About Al Mclean
Al Mclean has been an educator for 25 years and is currently the Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School (TH & VS). Al taught in a small community high school for 6 years, in K-6 school for two years and a Grade 7/8 school for four years. Before becoming Principal, Al was the Vice Principal at two high schools in Timmins for 11 years. Outside of the classroom Al enjoys hiking, backpacking, squash, hockey and hunting.
Al has been married for 17 years with two children. His favourite quote is: “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts.” – Murray Sinclair (former Senator and chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission)
Connect with Al: Email
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
District School Board Ontario North East
Timmins High & Vocational School
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Canada.ca
**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 (00:01):
Al welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do?
Al Mclean (00:11):
Okay. So first off I’m Al I work with district school board Ontario Northeast. I am currently located in Tim’s Ontario. We’re about eight hours north of Toronto. So I’ve been working with the school board for 25 years now six as a teacher, 19 as an administrator principal at all levels, of the system from K to 12. I’ve also been VP at this school, particularly for seven years. And this is my third go-round at this school. And I’m back for my first time as principal for the last two. But I think what kind of gets me very excited is that it’s, it’s always changing and you get to see the best in kids. You get them as they come in in grade nine and you get to see them leave in grade 12. And the changes that they exhibit in four years is amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the elementary levels as well just to see the changes there, but it’s just so exciting to be with the kids and the energy that they often provide is fantastic for guys like me as I get a little older in my career.
Sam Demma (01:26):
That’s awesome. Would your school be located close to O Gorman? I know it’s different boards, but is that in the same area in Tim’s are very far away.
Al Mclean (01:35):
Yeah, we’re, we’re actually fairly close. So we’re in like a little educational hub. So not only do we have at other high school from Urman from our, our English Catholic, but right. We’re actually right beside a French Catholic high school as well. Nice. And across the road from us is our grade seven, eight feeder school. And around the corner is the French Catholic school, seven, eight feeder school. So it’s always a busy place. And my colleagues at all those buildings, I know very well and you’re fantastic people and but that’s basically where we are.
Sam Demma (02:08):
That’s awesome. And what, what got you into education when you think back to your own career journey and search, did you know you wanted to be in education and how did you land here?
Al Mclean (02:20):
Well, mine actually, I was that typical when I was in school at, we had the OAC year, the grade 13 year. Yep. So I was wandering around and basically my guidance counselor said, look, you have two days to decide what you’re doing and where you’re applying to. And, and so I was fortunate. I had two teachers and and I’ll start with probably the second greatest influence in my teaching career is a guy named Bob. And he was came to me. I came to my stool in my grade 12 year and was a PHY ed teacher. And and so I remember two particular incidents with him, but one that really stood out and why I wanted to be a teacher is that he, he came to watch a basketball game. So he had taught me in PHY ed.
Al Mclean (03:06):
He knew we were playing basketball and he came to watch a switch was surprising, cuz we weren’t a good team at all. I grew up in, in bury Ontario and there were much better high schools at basketball than us. And so Bob was in the stands. We lost by I think, 48 points. And I remember going in a class the next day and Bob pulled me aside and we said, you know, good game last night. And I kind of chuckled and said, well, Hey, we lost. Right. And he said, but, but your effort didn’t change. Right? Your effort from start to finish down by two, down by 48, never changed. And he said, that’s gonna serve you well in your future life. And at this time he didn’t know kind of what I was thinking of doing. So I really appreciated that.
Al Mclean (03:51):
And then I went the next day to another gentleman by the name of Brian and Brian was my English teacher for a couple years. And Brian was ahead of the curve. So back in 1992, when I graduated, you know, there’s no computers there’s no internet. There’s nothing like that. Right? Yeah. So Brian just had this creative way of teaching us and letting us do stuff. So for example, he said I want you to Chronicle you every year from zero to 18 and you decide how you want to present it to me. So you can imagine kids are doing all sorts of different things. So I, I met with him and I said, look, I’m going into teaching. And you’re a big reason why, like the last two years with you seeing what you do with kids. And, and he really helped me come outta my shell in terms of taking risks, taking chances.
