Yo, I recently became a National Board Certified Teacher of Exceptional Needs and I am taking the time to write this post in order that aspiring “Exceptional Needs Specialist- Early Childhood through Young Adulthood- Mild/Moderate Disabilities (ages 5-21+)” can get one more perspective on the NBPTS process for us special educators, and can reach out if they have any questions.
I’m starting off with some thoughts about the process in general, then I will go on to share some specifics… but not too specific because I don’t want to get in trouble with the organization, as they said that I can’t be sharing test specific things or my responses. So I am erring on the side of being overly vague, but please shoot me any questions and I will answer them if I can.
The NBPTS Process in General
During the certification process I read a few blogs and accounts about the NBPTS process and one thing that always had me confused was that people said it made them a better teacher. But I always thought that the NBPTS process was to show that you already are a good teacher. So why would the process make you a better teacher?
Thinking along these lines I chose to not do too much “polishing” for each component and just submit and see if I certify. And if I didn’t then I would go back and really put some effort into it on the renew.
To give you an idea of how I approached the whole process in this vein, after reading what people were saying online I considered doing the following things, but opted to try it on my own for the most part, and not:
– join a group (locally, or online since I was teaching in Ethiopia at the time)
– get a mentor
– buy a book about the process
– do anything drastically different than my day to day in the videos I shot (i.e. didn’t strive for the perfect lessons)
– shoot a million videos and pick the best ones ( I think I only shot 4 or 5 in total )
– didn’t have people proofread my super long written commentaries (although I asked a couple of people at first, but decided to just write and see what happens)
– once the commentaries were written (for Component 2 and 3) I just read it once over to make sure I didn’t make simple errors (as opposed to the amount of editing I might do for a poem or blog post, etc.)
– and most sanity-saving, didn’t freak out when I didn’t understand the expectations or directions (which happened more often than I would have liked)
I just planned to submit and wait all those months and see if I certified.
My whole approach was that I felt that I was a good special educator and I wanted to see if the NBPTS thought so too without me making my practice super glossy in the components.
But let me be clear that I definitely put in a lot of work to make sure I understood what I was supposed to do and displayed my products clearly and accurately (i.e. for Component 2 I didn’t just pick a casual thing I did with a student and then write about it. I chose a good example and one that I could write a lot of commentary about). So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I could have buffed and polished the diamond and made it super pretty, I still brought a solid diamond to the graders at NBPTS and hoped that they could readily see it.
Component 1 is where I scored the highest out of any area with a score that was close to a 4 in the “Selected Response Items”. That is the basic multiple choice, do you know Special Ed stuff. I think I was able to score relatively high based on a combination of being in the special education field for the last 16 years at that point as a volunteer, TA, and teacher for about 11 years, but also by studying up on the things I mention below.
While I didn’t do all of the aforementioned preparation things listed above, one of the things I made sure to do at the beginning of my NBPTS journey was print out the 73 pages of standards so that I could annotate them ( I tried to drop the link to the PDF but it didn’t work so here’s the page where the standards are at the bottom: http://www.nbpts.org/national-board-certification/candidate-center/first-time-and-returning-candidate-resources/ ).
I did this so that I could:
a) just know what is expected of me in all of the components, and
b) see what areas I should read up on before the Component 1 test.
After annotating the standards with things like “This is something I’m doing, which component does it come into?”, or, “I should do more of this,” I ended up with a list of things I needed to study up on before the Component 1 test.
I grabbed some scrap paper and stapled a bunch of pages together and started low-key studying up. Later on I typed up some of these notes and also typed up sample responses about the sub-parts of Component 1 (i.e. numeracy).
Here is a list of the things from the standards that I researched online after reading the standards:
FAPE, ADA, evaluation, LRE, transition plans, stay put rights, 10-day cycle, weapons and drugs, due process
– Section 504 (of ADA)
– Stages of human development and learning
– Elementary and Secondary Education Act
– How do students learn to read
– The difference between positive behavior interventions and behavior interventions
– FBAs, BIPs, BICM
– Bloom’s Taxonomy
But I should mention the process I did before studying.
I made a table (see below) that listed all the areas referenced above and then asked myself how I would study it. An example is like this:
Key Areas I need to Bone up on
How will I do it?
(i.e. Study plan, resources)
|1) IDEA, IEP law, ADA, FAPE||1) Read an old IEP and read every section
2) Write a blog about it
3) Wikepedia to start
|2) Stages of human development and learning||1) Ask an instructional coach to recommend some titles
2) Read up on Piaget
3) Read up on constructivism
|3) Elementary and Secondary Education Act||1) Read the Wikipedia article and take notes|
|And here is a list of other random things I did to study||1) Extended Response (write about it)
3) Read a chapter from an old teacher textbook (i.e. for numeracy)
4) Read a few articles
5) Quizlet.com and find other people’s flash cards
Component 2 and 3 and 4
It probably goes without saying that you have to be organized if you want to lower your stress levels and keep your game tight.
