By Erin Albanese
Big names in teaching in Kent County – Michigan Teachers of the Year for 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 – have joined forces to share the best ways to engage students and get them to achieve at high levels.
A cohort of 12 teachers, including six from Kent County and six from the metro-Detroit area, met over the past year to achieve National Board Certification, recently submitting their work, which is similar to a Ph.D. thesis, for final consideration. Certification results will be available in early December.
Kent County teachers, who met at Kent ISD, are:
- Luke Wilcox, math teacher at East Kentwood High School and 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year
- Dave Stuart, history and English teacher at Cedar Springs High School and 2017-2018 Michigan Teacher of the Year finalist
- Chris Painter, math teacher at Cedar Springs High School
- Tracy Horodyski, reading interventionist and instructional coach at Zinser Elementary School and 2016-2017 Michigan Teacher of the Year from Kenowa Hills Public Schools
- Heather Gauck, special education teacher at Harrison Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids Public Schools
- Shantel VanderGalien, English teacher at Wyoming Junior High
The teachers received scholarships from the Michigan Department of Education to pursue the 25-year-old certification in partnership with the Michigan National Board Certified Teachers Network. National Board Certified teachers are under-represented in Kent County, and getting more of them certified is part of an effort to help Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years, said Cheryl Corpus, an NBCT consultant for the Michigan organization and a National Board Certified teacher in English as a New Language. To date, more than 112,000 teachers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have achieved National Board Certification.
Certification a Plus for Students
The credential is considered a hallmark of accomplishment across the state and nationally, Corpus said. The certification process involves teachers learning from each other, reflecting and sharing practices and promoting high standards. Together, they watch videos of each other’s teaching and reflect on evidence of effective instruction. The process was facilitated by Corpus and Christina Gilbert, a Godfrey Elementary School teacher who is National Board Certified.
Historically, National Board Certified teachers outperform their non-certified peers in improving student achievement, Corpus said.
“When teachers come together and reflect on their instruction, students and practices, it’s one of the most powerful and meaningful professional learning opportunities in our career,” Corpus said. “It’s that culture of reflection, problem-solving and becoming lifelong learners.”
Teachers said they have improved their practice as a result, becoming more deeply in tune with their students.
“I have gained so much from the process,” Vandergalien said. “I had to record lessons to submit and that was such a valuable tool. I really enjoyed being able to capture excellent conversation and activities occurring in my classroom, and then being able to share that with colleagues.”
Horodyski said the focus on helping each other continually improve teaching for the sake of learners inevitably results in improved results.
“This type of shared learning experience empowers educators, and empowered educators equal empowered students,” she said. “There’s a ripple effect that influences beyond what will ever be known to us.”
Wilcox said the National Board has very clear definitions of what it means to be a master teacher, and he has that in mind as he embarks on his year as Michigan Teacher of the Year.
” I am now very familiar with the qualities and actions that make teachers great, and I will use this framework to guide my work,” Wilcox said. “I will encourage other great teachers to consider going after this certification in order to push them forward.”
Candidates will now become ambassadors for the Michigan Department of Education, working as teacher leaders in their field.
“It has improved my teaching by getting me to open up to my students about why I do the things I’m doing in the classroom, and verbalizing it to them so that they can understand it,” VanderGalien said. “I think that helps them to buy into the process of what is going on in the classroom.
“They also appreciate the fact that I am working hard to be the best teacher I can be for them.”