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What new CEO of the NBPTS, Ron Thorpe, should know and be able to do

Hey Jose –

As you know, I have been following the NBPTS search for a new CEO as both a disenchanted NBCT and a passionate teacher. A little while ago the new leader was announced. Ron Thorpe, Vice President & Director, Education for WNET public TV in New York, seems to be just the candidate the NBPTS needs to create a new culture for the organization charged with defining, evaluating, and promoting accomplished teaching in America’s schools. Below is my open letter to Ron that describes what I think he might need to know about accomplished teaching and the NBPTS and what I hope he can accomplish during his tenure.

Dear Ron Thorpe

President & CEO

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS),

We know what great teachers do. When we peek into their classrooms, it’s easy to see. They are engaged with students, they know their content, they assess student learning to improve their teaching, they influence their peers in positive ways, and they work collaboratively with other teachers. While easy to recognize, these traits can be difficult to measure. One organization has made significant headway, though: the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

For 25 years, NBPTS has worked to define excellence in teaching. Its mission is “to establish high and rigorous standards for what teachers should know and be able to do, to certify teachers who meet those standards, and to advance other education reforms for the purpose of improving student learning in American schools” (NBPTS, from What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, 1989, p. 1). NBPTS has accomplished the first two goals, having established rigorous standards and developed processes for certifying accomplished practitioners, including a performance-based assessment that is widely accepted as scientifically valid.

But now it’s time for NBPTS to tackle its third goal: “to advance other education reforms for the purpose of improving student learning in American schools.” The organization has raised the profile of accomplished teaching in America—but it represents only a fraction of highly accomplished teachers. It is time to extend that reach and also to advocate for the best hopes of the teaching profession.

The Future of NBPTS

I hope you are a special kind of leader: a “boundary spanner” who is future-oriented and ready to collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders, including NBCTs.

What do I mean by “future-oriented”? TEACHING 2030 outlines a hopeful vision for how schools and the teaching profession can change to better serve all students. Improving student outcomes will require educational leaders to work collaboratively, rely on teachers to apply their expertise locally and nationally, to create a more flexible and vibrant teaching profession. And we call upon everyone—teachers, students, parents, policy makers, and national organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the NBPTS—to take a solutions-focused approach to creating a better future for ALL students and families.

The job description posted by NBPTS stated the organization seeks a “visionary” individual to “take the helm” of the organization. This metaphor reminds me of a sea captain or old-school “captain of industry”—not a team player (and definitely not an accomplished teacher). Doesn’t NBPTS really need a new type of leader, a passionate professional who will take a collaborative approach to improving the culture, reach, and impact of the organization?

A New Type of Leader

The NBPTS holds at the ready what may be the most powerful untapped resource for educational change in our nation: 91,000 accomplished teachers. Ron, I hope you are prepared (and eager) to collaborate with these expert educators in authentic ways. I hope that you, an accomplished executive, are able to recognize the limits your expertise—learning from and leading with accomplished educators who have a deep understanding of teachers and teaching. Here’s a truly radical idea: what if your right hand person was actually a teacherRichard Riley took this approach when he moved from Governor to heading up the U.S. Dept. of Ed. In an interview in July 2011 Riley said,

I never made a major decision in Washington dealing with education without a teacher in the room. Normally that was Dr. Terry Dozier, who was Teacher of the Year in South Carolina and National Teacher of the Year, and had a phenomenal record as a social studies teacher. I enjoyed having people there who disagreed with me. I welcomed that and people knew that.

And the new leader must be able to collaborate effectively with external organizations, too. As NBPTS works to spread the expertise of thousands of NBCTs, organizations like the Center for Teaching Quality could be valuable partners. And of course, developing productive partnerships will be critical to the NBPTS’s financial sustainability. For example, consider the local, state, and national partnerships developed by the National Endowment for the Arts, which have improved the funding structures and impact of the arts by linking local and federal support.

Finally, I hope you are willing to support a flexible teaching profession, encouraging NBCT leaders to advocate for accomplished teaching and the changes necessary to spread our best teachers’ expertise. What if NBPTS worked with local systems to create hybrid roles that let NBCTs continue to teach while also applying their skills and knowledge to schools’ most pressing problems? For example, what if NBPTS helped a terrific teacher to spend part of her day teaching third graders—and part of her day mentoring future NBCTs in a high-poverty, hard-to-staff school?

The key point made in NBPTS’s job description were that the new CEO needs to be visionary: the word “vision” was included three times. I sincerely hope that your “vision” is truly future-oriented. I hope it is not the singular vision of a Captain Ahab type, but a shared vision, incorporating the hopes of thousands of accomplished NBCTs who have the potential to dramatically change the teaching profession.

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