Archive for the ‘Great Teachers’ Category

Karen MacDonald – King Middle School

September 11, 2013

2014 Maine Teacher of the Year

Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 9.22.07 PMPortland’s Karen MacDonald named 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced the King Middle School sixth-and seventh-grade teacher as Maine’s top educator in a surprise all-school assembly Tuesday

PORTLAND – A 24-year veteran teacher at the state’s most diverse middle school is the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year.

In a surprise assembly at King Middle School (KMS) in Portland Tuesday morning, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced Karen MacDonald, who has served students in Portland Public Schools since 1979 and been at KMS since 1989, as Maine’s top teacher.

The sixth-and seventh-grade English language arts teacher is described by students as a “gift,” by colleagues as a teacher leader who is “the most consistently innovative” and by her principal as “relentlessly committed to the success of all of her students.”

In a letter to MacDonald shared by Commissioner Bowen Tuesday, Governor Paul R. LePage thanked her on behalf of a grateful state for devoting her life to serving the students who are Maine’s future.

“In the 33 years you have taught in Portland schools, you have exemplified what it means to put students first, constantly improving your teaching practices to best meet the changing needs of your students in innovative, imaginative ways,” Governor LePage wrote. “The ‘you can do this’ message you always give your students  – many of them new to this country and our English language – instills them with the confidence that they can do anything, including realizing the American dream. Thanks to you, education truly is the great equalizer for students from all walks of life who come through your classroom door.”

KMS serves the most racially, ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in Maine and its 550 students represent 22 countries and 29 native first languages.

Those students were joined in celebrating MacDonald by Commissioner Bowen, Portland School District Superintendent Manny Caulk, KMS Principal Mike McCarthy, past Maine Teacher of the Years including 2013 winner Shannon Shanning, Educate Maine Director Tanna Clews, Bangor Savings Bank Regional Market Manager Stephan Woods, Hannaford Director of Corporate Communications Michael Norton and State Board of Education Chair Nancy Perkins and Vice-Chair Peter Geiger.

Thinking it was an assembly about the state’s technology program, MacDonald stood attentively next to her students, taking notes until Commissioner Bowen announced he was actually there because of the great teachers at KMS, and one in particular. Students erupted with excitement, giving a standing ovation as MacDonald made her way to the stage where her family joined her.

MacDonald quickly turned her award into a teachable moment, addressing her class privately after the assembly was dismissed to tell students she never dreamed she’d actually win Maine Teacher of the Year and that it was a lesson in the value of taking risks. She promised to share her journey with them, including her upcoming visit to the White House and NASA space camp.

“I am so proud to be a teacher. It’s an amazing career,” she said.

In addition to MacDonald, the other 2014 finalists were Mary Graziano, a fourth-grade teacher at Hartland Consolidated School, and Suzen Polk-Hoffses, a kindergarten teacher at Milbridge Elementary School.

“It’s certainly a great day in the teaching career of Karen MacDonald and it is also a great day for King Middle School,” said Principal McCarthy. “But every day that Karen MacDonald is here it is a great day. She is simply the best teacher we have ever known.”

As Teacher of the Year, MacDonald will serve as an ambassador for her profession and Maine’s students, and she will be available to travel across the state speaking to colleagues and business and community groups. Starting last year, Bangor Savings Bank began reimbursing the Teacher of the Year’s school district for the cost of substitutes while the Teacher of the Year was out of the classroom on official duties.

Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education, administered by Educate Maine. Educate Maine is a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college, career readiness and increased education attainment with a goal of Maine’s students and workers being the best educated and most highly skilled in the world. For more information, visit Funding for the program is generously provided by Hannaford, Geiger and Bangor Savings Bank with support from the State Board of Education and the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association.

The nomination process for the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year begins this November. Those interested in nominating a teacher should contact their school principal or visit the Maine Department of Education website at

Empowering Students: MAMLE Annual Conference

September 5, 2013

MAMLE’s annual conference is coming right up!  A flyer and registration materials were sent to all schools this week.  Mark your calendars!