Al Mclean (04:44):
Right. And, and he gave me that confidence. So I said, I’m going in because of you primarily. And I, something he always said to me and I can’t credit him for, for actually coming up with this. Cause I don’t know. But he said to me, he said, look, when you get into a teaching career, he says, I, I’m very thankful you’re going in. I think you’re gonna do a great job, but always remember this, just try and seek to change the life of one kid per semester or change the course of a life. And he said over 30 year career, two semesters that 60 kids, what other profession, other than medical or emergency services can say that if, if you use that as your guide, you’ll do very well in life. And I’ve always taken that to heart. And, and I’ve tried to tell other teachers that along my way because it’s been very true for me.
Al Mclean (05:34):
Right? And, and one of the good things sadly Brian passed away years a few years after his retirement, but I’ve did get the chance to tell him his impact and everything. And so a couple years ago, about six, seven years ago, I get this random email from a secretary that says this, this girl’s trying to reach out to our school. She remembers this teacher and I’m not sure, but you were here at the time. You might remember. So I said, well, it’s me give her my email. And I remember the student, I had taught her and she she had a, a serious incident mentally and needed some guidance. And I was just there, you know, just listening. Yeah. And, and she wrote this email to me, that basically said, because you listened because you did this you know, I now had the confidence to seek out mental health.
Al Mclean (06:29):
And I am now working for Canadian mental health. I’m an advocate. And I use you as an example all the time. Wow. And you know, those are, are some of the things that it obviously brings a huge smile to my face and that’s why we do, and I do what I do. But it’s just nice to hear that. And you don’t always hear it, you know, a year later or two years later. So it’s, it’s gratifying. It it’s, it obviously makes us feel very good when we do get those things. But even just little things when you see a kid change in four years, and whether you had a little hand in that as an administrator or teacher, it just feels good. And, and I think that’s why we all do what we do in this profession.
Sam Demma (07:11):
I loved what you mentioned about the goal or the intention of changing the course of one student’s life per semester of, of our 30 year career Tupac Shakur, who is a poet he’s passed away now, but he would always say, I might not inspire the kid or change the life of the kid, change the life of a kid, but I will spark the mind of somebody who will, and I think in education, it, it creates such a ripple effect. You have a positive impact on, or change the course of the life of one student. They might change the course of the life of another 10. And it just can, it continually ripples, which is really awesome. And like you mentioned, sometimes you don’t hear the stories. Sometimes you plant the seed and it gets watered 20 years later. I but it doesn’t lessen the impact in any way, shape or form. No. So your journey, so, so tell me a little bit more about that journey itself. So you made the decision, you were gonna get into it because of these two teachers. And then what did that journey look like?
Al Mclean (08:14):
So it after university I applied to a job in a small north remote community, about 45 minutes north of here called Erica falls. And I had a, like I said, I grew up in Sudbury. I went to school in thunder bay, Ontario at Lakehead university. Nice. So the north was always something that attracted me and, and I love the lifestyle of it. So I got this job in this small remote community. And then it was about 5,000 people that lived there. So as a new teacher, when I walked in there, it was, everybody knew you like, you were the new kid, you were the new person in town. I stuck out like a sore thumb, right? Like you’d walk into a place and people would be like, you didn’t grow up here, you know, type of thing. So it, it really taught me teaching in there.
Al Mclean (09:02):
It, it was great. I met some wonderful students that have now actually are teachers in my school. Cool. And, and just some other wonderful kids that have become friends along the way through a variety of different means. But it was really interesting because when you teach in a small community and you know, our small, Northern remote communities, even up the coast that would, would do this too. It’s. Everybody has like, feels like it’s, it’s a piece of you, right? Like they just feel like they see you at school. They see you in the community know, they might see me at the gym and, and it’s this expectation that you’re available to them. And, and I really appreciated that because when I grew up in Subbury sometimes in some classes you feel my high school was 1200 kids. You feel like a number going through.
