Rhonda Birnie


Growing up riding and training horses, Rhonda has always thought deeply about how animals and people learn. She began college with an Animal Science degree, but by her sophomore year, realized she wanted to teach kids about their potential and help them discover a love of learning. She moved to Oregon so she would be able to attend a university that specialized in education and in the Bilingual Education program. She quickly realized that her passion was in helping struggling learners and learners in at-risk schools. In her 24 years of teaching, she has had an unwavering commitment to students with disadvantages.

Rhonda spent a couple of years teaching bilingual all-day kindergarten in Caldwell, Idaho and then moved to Nevada where she taught 4th grade at an at-risk school in Elko. Many of her students were second language learners and students in high poverty. In her quest to be a better teacher, she became a Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol trainer, took all of Rick Stiggins’ Assessment for Learning courses and attended numerous trainings focused on the area of mathematics and how to better understand mathematics at all levels. She taught night classes to adults learning English and wrote grants to take students to writing camps and science camps. Rhonda worked as an adjunct at a local college teaching ESL Methods and Second Language Acquisition courses.

When Rhonda and her family moved back to Idaho, she completed her Master’s degree and continued to teach at–risk students with a focus on sheltered instruction. She consulted with schools and teachers about best practices for second language learners and presented at conferences around Idaho and nearby states. As she dug in deeply to how kids learn and how we can better facilitate that learning, her quest turned to mathematics. She began to develop herself professionally in the area of mathematics in order to better support her students.

In 2013 Rhonda became a Regional Mathematics Specialist for the Idaho Regional Mathematics Centers. She has spent the last few years working closely with teachers and administrators around Southern Idaho to change mindsets about mathematics and to support them in helping students explore and understand math. She puts on workshops, leads book studies, does model teaching, organizes and leads lesson studies, provides side by side coaching and does anything she can to help teachers and administrators in all areas of mathematics. She presents at conferences, regionally and nationally, and is a co-editor of Cartoon Corner, a regular column in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Middle School Journal. Looking closely at intervention and how students are initially identified, and then later supported in their mathematics learning, is an area of focus. Rhonda helps teachers learn how to administer diagnostics that help point to specific gaps in learning and then determine next steps for instruction. Rhonda’s favorite part of her work is being in the classroom with students and teachers and watching them find joy in understanding new ways of thinking!

Rhonda still rides and trains horses, always finding connections between how animals and people learn new things! She and her family spend time together riding horses, paddleboarding and hiking around beautiful Southern Idaho.