About Alana Principe
Alana Principe (@MissPrincipe) is a grade one teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board. Before teaching Grade One, she taught Grade 2/3 and Kindergarten. She’s always had a love (and so much energy) for the primary grades! Her passion for teaching and working with students started at a very young age.
Growing up in a big family helped shape her into the leader, helper, and nurturer she is today. Before becoming a permanent teacher, she spent time working at a daycare, babysitting and volunteering at schools. Now, she loves spending her days teaching, tutoring, going on walks and being with family. She feels so grateful to be living out my childhood dream!
Connect with Alana: Email | Twitter | Facebook
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
**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):
Alana, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to, where you are in education now.
Alana Principe (00:13):
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you for having me. I am definitely excited to just have a little platform where I can share some of the joy in love for teaching which is great. I think what brought me to this point is a long little mini history story, but I was born into a family with six kids and my mom ran a home daycare. So I think always from a very young age I knew that teaching and working with kids would be where I want it to be in the future. And so throughout my years in high school, I would join P peer tutoring. I would try and do different volunteer opportunities just to work with other students. And then I got into working at daycare before leading into university where I started pursuing actual teaching.
Sam Demma (01:08):
Alana Principe (01:09):
Yeah, which has been exciting. It’s been everything I’ve hoped for and dreamt for. But I think it’s, it’s good. I’ve been one of the lucky ones that kind of always knew what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted to work with students, but all those volunteer opportunities kind of just solidified that and reminded me that, yeah, this is where you wanna be. This is where you need to be before actually paying for university.
Sam Demma (01:36):
Do you remember any stories that stuck out from the daycare of you helping your mom or caring for other kids that you think influenced your decision to get into teaching and working with youth?
Alana Principe (01:49):
Yeah, there’s, there’s been a couple, there’s been some, I honestly, the biggest one I know just from like my own childhood is whenever my mom had kids in our house at our home daycare, I was always the one fighting to be the teacher role when we play school.
Sam Demma (02:04):
Alana Principe (02:05):
So my mom always reminds me that, yeah, this is, this is what you want it to do since you were five years old, you know, you needed that role. And then when I actually worked in, in daycare and Ajax, I I just remember working with the school age kids and sitting down to read Harry Potter with them or helping them with their schoolwork after school. Always just felt exciting and fun. And I felt like I was making a difference for those kids, just reading the book for them and making it enjoyable, which was nice. That’s awesome.
Sam Demma (02:41):
That’s awesome. And then you started taking the educational classic path once you got into university. What did that look like? Tell me more about that experience.
Alana Principe (02:52):
Yeah, so that was that was good. It was fun. It was really fun. I, I did my undergrad at Queens university and I took drama and English. Nice. I felt those were two two majors that really complimented each other. You know, you’re performing all day. You’re getting used to speaking in public creating skits that you’re going to, you know, do with friends, you’re working with so many different people in creating shows I felt would be huge a huge benefit when working in the classroom.
Sam Demma (03:25):
Alana Principe (03:26):
And then of course, English, I always just think when I’m writing report cards or writing emails to parents, I’m like, oh, you know, here are my little tips and tricks from English English courses in university, which have been very beneficial. And then I did my four years of undergrad before going to do my B bachelor of education at U O I T in OWA. Nice. Now they call Ontario tech. Yep. Also showed out to them great school and just, they were obviously very tech based early on. Yeah. So, so we got to work with coding. We got to create online websites and, and virtual PowerPoints and classrooms that then when COVID hit and I got to teach online, it was basically like, pick me, take me, I can do it
Sam Demma (04:15):
Scrolling through your Twitter. You know, it’s not gonna find videos of you doing like virtual and dances and stuff, which is so awesome. How do you personally, every day fill up your cup. So when you go to school, you show up as this like bright super optimistic teacher that has such a positive impact on your students.
