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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. 


Deadline Thursday, May 31, 2018

2018-19 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 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.


Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 3/4/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Cynthia Ripley, 2015 Smithfield District Teacher of the Year
Gallagher Middle School

Technology is a Tool - Integration is Key

Teaching is more challenging than ever with an infinite list of ways to approach how we guide and provide meaningful experiences for our students. Technology is a powerful tool, adding new dimensions of creativity and access to information. It also allows us to explore the world virtually in ways we never dreamed possible. The key to reaching our students and enriching their understanding is to integrate technology with purpose, meaning, and balance.

Role of Technology in the Classroom

Technology has many possible definitions and roles in classrooms. No matter the device, its role is not to drive instruction; our assessments and good teaching do that. Technology is best when it is genuine and woven in as an integrative tool.

Students are naturally motivated by technology. Devices are fast, flashy, colorful and capable. We need to keep in mind that students are not necessarily as “tech savvy” as we might assume. Using devices as learning tools means inventing new ways to apply the technology. Students may have more experience with games, social media or coding, which is different than employing technology to explore and understand academic concepts.

So, how do we, as teachers, facilitate the use of technology as tools, not toys? With middle school students, parameters are vital. Taking the time to walk through skills such as document sharing, collaborative editing, and tech etiquette is time well spent. These are skills that are consistently required. The students pick them up quickly and become teachers for one another. Students benefit by viewing shared ideas. They learn to respect the writing and ideas of others and gain strategies to critique constructively. This, in turn, keeps them focused and accountable knowing that it will be shared with their peers.

Hands on Experiences - Balancing Technology Integration

Is there a “right” balance for technology integration in our classrooms? This is my first full year in a 1:1 classroom using Chromebooks. I’ve always had several classroom computers, so tech integration is not completely new. It’s hard to imagine science without technology. It’s even harder to imagine science with ONLY technology. Now that students all have new devices, it looks different. I was initially overly conscious of when I was and was not using them. There was a bit of self-imposed pressure to use them every class. The reality is that students thrive with a blend of strategies. Kids need to DO science in order to GET science. We DO science through experiments, labs, field experiences, demonstrations, and activities. Hands-on lessons engage students, technology helps them to collaborate, share learning, draw conclusions and express their ideas.

We use virtual learning in my classroom, but not in place of hands-on lessons. We need these experiences to develop a multidimensional view of the world. Technology is a useful, motivating, powerful tool. It is the newest, but not the only teaching tool. In science class, for example, we work with liquids, magnets, glassware and other materials that “don’t play nicely” with electronic devices. We go to the Wood River each year and do a field study while releasing salmon fry that we raise in class. The technology plays an important, integrative role, but could never replace the experiences. There are as many approaches as there are teachers, and the right one is the one that works for you and your students.

Know Your Students and Find Your Balance

It’s most important to know our goals and our students. A balance of technology, discussion, well-planned activities and clear assessment help us teach which helps students learn. So, let’s keep it hands-on and minds-on. Use technology creatively in ways that make sense and enhance teaching and learning. It’s not a “one size fits all” job that we have. As teachers, we welcome any innovation that engages students and encourages learning about the world. Be confident, creative, and mindful that teachers and students learn from one another.

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” This ancient proverb is a widely accepted rule of thumb for good teaching. We are teachers of everything - reading, writing, content areas and life. Our culture integrates technology but also requires participation. Let’s continue to guide our students to learn in as many ways as we can with as much integration of current culture as we can. It’s how we all learn - and how we best learn. So keep it hands-on and minds-on. Integrating technology will only make it better!

Illustration 1.: A screenshot of "Padlet" - notes on Chromebooks to debrief following a virtual lab.

Illustration 2: Students engaged in a cooperative learning activity.


An Educated Citizenry - Teaching Students to Navigate Media Bias

Kim Rawson, 2016 North Smithfield District Teacher of the Year,
2016 Finalist for Rhode Island Teacher of the Year,
North Smithfield High School

An educator’s greatest responsibility is to prepare students to be critical thinkers and productive members of society who can investigate, interpret, and identify bias.

As a ninth-grade American government teacher, every day offers an opportunity to truly show the students real world connections. Election years offer even more excitement, as students engage in the electoral process. Last year’s polarizing election posed many teachable moments that transcended the classroom. Students researched the presidential candidate of their choice, created a campaign and engaged in debates about the qualifications and policies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Throughout the process, we constantly discussed the importance of being an active, engaged and informed citizen. The informed part always proves difficult and last year, in particular, students struggled to truly assess the candidates. They were constantly confronting the impact of social media and the 24-hour news cycle that looks to entertain rather than inform. The election itself proved easier to navigate than the actual ascension of President Donald Trump. ...

November 22, 2017

Finding Common Ground in a Divided Society

Kristin Hayes-Leite, 2018 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year,
Social Studies Teacher,
Narragansett High School

The fact that the nation is divided is no secret to anyone, but what we don’t yet know is the full impact on our students. With all of the heated rhetoric and political bullying taking place at the national level, the youngest members of our society might be tempted to tune it all out, become cynical, disengage, or worse, lose faith in our democracy. As a social studies teacher, I feel a real urgency to ensure that students can exercise their freedom of speech in my classroom. Students need to be able to respectfully voice their opinions and discuss current issues in the classroom without feeling fear or reluctance. ...

October 27, 2017

Increasing Engagement through Student Choice

October 19, 2016