5 Questions with… Brian Durst

At the start of the school year, Four O’Clock Faculty explored Purposeful Learning Spaces with several educators who designed classrooms that allow students to feel comfortable, make choices within the classroom, and participate in a purposeful learning environment. One of the educators who shared was Brian Durst, who shared photos of the comfortable environment that he has created for his high school students. We are proud to have Brian share with us in this week’s 5 questions feature.

5 Questions with … Brian Durst

1. What do you most want your students to take with them from your classroom, school or district?

By the end of a school year, students should possess a strong sense of self with a solid understanding of how they think, learn, and best achieve. They should be aware of obstacles that impede their learning and have strategies to overcome them. I want learners to self-advocate by asking questions, thinking critically, and taking an active role in their education. They should have the confidence to take risks, express their voice, and work independently, but also thrive with a collaborative team. Therefore, they must be literate adults who communicate by listening, speaking, and writing, respect all perspectives, and act with empathy to become productive citizens.

2. What are the most rewarding and/or the most frustrating aspects of education?

The most frustrating aspect of education is the inequity and apathy created in a system constructed by adults–for the benefit of adults–who continue to refer to life in the real world. When we politicize our children’s education and run schools like a business, we widen socioeconomic gaps and do a disservice to all learners. Only observant students and their informed parents understand the degree to which school staff find strategies to overcome the crippling effects of budgetary limitations, over-testing, and school ratings. Few realize the impact because teachers put the needs of students ahead of external factors–creating secure, stable classrooms. Learning continues in these nurturing environments thanks to the compassion and professionalism of educators.

3. What advice would you give to young teachers?

The advice I would share with new teachers is the same reminder I would give those with years of experience: it is easy to overlook the impact we have on our learners. Therefore, we owe it to our students to seek personal and professional growth. We must continue to be active learners, but the only way to grow is by venturing beyond our comfort zone. When we become content, we risk complacency. There is too much telling without showing in school. If we want students to be independent, creative thinkers and risk-takers, we must be willing to model such actions. To challenge the status quo and create innovative outcomes, curious minds should constantly ask, “What if?” For example, what if teachers lose their answer keys and teaching manuals? Teachers should not have all the answers. When students envision original possibilities, reward them by responding, “Why not?” This autonomy promotes investment in the learning process and allows engaged thinkers to explore meaningful outcomes. Unscripted lessons present something new each day–as revitalizing for teachers as for students.

4. What has influenced your career the most?

Students and colleagues influence me daily. They teach me to put others first, respect all, and remain humble. They trust me to act selflessly, with their best interests in mind. They challenge me to create memorable experiences, build lasting relationships, and bring energy every day. They remind me of my purpose. Collecting wisdom from experience, a master’s program, and a rocking PLN has significantly shaped my craft, but nothing has impacted my career as much as fatherhood. As a parent, I want to know what my children know and can do–and how I may support their growth. All of my planning, instruction, and assessment is with my son and daughter in mind. As I reflect, I wonder if my children would enjoy learning in this class; if their time would be respected and meaningful; if they would thrive and be excited to return for more; if they would keep in touch long after graduation–a teacher’s ultimate reward.

5.  As an educator, what are you currently focused on?

I am currently focused on creating a personalized learning model in my high school Literature and Composition classes. Thematic units and essential questions are in place, department standards and course learning targets are aligned, and our purpose is transparent. The classroom has flexible seating and provides an environment conducive to all learners: three desks for traditional, independent work; tables for collaboration; a comfortable reading corner with a sofa and carpeting; several lamps for soft lighting; and a Smartboard and set of six Chromebooks to support our technical needs. The personalized class still presents traditional literary content, English skills to practice, and a set of standards to guide expectations, but students have the opportunity to delve deeper into concepts and work beyond comprehension of the material. I hope to create an efficient workflow by checking daily progress and collaborating with learners to determine reasonable timelines for completion and sharing of the artifacts they create. My primary role is to facilitate learning by supporting innovation, providing immediate feedback, asking open-ended questions, and listening as students talk themselves through creative insecurity. In the personalized model, students and the teacher have the autonomy, space, and time to produce enduring learning experiences. If I want my classes to be truly learner-centered, I have to release control and trust in three questions to guide our journey: What if? Why not? So what? I anticipate powerful answers.


Brian Durst has been gathering wisdom from colleagues and creating memories with students for nearly two decades in the classroom–a learner-centered, educational clubhouse. He and his students learn with a purpose every day by asking, “What if? Why not? and So What?” Brian perseveres on an endless quest to promote a culture of learning through innovative engagement strategies, healthy grading practices, and assessment for learning. He was the recipient of the 2015 Herb Kohl Fellowship Award for his ability to inspire a love of learning in students and motivate others, and for leadership within and outside the classroom. After years of exploring PBL, differentiation, genius hour, and the paperless classroom, he is currently working with a personalized learning model in high school communication arts. Brian always seeks opportunities to network with other educators, share experiences, and advocate for students. He is a proud father of two, husband, and varsity baseball coach.  


Grafton High School

Grafton, WI

Twitter: @RESP3CTtheGAME

Blog: Form of the Good

Web Page: The GHS Clubhouse

Class Twitter: @MrDurstGHS

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