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 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 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."

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.

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