Dates:  October 17 & 18

Location: Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center, Northport

Flyer 3

Highlights of the conference:

  • Two inspiring keynoters: Al Miller & Jack Berckemeyer

Al Miller

Al Miller will be speaking Thursday: “Theater in the Classroom: Creative Energy”

Jack Berckemeyer will be speaking Friday: “Middle Level Education:

Living It, Loving It, Laughing About It”


  • 35 + concurrent sessions
  • Featured presentations related to literacy with Dr. Kevin Perks
  • HP & Apple are both presenting and will have Help Desks for individual questions
  • Annual Thursday evening social, Meet Me in the Middle networking get-together, and exhibitors

Highlights of Point Lookout

  • Overlooks Penobscot Bay
  • Trails, ocean beach, kayaking & fitness center
  • Cabins on site for those staying overnight
  • Internet everywhere
  • Delectable meals
  • Great breakout rooms
  • Easily accessible via Rt. 1 or Rts. 95 & 3

For current information about the specifics of the conference check out the conference page at MAMLE’s new website:   You can download registration and housing materials as well as read a preview of some of the sessions!

MiddleWeb Smartbriefs – Tips for the New School Year and More

August 10, 2013

Do you know about If not you should!
MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades with a sharp focus on teaching and learning in grades 4-8. Here’s a description from their website.

• Resource Roundups: short, link-laden essays built around a theme. Browse here or search for keywords.

• Guest Posts: Just what you might expect…first-person articles.  The voices of middle grades education stars and many lesser known teachers and school leaders up on the front lines who have stories to tell and good practice to share.

• Book Reviews: Reviews of professional books of interest to educators working in the middle. If you’re interested in becoming a MiddleWeb reviewer, let us know. We’ll share a list of what’s available and some basic guidelines for review writing. You pick what you’d like to read, write the review, keep the book. We publish your reviews, make you famous.

• Interviews: We’re talking with interesting people who have expertise around middle grades education — or just do great things for middle grades kids and schools. Peruse our Five Q Interviews for ideas, insights, and plain good chat.

Middleweb SmartBrief

As part of the new MiddleWeb experience, we’ve formed a partnership with the SmartBrief Education news team to produce the twice-weekly MiddleWeb SmartBrief e-newsletter. You may be familiar with the nation’s premier professional newsletter organization, which also publishes ASCD SmartBrief, Accomplished Teacher SmartBrief, SmartBrief on Ed Tech and other education reports.

MiddleWeb SmartBrief specializes in Grades 4-8 news and resources. We work with SmartBrief editors to shape the content and also contribute our own news and resources to every issue. Subscriptions are free, your address is kept confidential, and you can unsubscribe anytime with a single click.

Here’s some of the latest items from the MiddleWeb Smartbriefs.

Tips on preparing for a good school year
Educator and author Julia Thompson in this blog post offers a laundry list of ideas to prepare for the first day of school and set the tone for the rest of the school year such as planning lessons to engage students’ readiness and planning an icebreaker to help students get to know each other. “Teach your first lesson as if it is the most important one you will teach all year. In many ways, it is,” she writes. Education Week Teacher/Classroom Q&A blog

How teachers can avoid decision-making fatigue and remain productive
Teachers can make as many as 5,000 decisions in a school day, leading to what award-winning educator Brian Page calls “decision fatigue.” In this blog post, Page offers five tips to help connected teachers and administrators remain productive, including doing creative work first, setting an automated e-mail response that lists a later time when a response can be expected, along with scheduling time for social media. He also suggests making the most of downtime and completing one task at a time. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

“A gift to preservice and practicing teachers that will be hard to keep on the shelf” (Teachers College Record). 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know is a comprehensive guide to teaching any genre or form in grades 3-9. You’ll get a rich collection of mentor texts, tips, and launching points. Preview Chapter 1: Getting and Keeping Writers Motivated.

So check out

Summer off? Yeah, right! I’m already excited for next year!

