About Adrian Del Monte
Adrian (@adrian_delmonte) has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English Teacher, Department Head and Leadership Coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his school which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year.
Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help unprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy, and leadership goals. He recently began a podcast called Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. Adrian believes that there is no greater cause you can give your life to than serving others.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest. Adrian actually reached out to me over email after hearing an episode on the podcast, just to let me know that he thought it was excellent content, and he’s really enjoying the interviews. And after read a little bit about himself and doing research on him, I realized that he should be someone who’s also interviewed on the show. And so we brought him on here today. Adrian has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English teacher, department head and leadership coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year. And you’ll see why servant leadership is so important to Adrian. In this episode, Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help underprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy and leadership goals.
Sam Demma (01:01):
Adrian also recently began a podcast and is the host of Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. A believes that there is no greater cause you can give in your life than serving others. Make sure you connect with him on Twitter at @adrian_delmonte at Hopes Rise. Hope you enjoy this episode. See you on the other side. Adrian, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself with the listener and sharing how you got that, the work that you do in education with young people today?
Adrian Del Monte (01:40):
Great. Well, thanks for having me, Sam I got into teaching maybe a little more unconventionally than, than others. I I didn’t have a great, great experience in high school that that’s totally on me. I I was pretty self-absorbed in high school. I had a lot of insecurities and and so I kind of buried my head in high school in my athletics. I was a competitive runner and was kind of angling for a scholarship. And when I look back on it now, there were so many teachers who were there with kind of their arms out and I didn’t really take advantage. I totally like got self-absorbed a bit focused on my, my sports so much. And, and I think I missed a lot of the high school experience. So I started studying at university and I figured I’d be a lawyer.
Adrian Del Monte (02:34):
My Nono said he would pay for . He would, he would pay for law school if one of us went. So it was like, all right. And then I realized, you know, in my third year of studying criminal justice, very few lawyers actually demand, you know, the truth like Tom, like Tom Cruise and a few good men. I want the truth. Lawyers don’t do that. Lawyers do a lot of paperwork. And so in my fourth year of university, I sort of started realizing, you know, what I feel like I want to give back. I want to give back, I want to create high school experiences for students that maybe, you know, maybe that I wasn’t aware of or, or that I, that I missed. And so I totally, in my fourth year I got into, I started, I had an in, I had enough teachables in, in English. But then I had to angle for a second one in my fourth year. And that’s really when I decided to go into teaching, but it took me a while to get there. I just, I don’t know why I think my sports while it added so much, it also kept me hidden a bit from the real world.
Sam Demma (03:32):
I feel the same way. I think we can. We’re very similar in many ways. My high school experience was so similar. In fact, I, I didn’t get involved in any activity throughout high school, aside from extracurricular soccer and rushing a soccer practice when the school bell went and I too missed out on all those abilities to serve and give back and learn more about myself with like-minded students and individuals. So I think the reason you got into teaching is, is amazing and it’s wholeheartedly centered that’s right? Yeah. Little pun there on your podcast title. Why don’t you share a little bit about your own show for educators and why you started it?
Adrian Del Monte (04:10):
Yeah, that’s that, that’s a good question. Thanks. the name of my podcast, Sam is, is Wholehearted Teaching just started maybe have half dozen episodes and you know, the biggest challenge in COVID I have found has been to keep your head in a good space. Mm. There is so many rabbit holes you can go down right now, right? Like I I’m driving into work this morning. I had the radio on from like 7:30 to 7:32. And in those two minutes, right. Car accidents on the 401, the, our, our premier is deceiving us. It’s global war. Like within seconds, your mind can just go the wrong way. You, you start letting your mind as a teacher, like, are the kids even listening on the other end of these Google meets? Are they, are they learning in this virtual school? And, and I’ve actually found the biggest challenge has been filling my mind with good stuff, like consciously going outta my way to fill it with good stuff.
Adrian Del Monte (05:09):
And so the podcast was a way that I could fill my mind with, you know, things above better things. Just, just filling my brain with one of our core principles with our leadership students is we took this from Tim Elmore, but the GIGO principle garbage in garbage out mm-hmm . And, and I think if you, whatever you put into your brain, that’s the kind of person you become. You are what you eat. Right. These puns make a lot of sense. Right. And so the podcast for me was just a way that we could sort of set up some, the content. Yeah. You know, you know, what was inspiring a little bit was I don’t know if you saw during COVID. One of my favorite shows is the office. Yeah. And John Kansky, the character who plays Jim started this some good news. I don’t know if you saw those episode, some good news. And his idea was to combat bad with good, because I think it’s so easy for us to like slip into these rabbit holes of despair. Right. And like, you start scrolling through Twitter. You’re like, oh my gosh, like the icebergs are melted. The world is over. Like everything’s. And so trying to find good to combat is really the reason for my podcast. It’s, it’s, it’s really what I’m trying to do with my, my mind, my mind right now.
