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Growth Over Grades Podcast: Episode 12 - Jamilla Fort, Nicole Biscotti, and Barbara Bray

Ep. 12 | Jamilla Fort, Nicole Biscotti, and Barbara Bray: Women of Purpose in Education
Melody McAllister
March 31, 2023

Ep. 12 | Women of Purpose in Education

Welcome to the Growth Over Grades Podcast where we talk about education ideas and topics that matter most to our SpacesEDU Educator Community.  At the beginning of each new episode, I like to feature an amazing educator in our community. This week, I want to give a shoutout to one of our guests who is being featured today.

Before School started again for the 2022-23 school year, Educator Nicole Biscotti, shared an idea with me about starting a monthly Zoom Chat. We both thought that it would be better than a Twitter Chat because we could have more in depth conversations. 

And that is how we have started the monthly #PLNCoffeeTalk where we come as we are and educators from all over the globe join us. For some of us it’s earlier in the morning and we are still in pajamas while others of us are already rocking and rolling through the day! You should join us!

Fortunately, it has resonated with our community and we have met every month!  SpacesEDU even sponsors the coffee! #PLNCoffeeTalk has been as small as three of us and as large as almost twenty of us. It’s just such a great way to connect and share ideas and events that are near and dear to our educator hearts and lives. 

Thank you, Nicole, for being a leader and starting this #PLNCofeeTalk. Thank you SpacesEDU Educator Community for showing up every month ready to connect! 

That is actually how this group of ladies for this podcast episode got started. We met up for our #PLNCoffeeTalk and realized that though we are in different locations, different seasons of our lives and have different entry ways into education (and serve in different roles), as women with purpose in education, we have even more similarities. 

The only person missing is community member, Tammie Mason. Her story of how she was retired and then decided to get into teaching really inspired a beautiful discussion. We hoped she’d be able to join us, but since she couldn’t, we are giving her a shoutout!

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Meet These Women of Purpose

Jamilla Fort, CEO of Fort Consulting LLC, is a collaborative and transformational former teacher and current instructional leader with a proven track record of closing large achievement gaps in inner-city schools. She actively connects effectively with teams across Baltimore City School district (BCPSS) to implement and uphold high standards for instruction with 9 years of urban education experience. 

Jamilla has established and managed multiple summer and after-school programs, having been awarded a 500K grant from MSDE to do so. In addition, she developed and led Bmore Music!, LLC, an after-school music program that offered high-quality music education for students grades PreK-5. 

She has collaborated to create and lead teams on BCPSS’ initiatives such as the Student Learning Plans, where she serves as both the teacher lead and an SLP ambassador lead. She worked during the pandemic to collect data for the safe return of students for hybrid learning via the “Shining Stars” summer program and also created a support for virtual learning and teaching called “Virtual Best Practices: for Teachers by Teachers”.  

Jamilla has been awarded accolades such as BCPSS’ 2022 "Teacher of the Year" semi-finalist as well as 2021 “Teacher of the Year'' finalist. Jamilla is passionate about striving to change outcomes of inner-city students one classroom at a time. In her spare time for fun, she hosts her live show “Chit-Chats with Fort”.

Barbara Bray is an author, podcast host, speaker, mentor, and story weaver who has been on a mission to transform teaching so learning is authentic, meaningful, personal, and joyful. 

Barbara’s journey has led her to co-author two books on personalized learning: "Make Learning Personal" and "How to Personalize Learning." 

Barbara's Rethinking Learning podcast with over 140 conversations captures inspirational stories on how challenges help us discover and grow our purpose. Many of the stories along with tips and activities became the heart of her latest book, Define Your Why: Own Your Story So You Can Live and Learn on Purpose.

Barbara loves to share and learn with you through her workshops, writing, and coaching on defining your WHY, empowering learner agency, and through conversations on changing "school." to focus more on relationships and supporting learners to reach their fullest potential.

Nicole Biscotti is a Momvocate, Educator, & Author whose focus is on the future of school as being informed by relevancy and the needs of our currently marginalized, under-supported learners. We have a lot to learn if we listen!

