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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.  In 2014-2015, Rhode Island had 31 District Teachers of the Year.

Application


Deadline Friday, May 26, 2017

2017-18 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 11/22/2017 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

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.

After the President issued the executive order instituting a travel ban, I was reading and watching the news, and thought about my own consumption of media. I challenged myself to read sources outside of my political ideology and was shocked by what I found. Identifying bias in the media and forcing yourself to read and assess sources that do not reflect your political beliefs is challenging. I immediately started strategizing about how to expose my students to media bias.

First, I compiled a list of different types of media bias to serve as a guide for students. Next, I created a Blendspace activity that allowed students to explore different sources such as newspapers, news programs, and online news outlets. Students compared a broadcast about the travel ban on Fox News with one on CNN from the same night. Students then needed to consider what types of bias existed in the reporting. Next, students compared two editorials, one from the New York Times that criticized President Trump’s travel ban and one from the Wall Street Journal that supported the ban. Students needed to compare the message and reflect on how they should assess the sources. Then students compared the homepages of Fox News, CNN, CBS, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal on the same day. The purpose of this activity was to compare headlines, photos, and story placement to try to identify bias. Students worked individually on this part of the project. The Blendspace format allows students to choose the tasks they would like to pursue, arrange the order of those tasks, and set their own pace in the process. Students were engaged in the activity from the first moment. Hands were up the entire class. Students were not looking for help, but rather wanted to share their observations with me. I noticed how interested students were in sharing their thoughts and decided it was best to allow students to peer up so they could better question and develop their ideas by bouncing them off someone else. When the bell rang, students did not leave the classroom. They hung around to discuss their findings with myself and their peers. This is the sign of a great lesson - when it transcends the classroom.

“One student ... found it hard to access information that was supportive of Donald Trump during the election so he was reading sources that he knew were very extreme. He reflected on how sometimes it is difficult to just find information without any slant or spin.”

The next day, students participated in a whole group discussion to share their findings. Students who do not normally volunteer had their hands up. Students were responding to each other, reflecting active listening. Our guiding question for the discussion was, "How can you be an informed citizen?" Students discussed the difficulty in finding facts. Students also discussed the difficulty in knowing what a fact is. Students shared experiences they had during the election itself. One student brought up that he found it hard to access information that was supportive of Donald Trump during the election so he was reading sources that he knew were very extreme. He reflected on how sometimes it is difficult to just find information without any slant or spin. Other students brought up concerns about his experience and how it leads to distrust among the citizenry.

“This lesson was not originally part of my unit plan. … However, it was by far one of the most important lessons I will teach this year.”

This lesson was not originally part of my unit plan. I developed it to address the current political atmosphere and the topic of “fake news” and “media bias.” However, it was by far one of the most important lessons I will teach this year. Students could identify the relevance of the lesson and make personalized connections to the experience. They practiced skills such as analysis, listening, formulating arguments, and verbally communicating ideas. It reminded me that sometimes you need to veer from your plan to address the present, share with students your views, and to help them develop as learners.

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 10/27/2017 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

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. One way to accomplish this goal is to teach them how to practice civic discourse - the discussion of public issues with the goal of enhancing our understanding of those issues.

While there are many ways to incorporate civic discourse into our classes, one lesson that I created last year for my high school Law and Society course is called “Finding Common Ground.” This exercise in civic discourse teaches students to listen to the viewpoints and perspectives of others in a respectful manner and to discuss issues with the goal of finding shared beliefs and values. First, students did some quick research and exploration on issues relating to constitutional law, including rights of transgender students, school dress codes, prayer in schools, students’ free speech rights, and President Trump’s travel ban. Students then shared their stance on an issue with a partner who actively listened and repeated back what was said. The pair then repeated the procedure so each student had an opportunity to share their opinions. Finally, the two students tried to find “common ground;” if they disagreed on an issue, they had to find something that they agreed on relating to the issue. For example, class members who had different viewpoints on Trump’s travel ban readily agreed that keeping the nation safe is a priority. By using common ground and shared beliefs as a starting point, the work of analyzing and discussing possible solutions to the issues that face the nation becomes much less contentious.

“I was surprised on many of the issues of how many of my classmates had differing opinions than me. I learned new perspectives on several of the issues that I hadn’t thought of before this activity.”

Before diving into an activity like this, I reviewed how to listen respectfully and also had students warm up and practice with fun “would you rather” questions. The class was soon laughing, which made it easier for them to engage on more serious topics. Using a timer kept the activity moving, and frequent rotations gave students the opportunity to interact with many partners.

To further encourage freedom of expression in the classroom, I have also used Verso, a free app that allows students to discuss issues anonymously. Student engagement increased as I found that quieter students who might not normally express their thoughts felt safer in this environment. The app allows the teacher to remove inappropriate comments and hold students accountable for what they post. In order to get the best results, teachers must be explicit in teaching students how to respectfully disagree and express their opinions without belittling or judging their peers. When I ask students how many of them have heard or uttered the phrase, “That’s so stupid!” in response to a statement, almost all hands go up and they laugh. When I ask if it feels good to hear that, no hands are raised. We have to give students the language to navigate these controversial discussions. Giving students appropriate language (“What I hear you saying is…” or “How will that policy affect…?”) allows them to engage respectfully with their peers.

“If I were to do this in another class, I would feel more inclined to share my true opinions and not just say what the majority of the class believes”

These types of activities have clear value for students. After the “Finding Common Ground” discussion, one student wrote, “I now feel more comfortable openly expressing what I feel about a topic. Getting to know everybody and how they think was important for helping be more open about my views.” Others shared, “If I were to do this in another class, I would feel more inclined to share my true opinions and not just say what the majority of the class believes” and “I was surprised on many of the issues of how many of my classmates had differing opinions than me. I learned new perspectives on several of the issues that I hadn’t thought of before this activity.”

