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Sam Demma

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors
About Doug Primrose

Doug Primrose (@djprimrose) is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He has been at Yale Secondary for the last 15 years, and teaches Student Leadership and Law 12. He was Chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Student Leadership Conference in 2019.

Currently, Doug serves as the President of the BC Association of Student Activity Advisors.  In his spare time, he coaches rugby at Yale Secondary and the Women’s team for Abbotsford Rugby Club.  In 2020 he was nominated for the Abbotsford Hall of Fame in Coaching Category. 

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

**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 is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


Doug Primrose (01:47):
Yeah, so I went to high school here and grew up in in Abbotsford BC and I’m a teacher here at Yale secondary School, and I actually graduated from the same school here that I, that I teach at. So I was at a few other schools in between, but yeah, so growing up, I didn’t have any intentions of being a teacher at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids, they kind of graduate and not really quite sure and just try to get the feel of things. So, so I traveled for a few years and then kind of got back into it, worked a few different jobs and got back into it by helping one of my mentors; when I was a kid, a teacher who had a big influence on me and I started helping him coach rugby. So I really enjoyed it and he, he kind of said, you know, why don’t you go through and be a teacher since you seem to enjoy it and that’s kind of what I did. So I started a little bit later than in most, I guess, but glad I did.


Sam Demma (02:44):
That’s amazing. Take me back. You said, right when you finished high school, you traveled for a few years. What, tell me more about that. Where did you trave; like where did you go?


Doug Primrose (02:54):
Not all at once, but just yeah, different trips. So I’d work for, you know, a while. And then I take off and go backpack for like four months, like, you know, around Europe and nice and places like that. And, you know, went down to the states a little bit. And so just kind of did that where I work and then travel and work and then travel and, you know, with some friends and, and then, and things like that. So, and then probably right around 22 or so, I started working more full-time and then going to night school. Nice. Just to start chipping away at some classes. And before going back to school, full-time to be a teacher


Sam Demma (03:31):
And the teacher who you helped coach. Tell me more about that person, where, where you said they had a big impact on you. Like, what do you think they did specifically that, that made a big impression on you? Like why were you drawn to that one individual?


Doug Primrose (03:46):
Well, I think a couple things, one is he just always had time for us as, as students and you know, we, we saw how much work he put in and, and we saw how much he cared about us and, you know, we, we could see that as kids and you know, he was my rugby coach, but also my PE teacher. And and he had a lot of patience there’s times when we I’m sure let him down as kids. And but he, you know, got us to learn from it and and never, never really kind of gave up on us and, and, and kept, kept working with us. So, like I said, I wasn’t really too sure what I was gonna do after high school, because I was you know, I wasn’t the best student. So I really university to me wasn’t even something that was entering my mind, but he, he encouraged me and said, this is, you could definitely do it and just put your mind to it. And so, yeah, he was just one of those guys that, you know, all the students really liked a lot because of how involved he was in our kind of school culture.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Ah, that’s amazing. I I’m just, I wanna zero in on him a little more just for a second if that’s okay. Because I feel like, you know, the people in our lives that have a big impact on us, like we can learn from them as well, you know? Like so when you say, you know, he always made time for the students, what did that look like? Was it just setting aside time to have conversations? Like what did that look like back when you were in, in, in his school?


Doug Primrose (05:10):
Yeah, for sure. And time for conversations somebody could go, go to if you had any kind of issues and he would always have the time for you. Just the amount of work he put in as you extracurricular activities you know, through coaching and somebody who was just always involved. And and he didn’t, he was one of those teachers back in the day when you know, there’s all these different types of groups in the school, like social groups and, and every, everyone just really liked him. Like he really crossed all different groups there. It wasn’t just the sports guys who liked him or, or this it’s just every, every, he just had time for everybody. And you know, I think we just really, you know, were drawn to that and just just the amount that he cared for for students and, and always wanted to try and go an extra mile to, to help them out and understood also that sometimes students aren’t at their best during certain times, and there’s growth there’s growth moments, and he would take the time to help you through these things and not quickly just judge you and, and kind of write you off, you know?


Sam Demma (06:18):
Yeah. No, it’s so important to make sure that someone feels seen and heard. Right. And then listen to what they’re saying. Yeah. Take me back to when you were, you know, 22, 23 and you know, you come back from traveling and working full time and you get this opportunity to coach the rugby team. Like how did, how did that all come about? Did he approach you? You are, are,


Doug Primrose (06:38):
Yeah, so he, he did approach me. He you know, it’s always nice to have extra help when you’re coaching teams and you know, I would always come back and visit him after high school. Like when I was back in town or I had some time I’d come by school and, and then he, he’s just said, Hey, you know, I’m on my own this year. Coaching, coaching rugby, and could really use some help. So if you got some time it’d be great if you could just come by and, and gimme a hand. And, you know, I was a little bit more mature then at, at, you know, 22 or so. So there’s enough gap between me and the students as far as getting them to, to listen to me and stuff. So, so he had me come back and I just helped them out. And then I just carried on from there and help them out pretty much every year from there on out until I started teaching myself,


Sam Demma (07:23):
I know sports was also a big part of your own personal life, you know, playing rugby and yeah. And, and, and sport world. Do you find a correlation between coaching and teaching and do you think there’s some skills you’d learn from coaching teams that apply in the classroom? And I’m just curious if there’s, like you think there are some intersections between being a teacher and, you know, being a coach.


Doug Primrose (07:41):
Yeah. I think for sure you know, just preparation for one thing to to, to prepare students for a game or to prepare, prepare students for, for different things in your classroom. So making sure you’re prepared the relationship component you know, really get, and to know your students and getting to know your players. Mm. You know, the, the saying is, as a good coach has to make sure they understand how each player is motivated and treat them all kind of differently. Right. Yeah. And depending on their personality, well, it’s similar in the classroom. You gotta kind of get to really know your students and, and kind of what works for them and what doesn’t. And so I think there’s definitely some correlation there. And then I think also just that I think I came into teaching with a lot more confidence because of the experience in talking in front of big groups and, and you know, getting kids attention and things like that. So I think it definitely helped me with all the experience I had outside of the classroom, in the, a coaching world before I became a teacher. I think if I would’ve gone in straight outta high school, without that experience ahead of time for me, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful at it, at least not at the beginning.


Sam Demma (08:52):
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. That’s yeah. That relates to my experiences with sport. And I can say that I, I think sports add so much and whether it’s playing in a physical sport or just engaging in any hobby, you know, playing music or doing something you know, besides the classroom work, I think it really adds to your, your character and your reputation, you know, building skills and move being on past high school. Yeah. Which is awesome. Your own educational journey. So, you know, you, you start coaching with this teacher you’re doing night school classes. Yep. At what point did you start teaching and bring me back to that first year, what did that experience feel like?


Doug Primrose (09:32):
Yeah, so I eventually did my, you come sorry, somebody’s just coming through that’s okay. I eventually did my practicum and then I I did it here at the school at Yale, and then went into my first year I was doing I actually worked in a severe behavior program. They called it, got it. So that was a program for students that weren’t available or weren’t allowed to go into any other school in the, in the city. So these were kids that had a lot of different needs. So you know, were, there was a lot of the kids had some real substance abuse issues and some real family problems and things like that. So I spent my first three years there and that was really great experience especially kind of being in my first, first job.


Doug Primrose (10:20):
I had a guy who I worked with was who had some experience that you know, also really helped me out a lot as a first year teacher and kind of showed me the ropes that way. And you know, going to see what some of these kids were going through. I think really kind of helped me throughout my rest of my career, putting things into perspective and understanding that you know, there’s, these kids come to school and some of them have a lot of things going on in their life that that we just don’t know about. Right. Yeah. So that was my first experience. And yeah, it was great. It was the school, I would’ve probably stayed in there, but the school ended up going, turning into a middle school. Mm. So it went down to grade six, so they, they moved the program somewhere else. So


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


Doug Primrose (11:02):
Then I went into to another school Robert Bateman, secondary, and I was there for five years and, and taught some law and social studies and and it was great, great experience as well. And then I’ve been at Yale here now for, I don’t know, I think it’s like my 15th year or so. Now’s here student leadership that’s and student leadership in law 12.


Sam Demma (11:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s amazing. And yeah, you know, thinking back to that first year, you intrigued me when you started talking about the different things that students ha can have going on in their lives that, you know, as educators, you might not even know about out of all the students you met over those three years, was there any transformational stories, you know, of a student, you know, really struggling and then getting to a, a more positive place? And the reason I ask is because I think at the core of, you know, an educator’s passion for teaching is the ability to positively impact a young person, right? It’s you have this ability not to, you know, change a student’s life, but to plant a little seed in them that they might water themselves, you know, three, four years from now, and you can have a huge impact. So were there any stories of transformation? It might remind another educator are listening, why this stuff is so important, why teaching is so important, and if it’s a very personal story or like very serious, you know, feel free to change their name or use a random name just to keep their identity in.


Doug Primrose (12:25):
Yeah, we had a, we had a few actually you know, just a quick one that comes to mind is does Derek, he I, the way we got him into our program was we have a, we had this thing called the Husky five back in the day, and it was a five kilometer run that the whole school would do. I think some students probably do like a Terry Fox run or milk run or things like that. So we had the Husky five, and then when you finish the finish line, they had a table there and they would hand you a freezy when you finish on. Well, all of a sudden this kid comes ripping through, on his bicycle and grabs a handful of freezes and just starts pedaling. So we kind of you know, chased the kid down a bit and, and, and said to him, Hey, you know, would you go to this school?


