In 2011 I wrote an open letter to the new president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the late Ron Thorpe. The title of the post was, “What new CEO of the NBPTS, Ron Thorpe, should know and be able to do.” The title of this post is a reference to the key phrase that has been used to elevate the teaching profession through NBPTS. It was also a slight poke because I had hoped NBPTS would select a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) for the position. They didn’t but through this letter I hoped to communicate my personal feelings about the power of the NBCT process and the weight of the position as a leader of leaders to the incoming CEO. I didn’t expect him to reply to me but, when he did I knew he was the right person for the job.
Fast forward 5 years and sadly, Ron Thorpe passed away last summer. In the five years of his leadership the NBPTS began to emerge from the accrediting bureaucracy it was before his tenure into a vital voice in our nation’s educational debate. It has worked to elevate the profession by making inroads into federal policy, partnered with the NEA and UFT on teacher leadership initiatives, and it has activated NBCTs across the country as ambassadors for leadership roles in NBCT networks. It has begun to live up to its goal “to advance other education reforms for the purpose of improving student learning in American schools.” In 2011 I wrote,
The NBPTS holds at the ready what may be the most powerful untapped resource for educational change in our nation: 91,000 accomplished teachers (112,200 in 2016). 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 of 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 teacher?
And that’s what Ron did. I don’t claim I had any influence but I can say that his decision to increase the number of NBCTs in the NBPTS office and tapping Peggy Brookins to be his Executive Vice President in 2014 shows his faith in teachers and his tenacity as a leader.
The good news is that on November 9, 2015 the NBPTS has finally, after more than 25 years as an institution, named Peggy Brookins, NBCT, as President and CEO, to fill the vibrant and expansive leadership role left by Ron Thorpe.
There couldn’t have been a better choice. I’ve often felt that every organization reflects the personality, drive, and values of its leader. I found this to be true at the Teaching & Learning 2016 conference. In the past the conference was big. Really big. Held at the Washington Conference center Ron Thorpe used his many connections in the entertainment industry to put on a spectacle of a conference. International music performers, rock star researchers, policymakers, and enough conference sessions to make your head spin. All of this seemed to overwhelm many of the primary attendees, NBCTs who are looking for ways to lead. As I noted in my reflection on 2014’s conference, teachers want to learn from teachers, there weren’t very many sessions aimed at this meeting this goal.
This year’s affair was very different.
This past weekend I moderated a panel on brain science and accomplished early childhood teaching. The panelists included Ellen Galinsky, Steven Hicks, and Jonathan Gillentine. The session went well, drawing over 70 participants in a small room at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington D.C. instead of the Washington Convention Center. There seemed to be as many teacher leadership sessions as research and policy sessions this year which was inspiring. I am still hoping that the next conference will include a slate of peer reviewed sessions to highlight the work that is being done by NBCTs across the country — so that they can share their transformative expertise as teacher leaders. This step would also spread groundwork of the conference among teacher leaders while enhancing ownership of the conference and the profession.
The entire conference felt much warmer, teacher friendly, and balanced. It still had entertainers, rock star researchers, and plenty of policy leaders, just less of them. I heard one participant remark that this year’s conference felt more like a family reunion. It also seemed to have an extremely focused agenda, one that left little to the imagination to figure it out. There was a focus on what teachers know to be true about accomplished teaching, including the need to be culturally competent, emotionally intelligent, and active in leading beyond our classrooms. One of the recent partnerships Brookins has fostered is the Carnegie Teacher Fellows. She welcomed to the stage, several times during the conference, 50 male teachers of color, including my friend and hero, Jose Vilson. The goal of the initiative is to increase the number of African American males in the profession and to support their becoming National Board Certified Teachers. This proactive and public approach to addressing a critical need for teachers of color in our profession is just one example of the types of leadership I look forward to seeing from the NBPTS.
The most important experience I had this weekend was when I had the privilege to meet Peggy Brookins. We talked for a few minutes and I felt a deep connection to the way she led. It was like talking with one of my best teachers from high school. She is like the teachers I remember that helped me to reach beyond what I saw as my limits. I felt valued, mentored, and lifted up simultaneously. I could tell she expected great things from me, and from herself. She was sincere, grounded, and exceptionally hopeful. She told me a story of how her dear friend Ron Thorpe expressed that he thought that the next CEO should be a an NBCT, and a woman. I am just glad it is her because if she runs the NBPTS like she ran this conference we might achieve more than we thought we could by focusing on what we know and are able to do as a profession.