Students were able to clearly articulate the new skills they learned, “While people were voicing their opinions to me during this activity, I listened very carefully to what they were saying and really tried to understand how they felt and why they felt that way. I really tried to make the person feel as comfortable as they could because I wanted to feel the same way.”

In showing students a way forward, we are planting the seeds for a more productive and enlightened political atmosphere. Democracy requires that our students be active citizens - this is after all, their world, their nation, and their community. If we don’t teach them how to engage, who will?

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 10/19/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

The Mathematical Biography 2.0


Nikos Giannopoulos, 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year
Special Education Teacher
Beacon Charter High School for the Arts

Over the summer of 2016 and previous school year, I had the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues at Beacon Charter High School for the Arts on our school’s MTSS team. We spent all year working to plan and implement high quality Tier Two Interventions for students who demonstrate significant gaps in their ELA, Math, or Social Emotional competencies. In creating decision rules for which students will enter and exit these interventions, we realized that our students’ needs often exceeded our capacity to serve them in a targeted intervention. It became clear that in order to better serve the needs of all of our students, it was important to re-examine our Tier One instruction practices. While our students excel when it comes to in-class work, communication, and collaboration, some were simply not engaging at such a high level with their independent work outside the classroom. With a sharp focus on student engagement, my colleagues and I made recommendations for low prep, high impact Tier One differentiated instruction techniques to deploy in the upcoming school year - the most important of which is student choice. We challenged our teachers to modify a project or assignment using one of these techniques in order to improve student engagement.

Student engagement comes from a place of ownership over their work and their learning - something that does not come easily when you have not had success in a particular subject area. As a co-teacher of Algebra 2, I have had the distinct pleasure of returning to teach the course I disliked the most in high school. Teaching in a special education inclusive setting, you often have not just the special education students in your class, but also those general education students who have struggled in this particular subject area. In an effort to connect with my students - many of whom do not consider themselves “math people” - I have traditionally assigned a Mathematical Autobiography project asking students to write an essay or sketch a series of storyboard drawings that outlines a practical and personal chronology of their experiences as a math student. I model this assignment detailing my own struggles in math class and sharing with them that with enough hindsight, I realized that the struggles I had in math classes were all part of my learning process and have impacted who I am as a teacher today. This assignment, meant to be a reprieve from the integers and variables of math class was designed to enable thoughtful self expression and foster trust and understanding classroom relationships. Often, this project serves a therapeutic purpose for our students who have had negative experiences in math class. However, in limiting the parameters of acceptable art forms, I realized I was holding some students back - causing them to not engage fully with the assignment thus negating the powerful impact we hoped it would have.

Having had success with open ended homework assignments in the past and knowing the importance of student choice in student engagement, we wanted to increase engagement with the project through increased options. Instead of simply typing an essay or creating storyboards, this year I invited students to express themselves in whatever way that feels most natural to them. Those choosing to do an art piece would draft an Artist’s Statement to explain the relationship of their work to their experiences in math class. At first, the reaction was mixed, but as the deadline approached, I had students approaching me every day before and after class to run ideas by me: “Can I write a short story?”, “Can my sister and I collaborate?”, “How about a painting, or sculpture?”. Already I could sense that this subtle change was going to yield even better results.

Additionally, my co-teacher and I decided to invite the students to present their work to the class, showcasing their creations and giving them an opportunity to understand those students whose experiences do not reflect their own. Right off the bat we were getting new and diverse forms of self-expression: creative writing, drawing, painting, rapping, poetry, photography, animation, filmmaking and more. For the first time since we developed this assignment, we had had finally achieved full participation from all students in the class!

When debriefing the project, our students responded that they loved the opportunity to choose and design how they responded to the assignment. Student choice empowered the students to realize that the work they are creating during their high school career is important and valid. Exhibition of that work helped foster a sense of community among the students who we will be spending the next year teaching. Our experience with this assignment has informed the way we approach projects in the Algebra 2 classroom and our students willingness to express themselves has laid a foundation of trust and respect upon which we will continue to build all year.

Student Examples

Stills from Student Film:

Excerpt from Artist's Statement:
"Growing up I have never been too good at math. I always struggled with it even in elementary school. When I hit junior high, that’s when the real struggle came. But, I will not let my past determine what my future will look like and I am confident that I will be able to succeed in my least favorite subject. I will not let my feelings for arithmetic get in the way of my success."


A Student's Painting:

Excerpt from Artist’s Statement:
“I remember a specific day in first grade. A math problem went entirely over my head. When it said ‘Draw a picture’ to solve the problem, I literally started doodling on my worksheet. Kids around me started to laugh and I felt self conscious about my math ability...It took me a long time to understand that art is an advanced form of mathematics - artists are often outstanding visual mathematicians!”


Student Poem:


Photography and Creative Writing:

“Ever since I was introduced to Math we have had a type of ‘I love you, but I'm not ready for a commitment’ and ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ on and off relationship...On one hand, I love Math because it is so logical and you always know there is a right and a wrong, a correct and incorrect. On the other hand, Math is a merciless, arrogant egotist who lacks compassion.... Ultimately, Math has made me stronger and want to prove my uncertainty in myself wrong...It is true that Math and I have our differences, but we have an established agreement of dating without the commitment of labels or getting left behind. Needless to say, our relationship is complicated."

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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