As she began teaching a lesson about the digestive system, Dillon Valley Elementary teacher Jill Brickson had more than just a classroom of energetic fifth-graders to worry about; a camera in the corner was filming the class as part of her submission to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
In the video, one student, Hannah, explains how a mouth without saliva is, “like being on a water slide, if the water slide isn’t wet, and you’re not wet, you’re going to stick just like food” and the classroom erupts into laughter. Brickson said she loved that she and her students were caught on film having fun as they learned. The review board gave that film segment and portfolio entry her highest score, awarding Brickson National Board Certification on Nov. 23, 2013.
“Making connections with my students on a personal level, knowing exactly what they need as individuals and knowing exactly how far to push them so they give their 110 percent, these are my goals each day I walk in the classroom,” she said.
The National Board Certification is a rigorous, peer-reviewed process, which ensures Board-certified teachers have proven skills to advance student achievement. National Board Certification is an advanced teaching credential and as part of this process, teachers must analyze their teaching context and students’ needs, submit videos of their teaching and provide student work samples that demonstrate growth and achievement.
Brickson, born in Montrose, has been teaching since 2001 and living in Summit County since shortly after that. She graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, majoring in Education and Spanish. Her husband, Ryan Mihm, also is a teacher at Summit Middle School. She began thinking about certification almost three years ago, knowing the pass rate on the first attempt was only about 38 percent and the process would last two to three years.
“My husband and I spent a year teaching in Spain and it was that experience that opened my eyes to some professional holes I had,” she said. “I reached a point in my teaching career where I was ready to take my instruction to the next level.”
Brickson began the process in October, finishing her portfolio and entries, including the exam, last May. She waited six months until finally hearing the results in November. Throughout the process, she spent many Saturday mornings at the rec center, not working out, but writing portfolio entries.
“I drank a lot of coffee through the process,” she said. “Missed a few dates with my husband, stayed up late, edited my portfolio entries until I was cross-eyed, laughed a lot with my students when we were filming.”
Along the way, Brickson was mentored by other Summit School District teachers who had achieved National Board Certification before: Hollyanna Bates, Chris Hall and Leslie Davison, as well as Vicki Baumgartner, one of the first NBPTS-certified teachers in the nation, and the first in Summit. Brickson said the certification has a direct impact on student learning, and provided her with a constant, reflective process of her own teaching. She said it wasn’t only a professional or academic goal, but a personal one as well.
“I never want to stop learning how I can be a better teacher or a better person,” she said. “I feel the profession of education is no different than any other in the sense that it is dynamic, and changes as we change. I appreciate that although I’m finished with the product, the process is continuing. I still lay awake at night and wonder what I could have done better in the classroom or with a particular student, I really believe all teachers do this. It’s part of who we are. I hope we never stop.”