Doug Primrose (13:07):
And he’s like, no, I don’t go to school. I’m, I’m not allowed to go to school. And so then we started talking to him a little bit and found out that this kid had gone to school in like three years. And he was I think grade probably about grade eight age. And the reason why he wasn’t going to school at the time, was he the only way he could get there by taxi. And I guess he assaulted the taxi drivers multiple times. So they refused to drive him anymore. So we ended up figure things out with social workers and things like that. And we got him in there. And I think just with the right structure, the way the program was for him he did fantastic. And he, he ended up starting where he would only come and see us once a week.


Doug Primrose (13:49):
And then he went to half days, and then he went to full-time where he was also in some other classes like PE and our, and things like that. And anyways, we would have the kids up until they were about 15 or 16, and then they would carry on to the other school after us. And about two years later, he sent me well, he phoned me, phoned me in my classroom when I was working at Bateman. And and let me know that he was graduating tonight and just wanted thank us for, you know, getting him back in school. And yeah, so he, and he’s done quite well. He’s actually a, a DJ now. And I keep in touch, keep in touch with him through social media. And we’ve got a few of those now where I’m still in touch with him, thanks to social media and you know, the kid there’s some now are, have kids of their own and you know, have good jobs and, and are doing quite well. So I think that that grade eight to 10 period in their life was real tough for them. And they could kind of go one way or the other there. And some of them definitely chose the wrong path, but some others we were able to really help out and get them through that hard part when they just needed to mature a little bit more to get them through the next chapter of their life. So, yeah,


Sam Demma (15:06):
That’s an amazing story. I’m, I’m sure the, the emotions come bring true. And you feel ’em again, when you talk about it, probably it’s a, yeah, it’s a cool, it’s a cool example. And it’s, you know, it’s one of millions of, of stories that educators share with me every time I chat with them. And I think what’s really cool to think about is, you know, these are the stories that we know of, but there’s so many more that, you know, they never tell you the impact you made. And it’s there though, right? It’s still, it’s still real and it’s still there. You just might not hear about it.


Doug Primrose (15:36):
Yeah, we, and we had a very supportive school. It was atmosphere junior. It was called at the time. And, you know, it was it was very supportive you know, administration, which is important. And they really wanted to see these kids succeed as well. We had another student he started playing rugby and we ended up going on a tour to UK. So we went over to England and Wales and did a rugby tour. And there was absolutely no way that this one student who was in our program could ever afford to do anything like that. So the school was able to help him out and he was able to go on this rugby tour for two weeks and we were billed over there and he was bill with families. And you know, the, for a chance for this kid, who’s probably barely been outta Abbotsford to all of a sudden going on a trip overseas to, to London and Cardiff and all these great places. And the billet families had the nicest things to say about the way he, you know, his behavior and his politeness and, and everything. So it’s just nice to be able to see, you know, those kids get those opportunities that, and he probably has never been anywhere since. Right. Yeah. So that was just a big, cool experience. And the school was really able to help him out to be able to do that trip. And you know, it’s, it’s, I think that’s just so important for, for some life changing type things.


Sam Demma (17:00):
And, you know, when we’re thinking about students in the classroom as well how do we make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated? Like what can we do as educators to make sure that they feel like they’re a part of the classroom can community? Is it, yeah, I’m just curious. What are your thoughts?


Doug Primrose (17:17):
Well, I think the biggest thing is, is a relationship. And that’s what I always tell, like student teachers that work with me is the, they can teach you all the different tools in in your university classes about classroom management and seating plans and all these different things. But the number one that for classroom management and is just building your relationship with your students, cuz when the students respect you and like you and enjoy being there, then then there tend to be a lot better behaved and they seem to be more engaged. So I think the big thing is relationship and I, one of the thing I always try and one thing I always tell student teachers is try to make sure, you know, one thing about every student in your class. So whether or not I know that this student he plays baseball this student she does dance every night this student you know, they have sibling that I had two years ago and blah, blah, blah.


Doug Primrose (18:12):
So, so I just try to make sure I know something about them. So when they come in you know, I can say, you know, Hey, how how’s it going? Did you guys have a baseball game last night? And that’s all of a sudden you have that conversation. And I think that’s just really important to try and make sure to know them and then they, they appreciate that, I think as well, that relationship part. So, and then if they do have some issues, then they might be more inclined to open up a little bit more if they have that relationship with you.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Yeah. There’s, there’s a gentleman named Jeff Gerber. You probably know him. He’s like, you know, I know Jeff. Yep. He always says the biggest ship. I think the biggest ship in leadership is a relationship. Yeah. And I think it’s so true, you know, it’s, it’s so true. But on that topic of leadership, I know a couple years ago, you know, you guys hosted the Canadian student leadership conference billed, you know, close to a thousand students from different, you know, areas, what was that experience to like doing that and hosting it and you know, bring me back to that moment.


Doug Primrose (19:16):
Yeah. It was amazing. It, obviously it was a ton of work and some stressful times, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. So the planning starts about two years ahead of time. So we put the it in for, for us to be able to host it and we hosted it here at Yale secondary, but it was a school district hosting. So it was the Abbotsford school district that was the host committee. So we had students from all the different high schools in Abbotsford bepi leaders. And then we had teachers from all the different high schools help out as well. Administrators, teachers, EA everybody kind of chipped in. But yeah, it was a huge undertaking. But the week that we put it on, it went really smooth lots of good preparation. And the biggest thing was our team.


Doug Primrose (20:07):
We had an amazing team of, of staff that volunteered tiered their time to put this conference on and, and volunteered many, many hours. You know, if you think like we had, you know, one person, his job was in charge of building, finding bill at homes for 750 students. You know, we had another person, her job was to put a committee together to, to feed a thousand people every single day and a, a in a quickly manner. You know, we had a sponsorship committee who they went out and found sponsorships and it was mostly you know, it was retired teacher or retired principals some, also some people from the community and they just all jumped in and, and really took on and did a great job. So we had just an amazing team. And that’s what I really learned was, you know, there’s no way we could have done this without the support from everybody who who chip in and, and so much of their own time away from, from school.


Doug Primrose (21:07):
But I think one of the reasons everyone was so happy to volunteer was they just saw the value of it and what it, what it did for kids and the memories that these kids would have would be a lifetime a memory of this conference that they helped put on. So I think it was just a real, like I’ve had some of the teachers who’ve taught for over 20 years, to me, that that was the, the most, you know, enjoyable and the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done as a teacher was being part of that conference and the putting it together. So, yeah, it was it was great. Unfortunately, it was the last one because until, until they start up again. But it hasn’t been one since because of the co with stuff, but


Sam Demma (21:48):
Hopefully soon, hopefully I’ll see you at one of them.


Doug Primrose (21:51):
Yeah. They’re gonna, they’re gonna be doing an online one I believe in September. Okay. And then they’re hoping for 20, 22 to go back to, to live


Sam Demma (22:00):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. Very cool. And you know, the current situation you alluded to it with COVID is it’s been pretty challenging and, you know, you think are some of the challenges schools are facing and maybe some of the challenges that even your school has faced since the, the whole thing unfolded in March.


Doug Primrose (22:18):
Yeah, it has definitely been challenging. And I think us leadership teachers even have a bit of an extra challenge because you’re, you’re really trying to maintain school culture and maintain that positivity around the building. And it’s very difficult to do when a lot of your functions are getting canceled and grad is getting canceled and, you know, it’s tough to kind of keep these kids positive and motivated and still wanting to do things. It’s you know, I have my grade 12 class going on right now in my grade 12 lead class and, and you know, you’re here talking about, okay, what can we do to, to do some CU, some culture events to have some fun. And then they find out that day that their prom just got canceled. Right? Yeah. So it’s, it’s very difficult. But you know, the students, they persevere and they handle it quite well.


Doug Primrose (23:10):
They, they carry on and, and hats off to them. As far as challenge in our school, it’s just, you know, I know every province is different, but with us in BC right now, we’re not allowed to mix at all. So you have to stay in your own class, which is your cohort. We have a three hour class in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon, so we don’t have a lunch hour. So we can’t do any events during that time. So we’re like for an example, right now we’re planning a pep rally for Thursday. Obviously, you know, our school’s quite well known for its pep rallies and how crazy they are, but this one’s obviously gonna be a lot different. So we’re doing some, some virtual stuff, some games that we can do virtually in their cohorts and put some videos together, some fun videos and, and that, so we’re still trying, and we’re trying to make things go.


Doug Primrose (23:59):
We, we always have a big singing competition here every spring. It’s called all, and we’re still gonna try and do that. We’re just gonna have to do it different. And that’s kind of our saying this year is we’re still gonna do it and we’re just gonna do it different, love it. And but one thing that we have done, I think a good job of this year is we’ve, we’ve done some really good things in the community. And that’s one of the things that the students have done a little bit more of is, is just reaching out to the community. And one thing that we did, which was pretty cool is they, they applied for these grants that the city of Abbotsford and the community foundation put together for COVID. And how can you make people in the community?


Doug Primrose (24:44):
Basically how, how can you engage with them during COVID time and communicate with them? So my students applied for these different grants and they all got approved and they, they started doing pretty cool things like one group. They put together these little care packages for kindergarten students where they get a t-shirt and some decorating things, decorated shirt. And so they gave those to all those students. They took you know, some care baskets down to ambulance drivers, fire police, all the first responders and did that. So they did some things for our, we have a, a teen kind of outreach type program here in Abbotsford. And they put together like little toilet tree bags and stuff to give to the student the kids in the community that might need those. And, and we’ve got out and done a lot of different things at the parks and cleaning up and just outdoor activities and stuff like that.


