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Lifelong Learning

Kindergarten teacher named Hopkins Teacher of the Year

March 14, 2019

From a young age, Kristi Rusten was interested in becoming a teacher. She spent time helping in her mom’s classroom and babysitting for several families.

“I have a passion for helping young children develop their character, become independent, and know that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to,” Rusten said. “I believe that building community within the classroom is the first step to helping all students feel accepted and successful.”

Rusten began teaching for Moorhead Area Public Schools in 2016 as a first-grade teacher at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School. She has been a kindergarten teacher for the last two years, and this year she was named the 2019 Hopkins Teacher of the Year.

Prior to teaching in Moorhead, Rusten worked as a kindergarten long-term substitute in Fosston, Minn. In 2011 she began working as a reading interventionist in Bagley, Minn., and then was a kindergarten and first-grade looping teacher for several years.

Rusten earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of North Dakota. She completed her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a reading specialist emphasis from Concordia University in Portland, Ore., in December 2018.

Rusten uses hands-on, differentiated activities to engage students at their level in her classroom.

“I also provide my students with the opportunity to make their own choices,” she said. “They are able to choose where they work, who they want to work with, what activity they would like to do during literacy stations and math workplaces, what books they would like to read, and what they would like to write about.”

According to Lynnelle Dirksen, principal at Hopkins Elementary, Rusten is a great example of how Hopkins teachers do what is best for students.

“Kristi goes above and beyond to create a respectful classroom environment, and she is always purposeful when planning for instruction,” Dirksen said.

Dirksen said Rusten is a leader at Hopkins.

“She has been active with our building leadership team, our school climate team and our compassionate schools team,” Dirksen said.

Rusten also serves on the district writing committee and district math committee.

“I feel that sharing ideas with coworkers is one of the best ways to continue growing as a professional,” Rusten said. “To support my kindergarten team members, I have taken a leadership role by sharing resources and offering advice when needed.”

Just as it is essential to build a strong grade-level team, Rusten believes it is important to develop partnerships with families.

“I value the communication I have with families in my classroom and continuously look for new ways to support them to extend the learning from school to home,” she said.


Kristi Rusten, kindergarten teacher at Ellen Hopkins Elementary and the 2019 Hopkins Teacher of the Year, works with small groups of students on spelling and writing sight words before they read a book.

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