Sam Demma (06:23):
And you mentioned that when you were in high school, you had teachers who extended an arm and a hand to you to try and help you, that you didn’t take. And I’m really curious to know, what do you think are the qualities, or maybe just one or two qualities of a wholehearted teacher of someone who is not only striving to teach curriculum, but really see, hear, and value and appreciate their students. How can educators listening, make sure that they are being those sorts of people, the people that reached out to help you when you were a kid?
Adrian Del Monte (06:54):
Yeah. You know what, I, I think we use this, it’s a little cliche, but, but the word is real mm-hmm or authentic or vulnerable. The subtitle of my podcast is bringing your whole self to the classroom. I think, I think, I think an, an attribute of, of, of the best kind of teacher is teaching. Isn’t a job, it’s it? It’s, it’s not something they come in, they check in, they check out it’s, it’s who they are. Yeah. This idea of their, their, they wanna learn not just in the classroom, but they wanna learn all the time. They wanna, they wanna have a growth mindset all the time, again, another cliche phrase. But I think a teacher is someone who recognizes that at my core, I’m a teacher. So I think that’s one thing, this authenticity, this integrity of, I learned recently that integrity is a math word.
Adrian Del Monte (07:51):
That just means whole it’s a whole number. And so integrity is a whole person, right. They don’t, they’re not a teacher. And then, so else later on they’re, that’s who they are. It’s just a, it’s, it’s a kind of a, a coming together of all parts of their being. And, and so that’s, that’s an attribute. I think another part of, of a great teacher is gratitude. I think that’s such a big one for teachers. I know there’s problems and, and I’m definitely not, I’m not sorry. I’m, I’m very aware of the problems mm-hmm and I think I’m also consciously aware of how grateful I am that I get to do this work. Yeah. That I get students in front of me who listen to me, who are interested in the things that I might see as important, and that I, I, I’m grateful that I get to work with the wonderful school community, wonderful colleagues. So, so I think those things, I try to keep gratitude high on my list, authenticity high on my list. I think those are some of the attributes of a, of a wholehearted teacher.
Sam Demma (08:55):
Totally agree. And when I think about Mike loud foot, who is the, not the one teacher, cuz there were so many, but one of many teachers who heavily impacted my career in life, his authenticity of being who he truly was. Yeah. Came out as some quirky mannerisms and extreme passion when teaching his curriculum to the point where it was hard not to listen to him and focus because he was just so into it. Yeah. And I think during tough times, some of that passion dwindles not that the, not that the candle ever gets unlit, but it might just, it might just reduce slightly I’m. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I’m curious to know if you have any stories of transformation and it doesn’t have to be a kid in your class. It could just be a story about how someone, you know, or someone you’ve taught or someone, you know, who’s taught, has transformed. A student has transformed due to, to teaching. And the reason I’m asking to share it is because it might relight or make that little handle, like it might make it brighter right now. And you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons if it’s a serious story.
Adrian Del Monte (10:04):
Hmm. Yeah. So, you know, Sam, I, I actually have never been brought to tears with my students over my curriculum. My curriculum, my, I know inside and out. I, I, I all day I can teach the books, but the stories that matter, I think that that inspire teachers are the ones that have outside the curriculum. Mm. I’ve cried with my students many times. Yeah, here’s a great example. A few years ago I had this particular class, it was a a grade 10 English class. And they were so openly curious about everything. And we went off book a ton of times. We, we went off book and we, this was maybe four or five years ago, but Google docs was just kind of getting a little bit big. And, and one of the things I started offering the students was editing, editing, help with them but because there were so many of them, I couldn’t meet with them each out after class.
Adrian Del Monte (11:01):
And, and so I started saying, I’ll edit with you, we’ll meet on your Google doc. That’s the beauty of a Google doc. You can collaborate in. So, so many ways. And, and they, they started taking me up on it. So we would edit at, in the evenings and we did parent consent forms and all those sorts of things cuz it was outside of class hours. But I started editing with the kids, giving them time outside of our class hours and, and on the last day of class and, and sorry, this is something, I think that even though it happened before COVID, this is, it is such a powerful tool. So showed out to Google docs, editing tools. So back on, back on this story, last eight class I walk in and they’ve got a cake and I get emotional thinking about it.
