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Maine Teacher of the Year shares wisdom and advice with Education and Occupational Therapy students

Krysten Gorrivan with Maine Teacher of the Year Heather Whitaker and Brooke Proulx of UNE's Master of Social Work program
Krysten Gorrivan with Maine Teacher of the Year Heather Whitaker and Brooke Proulx of UNE's Master of Social Work program

November 19, 2019

Judges call Maine teacher of the Year Heather Whitaker passionate about experiential learning
Judges call Maine teacher of the Year Heather Whitaker passionate about experiential learning
Heather Whitaker speaks with students in Kristen Gorrivan's class
Heather Whitaker speak with students in Kristen Gorrivan's class

In her classes, Krysten Gorrivan, M.S. Ed., assistant lecturer in the Education Department, is emphasizing the social and emotional needs of students and preparing pre-service teachers and special education minors for what they will face in their classrooms. 

“Research shows that as many as two out of three K through 12 students have endured at least one adverse childhood experience [ACE], impacting their ability to engage and learn in their classrooms,” Gorrivan explained. “We want to equip our students with an understanding of, and a sensitivity to, the behaviors that accompany these ACEs.  Students often communicate with us through their behaviors. If our students have the tools to decode these behavioral messages, they will be more successful in their careers.”

Gorrivan was impressed when she heard Heather Whitaker make a presention about the alternative education program she runs at Gorham Middle School during the semifinal portion of the Maine Teacher of the Year competition held in August at the UNE NORTH space.

“We were speaking the same language,” Gorrivan stated. “I thought it would be important to have Heather's voice reiterate what I've been talking about in my classes. I offer the research and theory in my courses, but Heather is a practitioner who is able to share what she is doing in the classroom every day.” 

Whitaker recently came to speak to students in Gorrivan’s classes after being named the 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year.

“It was an honor to be selected, and it’s extremely exciting because it helps highlight the work of alternative learners and how hard they work to get to school and to stay in school,” Whitaker said. “I think it also gives other alternative education teachers a platform and a voice, through me, to bring attention to the needs of youth who are at risk within our schools.”

The judges who selected Whitaker wrote, “Heather is passionate about and experienced in using restorative practices and experiential learning. She believes in the power of relationships and that learning should be meaningful to students. Whenever possible, Heather takes students out of the classroom and has them engaged in the community.”

Whitaker spoke to students in two of Gorrivan’s classes, Trauma Responsive Education and Inclusive Classroom Management. The classes are made up of Education and Educational Studies majors who aspire to become classroom teachers, special educators, or school counselors, and Occupational Therapy majors who may end up working in school settings.

“I want them to be empowered to build relationships with their students, their students’ families, and their staff,” Whitaker said. “And to know that the very most important thing that we can do in education is be relationship-based.”

Whitaker says that the classes Gorrivan teaches are unique because they provide students with training that teachers usually must find on their own through professional development.

“Students in Krysten's classes are getting the most current research and the most in-depth current knowledge,” Whitaker stated. “That’s a gift to the students because teachers are having to go find those experiences on their own.”

The Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led organization working to advance educational attainment and readiness for work among all Mainers. UNE is a long-standing partner of Educate Maine, providing funding and classroom space and having students participate in the organization’s Focus Maine’s statewide internship program.

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