Doug Primrose (25:42):
So we we’ve been finding some pretty meaningful things to do. And, and I think part of that too, is like with me, one of my things with teaching leadership is I, I really want the kids to come up with their stuff and I really want them to be the ones to do it, and they take ownership over it because when it, when it works out, which it, you know, usually does the the, the, they feel so much more gratifying to them because they’re the ones who really put this together. So when they applied for those grants and they all got approved you know, they were pretty excited cuz they’re the ones who did all the work to put that grant together. It wasn’t me. Yeah. you know, when they go and deliver stuff to the Abbotsford police and Abbotsford, police puts a thing on their Instagram, thanking the Yale leadership students for, for what they did, you know, you can just see that they feel so great about about that because they’re the ones that did it. It wasn’t just me doing it and telling them to do it. They came up with it all. And I think that’s one of the important things when you’re talking about you relationships and stuff is let you know, let the kids are pretty good at at coming up with some great ideas. They’re better than I am during COVID coming up with ideas. So we get them to, so,


Sam Demma (26:55):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I feel like when you give someone more responsibility, they, they feel more part of the group or community, right. Yeah. If they feel useless or like they’re not doing anything, they might not feel like contributing or, you know, using their creative ideas. So I think it’s a, I think it’s a great thing to do. If you could take


Doug Primrose (27:13):
And, and that’s sorry, that’s a, that’s a big part of our program is the community part. So we talk about like pep rallies and stuff like that, but even a non COVID year, we do a lot of community stuff and I think that’s really important. They, they enjoy that just as much as they enjoy the, or maybe even more the stuff that we do in school. Because they don’t think they, a lot of times kids want to do things and they want help and they wanted that, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. Yeah. So you just kinda steer ’em in that direction and then they get into it. Now, the other great thing is, is when students graduate from here I still see them doing things in the community, volunteering, putting together nonprofits into their adulthood, which is pretty, pretty great because that’s something that they did here at the school that they’ve carried on. And


Sam Demma (27:58):
Yeah, it was like a launchpad here.


Doug Primrose (28:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s great.


Sam Demma (28:03):
And if you could take me back to year one year one, Doug, and speak to your younger self with all the wisdom and knowledge you have. Now, what advice would you give yourself? If you could have that conversation?


Doug Primrose (28:16):
Oh man. I, I think my, my problem was when I went through school and stuff, I, I don’t think I really had the confidence. And you know, it wasn’t, I think school was just so different back when I went there wasn’t as many opportunities and you know, like I think like if I had a class like my leadership class or other leadership classes that are out there in the, at all these different schools I think it would’ve been really good for me cuz it would’ve kind of got me to come outta my shell a little bit and have a little bit about more confidence. You know, a lot of the things I did when I was a kid I didn’t do things in class because I was just, you know, worried about maybe what people would think of me or maybe I just felt like I wasn’t gonna do a good enough, so I just didn’t do it at all. Right. so my advice to me would be like, get involved, get more involved in, in school activities and more involved in extracurricular activities other than just play a sport. And, and yeah, just have that confidence to kind of put yourself out there a little bit and move more.


Sam Demma (29:27):
That’s great advice. I, I feel like I’d give myself the same advice as a student. If I could go back cuz I, you know, like yourself, I only played soccer. You know, I was wanted to be a pro soccer player. I didn’t get involved in student leadership, student council, no extracurriculars. The only thing I did was play on the school soccer team and you know, play soccer outside of school and it, if it didn’t relate to soccer directly, I didn’t do it. And I feel like it limited me slightly. And so I think your advice ring shoe, not only for, you know, younger Doug as a teacher, but also, you know,


Doug Primrose (29:56):
Oh, sorry. I thought you meant me as a student.


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


Doug Primrose (30:00):
Was sorry. I was one back to my younger Doug as a student younger Doug as a teacher. Yeah, I, I, the thing is, is my first, my first job I was telling you about yeah. Was just so different, different, it was not really like a teaching type job. It was more like a management type job where you’re managing all these different kids and got it. You’re dealing with, you’re dealing with social workers and, and outside agencies and, you know, like the actual teaching part was was not you know, a whole lot. It was more just kind of you know, building those relationships with those kids and things like that. So I think that would be a big part of it. You know, get work on those relationships a, a bit more like right from the start. I think I learned that from the teacher I worked with he did a really good job of building relationships with those kids.


Doug Primrose (30:51):
Nice. I think also I think I, it took me quite a while to get involved in a lot of the extracurricular stuff. Like I did coach rugby. Yep. But I didn’t, I wasn’t involved in a whole a bunch of other different things that were going on in the school in my first few years. So I think get involved a bit more, but yeah, sorry. I thought you meant when I was in high school there, but because I definitely didn’t get involved in much when I was in school. And if I think I could do it again, I think I would try to be more involved in the activities that are going on in the building.


Sam Demma (31:21):
You and I both. I, I appreciate you sharing it. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from both perspectives so I appreciate you sharing both. Well, this has been a great conversation. If, if someone is interested in reaching out to you and chatting more, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Doug Primrose (31:37):
Yeah, they could just you know, send me an email or it’s on our school website; Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford. Awesome. but yeah, it’s it’d be great. It’s one of the great things about our leadership community that I’m in here is that we all just you know, from right across the country, we all kind of know each other and talk to each other, and get different ideas and, and bounce ideas off each other. And especially for those new leadership teachers or new teachers in general for them, don’t don’t hesitate to, to reach out to some of the people that have been doing it for a while, and we’re always willing to help out and do what we can. And, and I tell you, I, I learn so many, every time I go to these leadership conferences, I learn so many ideas from the from the new teachers. Because they got a whole different kind of perspective, and especially with COVID now I’ve learned a whole bunch of new technology things that that I, I, I couldn’t do before. So apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


Sam Demma (32:38):
Hey, don’t call yourself old yet. Awesome. Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll stay in touch.


Doug Primrose (32:48):
All right. Thank you very much.


Sam Demma (32:49):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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.

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker
About Anthony Perrotta

A graduate of Humber College’s prestigious Film and Television Production program, Anthony’s (@aperrottatweets) experience in Canadian film and new media production is extensive and diverse. From corporate film experience to independent film and new media works, Anthony’s love of film/new media led him to a career in teaching that has been equally and deeply rewarding.

With a specialization in Communications Technology and Broad-based Technological Studies, Anthony has been committed to providing students with culturally relevant learning experiences. From nurturing students to tell their own stories through video production and sharing their “why” through digital portfolio design and social media branding, Anthony continuously works to cultivate spaces of learning where students feel empowered to show what they know and who they are.

With a commitment to professional learning, Anthony has held a number of positions that allowed him to leverage his expertise in digital media to serve teacher professional development. From 2011 – 2014, Anthony was a Resource Teacher with 21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board. In this role, Anthony worked to support teachers across the TCDSB with the integration of 21st Century teaching and learning strategies and skills with a focus on digital media production, media literacy and the implementation of eLearning. In this resource role, Anthony was the District eLearning Contact for the TCDSB and was the Principal of Continuing Education eClass for a number of years.

With a commitment to student learning and the love for the classroom, Anthony ventured back to the classroom where he became the Department Head of Business and ICT Studies at Chaminade College School. During his time as Department Head, Anthony was responsible for the development of a Communications Technology program enriched by experiential teaching and learning practices. From industry partnerships with Disney Canada to collaboration with film and new media academics and industry professionals, his goal was to provide students with an experience that transcended the traditional classroom space. Furthermore, while at Chaminade College School, Anthony worked with partners including design thinker Dr. Marlyn Morris to develop a culturally relevant pedagogy framework to empower students to become global citizens with a focus on efforts to address anti-Black and BIPOC racism.

With all of this, Anthony is now a Vice Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board and is committed to servant leadership with the goal to empower teachers and students to be leaders of change in school and beyond. Anthony is currently Vice Principal at St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning. In this role he works to support nearly 30,000 FDK-12 students who are being schooled online during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony holds an Honours Diploma in Film and Television Production from Humber College, a BA in Film Studies (with Distinction) and a Bachelor of Education in Communications Technology from Brock University. Currently, Anthony is completing his Master of Education in Media Literacy at Queen’s University.

Anthony has written media / technology curriculum for Niagara University, Queen’s University, OECTA, OPHEA, Nelson Education, Catholic Curriculum Corporation and other institutions across Canada and has presented at a number of leading educational conferences including Reading for the Love of It, STAO, Connect and When Faith Meets Pedagogy.

Connect with Anthony: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Anthony’s Personal Website

Film and Television Production at Humber College

Film Studies at Brock University

Media and Communication Studies at Brock University

Masters of Education at Queens University

Toronto Catholic District School Board

21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board

Chaminade College School

St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning

Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA)

OPHEA

Nelson Education

Catholic Curriculum Corporation

Reading for the Love of It Conference

Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO)

When Faith Meets Pedagogy Conference

The Transcript

**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 Anthony Perrotta is actually someone that I connected with on Twitter. And I just, I’m just coming back from taking eight months off social media. I’ve been on Twitter for a little while and we met through mutual educator connections, and I asked him if he’d come on the show. He has a very unique that led him into education and he has some very grounded, genuine perspectives and experiences that I think would be super helpful to hear about. From the onset of his early career in education, Anthony Perrota has been compelled and dedicated to knowing and empowering students in telling their stories.


