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.


Deadline Friday, May 27, 2016

2016-17 District Teacher of the Year Profile Sheet [PDF, 245 KB]

If you have any questions regarding the District Teacher of the Year program, please contact Mary Keenan, at mary.keenan@ride.ri.gov or 401-222-8497.

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 6/2/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Engineering Design & 21st Century Learning

Abby Paon, 2016 Coventry Teacher of the Year
STEAM Teacher & Science Curriculum Coordinator
Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School
14 years of experience in education

This school year, I have had the opportunity to implement a STEAM enrichment course for our 8th grade students that emphasizes the Engineering Design Process while focusing on life science disciplinary core ideas as well as the practices and crosscutting concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This course also has a strong emphasis on the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. The 30 day course curriculum was developed by Ann Kaiser of ProjectEngin and was designed to encourage innovative thinking in developing solutions to problems, and highlight the connections, creativity, and collaboration needed for young people to move forward in the 21st century.

During the introductory unit, students engage in several engineering design challenges as they begin to think and work like engineers. The first challenge that they are given is to design a newspaper tower that is free standing, at least 18 inches tall, able to support the weight of a tennis ball, and stand up to the force of wind (from a hair dryer). The students must work together in groups to complete the challenge; however, they are given very limited materials (5 sheets of newspaper, 12 inches of scotch tape, scissors and a ruler) and have only 15 minutes to build their towers. Most groups struggle to find success with this challenge and some students even ask if they are going to fail the assignment because their tower did not meet the requirements. After testing their tower, students must complete a failure analysis and identify what went wrong with their design and then plan for possible modifications that they could make to create a more successful tower. This is where the most important learning occurs for students - when they are asked to analyze their mistakes and design innovative solutions based on their new knowledge. Throughout the course, students work through a variety of engineering design challenges and they quickly realize that failure is an essential part of the Engineering Design Process. As students become more comfortable with failure, they begin to take risks within the classroom and approach design challenges with excitement and creativity. This creates an energy in the classroom that is contagious and ignites learning. I believe that Curt Richardson said it best, “Failure is a part of innovation - perhaps the most important part.”

The Engineering Design Process

cycle diagram with six stages and arrows linking one stage to the next. Clockwise from top: Define Problem, Delimit Problem, Generate Solutions, Prototype Test, Modify Optimize, Communicate Results

After completing the unit on Engineering Design, we begin to look at nature as an engineer. Through the lens of biomimicry, students investigate camouflage as nature’s way of engineering survivability. As students learn about natural selection, adaptation as a design process and the various types of camouflage found in the natural world, they are working towards the completion of their final design challenge for the course - to develop a camouflage outfit for a wildlife photographer for an environment of their choice. Students work collaboratively as scientists and engineers to research their environment, identify the constraints and criteria that will frame their work, and generate multiple design solutions that could meet the needs of the photographer. As they work together, students are required to document their findings and use this information to inform their final design.

Student Designs

image of student t-shirt with soft white feathers attached that completely cover the shirtimage of student t-shirt with leaf shapes and branches painted onto the shirt
image of student t-shirt which is sponge painted and completely covered in leaf printsimage of student t-shirt which is sponge painted to imitate tall golden grasses

This school year has been an incredible learning experience for me as an educator. As I have observed my students embrace failure and work collaboratively to tackle each design challenge, I have been amazed at their level of engagement, creativity and ownership over their design solutions and I have realized that they have not only learned about the Engineering Design Process and biomimicry throughout this course; they have also learned to take risks, ask questions, work creatively together, investigate ideas, design innovative solutions to real world problems, and communicate results with one another. I believe that these skills are critical to their success in the future. If we hope to produce the future leaders and innovators of the world, then we must provide our students with opportunities to develop the 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity that will provide them with the foundation they need to be successful in college and the workplace. As adults, they will be expected to think creatively, communicate clearly, work well with others, and make judgements and decisions to solve problems. It is our responsibility, as educators, to provide these types of learning opportunities for all students in an effort to help them become successful members of a global community in the 21st century. I truly believe that we, as educators, have the most important job - we help shape the future!

