More on Teach to Lead and Teacher Leadership

Maine's first ECET-2 convening was held at Colby College on August 6th and 7th. The goal: to elevate and celebrate teachers in order to promote teacher leadership.
Maine’s first ECET-2 convening was held at Colby College on August 6th and 7th. The goal: to elevate and celebrate teachers in order to promote teacher leadership.

In May, I joined a team of education professionals from Maine at a second Teach to Lead convening in Virginia. Karen MacDonald (2014 MTOY) and I saw this as an opportunity to extend the idea of teacher leadership beyond plans for Maine’s first Teacher Leadership Summit. This team, lead by Scott Harrison (Schools for Excellence Project Director), included Sue Williams (NBCT and TIF Professional Development Coordinator), Sheila Chochrane (CBCT), Rachelle Tome (MDOE Acting Deputy Commissioner), Katie Joseph (MSAD #11, Director of Curriculum and Instruction), and Lois Kilby-Chesley (MEA President). Together, we examined the challenges of teacher leadership in Maine and set goals to advance teacher leadership in our state.

Karen MacDonald shares Maine's action plan to promote teacher leadership.
Karen MacDonald (MTOY 2014) shares Maine’s action plan to promote teacher leadership with other states at Teach to Lead.

Teachers should have opportunities to become leaders, and their leadership is vital to strengthening the education profession. In her keynote address at Maine’s ECET-2 Teacher Leadership Summit on August 6th, Katherine Bassett, National Network of State Teachers of the Year CEO and 2000 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, spoke about how long it takes to become an expert in a particular area or field. The answer might surprise you–Bassett notes that some research indicates it takes ten years to become an expert. You may wonder why this fact is important to teacher leadership. Trust me, it is! Bassett infers that If it takes a teacher ten years to become an expert in the field, and if the same teacher only teaches in his/her classroom, never lending expertise outside of those four walls, then how will the profession improve? How will educators better serve their students without the guidance of experts?

In every field, we rely on experts. When I think back to when my father had his heart attack, I am thankful for experts. The doctor on duty in the emergency room ordered tests and provided treatment for my father the best way he knew how, but the cardiologist in charge thought it was vital to move my father to Maine Medical Center, where he could receive more extensive tests and procedures. This decision, made by an expert in his field, ended up saving my father’s life.

We should hold our veteran and most-effective teachers in the same regard as my father’s cardiologist. We need to look to them to provide us with guidance on standards, curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy. Teacher leadership should be visible in every corner of a school district: the classroom, professional learning groups, committees, mentorships, and most of all, where decisions about how schools will operate are being made. If a decision is being made that has the potential to impact students, an expert teacher should be at the table.

When Karen MacDonald was in her year of service as the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year, she scratched out a plan on a napkin. Her plan was to design a conference for Maine’s teachers on the topic of teacher leadership. MacDonald recognized a need. When teachers are first learning how to be teachers, they aren’t learning how to be leaders. The opportunities for teacher leadership come after years of experience as an educator. But, how does one gain leadership skills? MacDonald saw this conference as a way to address that need. And that is how the idea for Maine’s first Teacher Leadership Summit was born.

During the two days of Maine’s ECET-2 Maine Teacher Leadership Summit, presenters tackled many of the same challenges of teacher leadership that the Maine team addressed during the Teach to Lead convening in Virginia. Presentations and interactive sessions answered these questions: How do we engage adult learners? How do we share innovative ideas with principals and superintendents? How do teachers share their voices with policy makers? How can PLGs advance the work of teacher leadership and student achievement? What are some small steps a teacher can take to become an effective leader? Over 100 educators discussed these questions and learned about solutions during the summit. I feel that the energy from those attending this convening will serve as a catalyst for teachers to lead in their schools, districts, communities, counties, and our state.

ECET-2 attendees brainstorm definitions for "teacher leadership".
ECET-2 attendees brainstorm definitions for “teacher leadership”.

ECET-2 attendees gather at Colby College on August 6th.

In addition, Maine’s Teach to Lead work is not finished. In fact, it has just begun. Our group has sought out a larger committee membership in our efforts to educate the field about teacher leadership. We are examining, collecting, and planning to share effective models of teacher leadership from other states. We will advocate for schools to incorporate teacher leadership opportunities into their practices and encourage collaboration among professionals.

