am on the right track, I must continue to empower others and lift them up.  I can’t be the exception. We must be the unified voice standing together to lead our profession.


John Holland John Holland commented on March 19, 2014 at 1:51pm:

can’t be the exception

I feel refreshed and ready to move forward after attending the conference. I think it is important for teachers to keep their eyes open for opportunities but also to realize that sometimes we are asked to step up to make it easier for others to meet their goals. If the common core is a way to further standardize and marginalize teaching I would definitely not hesitate to fight it. For years those in power have put forth reforms that essentially make it harder for teachers to gain authority and influence over their profession. The affect on the profession has been detrimental. These reforms have also served to create un-intended consequences that were then "managed" by those who implemented the reform. 

I think the common core may, possibly, if we work together (and independently) at it, have the unintended consequence of putting teachers in the position of expert becaue really, unless you understand pedagogy and relevant content the CCSS are really a bunch of mush. But to teachers, they just might lead us where we have been trying to go all along. 

As you know VA is one of 5 states who has not adopted the CCSS. Here is some text from their alignment document which supports the VDOE rationale for not adopting. 

While both the CCSS and SOL address foundational reading principles, the SOL address reading foundations in a logical progression. Teachers can follow the SOL to easily develop lessons. For example, SOL 1.9 reading fictional texts offers a sequential process. The CCSS Reading Standards for Literature grade 1 impose an artificial structure, which although covering the essential foundations, does not follow a logical instructional progression. 

What I read here, is that the VDOE will keep it's SOLs because it provides a logical instructional progression (ie curriculum) for teachers to follow. The Common Core on the other hand bases its standards on Bloom's taxonomy and uses words like, retell, identify, explain, and compare. I just realized I will need to write a blog post on this but, I hope you get my gist. You have to be a teacher to use the CCSS you can be a technician to meet the SOLs. 



John Holland John Holland commented on March 19, 2014 at 1:58pm:


I hope you are able to do everything you have set forth to do Precious. I know you can.

Precious Crabtree commented on March 21, 2014 at 8:05am:

Thanks John!!

Thanks John!! It is a true passion!!

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