Alana Principe (04:38):
You know what I think I’ve been to doing this for four years now, which, which has been really exciting. And I do truly remind myself every morning when I’m standing up in front of the classroom or I’m standing up online to teach those kids. This was your dream. You are literally living it. Mm. So every morning, even from like the first day, I started four years ago, when I would up and write that morning message or the date, I would just kind of turn, reflect at my class before the students got there. And just think that you’re, you’re aware you need it to be you, you got here. Mm. And that’s the biggest thing just for me to remind myself that this is what you want it to do and you’re doing it right. I think a we spend most of our time working in our life all day, every day. So it’s so important to enjoy what you do. And I just feel so grateful to be one of those people.
Sam Demma (05:33):
Alana Principe (05:34):
And honestly just my students, the families, like, you know, obviously you have your hard challenging days, but to listen to their stories about what they did the night before, or to get a peek and they get to like, ask me what they’re eating or take, you know, share their share their stories or their artwork. It makes such a, such a difference. And I really enjoy just being with them.
Sam Demma (06:00):
That’s awesome. And did you ever have any doubts or you were going through university and it was like, yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m doing this.
Alana Principe (06:12):
Yeah. It was pretty much like, yes, we’re doing it. You’re here. Keep going. Obviously. I mean, some of the courses were hard writing English essays studying all night. That was difficult. Yeah. But I knew it would lead me to being in a classroom. Which I loved even just the experience, like, because I didn’t take ConEd, I just took an undergraduate degree. I made sure to volunteer at schools. I was always going into a school after my courses to just help and be with other kids again, to make sure like, this is what you actually want to do. Which I think made a big difference.
Sam Demma (06:51):
I wanna focus on that for a second because I think volunteering is so important. I talk about it a lot with students, you know, we started pick waste and, you know, encourage kids to come pick up the garbage, but from a practical career lens, it’s just as important. You can reach out to somebody who’s living and working in a career. You’re interested in ask to shadow them for free. And most of the time, if you try enough and ask enough people you’ll get the opportunity to do so. So what was that experience like for you? And would you recommend other educators who are considering this profession do the same and why?
Alana Principe (07:30):
Yeah, so I would say volunteering always so beneficial, right? It’s just a way to give back. I think, especially people who might not be able to financial donate into things. If you can spend an hour here or there with your time, it’s, it’s just as beneficial, right. It’s gonna help those people. When I was at school in Kingston, I would work at some schools that just were more challenging behavior wise. So as a university student, it was, you know, fresh eyes of fresh body that would come in and work with kids. It made a difference for them because they just had more one-on-one time, which sometimes is impossible in the classroom. And then it also just made a difference for me because I got that experience. So although it was unpaid work, I knew what the classroom looked a like early on, before even starting teaching.
Alana Principe (08:23):
I knew all the different bodies that would be in a classroom and you know, how teachers can navigate. So even though I wasn’t getting paid to be there, it helped me. It helped shape who I am today, helped shape, who I teach. And then I think it’s so beneficial for are other teachers going into teaching, trying, because you’re getting the experience. You know, you’re opening doors up that when a principal asks you in an interview, how did you deal with a problem? You have solid experience to back up your proof. And then you feel confident. You feel good, you feel confident. You’ve been doing it for years. You, you know, what’s up, you know how to do it. But I think it opens so many more doors. You know, teaching’s competitive, teaching’s hard to get in. They only have to so many positions where I pretty much was able to walk into a permanent role because I had a lot of experience and volunteer experience to back up what I was doing.
Alana Principe (09:29):
Principals knew me. Other teachers knew me. They recognized me at school because I’ve been there. I’ve been in volunteering. I’ve been spending my time. I think if it’s for teaching, when principals see you in a school, volunteering, unpaid, they know you care. They know you wanna be there and it’s gonna reflect once you do get paid for your job. So, you know, they, they trust me to be the person that’s gonna do an extracurricular activity. They trust me to be that person to coach after school. Yeah. because I’ve done it and they see it. Right.
