Finding Joy in the Journey: What I Learned from the NBCT Process

There’s a brand new cohort of NBCTs, and I am one of them. My own journey began two years ago when I decided that one of my professional goals was to become a National Board Certified Teacher. Here’s my story.

The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards recently released their scores for this year’s newest cohort of certified teachers. My own journey began two years ago when I decided that one of my professional goals was to become a National Board Certified Teacher. That experience culminated in one simple message flashing across the top of my browser screen.

I felt a rush of relief and elation: I will not be plunged back into the extremely challenging process of compiling evidence, analyzing my teaching decisions moment-by-moment, and justifying every detail of my practice. I can proudly declare myself part of a group of highly accomplished teachers who I’ve admired from afar for years. I have cleared the hurdle that I set. I have accomplished this huge career goal. I shout “Hurrah!” in my head as I accept a huge bear hug from my congratulatory husband.

As I view the detailed break-down of my scores later, that initial elation gives way to other emotions. Out of four portfolio submissions, I pass three, and of those I pass, I score far less than perfectly. Out of six testing sections, I pass 5, and not with flying colors. I passed with congratulations but also with ample feedback for improvement.

In other words, SURPRISE, I’m not a perfect teacher.

I hope you laugh at the ridiculous irony of stating something so obvious; however, I state it nonetheless. I’m a perfectionist, an A-student, and a 4.0 striver. I struggle with vulnerability, sharing my weaknesses, or admitting a failure. Although I accept constructive criticism well enough (tough skin and all), I’m not great at accepting criticism without also letting it completely shadow any accompanying success.  And I fear failure more than I like to admit.

When receiving feedback that “You may wish to provide clearer evidence of your ability to engage in reflective thinking about students and your instructional practice” and “You may wish to provide clearer evidence that you are able to create a stimulating and productive learning environment,” I feel myself bristle defensively and think: What?! I’m a master of a stimulating and productive learning environment!I’m an extremely capable reflective practitioner!

Oh wait…maybe I’m not.

After my wave of defensiveness passes, I begin reflecting on how I feel, why those defenses rose up, and what I still have to learn in this certification process. The journey, it seems, has rounded a turn, but is far from over. The learning process continues.

Even though I pass portfolio 4, I receive two pieces of feedback: (1)You may wish to provide more consistent and convincing evidence that communications with families are interactive and focused on substantive teaching and relevant issues for their students learning. (2)You may wish to provide more consistent and convincing evidence that you treat parents and other interested adults as partners in the students learning.

Pushing down the emotional impulse to defend, I tell myself to reflect on the truth of those statements. I’ve admitted to my administrator that partnering with families was not in my wheelhouse of strengths. However, I also acknowledge to myself that I’ve grown in this area. In the past two years, I have intentionally focused on making more parent phone calls even when my default is to avoid them. I’ve invited parents into my classroom in multiple ways, and I’ve been more intentional about sending positive feedback home rather than just negative. I’ve asked parents for help in supporting their son or daughter.

So this feedback from the National Board of Professional Standards, although constructive, affirms that although I may not yet be consistent in my abilities to partner with families, I’ve grown. Had I compiled this portfolio two years ago, I may not have passed. And since I was forced to provide evidence for this standard last year, I know I’ve improved even more at the start of this current school year.

Status? Growing, with room for improvement.

Don’t I ask my students to be happy with this message all the time?  Don’t I provide this mixed bag of feedback on the majority of my student assessments? Why then is my own default to see only the negative feedback and diminish the positive?

Wow. This just got real. It can be so difficult to practice what I preach. When you put your heart, soul, sweat, and tears into something, it’s not easy to accept that you could still get better. Yet, as a self-professed “life-long learner” who hopes to encourage the same in my students, I MUST find the joy in the journey. Learning IS the journey. Each destination along the way is merely a turning point for a new challenge, a new opportunity, a new direction. This achievement initiates a pause for tremendous celebration as well as further reflection.

