September 2023 Educator Spotlight

Spotlighting Colorado Mathematics Educators and Teams

This section of our newsletter allows us to recognize the amazing mathematics teams, educators, and leaders in our community. This month we spotlight a high school mathematics teacher, Julie Hickman, Math Interventionist at Appleton Elementary and Brock Strickland, Teacher and Senior Team Lead at Thomas Jefferson High School!

September Teacher Spotlight 

Julie Hickman

Math Interventionist Appleton Elementary

This is my 35th year of teaching elementary students.  I started my teaching career in 1988 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then moved to Colorado.   For the past 18 years, I have been a teacher in Mesa County Valley District 51 in Grand Junction, Colorado.  Throughout my career, I have taught third grade, fourth grade, 3/4 multi-age, ½  multi-age, reading intervention, and, for the past 5 years, math intervention.

As a kid, the one thing I remember about learning math was using Cuisenaire rods. Not the math, just the rods.  In middle school, I had a teacher who not only made me dislike math, but made me fear math.  Throughout high school and college, math classes were always last on my list.  To this day, I still have nightmares about not passing my last math class and graduating.  

For the longest time in my career, teaching literacy was my first love, and math was on the backburner.  Like most elementary teachers, I didn’t have the greatest understanding of math.  When I dipped into AVMR (Add+Vantage Math Recovery), all the math lightbulbs in my brain lit up.  Five years ago, I challenged myself and took the leap into the world of teaching math when my building created a math intervention position.  There were no other math interventionists in my district, so I was creating the model in my building every day from the ground up.   Now, I am fortunate to have a group of interventionists in my district to inspire me.   

As a learner, I have binged every math guru I can--from Jo Boaler to Christina Tondevold to Pam Harris, along with Math Recovery. I grow mathematicians!  I want my K-5 students to be able to think and reason mathematically, apply math back in their classrooms, and use math in real life.  Every day, I am excited to “do the math” with kids, and my goal is that they come to love “doing the math” as much as I do.  Together with my students, we take risks, develop a growth mindset and find success.


Brock Strickland

Teacher and Senior Team Lead Thomas Jefferson High School

I am the Senior Team Lead of the math team at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, CO, where I am beginning my 14th year in Education.

So why do I teach math? The joy of teaching and working in schools is that we are never in short supply of sources of inspiration when we observe closely: the "I'm not a math person" student who has that light bulb moment; the newly minted teacher who just nails that one lesson they spent last night fine tuning; the straight-A student who accepts the challenge of an elevated task without wondering what their grade will be; the veteran teacher who discovers the ability to surprise themselves after so many years in the game... all of these and more inspire me in ways great, small, but most of all, sustaining. In our little math-sphere, I'm inspired by the question-askers, the productive-strugglers, the leaders, the listeners, the try-ers, the doers, the "I'm lost"ers... it sounds cliché but my students inspire me because I am constantly asking and directing them to do something they've never done before, with varying levels of explicit support; and nearly every single one rises (or has risen) to the occasion. My students let me push them out of their comfort-zones and in doing so, my students let me be a person who fuels and boosts their growth both as a young, civic-minded adult and as a young solver of problems.

Teaching found me, not the other way around.  I figured out more of what I didn't want to do with my life in college and I took some time away.  During that self-imposed gap year, substitute teaching found it's way into my world and I can even tell you the exact moment it hit me that I was starting to do something I felt invigorated by, fulfilled with, and creatively expressive with; something that was based on relationships and positive social interactions; a day-to-day environment that is dynamic and evolving; a job where I observed the positive parts of my personality synthesizing... teaching is all of that, more, and is still that to me.  For all the politics, school board op-eds, observations, non-profit partnering, for all the 'extra' that comes with teaching, that time when it's just you, the teacher, with your students collaborating, learning, having fun, sharing some laughs, doing some math, doing something we've never done before... that's a special time, and it's a special place - the ones who know... know.  I've also been blessed with meeting, working with, and learning from colleagues - both teacher and administrator alike - who have nurtured my growth, who have pushed me to be better, who have had my back.  My work with my students isn't just mine - it's 'ours'.  I aim to have the classroom dynamic and be collaboratively owned, where all voices are not only heard but celebrated and challenged.  Teaching at its most fundamental is an invitation to relationship... and I aim to make the invitation as appealing, supportive, intriguing, and sustaining as possible.

I do get outside of the high school as well: I love the Colorado lifestyle - hiking, camping, cooking over a campfire (my wife makes the most bomb campfire breakfast burritos!), and enjoying the people I like and love. We also garden and can while taking care of our pup, Hurley, and our cat, Olive. I also enjoy swimming and staying somewhat in-shape, doing my own car work (saves money and it's fun to tinker), and I'm a total nerd for the NYtimes mini-games, particularly their newest one, Connections. I like social gatherings, particularly hosting people for dinner over at our casa; and on Sundays, if you're in SW Denver area, you can likely hear me screaming at the Philadelphia Eagles for letting their opponent linger around in the second half.

Return to CCTM September Newsletter