Educator Highlight: Kayla Emery, Cumberland

Our DTOY Cohort expressed an interest in collaborating with and learning from teachers from other districts.  We are planning to honor that interest in a variety of ways, one being to add teacher voice to the Commissioner’s Field Memo.  DTOY Cohort members were asked to submit entries for the Commissioner’s Field Memo, focusing on the question “What are you doing this year in the classroom that is new and exciting?”

This week, I am highlighting Kayla Emery, Cumberland’s District Teacher of the Year.

Name: Kayla Emery

Kayla Emery

Current Position/Grade(s) Taught: Grade 8 Math / Algebra 1

District/School: Cumberland / North Cumberland Middle School

Years in Education: 7

What are you doing this year in the classroom that is new and exciting?

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”  As Dr. Seuss sums up in his famous quote, thinking is something we, as educators, strive to help our students with each and every day! My goal for this year was to help my students learn new ways to “think”, which they can use to help them through any problem in or outside of the classroom. The driving force behind this goal was our district’s implementation of Thinking Maps this year.  We are working towards 50 hours of PD focusing on Thinking Maps, with our trainer, Heidi Henderson (, since research shows that is the amount of PD that is required to change our practice!

Since many of you are likely unfamiliar with Thinking Maps, I will give you a brief overview of what they are before explaining the impact they have had on teaching and learning in my classroom this year.  Thinking Maps are used to help students organize and express their thoughts. They are a visual language for thinking.  There are eight visual maps, linked with specific cognitive vocabulary, that are intended to correspond with eight different fundamental thinking processes. Thinking Maps teach students to become independent thinkers rather than being told what/how to think. Ultimately, we are working towards students being able to identify multiple maps that they would use to answer a complex question that requires several types of thinking, since this is what Common Core is asking us to do!

So how does this impact a middle school math classroom? Since I started using Thinking Maps in my classroom, I see a dramatic change in how students organize and share their thinking. They are able to compare and contrast math concepts with ease and can explain math processes in detail.  Students are gaining a deeper understanding of math concepts by thinking more independently and are starting to answer multi-part questions successfully!  I have attached a photo of one of the maps so you can see the higher-level thinking that has been happening in my classroom recently.  In this example, students are being asked to complete the equivalent relationships between square roots, cube roots, and whole numbers.  They would use the given information to find patterns that would help them solve for the unknown numbers to fill in the blank spaces.

Kaylas pic


We are barely at the end of trimester 1 right now, but I can’t wait to see what kind of thinking my students are going to be able to do by the end of the year! If you are interested in learning more about Thinking Maps, click here!


Get inspired! Visit

As RITOY, I have already had so many amazing opportunities.  The latest one included being interviewed for a Podcast by Sung Lee, founder of

Sung Lee

Sung Lee. Connect with him on Twitter @iesunglee 

Sung, a former educator, hosts bi-weekly podcasts dedicated to sharing stories of inspiring educators from all walks of life.  He started this project to provide a voice to the many dedicated educators around the country.   He believes many of these educators receive little recognition, but their labor of love is ultimately manifested in the success and happiness of their students. He uses his website, Podcasts, and Twitter account to highlight and share the work of what he describes as education’s “unsung heroes”.

The work Sung does is work I fully support and believe in. I love listening to his podcasts because I always find inspiration from fellow educators and believe that there is great power in learning from one another.  I also love how he shines a light on the positive work educators do.  He is a cheerleader for teachers and their students. He offers a voice for education that is supportive and uplifting.  We definitely need more of that in education.

Click here to hear my Podcast with Sung Lee.

Visit the InspiringEducators website to hear more podcasts and be inspired by educators around the country.

Want a way to share your weekly teaching successes? Each Friday, Sung invites educators to share a highlight from the week- either an exciting moment in teaching, a success with parents or the community, a long awaited breakthrough – on Twitter.  Post your best weekly moment on Twitter with the hashtag #FlyHighFri to finish the week on a high note.

4th Annual Rhode Island Education Summit

On Tuesday, October 27, 2015 I was invited to the 4th Annual Rhode Island Education Summit hosted by Senator Juan M. Pichardo and Senator Harold M. Metts.  The focus and purpose of the summit was to discuss the equitable delivery of a 21st century education and how to close the achievement gap.  Speakers on the first panel included the Commissioner of Education, Dr. Ken Wagner, the Chair of the Rhode Island Board of Education, Barbara Cottam, and Dr. Jim Purcell, the Commissioner of Post Secondary Education for Rhode Island.  On the second panel, four superintendents from Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket spoke about strategies for closing achievement gaps in their districts. I spoke on a panel that included various administrators and program directors from charter schools and community based organizations.

Attending this summit was amazing for many reasons. It allowed me to gain insight into efforts being made for students on a more universal scale – from state policy and initiatives to community based support. It also renewed my sense of urgency and purpose for closing the “opportunity gaps” that exist for students.  Here are some of my biggest “take aways” from the day:

  • We need to address absenteeism and seek alternative methods of discipline besides suspension. Chris Maher, Superintendent of Providence made a compelling case against out of school suspension.  We cannot send the message that school is important and then banish kids from attending.  Even the White House is addressing the issue.
  • Summer programs are key to closing the achievement gap. Adam Greenman from the United Way stated that 2/3 of the achievement gap is attributed to summer learning loss.  If that’s true, then we all need to be thinking about developing summer programs to prevent that loss.
  • Dual language programs offer enrichment to students. Dr. Julie Nora, Director if the International Charter School, discussed the benefits of teaching English language Learners in a dual language program. Benefits include creating students as global citizens, offering cognitive and social benefits, and giving kids access to the best model for English language learners.
  • Incorporating project based learning keeps kids engaged and motivated. Victoria Gailliard-Garrick, the Director of Davies Career & Technical High School reported that her school has a drop out rate of less than 5% and absenteeism was less than 10%.  Why?  Kids are excited to come to school because most of the learning is active and hands-on.  There is definitely a lesson to be learned there.

To view the entire archived video of the first panel discussion, click here.

To view the entire archived video of the third panel discussion, click here.

To view the agenda, handouts, and PowerPoint presentations from the summit, click here.

To read the Providence Journal article about the summit, click here.


Senator Juan Pichardo offers opening remarks.


I watched the first panel from the Senate Chamber Room because the Senate Lounge was full.

When I spoke, I wanted to deliver the message that closing the equity and achievement gap for any student is essential and the earlier we address the problem, the better.  We need to develop and maintain a sense of urgency when attempting to close learning gaps and in my focus, specifically when it comes to developing proficient readers.  As I prepared for my speech, I realized that I could focus my targets for literacy instruction on the three Es: Expert, Efficient, Enough.

  • Expert: Every child deserves a teacher who is an expert teacher of reading, particularly in early elementary school.  Every teacher who teaches emerging readers needs to have an extensive knowledge of the reading process and how to instruct readers to not only develop a self-extending system so they are able to read but also to develop a love of reading so they will read.  And every student who struggles, despite that first defense of expert classroom instruction, deserves expert intervention.
  • Efficient: When we ensure that teachers are expert teachers of reading, we empower them to make decisions that accelerate student learning. Teachers who are unsure of their expertise follow programs.  Teachers who feel confident in their ability to teach reading follow students.  Research based programs are tools that inform our instruction, but teachers need to be responsive to the needs of the students in front of them and have the power and the knowledge to alter their teaching to meet student needs. Programs are products and too often, adhering strictly to programs limits our options for individualizing instruction. Students who are behind need to make accelerated growth to close achievement gaps and expert teachers are precise, efficient, and aware of time. We don’t have the luxury of time when creating proficient readers.
  • Enough: When thinking about reading instruction and closing achievement gaps, we need to consider what is enough. Are our students reading enough?  Are they building stamina? Is our instruction focused on reading authentic texts or are we filling our time with other “literacy based” activities? If students need intervention, how much intervention? Do we have enough teachers and time available to address the needs of struggling readers?

As I spoke, I also added another E to our list: Early.

  • Early: We know from recent research that the volume and quality of language a child is exposed to before age 3 sets the stage for all future learning; IQ, language processing speed, spacial reasoning, self-regulation. Are we communicating the importance of this information to all future parents? Are we doing everything in our power to ensure that the foundation is learning is strong before a child enters school. We are making strides with increasing the availability to early childhood education, but in terms of equity gaps, waiting until children are school aged may almost be too late.  What can we do to ensure we are educating parents and caregivers early enough to make a real difference in the foundation for learning?

As I looked at the list of panelists, I noticed that I was the only teacher who was speaking that day. My hope is that next year, we can invite more teachers to attend and possibly participate in this summit. Not only is it a form of professional development, but we also need to add teacher voice to this very important conversation.

Welcome to the RITOY blog!

On June 4, 2015, I got one of the greatest surprises of my life when, in a surprise ceremony at North Smithfield Elementary School, I was honored as Rhode Island’s Teacher of the Year for 2016. To say that I was honored and humbled would be an understatement, mostly because I know so very many amazing educators and to be the person chosen to represent them is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Providence Journal article

I know this year will be a whirlwind (it already has been!) and I fully intend to take advantage of everything this honor has to offer. As I think about my role and what I want to accomplish, it always comes back to making and establishing strong connections. One of my greatest assets as a teacher has been establishing personal connections with my students, their families, and with my wonderful colleagues.

The purpose of this blog is to begin to expand my connections with more amazing educators and share, share, share.  No one stands alone in education. I plan to share my biggest take aways from this year with you and my best hope is that you share your expertise with me.

collaboration pic