Al Mclean (09:50):
Right. But the kid that sees me at the gym in Erica falls that comes back and says, Hey, you know, I saw you at the gym. What were you working on? Arms legs, back chest. Like, what were you doing? You know, it’s, it took on a different idea for them. And it just this idea that they could relate to you, but at the same time, you know, keep that professional student distance. But I just found, it was a way in and a way for me to get to know them. So when I teach them, it doesn’t become like some of the teachers I had where you’re in there for an hour and 20 minutes. And you leave. Yeah. You know, some kids really appreciated that, you know, we knew them, I knew their parents. Let’s say I got to know some of their parents. So it’s just that small community feel.
Al Mclean (10:33):
And it, it really impacted me in terms of ING every day to, to really reach out to kids. Right. So in the role I play as an administrator whether it’s vice principal or principal here, you know, there’s 620 kids here right now. And, you know, the pandemic is one thing because of mass. But when I was here as a VP, I really tried to reach out to the kids that I see in the office. So that a kid walking through this building could say, you know, what, the principal or the vice principal talked to me today, you know? And, and, and to me, that’s what the small community brought that, that was part of my biggest learning of the journey. Was that always remember that, you know, whether Al McClain was doing well in school or not, he needed somebody to say, Hey, how’s your day today? Mm. You know, how was that basketball game last night? And, and there’s always those kids that may not get that. And we forget that sometimes that, you know, that there are kids that we think go along okay. In schools, but always reach out to them because they need that.
Sam Demma (11:37):
A hundred percent. And back to the good game comment that one of your mentors, men, you know, said to you staying motivated and showing up, despite the fact that you’re down 48 points yeah. Is a quality that’s important for all human beings. I would argue that that situation is replicated in education right now with all educators. Absolutely. It feels like we’re down 48 points.
Al Mclean (12:05):
Sam Demma (12:07):
How do you, or how do we still do our best to show up positive? We, during times like this?
Al Mclean (12:14):
Well, I think for me and the staff I work with and I’ve worked with some of these staff members on and off for 15 years now. Wow. And, and I would think, and, and the one thing that keeps me motivated, and I like to think keeps them motivated is they’re invested in these kids. Mm. Like this is whether they’re family, friends, or kids of family, friends, whether they, they know the parents, the grandparents just the fact that teachers are invested in kids and, and know that they can make the difference. Like when I look back you know, one of the comments I made to my staff about Brian and Bob was, you know, 30 years ago, 25, you know, 30 years ago, they didn’t call, ’em a caring adult, but we do now. Right. They didn’t talk about teaching resiliency to kids, but that’s what they were doing.
Al Mclean (13:05):
You know? So these practices have always been there. And I’d like to think that our staff is well aware and staff across the board are well aware of these ideals and, and what motivates us and, and me, and a lot of the ones I work with and have worked with is that idea that they do have that impact regardless of what’s going on. So, you know, whether we’re in a pandemic and over a computer screen, they’re trying to reach out to make sure your experience is the same as in a classroom. When you walk through the door, they’re trying to make sure that, Hey, Sam, you know, how was your night you know, did you have hockey last night? Did you play, you know, did you have your music lesson? How’d that go? So they’re invested. And I think that’s what motivates us all is that we know on some level we make a difference and what we do day to day, whether it all, whether it’s a large impact, but we recognize that we wanna make sure we replicate that day after day. And like you said, with Tupac provide that spark.
Sam Demma (14:04):
Absolutely. And as an educator, curiosity is something that you have to have. I, I think back to the teachers that made the biggest impact on me and his, my teacher that changed my life was named Mike loud foot world issues, teacher. And he’s retired now. And he started the semester by walking into the middle of the class and saying, I don’t want you to believe anything. I’m gonna tell you. But if it makes you curious, I want you to go home and explore more yourself. And it instantly hooked me. And he, he spent the whole semester with this thick binder like this Al and it was all his own personal notes on history, on different aspects of history and different aspects of world issues. And he was so curious about learning himself, that his curiosity just naturally rubbed off on all of us. I’m, I’m curious throughout your journey throughout education, have there been any resources or books or programs that you’d went through as a teacher and an administrator that you thought was meaningful and helpful for my own in like personal development and curiosity. And if there is anything that comes to mind, maybe not an actual physical resource, but even a mindset shift please feel free to share.
