I Think We Won: Revising What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do

January 9, 2017

Recently re-released, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do articulates the National Board’s Five Core Propositions for teaching. Similar to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, the Five Core Propositions are held in common by teachers of all grade levels and disciplines and underscore the accomplished teacher’s commitment to advancing student learning and achievement. This blog focuses on core proposition 3 that states, “Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.”

Administer. Dominate. Govern. Supervise.

To oversee, supervise, or regulate. To watch closely for purposes of control, surveillance, etc.; keep track of; check continually.

As an English teacher and literacy educator, I am constantly reminded of how much words matter. They can lift people up. They can push people down. They can be precise. They can be nuanced. They can remain static. They can evolve over time. And for all these reasons, and likely more, throughout the process of revising What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, Core Proposition Three prompted days of heated discussion.

When I was asked to return to the National Board fold in the summer of 2015 to collaborate on the revision of what was affectionately known as “The What Book,” I understood that a great mantle of responsibility had been placed on my shoulders. This book is one of the most sacred documents of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Since its inception in 1989, it has guided teachers from all disciplines, across all grade levels, in a concerted effort to ensure that our nation’s children receive instruction that positively impacts student learning and to elevate teachers as professionals who have the capacity to take charge of the profession. As I reread each of the Five Core Propositions, I was struck by the vision of the original authors. So much of what was written more than 25 years ago still resonated with me. Yet each time I came to Core Proposition 3, I found myself stumbling over its title because in today’s educational—and cultural—climate, the words manage and monitor often mean something slightly different than was originally intended.

If you look up both words in a dictionary or thesaurus, as I did, you will discover that the words I used to begin this piece are embedded among the potential definitions of manage and monitor. Given that many teachers feel that individuals and organizations outside their local contexts often dominate, govern and control the decisions that are currently being made in the field of education, it is no wonder that I—and others on our committee—was not entirely comfortable using these words to describe teachers’ interactions with students. It is no wonder that hours of our time together were dominated by the nuances suggested by these words. It is no wonder that we explored the notion of changing the name of Core Proposition 3 altogether.

And yet, those words remain an integral part of this document. Given that reality, one might assume that I lost that argument. I suppose, in the most literal sense, I did. But that is the beauty and strength of the National Board. Through thoughtful conversation with a room of phenomenal educators, what I really lost was the cynical meaning of the words. Because, you see, if you look closer at manage, you will also find the words advocate, counsel and steer. If you think of monitor as a noun, you discover teachers can be advisers, listeners and guides. These are words I CAN get behind.

As Lee Shulman described in the preface to the revised edition, the National Board is the result of a dream that became an invented reality. It is the result of visionaries who had the “audacity and courage” to professionalize the field. And while the dictionary demonstrates that we do not need to invent new meanings for the words manage and monitor, we just might need to have the audacity and courage to demand WHICH definition is privileged when we think of teachers. I think our committee did. As I reflect upon this proposition, I am proud to point to accomplished teachers who advocate for the necessity of identifying and implementing multiple methods to meet both instructional goals and the needs of their students. I am proud to point to accomplished teachers who counsel learners in multiple settings and groupings. I am proud to point to accomplished teachers who steer lessons in ways that garner student engagement. I am proud to point to accomplished teachers who are advisers and listeners when considering student progress. And I am proud to point to accomplished teachers who are guides for students in the learning process. I think we won.

Robyn Seglem, NBCT

Dr. Robyn Seglem is an Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University where she teaches literacy and language arts methods courses to secondary and middle-level preservice teachers from 20 content areas, as well as graduate level literacy and educational technology courses. She has served as a co-director of the Flint Hills Writing Project, an affiliate with the National Writing Project, and is a National Board Certified Teacher. Robyn has enjoyed working with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards on several projects, including collaborating with a team of ELA educators to revise and update the standards for English and Language Arts and co-chairing the committee responsible for updating “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do.” She taught for nine years in the middle school and high school language arts classroom.