July 1, 2013

So what does a middle school teacher do with his/her extra time now that school is over and he/she is getting antsy?  I don’t know about you, but I’m already thinking about how I can rearrange my classroom for next year.  I’ve checked out ideas on Pinterest, checked in with other teacher-friends, and have pretty much figured out how I’m going to do it.

So, what’s next, you ask?  Hmm, professional development!  I love to learn new things, which is good, since I will be teaching two different subjects next year than I taught this year, and I’ve never taught of them before.  Though I have a bit of anxiety about the switch, I’m really looking forward to it.  I’m also really lucky to have two other math/science teachers at my grade level who are willing to share their knowledge and materials with me.

Participants at the STEM Camp learn about plant life.

Participants at the STEM Camp learn about plant life.

Besides the TON of reading I’ll be doing during the next two months (and the school year), I’ve also chosen to immerse myself in STEM activities.  And here’s the coolest part…there’s a week-long STEM Collaborative Educators’ Camp that is absolutely FREE to Maine residents (and they provide housing too)!  There are varied classes being offered focused on teachers of grades 6-12.  I’ve looked through the brochure of courses (ranging from origami to and am torn about what I will attend, but having heard feedback from some who attended last year’s camp, I know I’m going to walk away with a toolbox full of new techniques, strategies, and knowledge for me to apply to my teaching.  Also, beyond classroom (both inside and out) learning, there are fun, experiential activities for those who want to participate, ranging from ziplining to swimming.  I just know that is something I should attend because of this quote from their website:

“Our hope is to encourage Maine STEM educators to share their passions and talents with one another to form a                   community vested in improving student learning in STEM topics across Maine.”

Doesn’t that tie into the Bright Futures Report beautifully?  A focus on collaboration and learning sounds perfect!

You can register right at the website I’ve linked above.  Hopefully I’ll meet some of you there!

Thank you to Lisa Smith for her permission to write about the camp.  She’s the Outreach/Camp Director and is happy to answer any questions you may have!

P.S. Bring your insect repellant and sun screen for those outdoor options!

Spring Middle Link Digital Newsletter

May 21, 2013

MAMLE publishes a digital newsletter for its membership three times a year.  The spring Middle Link has just been sent to member schools and individual members.  Please encourage your administration to forward it to all staff members!

Here is a preview of what is in the current Middle Link:

Scholar-Leader Dinner

Effective Practices Around the State

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.05.08 PM Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.06.07 PM Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.06.31 PM

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.18.59 PMScreen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.19.46 PM

Commentary by Bill Zima on Competency-Based LearningScreen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.06.52 PM Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 12.06.58 PM

Who Are These People?

Read Middle Link to Find Out!

Al Miller  Kevin Perks


If your school is a member of MAMLE, your principal received a digital copy–remind them to forward it to staff!  If your school is not a member, ask why not?

Middle Level Education–21st Century Style! Empowering Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

April 21, 2013

Jack Berckemeyer

The Young Adolescent Learner

Al Miller

Creativity in the Classroom

Dr. Kevin Perks

Literacy in the Content Areas

Bea McGarvey

Customized Learning

Where Can You Meet All of These Experts in ONE Place?

Plus over 30 concurrent sessions

MAMLE Annual Conference

Point Lookout, Northport Maine

October 17 & 18, 2013

For more information email or call Dr. Wally Alexander, Executive Director of MAMLE

Recognize a Colleague

April 13, 2013

Barbara Greenstone received the Janet Nesin Reynolds Outstanding Middle Level Educator award at the MAMLE conference, 2011. Barbara is joined by colleagues Jill Spencer and Sandy Nevens.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to attend several events where teachers have been recognized for their contributions to their students education. I’ve been thinking about how important recognition programs are and the impact it has on individual teachers. The pride in teachers faces, the excitement in their students voices, and the tears in their closest family members eyes all contribute to the story. In fact, in many cases not only is it a wonderful feeling for the teacher but it has potential to positively impact the school and community. Anyone that has been a member of a nominating committee or perhaps the recipient of an award knows and understand the impact being recognized can have.