Sam Demma (01:21):
With no surprise, he has a huge interest in film as well. As Vice-Principal, Anthony continues in his journey as a leader, committed to creating safe, equitable and inclusive spaces for all students. All while intentionally addressing anti-black and BIPOC racism. Anthony has a very unique again, journey into education. You’re gonna get a ton out of this interview today. I can’t wait for you to hear it, and let me know what you think. Buckle up and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:49):
Anthony, 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 sharing who you are; introducing yourself, and a little bit behind what led you to the work you’re doing in education today?


Anthony Perrotta (02:03):
Well, thanks for having me, Sam. I’m not sure how high performing I am but we’ll have a good conversation I’m sure. So right now I am a Vice-Principal, a secondary school Vice-Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I’m part of the St. Anne’s Catholic Academy school of virtual learning team. This was Toronto Catholic’s response to COVID impacted pandemic learning. This is a fully virtual school, K to 12. There’s over 25,000 students, and I see your mask jump up there. And, and there’s a, you know, great team of teachers, of educational support workers, secretaries, administrators; like it really is a fulsome school in terms of how we want to serve students. And it’s you know, been really, really quite a fulfilling experience to be part of this type of I guess mechanism. I hate to say that word, but it feels like it at times because it is so big.


Anthony Perrotta (03:13):
And prior to becoming an administrator, I was a very passionate and still very passionate about education, classroom teacher. My background’s in film and so I was fortunate to have experience in film production and then transition into the world of education, where I taught communications technology, media studies, and really engaged in a unique experience where I could learn from students and then provide them opportunities to share their story. And for me, becoming a teacher was really about leaning into my experience as a documentary filmmaker, which was really the, the forte that I, that I entered upon finishing film school in the early 2000s and where some people say, well, you went to become a teacher, perhaps because you couldn’t make it in film. Well, anyone who has any experience in Canadian film knows that it’s never about money. It’s, it’s, it’s not Hollywood.


Anthony Perrotta (04:24):
Especially when you make documentary films, you really aren’t making these, these movies for personal wealth. You’re making them because you’re passionate about a particular story you want to unlearn and relearn through the narrative that you’re hoping to bring to life. And it was through a documentary that I was producing in Tanzania, where I met a group of students where my thinking around education was really, I think, reaffirm that young people have a transformational power about them and similar to yourself with your volunteer work and, and your social your social initiatives. And I wanted to be part of, I think that world really, and, and getting to know kids through more of a mature lens, stripping away assumptions of what we think, especially about teenagers and really support the empowerment of their voice. And, and that’s where my mindset was when I became a teacher and, you know, finished schooling, University, teachers college, and all those types of things.


Sam Demma (05:35):
You know, you brushed over Tanzania and you got me so curious, like how, how did that experience reaffirm this idea that, that young people have this transformational power about them? What happened in Tanzania that really shifted or, or affirmed your perspective?


Anthony Perrotta (05:50):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, let me peel it back a bit. So I went, I grew up in Niagara falls and then I went to study film at hum college in Toronto. And I was there from 1999 to 2002. And during that three year period, two of my years was working as a resident assistant counselor within the student residence. So my first year as an 18 year old going to film school, living in residence was about the party. And, you know, it was a great first year being 18, 19 years old, living away from home. My gosh, I’m surprised that I could wake up for classes some days. But then second and third year, I really became invested in the culture of the community and wanted to give back. And so I was successful in becoming a resident, assistant a counselor and living in the residence as a student, but also supporting my, my peers on my floor.


Anthony Perrotta (06:46):
And that provided me, I think, with an affirmation that yes, being part of the film industry, learning how to tell these stories, learning how to leverage technology and economics and get something made was quite compelling, but there’s something quite human and relational about working with people. And even as an RA and as a counselor, I was really invested in that experience. I was like really motivated to engage with people, to help them and, you know, learn from them. And it was quite unique and it shaped me, I think, exponentially. And so when I finished film school and I was working in the film industry in Toronto and different unique experiences, I started leaning into documentary because I found I would have more creative control. I found that my political and social sensibilities could be addressed. I was, was an am still very politically minded. And there was an opportunity to work with a Catholic organization called the missionaries of the precious blood, where they wanted to document their work in Tanzania, developing water windmills.


Anthony Perrotta (08:03):
And it was a unique partnership because they helped fund the project. I received government funding outside of that particular group, it had a formal release, so to speak and tr terms of what a documentary would be a Canadian made documentary. So at 22, it was quite a significant project for me. And what was wonderful was I made really two films. One was the one for the missionaries. And then the other was mine, which was looking at the intersectionality between water international aid and pretty much mindsets around development. And so it was quite a unique piece. And when I was there, there was a group of teenagers from Camloops BC that were there traveling with me when I was making the film. So part of my film was then sh documenting some of their stories and perspectives. And it was amazing because here I am, as this 23 year old young filmmaker with, you know, independent and government funding, I, you know, it’s quite exciting.


Anthony Perrotta (09:16):
It was at the time where film was transitioning from cell, you know, from 16 millimeter to digital, like, you know, the little mini DV cams, like the new technology was exciting. It was expensive as hell, but it was exciting. And I just found myself really invested in finding out who these kids were, who I was traveling with. And I was really just amazed that at 15, 16, they were going to give up their summers and travel halfway across the world and come together as strangers, some of them and contribute to this cause. And then I thought about who I was at 15 and 16, and my experience was definitely not going to Tanzania to develop and work on windmills. I was working at Swiss and, you know, washing dishes on the tourism strip in ARA, which are humbled roots, but it was very, very separate from social consciousness and community engagement.


Anthony Perrotta (10:15):
So I was really, really motivated by these young people and just really admired how them being there, tore away at how sometimes adults think about teenagers and what they are able to contribute. And even, you know, within the world of education, there will be so much that we celebrate around teenagers, but there’s often times where they’re trapped within some type of stereotype. So I was motivated to peel back the stereotype. And I just had a sense that the idea of filmmaking was going to change quite rapidly, that how we make films and tell films and share stories and what we perceive a film to be was changing quite rapidly. And this was before YouTube. This was before Facebook, right? This is really us just recognizing digital technology with the birth of Napster, which would’ve been when I started film school at the end of my grade 13, that wait a minute, the mechanisms of production were going to shift.


Anthony Perrotta (11:22):
So when I became a teacher finally in 2005 and started in 2005 as a full-time teacher with the Negar Catholic district school board, that was really where I was introduced to not only my students, but this whole, whole new democracy around the telling of stories that now we had YouTube, which I never had as a student, for example. Right. So now the way I tell stories and the way I share them shifted the power game. So it was just a very, you know, transformational for me in awakening. So to speak when I met these young kids and just thought to myself, you know, I could still make films, the type of films I want to make that are small scale that are very personal, very intimate. And like when I was an RA at hum college residence play a different role. And, and that’s where the film world and the teaching world converged.


Sam Demma (12:25):
So filmmaking, is that something that you still do now


Anthony Perrotta (12:29):
And oh yeah. Yeah. So there’s no separation be between me and film. Like I happen to be a secondary school vice principal, but on the weekends, you’ll find me blogging about the MCU on Disney plus, or, you know, a film, a popular film that I’ve seen on TV. For me being a filmmaker as the priority, you will allows me to be a better educator. Mm. Because it’s my film making roots that allow me to be responsive to situations. And this is not to say that I look at life in some type of hyper real existence where life is like a movie, but I have to tell you studying how to make films, having a degree in film theory, going to teachers college. I’m just finishing my masters in media literacy at Queens university, looking at how popular film or any type of film, really media literacy, if you will, is very much cultural literacy allows me to be very, very open to the people I work with and the people I year to serve.


Anthony Perrotta (13:44):
So I’m a filmmaker first because that’s how I kind of see the world around me as story that everywhere I go, there’s a story, you know, right now there’s a gentleman in the backyard of my house putting together a Barbie, I’m terrible at putting together things. My wife is way better at instructional design and organizational matters than I am. I, I, I think I might have like undiagnosed ADHD. So I just kind of am outta control sometimes in terms of my thinking pattern. So if you say put together a barbecue, I’m just like, oh my gosh, like, this is not for me. Yeah. So I there’s a gentleman in the backyard now. And before he even started putting together the barbecue, like I chatted with him for about 45 minutes. So I don’t know if he’s gonna charge me for that 45 minutes that it was part of the the hourly fee. But that’s to say, I found his story so unique. Here’s this young guy coming, you know over to the house to put together a barbecue laid off during the COVID experience has leaned into taskrabbit.ca to it has made this as permanent gig. And so for 45 minutes, I was really just wanting to find out who’s this guy who’s over the house. He might be thinking, I just wanna put together your stuff and, and get outta your,


Anthony Perrotta (15:00):
But he had, you know what I have to say, we had a really nice, good conversation. And I could tell that he was like, whoa, this guy’s actually taking the time. Speak to me. Like, he’s not just, here’s my barbecue. And here’s, you know, a sectional that I want you to put together in the backyard. It was a, you know, we had gave him an espresso, he had a coffee and we chatted. And so that’s the filmmaker side of me that I love to dive into story. Right. And that makes you a great teacher. Hopefully I don’t wanna say that. I didn’t great by any means, but the greatest teachers I’ve had are the teachers that really wanted to know who Anthony Prada was.


