Birchwood Elementary School third grade teacher Valerie Califf

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is an independent and nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the quality of teaching and learning. Five staff members in Bellingham Public Schools earned national board certification in December 2019 following an intensive process of teaching and learning professional development. These teachers bring the total number of NBCT staff in the district to 192 since its inception. To view national board certified staff by district, click here.

The current list of new national board certified staff includes: Birchwood Elementary School third grade teacher Valerie Califf; Bellingham High School social studies teacher Forrest Donnellan; Cordata Elementary School first grade teacher Danielle Eldridge; Squalicum High School social studies teacher Chad Herman; and Squalicum math teacher Brett Latham.

According to the Washington Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI), Washington state has the third largest group of NBCTs in the nation.

The most recent teachers who have become national board certified shared the following reflections about the certification process and outcomes:

Valerie Califf: Last year, I decided to go through the NBCT process as a way to reflect on and improve my teaching. I had been teaching for 5 years and felt it was time to do something big to reflect on how I’ve progressed as a teacher and what I still need to do. The support from the district cohort was essential for me to be able to successfully go through the process. The facilitators walked us through the process, answered questions, and provided excellent feedback and encouragement.  It was a challenging, extremely time-consuming process, but it allowed me to pause and reflect on what I was doing well in my teaching practice and areas that I needed to improve. It has enhanced my teaching practice because I am continuing to reflect on my teaching using the tools provided by the NBCT. I also have new ideas about what I want to do to continue to improve to have a greater impact on my students.

Forrest Donnellan: The NBCT process was challenging but worthwhile. I spaced it out over two years, completing the exam portion the first year and focusing exclusively on the written portfolio the second year. I was able to take some time over the summer between school years to map out and prepare for the portfolio process. This made the writing/reflection work much more manageable as one of the main challenges in the process is finding the time to focus on the National Boards while juggling the demands of our everyday job as classroom teachers. A support that really helped in this regard was the National Board cohort group led by Yana Mansfield, Meghan Dunham, and Erin Burke. Not only did they provide seasoned guidance through the process, but having structured time set aside every couple of weeks helped keep me on track.

I think the biggest benefit of going through this process is that it really pushed me to reflect on how we think about student growth. While we intuitively recognize it in our students and can point to examples, the NCBT process forced me to be very descriptive and precise in demonstrating that growth. As a result, I have adopted a more data-driven approach to tracking writing-skill progress in my Social Studies classes. Students take part in tracking this information so that they can see their own progress over time (on a dedicated OneNote page) and update their goals accordingly. Overall, the NCBT process was a lot of work but also helped me create the space to step back and examine my teaching practices in ways that will benefit my students.

Danielle Eldridge:  I’m always up for a challenge, and the NBCT process seemed like a good next step when considering my future as a teacher. Beginning this process was overwhelming and inspiring at the same time. Once I joined the district’s NBCT cohort, I began to unfold the requirements with support from teachers who have been through the process or currently in the program with me. I connected with a friend to share ideas and problem solve. This collaboration was essential for my success. Reflecting on my experience, I am discovering how this process taught me ways to refine my practice for the purpose of inspiring curiosity in young students to support a foundational love for learning. I learned how to take big risks – and fail. And through this risk taking, I allowed my students to take more control of their learning which in turn drove them to take their own risks, fail and try again. Because of this, my students became problem solvers and the transformation was the amazing.

Chad Herman: The National Board process helps you focus on the various levels of support needed for all learners in the classroom. It is a reminder that, even though we are educators, we are constantly learning and pursuing better practices to provide further systems of support for our students.

Brett Latham:  The National Boards standards for what teachers should know and be able to do are inspiring, and to have that document as a blueprint for where I want to be as a teacher was helpful, both to see all the things I already do and to think about areas for improvement.  Completing my National Boards was a big, and many times, overwhelming process, but what I valued about it was the opportunity to do the best work I could do and then write about how and why it was effective. This forced me to push myself in my practice and then to believe in myself as a teacher in ways I have not before because I had to convince someone else in writing why my teaching was effective. Since achieving my certification, I feel a sense of accomplishment and a permission to try new things and experiment with how I teach, which is fun.

To search for national board-certified teachers by district, or for more details about the National Board certification process, visit the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ website at

For more information:

NBCTs by district

About NBCT – Washington OSPI information

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