National Board Certification: Meaningful Professional Development

In the past 16 years I have spent a lot of time in professional development workshops and in-service trainings. Many times the focus of these training sessions dealt with student literacy skills or a new instructional program or standards. While these trainings were helpful for teachers who directly taught those content areas, the professional development was less meaningful for teachers of encore classes, especially when the presenters did not make an effort to incorporate information for all teachers into their presentations. Precious few professional development activities transcend grade level and content area.

The National Board Certification process is one such PD activity. Hands-down the most meaningful professional development I have participated in is National Board Certification. A critical difference between the National Board process and the graduate degrees I completed and the workshops I have participated in is the structure and focus of the process. The individual teacher and their practice in their own context drives the certification process. Teachers of numerous content areas and age ranges can pursue and achieve certification.

During the certification process, teachers examine their teaching and utilize th Five Core Propositions, as proposed by the National Board. The first proposition is that “teachers are committed to students and their learning.” This means that teachers strive to understand their students as diverse individuals and design meaningful experiences through which they can gain knowledge. The second proposition focuses on content and pedagogy, noting that “teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.” In reflecting upon this proposition teachers examine the standards in their content area and the pedagogy they employ to help students learn content. This relates closely to the third proposition, “teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.” Teachers engaged in this proposition partner with students in the learning process and regularly assess student understanding.

Proposition four focuses on the teacher as a reflective practitioner who thinks “systematically about their practice” and learns from their experiences. Through this lens teachers continually reflect on their lessons, seeking out what worked well for student learning and examining ways to improve learning experiences. Similarly, the final proposition is that teachers are members of learning communities. This centers on the idea that teachers are also learners, collaborating with colleagues, families, and community members to continually improve their practice.

When a teacher begins the journey toward National Board certification, they are asked to consider the Five Core Propositions in light of their own teaching practice as a valuable form of reflection. As I worked through the process, I learned how to critically examine my teaching practice, modifying my techniques to better meet the needs of the learners in my classroom. Becoming National Board certified transformed my teaching and had a positive impact on my students’ learning experiences.  The certification process is available to teachers throughout the state as the State Board of Education is currently subsidizing National Board certification and Illinois offers a wide range of candidate support for teachers who pursue certification. For more information about the process, please visit the National Board Resource Center.

Jennifer is a National Board Certified Teacher in her sixteenth year of teaching. She teaches eighth grade science at Monticello Middle School and 8th grade language arts for Illinois Virtual School.