Sam Demma (15:40):
Mm. You just basically answered the question that was bubbling up in sad while you were speaking, which was, why is stories so important? Why is understanding people’s stories super important?


Anthony Perrotta (15:53):
So when we think about story, even as a parent, I talk a lot about this with my own kids who are 10 and seven years old. There’s a humbling of one’s self. When you engage in story, it’s when you actually say, I want to listen. I want to observe. I want to unlearn and rele. And so when we provide, especially young people, safe and inclusive places to be who they are without prejudice, without judgment, without assumptions. When we start actually rumbling with the power structure of our institutions, our classrooms, for example, where we re eyes, it’s not about, you know, Anthony Prada, the classroom teacher it’s about who are potentially the 25, the 30 students in my classroom. Are they going to be given with intentionality, not by accident, not some morning chat that we start the week with. I mean, real instructional intentionality to ensure that the curriculum that I design is responsive to who they are.


Anthony Perrotta (16:59):
Mm. So the story means everything because it speaks to then as an educator, what type of content am I going to be engaging my students in? And that’s really the hot topic today. When you think about EC, when you think about the type of material that we are engaging in the whole debate around, for example, what is perceived to be a classic to kill a Mockingbird, right? Do we need to be teaching a kill a Mockingbird? Do we need to be using that artifact as a vessel to engage in conversations about equity and race? I would argue, no, I will argue no there’s many other books written by black authors, people of color that provide a more humanized and more representationally profound discourse to engage in story who are the students that compose our classrooms. There is once a time. Very recently, I remember I would often show one particular film with a group of great 10 students.


Anthony Perrotta (18:08):
And I would show back to the future and I would scream back to the future in class, peel it back, talk about its kind it’s dangers around representation. Because when you look at back to the future, everyone celebrates it as this classic eighties film, but it’s a Reagan night artifact. It rises out of 1985, Reagan America. It’s directed by Robert Zeus. Who’s, you know, quite conservative. And the film is really there to make a pronunciation around whiteness and classism that only at the end, when Marty’s father stands up to the bully, when Marty’s father asserts himself to be an American man, does he rewrite the history? And then Marty’s family, this white wealthy unit. And when they’re wealthy, then their problems don’t exist. And the only black character we see is the mayor who we don’t really get to know until, unless he’s serving in the diner.


Anthony Perrotta (19:11):
So I was showing that film and having some conversations, but then I just recognized that the climate of my classroom was changing, that the students were, you know, perhaps not responding to that film. And I learned the value this many years ago of saying, Hey, what choice do you wanna make here? This is what we could watch. What, what, what, you know, connects to you and the students would guide the conversation. And so that’s all to say that the artifacts that we are using in class to engage in whatever type of, of experience we’re hoping to build, hopefully then allows students to be as real, if you will, as possible. So that’s why story to me matters story to me matters because it allows me to understand people. It allow me to kind of check my own biases, my own blind spots. You have to be open to that.


Anthony Perrotta (20:18):
That takes a lot of work, right? That takes a lot of work for you to be able to lean into your own vulnerability and say, yeah, you know, I need to change. Or my thinking in this way is not right. It’s potentially harmful and dangerous. And then when you’re thinking about young people, you are saying, Hey, I’m just the facilitator of this space. This space is yours. I’m here to serve you and people get rattled. When there’s this thinking around servitude in education that as a teacher, I’m here to serve you. And I’ve said that to colleagues, not as an administrator, I mean, teacher to teacher I’ve said, Hey, what’s the rigidness around assessment, or what’s the rigidness around being more culturally responsive in some of our or practices. Why are there these barriers when we’re there as public servants paid for by the ministry of education?


Anthony Perrotta (21:18):
Yeah. With taxpayers dollars, we are there to be in service to the child in front of us. And that child in front of us is perhaps the one thing that somebody else loves more than anything in the world. And I have the privilege to be in that shared space for 72 or 75 minutes a day. And it’s going to be about me. It can’t be when I send my own children to their Catholic elementary school, I’m sending to that school. The two things that I care about the most in the world. And I would hope when they’re there, they’re teachers who are fantastic. And I say this with utmost confidence, they respond to them in elementary school. Teachers, I think tend to do this more naturally with my, with my bias because they’re with students all year round from September to June, got it. In high school.


Anthony Perrotta (22:18):
We tend when we’re teaching to be so content driven. I’m in math. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in comp tech. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in geography. I need to get through the curriculum. And then the big daddy of them all, I have to prepare these students for post-secondary. Mm. Right? If I showed you Anthony Prada, transcripts from kindergarten, all the way to grade 13, it would seem as if nobody was preparing me for university. But Hey, at this point, come fall. When I finish my masters, I’ll have a college diploma, two university degrees in a master of education, not bad for someone who other people may have felt was falling through the cracks from K to grade 13. So that’s just to say that the experience of schooling has to really be about not the educator. What about the kids, student centric, student centric, and your work. When you talk about student servant leadership, that’s what it’s about. Mm it’s about saying, how am I going to help you? What is my time here really about? And unfortunately, if in the world of education within the classroom, there can exist a great ego. And sometimes the ego that exists is that of the teacher. It’s my space. It’s my I’m giving you a test. I’m giving you a quiz. Well, within that space, then where does the student fit? Is the student just a vessel to meet the, the end game that you’ve prescribed?


Anthony Perrotta (24:02):
Right? It it’s, these are challenging ideas. And this is not to say that teachers aren’t doing wonderful work. Oh my gosh. I know so many wonderful teachers. Okay. I, I I’ll, I will never say I ran into, or I’ve worked with a teacher that I don’t believe in because the potential that is exponential, the work I’ve witnessed is fantastic. It’s transformational. However, there are time where we have to ask some real critical questions about our lesson design, about our assessment strategies. Are we really there about the students now in that too comes another tough, tough one, especially when you think about high school. And we say, well, I’m preparing students for university or college. That one there kind of always gets me a little bit worked up in terms of having a good conversation, because if you’ve been an educator who’s been far removed from university or college, then how do you know what works?


Sam Demma (25:07):
Hmm.


Anthony Perrotta (25:09):
Why are we, you know, working within a prescribed near of preparing students for university and college, when act, and when in actuality, the college and university in the post-secondary world is evolving and it’s transforming that their, their game is starting to change Yet. We say, you know, I’m, I’m still working. I need to, I can’t make this change for example, because I have to fit this curriculum piece in because of college or university. I don’t know. I’ve never seen an Ontario piece of curriculum that actually states check mark, I’m prepared child, a child for college or university. I’ve never seen it.


Sam Demma (25:51):
And who’s to say that, you know, every single student in that classroom, that’s what they wanna be prepared for


Anthony Perrotta (25:58):
Ex exactly. Right. And if I look at myself as an example, my experience was not a positive one when it came to content. Mm. I didn’t really connect with material, especially in high school, other than in my art in media classes. Cause I was really, you know, very early on, very, very much grounded in where can I tell story? Where can I have control of the mechanisms of storytelling? And so visual arts media classes really spoke to my sensibilities. I knew enough to play the game of schooling. I was respectful. I would get my CS and maybe a couple of bees here and there. I knew enough that, of course I wasn’t going to flunk out by any measures. Okay. But content, the content wasn’t speaking to me and what really spoke to me more was learning about process. And luckily how having really good teachers in unique courses that allowed me opportunities to be resilient, to construct new knowledge on my own, to be curious.


Anthony Perrotta (27:17):
And when we think about education today and what’s called 21st century learning, or are learning that as grounded in global competencies, we think about the critical thinking. We think about the collaborators. We think about skilled communication, for example, using digital multimodal medias to show what students know, we’re talking about a lot of the things that make filmmaking so exciting to me. And then when that student arrives to their post-secondary space, wherever that is, they will be able to thrive. And, and I’m, you know, I’m kind of proof of that because when I went to film school, probably teachers that said goodbye to me in June of 1999, when I graduated, they probably never thought that I’d be showing up in 2005 as a colleague teaching in that same high school as my first full-time job. And you know, what I gained outside of content was what was really invaluable.


Anthony Perrotta (28:25):
It was all about the pro us. And so when we can provide students with the freedom to make mistakes, to grow, when we provide classroom cultures where we’re committed to feedback, ongoing feedback, so a student can rework and be committed to mastery when we provide these opportunities, what we’re also providing our unique spaces to get to know the students. Mm. And the type of feedback I give to student a, in student E is going to be perhaps quite different. The way they respond to that feedback is going to be quite different. And so within that difference, our unique stories. Mm. And that was what excites me when I was as an educator, when I was in the classroom. And as an administrator, that’s what excites me when it comes to helping students and their families get through pro perhaps difficult times or supporting students, you know, to go to the next level, it’s the opportunity to pause and ask myself, how can I help you? And before I can even help, I need to get to know you.


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah. Ah, that’s so powerful. I love that. And you, you know, at the beginning of this interview, you mentioned this idea that the school you’re at now is so large, you know, sometimes it feels mechanical or like a mechanism because of how big it is. Can you tell me more about what the school looks like? It’s, I’m assuming it it’s a fully virtual school.