Here’s a screenshot of my main folder, which definitely has sub-folders with sub-folders that have all the guidelines and papers you need downloaded. All my notes for that component are in there. Sub-folders with artifacts or videos, etc.
I felt silly writing this and adding the screenshot and was wondering why I felt compelled to write this little section so I looked at the “Get Info” in my NBPTS folder and saw that this screenshot contains 86 files and 4.6GB!!!! The Gigs mainly came from the videos I recorded (about 5 in total), but that still leaves like 80 files. So the more you are organized with folders, sub-folders, tagging, labeling, etc., the easier you will be able to locate stuff, and the more willing you will be able to search for the questions you have, or the note you wrote, etc.
Oh yeah, I just noticed that I saved all my docs that I uploaded to NBPTS in a PDF format first, along with my Word doc where I originally wrote the commentaries and all the things I uploaded. This lowers the risk of any file getting corrupted or anything.
I also have two external hard drive back ups and one cloud back up going on the regular so I wasn’t tripping too much on losing data.
Lastly, I had one big paper folder for all the NBPTS materials and then manilla folders inside for each component and the standards. That’s where I kept all my notes, annotated docs, release forms, etc. It helped keep me motivated to have this folder that I could easily locate, throw in my backpack and take to the coffee shop to knock out some work.
Component 2: Differentiation in Instruction
Along with the printing and annotation I did for Component 1 and the standards to help me prep, my environmental Bay Area roots must have been writhing when I printed out the guidelines for Components 2, 3 and 4.
I did this though because I wanted to annotate them, and did annotate some on PDF first, but felt I was in a better flowstate when I could directly write the notes on the paper.
I think this is worth mentioning because the oft stated confusion that candidates have about what they need to do was part of my experience too. This means that I had to read and re-read parts of the guidelines, and to see my annotations each time I re-read helped me to gain a better understanding (along with showing me how off-base my first interpretations were in some cases).
Additionally, I just want to show that while my approach to Components 2 and 3 mainly were pretty low key, I still had to do my due diligence to make sure I was on point. Ya dig?
At any rate, along with trying my best to be super organized, and annotating all the documents, the last key thing I did with these components was to have the print out of the “Component (2, 3 and 4) Submission at a Glance” doc open at all times (it’s in the component guidelines). This helped me really focus on exactly what was needed during those times when I was like, “Do I write 15 pages, or 6?!”
Component 3: Teaching Practice and Learning Environment
I linked up with one of the tech teachers at school to help with the audio/visual aspect of the recording of my lessons, but after a few configurations of iPhone, camcorder, different mic variations, etc., if memory serves correct, I ended up with one video that was just an iPhone, and one that had this Blue microphone that I put in the middle of the class, and attached that to a little video recorder.
The audio and the video wasn’t always perfect, but I just made sure to re-read the directions (and submission at a glance?) over and over and made sure I didn’t end up with a video that could not be scored for various reasons once I submitted the imperfect version.
While my instincts told me to step it up and show my best practices, be on my best teacher game, prep the kids beforehand, etc., I shot the videos like I was doing a normal day because I wanted to submit that to NBPTS and see if they think my normal day passed muster (I don’t know what muster means, but it sounds right).
I don’t think I’m allowed to share any details about what I did or what I wrote about, but I can say that an example of the difference between how someone can keep it real (i.e. just stick with their day to day approach) and step it up a bit could be seen in the difference between instinctively differentiating discussion questions based on student-readiness, as opposed to having a planned out system for doing this that was thought out beforehand. In both cases the teacher could have a great discussion and meet all the students’ needs, but I would imagine that when one is analyzing their video submission but they can’t talk about the pre-planning and all that, you probably would start to skew your score more towards a 2 and not a 3. You know what I mean?
I took the same ‘keep it real’ approach when doing the long written commentaries. I surely could have gotten deeper into the analysis of my skill set, refresh my memory about what theories prompted certain approaches, etc., but I kind of just wanted to stick with the meat and potatoes and see how I fared.
This approach didn’t suit me super well for components 2 and 3 as my scores had me worried that I would not certify the following year after submitting Component 4. But with Component 1 being a lot better, and with component 4 still yet to be done, I had hope during this (long) year.
Component 4: Effective and Reflective Practitioner
Due to my scores in component 2 and 3 that were lower than I wanted, I remember thinking that I needed to step it up a little bit more in Component 4 in order to certify. In that vein I can remember two key things that I did that spurred me to have a better component submission.
One thing was that I reached out to the tech coach at my school and got a little help figuring out all the capabilities of using Google Forms. Between record-keeping, sending responses to spreadsheets, and creating pie charts and other things for use as a formative assessment.
