Not Your Standard Feedback: Students Weigh in on National Board Standards for Teachers

by | Oct 8, 2018

Suzanne Farmer
National Board-Certified Teacher, Danville Independent Schools and
Former Director of the Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching

The National Board Standards are created by and for teachers as models of what accomplished teachers should be doing in their classrooms. When a teacher wants to become Nationally Board Certified, they must demonstrate how they are meeting these standards and how they are improving their classroom and teaching because of them. The same standards can be used to facilitate the professional learning of educators whether or not they are eligible for certification, choose to certify, or are already certified.

The Student Agency Standards Study was the last of the standard studies created. Student agency is embedded throughout all of the National Board Standards as the true measure of accomplished teaching; it’s why we teach. After developing the other standard studies, it felt necessary to spotlight student agency as a study to make sure that it received the attention it deserves.

As National Board Certified Teachers, our team sought out the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, a group supporting students as education research, policy, and advocacy partners, as experts in student agency to help determine what should be included and how to support facilitation. Our collaboration resulted in far more. The Student Voice Team provided sophisticated insights that impacted the facilitation of all of the standard studies, strategy for future standard revisions, and partnerships in advocating for student agency. Through our collaboration, we hope that more educators collaborate with students as educational partners and empower them to be agents of change in the world around them.

Stephanie Yang

I believe that any standards should be used as a guideline, not as a hard rule. Every student and class is different, and I am happy that the national board standards seem to reflect that.

The document we read mentions throughout that teachers should observe how students respond to various activities and should seek input from students to see how they can customize instruction to teach in the most effective manner. This approach is a strong improvement from the traditional classroom, as it shows that teachers can learn from the students just as the students learn from them.

There is a push for students to develop autonomy in their thinking and advocate for themselves, which is conducive for more teacher-student and peer collaboration. That said, some sections are weaker than others.

Music in particular is a somewhat weak standard, which stands out because the Art standard reflects the importance of student voice particularly well. For example, in choosing instructional resources, the standard advises: “Accomplished music teachers are adept at selecting high-quality materials that help meet their instructional goals.” This could be improved by encouraging teachers to consult with student on the pieces that they choose. In contrast, the Art standard reflects the idea that students are unique through the sentence “Teachers are aware that art is experienced in many different ways by individuals who come to a work of art with their own tastes, preferences, and understandings.” This is by far my favorite quote because I believe it applies to not only Art, but every other subject as well. All students come into education with their own tastes, preferences and understanding.

I hope the National Board will be stronger with integrating the message of collaboration that the standards imply, but I like the direction in which these standards are heading! Effective teaching and learning involves a co-creation between students and teachers. When students are supported to advocate for themselves to share these preferences and understanding, that is where the best learning can occur.

Sofie Farmer

I recently had the opportunity to review the student agency standard study of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. When I started reading, I was blown away by how intentionally the Standards include student voice. Every section was careful to acknowledge students as whole beings with valuable opinions and feedback that can help teachers improve. Naturally, I began to think of my own experience within the classroom. One of my math teachers had us give feedback after every lesson in a way that all students, even students that would not normally share their voice, could do so comfortably.

One of my favorite sections was for Exceptional Needs Specialists. This section did a wonderful job of addressing student agency right from the very beginning. It encourages teachers to “cultivate a sense of efficacy in their students” in the first sentence. The Exceptional Needs Specialist standards also include students actively involved in planning their education; this is key to student agency and allows students to ensure they are being properly challenged by their classes and take charge of their future. It is also full of examples that show how student agency can be implemented in the classroom, like involving students in setting rules and norms.

By providing feedback and reading the feedback from my other project team members, I have realized that my biggest issue is consistency. As a student, I want to know that using my voice and ability to take charge of my education is constantly wanted, encouraged, and acceptable in all school settings and with all teachers, not a select few.

I want educators to use these standards to improve student voice and agency within their classroom, school, and community. This standard study can be used as a model for implementing student agency in ways that allow students to have control over their education. I really appreciate the opportunity NBPTS has given me to help improve this standard study and hope all educators can see ways to bring student agency into their classroom.