What will be gained by increasing opportunities for teacher leadership in our state? If you think about how the requirements of schools has increased over the past fifteen years, I think it is obvious that teacher leadership could help educators tackle the ever-increasing demands in our field. With new problems, we need new solutions. Our expert teachers, with answers grounded in decades of practice, are armed with solutions. Let’s let them lead!

ECET-2 attendees. What a network!
ECET-2 attendees. What a network!


May: Giving Back to UMF

The idea began as a conversation in a downtown Farmington bookstore on a cold and snowy December afternoon. Katherine Yardley (Associate Provost and Dean of Education) and I were talking about how I could connect with pre-service teachers at my alma mater, the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). As the winter raged on and the sound of sleet pelted the windows of UMF’s Education Center, I collaborated with Barbara Eretzian, the Director of Field Services at UMF, and together we devised a plan. The plan required much collaboration between UMF’s faculty and UMF alums from the Maine Teacher of the Year program. The end result was a day designed by educators–for educators!

On a sunny spring day in May, Shelly Moody (MTOY 2011), Shannon Shanning (MTOY 2012), Jeff Bailey (2014 Oxford CTOY), Sarah Reynolds (Franklin CTOY), Gloria Noyes (MTOY 2009), and I provided pre-service teachers with an interactive panel discussion, table-talks on parental engagement, and afternoon breakout sessions about a variety of topics relevant to novice educators. We networked with soon-to-be graduates over a barbecue lunch. Many student teachers were applying for jobs and scheduling interviews. Their excitement and positivity were contagious and brought back tucked-away memories for each of us. This event was a huge success as evidenced by the positive feedback we received from students and faculty.

One thing I have considered often throughout the past year is that as teachers, it is easy to become hyper-focused on our classrooms or schools. However, it is opportunities like mentoring fellow teachers, organizing professional development opportunities, and working with pre-service and novice teachers that can provide teachers with autonomy, networking experiences, and the satisfaction of giving back. Engaging in these activities has not only promoted my skills as a teacher leader, but I have also become a more effective, insightful, and confident educator because of these actions. For sure, giving back to the profession is a win for professionals, and a win for student achievement.

Giving back together: Jennifer Dorman (MTOY 2015), Shannon Shanning (MTOY 2012), Sarah Reynolds (2015 Franklin CTOY, Gloria Noyes (MTOY 2009), Jeff Bailey (2015 Oxford CTOY), and Shelly Moody (MTOY 2011).
Giving back together: Jennifer Dorman (MTOY 2015), Shannon Shanning (MTOY 2012), Sarah Reynolds (2015 Franklin CTOY, Gloria Noyes (MTOY 2009), Jeff Bailey (2015 Oxford CTOY), and Shelly Moody (MTOY 2011).

May: 2015 County Teachers of the Year Announced

I have always considered the number “7” to be my lucky number. On May 7th, 2015, I was provided with evidence that this number continues to be lucky for me as I had the honor of announcing the 2015 County Teachers of the Year at the Hall of Flags in Augusta. I am lucky to know each of these teachers, who individually represent their counties, and who collectively speak for teachers across this state. I am fortunate to work with each of them as we elevate our profession through teacher leadership and collaboration. I am lucky to hear each of their stories and listen to what makes them stand out as talented educators in their counties.

As I spoke to each County Teacher of the Year, I realized that they too feel lucky. They feel lucky to represent the outstanding teachers in their schools and counties. Many said that they felt their awards are representative of the hard work that they do alongside their teaching peers and students. Several said they valued the support of their administrators, parents, community businesses, and school boards. Even though they all acknowledged challenges in their day-to-day jobs, they all expressed that at the end of the day, they feel blessed to be a teacher.

Soon, each of these teachers will submit a video of their work in the classroom and further letters of recommendation. After that, 8 semi-finalists for the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year will be announced. It is with great excitement that I embark on this journey with these exemplary teachers and participate in the teacher of the year selection process. One thing is for sure, wow, am I lucky!

To learn more about Maine’s 2015 County Teachers of the Year, click here:  About Maine’s County Teachers of the Year

2015 County Teachers of the Year with Speaker of the House, Mark Eves.
2015 County Teachers of the Year with Speaker of the House, Mark Eves.