Even on my highest-scored portfolio, I am provided with only two pieces of feedback, and both of them are constructive criticism. I find myself thinking: “Yes, I’m sure I could have done that more perfectly, but since I did really well in this area, where’s the feedback for THAT? I want to know specifically where and how I am being successful!”

Again, I reflect on what this response teaches me about my own classroom and students. How often do I skip over the positive feedback I could offer and instead hone in on a few areas that could improve? In the time crunch of the everyday frenetic pace of teaching and learning, when do I miss the opportunity to specifically outline successes to encourage my students? When can I offer a clean slate of congratulations, completely leaving off the “but” that so easily follows?

Overall, the process of earning this certification has been one that not only taught me how to be a better teacher, but also a better mentor, role model, community-member, and learner. It has forced me to confront my own advice from the flip side and control my default messaging that has a tendency to be more damaging than productive. Finally, it has allowed me to engage in the hard work of deep and honest reflection, knowing that this process never ends because—especially in this profession—there is no way to be perfect. Instead, there is only better, improved, more successful, and accomplished.

To be honest, this ever-present challenge is the reason teaching is not simply a career, but more accurately my chosen lifestyle. I wake up thinking about teaching and learning; I close my eyes puzzling through how I will approach it differently in the new day. For all the stress, the frustration, the waiting, the worry, and the difficult looks in a clear mirror, this process has been one of the most valuable of my career.

I invite you to delve into it when you are ready–wait, even before you feel ready, I invite you to take the plunge. I ask you to honor those who have achieved this as well as those who bravely continue to pursue it. They are courageous, dedicated professionals who deserve our encouragement and praise. Those continuing in this process are putting into action the ubiquitous descriptor: life-long learner.

In every time of reflection, there is also a time of celebration. Let’s take the opportunity to celebrate with those who achieved, encourage those who advanced, and come alongside those who have just agreed to enter the process. Celebrate the profession and the incredible professionals in it!

Related categories:
  • Cindi Rigsbee

    Congratulations!

    Congratulations not only on your accomplishment but also on realizing, really early, that there are ways to grow after the process is complete, the scores are released, and those letters (NBCT) show up behind your name.

    I have to admit I was too busy celebrating back in 2004 to look really closely at the feedback. Well…and the holidays came just after score release, right?

    During later months, and YEARS even, I found myself tortured by my shortcomings. The truth is I knew the assessors were right. If I had scored myself on my submissions, I would’ve challenged myself in the same areas. I really did know where I was lacking. 

    This is the part of the National Board process that many don’t understand. The growing doesn’t end with that score. I found myself focusing on my areas of need for years to come. I also found myself pointing them out to candidates I coached, providing examples of ways I could have worked harder to be accomplished in every area.

    I fretted over some of my original scores again last year when I went through the renewal process. “Life longer learner” is right. And that plunge? It ends up being a long swim in a pretty awesome pool!

    Congratulations again!

    • BriannaCrowley

      Love you extension of my metaphor!

      Cindi,

      Thanks so much for being the first to stop by and encourage me. I’ve followed your work for years through the CTQ community, and am so honored to now be part of “that” group of professionals who have achieved in this process. I will now be turning to mentorship as I help a few teachers in my district refine and revise for their second submission for achievement. Sometimes I feel like I’m learning so much from my colleagues and my students that I can hardly process it all! But that’s the fun of the deep pool, right? 🙂

  • CarlDraeger

    Nailed it.

    Well said. I want to put a copy of this, anonymously, on the desks of my teacher (present and future) leader colleagues.

    • BriannaCrowley

      Thank you!

      For both your encouraging comment here and your tweet. It’s colleagues like you who keep me encouraged every day. 

  • JasonParker

    Learning is the journey

    Love that phrase. Thanks for sharing your story, and for the work you’re putting in to acquire (and share) more knowledge and expertise!

    My favorite quote: “In the past two years, I have intentionally focused on making more parent phone calls even when my default is to avoid them.”