Anthony Perrotta (30:02):
It’s a fully virtual school from K to 12. Got it. Over 25,000 students. And again, in response to, COVID a fantastic team at all levels, like really transformational, really doing something at a scale that was never done before. Yeah. And I can only speak for myself, but the main difference is when you’re in a building as an administrator and you believe like I did having my door open and being in the hallways very rarely when I was in a school as an administrator. And it was only a short time that I wasn’t an administrator in a school because then COVID hit. And I, and I made a transition to the virtual. I was in the hallways all the time cuz that’s where the action was. That’s where the students were. That’s where you get a sense of what’s happening. And when you’re in your school and you’re responsible to a particular community and you’re serving that community, you get to know that community.


Anthony Perrotta (30:57):
That’s the big difference between being in such a, when I said mechanical is I’m reaching sometimes to students who I don’t really know them. So the conversations perhaps don’t have the nuance that I would have with a student in my homeschool, in a physical building. Got it. But that just means that some of the conversations I have within the virtual space, they take a little bit longer that, you know, I take my time and I, and I, and I allow the conversation room. So if a parent wants to share a piece of their story in terms of why something is happening, for example, they have that safe place to do so. And I will say, I talk on the phone a lot throughout the day. And some of the conversations are longer than they perhaps need to be in terms of the more technical piece that I’m trying to solve.


Anthony Perrotta (31:52):
But if I call a parent and that parent perhaps senses in my voice or in my approach that this is a safe place to chat, maybe they just need the chat. And there’s been many times where I must have gotten a parent or even a student on a day where they felt maybe alone and unheard and they just needed to have someone listen. And that’s really the most exciting part of being an administrator is that you get the privilege to listen to all, all of these unique stories. And it’s not about me. These are, you know, these are opportunities that are free of bias of prejudice because I recognize really now fully mature in my 15 years of teaching, that I’ve been blessed with so much growing up, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of schooling. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife with wonderful children that there’s been so much privilege in my existence that it’s not for me to pass judgment on anyone else. Mm. Because my world is going to differ greatly than some of the worlds in which I’m trying to navigate with students and their families.


Sam Demma (33:16):
I love that. I got it. That’s a, that’s a great point. And 25,000 students, that’s like a, that’s like a university. You’re like a huge campus. Yeah,


Anthony Perrotta (33:30):
It’s massive, man. It’s massive. And there’s so many administrators. We have a wonderful lead principal, Joe Russo. Who’s at the helm like really great, great family, man, there’s job, a great team of administrators, elementary and secondary superintendents. But really it comes down to the teachers, the support workers, everyone who is in that trench with the child, so to speak, I hate to use that metaphor of the trench. Right. but in that playground then if you will, of the classroom, the digital classroom,


Sam Demma (34:01):
I get that makes sense.


Anthony Perrotta (34:02):
Thinking I lost you there a little bit. But it’s a, it’s a huge mechanism. Oh, can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:11):
Yes.


Anthony Perrotta (34:13):
Can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:14):
Yep.


Anthony Perrotta (34:15):
I can’t hear you.


Anthony Perrotta (34:19):
There you go. Now I can hear you. Okay.


Anthony Perrotta (34:22):
So when it goes, when it comes to the a virtual school, you know, it’s been a transformational experience in, in, so the Toronto Catholic school board has reasons to be proud in, in so many ways because it really is this collective effort coming together to support students in a time that none of us thought we would ever encounter, I, or thought that I would encounter in my educational career, let alone my life, something at this scale. And I think if you look at it through an objective point of view, it really is about recognizing that each student that we serve, each family is unique. So we want there to be the most holistic experience possible. That’s not to say that it’s not imperfect. It is by, you know, everything we’re we’re human beings. So none of us are, are perfect. Right. But the intentions are sound in regards to the work that I’m doing now with the virtual school and in regards to COVID teen and pandemic learning, I think we’re all in education going to really need to pause and reconfigure what teaching and learning really means.


Anthony Perrotta (35:38):
And you talked to me earlier about servant leadership, and I think we’re going to have to do a lot more around that and continue the good work we’re doing, because what COVID has shown us is it’s not about content. It’s not about tests and it’s not about quizzes. It really is out that relational human leadership that is needed. And I see it with the wonderful teachers that work with my son and daughter, they know how to gauge the kids. They know when it’s time to put away the work. And more importantly, they’ve created safe places for them. They go to school mask on happy. They don’t like when they’re put in quarantine or when they’re on lockdown, they wanna be in those spaces. Why not? Because of just the fact that they like to learn. They have my wife’s side. They are very much self-directed learners and, and, and love schooling.


Anthony Perrotta (36:37):
They do their homework. They’re excited about that type of stuff. I was excited about schooling because of the social side. I was never the tiny rule doing his homework. Yeah. but they love all aspects of, of schooling. And I think any educator that puts kids first truly first, like who is that child in front me and how can I best empower them to be the very best that they can be? And as a Catholic educator, what drives me is how can I support this student in being what God intends them to be, whatever that is. Am I providing the safe place for that? I always thought that as a teacher and imperfect, you know, there’d be times, you know, and if I had my students here, many of them would tell you, this is, you know, we’re a production classroom. Yeah. So we would produce movies.


Anthony Perrotta (37:39):
We had a end of year showcase. Every school I taught at was driven by this end of year, bigger than life showcase. And for the last six years, when I taught at an all boys school SHA not college school, the end of year showcase was happening at Yorkdale silver city. One of the biggest multiplexes in the city of Toronto and the whole year was guided towards the end of may, when all of our short films, digital movie posters, graphic media would be on display, not only projected on the big screen, but taking over the concession area. And it would be our end of your showcase on the most Grandes of scales, we had filmmakers who were partners. We were doing work with Disney Canada. We would have video with academics, with filmmakers. I mean like major Hollywood filmmakers. We would go see Steven Spielberg movie and then have a Skype with the screenwriter of that Steven Spielberg movie.


Anthony Perrotta (38:31):
Everything was exponential to the max, which was quite exciting as somebody who just loves that world. But within that space, there could be a lot of imperfection. I could lose my cool, I could pass judgment without perhaps thinking I could lose my patience. And one of the things I pride pride myself on, even as a parent, is my ability to apologize. And I would apologize to the students if there was a morning where we weren’t meeting the demands of production and, you know, I forgot where I was and maybe became impatient, right. And raised my voice, or maybe made someone feel unwelcome. Right. We’re all IM perfect. What mattered next was, do I respect that human being in a way that will make them feel welcomed and right. That will make them feel and know that I value them. And that would only happen with, Hey class yesterday. I lost my cool on Sam. That wasn’t cool of me. I apologize.


Sam Demma (39:38):
Mm.


Anthony Perrotta (39:39):
Right. Sam matters, Sam, I’m sorry, buddy. Right. I didn’t really have many high school teachers who would do that.


Sam Demma (39:46):
Yeah.


Anthony Perrotta (39:48):
And I would do that because I respected the kids, their stories, their uniqueness. So very much the first two of admit that I’m imperfect, but I will do the work to try to limit how many times that imperfections taint my journey.


Sam Demma (40:07):
I love that. That’s it’s, it’s, it’s so important I think, to own up to MI to mistakes or imperfections and we all have them. So it’s a great reminder, even for everyone listening, because it, I’m sure we could all, you know, point fingers at ourselves at those moments. But like, you’re right. What what’s important is that we, we acknowledge them and we bring them to light and apologize and make up for them. Right.


Anthony Perrotta (40:31):
Yeah. And you know, and I, no, I believe that even as a parent, you know, I, there’s been many times where, and what I love about Mike kids. They’re very, very, very self efficient as a 10 and 70 year old. And their self advocacy is like through the, through the, through the roofs, like level four, they will stand up for themselves. And that’s very much something. My wife and I have instilled in them. And that’s very much my extroverted personality where I will stand for what I believe in. I was the person in staff rooms that would say, Hey, you know, that’s perhaps not the conversation to have here. I’ve been in really courageous conversations in staff meetings where, you know, I would stand up and say, Hey, right, have we thought about this? Have we thought about this? Is it us? Are we not doing the job?


Anthony Perrotta (41:22):
And that can make people kind of uncomfortable, but that self advocacy or that willingness to engage in courageous dialogue is something I believe in and something I try to instill in my own children. So as a parent, if I discipline and let’s say, I raise my voice to my son, for example, he has no problem saying, Hey, this doesn’t make sense. Why are you raising your voice at me? Why am I being penalized when this, and this happened? And at 70 years old, old, he’ll say it. And he’s not saying it to be rude. He’s not talking back. He’s sharing what’s on his mind. And you know, I grew up first generation immigrant. My parents are Italian fresh off the boat and we didn’t talk back to our parents. Right. We didn’t as a child, I didn’t say to my dad, oh, by the way, I think you’re understanding of the, this this, this consequence is unfiting like, you’d be like, are you kidding me?


Anthony Perrotta (42:18):
Like it would be nuclear apocalypse. You know, we parent differently. And there’s been many times when I’ve said to my own children, Hey, you know what, sorry, I lost my temper there. Or you know what you were right. Right. I jumped to conclusions that didn’t happen the way it did, you know, let’s talk it out. And I think that shows my kids, hopefully that I actually do value, right. Their perspective and their sense of self worth. And that’s something I think we have to model in, in our everyday encounters with young people, the kids that are sent to us, right? These are not. So imagine the great responsibility we have when another parent or caring adults, guardian grandparents sends you this human being. It’s a huge responsibility. So we have to really ensure to check our ego out the door as much as we can.