Nicole wrote I Can Learn When I’m Moving: Going to School With ADHD  with her 9 year old son from the unique perspectives of a child and a mother who is also a teacher. She has seen both personally and professionally how children struggle to be understood and how adults are often at a loss with how to handle the difficult behaviors associated with ADHD.  She empowers parents and teachers to provide game changing support for children with ADHD in school through sharing her and her son’s story, along with researched-based strategies.

Nicole has also translated books into Spanish such as El Cuento del Perdón by Melody McAllister  and Todos Pueden Aprender Matemáticas by Alice Aspinall.  I Can Learn When I’m Moving: Going to School With ADHD is also coming soon en español.

Nicole’s next book, Invisible con ADHD: Real Voices, Real Policy for Latino Students is co-authored with Andrea Aguirre. They address the issues around the disproportionate lack of support that Latino children with ADHD are faced with. Through interviews with former students, educators in the United States and Mexico, and extensive research, they will offer educators a holistic view of the obstacles that currently stand in the way of protecting kids from poor outcomes as well as offering research based solutions.  

Entries Into Teaching

The coolest thing about talking with Jamilla, Barbara, and Nicole is that none of them came into education in a traditional sense. Their stories and backgrounds are truly unique and adds to the richness they bring into their education communities. 

Jamilla thought she might pursue Broadway! She talks about how strong women spoke into her life and inspired her to dive into education. Even though she struggled at first, she followed the lead of the inspirational women who mentored her and put that back into her students’ and fellow educators’ lives. 

"I'm going to push myself to be best not for me and my ego but for kids…iIf I'm at my best, my kids will be at their best." Jamilla Fort

Barbara spent the first half of her life as a dental hygienist! Then she fell in love with educational technology and at 39 after breaking her arm and neck and told herself to do what she loved and went “headfirst into education.” 

Nicole was an entrepreneur and decided she wanted to pursue education because she, too, wanted to help others find their purpose. She was 38 when she taught her first Spanish class. At that time of her life, she had left an unhealthy marriage and was raising four kids by herself. However, she explained to us that if she was going to spend 40 hours a week working, she wanted it to have meaning. 

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Leadership from Women in Education 

When asked why female leadership is so important, Barbara immediately began to answer. Helping other women find their purpose means so much to her. She is able to reach fellow women through their doubts and mentor them. She wants other women to do what “feeds their souls.” She also wants women to share their stories and feel confident about the value they bring to the table. She notes that women leaders are everywhere and we need more here in the USA leading the country and schools. 

During this part of the conversation, Jamilla added that she does better with women mentors, especially after the lack of representation she experienced as a younger person. She wants to be an example for younger women in her circle of influence. She wants them to know they can  buy their own car and anything they want. They can go after their dream job.  

Nicole shares that there is a different comfort level we have as women talking with other women. She agreed that representation matters, and as nice as our male leaders or coworkers can be, there are just some things they won’t know or understand about our life experiences. She says that oftentimes “we need to see it to believe it.” We need to see more powerful women leading the way with confidence. 

After a few moments all of us were chiming in with strong women who had helped shape us. I hope as you read this or listen to the podcast, you are thinking of strong women who have helped build you up, too. Jamilla, Barbara, Nicole, and myself all hope to mentor other women as we have been mentored. Barbara has been doing it for years, but she is not ready to stop any time soon! 

Wisdom for Everyone

I love asking my podcast guests for wisdom before we end our show. Here are a few nuggets….

“Everyone has a story. Please share your story…you tell it and share it, first.” Barbara Bray

“This [education] is really hard work and as women we truly truly need to empower one another.” Jamilla Fort 

"When you raise your authentic voice and share it, it resonates with people…and it resonates with the people that need to hear it and there is power in that sharing. Power for you and power for others.” Nicole Biscotti, M. Ed.

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Follows & Show Notes:

Follow Nicole on Twitter

You can connect with Nicole at, IG @MeaningfulInclusionEdu or join her Facebook group #ADHDGlobalConvo.

Follow Barabara on Twitter

Barbara’s books are all available on her website:

Follow Jamilla on Twitter

Find out more about Jamilla Fort at

Melody McAllister

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