Q&A with Peggy Brookins, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

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The National Board partners with diverse stakeholders, representing educators, administrators, policymakers and advocates, to ensure that many more students in America have the opportunity to learn from accomplished teachers. In this Q&A, Peggy Brookins, President and CEO of the National Board shares updates on the National Board’s work and its impact in the classroom.

You’ve been CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for almost a year now—and you’re the first CEO to be an NBCT! How do you think your experience as an NBCT has shaped how you approach your role and work?

Being a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) has shaped me personally as much as it has shaped my work – both in the classroom and now, at the National Board. I’m more focused on the goals I try to achieve, how I impact those around me and how to adjust my work to achieve those goals.

As the National Board’s president, having the organization’s credential provides me with important credibility. Similarly, my knowledge of our core body of knowledge provides insight and the common vocabulary that strengthens my position working with a range of stakeholders. It’s important to note that I’m just recently out of the classroom, so I can still make important connections back to students, to schools and to districts – more than ever, our work is by teachers, for teachers. My voice as a teacher leader matters.

I want to stress that I represent a staff at the National Board (including 12 NBCTs); together we represent more than 112,000 NBCTs across the country. We work with teachers, administrators, and policy-makers every day. All of our stakeholders have a chance to see our standards in action and they learn that accomplished practice makes a difference for students. I’m proud that I’m the first Board-certified teacher at the helm of this great organization.

What does your organization’s research tell us about a NBCT’s impact on low-income students and students of color? What impact might a group of NBCTs teaching at a single school have on school culture and learning for students?

More than a decade of research from across the country confirms that students taught by Board-certified teachers learn more than students taught by other teachers. Estimates of the increase in learning are on the order of an additional one to two months of instruction. The positive impact of having a Board-certified teacher is even greater for minority and low-income students.

New research from Stanford examined three schools where teams of teachers pursued Board certification. The authors wanted to find out if this professional growth opportunity, undertaken by a cohort of teachers, could help shift culture in schools – where teachers were accustomed to working in isolation. They found that this cohort-based process helped teachers strengthen aspects of their instruction, increased opportunities for teacher learning and laid the foundation for changing the culture at each school.

I’m excited to say that there are currently 90 schools across the country that have more than 5 candidates each. That’s potentially 90 schools in which cohorts can make measurable improvements. We’re very excited about that opportunity!

You recently wrote about the National Board’s focus on making Board Certification more accessible to teachers of color. The NBPTS is currently working on a redesign of the certification process. How will the redesign make certification accessible to more teachers, and specifically, to more diverse teachers? How will higher standards and use of data be incorporated into the redesign?

We want all teachers across the country to know what Board certification is and why the process could benefit them and their students. Learning the standards of what teachers should know and be able to do can have an immediate impact on one’s teaching practice. The National Board recently redesigned the process of earning Board certification but it’s important to know that the standards themselves didn’t change – our existing high standards were built into the redesign.

The redesign provides greater flexibility. Rather than requiring teachers to complete their work in a single year, teachers now have three years in which to complete the four components of Board certification. This opens the doors to many teachers – and even more so to minority teachers.

The question of access to more diverse teachers is important. I believe strongly that students need role models; they need to see themselves in their teachers; they need to see what they can achieve; and they need to see mentors who set high expectations and have themselves achieved. Mostly, they need to see their own future. All students need teachers to understand their unique experiences. Teachers with diverse backgrounds bring unique perspectives and opportunities for students, and this diversity is important, given the incredible diversity we see in the student population across our country.

When it comes to Board certification, it’s part of our responsibility to open doors to all teachers because this is inarguably in the best interest of all students.

You’ve been a math teacher for many years. How can we encourage more—and more diverse—students to get interested in math and other STEM subjects?

We have a Board member, Mae Jemison, who is an astronaut and a STEM pioneer. I vividly remember hearing her tell an audience that, “teaching is not rocket science. I know rocket science and teaching is harder.”

I taught in a STEM-focused school for 37 years and I understand students’ struggles. I worked hard to make difficult concepts in math tangible, applicable to their lives and fun. Those students who thought they could never become engineers would reply to my encouragement by telling me, “You think we can do anything.” On that point, they were right.

Students say that learning has to be fun. That means it has to be engaging, meaningful and relevant. One of the things my students loved was that I would get my hands dirty. I didn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I had fun every day. I didn’t belittle them. I treated them like young adults. I was happy to be there and they were happy. In turn, they learned in my class.

I believe that boys and girls, students of color and any background can develop STEM skills. High-quality teachers holding students to high standards – that’s the key.

Learn more about the work of the National Board.