Sam Demma (43:13):
I love it. And I think when you have those crazy conversations and you allow the other party, whether it’s a young person or, you know, any human being to, to give you feedback in any way, shape or form, it also shows in that there’s a safe space and that, you know, their opinion and voice matters. As much as it might be uncomfortable for you to hear it, you know, as it is for most of us to hear feedback that we don’t, you know want to hear at certain times, but that’s arguably when we need it most Anthony, this has been a great conversation. We talked about so many different things. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.


Anthony Perrotta (43:49):
No, no problem. I hope by, you know, made sense to some of the ideas that I shared. I think to summarize who I am as an educator, and I’m still growing, I’m still growing really is shaped. Believe it or not by all of that film work. Hmm. You know, the two worlds are not disconnected. There’s a transcendence between the two, there’s an interconnectivity between to, and my mindset around teaching and learning. I don’t think it would be there without studying film production, knowing how to mobilize and tell the story and then sharing that with kids. I don’t think I would be where I am in terms of education and being an educator without living in a college dorm and being a counselor. I, I don’t think that the type of films I was working to tell and documentary, which were really community minded, really about being responsive to other people’s stories. Without those, I, I don’t think I’d be as open to making sure that my classroom wasn’t about me. And that’s really, for me, the end game about teaching and learning that it is not about me. It’s not about any type of prescribed rendering. I may have. It really needs to be responsive to who the student is, their families. And if that means I have to do a lot of unlearning, then that’s what I need to do. That’s what I’m called to do.


Sam Demma (45:32):
I love it. The, the student-centric like, that’s the main take. That’s my main takeaway, listening to this, you know, the students be the center of everything we do,


Anthony Perrotta (45:40):
It’s student, student students. And you know, that is could be complicated at times, especially when you’re working with adults. Right? Yeah. And I just live every day, whether I was a classroom teacher. And now as a vice principal, I’m still a teacher. I still see myself as a teacher, even though the roles are different. Yeah. Every day that I’m working, it really is what’s best for students. Got it. And that’s the guiding, that’s the guiding compass.


Sam Demma (46:09):
I love it. And if someone is listening to this and is inspired and just wants to have a conversation to dive deeper in some of your own philosophies and maybe exchange a, you know, a nice conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Anthony Perrotta (46:23):
They could reach me on Twitter. I, I love using Twitter as a professional learning network, so many wonderful educators. So anyone who would like to chat and, you know, have a good dialogue about education and what teaching and learning is now and what is potentially going to need to be, please reach out. This is all part of the learning. There’s no right or wrong concept or thinking. It’s all about that shared experience of having a good dialogue. So yeah, look forward to it.


Sam Demma (46:49):
Awesome. Anthony, thank you so much. And keep up the great work.


Anthony Perrotta (46:52):
Thank you, buddy. Thanks so much.


Sam Demma (46:54):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Anthony Perrotta

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.

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association
About Jason Schilling

Jason Schilling (@schill_dawg) was elected president in 2019 following two years of service as vice-president and more than eight years of service as district representative for South West. Prior to his election as President of the ATA, Schilling taught English and drama teacher at Kate Andrews High School, in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years.

Schilling is a proud graduate of the University of Lethbridge. Schilling’s assignments as president include chairing the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) Committee, serving
as a member of the Strategic Planning Group and the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, and acting as Provincial Executive Council liaison to the English Language Arts Council. He also represents the Association on the CTF Board of Directors.

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

The Transcript

**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. I’m super excited for today’s interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


Sam Demma (01:27):
Ah, that’s a lot of words. He also represents the association on the CDF board of directors. All that aside, Jason is an awesome human being with a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode and take something valuable away from it. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Jason, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Jason Schilling (01:56):
Well, thanks Sam for having me in it. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and have a conversation with you today about the things that I love, which is education and teaching, and I’ve always found teaching to be a joy. It’s one of the things that has been a great fit for me as a profession because I, I love working with children. I love working with students and helping them in the capacity of helping them grow and learn. I teach english and drama. Those are my two main areas. I am a drama major actually, but you can’t always find a drama job so you end up teaching other things as well. But I fell into English because there’s a, there’s the way those two really marry together quite nicely and, and things like that as well.


Jason Schilling (02:38):
From the Lethbridge area, I taught around Lethbridge my entire career and it’s started off in a small school in Vulcan teaching junior high and then worked my way up into high school. Then I switched to where I was teaching before I became President at Kate Andrews in Coaldale. And when I became president of the association, I had to go on leave from my teaching job and relocate to Edmonton in order to do this work and I knew that was a factor that I’d have to do in my life, but the day that I had to leave my school was one of the hardest days of my career because I, I built these relationships up with students and colleagues and the community over 17 years; and so then when I left, it was, it was pretty hard. And I miss teaching every day, but it’s also a really good reminder of why I do the work that I do now as association President.


Sam Demma (03:30):
I love that. And if you take me back to, you know, younger Jason, not that you’re old or anything, but like, you know, Jason right before St. Art in your career as a teacher how did you know that that was the path for you? Was there educators in your life that directed you down that path because they thought you had those associated characteristics and skills or from a young age, did you just know, you know, this is what I wanna do. Like, you know, gimme more context on how you landed in this profession.


Jason Schilling (03:59):
No, that’s a great question. When I was in junior high, you know, I was that typical kind of socially awkward little weird kind of kid in junior high, right? Yeah. And so I had this really great language arts drama teacher in grade seven. And I just always thought in my mind during that point, this would be all right. That would be a cool job, you know, and, you know, she was really great. And she, she worked with us really well and I felt it was one of the first times I remember in school feeling like somebody saw me. Right. Mm. And, and, you know, I had great teachers all through school, but this was a, you know, this, I was just something about this teacher that really kind of, kind of hit that mark. And that’s always in the back of my mind, but it was interesting when I went to university, I was a marketing major.


Jason Schilling (04:47):
I was going to get into advertising. That was my, my initial plan. And I remember, you know, university left bridges where I got my undergrad degree. It’s a liberal arts university. So you have to take all of these other subjects within the list requirements as they like to detail of them. So I ended up taking drama, which I never taken drama before. I was too shy. I was too chicken to do it as a junior high kid, no way would that ever happen. And I just remember my prop, I had there just said to me, he goes, this economics marketing thing that you’re doing, doesn’t sit you on you. Well, it doesn’t fit you, you well. And the drama class was just super easy. And then he, he tapped me on the shoulder to be in the main stage production at the university.


Jason Schilling (05:29):
And just from there, I, I changed my major. I got into drama education because it was a way to to take sort of the things that I, I really enjoyed working on. I think students really grow through the fine arts courses especially in drama. I’ve been able to, to work with students who are super shy and awkward. Like I was as a, you know, junior high kid and put them into a, a, a play where they just shine and they come out of their shell and they, and you see this growth and it’s phenomenal. And, and you kind of learn that through university when you’re working on that with students. And it just sort of came from there. And once I got into that sort of drama education part in university it changed the whole dynamics of going to university. It was suddenly became much easier. It was a joy to be there. The work was hard and the hours were long, but I didn’t mind doing it because it was, I was doing something that I love. And I, I’m very fortunate that I had on people who kind of pushed me in that direction to, to do that because you know, I, you know, some days are hard, but it’s what you love. And so you just keep doing it. So it’s great.


Sam Demma (06:32):
You, you mentioned that the day you left your school to move into the, you know, this president role of this association was one of the toughest days of your life. But that reminds you now why the work you’re doing is so important. What do you mean by that? Tell me more about the work you do now and how it relates to education and why you think it’s so important.


Jason Schilling (06:52):
Well, part of my role as, as association president is that the ATA you is you know, part of our mandate is to promote an advanced public education in Alberta. Nice. And I’ve just seen the benefits of public education for my students myself you know, I’ve gone to public school. All my university degrees are from pub arcade or from public universities in Alberta. I just know the benefits of public education and we need to fight for it because I always believe, and I’ve, I’ve said this a few times in other places as well. I think you, you fight for what you value and what you believe in. Hmm. And that’s why this role is important to me, it’s challenging. There’s some good, like everybody else, there’s some good days in there some bad days. But I carry with me, you know, that it experience of my, my teaching career. And I’ll end up probably going back to teaching once I’m done with this role as well with my colleagues and my students, and just knowing that education’s important to them as well, because they value it and they believe it as well. And I took a bunch of my mentors that I had in my classroom that I have collected over the years, and I have them in my office in Edmonton, because they’re just there as a visual reminder as well of the reason why we’re doing the work that we’re doing


Sam Demma (08:07):
Beautiful. And COVID 19 introduced some interesting challenges not only in, you know, every school, but I’m, I’m assuming also in the association and everywhere could the world, what are some of the challenges that have, that have come up and how have you and your team trying to tried to address them and overcome them?


Jason Schilling (08:28):
Well, definitely. And it’s been, it’s been a huge challenge and a difficult year for teachers and even staff working at the association because every way that we’ve normally have done things has changed and has been altered. And the things that we thought would be temporary have become sort of these permanent mainstays in our lives right now. And, you know, we still have lots of pandemic ahead of us. And so we’ll still be doing these things for, for months to come, even though vaccinations are coming, but we’re still seeing an increase in, you know, variance and other things around that as well for teachers, they literally had to change how they were interacting with their students overnight when classes were canceled last March. And they did a phenomenal job. Some days weren’t great. Some things worked, some things didn’t work. It was hard to connect with all of our students because one of the things I think the, the pandemic EC has done as well is highlighted the inequalities that we have within our system.


