District Teacher of the Year

Each year, teachers from across Rhode Island represent their individual LEAs as District Teachers of the Year.

Each District Teacher of the Year (DTOY) has the opportunity to take part in WaterFire: A Salute to Rhode Island Educators, to participate in leadership professional development, to collaborate with DTOYs from across the state, and to apply to represent all Rhode Island educators as the 2016 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.  In 2014-2015, Rhode Island had 31 District Teachers of the Year.

Application

2016-2017 District Teacher of the Year Profile Sheets will be sent out to districts on April 1.

History of the Award

The Teacher of the Year Award Program was initiated in 1952 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to bring recognition to the importance of teachers as nurturers of the "American Dream." His intention to honor all teachers by the selection of a representative teacher from each state would find completion in the yearly choice of a National Teacher of the Year. Through an organized and varied selection process involving classroom teachers, school administrators, state officials, students, parents, and business representatives, each state and U. S. Protectorate nominates its own Teacher of the Year.

District Teachers of the Year Blog

Stay tuned for regular posts from our District Teachers of the Year.

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 1/21/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Nikki Greene, Warwick District Teacher of the Year
Grade 3 Classroom Teacher
E.G. Robertson Elementary School
19 years of experience in education

“What if we reimagine school?” This simple, yet thought-provoking question opens the film Most Likely to Succeed, which Commissioner Wagner screened this past fall. The film is based on the book by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, two leading experts in education and entrepreneurship, who examine an outdated education system created nearly a century ago and offer suggestions to all education stakeholders on what is necessary for students to thrive in the 21st century. If we were to reimagine schools and create a new vision for American education, they have highlighted four essential 21st-century skills, coined as the four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.

I couldn’t help but reflect about my classroom practice and, furthermore, ask whether I was giving my students the 21st-century skills they would need in order to be successful throughout their school years and beyond. In my class, students are using the four C’s, but I felt that I needed to be more purposeful on their integration into my teaching practice. The Sparklist, which can be found on the film’s website, has many links to a variety of websites, videos, challenging learning tasks, and blogs across all subject or grade areas that proved to be a great starting point. The physical layout of my room was also changed so that it is more conducive to classroom discourse. However, one of the most powerful changes I made was to integrate Number Talks and Math Talks into our daily instruction, because when done correctly they can drastically transform teaching and learning.

Number Talks encourage students to solve problems mentally, to share strategies, and to deepen their knowledge of the numerical relationships that are critical to understanding mathematics. Students feel encouraged to share their thinking, and teachers become skilled at listening to their students’ thinking. Math Talks or Talk Moves are strategic ways of asking questions and inviting participation in classroom discussions. Some phrases include: “Will you share…,” “Say more…,” and “Who can repeat…?” Some of the tools of Talk Moves are wait time, turn and talk, and stop and jot. What it really boils down to is that the minute we start to explain, we take away our students’ autonomy as thinkers. It is essential that we let our students figure out mathematically valid strategies to solve problems instead of us showing and explaining how and why strategies work. This alone can be transformative for our teaching and our students’ learning.

It has been a common practice in my class that students explain and justify their thinking, but I’ve often controlled the direction of the discussion. Integration of a more purposeful discussion using Number Talks and Math Talks takes the learning a step further, because the discussion is now student-driven while the teacher facilitates. My students are pushed to clarify their thinking and test new ideas while misconceptions or misunderstandings can be readily observed and evaluated. I think the most powerful piece for my students is recognizing that mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and it isn’t always about getting the right answer. Additionally, when Math Talks and Number Talks are integrated on a daily basis, there are some opportunities to incorporate a few Math Practice Standards on a daily basis. These may include, Mathematical Practice Standard 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others and Mathematical Practice Standard 6: Attend to Precision. As students engage in productive talk, they learn that it is important to explain your ideas clearly and they learn to listen if they don’t understand. The Content Standards also tie in nicely because students who lack understanding of a topic may rely too heavily on mathematical procedures or the standard algorithm. Furthermore these students may be more likely to misrepresent problems coherently or are unable to justify conclusions accurately to other students.

Consider this excerpt from, Classroom Discussions in Math: “When academically productive discussion is common, deeper understanding emerges from the many opportunities students have throughout the year to hear about and talk about the mathematical concepts, procedures, tools, and representations in their lessons.”

