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I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

When I wrote Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It’s a Narwhal), my goal was to create a common understanding regarding the term “engagement”—this over-used, under-understood word that is thrown around in education (and certainly other professions). I wanted to ensure that if we were going to say that we needed students to be engaged or teachers to create engaging lessons that we knew both what we were saying and what we were aiming for. There were plenty of strategy books out there already that say they will help you create engagement—that was not the problem. The problem was that there wasn’t clarity about what engagement actually was. In other words, I didn’t want my book to be another strategy book. I wanted my book to be a resource for understanding how to select a strategy to achieve engagement. As I embarked on actually writing the book, I realized that I had so many strategies in my first draft that the book was over 400 pages. Even if there were 200 pages of strategies, I didn’t think that people would have the stamina or desire to get through them. Thus, I thought it might be better to streamline the first book and have a companion book (The BIG Book of Engagement Strategies) of just strategies.

I have learned two very important truths in the process of writing The BIG Book of Engagement Strategies. First I’ve learned that everyone has at least one strategy to increase engagement. That means if you are ever stuck, all you need to do is talk with people you already know and trust. They will be able to give you the inspiration you need. The second is that it feels amazing to share the great work that others are doing! With respect to both of these points, I have the tremendous privilege to share the work of some amazing people that I have met along this journey. I have no doubt that you will enjoy their work as much I do! For this reason, I’d like to highlight here the amazing educators who contributed strategies. Please

  1. Follow or reach out to them to learn more.

  2. Reach out to the people around you to learn from them.

  3. Shoot me an email at to share a strategy you love with me! I’d be happy to post it on my website and credit you so you can help others grow.

Strategy: Goals Dana Britt is an Associate Partner with Education Elements, a national education consultancy provider. At Education Elements, Dana has supported over 100 schools in sixteen states to design personalized learning experiences for all learners, develop and implement strategic plans, and lead high-quality professional development. Dana currently leads the organization’s work in the state of New York. Prior to joining Education Elements, Dana worked in the District of Columbia Public Schools, first as a high school English teacher, then in the district office as the Manager of Educational Technology. Dana holds a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard University. When not thinking about personalized learning or strategic planning, Dana enjoys rock climbing and training for her next marathon in Washington, DC.

Strategy: Notice and Wonder Elizabeth (Liz) Buck has been teaching both earth science and general science at the middle school level for over twenty-one years. The majority of her career has been spent teaching at Lewiston-Porter Middle School in Youngstown, NY. Her approach to teaching has always been a hands-on, experiential method where students engage in the world around them through science. She creates opportunities for her students to consider multiple perspectives and challenges them to ask thought-provoking questions as a way to deepen their thinking.

Strategy: Notice and Wonder Nina Calarco has been fortunate to be teaching at Lewiston-Porter Middle School for over fifteen years. For the majority of her career, Nina taught mathematics to 8th grade students. In 2016, she also started teaching a course that she co-created called “Innovation Experience.” The course became her passion and inspired her to make impactful changes to her mathematics instruction based on what she learned from her Innovation students. Her non-traditional approach focuses on student discourse and a model where students explore and discover mathematics before formal instruction.

Strategy: Standards-Based Grading Jessica Colavecchia has been an educator in the East Irondequoit Central School District for over a decade, where she has been a high school math teacher and is currently the K-12 Math, Science, Technology Coordinator for the district. She also holds her Educational Leadership certification from the University of Rochester. She takes pride in her career knowing that she is helping to shape the lives of future generations by providing students with a deep-rooted, digitally rich, standards-based education. She has proudly shared her passion for educational technology, standards-based curricula and grading systems at various conferences throughout the country. Jessica lives with her husband Greg and their three children. When she is not sharing her enthusiasm for mathematics, she enjoys exercising, camping, sports, puzzles, and traveling.

Strategy: Modeling Susan Cyrulik (M.S.Ed.) is a Professional Development Coordinator for Erie 1 BOCES where she shares her passion for science with everyone she meets. Her work is focused on supporting K-12 teachers of science while integrating the use of phenomena and the science and engineering practices, from the New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards. Susan is on the Board of the Western Section Science Teachers Association and the New York State Science Consortium. Prior to working at Erie 1 BOCES, Susan enjoyed her career as a middle school teacher, at the Charter School for Applied Technologies in Buffalo, New York, and in Westport, Connecticut, at Bedford Middle School. Susan is supported at home by her husband and three young men, who she strives to help understand the importance of caring for the planet. Susan is always accessible by email ( and welcomes your communication.

Strategies: Peer-To-Peer Mentoring, Targeted Assistance, Community Building Circles, and Service Learning Projects Lori DeCarlo retired from the position of Superintendent at Randolph Academy UFSD where the implementation of Restorative Practices began in 2015. As a certified Restorative Justice (RJ) trainer, she has studied under internationally renowned experts in the field. She serves as a trainer for New York State Education Department and New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services sponsored RJ projects. Ms. DeCarlo presents on the topic of RJ and school climate and culture at state, regional, and local conferences. She also practices the art of "circle keeping" by facilitating circles for community organizations. Follow her on Twitter @ldecarlo23.

Strategies: Esti-Mysteries, Which One Doesn’t Belong, Can You Make It, and Strategy Share Molly DiPirro is a math coach and teacher in the Sweet Home School District in western New York. She is also a professional developer for all things related to math routines and number sense development. You can follow Molly on Twitter @mollydip.