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Creating a Coherent Trajectory to Accomplished Teaching

National-Board-certified teachers often tell me that videotaping themselves and writing the reflective paper were the most powerful parts of the certification process. Exhausting, terrifying ... Yes! ... but also exhilarating and informative. The other word that comes up a lot is "transformative." When I ask them when it was that they first videotaped themselves, the answer is usually: "When I sat for the national boards."


Ronald Thorpe
That's not the way it should be. Attempting board certification shouldn't be the first time a teacher has the opportunity to reflect on his or her practice in this way—it should be the 10th or 15th time. In fact, the process of board certification should be the natural culmination of a long period of preparation designed to move teachers toward accomplished practice.


Every other profession clearly articulates what it means to be an accomplished practitioner and then builds a coherent pathway leading there. This trajectory starts with Day 1 in preservice and continues through the induction and novice phases. All of these steps are part of "preparation." In medicine, every aspiring physician goes through a carefully monitored residency that lasts three to seven years depending on the specialty, and that's on top of eight years of college and medical school. It is part of their "preparation" to practice.

Teaching took the first step toward creating such a pathway in 1987 with the founding of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. A large group of educators spent more than six years establishing the standards of accomplished practice and the process by which practitioners demonstrate they meet those standards. What should have come next was the backward mapping of those standards to preservice, induction, and the novice phases of teaching. While there are a few institutions of higher education that have built their programs around national board standards—Stanford, Eastern New Mexico, and Union Graduate School are good examples—for the most part teacher-prep programs in colleges and universities have paid little attention to the standards. Schools and districts also have ignored them. Even states haven't done much to align licensing—both initial and advanced—with national board standards, as they have with medicine and other professions.

The profession of teaching will not succeed until it agrees that such a path must exist and must be traveled by everyone. Board certification needs to become the norm, not the exception. It should be what every practitioner aspires to and what the profession expects and supports. Every other profession has followed this model. In medicine, more than 90 percent of physicians are board certified. In education, the number is less than 3 percent.

Professions build the public trust and eventually their own status through the consistency of skills and knowledge found throughout those who represent the profession. All of that begins with preparation that is designed to move people toward being accomplished.

Ronald Thorpe is the president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, based in Arlington, Va. Follow the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards on Twitter at @NBPTS.

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