In many cases we wait until someone retires and celebrate their lifetime commitment. But it certainly isn’t necessary to wait until that time in a teachers life.

The Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAML) recognizes individual teachers and teams of teachers each year at the annual fall conference in October. For many years the conference has been held at Sugarloaf and this year it will be at Point Lookout in Northport.

If you’ve been thinking about how you can thank a colleague for the work they do each day in a middle school classroom in your school please consider nominating them for a MAMLE award. The application won’t take long to complete and what fun it could be to attend the conference with your colleagues to celebrate the commitment.

Please contact MAMLEs Executive Director Wally Alexander at for an application. Now is the time, please don’t delay. Thank a colleague!

THERE’S STILL TIME . . . to attend the NELMS Annual Conference

March 25, 2013

It’s a sure sign that Spring is right around the corner.  “Meeting the Multi-Faceted Needs of the Middle Level Learner” convenes next week, April 4 & 5, in Providence, Rhode Island, where there will be green grass and blooming flowers(I hope!).  Don’t miss two days of inspiring, invigorating, relevant professional development.  If you need help or ideas on how to fund this incredible opportunity, contact the NELMS office, and check out the full Annual Conference program.

Inspiring Keynote speakers:

Tom Burton on “Magic, Motivation & Our ‘Sparkling’ Middle Level Students”

Carol Ann Tomlinson on “The Demographics, Research & Ethics Of Differentiation”.

Engaging ticketed luncheons and targeted full and half day sessions (a sampling includes):

“It’s More Than A Name” – Tom Burton

“Listen To What The Students Say: Student Profiles That Invite Differentiation”  – Carol Ann Tomlinson

Student Success Plans + “Cutting Edge, New” Advisory = Student Success – Earle Bidwell

Digital Tools for Project Based Learning – Jill Spencer

How Can We Use Strategies and Assessments to Prepare for the Transition to Common Core State Standards? – Deb Scarpelli

Exploring and Applying Web 2.0 Tools and Resources in the Middle – Chris Toy

Courageous and Collaborative Leadership in the Middle – Lyn Ward Healy

Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner Friendly Classroom – Carol Ann Tomlinson

Timely and relevant concurrent workshop sessions based on the concepts contained in Turning Points 2000 and This We Believe

Finding our way through the curriculum maze

February 13, 2013

455784008_209bd11db9_zThe other day I plumped up my pillow, grabbed my favorite fleece, and settled in to read yet another article/commentary/opinion piece about the Common Core. I was asleep by the third paragraph. But, 45 minutes later, my newly recharged brain was swirling with visions of curriculum that are creative, exciting, engaging, and meaningful! (Modest, aren’t I?)

These unit ideas are all based on current issues or problems that local or global communities are facing or will face in the not too distant future. Issues and problems that engage our middle level students because they are about real life issues, offering our students opportunities to both find and solve problems. Real life, real learning. (And yes, I am serious about these ideas. But they are only examples. You can come up with your own ideas from your own community.)

Unit #1—On Thin Ice. I’ve always lived in northern states with lots of snow and ice. For the last 30 years I’ve watched and marveled at Mainer’s who insist on taking their cars and trucks on (supposedly) frozen lakes and rivers.  Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would drive a $25,000 truck on lake ice if there was the remotest possibility of it plunging through!  And that isn’t even considering the safety issue of humans getting dunked or worse. This happens in hundreds of small towns in the U.S., maybe beyond. And there are dozens of questions to answer. Are there different kinds of ice? Do different bodies of water freeze differently? What are the conditions that inhibit ice formation? What about the insulating factor of snow on ice? How thick does ice have to be to support a truck, snowmobile, ice shack, or a person? Lots of other issues as well—What are the social aspects of ice fishing? What are the economic implications of ice fishing in northern climates (say Maine, Minnesota, and Michigan)? How has climate change influenced the number of days of safe ice for on-ice activities? What are the predictions for such in 2028? (For warmer states, this unit could also be a cultural study of this unique behavior.) Doesn’t this sound like the beginning of an interesting unit of study?

