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Nissitissit teacher honored as leader

The following article was supplied by Education First, a national education policy and strategy consulting firm that recently completed a project on the importance of teacher leadership — when teachers take leadership roles beyond the classroom — that included profiles of four outstanding educators in Massachusetts. One of them, Kevin Cormier, is from Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell. You can watch a video about him at

Kevin Cormier’s classroom is lined with record albums, a reminder of his passion for music, his first career and why he became a teacher.

A Communications major in college, Cormier’s first job was in a record store selling vinyl and CDs to teenagers. His love for music was quickly overrun by his concern for his customers, who, more often than not, couldn’t count out their change.

“That was what prompted me to decide to teach,” he said. “So I could teach those kids some math.”

Today, he teaches four Math classes a day to seventh- and eighth-graders at Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell — but that’s only the start of what he does. The slim 42-year-old with close-cropped hair and a beard is working to earn his doctorate. He is also a member of the state’s Teacher Advisory Cabinet, mentors several other teachers at Nissitissit, serves as one of two schoolwide data coordinators, and is co-designing an online tool to help teachers everywhere make better use of their data.

Through his efforts both in and out of the classroom, Cormier has had a notable impact on his school’s culture, student performance, and his students, peers, school and district.

“A true teacher leader is someone who knows that their job goes well beyond the four walls of their classroom and the students in front of you, and that’s Kevin,” said Nancy Milligan, assistant superintendent of schools for the North Middlesex Regional School District. “Teacher leaders help our district move from the bottom up, not just the top down. They help us see the bigger picture.”

Nissitissit Principal Diane Gleason has made adjustments in the schedule to enable Cormier and the school’s other teachers to meet with their teams regularly to ensure that they have time to collaborate on lesson planning and to share new ideas, problem-solve, and discuss individual students.

“Collaborating leads to more success for students, it’s as simple as that,” Cormier said. “This is not about me, it’s about them, every day.”

Cormier and Jamie Anderson, an eighth-grade Math teacher at Nissitissit, spend hours talking about data — how to use it, how not to use it, and why more teachers don’t use it every day. Their theory: Most teachers have tons of data at their fingertips, but it’s overwhelming, they don’t know how to use it, and they don’t have the right tools to simplify the process.

Their solution: Datagogy, an online web tool designed to house a collection of resources to help teachers more effectively use their data. The site, which includes the tagline “Where data enhances instruction,” is a simple one built on WordPress but is rich with the information that teachers want and need.

The two cooked up the idea after taking a professional-development class on Excel and immediately saw the untapped potential. Despite having no budget and no time during the school day to work on it consistently, the two have spent countless hours together playing to their strengths in its development — Cormier has created most of the infrastructure, and Anderson has written most of the web copy and produced a few tutorial videos.

“Common planning time is important but only gets you so far,” Cormier said. “Using a website like this has the potential to get us in every classroom, and that’s powerful.”

Cormier was recently working on scale drawings with his eighth-graders, a similar assignment to what he did with his seventh-graders earlier in the day. For weeks, they’ve been working on mastering scale calculations, and today they’re putting what they’ve learned to the test, and creating scale drawings of their desks from the top, front and side. As students walk in, they grab a yardstick, get out their pencils and get to work.

Within minutes, the classroom is chaos — some students pair up, others work alone, and those who need help turn to Cormier with questions. The classroom is loud and messy, with paper on the floor, and calculators being passed around. One student who doesn’t know where to start asks for help, and Cormier heads over to her desk. He grabs her yardstick and models how and where to hold it to measure the top of the desk. He pauses to make sure she understood the instructions, but doesn’t give her the answer.

This exemplifies his teaching style: Here’s what you have to do, here’s how to do it, now go do it.

“This is my favorite class,” said Ben Coviello, 13. “If we get something wrong, he shows us what we did wrong and has us do it again until we get it right. He’s teaching me stuff I didn’t know I could learn.”

Jolina Rich, 14, agreed. She didn’t like Math until Cormier was her teacher and helped her not simply to memorize facts, but to understand how it all worked. When she questioned whether she should take a summer class last year, Cormier told her something she’ll never forget.

“He said, ‘Always strive for greatness versus settling for less,'” she recalled him saying. “He told me, ‘Never relax when you can better yourself.’ He’s right.”

By the end of the period, most students had at least a rough draft of their scale drawings completed, and Cormier congratulated them on their hard work.

Cormier recognizes that the success and opportunities he has had at Nissitissit wouldn’t have been possible without the full support he has received from Gleason. Other principals should follow her lead, he said.

“If a teacher is legit interested in bettering themselves and working to improve school culture, why would you not get behind that?” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Milligan agrees. “Teacher leaders know that they’re responsible for all of the students, not just the ones on their roster,” she said. “And also responsible for being there for their colleagues and being the person others can go to with questions or concerns. They don’t have to have all the answers, but good teacher leaders are always slightly ahead of their peers and able to help them move and grow.

“Every school and every district deserves someone like that,” she added.

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