Implications for the profession.
The National Board’s standards and assessment were created by educators and [have been] tested and revised, and the [Board certification] process is performance-based and peer-reviewed. … If educators mapped backward from board certification, embedding the standards and the process, even as they are now, into the steps every teacher takes from preservice on, teaching in general would be stronger, and the profession would have a sturdy base on which its future could be built.
What matters is the continuum and the agreement within the profession that there can be only one. That has been the key to the success of every other profession. It is the underpinning of a profession’s authority, and there is no reason to think teaching will ever achieve the same status without it.3
President and CEO,
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2011–2015
To ensure all students receive an education that prepares them for postsecondary success and life, the teaching profession must be strengthened such that it systematically guarantees high-quality teaching practices. In other professions, such as medicine, engineering, and architecture, board certification has helped to create a culture and expectation of accomplished practice, both within the profession and amongst the public. Professions build this expectation into their preparation and practice development pipelines by design, beginning with a clear vision of what its accomplished practitioners should know and be able to do and then mapping backwards to ensure each new practitioner begins their career knowing what achieving board certification would mean for the level of their practice. Those professions have done what teaching must now do: define and strengthen a coherent continuum to ensure that every teacher in America is on a path to accomplished teaching.
With this continuum in place, Board certification would be the norm, not the exception, and be fully integrated into the fabric of the teaching profession. The Five Core Propositions, as explicated above, would serve as the guiding framework for every teacher’s ongoing development of their practice. This continuum, explicitly and visibly aligned to the Five Core Propositions and National Board Standards, begins in pre-service preparation, proceeds developmentally to and through Board certification and into educational leadership, each step engineered to support teachers working toward more accomplished practice.
A strong pre-service experience builds the content knowledge and teaching skill of entering teachers to a level of beginning proficiency with an eye towards the eventual development of accomplished practice. Preparation of new teachers should require a residency year with a reduced teaching load and intense supervision, enabling the practice-based development of teaching skill. High-quality initial licensure requirements, including teacher performance assessments, would allow aspiring teachers to demonstrate they possess the knowledge and skills required to be effective in a classroom. Throughout the preparation experience, Board certification can serve as a qualification or preference for clinical faculty at teacher preparation programs and cooperating teachers who work with student teachers during their clinical experiences and residency, as it signals a teacher who understands and has incorporated the Five Core Propositions into their practice. If teacher candidates, as they complete their preparation program, study the Five Core Propositions, encounter National Board Standards, and analyze the practices of the Board-certified teachers in schools or through case analysis in ATLAS4, they will begin their careers on a path to develop into accomplished practitioners themselves.
The early years of a teacher’s career should build from their preparation experience, with a robust mentoring and induction program for novice teachers seeking to further new teachers’ efforts to improve their practice, understand the priorities of their school and school system, and build relationships with their colleagues. Through infusing the content of the Five Core Propositions, the National Board Standards, and case analysis of accomplished teaching into induction programs, and by ensuring novice teachers receive mentorship from Board certified practitioners, teachers’ early-career development will be strengthened. This coherence will improve retention of novice teachers, instill in them the practice of continuous reflection, shape the culture and language of professional practice in their schools, and lead them towards accomplished practice and Board certification.
Professional teachers, having demonstrated the knowledge and skills needed to positively impact student learning, benefit from ongoing professional learning and growth. Various systems shape and support them in this endeavor, including state licensure (or certification) systems, local educator evaluation systems, and professional learning opportunities offered through local education agencies and professional associations. Importantly, educators’ needs evolve. Engaging in the same lifelong learning they want their students to embrace, teachers are constantly striving to meet students’ ever-changing needs and to stay current in their field. These experienced teachers can engage more deeply with the Five Core Propositions and National Board Standards to guide their growth as they delve into problems of practice and seek both individual and communal professional learning opportunities. Coaching and support from Board-certified teachers can further help them expand their knowledge and skills. When ready, professional teachers can begin their candidacy for Board certification.
At the heart of the continuum is National Board Certification, a process designed for teachers to demonstrate, through standards-based evidence, the positive impact they have on student learning as a result of their deep and abiding understanding of students, content knowledge, pedagogical practice, ongoing reflection, and participation in learning communities. Under the guidance and mentorship of Board-certified colleagues and with the support of fellow candidates, candidates for Board certification submit evidence that their practice meets the Five Core Propositions and National Board Standards, a body of knowledge that is maintained by teachers. Practicing teachers, through a peer-review process, then assess their submissions. Board certification, as in all other professions, is a hard-earned distinction practitioners bestow on each other.
Today when Board-certified teachers attest to the positive impact the certification process had on their practice, they often remark that the pursuit of Board certification was the most transformative professional learning experience they have ever had. In a profession where Board certification is the norm, however, it would be the natural next step in a career that has been coherently building towards the development and demonstration of accomplished practice since day one. Increasingly, school-based learning communities will support teachers to work together towards accomplished practice and becoming Board-certified. Ultimately, this phase of a teacher’s career is marked by fulfilling a professional responsibility to their students, to themselves, to their colleagues, and to the profession.
Board certification is a foundation through which teacher leadership, in all its many forms, can take hold. At its core, National Board Certification is about demonstrating a teacher’s impact on student learning around a specialized body of content. Once achieved, Board certification serves as a platform for teachers to grow professionally and to become leaders in their schools, districts, states, and the profession. At the school level, teachers can model what the Five Core Propositions look like in action, spreading their knowledge and skills to help develop the next generation of accomplished practitioners. At the district and state level, Board-certified teachers can transform isolated pockets of excellence into system-wide improvement. Board-certified teachers can work to support fellow educators along the continuum, for example by teaching or mentoring in preparation programs, leading induction programs, engaging colleagues in inquiry and study of National Board Standards, or by taking on formalized roles in schools, local or state agencies, or professional associations. They can contribute to the body of knowledge that underlies teaching through research, standards development, and other endeavors that impact the professional practice of all teachers. In the future, Board-certified teachers will fill other roles yet to be created, roles that will emerge as the body of knowledge of accomplished practice upon which the continuum is based becomes more and more visible and Board certification becomes a collectively held expectation.
The work to codify the Five Core Propositions and the National Board Standards and to develop the Board certification process was led by teachers, for teachers. The work to build a continuum in the teaching profession grounded in this body of knowledge will be no different. It will not be easy work and the path to success will not be straightforward. Yet, when it is successful, it will have an immeasurable impact on the learning experiences and outcomes for millions of students. All students—each and every student—will learn from accomplished teachers every day.
Teachers, administrators, and others whose work is designed to support best practice in our schools must seize this moment to rethink every aspect of the trajectory people follow to become accomplished teachers. Getting that path right and making sure all teachers follow it asserts the body of knowledge and skills teachers need and leads to a level of consistent quality that is the hallmark of all true professions. The government cannot do it. Business cannot do it. Only educators can make it happen, and we need to seize the opportunity we have now to do just that.5
3. Thorpe, R. (2014). Sustaining the teaching profession. New England Journal of Public Policy, 26(1), 1–16.
4. ATLAS, which stands for Accomplished Teaching, Learning, and Schools, is an online library of cases showing Board-certified teachers at work with students. Each case contains video of instruction, the teacher’s analytic and reflective analysis of the instruction, and instructional materials used with the students.
5. Thorpe, R. (2014). Sustaining the teaching profession. New England Journal of Public Policy, 26(1), 1–16.