Achieving National Board Certification wasn't easy for Licking Heights South art teacher Mandy Rubino, but the benefits make all the effort worthwhile, she said.

Achieving National Board Certification wasn't easy for Licking Heights South art teacher Mandy Rubino, but the benefits make all the effort worthwhile, she said.

"There was so much reflection involved," she said.

Rubino is one of 12 district teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, making Licking Heights the district with the highest number of active certified teachers in Licking County. Granville Exempted Village Schools has 14 but several have allowed their certifications to expire, said Licking Heights Superintendent Philip Wagner.

Rubino said she was part of a group of roughly 20 Licking Heights teachers working on their master's degrees. Some, including Rubino, were vying for board certification simultaneously.

As part of the certification process, she video recorded herself teaching and then analyzed her own methods.

"It was interesting to see how you appear to students," Rubino said.

The entire process took Rubino about a year, including five months of writing and revisions, culminating with a written essay exam.

"The written exam was one of the hardest things I've ever done," she said. "It was tough."

Wagner said it's no coincidence the district has so many certified teachers.

"It really speaks to the dedication of the teachers," he said.

Wagner said it also helps that director of curriculum and instruction Susan McLaughlin is an instructor for teachers seeking certification and is encouraging teachers to seek it.

"She's been instrumental in getting more teachers to be certified," he said.

He said certification is not only a "badge of honor" for teachers to show they are experts in their fields, but "there's also a marketability aspect." Certified teachers are generally hired ahead of those who are not certified, he said.

McLaughlin said National Board Certification is a voluntary assessment program designed to recognize teachers who meet standards based on what they should know and be able to do.

"The certification itself is a huge accomplishment," she said. "Not only are you demonstrating that your teaching meets the highest standards, but going through the process makes you a more intentional and efficient teacher."

McLaughlin said Licking Heights has three teachers pursuing certification for the first time. Two teachers are retake candidates and are completing their certifications.

"A teacher has three years to become certified," she said.

A passing score is a 275. If the passing score isn't achieved the first time (the passing rate hovers around 36 percent), scores are banked and the teacher has to retake only sections with lower scores.

"If you don't pass the first time, you don't have to start over again from scratch," McLaughlin said.

The biggest advantage to being certified, McLaughlin said, is the focus on reflective practice. She said that throughout the certification process, teachers are required to look at their instruction and reflect, analyze and critically examine what they are teaching and how they teach it.

"The focus is on how instruction impacts student learning, and any teacher who has gone through the process will tell you that forever after, their focus is on how our classroom instruction impacts student learning," McLaughlin said. "For me, I think the biggest advantage was how critically I looked at my teaching. I was forced to analyze every aspect of my own classroom instruction to make sure it all pointed back to doing what's best for kids.

"I took a step back and spent the year really focusing on the craft of teaching."

McLaughlin said a teacher spends an average of 400 hours on the certification portfolio. The applicant writes a total of about 100 pages, including documentation of student work and reflection. The culminating essay exam is written to timed prompts.

"It was certainly harder than my comprehensive exam for grad school," McLaughlin said. "Many people compare the process to becoming a board-certified doctor."

Although the process is voluntary, McLaughlin believes every teacher should go through at least part of it as a professional-development tool. She said there is a program called Take One, in which groups of teachers and even entire faculties go through the process of completing one of the portfolio entries.

"Just that one section, when done as a cohort, can truly transform a school's culture and create a community of reflective learners," she said.

McLaughlin said her certification opened many doors for her that would've otherwise been closed.

"I have twice lobbied on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., talking directly to members of Congress about education issues," she said.

McLaughlin also has met with state and national education officials to discuss education trends, and she was part of panel discussions at several national conferences on the impact of National Board Certification on the teaching profession.

"There are few things a person can do that transform his or her professional life in a profound way, and (certification) was one of those things," McLaughlin said. "If educators feel like they want to take their teaching to the highest level, engage in a community of learners and take part in the deepest reflection of their personal career, certification would be the route to take."

As tough as the certification process was, Rubino would recommend that other teachers try to achieve it.

"It was really a great experience," she said.