Meet Debbie Hunsaker

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We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Debbie Hunsaker. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Debbie below.

Alright, Debbie thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. We’d love to go back in time and hear the story of how you came up with the name of your brand?

I wanted a name that demonstrates our firm’s commitment to continual learning and improvement to support schools to the best of our abilities. A commitment to meeting schools where they are at and partnering with them to reach the goals, they have set for themselves and their students. The name STRIVE seemed to encompass that. We have worked as a team to develop our mission, vision, and mantras for our educational services and our nonprofit (paperwork not finalized).

Our mission statement: We STRIVE to support teachers, leaders, and coaches with tender, loving, care (TLC).

Our vision for consulting services: We STRIVE to support teachers, leaders, and coaches (TLC) through evidence-based practices and positive supporting relationships. We customize our support based on school needs to build capacity for improved learner outcomes.

Our vision for our nonprofit: We STRIVE to provide TLC (tender, loving, care) to teachers, leaders, and coaches through our nonprofit by giving back 10% of all STRIVE proceeds through consulting, scholarships, resources, and give-a-ways.

Mantras:
We STRIVE to build trusting relationships with teachers, leaders, and coaches
We STRIVE to support and give back to teachers, leaders, and coaches in implementing evidence-based practices
We STRIVE to improve student achievement by engaging with teachers, leaders, and coaches in the critical work of teaching and learning
We STRIVE to continue to grow and improve to better support teachers, leaders, and coaches

We STRIVE to provide TENDER, LOVING, CARE to teachers, leaders, and coaches by giving back each year through scholarships, giveaways and free consulting services.

STRIVE services include professional development (virtual and in person), onsite consulting, customized development work, and proposal and grant writing. STRIVE’s evidence-based models lay the foundation for supporting teachers, leaders, and coaches in their journey for improving learner outcomes. We customize each module to meet the needs of each client.
• STRIVE’s PreK Literacy
• STRIVE’s Elementary Literacy
• STRIVE’s Adolescent Literacy
• STRIVE’s Data System: a how to on planning, teaching, and assessing reading groups
• STRIVE’s Teams: a how to on building effective teams with effective instructional leadership
• STRIVE’s Coaching: a how to on becoming an effective instructional coach

My story and passion for what I do…

A teacher is all I ever wanted to become and have as my profession.  From a young age, I taught my cousins in a closet under the stairs that was transformed into a school room. Thank you to all my cousins, especially Brian and Mandy for putting up with my beginning teaching, and also to my mother for never making me clean up the school room. I always have loved kids.  Babysitting, teaching school, coaching dancing groups, and running homemade candy stores were all a part of my childhood because I loved and wanted to entertain and teach kids. It might have helped that my mother was a teacher, my four aunts were teachers, and my grandfather was a district superintendent, and several of my cousins are teachers. I think I was born with it in my blood.

Once I was a certified teacher and in a real classroom, I loved teaching and was committed to building relationships with my students, especially the students that had more challenges than others; academically, socially, and emotionally.  I always woke up excited to get to school and especially to my own classroom.  Literacy was always my first passion in teaching.  I wanted my students to be better readers and writers; therefore I worked hard to motivate and engage them with literature and informational texts.

I was very fortunate when I started working at the state department. There I was connected with experts who knew the science of teaching students to read and write. During this time, I also had someone in my personal life that was struggling to learn to read. I devoured knowledge on evidence-based literacy to support this child while at the same time supporting teachers and students throughout Montana. I took risks and opportunities to lead teams in writing competitive literacy grants that would benefit Montana schools, teachers, and students.  Over 18 years at the state department, the teams I lead wrote and received over $200 million dollars in competitive literacy grants. Data from these grants demonstrated strong improvements in literacy outcomes for schools and students. I continued to gain knowledge through these grants and was incredibly fortunate to learn from educational experts such as Anita Archer who continues to be an influential mentor in my life, Dr. Tim and Cynthia Shanahan, Reid Lyon, BJ and the amazing teams I worked with throughout the years.

I loved and appreciated my time at the state department.  It was purposeful and rewarding work.  I would have stayed there throughout the duration of my career if it hadn’t been for new leadership that stifled programs and brought a great deal of our work to a halt. This put me and many of my team members on a different course…another life lesson for sure.  That change put me into full time consulting and the development of Strivetlc (tender, loving, care).  Sometimes difficult times in life set us on a path that we would not have taken otherwise.  STRIVE is my next calling.  I am meant to do this work. I am just as passionate about building a purposeful and effective consulting firm that honors schools and teachers and helps them to achieve their goals of improved learner outcomes as I was in trying to improve literacy proficiency at the state level. I am proud of the relationships we build with schools and the support we provide around evidence-based practices for improving literacy systems and literacy outcomes for students.  We are committed to honoring and evaluating the great teachers we work with. We must take care of the teachers that take care of the students. I believe and work towards this every day.

Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

STRIVE, the company I founded provides national consulting and professional development services focusing on improving literacy achievement. I have dedicated my career to improving teaching and learning by supporting state and federal literacy initiatives, providing curriculum development and comprehensive literacy planning support, and providing on-site school support for teachers, coaches, principals, and district leaders. With the STRIVE team, we have developed evidence-based trainings and professional development in the Science of Reading/Elementary Literacy Model, Disciplinary Literacy/Adolescent Literacy Model, Data Based Decision Making, Effective Coaching, and Effective Teams. Twenty-five years of my career have been in public education. The last three years before I went to full time consulting services, I was the Division Administrator for Educational Opportunity and Equity for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, which is responsible for implementing programs and resources focused on supporting schools in improving achievement, especially for disadvantaged students.

Some of the programs I directed while I was at the state department include Reading First, Early Reading First, Title I School Support, and the Montana Comprehensive Literacy Project. While I was at the Montana State Department, our team brought in over 200 million dollars in competitive grants for improving literacy efforts in MT, focusing on schools that had high #s of disadvantaged students. I am very proud of those efforts and results the school achieved in advancing literacy achievement. I am an author of the professional resource book; STRIVE’s Data System: A how-to on planning, teaching, and assessing reading groups and a children’s book, We Made Do.

I hope our clients know that we are committed to meeting them where they are at and supporting them in achieving the goals they have for teachers and students. (please see previous answer too)

Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?

When Covid hit, our work in schools came to a halt. We had to pivot fast to online learning and support. It was very stressful to support schools in a new way, but we did it. We learned from each other. We read books. We watched videos. We learned new platforms. Due to all of that, we now provide more virtual professional development and support than ever before. I am proud of how good we have become at virtual support for schools including professional development, attending meetings, and even quick check-in meetings with clients. I feel we are better able to support our clients due to that pivot.

We’d love to hear the story of how you built up your social media audience?

We recently updated our website to better support schools, especially teachers, leaders, and coaches. www.strivetlc.com. The coaching pages have a plethora of free and paid resources for instructional coaches that help coaches develop systems for differentiated and effective coaching. We are still working on building our audience on our social media accounts (facebook for instructional coaches and instagram for teachers). On social media, we are all about giving back to educators. We are committed to providing free resources and give-a-ways to let teachers know how much we admire them and want them to feel tender, loving, care from STRIVE, whether they are clients or not. We are a very pro teacher firm. In education, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t take care of the teachers that we expect to take care of our students. Teaching is hard and is has become harder. It is an amazing career that is so rewarding, but it is not easy. We want teachers to know that we love them and are here for them. In my opinion, teaching is the most noble and self-sacrificing profession. I am in constant awe of what teachers do for their students; academically, socially, and emotionally.

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