My students are beginning to make some nice progress sharing a variety of strategies, the discourse is deepening, and I look forward to how our discussions will look in June. If you are interested in learning more about the documentary, utilizing the Sparklist in your classroom, or some of the math resources I have used, the links and book titles are listed below:

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 1/5/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Sharon LaFrenaye, Exeter-West Greenwich Teacher of the Year
Rhode Island Elementary Art Educator of the Year
Elementary Art, Grades 3-6
Metcalf Elementary School
12 years' experience in education

“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” - Steve Jobs

If we all stop for a moment and think back to a creative experience, whether it was concocting a great meal, playing an instrument, working on a home renovation, or successfully producing a big event, recalling these moments might just reignite that spark of creative excitement that lies within all of us. While this fire is innate, we have all had experiences along the way that may have diminished our confidence in this most basic human need: to create.

Children can remind us how creative impulses, while innate, are precious and need to be honed. Over the years, I’ve had a number of people come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re an art teacher! How cool. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.” What people seem to forget is that art, design, and creativity are skills that can and should be taught like any other subject: with concepts, vocabulary, scaffolding, and most importantly plenty of room for integration with other subjects.

I am extremely fortunate to have dedicated Integrated Arts blocks at Metcalf Elementary School where I teach students in grades three through six. Most recently, I partnered with sixth grade science teacher Terry Packer. Her students had been studying pollution and she wanted to empower students with a new visual way to share their findings. Students partnered up, brought their research to the art room and armed with Chromebooks we embarked on a new lesson incorporating science, writing, technology, design, and of course collaboration. Students learned how to create a Prezi (a free online presentation program), which is similar to Powerpoint, with many excellent, user friendly, visual features and templates. I reviewed key design concepts with students, such as theme, contrast, balance, and space. Mrs. Packer reviewed how to collect and organize works cited information, and we both stressed the importance of correct spelling and grammar. The art room crackled with enthusiasm as the students organized and designed their presentations.

When I hear about STEM (not STEAM) initiatives, I immediately cringe knowing the critical element of the arts is missing. If Steve Jobs had been solely focused on the technological side of Apple, it would be safe to say that this company would not be the economic and cultural force that it is today. It is important that we, as educators, collectively teach critical 21st century skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, which will set students up for success in any endeavors they will pursue in the future.

“With global competition rising, America is at a critical juncture in defining its economic future…. Art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century in the same way that science and technology did in the last century, and the STEAM movement is an opportunity for America to sustain its role as innovator of the world.” - John Maeda, former professor of MIT Media Lab and RISD President, current Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and board member for Sonos and global advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy.

Wood Duck Drawing by Fifth Grade Metcalf Elementary Student Morgan,
Winning State Entry 2015
Integrated Arts Lesson Based on the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest focusing on North American Duck Species and Environmental Conservation

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 12/4/2015 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Kayla Emery, Cumberland Teacher of the Year
Grade 8 Math / Algebra 1
North Cumberland Middle School
7 years' experience in education

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!” As Dr. Seuss sums up in his famous quote, thinking is something we, as educators, strive to help our students with each and every day! My goal for this year was to help my students learn new ways to “think”, which they can use to help them through any problem in or outside of the classroom. The driving force behind this goal was our district's implementation of Thinking Maps this year. We are working towards 50 hours of PD focusing on Thinking Maps, with our trainer, Heidi Henderson (heidi@thebalancebetween.com), since research shows that is the amount of PD that is required to change our practice!

Since many of you are likely unfamiliar with Thinking Maps, I will give you a brief overview of what they are before explaining the impact they have had on teaching and learning in my classroom this year. Thinking Maps are used to help students organize and express their thoughts. They are a visual language for thinking. There are eight visual maps, linked with specific cognitive vocabulary, that are intended to correspond with eight different fundamental thinking processes. Thinking Maps teach students to become independent thinkers rather than being told what/how to think. Ultimately, we are working towards students being able to identify multiple maps that they would use to answer a complex question that requires several types of thinking, since this is what Common Core is asking us to do!

So how does this impact a middle school math classroom? Since I started using Thinking Maps in my classroom, I see a dramatic change in how students organize and share their thinking. They are able to compare and contrast math concepts with ease and can explain math processes in detail. Students are gaining a deeper understanding of math concepts by thinking more independently and are starting to answer multi-part questions successfully!

I have attached a photo of one of the maps so you can see the higher-level thinking that has been happening in my classroom recently. In this example, students are being asked to complete the equivalent relationships between square roots, cube roots, and whole numbers. They would use the given information to find patterns that would help them solve for the unknown numbers to fill in the blank spaces.

We are barely at the end of trimester 1 right now, but I can’t wait to see what kind of thinking my students are going to be able to do by the end of the year! If you are interested in learning more about Thinking Maps, click here!