Al Mclean (15:20):
Well, I, would think one of the things that O over my, my career and, and when I started my career, like I said computers, weren’t a big thing in the inner Annette, wasn’t a big thing. So, you know, you talk about that binder. When I, I was remember in E falls, I was teaching a law class and I would have a subscription of McLeans and I would photocopy articles that I could bring into my classes. Mm. And, and talk about in my psychology classes. And it, it’s interesting in, when you talk about a program, I would say the tire equity, inclusivity change. That’s been happening in education. Yeah. It’s been coming for a while. It’s been term that now. But I would think, I look back to when I was in high school and in no way did the students, I went to school with resemble the students I see in high school now.
Al Mclean (16:09):
Yeah. So when I think, you know, whether it’s, you know, I, I made the, I’ll make this comment later probably, but black lives matter. Every child matters our LGBTQ two plus community. When I really look back at it. And I say, those people have come to the forefront of education and their needs have been put forth more than Al McClain’s needs. And I think that’s a good thing because the Al Blains of the world might just, by the way I look get through, but not everybody. And I, I really have to say that you know, I know you interviewed our director as well. And and she has the indigenous portfolio. I’m very fortunate to work with some amazing indigenous you know, student advisors and an indigenous vice principal. And one of the things, and, and they’re able to provide to me is a perspective that I can’t get through a history book.
Al Mclean (17:05):
Yep. Right. And, and so I really appreciate that. And I say, that’s the biggest change on, on me and my journey. And my learning is that now these textbooks that didn’t tell us everything, I now work with professionals that have that knowledge and are willing to share it. And it’s, it’s fantastic, you know, and, and I, I’d be remiss to say that, you know, I’ll talk about a student later, but the students too, they’re the student voice. And, and I that’s been the offshoot of everything is that we have allowed the student to have a greater voice, and they’re taking advantage of it to be able to tell us a lot of different things.
Sam Demma (17:45):
Tell me more about that student voice aspect. What have you seen slowly start to come to life by giving students more of an opportunity to speak up and share?
Al Mclean (17:55):
So I’ll, I’ll refer to one of the things that happened to us on September 30th. I apologize if there’s a, a sound in the, in the background.
Sam Demma (18:03):
No worries. You’re a busy guy.
Al Mclean (18:06):
But one, one things that happened on September 30th and the national day of truth and reconciliation is we, we had wonderful community partners that came and they set up a TP the night before. And we had a couple of students who spent hours here helping them set it up. The next day, when we came to school, we had two who students practice traditional teachings out of the TP. And we invited teachers to bring their classes down and to sit in and afterwards I was talking with one of the students and I said, you know, how was today? And, and he said to me, he goes, you know, it was excellent. He goes, I can’t believe I’ve had an opportunity to teach what has been taught to me through my elders in a school setting. Wow. And as a, as a I’m English history qualified.
Al Mclean (18:57):
So as a history teacher, it, it really hit me to say, you know, here I am in my 25th year, we’re 2021. You only now are students feeling comfortable to, to do this. Yeah. Right. You know, and, and so that really hit me and, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the teachings that they had. And I think it’s one of the things that we wanna hold close is that, you know, we want students to be able to feel comfortable because when I started here in 2007, I made this comment to the staff in my first year and a half here, when I started here in 2007 you know, we have an indigenous population. That’s almost a quarter to a one fifth of our school. And I remember talking with some students who were fearful to walk through the building, whether you were indigenous or non-indigenous, you just didn’t feel like part of the building, you know? And when students say that they don’t feel like part of your building part of your workplace, that, I mean, that hits home. Right. So now to see the change in the last 15 years, it’s been and I’m not claiming responsibility for some wonderful administrative teams before me that have done a lot of groundwork. But it’s just great to see. And I think that’s, that’s the thing I noticed most about student voice is that that transition from this is a building I walk into versus this is a building I haven’t impacted.
Sam Demma (20:23):
Mm that’s amazing. And as you go through education, work in different roles and positions, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot personally. If, if you could wrap up your experience and you could walk into the first classroom that you ever taught and like, watch your younger self teach and kinda like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Al, here’s one piece of advice for you. Yeah. What would you say to your younger self and also to other educators who are just getting into this vocation?
