Silver Creek teacher earns national distinction

Sharing the love of learning

In a hands-on lesson about self control, Berry’s students were challenged not to pop any of the bubbles floating around them.

SILVER CREEK — Elementary school teacher Melissa Berry began the new year with the most respected professional certification in K-12 education: her National Board Certification. In December, Berry was one of 98 teachers across the state to earn National Board Certification, and she is one of just 10 teachers in northern Chautauqua County and 2,016 in the state to have this distinction.

In a press release from the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union announcing the NBTC Class of 2018, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said, “As New York faces a looming teacher shortage, we — as a society — must change the way we look at the teaching profession. Just as we celebrate athletes and artistic performances with awards, we should do the same for highly accomplished classroom teachers who do the most important job on earth — educate our state’s children.”

While the certification is certainly an honor in and of itself, for Berry, it is the cherry on top of an already rewarding teaching career at Silver Creek Central School.

This year marks Berry’s eighth year at the district, and she currently teaches first grade. Prior to teaching first grade, Berry taught kindergarten for five years and reading for one year at SCCS. She received her bachelor of science degree in education from SUNY Fredonia and her master’s degree in literacy instruction from Niagara University.

“I have always known I wanted to be a teacher,” Berry reflected. “I would attribute it to the influence of the many wonderful teachers I had growing up; they instilled a passion of becoming a lifelong learner.”

Melissa Berry is pictured here with her first grade students.

Berry’s goal is to share that love of learning with her students and be the positive influence her teachers were on her. “An article mentioned how we do not remember famous actors or athletes from our childhood,” Berry pointed out, “yet we remember our teachers. I believe teachers make such an impact on their students’ lives.”

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was formed in 1987 by teachers just like Berry: dedicated to their profession and committed to bringing their students the highest standard of teaching. The board was formed in response to a landmark 1983 publication from the National Commission on Excellence in Education entitled “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform.”

For more than 30 years, the board has provided American educators the opportunity to hone their craft and rise to the challenge of demonstrating the board’s Five Core Propositions for teaching. The propositions, which the Board compares to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, include the following:

¯ Proposition 1: Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

¯ Proposition 2: Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

¯ Proposition 3: Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.

¯ Proposition 4: Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

¯ Proposition 5: Teachers are members of learning communities.

The process of earning National Board Certification involves teachers demonstrating how these propositions are at work in their classrooms and how their students benefit from them. The board defines what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do in 25 certificate areas, and they represent 16 different subject areas and four developmental levels.

In August 2017, Berry made the shift from teaching kindergarten to first grade. “I thought, if I’m already going through the work of changing curriculum, why not go for my National Board Certification, too?” she laughed. That month, Berry began the challenging process of applying for the certification, a goal she has had in mind since she was an undergraduate student, but one that required her to be a tenured teacher. Fortunately, Berry’s colleague, kindergarten teacher Shannon Matson, completed the process of achieving her National Board Certification in 2015 and was a great resource to Berry as she pursued hers.

Berry explained, “The certification consists of four rigorous components: a content knowledge exam, demonstrating the ability to differentiate literacy instruction, two videos that show teaching various approaches to learning and the classroom environment, and demonstrating an ability to be effective and reflective through both student and professional growth.”

While pursuing her certification, Berry taught a unit on the local community and had students create their own mock community using milk cartons for houses and naming their streets. A lesson in citizenship, the project provided students with a greater awareness of how their local community works: “They role-played scenarios that could arise in communities and then worked with one another on how to solve them,” Berry said.

“I try to make my classroom as hands-on and engaging as possible,” she added. To that end, Berry taught a buoyancy unit that involved students creating boats out of aluminum foil and using pennies to test their ability to float, all while continually altering and re-testing their boats. “What I loved about these units is that students were engaged and took ownership over their learning,” she said.

Berry is a fine example of collaboration and teamwork for her students. Earlier this school year, she worked with another first grade teacher to create and teach a unit on New York state. Berry said, “The kids learned so many new and interesting facts about New York, and they enjoyed participating in a feast of New York foods.”

Berry submitted all of her materials for evaluation in May 2018 and then waited over six months to hear the results. “It’s a one-time shot,” she explained, “and you don’t get feedback along the way. If there is a component that needs to be re-done after everything is submitted, the feedback they give you is very vague.” Fortunately, Berry did not have to redo any components, but waiting for the online results to be released at midnight was a nerve-wracking time.

A lifelong learner, Berry engages in professional development opportunities offered by her school district. Most recently, she has been pursuing an interest in Developmentally Appropriate Practice, which is grounded in research about how young children develop and learn. “I have been incorporating more options for student choice during centers, making learning more student-directed,” Berry explained. “I also chose to learn more about growth mindset, which I focused on for my areas of professional and student growth through my certification.” Growth mindset involves a greater emphasis on students’ learning process as a opposed to just the final result of their learning.

Berry also shared with the OBSERVER her interest in Whole Brain Teaching, which led her to attend a national teaching conference on the subject this past summer. The goal of WBT is to provide students with more engaging opportunities for learning. To Berry, a large part of engagement — and one of the benefits of teaching today — is the availability of technology that teachers could only dream of 20 or 30 years ago.

“My students are familiar with several educational iPad apps that we incorporate into our classroom daily,” Berry said. “My classroom also has a Smartboard. Students find this technology more engaging and it allows opportunities for them to interact with the curriculum.”

Berry also views technology as an important tool for her, as an educator. While improved collaboration with other SCCS teachers is one of the advantages, Berry believes collaboration does not have to be limited to school districts or even state lines. “I have used social media to connect with teachers from across the country,” Berry pointed out. “We are able to share ideas and see the great things happening in one another’s classrooms. I am looking forward to learning more about curriculum and where it is headed for the future.”

Berry encourages other educators to learn more about the National Board Certification process. “It’s a great opportunity to improve your profession,” she said. “This process is a professional development that you design to meet your class’ needs. You begin to think more critically about your teaching. It truly elevates the teaching profession.”

To learn more about National Board Certification, visit