Adrian Del Monte (11:47):
And, and one of the things that year I really pushed was reading and Harry Potter became a huge reference. And at the very end of the very last Harry Potter, Harry Potter says to his mother as a ghost, will you stay with me? And she says, till the very end and the students on the cake had written, will you edit with me? till the very end. Right? That’s what they had written to me. Right. And it was like, what am my colleague poked her head in? And, and she saw me and she’s like, are you crying? Like, and I was like, I’m freaking crying. Like I’m crying right now because it just over it overcame me that this thing editing, editing their essays, their five paragraph essays mattered to them that I made time for them. And I can still see their faces. I, I can still see their faces is like holding the cake, them being emotional and over this simple thing of editing till the very end and, and yeah, man, those, those are the kind of things when you kind of go outside the curriculum and I think now is a time if there’s ever a time to leave your curriculum for your students, it’s 2020.
Adrian Del Monte (12:53):
And , and, and that, that story every time I think of it, I, I to use your language, ignites the fire a little bit. Mm. Ignites the fire. Yeah.
Sam Demma (13:02):
And you, you mentioned that you left and that’s a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. And if anyone’s listening, I mean, I know you’re listening. If you are listening, actively please consider reaching out to Adrian. Maybe you can share a little bit about Google docs if you haven’t used it before. Mm-Hmm I know it’s really cool. Cuz you can change the colors of everyone who’s typing and you can have like 10, 15 people on the same doc typing things at the same time. Really cool tool to use. You mentioned your Nu though, made a promise to you that he pay for your education. If you went and became a lawyer. Yeah. I too Italian so I can wait for the pressures in the family. but you said that you actually wanted to give back and something that I know because of previous conversations we’ve had is that you deeply believe in the power of serving others and servant leadership. Where has that, where has that aspect of your life come into play in teaching and outside of the classroom that you think is worth sharing with others?.
Adrian Del Monte (14:04):
You know, a funny story about my no, no, I, I didn’t pursue law school, but when I was in, when I was doing my masters, I actually, I applied for, for my, for my doctorate. Yeah. And was accepted my doctorate and, and my no know said goes, that’s not a real doctor. That’s what he said. Cause he wasn’t a medical doctor. So, so anyways, you know, I gotta thank him cuz that actually pushed me a little further towards teachers college, but about servant leadership. You know, I think students have an image of a leader that is a little bit unrealistic. I think the image of, of, of leadership for most students is like someone up on a stage, right? With a mic commanding, the troops, MLK, you know Nelson men, someone, someone Barack Obama, someone up there with like power and influence.
Adrian Del Monte (14:57):
And I think that’s intimidating for a lot of students. And so when I got into leadership at the school, I realized that a more accurate representation of a leader was not someone with a Mike, but someone with a empty garbage bag. And I know this, I know this is something you, you and I connect on. Le leadership to me is, and I’m taking this from a great leadership book called Good to Great. And the author talks about the difference between a show horse and a plow horse. Right? And I think many leaders are show horses. They, they look good, right? They got the image, they got the confidence, they’re good on a mic. They can speak with a good deal of articulation. Right. And, and I think those leaders are good, but not great. Great leaders are the ones who are plow horses.
Adrian Del Monte (15:48):
Mm-Hmm right. The image in my mind of a show horse is like the one jumping over the barriers with like the fury tail. I don’t think, you know, like the eque all that, right. But the plow horse is the guy out in the field, pulling the, the, the S around his neck or pulling the yolk around his neck as he’s like grinding through the dirt. And that was a better image to me of leadership. And so one of the images that we always have highlight for our students is pick up a garbage bag, you know, pick, pick up a garbage before you get the mic. You’re gonna hold the garbage bag. And, you know, a couple years ago this, we, we played this amazing game at Muskoka woods on one of our leadership retreats. The game ended with students building these cardboard boats, sailed them through the lake.
Adrian Del Monte (16:33):
Hmm. So fun at the end of it, everyone’s got their spirit gear on, you got smoke, grenades going, you got all the it’s, a who music that wasn’t the highlight. The highlight was the six kids who stayed after and pulled that soggy cardboard out of the lake. Mm. To me, those were the kids that got it. The other kids are wonderful kids and they might have just missed the moment. But the images we posted on social media after were the garbage pickers. Mm. Not the kids with the smoke grenades. And I, and I think students need those images. Mm-Hmm, otherwise leader leadership too. It’s big of a concept for them to grasp. It’s like, well, I can’t do that. I’m I don’t wanna be on the stage. And many students don’t wanna be on in high school. I didn’t wanna be on the stage. And, and so I hid, or I found something that was a little more safe and I, and, and I think images like garbage picking are powerful, powerful metaphors for students. And so those are the kind of things that I, I try to give my students opportunities to pick up garbage. I love it. I love it. Yeah. And there’s no shortage of trash, so that’s right, right?
