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Teachers are Members of Learning Communities

Susan Lafond, NBCT |

Recently re-released, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do articulates that National Board’s Five Core Propositions for teaching. Similar to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, the Five Core Propositions are held in common by teachers of all grade levels and disciplines and underscore the accomplished teacher’s commitment to advancing student learning and achievement. This blog focuses on core proposition 5 that states, “Teachers are members of learning communities.”

What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do provides a general understanding of the teaching profession while the Standards define it across the content areas and pedagogical levels. For me, the “What” book, as we have come to know it, gives a glimpse into the complexities of what teachers are engaged in while the five core propositions flesh out and provide examples of accomplished teaching practice. If I had a GoFundMe, my cause would be to give a bound copy to the following people so they can understand the teaching profession better.

  • I would give a copy to every pre-service teacher as it serves as an inspirational roadmap for the challenging journey upon which they are about to embark.
  • I want to see this in the hands of every veteran teacher as they will find validation for all they have done and know that is has been recognized. Not only will they see this book as part autobiographical, but it will also be part self-improvement.
  •  However, I feel this book is most valuable for the decision-makers who determine funding and educational policy who have little experience outside of being a student or who have been away from the classroom for many years. In that case, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do will serve as a reference book, providing accurate information about the role of the teacher and a realistic understanding of the situation in schools today.  

Powerful and impactful – 30 years later

I started teaching in 1987 and I left the classroom to work in professional development in 2008. The challenges I faced and the goals I worked toward in 1987 and then again in 2008 were similar, but how I got to the end result was different.  That is due to progress and innovation. The same goes for What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do. In the nearly 30 years since the original version was written, the power and impact behind Proposition #5 has not changed; what has changed is the manner in which educators have supported one another and exchanged ideas due to the advances in technology. 

On a daily basis, many teachers walk into their classrooms, close the door and implement well thought out, standards-aligned lessons. Accomplished teachers take this to the next level. They no longer isolate themselves in their individual classrooms. Instead, they leap over the classroom threshold to connect with others, partnering with colleagues, families and community.

Establishing two-way communication with families and engaging them as the valuable partners they are today is radically different from how it was done in 1987. And that is due in part to additional challenges such as changes in family structures across the country, views of schools and evolving interests. The rapid advances in technology in the past 20 years has been helpful in overcoming some of these issues, particularly when communicating with families of English learners.

As I worked toward becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) I was able to hone my knowledge of my subject area. My self-confidence grew and I became certain that my classroom practice was highly effective. I became involved in a state organization and a national cadre as a way to reach beyond my own backyard and to engage with a wider community of learning. I was given the opportunity to rub elbows and exchange ideas with experts and innovative thinkers. That had a ripple effect on me and I eagerly took back what I learned. I wanted to be a change agent and work as part of a proactive team to address the needs of our diverse learners and increase their achievement.

After going through the National Board process, I realized the power of self-reflecting on my teaching practice by using a videotaped classroom lesson. By taking a critical look through the “eyes of an observer” and receiving feedback from others who observe the same lesson, a teacher can personally self-assess and distinguish levels of effectiveness and also document improvement in practice over time.

With the functionality of smartphones and the availability of apps, teachers can share video segments of themselves and virtually participate in a learning community of peer coaching if they don’t have time to meet in person. To me this is just one example that embodies Core Proposition #5 to show how educators emerge from the NBCT process as leaders who will positively impact colleagues and communities while contributing significantly to the quality of schools and student learning. 

Whether you are a pre-service teacher, a veteran teacher or a policy maker, I encourage you to read What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do and gain insight into the roadmap it provides, find validation for what you do in your classroom or learn from teachers about to gain a realistic understanding of how accomplished teachers can impact students in schools today.   

Susan Lafond, a National Board Certified Teacher in English as a New Language (EAYA ENL), has 20 years of combined experience teaching ESL and foreign language. Currently at New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), she works with statewide professional development training for educators through the Education & Learning Trust (ELT). She serves on AFT’s ELL Educator Cadre and is an expert practitioner and advisor to Colorín Colorado.

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