What I have Learned from the BOX

This week, I found my blue box back on my door step. It is now the third time this box has been on my door step. For those of you who don’t know, the blue box is what you have to mail your National Board Portfolio Entries in when you are finished with them. Seeing this box AGAIN got me to reflect on my journey through this process.

I began National Board Certification four years. My district had implemented a pay for performance plan called Project: Excell. This plan included a professional development component. For this component, a teacher could choose whatever professional development opportunities that they were interested in. According to the list, National Boards fulfilled all professional development requirements. I thought this would be easier than taking multiple workshops. (Boy, was I mistaken.) I signed up for a pre-candidacy class and then became an official candidate.

My first year was a struggle. It was quite a challenge to complete all four portfolio entries. I learned a lot about student achievement and how to connect my learning targets to achievement. I learned how to concisely and accurately document that achievement and I learned how to recognize the things that were not causing student achievement. I pushed myself further than I thought I could and I learned to consider what I did a craft. It takes much practice for a surgeon to be more efficient. And it takes practice and reflection for a teacher to improve their practice. That first year I was able to achieve a bankable score on two entries; the science and math entry and the accomplishment entry.

I started my retake thinking that I already learned everything from this process that I could. I had already changed and became a better teacher. However, it was important to me to complete what I started so I moved forward. I knew I had to focus on writing and social studies. I was very sure of this and I planned great instruction and learning activities. I breezed through writing the entries. I was very proud of myself for what I had done. That pride led to a huge disappointment when I saw my scores. I had failed to bank any entries. In fact, I had done much worse on an entry.

The next few weeks, I spent a lot of time looking back at the work I had done both years. I didn’t want to apply for another retake unless I understood where I had come up short. That was something I failed to do my second year. I just put my eyes forward and I did not reflect back on what I had already done. This time was what caused the biggest change in my teaching practice. I realized that I really did not understand all the aspects of what is required of me. I know I am a great math teacher because I understand that subject. I know I am a great reading teacher because I have spent so much time learning how to teach reading. However, I did not understand how to teach social studies or writing. I knew how to take a standard and design a lesson around it but I did not understand what my students needed to build a deeper understand of these subjects. I knew I had to rectify that.

My district uses a lot of staff development to ensure our teachers are capable of teaching reading and math. I haven’t been in a workshop though that has covered social studies since college and I have only been to a handful of writing workshops. I was weak in these areas and what was worse; I was completely ignorant of that fact. How many other teachers are walking around unaware of what they need to improve?

I began this process because I was allowed to choose my area of professional development. Through the journey, I was able to recognize what areas I needed to grow. I was able to build a plan that specifically met my learning needs. When I think back to all of the workshops and staff meetings, I have attended the last few years, none of them came close to improving my teaching like the blue box has. What would happen to our profession if every teacher was brave enough to learn their own needs and build a plan to significantly improve their own practice? Well, let me introduce you to my friend, the blue box, and we’ll see what can happen! I’m very eager to pass him on to someone else.


Donnie Dicus

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master’s Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center.
I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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