Sam Demma (17:49):
That’s right. It’s a great opportunity. And I love the story, man. I got goosebumps as you were explaining it because recently I’ve had a similar revelation. I mean, all throughout high school like yourself, I was very self-absorbed in, in soccer and not getting involved. And then my 21st birthday, which was September this year, I decided to take a year off social media and I haven’t logged on, it’s been over two months now. Wow. I’m I have a buddy who checks my messages for me and a high school intern who manages Twitter. And I, before I left the, the platform, I took down almost all of the pictures that I had. I had like over a hundred posts. And most of them were me standing on a stage saying basically, unconscious justly, look how great I am, you know, doing all these speeches. And, and I started to ask myself, is the message I’m spreading congruent with these posts, because I’m actually not doing young people, a service by sharing all these, highlighted all these highlights and, and huge moments because they’re gonna look at it and think, wow, I’m not doing that. I’m good enough. I could never be there. And so I took most of them down. Mm. And I started asking myself, why am I putting content out in the first place? Is it to help others or to validate my own insecurities? Mm. And yeah. So I deeply relate to you on that level. And when I come back to social media, if I do there’ll be a lot more garbage bags.
Adrian Del Monte (19:11):
Yeah. Right. You know what I think, I think it’s so important for kids to understand that leadership is not something you do yeah. For three days. Yeah. Right. And I think that’s typically the image, you sign up for a leadership experience and those things are powerful. Those are fire starters. I’m not, I’m not, you know, a trip to camp Olympia or Musk woods that those ignite the fire. But I think the kids have to really buy into a way of living. Yeah. And, and, and, and then it’s not so much about what I did for those three days. It’s about how I live the other 362 days. And, and that becomes, you know, then it’s about, I woke up this morning, the dishwasher was full. I’m an empty that even my mom doesn’t let me know that that’s or, you know, my friend my, my friend needs me. I’m gonna call her on the phone. Right. And, and I think then servant leadership is not about an event. It’s about a a way of life. And I really do think values.
Sam Demma (20:08):
Yeah. Right. Your values drive all your actions. And if you’re always asking yourself, how can I help others? Or how can I serve others? You don’t have to have talent skills, abilities, or God forbid sake, even education all the time to just be a great person to the people around you, as much as you can. Mm-Hmm and it’s funny, cuz you talk to what your Nuno. I, I think of mine when I think about this, because God bless his soul. He’s passed away now. I have the same name as him. Usually. I name you after your, your other father. Do you have the same name as your grandfather or middle?
Adrian Del Monte (20:40):
Sam Demma (20:41):
Middle. Yeah, of course. and and Sam, my Nuno though he would wake up 4:00 AM shovel, 10 to 12 streets driveways in the middle of the winter of people that he knew couldn’t shovel at themselves before going to work at a farm for pretty or sorry, not in the winter, but before going to work for a whole day in a factory when my dad was just growing up you know, one time I remember a story where he could called my dad because my dad knew he needed some help to cut a little spot in the grass to, to plant a garden. And they said they were gonna start the project at 7:00 AM. And my dad woke up to my grandfather, digging. The job was done when he…
Adrian Del Monte (21:20):
Got at seven..
Sam Demma (21:22):
He started at four, it came over like five. And was done by seven.
Adrian Del Monte (21:25):
Plow horse, man. That’s a plow. That’s that, that see the, those are the stories of servant leadership that servant leadership, servant leadership is not a mic. It’s not like spirit. It’s not, I think school spirit is great, but it’s not servant leadership. There, there, there there’s overlap, but they’re not the same thing. And your grandfather that’s that’s leadership. He led his family like, like how, how could, how could our, how, what better examples of that? Can we give to our students than that? Like that, that is just so powerful. That’s a great, great example. Sure. It was for you and your siblings. Like I’m sure that was a great example.
Sam Demma (22:01):
Well, I still remember it to this day, right? Mm-Hmm , it’s the stories that are memorable and stick in our mind. You know, we’ve talked a lot about servant leadership, a little, a little bit about what it means to be a wholehearted or high performing educator. Mm. You know, right now it’s, it’s challenging with COVID and I’m curious to know, not so much, I don’t wanna focus too much on the challenges, but I wanna focus on what you’ve tried that is working or is in progress and you think another educator might benefit from here?
