Many Horses: A Personal Experience with National Board Certification and Creative Thinking

Article excerpt

Horses of varying conformations and colors step across our view in a display of energy and forward motion in Rosa Bonheur's 1855 painting, The Horse Fair. The painting is a metaphor for my experience with National Board Certification. The process led me to critique and display my teaching practice, to generate multiple solutions as varied as Bonheur's horses, and to move my professional development forward.

In 1994, the first 81 teachers completed the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification process. The National Board was created in response to the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, which gave a grim prognosis for the American education system. The report spurred the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy to create the Task Force on Teaching as a Profession in 1986. This task force was made up of five educators, four business leaders, two scientists, and two lawmakers. In 1987, the task force released their report, A Nation Prepared: Teacher's for the 21st Century. This report outlined a plan aimed at retaining and rewarding accomplished teachers through a system of advanced certification. The task force called on the teaching profession to set the standards and award certification for teachers who met those standards. The group that was assembled to meet this challenge, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, describes itself as an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan and non-government organization.1

National Board Certification is intended to indicate that "a teacher is judged by his or her peers as one who is accomplished, makes sound professional judgments about students' best interests, and acts effectively on those judgments" (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website, 2003). Because the National Board Certification process is based on standards, some educators fear it will lead to conformity and standardization in teaching (Martusewicz & Reynolds, 1994, p. 231). In 1999, as the first Georgia art teacher to achieve National Board Certification, I found the opposite to be true. For me, the process fostered divergent thinking and opened the door to more creative teaching.

The standards for National Board Certification aim to "identify the specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions that support accomplished practice, while emphasizing the holistic nature of teaching; show how a teacher's professional judgment is reflected in observable actions; and describe how the standards come to life in different settings" (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website, 2003). These standards represent the work of many contributors. The standards were drafted and are periodically updated by a committee of 15 members, most of whom are actively engaged in teaching students in their field.2 The NBPTS selects committee members from a nationwide search to represent a diversity of perspectives (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards website, 2003). Standards for a field are developed over 12-18 months. After the committee approves the draft, it is published and made available on the Web for public comment for 8 weeks. Following the public comment period, the committee meets to review the comments and make further revisions. Next, teachers who volunteer to complete the portfolio as a pilot project test the draft. Final revisions are then made.

Standards and Criteria

As more emphasis is placed on standards, some educators worry that originality, imagination, and teacherstudent relationships will be crowded out of the school day. Education writer Susan Ohanian (1999) is critical of the standards movement, citing how it limits human individuality and its forced uniformity. She points out that standards proponents-"standardistes"-allow for no flexibility in teaching; no tailoring of the curriculum for the unique student. "Standardistes don't offer a rich garden of delight; instead they want us to cut down the meddlesome Spanish moss of curriculum, replacing it with astroturf, which knows how to keep its place" (Ohanian, 1999, p. …