LAFREDERICK THIRKILL Photo

Principal's Corner

An NBCT reflects on becoming principal

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by LaFrederick Thirkill, an NBCT and an elementary school principal in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who has brought early successes in his school's turnaround. The views expressed in this post are his own.

In 2006, I became Hamilton County’s first NBCT, and the next year I became assistant principal. After serving four years in that role, I was selected to become principal of Orchard Knob Elementary, an identified priority school, designated by the state because it was in need of academic turnaround. That was my responsibility as principal.

I was confident as a music teacher, however as principal I immediately had to use the same skills that I developed pursuing certification. I had to reflect on the Five Core Propositions to grow teachers. I had to analyze the school, data, etc. I also had to describe my mission and vision in clear, concise and convincing manner. In my first year, the school’s achievement went up, suspensions went down, teacher retention was high and the school’s climate improved. As I completed my second year in May of 2013, we again saw gains in student achievement and teacher retention, and my school won national recognition as winner of the U.S. Healthier School Challenge. Because of these dramatic results, I was named PTA Elementary Principal of the Year and Hamilton Co. Education Association Distinguished Administrator of the Year.

I attribute my successes as a new principal to the preparation that I received while going through National Board Certification. The process of reflection, thinking constantly about how I can make an impact and analyzing the data, were all developed while pursuing certification.

Every day in my role as administrator, candidate support provider and NBCT, I continue to promote the Five Core Propositions and the National Board Standards to support teachers and students.

During grade level team meetings, teacher conferences and faculty meetings I remind and discuss with teachers, the behaviors of accomplished teachers.

As an educator, I knew that pursuing Board certification would allow me to assess my own knowledge of content and practice. After certifying, I made a commitment to continue to apply all of the skills in any role that I served. As principal, I regularly guide my teachers in applying reflection to monitor student achievement. As I meet with teachers, I encourage them to analyze and describe student performance against the state and Common Core standards. This practice causes teachers to focus more on individual students and their practice as educators.

Orchard Knob Elementary is an urban school with more than six hundred students, 99 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. Our students come to us far below grade level. As principal, I feel that it is my responsibility to apply research-based best practices to make more of an impact in turning the school around. My dream would be to have a school filled with NBCTs who were as committed to increasing student achievement. Although that dream may never come to fruition, I know that as leader, I can provide school-wide support to teachers as an NBCT principal.

My future goals include becoming certified as an administrator so that I can I continue to grow and become the best principal that I can be. I am certain the skills that I learn will become present in my practice, which will benefit students, teachers and families.

I would encourage more NBCTs to consider a role in administration, if only for the potential to inspire, support and grow other teachers to become National Board Certified.