Adrian Del Monte (22:26):
Yeah. That’s a great question. You, a, a lot of people are saying, you know, once we get this vaccine, we can get back to normal. And, and the reality is normal. Wasn’t that great? Like there was a lot of problems with normal. We had, we had, you know, again, I don’t wanna focus on the problems, but yeah, you had disengaged students, you had mental illness, you had systemic racism. There was a lot of thing. And that, that needed to be addressed. And I think COVID, I’m looking at it in a way of what opportunities does this now present us. Mm. So, so, so here, here’s an example, I think over the last several years, but particularly in a virtual learning space, teachers no longer need to hold information because the students have Google, right. Teachers used to be, if you wanted to know about what happens in the play Macbeth, you had to come to Mr. Delmonte’s class and I’ll tell you, they don’t need you for that anymore.
Adrian Del Monte (23:18):
They, they don’t need teachers to be the sage on stage. Right. They don’t need me up there with all my knowledge presented because they can Google it. So the first I’ve heard, this is the generation of kids that knows more than the adults. Now they don’t know what to do with it necessarily, but they, they have tons of information. And I think what COVID is giving us an opportunity to do is ask ourself, how can we really create opportunities for student voice student voice? And, and so when I’m designing a lesson, now I ask myself, is this experience about what I know or what the students can create? Mm, right. So, so let me give an example, cuz teachers are practical academic. So that, that sounds fine. But how do you design a lesson?
Adrian Del Monte (24:08):
So the way I would design the lesson, I’m gonna teach, right? When this interview’s over is, is I’ll start with a I’ll start with a Kahoot, right? A Kahoot is like a, a virtual game, a trivia game, but all the kids turn off their mics on their mics. So you can hear them as they play the game. Then they come into the conversation and we’ll read a story about actually, we’re, we’re reading a great piece today about it’s called dear white people. Great piece. Nice. And that’s gonna lead us into a journal entry where they’re creating a boat, asking the question of themselves. Am I not a racist or am I anti racist? And they’re, they’re different. And so they get to write a personal journal. They come back and they go into a breakout room where they’re in a conversation with a few of their a few of their classmates, an online small group.
Adrian Del Monte (24:57):
Then after that, they come back for a class discussion and then it ends with all of us contributing to like a interactive whiteboard called the Jamboard. And so when I look at, I would’ve never taught that way. Right. But what COVID is making me do is realize the kids have to stay engaged all the time. Cause there’s too many distractions in their bedrooms. Right. They’ve got Snapchat and yeah. And, and, and, and, and their bed, like things on the wall, right. They get distracted. Right. And so COVID is asking me to reconsider, how do I take the emphasis off knowledge and focus on what the students can create? And actually the homework tonight after this conversation is I’m gonna have them create like a, a poem, an original poem. And I, I think Google, while it’s a powerful source is crippling our kids a little bit. So teachers have a wonderful opportunity to innovate and, and try new things that are gonna shift the focus from what we know to what they can do. Yeah. I hope that answers your question.
Sam Demma (25:58):
A hundred percent. And if anyone’s curious about Jamboard or Kahoots or any of the resources you mentioned, including Google docs, how can someone reach out to you if they’re inspired by this and just wanna bounce some ideas around and have a conversation with yourself?
Adrian Del Monte (26:14):
Twitter’s probably the best way my handle on Twitter is @adrian_delmonte like the like the fruit cup, no relation. Yeah. Okay. Awesome.
Sam Demma (26:27):
Yeah. Cool. Yeah. Adrian, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was such an insightful conversation. You’re doing amazing work and I hope to stay in touch and keep watching all the cool things that happen with your class and in your school.
Adrian Del Monte (26:38):
Sam, I have got to get you on Wholehearted Teaching.
Sam Demma (26:40):
Let’s do it. That’ll be great.
Adrian Del Monte (26:41):
Thanks Sam. All right. Talk soon.
Sam Demma (26:44):
This interview could be something that you actually share with your class. I think the stories that Adrian shared and the perspectives on reframing leadership is something that is so relevant, especially right now, when all of your students are spending an average of eight to nine hours per day, a on social media, believing that leadership might be being a professional YouTuber being, becoming famous on TikTok. But when in reality, it’s, it’s all wrong. Leadership is about service leadership. Leadership is about being a value to others. And Adrian did an amazing job highlighting that today. And I think it’s worth sharing maybe with even other colleagues, especially with your students. If you enjoyed this interview with Adrian, consider reaching out to him, also consider leaving a rating and review. So more teachers like yourself can find these episodes and benefit from the content. And if you have something that you’d want to share, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and will get you scheduled to come on the podcast as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon.
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