Just as there is an important distinction between being someone with an accounting degree and being a Certified Public Accountant, there are critical differences between someone who has been given a state license to supervise a classroom, and a teacher who has demonstrated highly accomplished practice in a specific area.
The Mission of NBPTS is to advance student learning and achievement by establishing the definitive standards and systems for certifying accomplished educators, providing programs, and advocating policies that support excellence in teaching and leading, and engaging National Board certified teachers and leaders in that process. –National Board of Professional Teaching Standards
In preparation for a major event, most athletes, artists, or similar professionals have certain warm-up routines or even rituals that they use to ensure optimum performance. As I get ready for a new school year, a few important things have become part of my professional warm-up; one of those is reviewing the National Board Standards for teaching English.
Over the past 25 years, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has developed for almost every subject area and grade level, what it means to be a highly accomplished teacher. NBPTS believes, “higher standards for teachers means better learning for students.” Unlike so many other aspects of education in the U.S., National Board standards are developed by teachers for teachers. In fact, the entire development process, including ongoing review and assessment, is controlled by teachers; and today, the majority of those teachers are themselves NBCTs. [Sixteen of the current 28 members of the Board of Directors are NBCTs; 7 of the 9 member Certification Council—including both co-chairs are NBCTs; 10 of the 19 top-management positions on the NBPTS staff are held by NBCTs, including that of Executive Vice President-now Interim CEO]
This has been no minor accomplishment, and it’s one that everyone interested in education should examine more closely. Built on the foundation of the Five Core Propositions, each set of standards goes through an intensive process of debate, scrutiny, and revision led by actual teachers in the field, along with other experts, before they are adopted for use in National Board Certification. The Standards for each certificate area “describe what teachers should know and be able to do;…they reflect the current professional consensus about the essential aspects of accomplished practice.” I just saw another amazing example of this process as the standards review committee for Career and Technical Education (see photo) finished revising their standards document successfully covering a wide range of fields and grade levels.
At the start of each school year since I earned Certification, I take time to remind myself what it means to be a highly accomplished teacher, and what that means for the students I serve. This is serious reading; the current edition of the English Language Arts Standards is 124 richly packed pages, so I’ll only highlight it here. Although not presented in a priority order, it is significant to me that the very first standard is Knowledge of Students. “Accomplished teachers …use their understanding [of students] to challenge students’ thinking and inspire them to try things they might not have attempted on their own.” (27). I change classes each semester, so I have only a little time to get to know students and accomplish our mutual classroom goals. Reviewing this standard, I consider what I’m doing to really get to know my students’ true talents, strengths, and interests and whether I’m effectively using that knowledge to maximize their learning.
Likewise, I critique my past year’s practice against the Standard on Fairness, Equity, and Diversity. I reconsider whether I’m providing enough opportunities for students to make meaningful, thoughtful choices. Am I modeling how to progress as a reader through particularly challenging texts? Am I creating enough opportunities for development of speaking and listening skills? A review of the ELA Assessment standard sends me to my collection of last year’s student portfolios, which include their final essays and course evaluations, to determine what instructional changes are need, and look for new examples of student and professional work to use as examples for the coming year.
Just as there is an important distinction between being someone with an accounting degree and being a Certified Public Accountant, there are critical differences between someone who has been given a state license to supervise a classroom and a teacher who has demonstrated highly accomplished practice in a specific area. National Board standards give us objective targets against which to measure our work with students, their families, and our colleagues. Good teachers place clear and rigorous learning outcomes before students to help them set high expectations for their academic performance. It is equally beneficial for us to use National Board Standards as high bars for our own teaching performance.