April: CCSSO’s State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness in Atlanta, GA

How do state leaders know the far-reaching impacts of policy on students and teachers if they don’t work alongside them? As policy continues to influence America’s classrooms, teacher voice is becoming increasingly more important. Maine recognized the benefits of teacher voice, and in my role of 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year, I was proud to represent the teachers in my state as part of my Maine’s team at CCSSO’s State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness. Reflecting back on my experiences brings three positive experiences to light:

  • I gained a greater understanding of my state’s education workforce system. Examining how state policy influences the ways our profession attracts, prepares, supports, and retains and extends teachers provided me with a deeper awareness of the importance of quality supports for teachers throughout the career ladder. I realized that it is important for today’s teachers to play active roles in attracting high-quality individuals to this profession. Practicing teachers must work with pre-service and novice teachers to empower them to be successful in this challenging field. Likewise, my state team gained valuable insight through the eyes of a practicing teacher of how teacher preparation programs, mentoring-systems, and induction programs influence teacher effectiveness and student achievement.

My state team used my input, in addition to the perspectives of acting principal and 2013 Middle Level Principal of the Year, Kim Buckheit, to gather examples of how current policy affects schools. During our afternoon team time, Anita Bernhardt (MDOE Coordinator of Standards and Instruction) and Mary Paine (MDOE Coordinator of Educator Effectiveness) guided our team as we analyzed the hurdles we face when attracting future teachers, the strengths and needs of new teacher evaluation systems, and the challenges our communities face in retaining novice teachers. Bringing representatives from all stakeholder groups together is surely a key element in improving the professional development of educators.

  • Collaboration proved to be fruitful. As a result of the work we did together, Dr. Holly Couturier of the Maine Principal’s Association developed a plan to bring high-achieving high school students, their principals, county teachers of the year, and our state’s teacher preparation programs together for an annual conference. She enlisted input and promises of help from each member of our state team. In addition, my involvement on Maine’s team led to further involvement in my state’s work as it conducted a root cause analysis of challenges towards equitable access. Jeff Bailey, the 2014 Oxford County Teacher of the Year joined in this work with other education professionals from across Maine. Collaboration at its best! Lastly, my participation on my state’s team allowed networking opportunities. In fact, I met Sandra MacArthur, who is working on development of the first Math Leadership graduate program at the University of Maine at Farmington. She offered her expertise to the Maine Teacher of the Year Association this summer as this group plans its first teacher leadership summit. In the day-to-day work of a teacher, networking opportunities are difficult to find. Teacher involvement in state teams supports productive and valuable partnerships that extend beyond the days of the convening.

Today, educational policy rolls out at a rapid pace. It is easy for educators to blame policy makers for the stress new initiatives bring to their work. But, change can be positive. We can’t prepare today’s children for our changing future if we use the same practices from a century ago. However, federal and state leaders can make meaningful that impact students positively by collaborating with teacher leaders. I applaud Maine, Ohio, Nevada, Utah, New Jersey, and Arkansas for including their state’s teachers of the year on their teams. It is through partnerships with all stakeholders that real and constructive changes in education will occur.

State Teachers of the Year participating in CCSSO's State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness in Atlanta, GA. From left, Ian Salzman (NV), Jennifer Dorman (ME), Mohsen Ghaffari (UT), Mark Mautone (NJ), Lori Michalic (OH), and Jonathan Crossley (AK).
State Teachers of the Year participating in CCSSO’s State Consortium on Educator Effectiveness in Atlanta, GA. From left, Ian Salzman (NV), Jennifer Dorman (ME), Mohsen Ghaffari (UT), Mark Mautone (NJ), Lori Michalic (OH), and Jonathan Crossley (AK).
Members of the 2015 Maine team: Dr. Holly Couturier (Assistant Executive Director of Maine Principals' Association), Sandra MacArthur (Director of Educational Outreach, UMF), Jennifer Dorman (2015 MTOY), Anita Bernhardt (MDOE Coordinator for Standards and Instruction), Mary Paine (MDOE Educator Effectiveness Coordinator), and Kim Buckheit (Principal and 2013 Middle Level Principal of the Year).
Members of the 2015 Maine team: Dr. Holly Couturier (Assistant Executive Director of Maine Principals’ Association), Sandra MacArthur (Director of Educational Outreach, UMF), Jennifer Dorman (2015 MTOY), Anita Bernhardt (MDOE Coordinator for Standards and Instruction), Mary Paine (MDOE Educator Effectiveness Coordinator), and Kim Buckheit (Principal and 2013 Middle Level Principal of the Year).

