The Transformational Power of SIT

Alumnus Dean Fusto, head of school at Atlanta’s Brandon Hall, says SIT’s pioneering approaches inform his work every day.

Studying at SIT made a big impression on Dean Fusto. “It was a transformational experience for me. That term gets thrown around a lot. It sounds like a cliché. But for me, it really was transformational, from an educational and career standpoint, and even a philosophical standpoint.”

Brandon HallDean, now president and head of school at Brandon Hall School in Atlanta, received his MA in TESOL from SIT in 1991. What made his experience so remarkable, he says, wasn’t just what he was learning, but how he was learning: “SIT was doing things 25 years ago that even now are considered experimental.”

SIT’s emphasis on experience upends the usual learning model. Dean explained that he and his fellow students experienced learning a language from the ground up. New MA TESOL students, just like new learners of English, have to cope with communicating in a language they know little to nothing about, such as Turkish or Japanese.

Dean also became a fan of SIT’s feedback-centered grading model. “You’re not evaluated through letter grades, but more qualitative measures.”

He found SIT’s practical approaches so useful that he’s made them the centerpiece of his work as an educator. “Everything I do is based particularly on that experiential piece. I take a lesson plan and work to make it more experiential. The students are doing the lion’s share of the work, and you’re the coach, the mentor. They’re grappling with things and sharing their thoughts.”

After teaching in public school after graduation, Dean eventually took a job at Northfield Mount Hermon, a private boarding school in Northfield, Mass. He had no boarding school experience, but what he found there resonated with his studies. “Their approach was everything I believed in – getting to know students and colleagues at a deep level is possible at a boarding school. You often aren’t limited to being known as a teacher. You’re also a dorm parent or a coach.”

Many boarding school students come from other countries and cultures, and Dean found that the all-in approach allowed students and teachers a deeper understanding of cultural differences, something that’s central to SIT’s work, too.

Last year, Dean became head of school at Brandon Hall. There, he says, he employs the methods he learned at SIT as a leader, shaping the manner and direction of learning. “From a leadership perspective,” Dean says, “my style is built on personalizing leadership, knowing people’s strengths and challenges, but always having an openness – if people need you, you make yourself available.”

Dean plans to offer current SIT students internships at Brandon Hall. Other partnership programs, he says, are in the works. In the meantime, he’s also busy with an online endeavor. He started Teach-Learn-Lead Global Edu-library as a place to compile the links and resources he relied on as an educator, and the site now boasts 25,000 followers.

He’s also stayed connected to SIT throughout his career, mentoring students, sending prospective students, and returning to campus for panels about independent and nonprofit schools. It’s a connection Dean considers permanent: “If something transforms you, you always want a connection to it.”