As part of a miniature version of the rigorous National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certificate program, all the teachers at the Pine Strawberry School for the next few months will examine their methods of teaching through discussion, video tape and monthly meetings.
National Board certifications are like the black belt of teaching, said certified Pine Strawberry teacher Maurilee Walker.
“It’s a very powerful thing,” she added.
Walker says she’s the only board certified teacher in Gila County.
One hundred percent teacher participation in the program is rare, but it afforded the school a grant from the Arizona K12 Center that paid for the majority of the $395 per person cost.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled that 100 percent of the staff have signed on with this,” said Principal Mike Clark.
Walker earned her board certification while living in California, and she said having the recognition allowed her to teach in Arizona without earning an Arizona-specific teaching certificate.
The Pine teachers are participating in the Take One program, a bite-sized version of the full-fledged National Boards. Pine third-grade teacher Diane Ludwig, however, will work toward the full certification.
If the teachers choose, they could take the Take One component and apply it toward earning the full National Board certification.
Through the Take One program, teachers prepare portfolios in one specialized area like English language arts for adolescence and young adulthood.
In the portfolio, teachers include a 15-minute video recording of classroom time along with a paper analyzing the video and copies of teaching materials. The teachers will develop their portfolios throughout the school year, and submit them in the spring.
“I kind of look at that as almost a Ph.D.-level type of a program,” said Clark. “The criteria and the level of effort is on that kind of a level.”
The process, although voluntary, forces participants to analyze their teaching styles. However, working through the rigors as a group helps the teachers stay motivated.
“To try to do it by yourself, it would take a tremendous amount of discipline and focus,” said Clark.
Reflecting is imperative to becoming a better teacher, said Walker.
“I think that is one thing that is always left out.” However, Take One and the National Boards require reflection.
“Some will dig a little deeper than others,” Walker acknowledged, but teachers also learn from each other as they meet and discuss teaching methods. It requires openness and trust-building that can strengthen the campus’ feeling of community.
Walker said she learned about teaching’s holistic nature while earning her National Board certification. “It’s not just academic, but emotional and social,” she said. “You’re looking at the whole child, and all of that is a factor.”
After earning the National Board certification, Walker is now training to be a facilitator, so she can lead her colleagues at the Pine Strawberry School through the year-long Take One process.
The full-fledged National Board certifications last for 10 years, and then teachers must submit another portfolio discussing what they’ve done for the past decade.
“Did I shut my door and say, ‘I am a cool teacher?’” said Walker. Or did the teacher improve the lives of other teachers and students around them? For the teachers at the Pine Strawberry School, only time will tell.