2015 National Teacher of the Year Conference, Phoenix, AZ

During the week of February vacation I had the honor of joining each state’s 2015 Teacher of the Year at the Teacher of the Year Program Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. What a fabulous group of dedicated professionals! Like my teacher friends here in Maine, each educator brings something crucial to their students’ education. During the week, I learned a lot about each STOY and the messages they want to deliver during their year of service. When I reflect on the passion each teacher shared and the comments I heard during and after the conference, there are some definite commonalities:

1) First and foremost, establishing positive relationships with our students is the most rewarding part of our teaching. When telling our stories, the common thread was how we have made a difference in the lives of our students.

2) Increasing teacher voice is necessary. STOYs are working hard to make sure their voices are heard when it comes to creating local, state, and federal policy. Many of us face challenges in doing so, but collectively, we agree that sharing our stories in a positive way is the best way to accomplish this task.

3) Networking and learning from one another will make each one of us a stronger professional. I learned so much from the 2015 STOYs and our presenters, many of whom are legacy STOYs. Serving as a Teacher of the Year comes with great responsibility, but serving alongside my peers in other states is making it easier. Through our Facebook page and Twitter chats, it is unbelievable to discover how much our goals, challenges, and successes overlap.

One thing is for sure, the positive outcomes of our conference would not have been possible without generous sponsors and our expert presenters. A special thanks to SMART Technologies for the gifts of SMART Interactive projectors to each of our classrooms and for teaching us how to use this technology to improve student learning. Thank you also to Jon Quam and Andy Drewlinger for their obvious efforts in making the NNSTOY program and its convenings so positive and memorable year after year. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), VOYA, and the University of Phoenix also contributed resources and and expertise as well. Thank you all for coming together to give the 2015 a great kickoff!

Teach to Lead, Teacher Leadership Summit, Boston, MA February 6-8

Early in February, I joined Karen MacDonald (2014 MTOY), Sarah Brokofsky (2014 Cumberland CTOY), and Dolly Sullivan (Educate Maine) for the Teach to Lead Conference in Boston, MA. The purpose of the Teach to Lead initiative is to provide guidance and support for teachers who want to implement innovative ideas to promote education in their communities or states.

Many people ask why teacher leadership is the latest buzz phrase to hit the world of education. However, it is important to recognize that teacher leadership is not new. Teachers have been leading from the front of their classrooms for years. When teachers participate in school or district committees, share strategies and lessons with their peers, or serve in roles with their local or state teacher associations, teachers are leading. Teachers have been leading for as long as they have been teaching. Nevertheless, education and related policy have changed over the past fifty years, and government has taken on the role in driving educational reform. In 1965 the Elementary and Secondary Education Act  was enacted and provided new programs such as the Title I program of federal aid designed to target disadvantaged youth. The current reauthorization of ESEA is called the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Today, the ESEA/NCLB Act is being debated and modified in Congress.

I mention the role of government in education not because I am for it or against it, but because I feel that teachers need to be at the table when policy is discussed and determined. We are the experts when it comes to teaching children. Medical practices would not be developed without guidance from physicians. Educational policy should not be determined without guidance from educators.

This is why the Teach to Lead movement is so important. Over 2,000 educators have joined the Commit to Lead community (Join here: Boston’s Teach to Lead Summit, the largest of the three held in the past year, attracted over 200 educators participating in over 20 teams. Each team spent the weekend developing a teacher leadership idea that addressed a specific problem related to teacher leadership. Our team further developed Karen MacDonald’s idea for a Teacher Leadership Summit in Maine. With the guidance of a “critical friend” (Thank you, Ann Neary!) we created a logic model that resulted in concrete outcomes. As a result, Maine’s first Teacher Leadership Summit is well on its way to being a reality. Teachers, mark your calendars and join us on August 6th and 7th for this promising professional development opportunity where you will be able to gain specific skills in teacher leadership, network with other teacher leaders, and be empowered to lead in the profession.

It is time for teachers’ voices to be heard. Teacher voice shouldn’t be on the menu, nor should teacher opinion be parsley on the plate. Rather, teachers should be seated at the head of the table, and in the words of Secretary Duncan, if we aren’t invited to the table, we should make our own.

Maine Teacher of the Year, Call for Nominations

Why YOU should nominate your favorite teacher for Maine Teacher of the Year?