Sadie Bograd

The national standards project has given me a real opportunity to effect change within the classroom environment. As teachers use the board standards as models for best education practices, I hope that active and engaged educators will be willing to alter their own teaching methods so as to be more receptive to students’ needs and open to letting students be their own advocates and partners in learning.

           As a student, I was hyper aware of references throughout the document to student voice and engagement within the classroom and appreciated the opportunity to add my own contributions and perspective to such an important and far-reaching product. I was glad to see education portrayed not as passive or purely didactic, but rather as multi-dimensional, an involved process with feedback going from both teacher to student and student to teacher. Especially in fields not traditionally seen as conducive to student voice, such as math or music, it was heartening and inspiring to be able to add my suggestions and facilitate the inclusion of student voice as an integral part of good teaching.

Gabriella Staykova

When the National Board invited me to review their Student Agency Standards, I was pleasantly surprised by the many freedoms outlined in the document. Student voice shines through in every section, with the Board encouraging teachers to view students as partners in their own education. Students are finally allowed to guide their academic futures rather than forced to stand to the side.

With my feedback, I hope the Board continues to promote inclusivity in classrooms. The standards already state that successful teachers “seek opportunities to provide forums where experiences can be shared and mutual understandings…can be deepened,” but students may not always feel welcomed in the classroom. Including channels of communication for all students to express discomfort, rather than just those who speak up, gives students a greater feeling of safety and respect in the classroom, one which the Board will hopefully incorporate into their standards.

If teachers take these standards to heart, they can use them as examples to create an open classroom where education moves beyond the basic curriculum to become personally and culturally enriching. Teachers could use current local, national, and international news as examples and opportunities for discussion or share cultural resources with each other to provide a more in-depth and human look at the issues being taught.

The National Board’s introduction of student voice was stronger than I could have imagined, with decision-making power granted to students at every step. I look forward to seeing the growth of this strong framework and hope that this project will continue to influence educators and empower students.


Group Feedback

As a whole, the document does a fantastic job at implementing student voice and agency and is very intentional when doing so. There are definitely sections that do a much better job. As Lydia Burns pointed out, one issue with the document is the lack of consistency between sections. Several sections like Exceptional Needs Specialist, Science, and Literacy are very well written and are terrific examples of student agency within the classroom to not only National Board Certified Teachers, but also teachers of all subject areas and experience levels. While other sections like Library Media Specialist, Music, and Mathematics were found to be weaker with fewer instances of student agency.

Several of the critiques made are solved by reading the Knowledge of Students Standards section before reading the Student Agency and Voice Standards. For example, Gabriella Staykova points out building relationships with students in the School Counseling section, which is addressed in the Knowledge of Students Standards set.

The language used within the document elevated students and even referred to students as “collaborators” and “partners” in education and the classroom which is very exciting and should be used more often.

One issue to note is that all students from Early Childhood up are capable of creating classroom norms and should be included and deciding most of the norms set. Sadie Bograd pointed out how in the Mathematics section it did not have middle schoolers making norms, which they are completely capable of doing.

The document stresses getting feedback from students but did not mention getting feedback from students that will not be willing to share in a more formal setting like an end of the year review. Having teachers always open to feedback and presenting both formal and informal ways in getting such feedback can fix this problem and ensure that teachers are constantly getting valuable feedback from all students, not just the ones that are willing to be more vocal.

Overall, this document was fantastic and had many examples of student agency. We would like to see this document used as a tool for all teachers, not just board certified ones; model for classrooms and teaching; and not viewed as an unreachable goal and ideals, but as something all educators can strive to achieve and implement standards as they can.

Lydia Burns, undergrad, University of Louisville
Sofie Farmer, sophomore, Danville
Gabriella Staykova, sophomore, Lexington
Sadie Bograd, sophomore, Lexington
Stephanie Yang, senior, Lexington
Rachel Bradley, senior, Louisville



Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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