top of page

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.

Strategy: Golden Lasso Moments Michael Fisher is an author and instructional coach who works with schools to design contemporary curriculum and modernize instruction with an array of technologies. Michael is the author of several books published by ASCD, Solution Tree, and Times10 publications, most recently Hacking Instructional Design. For more information, visit The Digigogy Collaborative ( or find Michael on Twitter @fisher1000.

Strategy: Be The Tiebreaker Rebecca Gibboney is currently a Curriculum Specialist but started her career in education in 2010 as a Spanish teacher and Instructional Coach in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She is passionate about two things in life: sports and education. As a women’s assistant college basketball coach and a passionate educational change agent, she lives the best of both worlds. She continues to provide fun and engaging avenues for adult learning while challenging the traditional mindset of professional learning. There is no reason why professional learning experiences cannot add some fun to the workplace! For more information on The Tiebreaker, you can follow Rebecca Gibboney on Twitter and Instagram @GibboneyRebecca or visit her website You can find her book on Amazon

Strategy: Story-Based Learning Drew Kahn is a State University of New York (SUNY) Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Theater at SUNY Buffalo State where he teaches acting (President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching/SUNY) and has directed over 20 productions (Kennedy Center Award). In addition to his work in higher education, he has taught K-12 populations for over three decades. He is the Founding Director of the Anne Frank Project. He presents and teaches internationally on the use of story as a tool for conflict resolution, community building and identity exploration—most recently in Rwanda, Kenya, Switzerland, DR Congo, Turkey, Burma and Viet Nam (Toby Ticktin Back Award for Holocaust Education and the National Federation for Just Communities-Community Leader Award,). His book, Story Building: A Practical Guide for Bringing the Power of Stories into the Classroom is used by teachers and organizations around the world. His favorite roles are husband to his wife Maria and dad to his children Sam and Nate.

Strategy: Playlists With her undergraduate degree in Special and Elementary Education and a master’s in Adolescent Education, Melissa Laun worked in various classroom settings ranging from kindergarten through middle school and taught graduate courses for Buffalo State College in the Exceptional Education department. In 2013, Melissa graduated with an advanced certificate in Educational Leadership from the University at Buffalo LIFTS program. In 2018, she became a certified CliftonStrengths coach. Currently Melissa serves as the Director of Special Education and Grant Writing in Lewiston-Porter Central School District. She most enjoys her role in evaluation and coaching teachers, administrators, and related service providers in all areas of growth.

Strategy: Reel Them In Andrew Marotta is an energetic and enthusiastic leader who has put his positive imprint on his beloved Port Jervis HS, in Port Jervis, NY. With the release of his first book, The Principal: Surviving and Thriving, Andrew is expanding his impact on the educational leadership community. His second book, The Partnership, Surviving & Thriving is a guide for parents to better assist their children in school by working closely together with schools. In his personal life, Andrew is a loving husband to his wife, Jennifer, and supportive father to their three young children. In his professional life, Andrew has been at Port Jervis HS for over sixteen years, serving as Assistant Principal for seven years and Principal thereafter. Learn more at and through his #ELBlog and #ELB podcast, Education Leadership & Beyond, found on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter @andrewmarotta21, and Instagram.

Strategy: Standards-Based Grading Angela Messenger has been in education for over fifteen years and is currently a high school math teacher in the East Irondequoit Central School District located in Rochester, NY. In 2019, she presented at the NYSCATE Annual Conference about how she uses a standards-based grading approach to engage her students in learning mathematics. Angela is also a Noyce Digitally Rich Master Teaching Fellow at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester and is in the process of earning her Educational Leadership certification. Angela lives with her husband Jason and their three daughters. She enjoys camping, running, and decorating cookies when she is not shaping the mathematical minds of the future.

Strategy: Standards-Based Grading Dr. Nicole Mucica is an Instructional Technology Specialist/Special Education/Math teacher in the East Irondequoit Central School District located in Rochester, New York. She is also an adjunct professor for Inclusive Education Studies at SUNY Brockport. Dr. Mucica completed her Doctoral studies in Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Rochester. She has spent over seventeen years working in the field of education, and is passionate about sharing her experiences and triumphs with standards-based grading. Nicole has presented at numerous conferences around the country about digital engagement, differentiation and equity. Nicole resides with her husband Scott and two children. Please follow Nicole on Twitter @nicolemquick1.

Strategy: Student Gamification Mike Neumire is an instructional technology coach in Rochester, NY. You can keep track of his gamification efforts at or follow him on Twitter @MNeumire.

Strategy: Room to Breathe Erin Quinn and Tara Vandertoorn are Grade 8 Humanities teachers at Griffith Woods School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They embrace an approach to teaching where their students are co-creators of curriculum. This philosophy has informed their personalized Language Arts program, Room to Breathe and the game-based learning they embrace in Social Studies. Learn more at You can find them on Twitter at @luckybydesign (Erin Quinn) and @bestcircus (Tara Vandertoorn).

About the Author

About the Author: Heather Lyon’s is the author of Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It’s a Narwhal): Mind-Changing Theory and Strategies that will Create Real Engagement and The BIG Book of Engagement Strategies. Heather has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and an Ed.M. in Reading from the University at Buffalo. She is an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology for Lewiston-Porter Central School District in Western New York. Heather has been a staff developer and held various administrative titles, but the professional title she likes best is learner. She is also a proud wife and mother who values the importance of work/life balance—which is so critical in a profession like ours. Heather lives with her husband and three children, who make her smile and teach her the importance of patience and humor!

Please follow Heather on Twitter @LyonsLetters and visit her website

262 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page