Al Mclean (20:57):
I, would think, and, and I thought I thought about this question and, and I always go back to nine 11 you know, what happened in 2001 and nine 11 in the us. And I remember I was in class and it’s my fourth, fourth year of teaching. And I remember a guidance counselor coming in and, and saying, you know, the world, like there’s planes hitting, you know, towers. And all of a sudden all the internet went down and people were crashing the internet trying to get information. And I remember afterwards what came out of that was, you know, these are the people that did it. And, and again, no fault of the people I worked with, but it almost came, if you look like this, you’re not a good person. Mm. Right. And, and when you watched a lot of the media, and I think I’d go back and I’d, I’d really talk to my, my younger self about, about, explain more about media to, to students and, and the interpretation.
Al Mclean (21:54):
Right. And, and we see it now, we’re lucky that kids are socially aware and the internet provides a lot of things. But I think back then, you know, I didn’t realize it until a couple years later when I got into an administrative role that, you know, you look at the kid, you know, you don’t look at oftentimes, you know, where they’re coming from, or, or who, they’re a part of. Sometimes you look at the kid, you look at their situation because I think for a good year afterwards, it was like, you know, if you’re from this country, you’re bad. Mm you’re. You are the country that terrors. And I don’t think it, it still happens today. Yeah. Right. We still have that. But I think, you know one of the things I’d say is try and do a much better job when you’re younger of changing that narrative.
Al Mclean (22:42):
And I think that’s my, that’s my, my one thing to young teachers coming in right now is regardless of what’s happening in the world starts to change the narrative. If there is a, a report on, on the news, or, you know, we always like to joke here with one of our, our history teachers. We’re big, obviously big history guys, you know, the change in politics, let’s say in the us, from Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, to Joe Biden, you, you look at those things and you don’t want that narrative coming out without some context. So yeah. Don’t let things just go by right. Talk about it you know, engage students in it because they will engage in these conversations and they want to, so that would be my biggest advice is, is just to engage in the conversation and, you know, frame the narrative, let students talk about the narrative frame it, because the other thing I find is, and this was you know, going back to my, my very first year I had a student come back or sorry, my second year I had a student come back from university saying like, sir, I came from a town of 5,000.
Al Mclean (23:48):
I went to Ottawa, which was, you know, 850,000 people. And sir, like, there’s things going on that you’d never realize, like things that happen at night. And, you know, and I, I sat there and I said, well, that’s, that’s life, that’s life in a big city. And she’s like, I was never exposed to it. We never talked about this. Right. So I think that’s the thing is, is engaging people. And it’s hard to do. I think we’ve seen with certainly the events of all the, the mass graves that we’ve that, you know, Canada has exposed over the last year. Those come conversations can’t be avoided and, and they’re good conversations to have framed correctly. That would be my, my biggest thing to get to young teachers is don’t shy away from that because there’s opportunities in there if done correctly.
Sam Demma (24:40):
So important. I interviewed a lady named Pella who runs a media literacy company, and she is hyper focused on media. And, you know, she explains that media is anything that communicates a message, like absolutely everything that communicates a message is a form of media. And yeah, there are so many things to worry about or, or not to worry about, but to think about and reflect on when consuming media first being who’s the publish. Sure. And what is the publisher’s point of view and understanding those two things first kind of changes the way that you interact with it and engage with it. And I think having those discussions in classes about media is so important. So that’s a phenomenal piece of advice. If, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you Al and just shoot you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?
Al Mclean (25:30):
I would say there’s a couple of different ways. So Timmis, vocational school does have a website. You could easily search it off our dsb1.ca. You’ll get to it. We do have th HBS Instagram accounts, but if somebody wants to reach out, my email is Al.Mclean@dsb1.ca. I’ll welcome any conversation.
Sam Demma (25:59):
I’ll keep up the great work and thank you so much for coming on the show.
Al Mclean (26:02):
All right, Sam, thank you very much for inviting me. I, certainly appreciate the work you do too. And, and your messaging around last year as well. I, I watched your messaging and the work that you’re doing is, is awesome. And it’s great to see. And again, a, another example of a teacher lighting, a spark, as you said, and, and, and look what’s happening, right. And I think you’re doing awesome things, and I’m just, I was glad to be a part of this.
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