Sam Demma (10:03):
Cool. And you had this experience, you finished your degree, did the bachelor’s and then how was that first year like for you? I think what’s really unique about this conversation is you’ve been teaching for four years, which can feel like a long time, but you probably gonna be teaching for so much longer. See, but you have a very fresh perspective of what it’s like teaching right now. And probably a unique perspective versus some of the other educators I’ve spoken to. So what was year one? Like, and how’s it going year one?
Alana Principe (10:34):
I reflect back on that a lot because I really, as I did not know what I was doing in year one, I’m like who lesson planned for me who wrote those report cards?
Alana Principe (10:47):
Honestly looking back, like my kids were safe, the classroom was smooth. We had fun. I did the job. Hmm. Did I know how to properly lesson plan? Probably not. Did I know how to professionally write the best report cards? I don’t think so, but I guess I did. Right. Just because I look back now four years later and I have so much more experience in practice that it, it, honestly, it feels was, it was a couple years ago and, and so much has changed in these past few years. Right. I think in year one, I was more alone. I would say I didn’t reach out as much to other teachers. I didn’t wanna work with grade partners. I just kind of wanted to be in my room and, and plan and work. And I just shut the door, which isn’t always the best thing when you’re a young new teacher, because take the resources, take the support. Like now I’m knocking on everyone’s door being like, gimme your resources. What are you doing in math today? And FaceTiming colleagues, if we can’t meet up in person to make sure we’re, you know I work with a colleague in grade one. We both make sure we’re on the same plan for math and we’re working together and it looking now it feels so good to work with someone and have that adult connection, which I don’t think I really had in my first year,
Sam Demma (12:12):
What it shifted. Why did you decide in your second year? I need to start asking for help. Was, did someone come and tap you on the shoulder and kind of say, Hey, you have the opportunity to reach out to other teachers or did you start to realize there is this awesome network and I should start leveraging it and building cool relationships with colleagues.
Alana Principe (12:32):
Yeah. I, you know what I think the school I was at, it was a smaller school. Once I went in there in sec, in my second year, smaller school, all the teachers knew each other and worked together and I was this fresh young meet coming through. Yeah. And they took me under their wing. They were so supportive. They would reach out with old binders and worksheets and storybooks to fill my classroom I’m with. And they would check up on me. I would be in the staff room. They would come and check up on me, ask me how I’m doing photo. I remember a few of the teachers would photocopy a poem or a prayer and slide it under my door and say, like do this with your kids today. And it, it was kind of that little push to be like, Hey, we’re here for you. We, we wanna support you. And it’s where I saw, like, you know, this is a community we’re all working together to better the lives of these students in our school.
Sam Demma (13:23):
That’s amazing. And that first year a little stressful, but you said something that stuck out to me, the first thing you said was the students in my class were safe. Whether you realize it or not, that’s such a foundational need for young people. Why do you think that’s the first thing you said? And how do you build a classroom? That’s a safe space or where students feel safe.
Alana Principe (13:50):
Yeah. That’s that’s a challenging one for sure. It’s when I focus on all the time, that first week of school, it’s I tell parents right away, you know, we’re putting academics aside and we’re focusing on your kids’ safetyness happiness and mental health really. It’s something definitely in the past two years, we’ve been focusing on a lot more than usual little check-ins how they’re doing, how they’re feeling because we’re going through a pandemic, right? So sometimes academics will take a little bit of a, a slip, but I have to make sure those kids are happy and safe. I always think of it as do students need to feel comfortable in your classroom before they learn anything. Hmm. Right. If they’re not happy and they’re not feeling good, they’re, they’re gonna zone out they’re they don’t wanna be there. So I really make a point in that first couple weeks of school to let them know, I care for them.