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 5/9/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Leveraging Technology to Personalize Instruction and Improve Assessments

Wayne Lima, 2016 Bristol-Warren Teacher of the Year
STEM Department Chair
Mt. Hope High School

After 20 years of teaching with little to no technology at my disposal, my school agreed to an iPad Pilot Program, so I now find myself immersed in the wonderful world of educational technology. If you have been around for a while and you are somewhat fearful of integrating technology in your classroom, please take this as my encouragement to take the plunge; it’s worth it.

In order to prepare myself for this year, I spent much of my summer reading varies books related to integrating technology. I freely admit that I was nervous about this new venture, but I came to the realization that it was the best thing for my students. A focus of mine was to improve student engagement, and I feel technology has absolutely helped me to accomplish this goal. I do not consider myself an expert by any means, but I would like to suggest a few apps that you can quickly add to your classes that are designed to help guide your instruction and improve student assessment scores.

How do I integrate technology to guide instruction? I have two “go to” apps; Formative and ShowMe. Formative is a great app I use to gauge student understanding during class. As students complete assignments, I am able to see their work in real time on my device. I also have the ability to provide feedback to students in real time which allows them to view my comments on their devices as well. Another great feature of this app allows me to project each student’s work on my Eno Board while hiding student names so we can discuss the differences in student work as a class. If multiple students are struggling with the standard, then I can work with them in small groups to help clear up any misunderstandings while other students move on to the next activity. This process truly allows me to personalize instruction based on individual students’ needs.

I like to pair Formative with ShowMe to help students who are going to be absent for an extended period of time in addition to those students who are in need of help. I’ve created ShowMe videos about a standard we are covering in class for students to view, so they can work through sample problems. As they answer questions on that standard, I’m able to see their work and provide feedback to students who may not have been in class.

How do I integrate technology to improve assessments? ShowMe, once again, is a big part of my classroom along with Google Forms. I like to pair these two in order to prepare students for assessments and to debrief assessments. When preparing students for assessments, I assign students sample problems, they watch videos for each problem to identify their mistakes, they complete a Google Form where they explain what they did incorrectly and how to fix their problems and finally they rate their overall confidence on the upcoming assessment. I do not administer the assessment unless the class rates their confidence level as 6 out of 10 or higher.

When debriefing the assessment, I use a similar method where students watch only the videos associated with questions they answered incorrectly on the assessment. They again complete a Google Form explaining their mistakes and how to correct them. Once a student has submitted the form, they are able to move on to the next activity.

As an educator who was able to learn “new tricks”, I would like to leave you with these parting words. If you are apprehensive about integrating technology in your classroom, I encourage you to dive on in; the water is great.

Want to see some of my work?

  • Go to https://goformative.com/join
  • Choose an assignment to view: 1 of 3
    • Enter this Quick Code: WFPX734
    • Enter this Quick Code: RVHZ363
    • Enter this Quick Code: JFGG997
  • Click Continue without logging in
  • Type in your name
  • Click Begin
Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 3/25/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Debra Turchetti-Ramm, 2015 Johnston District Teacher of the Year
S.D. Barnes Elementary School
Grade 4 NBCT
24 years experience in education

Educators read lots of books...emphasis on lots! There is always something new or renewed in the field of education and as busy educators, with limited opportunity for professional development, we rely upon books and conferences to make sense of the ever-changing landscape in education.

Of all of the books I’ve read in recent years, two in particular have become my go-to resources: Carol Dweck’s Mindset and Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker’s Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Both texts have significantly changed my approach to teaching and learning.

Dweck’s book explains growth mindset, its language and its ideologies. These concepts (basically the idea that intelligence and abilities are malleable and can be built like a muscle, not fixed like height) have permeated the walls of my classroom and the learners who thrive within them. The positivity that exudes as each student meets daily challenges, reviews work, and revises goals, is riveting!