    Think this may be true for a lot of folks. Seems like with technology (thanks, Internet!) our default is becoming to send emails rather than pick up the phone. Phones work REALLY well, and are an important part of an effective communications strategy, IMO. This is a great lesson and takeaway. Thanks, BC!

     

    • BriannaCrowley

      Picking up the Phone

      Great point on the phones–they offer a more personal, human interaction that can make all the difference in the rapport established and the resulting relationship. I just hate talking on the phone…but it’s the learning curve, right? 🙂

  • Tammy Bourne

    Learning is the Journey

    I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your post. I too just passed the National Boards. Your feelings were right on. I had many of the same feelings too when looking back and reflecting on a few of my entries too!

    • BriannaCrowley

      Congratulations!!!

      Tammy,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your own success here and also for your kind words about my post. It comforts me to know that others have similar reactions to their scores– helps me feel less neurotic (as Diedra mentions in her comment!). As teachers we can have a tendancy toward perfectionism. I have a theory that many teachers enjoyed school, got good grades, and were good students. So we internalize that 100% scale inside and don’t let ourselves settle for less. I’ve been learning (the hard way) that true learning and a growth mindset throw out that 100% scale to embrace the many iterations we experience before potential success. It’s a difficult transition, but one I share because I know others struggle with it as well. 

      Congratulations on yoru achievement! Here’s to a new chapter of learning, leading, and growing!

  • DeidraGammill

    Welcome to the club!

    Brianna,

    Great blog (as always). I could so relate to this post. Like you, I want everything I do to be as perfect as possible, and 97% success is immediately overshadowed by the 3% that wasn’t up to par. I’m not sure if this makes me a motivated learner or a bit neurotic (maybe a little of both). Like you, I wanted my NBPTS score report to tell me all the things I did right (as if the passing score is not enough), not just the areas I needed to improve. And like you, I found that the process of seeking board-certification (it took me 2 tries) made me a better, more reflective, more deliberate practitioner. Congrats on becoming a member of “the club” and all that it means for you professionally and personally. 🙂 We’re fortunate to have teachers like you leading the profession.

    • BriannaCrowley

      We are on the same page

      Deidra, 

      As always, I am delighted to see your name in my comment section. You have a beautiful way of both encouraging and relating to others though just a couple of sentences in black-and-white text. Thanks for helping me feel more “normal” in my processing. We are also very fortunate to have teachers like YOU mentoring and leading in this profession! I wish we worked in the same building–imagine the possibilities 😉

  • SusanGraham

    Status? Growing, with room for improvement.

    Status? Growing, with room for improvement.

    A mile marker, not a destination is a perfect explanation of where you arrive at the end of the NBPTS process. I don’t know anyone who has built a portfolio who didn’t come through the process with a new perspective.

    “How good am I?” becomes “How can I get better?”

    Now that I’m over in the Teacher Evaluation lab, I’m wondering: What is it about the NBPTS process that helps us move past a defensive stance to desire to push? Why does this seem so different from other teacher evaluation processes? Will you come share your thoughts over in Teacher Evaluation?

    And in the meantime Brianna, YOU DID IT!! WHOO HOO FOR YOU!!

     

  • Samantha Martin

    Becoming, not arriving

    Congratulations, Bri! For those of us who know you well, the cerficcation comes as no surprise  — but we also know what it took for you to reach this important milestone. More important than the certification itself, I admire that you are doing what is “so hard to do, but so easy to say” (a line from Ben Harper’s Walk Away). You are walking the walk of a life-long learne and acknowledging the difficult truth that perfection doesn’t exist and all we have is the walk itself. Furthermore, you are teaching and learning with transparency, dignity and honesty. In sharing this journey, you are helping me (and I suspect others) combat our own egos and open up to a world in which both success and failure provide equal opportunities to learn and grow. 

  • Taya Tayler

    Her story really is

    Her story really is fascinating, in Failure lies success and I think the example is quite clearly shown. I’ve even read the essayshark.com review and they mentioned similar things. I hope that you remain being successful in your teaching career.