Tuesday, November 17, 2020

My Monthly Column – November 2020

Curriculum coordinators are leaders in learning

By Xavier Botana

To help our students succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world, the Portland Public Schools constantly works to improve what we teach and how we teach it. Our curriculum coordinators lead this work, developing instructional materials, making sure they meet standards and helping bring curriculum to life by supporting teachers. 

This month, as part of an ongoing series in which I’m featuring members of our outstanding PPS staff, I’m focusing on one of our curriculum leaders: science teacher Brooke Teller


Brooke is not only our STEM Coordinator but took on the role of Outdoor Learning Coordinator during COVID-19. Under her leadership, our district has developed such a successful outdoor learning program that it has drawn wide-ranging media attention, including from The New York Times, NBC News and U.S. News & World Report. 

Brooke joined our district in 2007 as Casco Bay High School’s founding chemistry teacher and was Cumberland County’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

Here’s more about Brooke:

Did you always want to be a teacher?

When I graduated from Smith College with a biology degree, I was actually thinking about becoming a physician’s assistant. But I ended up in the alternate route teacher certification program in Connecticut, where I grew up. I went back and taught at my high school and then at two different start-up schools in Connecticut before moving to Maine. I think I’ve always been a teacher. I spent summers in high school and college teaching swim lessons to young swimmers and coaching swim teams, and I’ve always loved doing something outside from my time as a kid at the nature center or playing outside. The science and teaching aspects were always part of who I am.

How did you become both our STEM and outdoor learning coordinator?

I was at Casco Bay for 11 years and then applied for a sabbatical to work with elementary teachers on science. I became STEM coordinator in 2019 to continue that elementary science work and start looking at our 6-12 science curriculum. Then, in our planning for this fall, it became clear that being outside was safer in terms of transmission of the virus. It was a role that needed to be filled and I stepped in to do that. 

Are STEM and outdoor learning related?

I’m seeing a lot of intersections between outdoor learning and science. For example, in our science curriculum, we’re starting to look at phenomena – something for students to notice, look at and wonder. When students are outside, they might notice that the leaves are turning colors, and then teachers can use that to teach science concepts because students have had a chance to think about what’s going on and hypothesize. They can figure out what happens to the pigments in the leaves and why they’re falling off the trees. 

What are examples of what an outdoor learning coordinator does?

I was able to organize outdoor learning training opportunities for teachers before school started. I can’t be at every school at once, so I helped to recruit building liaisons that I’m in contact with about outdoor learning. I was able to coordinate support from so many community partners, like the City of Portland, that really helped with tree stump seats, and many local businesses.

What drives you?

It’s all about our students – what I can do to give them the best experience they can have. Like right now, I’m working on making sure students have hats and gloves to be warm when they’re outside – so they have the opportunity to look around, be curious and ignite the scientist inside of them.