While I had been dabbling with this before, I didn’t have the impetus to really invest the time, but I took this opportunity to step my teacher game up a bit.
Along with that, I also remember the 14 page written commentary was very hard for me to write and I spent a lot of time cutting things, rearranging parts, re-reading, writing comments, highlighting key things, and overall really going hard on the piece.
If I had taken a more lackadaisical approach I likely would have scored a lot lower than the 3 that I got because the evaluators would have gotten lost, and the rubric says that you ‘…provide clear evidence…’ So if I had not spent the painstaking time to make the final document tight, I would have likely not certified as a National Board teacher.
Additionally, without getting into the details of what I submitted, in looking at my submission things, I am proud that I was able to provide all of the evidence I was able to provide, which leads me to say that one likely has to have a lot of tools in their box and systems and what not if they want to do well in this component.
A generic example of how this could look is in the area of progress monitoring. It is the difference between a special educator that has spreadsheets and protocols for progress monitoring IEP goals, compared to a teacher who just looks at progress every few months so they can update an IEP. Hey, I know how things are and that a lot of time even just updating the IEPs along with everything else you are doing can be super stressful, but to be a National Board Certified special educator, game has to be stepped up. You can’t be treading water. You don’t have to be doing butterfly strokes either, but somewhere in the middle is probably where you want to be, metaphorically speaking.
While I approached the NBPTS process in a relatively low-key manner yet I still certified, it wasn’t a sure thing. I went into component 1 thinking that I was going to do real well and overall I did (even though I scored low in the area of ‘collaboration’ which threw me off and caused me to reflect).
But Component 2 and 3 in turn were lower than my scores in 1 and 4. By scoring a 2.25 and a 2.0 in Components 2 and 3 respectively I was a bit down on myself for a year until I got my Component 4 score which was much higher, and which helped me to certify.
Although I likely would have scored higher in Component 2 and 3 if I had videoed the perfect lesson, had people proof read the commentaries, spent more time conveying what I do (i.e. analysis of my pedagogical choices), etc., I can still look at these two areas as areas of relative opportunity… areas of growth.
Additionally, the area of ‘collaboration’ in which I scored relatively low in Component 1 is an area where I think I may have some possibilities of growing. I have been collaborating regularly since I became a part of this profession like 18 years ago as a volunteer, and I thought I was good at it. But the answer I gave in my written response apparently did not show them that I was crushing it (I earned a 2.0), so that has caused me to really reflect on what I do as I collaborate.
Made me think that maybe some of the ways that I am difficult in other aspects of my life, but thought I didn’t bring into the workplace could be coming into my practice, thus making me not answer prompts about collaboration to a level that matches my abilities in the areas of knowledge of Special Education or my ability to be an effective practitioner (Component 4). This is to say, I feel pretty confident in my ability to collaborate with co-teachers and TA’s and what not, but maybe if I was a little more open, or empathetic, or other things, then maybe I would be able to give answers to Component 1 prompts that would make me appear to have more knowledge of collaboration. And of course maybe be a better collaborator on the day to day. It’s hard to quantify the difference I would potentially see on my day to day interactions with my colleagues if I had scored higher in this area, but I am going to work on this area of my practice this next semester and see if I can sense a positive qualitative difference (i.e. more teachers reaching out to talk strategies with me).
I started off the NBPTS process wondering how it could make me a better teacher and came away with a few answers.
This process has helped me improve my practice because it has caused me to think harder about the areas/components in which I didn’t do so hot.
And also, in Component 4 it pushed me to work with the tech coach more than I was before so that I could formalize some of the Google Form processes I was dabbling with previously. Without the idea of NBPTS, at that time I don’t think that I would have learned about all the data analysis capabilities that Google Drive provides when you use Forms. That was cool to learn that stuff and I have added it to my tool kit.
At the end of the day between some areas of my practice being affirmed, and other areas being signaled as areas in which I could continue to work on, I am intensely proud to have gone through the process and to be able to call myself a National Board Certified Teacher.
Back in 6th grade when I was kicked out of my middle school (for……..bad behavior), placed into Special Education (ED/ODD label), and put into a non-public school (a school for children with Special Needs), no one ever thought that I would do much with my life. I know I didn’t even think about the future. No dreams, no aspirations and surely no type of action plan. So it is especially meaningful for me to be able to not only become a special educator and give back to students like me who need help, but to earn this top certification to boot…….I have no words. I just stare off into the chilly January sky and continue to hold my breath, thinking that this success is not meant to last, but intent to make sure it does.
I’m always trying to expand my Twitter network. Hit me up @becketthaight so we can connect.
Also, if you are looking for any online support type groups, check out the Facebook group found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ExceptionalNeedsNBCT/