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!


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