Alana Principe (14:43):
I’m there for them. And this is a community. It’s a safe space. We can talk about how we feel or we need a break. You can take a break, right. You can go to a little calm down center and, and have your time. If you need alone time, maybe you don’t have that at home. Hmm. And so I think, especially like now with, with students, I want them to know that we care about them as, as people, right. Or are going through challenging times in that first couple weeks to kind of solidify the safetyness or even just getting students comfortable. I always make a point to tell them that they can make mistakes. They can mess up. They can say something silly. Right. And no, one’s gonna laugh at you. No, one’s gonna question you. And every day I’m always telling kids, take a risk, you know, ask that question or answer that question.
Alana Principe (15:36):
Even if you mess up, who cares? I mess up every day and it just makes the students, I think, feel normal and human, and it’s good. Cuz it opens up so many conversations. They ask the best questions and they answer any math question. You give them, they will answer and it could be totally off or totally wrong. And they’ll throw out an answer and I’m like, yeah, you did it. Tell me how you got there and they’ll explain me their steps. And then I can really get into their brain. And they’re like, all right, this is what they were thinking. As opposed to them being quiet it and silent. And then I don’t know if they really knew anything.
Sam Demma (16:17):
Alana Principe (16:18):
So I think just giving them that safe platform where they know they can use their voice. Right. Mess up as much as you want. Even when I mess up in the classroom, I’m like, look, I just messed up. Now you can do. And they, they feel like they’re just normal ha you know, having having a connection with their, their friends and it’s becoming a community. And I think even going off of that, especially online that just getting them comfortable, we dance, we act, we sing, we do everything. And I tell them, you know, they’re all singers, they’re all dancers and we could be falling over It’s okay. They’re having fun. I watch all their little smiles. I’m like we had a good day. Yeah.
Sam Demma (17:07):
That’s so awesome. I was gonna ask you, how have you leveraged the school experience and drama, but basically just answered the question. Does every day feel like you’re on stage?
Alana Principe (17:20):
Yeah. You know what more so now, because I still teach virtually. And so parents are watching you, grandparents are watching you, siblings are watching you. And you know, I just go in there and I’m like, we’re singing, we’re dancing. I’m messing up playing guitar times. And you know, it’s my drama degree coming in handy. Cuz if you mess up, you just keep going with the flow.
Sam Demma (17:43):
Alana Principe (17:44):
Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You, you mentioned the importance of mentors leaning on other colleagues knocking on their doors. Have you found any other resources helpful, whether it’s tools, books, technology, programs, courses, anything else along your own journey that you’ve leaned on as a resource or things that you use in your class that you think another educator could benefit from learning about or going through?
Alana Principe (18:09):
Yeah. There are so many I think Twitter’s like a more recent one I’ve gone into, which I just love because for those teachers that do use it, obviously we’re posting our highlights on there. Yeah. But it’s a great one to connect. I go look at other primary teachers, specifically ones who teach kindergarten or grade one and I can kind of pull from their ideas and see what they’re doing and what worked and then how I wanna bring it into my own classroom. So that one, I really like, it’s good because you can kind of gear it based on your searches yeah. To what you’re teaching.
Sam Demma (18:42):
Alana Principe (18:43):
Yeah. So I really like that. And I think other resources, I feel like there’s so many, but there’s a lot like YouTube videos that you can kind of watch if other teachers post their videos of how they’re teaching. I like watching those or skimming through them and then pulling from their ideas. For example, in math or teaching how to add to my little grade ones. And so I look online, you know, how many different ways can I teach them this? Right? Like I have my one or two ways, but what are other teachers doing that students might have learned from? And then that way, when I go to teach it, I’m teaching them five different ways that they can pull from one way that they enjoy the most.
Sam Demma (19:28):
Two great resources. And not to mention you’re also on Twitter, where can people connect with you if they wanna reach out?
Alana Principe (19:36):
Yeah. My Twitter is Ms. Principe.
Sam Demma (19:39):
Cool. Very cool. Yeah. And what do you think are some of the challenges that education has been faced with over the past two years? And how have you, or have you seen other people try to overcome those challenges?
