This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Katie Dantrassy
Good. Great. Influential. Entering the teaching profession, I always aspired to be a great teacher, but my definition of great was simply intuitive. My teacher education and professional development taught me content, pedagogical strategies, and educational methodologies, but I still struggled with the ambiguity of what it means to be a great teacher.
It wasn’t until pursuing my National Board Teaching Certificate that I learned to practice and know the defining traits of my profession and reflect on my classroom with a deeper perspective using the lens of the five core propositions. I was refreshed, I was excited, and I felt empowered to lead in my classroom and school. Nine years later, I had found nothing as stimulating or as effective for my professional competence as National Boards until I was invited to join the Data and Fluency Project.
I assumed that this was another program, another canned professional development for content, or simply another attempt at collaboration across districts. I was so WRONG! After our first conversation, I was thinking about my work and actions more than I had in years. My head was spinning from the depth of the questions our group posed and the feeling that I was a part of a community. I felt like I had joined an educational think tank! The last time I slowed down enough to reflect on this level, I was learning what it meant to be a National Board Certified Teacher, and that led me to examine the links between National Board Certification and the Data and Fluency Project.
For those who may be unfamiliar with National Board Certification, the process is built upon five core propositions to which teaching is inextricably bound.
1. Teachers are Committed to Students and Learning
2. Teachers Know the Subject They Teach and How to Teach It
3. Teachers are Responsible for Managing and Monitoring Student Learning
4. Teachers Think Systemically about Their Practice and Learn from Experience
5. Teachers are Members of Learning Communities
I found these same foundational traits in the Data and Fluency Project. I was surrounded by teacher leaders who wanted to be in the group to grow and learn for their students. No one was “assigned” or forced to attend, which demonstrated the participants’ commitment to students and learning. Within the first half of the meeting, I was almost intimidated by the number of new strategies shared and the demonstration of expertise among our group; needless to say, I was impressed with my peers and honored to be invited into their fold. Their presence and commentary assuredly demonstrated propositions 1-3.
After completing National Boards, I especially struggled to find anything that truly addressed systemic thinking and deep reflection (Proposition 4). The Data and Fluency Project gave me this. What an opportunity to be permitted to analyze systems of education with such a talented and intelligent group! To pose questions and not need a specific answer, to slow down and consider not only the day-to-day but educational structures, to feel comfortable expressing opinions or asking questions without criticism was liberating. We asked ourselves “What if…” without the pressure to make an immediate decision or worry about systemic rules or the historical design of education. This experience is the definition of a learning community. My circle expanded, and when the COVID-19 school closure occurred, I had a support network that was the envy of other administrators and gave me a greater perspective across a three-state region. The Data and Fluency Project group reminded me of the support and freedom I experienced in my National Board Cohort.
The most significant connection I made between National Board Certification and the Data and Fluency Project is that both are intensely focused on students and their learning. Every question, every comment, and every conversation is rooted in relationship: know your students and know yourself enough to help them know the content.
If you are in the Data and Fluency Project, I feel that you already have the basic tools to pursue National Board Certification. What makes a good teacher great is the ability to reflect and act on those questions or ideas. When we understand our students and connect with them, they develop agency. When we see our students for who they are and respect their experiences, they will grow. All learning is personal.
Katie Dantrassy graduated from West Liberty State College in 2008 with a major in English and pursued her MA in Special Education at WVU in 2011. In 2013, she earned a post-graduate certificate in leadership from Marshall University. Katie began a career as a teacher at Sherrard Middle school in gifted education and English for grades 6-8.
Katie has been engaged in her life as a high school curriculum assistant principal and focus on renewing her National Board Teaching Certification. Katie is a member Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Katie’s special interests include educational innovation, grant writing, and access and equity initiatives.