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4 Ways Board Certification Prepared Me For Motherhood

Jessica Cuthbertson, NBCT |

My journey to Board certification was the second hardest and most humbling thing I have ever completed. The first? Committing to and seeing through the international adoption process.

Both took multiple years. Both required lots of steps, checklists, standards, guidelines, late night, and early morning reflection. Both involved healthy amounts of self-doubt and discernment. Both taught me that human beings are hardwired for community.

I (eventually) certified in 2014, one year after deciding to commit to a local adoption agency’s Ethiopia program. In early 2017 (more than three years after starting the process) we finally became the legal parents of our now five-year-old son. 

Muddling through these early days of motherhood, I find myself reflecting on lessons learned from my journey as a candidate.  Here are four ways Board certification shapes my parenting and personal outlook:

Henok Cuthbertson (left) and Allison Sampish, NBCT, (right) explore the alphabet during literacy centers. We recently visited Allison’s kindergarten classroom.

Lesson 1: It really does takes a village.

After starting the Board certification process in isolation, borrowing colleagues’ classrooms and students as a then full time literacy coach, I shared my questions, doubts, artifacts and drafts with no one. Not surprisingly, I fell two points shy of certification and landed in advanced candidate territory.

Now, I am passionately committed to candidate support. It was this very support, encouragement, and the community of NBCT’s who came before me, that made the difference between my initial attempt and eventual certification.

I have learned that in professionally worthwhile journeys and significant personal endeavors, community, collaboration and a trusted network of support are critical. We can go it alone, but the journey is lonely, isolating, and far more challenging if we do.

Lesson 2: Reflect. Rinse. Repeat.

Margaret Wheatley once said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and failing to achieve anything useful.” The Board certification process is a powerful exercise in deep reflection and analysis. It is impossible to complete the process without ongoing, ritualistic reflection of every teaching and learning decision and the accompanying student learning results.

This commitment to reflection not only improved my practice, but also became a deeply ingrained habit of mind in my daily life. While I am no longer teaching in a classroom setting, it is impossible not to approach parenting from an educator’s lens. From language acquisition to gross and fine motor development, I am constantly analyzing what my son is doing and saying, my own responses and questions, and the learning results. I’ve started a reflection journal to capture the moments, phrases, and wonder of each day.

Lesson 3: Waiting is the hardest part.

I wish I could say that the Board certification process helped me become a more patient person. While I still have lots of growth to make in this area, it did help me practice waiting. As I support and encourage current candidates who are furiously working on various components and booking assessment dates, I can’t help but remember the long wait between clicking submit and score release day.

Deciding to pursue Board certification and deciding that international adoption was the right path for our family was the easy part. The work that followed those decisions was intense and energizing. But the waiting was the hardest part. For candidates playing the waiting game, celebrate now, celebrate on score release day (regardless of the outcome), and celebrate in between.

Allison Sampish, Jessica, and Henok Cuthbertson during a recent visit to Allison’s classroom. Allison is an NBCT who teaches kindergarten at Fall River Elementary in Longmont, Colorado.

Lesson 4: Going public.

If I could re-do one thing from my first years of teaching it would be this: I would open the door of my classroom to feedback, visitors, and video cameras from day one. I would ask more questions and share more student work in professional learning settings. Going public with my practice made me a better teacher and positively impacted student learning. So I wish I had gone public long before I committed to the Board certification process.

Adoptive parenting, especially in a transracial family, is a visible and public process. There are regular visits from social workers, annual documentation sent to the birth country, lots of medical catch-up, and entire virtual (and physical) communities devoted to supporting and encouraging families. The Board certification process helps me see these public parenting requirements and expectations as invitations and opportunities for meaningful feedback, problem-solving, support, and encouragement.

Like teaching, parenting is a complex art and science. It’s a lot of trial and error, analysis and reflection, hoping and waiting. I’m grateful to have a network of NBCT’s, (and mothers) to support me in the journey. 

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher returning to the classroom this school year to teach 8th grade at Murphy Creek P-8 in Aurora, CO. She most recently worked at the Center for Teaching Quality, supporting thought leadership efforts in collaboration with teacher leaders, education stakeholders, staff members, and other clients. Prior to joining CTQ, she worked in K-12 public education for over thirteen years, serving as a middle school English teacher and learning lab host, an instructional coach, and a teacherpreneur. In 2015, she created, launched, and facilitated the Aurora Public Schools Teacher Leadership Academy, a K-12 community of accomplished educators designed to deprivatize practice, increase the number of board certified teachers, and scale teacher leadership roles. She believes student-centered pedagogy and teacher leadership are key levers for creating the equitable public schools students deserve. Connect with her on Twitter @JJCuthy.

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