For the last several years, I’ve been exploring technology integration, more importantly, the leveraging of technology in very purposeful, engaging, and individualized ways for students in our blended learning classroom. Teachers have always known that each student is different and comes to us with a different set of skills; a different way to learn as he or she processes, recalls, and utilizes information; and a different level of motivation and interest in the content. We have been grappling with this forever, and differentiated instruction is only a small part of meeting the needs of each of our learners.

Michael B. Horn, Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, has forever changed the landscape of my classroom. The blended learning environment that has been transforming my classroom is truly engaging for my students, allowing them to explore independently, with a partner, or in small groups through appropriately and individually selected resources and technology tools. Blended learning provided quality face-to-face time and purposeful technology support. Students work through their “playlists”, which are a series of tasks such as videos to watch, problem sets to tackle, websites to explore, and articles to read. As they progress at their own pace, I work with individuals or small groups of students to reteach or enrich at their level.

To have the ability to work one-on-one with a student while others are meaningfully engaged in their own tasks has made the biggest difference. Students love the individualized attention, and it provides me time to touch base with them about things that are important in their world. The personalization is not only academic, but also social and emotional, as they look forward to their “time at the table” with me throughout the course of the day.

This all sounds surreal, I know. Had someone told me that I could carve out time for each of my students to meet their individual needs on a daily basis, I would have thought they had stepped out of another dimension. But it’s true, and my class size is on the larger end with 26 students filling every desk.

So, how can this happen...through the purposeful leveraging of devices and digital content. What began as a 30 minute “station rotation”, has now become an integral component of our work throughout the course of our day. While we do have a schedule, the flexible flow from one part of the day to another is guided by mini-lessons followed by intensive practice, reteaching, and enrichment sessions. Students explore concepts through our class web-site, and rotate through “tech-time tasks” for reading/writing, math, and science. These concepts often culminate in a “creation station” opportunity where students “tech it out” using various apps and platforms such as Green Screen, My Create Digital Storytelling, S’more Digital Posters, Aurasma (augmented reality), Screencasting, and more. There is not a time when students have nothing to do! The work that they are doing is personally challenging. There is no time for busy-work in a place where my learners are working toward self-selected goals, core-specific endeavors, and interest based technology applications.

I can comfortably observe this well-orchestrated dance of learners by this point in our year, though this was certainly not the case at the beginning of the year. Teaching students how to be respectful digital citizens, how to troubleshoot technology issues, and how to follow the sequence of tasks takes a serious investment of time. You have to go slow to go fast, as it’s been said! Our environment now includes information walls: one for troubleshooting, another for tasks, and one that provides expert support. Our expert wall has served many purposes and has had endless benefits. Students offer their services to support their peers on the platform, tech tool, or app that they feel they know extremely well. This allows me to continue working with students as others work to problem solve, think critically, and communicate together. The students using the tool learn from the expert, the expert sharing information beams with confidence, and the learners at my table continue their uninterrupted table time with me. Win-win!

This magical world that has become our learning environment is powerful! My students begin their work eagerly, often leaning in and over desks with interest, and (surprisingly!) moan at announcements for lunch time or dismissal.

This transformation did not happen overnight. It did not happen magically. As an “early adopter” of technology integration, it was important for me to learn everything I could. The ever-changing nature of technology is that there will never be “an end” to its learning. Just like my students, I am recognizing that my learning is never “done”. I’m looking forward to diving into Horn’s previous book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. It is with books like this and PLC’s like EdUnderground, FuseRI, and social media, that I continue to explore, reflect, and challenge myself.


Deb is also a 2015 PBS Lead Digital Innovator and President-Elect and Communications Coordinator of RIASCD. She has developed a year-long professional development series entitled, Personalization and the Whole Child, utilizing PBS LearningMedia to explore the tenets of the Whole Child ~ Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, and Challenged.


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