Marita Diffenbaugh is honored to serve as principal of Elevate Academy North, a public Career Technical charter school for students in 6th-12th grades.
She has served as a teacher, administrator, and has provided leadership support for districts, schools, and classrooms. As a partner with Elevate Academy Inc., Marita is connecting education with industry and community by developing, planning, and launching this new North Idaho school in Fall 2022. Marita is dedicated to using her strengths and experiences to advocate for respect and opportunity for all learners.
Marita believes that hope is a prerequisite for learning, and looks for ways to help others see their value. Her recently published book, L.E.A.R.N.E.R., Finding the True, Good, and Beautiful in Education, is for hope-givers who thrive when helping others develop their full potential.
WDP: Can you fill in the gaps on that introduction and tell listeners something else they may be surprised to know about you?
Marita Diffenbaugh: It may surprise listeners to know I did not complete traditional high school. Part of my story is helping students find hope – especially ones like me.
WDP: As an educator and education leader, you live by the philosophy of providing hope. Can you explain why that is a driving force in your ‘why’ as an educator?
Marita Diffenbaugh: As a teen mom, I received my GED. Through cosmetology to managing a local grocery store, I was determined not to become a teacher. But I finally realized education is the best avenue for helping students find hope. I love my role in education now.
WDP: You use the acronym L.E.A.R.N.E.R. throughout your book to help educators keep in mind important ways to help learners reach their full potential. Can you explain what each letter stands for in LEARNER, and then walk through one or two areas that may help listeners apply those ideas to their own leadership and service?
Marita Diffenbaugh: Sometimes it is difficult to feel like you’ve met the mark as educators. From experience I came up with this acronym. If educators or students follow these steps, they will find success in learning.
Listens – An educator provides welcome, readiness and ways for students to contribute.
Empowers – What’s the vibe at your school and district? Is there active feedback for everyone to feel like they belong?
Analyzes – I’ve been thinking about better ways to measure success. Not all students find success through benchmarks. But all students are learning. Find out what you’re going to keep, what you’ll research, and what will get rid of.
Resources – Instead of budgets, I’m talking about wonder, play and spaces to learn.
Needs – Hope is the prerequisite. It is the biggest need students have in order to learn. You can encourage small wins, joy and celebrations for learning. Set goals, learning plans and guidance for reaching goals.
Experiences – Through my life as an educator, I’ve realized if you are analyzing whom you are serving, you may miss the mark matching learning to needs. Your lessons mean you study the learner while he/she studies the content.
Relationships – This means honoring the whole person, which is the greatest measure of success.
WDP: How do you apply that philosophy to the way you serve learners?
Marita Diffenbaugh: One of the areas I’ve been studying is, “What is feedback?” Understanding why learning is not happening means listening and empowering. This leads to analyzing the root cause. It’s really no different that watching children play – they always give responsive feedback. Educators need that same perspective to see learning happen.
Now It’s Your Turn
If you are looking for a culture building resource for teams working to provide education as a service, Marita’s new book will provide support. Consider inviting families and community members, along with district and school staff to reflect and respond to the following questions, while reading this book together:
Where is Your Attention?
Who is Learning?
What is Learning?
How Will Learning Continue?
What Will Support Learners?
What is Valuable to Learners?
How Will I Connect With Learners?