Alana Principe (19:55):
I think education, I mean the biggest one, obviously we’ve gone online. Yeah. And it’s, it’s working for some unfortunately it’s not working for all. I’m really proud of my board actually Hal and Catholic. We’ve created our own virtual school. They’ve created their own identity. It has a, a name. And it’s just felt like a very equitable, safe space. So it’s been two it’s on its second year now. But the principles to kind of overcome some of the challenges with which I think would be, you know, all these kids are thrown into one classroom. Yeah. And you don’t know what they have at home. Right. We assume they have some sort of laptop or device that they can be online. But then when I do math, do they have the manipulatives? When I do a craft, do they have construction, paper and scissors? Where this year our principals actually created these bags full of manipulatives and, and tools, school supplies.
Sam Demma (20:55):
Alana Principe (20:55):
For free. And if parents wanted their student, their children to have it, they just had to sign up to a, for a meeting time drive to the closest school and pick up these bag of goodies. Which I thought was absolutely so amazing because it gave a chance for every student to have the same materials in the classroom. So now when I do my math lesson, pretty much all of my kids have these bags. So when I do a math lesson, I’ll say like, grab your green cubes or grab or blue ones. And they all can take it out and have it. Our school supplies, right. They all have now scissors, they have glue, they have paper, they have notebooks. Yeah. And it’s so amazing because no one’s standing out anymore that they don’t have something. Right. It, it feels like we’re back in that school atmosphere where we try to give all the students the same resources and the same opportunities.
Alana Principe (21:55):
So I like that because I mean, it’s challenging when you, I try to be so equitable, right. When we’re doing a craft, if you don’t have this material, you know, pull, pull from here, here, you’re, you’re giving them five different ideas to pull from where now our principals have really helped support us in a way that here your students have this bag, let like you’re let them use it. So that’s that’s really helped. And then I think, I mean, another thing I find challenging, I think the parents just need support because I mean, I feel for them, them they’re working behind me right. All day. I hear their voices when I’m on video with their families. And you know, they’re sometimes there helping their kid cut and paste or helping their kid count. They’re that extra support that I have loved working with for the past two. I think I really make a point with my families to connect with them, to help just to show them I’m thankful for them. But also we work as a team because they’re at home now being very hands on with their kids. Yeah. So I think it’s been challenging for them in the education world because they’re having to work four or five jobs now.
Sam Demma (23:12):
Not to imagine you have to have like two or three kids in the same, in the same grade.
Alana Principe (23:16):
Some of them do, we’ll be having dance parties. I’m like just bring your other kids in, have them going.
Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s so awesome. Yeah. And you kinda, yeah. You touched on some good points and you kind of already answered this question, but if you could give year one self advice, you know, based off what you’ve learned and experienced now over the past four, what would you tell your younger self or another educator who’s just getting into education.
Alana Principe (23:43):
I think I would tell myself that you cannot keep enough notes marking for the report card.
Sam Demma (23:52):
Alana Principe (23:53):
Write down all the observations, write down all the feedback. And then honestly just reach out, like knock on people’s doors, you know, be comfortable talk to your colleagues, get your resources and do it early on because you’re new. You have an excuse. Yeah. So ask those questions and take those resources. And honestly, like if people wanna give you resources, just accept them and keep them. Because I mean, I was given a resource about two years ago and I pulled it out this year for the first time, but it’s, you know, I think back and I say like, thank you know, thank goodness I took that, that duing of, of work as it’s helped.
Sam Demma (24:38):
It’s so funny. You never catch a student saying that. Thank you so grateful. I took this DOE of work home. Yeah. But this has been awesome. You mentioned your Twitter hand already. If someone wanted to reach out and send you an email is there an email you could also share where people could reach you?
Alana Principe (24:54):
Yeah. You could use my, my board email: email@example.com
Sam Demma (25:04):
Awesome. Well, yeah, Alana, thanks again so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and keep singing baby shark to your classes and keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Alana Principe (25:16):
Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for giving me a platform to to speak a little bit.
Sam Demma (25:21):
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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education. By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators. You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.