Unit #2—And You Think You Have Trash! The March 2011 Japanese Tsunami, as devastating as it was to Japan, has had global implications. For example, a 185 ton pier (65 feet long by 20 feet wide by 7.5 feet high) that washed up in Olympic National Park in Washington state in December 2012 is particularly troublesome, not only for the pollution that the pier is causing as it breaks up and releases its styrofoam core. More importantly, are the potentially invasive species that are attached to the pier and threaten the fragile ecosystem where it landed. The intertidal area of the Olympic Coast is home to the most diverse ecosystem of marine invertebrates and seaweeds on the west coast of North America; this is being threatened by the many species attached to the pier. Here are some potential questions—What currents and weather allowed this gigantic pier to move from Japan to the Washington coast? What species are unique to the Olympic Coast and what species are attached to the pier? How will each set of species interact? What responsibility does the Japanese government have for any potential Tsunami-caused damage in the U.S. or other countries? What types of debris from Japan has found its way to other locations in the world and what have been the implications? On a larger scale, what do scientists know and what are they doing about the massive amounts of trash floating in the world’s oceans…and how could that affect humans?

And several other ideas for developing DIY units—Google Art Project (visit the most famous art galleries in the world); Snapshot Serengeti (visit this site for dozens of web-based Citizen Science projects); Discovering Lance Armstrong (Why did Lance Armstrong dope, why did he lie about it, and what are the implications for what he has done? Lots of opportunities here from studying the history of Armstrong’s racing career, the geography of the racing venues, the science of racing and inevitably the science of doping, and the ethical issues of the doping and Armstrong’s actions then and now).

Please note that my questions have only scratched the surface. Lots of other questions to ask and answer. Collectively, each “unit” will include critical thinking, problem finding and solving, creative and critical thinking. Oh yeah, and massive amounts of content and skills from math, art, science, foreign language, social studies, language arts, and so much more. The magic window into these types of units of study for those of us lucky to live in Maine with one-to-one programs in every middle level school is of course, Internet access. And that adds another level of complexity…and opportunity.

No doubt that I need to learn more about the Common Core and how it can help improve curriculum for all students. Will the Common Core solidify even more “test prep” or will it move us in the direction of more student-generated, project-based, and real world learning that it promises?

But for now, I’m headed back to the couch for er…some more thinking time about this vexing issue!

My challenge for you…what type of unit could you and your students develop around a locally engaging or globally relevant topic? Please respond in the comments section below.

Photo cc licensed (BY) flickr photo shared by Fatboo

Down East and Far East In The Middle

January 30, 2013

We’re everywhere! Who, you ask? Middle level advocates, that’s who! We have many wonderful middle level experts right in Maine. Many of them post here on the Bright Futures blog. We have great conversations with our regional and national  colleagues from NELMS, AMLE, and NASSP as well. Recently I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful group of middle level educators in Japan, and guess what? They have the very same burning interests and challenges we contend with in our middle grades an ocean and a continent away!

Meeting new colleagues from away is great fun, and connecting them with colleagues here in Maine is the best. So allow me to introduce Trent Citrano, Principal of the middle school and high school at St. Maur International School in Yokohama. Established in 1872, it is the oldest international school in Japan. Interestingly, although it’s steeped in tradition, like Maine, St. Maur’s faculty is looking to implement some of the newest. most progressive middle level ideas to meet the needs of their students while preparing them for the future where everything is connected, personalized, and constantly changing.


Trent is passionate about connecting students, staff, parents and community in order to create the best possible learning environment for his students. He hopes that – by coupling a wide-variety of extra-curricular activities, caring support systems, and engaging best practices – Saint Maur students will excel and develop into balanced, lifelong learners. Trent also likes good food, so I really enjoyed meeting him. I had the BEST ramen ever in their school cafeteria! I wonder if there are any Maine school cafeterias serving ramen?

Trent is also a blogger. Here’s his blog IT has a great name…Something to Munch On, In Your mind and On Your Plate. So check it out. Tell him you’re from Down East and that Chris says “domo arigato gozaimasu”!

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