“We often take for granted the very things that deserve our gratitude.”
–Cynthia Ozick, short story writer

When I think about my MTOY journey over the past year, it is easy for me to recall the day I felt most appreciated as a teacher. It wasn’t the day I was announced as the 2014 Somerset County Teacher of the Year. Nor was it the day I was announced as the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year. As an educator, the day I felt most appreciated was a cold day in March when my assistant principal told me he planned to nominate me for Maine’s Teacher of the Year. That one moment changed my career. An innocent nomination has helped me to grow personally and professionally. It has lead to me being a stronger, more confident teacher. It has allowed me to network with teachers across the state and country. The many cards and notes of congratulations I have received from students and their parents have made me proud to be a teacher. With these gifts, I will better serve my students and school community.

In the average day of teaching, a teacher seldom hears the words, “Thank you.” Please don’t take your favorite teacher for granted. Show your gratitude by making a nomination today.

Educate Maine was created by the merger of the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education and the Maine Compact for Higher Education. We are a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college and career readiness and…

Using Backward Design to Improve Student Writing

Teacher Recognition at Saddleback Maine, December 21, 2014

Today, Saddleback Maine showed its support for Maine’s teachers by offering discounts on passes for educators. Educators could purchase a ticket, and get another ticket for free, and Maine students could purchase a ticket at regular price and their teacher could ski for free. To top off this great way of saying thanks to Maine’s teachers, Saddleback ordered a drive with spectacular views on the way to Rangeley, in addition to a sunny day with comfortable temps. The trail conditions were perfect!

1375795_10152623454978510_7568336249628135112_nWhen you come to Saddleback, look for their Wall of Fame to see each of Maine’s County Teachers of the Year. Saddleback Maine has proudly displayed this poster in their lobby directly across from the ticket counter. Thank you for your support, Saddleback!

If you haven’t been to Saddleback, I strongly encourage you to make this your next ski destination! Saddleback is perfect for every level of skier. They have dedicated trails for their novice, intermediate, and expert skiers. If you are a beginner, this mountain is perfect for you! Their ski school classes are small, and you will get all of the attention you need to become an independent skier. They also offer their PEAK pass for school-aged students. With proof of honor roll status for the first marking period of the 2014-2015 school year, students can obtain a season’s pass for only $149!

Thank you to Bill and Irene Berry, and Saddleback Maine for supporting Maine’s students and teachers alike!

Join me on Sunday, January 11th at Saddleback Maine for their second teacher recognition day. 

Bring your favorite teacher to ski at Saddleback. If you buy a lift ticket your teacher’s ticket is free!

Teachers just need to show their current Maine Teacher’s ID on one of Saddleback’s Maine Teacher Appreciation Days (Dec 21st or Jan 11th) and they can purchase two full day tickets for the price of one. (limit to a single buy one get one free offer per teacher) Continue reading

Maine Teacher of the Year Gala, November 15, 2014


What a night! Much gratitude is extended to the organizers of the Maine Teacher of the Year Gala!

Dolly Sullivan,Teacher of the Year Program Coordinator, deserves an enormous amount of credit for making this night special for each of the 16 County Teachers of the Year. Her attention to detail and high standards made it a perfect night. It isn’t often that educators feel like they are treated like royalty, but on this night, sixteen of Maine’s teachers were bestowed with words and gifts of recognition for their hard work. Gratitude is also extended to Educate Maine staff Colleen Quint (Interim Executive Director), Nicole Evans (Director of Communications), and Amanda Petersen (Project Coordinator) for all of their work behind the scenes.

Thank you also to Karen MacDonald, 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year, for serving as the emcee of this event. Karen is clearly a professional at managing a crowd and speaking so eloquently about the role of the Maine Teachers of the Year and the education profession in general. I definitely have some big shoes to fill, but am so grateful to have her guidance now and in the year ahead.

Thank you also to Jennifer Pooler and Rachelle Tome from the Department of Education for their roles in recognizing Maine’s teachers at tonight’s event.

Maine’s Teachers of the Year were given a generous gift from Bill and Irene Berry, owners of Saddleback Maine. Bill Berry, a former teacher with a an interest in supporting Maine’s students and teachers presented each County Teacher of the Year with a season’s pass to Saddleback as a way to say thank you for all their hard work.


Thank you also to Yellow Light Breen from Bangor Savings Bank; Peter Geiger of the Geiger Company;  Hannaford Supermarkets; Cary Olson from Unum; Dead River Company; David Bridges from the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine (who presented an i-Pad to me and blue tooth speakers to every winner); Randy Welch from Smart Technologies (who presented classroom software to every winner and a SMART projector to me). Your organizations dedication to educators truly makes teachers stand a little prouder. We are grateful to have your support!