Reflection most helpful in National Board process

Christi Nickels, center, a second-grade teacher and grade-level lead at Cavazos Elementary School, recently celebrated achieving National Board certification. At the far left is Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri and at the right is Cavazos Principal Beatrice Martinez. (Courtesy Photo)

Being a self-described classic overachiever, it’s no surprise that Cavazos Elementary School second-grade teacher Christi Nickels has achieved National Board Certification.

Nickels, who also is grade-level lead, taught kindergarten for three years in Monahans and then came to Ector County ISD. She is a lifelong learner in her fourth year as a member of the district’s Techy Tribe, which trains teachers on digital tools, and has taken many courses and classes for professional development.

She grew up in Monahans and moved to Red Oak her senior year of high school. She moved back to Monahans after finishing her graduate degree at University of Texas Arlington where she took a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English.

Nickels went back to school as a non-traditional student. Her son was about 10. She wound up teaching a few years later.

“I really enjoy going to school. Even when I was little, I loved school. I loved learning new things. I think that having gone back and gotten my degrees at a later age kind of set me up for a little bit more success. With (the) additional opportunities that the district gives us with the courses through UTeach and with National Board I still have that mindset of being able to discipline myself and do the work. I think the English degrees help because the writing components of National Board (are) huge. There is so much writing, so I think my degrees really helped” because English degrees are all writing, Nickels said.

With her master’s degree, she would write papers of anywhere from 15 to 30 pages, so it wasn’t scary for her to write a lot.

What Nickels said she enjoyed most about the National Board process was getting to focus on it with her students and for them to set their own goals. Her certification process took two years and she feels it helped her become a better teacher.

She cried when she found out she got certified.

“They give you the date when scores release and everybody knows that you can start checking the night before and there’s going to be emails and all this kind of stuff, so I had it on my candidate dashboard and I was refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing. All of a sudden, the little fireworks image popped up and I started sobbing. I was like oh my God; I did it; I did it; I did it. I started texting my parents and my friends. It was really exciting and it was a relief. It was such a huge relief because I knew I was going to have to do something; that I hadn’t quite scored high enough. But I managed to pull it off. I was very proud of myself,” Nickels said.

She noted that the district and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University provided support.

“We were able to join in on the Zoom meetings that they do from Stanford … so there were people from all over the country in those. They would split us out into breakout groups based on our certificate area. We had peers that were working on the same things that we could talk to” if they were having trouble with something, Nickels said.

They could also share what they had written and get feedback.

“Those Zoom meetings were really very valuable. We had access to the facilitators from National Board who know what the assessors look for and can give really good advice and guide you in the right direction,” Nickels said.

She added that she would encourage other teachers to try the certification process, even if it is scary.

“It’s terrifying, but it’s so worth it. Even if you don’t certify right away, it’s really worth it just for what you learn about yourself and how much better it can make your teaching because you just get so much better,” Nickels said.

She added that she now brings reflection to the classroom.

“If one of my kids is struggling with something, I can take myself out and say OK I did it this way. What can I do differently? What does this kid need from me? Can I work with him in a small group? Will that help him? Will it be better for me to try and get some one-on-one time with him, maybe for him to show his learning in a different way. What is something that I can do to help that student?”

“It’s just a lot of that reflection. It shows up in ways that you don’t expect. It kind of becomes second nature. You become more attuned to the different things that you can try with your students and the different ways that you can help them succeed,” Nickels added.

Beatrice Martinez is thrilled with Nickels’ achievement and said it will greatly benefit students at Cavazos.

“National Board Certification for teachers is a prestigious and rigorous process that significantly benefits students and the overall education system. Teachers who attain this certification have demonstrated a deep commitment to their profession, undergoing a comprehensive evaluation of their teaching practices, knowledge, and impact on student learning. The certification process requires educators to reflect on their teaching methods, set high standards for themselves, and continually strive for improvement. As a result, Cavazos 2nd grade students taught by Ms. Christi Nickels, National Board Certified teacher, will experience a more engaging and effective learning environment. Ms. Nickels is equipped with advanced skills, innovative strategies, and a heightened understanding of how to meet the diverse needs of her students, fostering a positive and enriching educational experience,” Martinez said.

“Moreover, the impact of National Board Certification extends beyond individual classrooms. The certification not only elevates the quality of teaching but also promotes a culture of collaboration and professional development among educators.

“Ms. Nickels serves as member of the instructional leadership team and grade level lead currently at Cavazos Elementary and we see her contributions to her grade level and overall school community. Students benefit from a collective expertise that enhances the school’s educational atmosphere and contributes to a broader improvement in educational outcomes for high need student populations such as Economically Disadvantaged students. Therefore, recognizing and supporting teachers like Ms. Christy Nickels, who achieved National Board Certification is essential for fostering excellence in education and ensuring a brighter future for our students and in Ector County,” Martinez added.