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Maren Johnson | National Board Certification, Professional Development, Science, Weblogs | January 6, 2013

Writing about Teaching


Way back, when I signed up to be a teacher, and a science teacher at that, I never imagined the amount of writing I was going to be doing. Yes, I expected to write some curriculum, student assessments, and the like, but I never really contemplated writing about teaching.

My first foray into doing a significant amount of writing about teaching: the National Board process. The challenge: How could I get my best ideas out there in an extremely concise fashion? Yes, the total page count of the portfolio is quite large, but there is a lot of content that needs to go in there! The writing problem was to choose the best ideas, and include them in a small enough space that literally every word counts. The surprise to me? I was shocked by how long it took me to get my first drafts down on paper. It then took some laborious revision. By the end of the National Board process, I was more efficient writer, but it still takes time!

A unique aspect of National Board Writing? An extremely limited audience. Some of my papers were only read by my National Board facilitator and the scorer. Some of my papers were also read by a small number of fellow candidates. A learning point? Writing doesn't have to widely shared in order to be of value for personal professional development. The teacher-writer and their practice still benefit greatly just by doing the writing. Sharing writing is valuable. However, for many, a reluctance to publicly share writing can be an obstacle to writing itself, so it is important to remove this obstacle when necessary. If someone is hesitant to write because they don't want to share it, they should still be encouraged to write without the sharing, or just limit the sharing to what is comfortable!

Other types of writing? Notes to be emailed out from meetings, calls to action, informational emails. Is this really writing about teaching? When the meeting includes challenging ideas (or when the meeting participants are challenging each other ;-) then I would say that taking notes requires enough care and synthesis to count as "writing about teaching," or, at the very least, "writing about education." Emails with an "ask" or informational emails require a thorough knowledge of audience: in schools, the audience is very frequently teachers, so this again is writing about teaching.

Blogging. Before writing for this Stories from School blog, I wrote for my own blog. I only wrote a blog post when an idea occurred to me that I felt completely compelled to write about. I felt no urgency to come up with ideas, I just wrote when I wanted to. Now I am trying to write on a regular schedule, and it's been a bit of an adjustment! I know I need to be constantly on the lookout for ideas and anecdotes to write about--regular writing demands regular reflection! I also know I don't have the time for multiple revisions of multiple drafts--I need to get it out there because soon enough it will be time for a new post.

So is writing about teaching a valuable use of time? Yes, the very act of getting a concrete idea onto paper forces reflection. I know pre-service teaching programs are overburdened as it is, and I know they include academic writing, but I have to wonder if it wouldn't be useful for them to include more training on the other types of writing teachers do. As for inservice teachers, writing is valuable enough that I'm actually surprised more professional development does not include a writing component!



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Amethyst, your diagram in your post of the "real writing process," which includes doing dishes, kids fighting in the corner, and eating M & Ms, really describes it! Writing about teaching is almost never a linear process for me, and I doubt it is for other teachers either!

I think I'm going to share your diagram (I'll be sure to give you credit :) at my local National Board candidate cohort meeting next week--it's a great graphical description!


I love your post and the discussion it has prompted here! I am newly certified and was lucky enough to speak to a group of current candidates, and I focused on the writing process. My speech went a little something like this...

You're so right. As a language arts / history teacher I've always had to teach writing and do a lot of it for in-class examples, but all teachers need to write.

My daughter's first grade teacher puts out a weekly newsletter, my husband spends hours emailing parents and updating his classroom blog, and my colleagues in tech, art and science frequently write grants to get funding for projects our district (and state) won't pay for.

Funny that writing as a skill isn't even touched in most TEP programs.

You're awesome, Maren! Thanks!

Here's the actual statement from the "Explication of the NBPTS Policy Governing Use of National Board Certified Teacher Candidate Assessment Performances." It says, "a candidate or successful NBCT may not do any of the following: publish, or authorize the publication of, all or part of his or her portfolio or videotapes in any manner, whether printed or electronic, e.g. the Internet."

Best of luck on your renewal! Sounds like you are off to a great start with it.


Good point! I'm glad I asked you because I hadn't thought of that! I won't do it then.

Hi Al,
Honestly, I wouldn't do that. Your work needs to be original, and if you publish it in a very public fashion like that, the chances are too great that an unethical person might "borrow" too much of your work. If two very similar papers were submitted, the scorers would not know who was the original writer. For this reason, I would not give your papers to someone you don't know to read--I think publishing them publicly online counts as giving them to someone you don't know!

Hey Maren, your post got me thinking about something I started doing today. After finishing the rough draft for the first component of my national board renewal, which included a lot of the work I do online, I decided to share the different sections of my write-up as blog posts. Do you think that's okay? I mean, I won't get in trouble with the NBPTS will I? I think the odds that someone who gets to score my entries will read my blog.

Brian, good to hear from you! I am sure your inner dialogue is rich as you hike through the forests and climb to those mountain tops. Honestly, I think I get some of my best ideas when I am outside running.

Tom, I don't know about that, but, hey, I'll take the compliment! All kind words are welcome as school starts back up tomorrow morning.

You're right. I found I didn't like writing to keep up with a schedule, but I miss the introspection that it forced me to do. So now I try to have a rich inner dialogue.

Keep up the good work!

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