February Issue - 5 Questions
January 27, 2016

5 questions for Jennifer Wolfe and Erin Gilrein, Oceanside Federation of Teachers

Source: NYSUT United
five questions
Caption: Oceanside Federation of Teachers members Jennifer Wolfe, left, and Erin Gilrein.

Oceanside High School teachers Erin Gilrein and Jennifer Wolfe have been collaborative partners for more than a decade, co-teaching integrated sections of ninth-grade English and social studies; becoming National Board Certified Teachers; and leading professional development activities, including the Teaching Channel's virtual platform at Oceanside. They are directors of the Long Island National Board Network and regional coordinators for the state's National Board Council.

1. You've empowered NBCTs in Oceanside to become teacher leaders. What roles do they play?

They run the gamut from policy board representative, to Oceanside Federation of Teachers leadership positions, to spearheading initiatives like designing and facilitating new courses and programs, to starting new traditions, like the Oceanside Film Festival.

Recently, we worked with district administrators to design a tenure attainment program that incorporates NBCTs and other accomplished teachers as mentors to teachers in years one through four. The program uses the Teaching Channel's private online platform, TEAMS, to transcend time and location constraints in a district of 10 schools. The platform allows educators to provide feedback and guidance on the work of new teachers, and show how this work impacts student learning.

2. How can NBCTs help support new teachers?

Any NBCT will tell you the same thing: To be an effective practitioner, a teacher must engage in reflective practice. As NBCTs, we put ourselves through a process that demands teachers think systematically about their practice, and how that practice affects students. We tell our new teachers in the mentoring program to keep a notebook, virtual or physical, and in those moments after their lessons, write down what Erin calls "Glows and Grows." When the mentor and new teacher meet, they look at the notes for areas of strength (Glows) and areas of weakness (Grows) and discuss ways to enhance teacher practice. Reflection and strong partnerships with effective experienced teachers helps everyone become more effective practitioners.

3. How has your local union spurred collaboration and professional growth?

At the last minute of contract negotiations in 2002, Jen had just achieved board certification, and our union president at the time, Leslie Krasnoff, pushed for a formal stipend that recognizes the value of board certification. Since then our current president, Riche Roschelle, has supported increasing the stipend for teachers who seek NBCT renewal and appointed several NBCTs to building and district committees. The continued union support for National Board Certification has allowed our program to grow and thrive.

4. What's your vision for National Board Certification?

National Board Certification dovetails perfectly with the goals of teacher development. The peer-reviewed national board process encourages teachers to consider why they do what they do. It supports their growth authentically because, through the process, teachers closely describe, analyze and reflect on every aspect of their practice. We would love to see the National Board Certification process recognized in APPR guidance as an optional route for assessing professional practice or for mentoring new teachers.

When teachers focus on gathering and reflecting on classroom practice, student work, and professional duties, they are fostering habits of mind for the national board. We envision a career trajectory of focused analysis and reflection on classroom practice and student impact starting with pre-service teachers and the teacher certification process, and continuing through mentoring in a tenure attainment program, giving newly tenured teachers the skills they will need to achieve National Board Certification.

5. Why is teacher leadership so important?

Teacher leaders are both in the classroom working to address challenges to student growth, and they are outside the classroom working to enhance professional practice. Leadership looks different for every teacher who pursues it. Teacher leaders anticipate the need for system change, and they act on their observations to make things happen. Teacher leaders make a difference at the building or district level simply by advocating for what they know is best for kids and for the profession.