The Tuesday Conversation
Welcome back to our ongoing series, “The Tuesday Conversation.” Each week, we will feature discussions with leaders working in many different ways to transform the state’s education system.
You can always find previous conversations on our website, NevadaSucceeds.org/Tuesday-Conversations
If you know someone you think should be highlighted here, please contact Dave Berns at email@example.com or (702) 510-4420.
“If you want to shift the culture at your site it starts with the principal and the leadership team, which includes teachers.” – Nicolette Smith
Nicolette Smith Biography:
Professional Learning Facilitator
Washoe County School District
12 years as a Social Studies teacher
National Board Certification NBPTS
Master’s of Curriculum and Instruction
Doctorate in Organizational Leadership: K-12 Education Emphasis (in progress)
Nicolette Smith is an advocate for National Board Certification, a high-level teacher-training program that provides educators with the foundational and procedural tools to think systematically about their classroom practices, drawing upon personal experience to boost student success.
Labeled the “gold standard for the teaching profession,” the certification process is designed to provide teachers with a stronger knowledge and appreciation for:
*** Every student’s emotional, physical, academic, economic and social health and well-being.
*** Classroom content and best teaching practices.
*** Student assessment techniques.
*** Best classroom practices and a greater ability to learn from personal experience.
*** The recognition that every teacher is a member of Professional Learning Communities.
A total of 600 Nevada teachers, or about 3 percent of the state’s licensed teachers, have completed the process that was developed in the late-1980s.
In this week’s Tuesday Conversation, we feature Smith, who is pursuing her doctorate in Organizational Leadership with a K-12 Education emphasis.
Q: What’s a teacher leader?
Smith: We’ve tried really hard to not provide any definition. In doing so you could close doors on many people who think, “Maybe, I’m not a teacher leader, then.”
Ultimately what a teacher leader does is help uplift colleagues through coaching, support, extending themselves throughout the classroom.
They’re not interested in assuming administrative roles but want to elevate teaching itself, from the classroom… through pedagogy and content, improve teaching and learning.
Q: How does this work transform, re-energize teachers?
Smith: With new student-learning objectives and student-learning goals in Nevada, a lot of teachers have to be more reflective. They often feel stressed out… and they forget what they already know. By working collaboratively with other teachers it’s easier to articulate skills, what they know. When you’re so embedded in the classroom, it’s hard to see the big picture – this helps colleagues see long-term picture.
You ask yourself, “What is teaching all about?” What I realized in the process, even if I didn’t know every name and date, my role was to teach disposition, difficult text, complex thinking; they would get to those bigger understandings.
They are highly skilled practitioners, and they see themselves as that. It’s incredibly powerful to see teachers who were thinking of leaving teaching suddenly say: “I can do this. I have a voice. I have an impact on students.”
It’s about developing a civic discourse, around teaching and learning that honors teaching. There’s a feeling that there are so many people from the outside that are pointing fingers from the outside. Their voices have gotten so much louder than teachers and teachers have started to step back.
When you go to the marriage of pedagogy, instruction, assessment, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taped teachers in the classroom (to show how well they teach), and they’ve gone into the parking lot and become emotional (that someone recognizes their skills).
It’s so incredibly powerful when teachers find their voices again.
Q: How is the National Board Certification program structured?
Smith: It’s two years and involves 90 hours of work and two action research projects. Some of the projects that have come out are so absolutely inspiring. One teacher took all of his students, special-ed and non-special-ed, and worked to have them all at grade level by the end of the year, with the understanding that a classroom visitor would not be able to discern which were special ed. The teacher succeeded.
Q: How do principals align with this work?
Smith: A principal who is highly effective is a principal who offers teachers a voice. If you don’t do that you will not have a highly effective climate in a school.
If you want to shift the culture at your site it starts with the principal and the leadership team, which includes teachers. Some teachers go into administration to simply be the boss, which creates an environment where there’s not shared leadership.
I think the role of principal needs to be redefined, that it’s about shared leadership. You need to have the disposition and the competencies that it isn’t all about you.
We really want systems set into place in Nevada that support teacher leadership, that offer career opportunities for teachers to stay in the classroom but feel as though they have a voice… that they have the competencies and dispositions to do that. We need administrators that are supportive, that themselves have the dispositions and competencies to leverage teacher leaders.