Jason Schilling (09:19):
Not every student has access to technology, not every student is able to you know, connect at home because they might be sharing a computer with their parents and their siblings, or, or just a multitude of things that came up, you know, poverty, income, security, all sorts of came up with this as well. And so that was a lot, a big challenge for us to manage at that time and still to do that at this point, as well as trying to deal with health protocols and now, you know, close it or schools that might have to close because they have a COVID case and moving everybody online, then coming back in for myself as a, you know, president, I usually tens of thousands of kilometers a year. Yeah. And so it’s it’s a little bit of isolating in that fact that a lot of my work has done sort of how we’re talking today through zoom. But you know, it’s, it, you just keep doing it, you just get up and you keep working to make sure that you’re connecting and engaging with members and being able to hear what they’re saying in terms of their experience, and then turning around and advocating for them down the road with you know, ministry staff and such.


Sam Demma (10:23):
And I also believe that every adversity challenge, you know, also plant there’s a seed somewhere planted of an opportunity within that adversity year challenge. And, you know, one of them is to create more, you know, equitable school. I’m curious to know what are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing as well, or the shifts that you’re seeing that you think are great and are good to be having in conversations that are happening within schools and within the association?


Jason Schilling (10:51):
Well, I know through the last little part in March and June, where teachers were working online, a lot of collabo between teachers in terms of making, you know, talking to one another and their school leaders or principals about connecting with kids and connecting with parents and making sure that lessons were being delivered. And it really started to spark a conversation towards the end of the school year about assessment and what are we assessing in school and what are the things that we need to be assessing in what’s a priority and what’s important. And those are really good conversations to have, because teaching it to me is always reflective, look back at what you’re doing, where you’re going with with things like that. And then to analyze that. So the, the conversation around assessment has been a really good one. Like, do we need to have diploma exams and provincial achievement tests?


Jason Schilling (11:37):
Like, are they capturing what students are truly learning? And we know that they don’t. And so to keep those things going forward is important. And it’s also really highlighted, I think the importance of relationships, we know that relationships are key when it comes to teaching with students, with each your colleagues in the building with their parents in the community that really highlighted that over this last year. You know, I talked to teachers who they don’t like having to go online because they want to be in the room with their students face to face, even though they’re wearing a mask and have to do, try to do social distancing as best as they can. They still want to be in that space with their students, working with them in that capacity, because trying to connect with people is really difficult through a screen.


Jason Schilling (12:20):
And for a variety of reasons you know, some kids might not turn on their cameras and and things like that. So that makes it even harder. And we also kind of learned, you know, the inequities that we have with some of our students and that we have a greater need in terms of society to address those things such as poverty even connected to the wifi is one of them. And of course, I think one of the biggest conversations that we’ve been having and still need to have in the future will be around mental health and supports around mental health as well.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that. And you, and we’re living in a time where students bedrooms have been transformed into the classroom, and some students are rolling outta bed and turning on their, you know, computer to join class. And it’s just as stressful and difficult for the teachers sometimes. And I would even assume yourself, like, I, I’m not sure if you’re, you’re doing this interview from an office or for, you know, from a place in your home, right. You have beautiful pictures behind you and it looks great which is awesome. You have a nice microphone, which is great. But how do you balance that work in life when they’re both? So, you know, closely intertwined personally? I just, just a very curious, personal question.


Jason Schilling (13:27):
No, it’s, it’s, it’s a really a great question because I’m actually, yeah, I am talking to you today, actually from my apartment in, in Edmonton. So I I’m working from home today because I’ve had that, that luxury being able to do that, but I do go to the office quite a bit as well, just to find that balance and that normality in life, I think COVID is really altered a lot of the normals that we, we normal. We, I’m gonna keep saying normal over and over again. Yeah. It’s gonna alter, it’s all altered the way that we’ve done our lives professionally and personally. And so I do go to the office just because some days it’s easier to, to do that, the work that I need to get done that day there, but also it allows me periodically to see other human beings.


Jason Schilling (14:10):
Right. So I might, you know, I try to time things sometimes with my assistant, because maybe there’s some, some documents I need to sign, or we need to talk about some things that are in the, the plans and works like that. So we try to, to focus that as well, or if we have a big media event such as the curriculum was just released here on Monday some of the com the communications people might come into the office as well. And, and then we’re able to do that work together because it’s easier that way. So finding that balance is it’s hard it’s because when you’re working from home and I’m not sure about your situation, Sam working from home, your work is just sitting on the kitchen table. Yep. Right. And it’s always there. And so you just end up working longer and, and, and things like that. And it’s, it’s important to find balance and to, to, you know, get outside and, and do the things that you can in a safe manner that are, are protecting yourself and others.


Sam Demma (14:59):
It brings, it brings the conversation back to that topic of mental health, right. Addressing student mental health, but also staff and human, mental health, the whole, the whole world should be addressing that. What do you, you think is important around, you know, addressing mental health in the next couple of years? Like, what do you envision or think should be happening more in schools to support that in relation to students and staff?


Jason Schilling (15:22):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a great question that a lot of us need to have conversations with our elected officials about because you know, I’ve, I’ve insane that I don’t think anybody is untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Some will feel it differently than others and that’s just human nature. That’s the way that we are. But I think one of the things, you know, coming from a small rural school is you, we would only have a counselor in our building maybe one day a week. Right. But the, the the effects of the pandemic make, or the mental health needs of our students, they come to school every day. And so we need more support that way in terms of having counselors in buildings working with students helping staff as well in terms of the support that they have.


Jason Schilling (16:05):
I mean, staff are able to access health benefits if they have them substitute teachers don’t necessarily have those support, but other staff do, and to make sure that they’re, they’re taking care of themselves and getting over the stigma of taking care of your mental health as part of your health, I’ve always been saying to teachers through this whole time, and I, I’m a victim of it myself, you know, it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to have bad. I have them too, but just work and, and, and chat with people and try to support that and, and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. That’s key. And we also need to make sure that you know, government is providing those means of support for that and making it a priority as we move forward.


Sam Demma (16:50):
I agree. And I’ve experimented with some like, different things like meditation, and, you know, there’s stigma along with that too. Right. Like, you know, just talking about mental health is, is it shouldn’t be, but it, you know, historically has been a touchy topic. But you tell someone, oh, I’m meditating. And you know, my friend’s like, what are you a monk? I’m like, no, what are you talking about? Like, this is something that I do to quiet my thoughts, quiet my mind, and start my day off on the right foot. And I think it’s so important to normalize those things in schools. Like I, I don’t know. Do you think in the next couple years, wellness will be like a, you know, something that’s very implemented in schools and social, emotional learning.


Jason Schilling (17:29):
Yeah. I think we need to make the idea of wellness as, as normalized as part possible that these are just the things that I do, whether you meditate, I run, right. And so you know, I get out there and I strap my shoes on and I, there’s not a, I say, there’s not a, there’s not a problem. I can’t solve on a good 10 mile run. Nice. And and things like that as well. And I’ve actually even said to students in the past, you know, I could have marked these assignments, but I went for run instead. Just because I’m going to be a much happier teacher for you today because I went for a run yesterday and I’ve actually had students in the past. Sometimes that we’ve, if I’m might be having a particularly cranky day, they’ll like, could you go for a run today when you’re done school?


Jason Schilling (18:12):
And, and then maybe when you come back tomorrow, you might be a little bit more pleasant and I’m like, duly note it. So, I mean, we all have those things in there that we, it just, we have to make this an ingrained part of our life and know that wellness is important for us in all aspects of our lives. And the pandemic is really showing that as well, because it’s really highlighted the things that we’re missing from our lives, maybe in terms of personal relationships and our professional relationships, and then trying to find a way to rectify that so that we can just be better or happier as we move down the road.


Sam Demma (18:45):
I agree. I totally agree. And, you know, we, we mentioned relationships earlier and how, you know, that’s one of the things that you noticed, you know, as a, something that’s super important that came up during COVID 19 and maintaining relationships how do you think we continue building relationships virtually? Is it by just, you know, phone calls and checking in with the teachers and, you know, having them check in with their students, like, yeah. How do you think we build those relationships?


Jason Schilling (19:11):
Well, ideally, I mean, in person is always gonna be better. Yeah. I mean, we, we do have these virtual things and there’s ways to, to stay connected with that. I don’t know you know, I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, you know, my friends and family I’ll do the zoom thing, but periodically I just like to pick up a phone yeah. And just call somebody. So instead of, you know, I always say if my email chain gets more than five, I’m phoning that person just to talk to them about it because after a point you just lose that. And so it’s hard and it’s not ideal, but you just do the things that you can do. And I know Christmas holidays was difficult for a lot of people and I didn’t have the chance to spend it with my family for the first time in a long time. And so we, we still managed to have Christmas dinner. We just did it by FaceTime. And we were kind of weird at first, but then at the end it was, it wasn’t bad. It was okay actually. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t too bad. And, you know, when it came dishes time, you could just, instead of having to do them, just click end then,


Sam Demma (20:09):
And then you put on your shoes and went for a,


Jason Schilling (20:12):
Yeah. I’m not sure it’s Christmas time. It was kind of cold, but I don’t know if I would,


Sam Demma (20:17):
So, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And you know, if you could give advice, there’s educators listening to this right now who maybe burnt out right now, who may also, you know, couldn’t see their family for Christmas, who, who have been question whether or not the work they’re doing is making a difference. And, you know, they may even be thinking about, you know, leaving or quitting. You know, what advice could you share as someone who knows how important education is and educators are on the lives of our youth? What advice could you share that might be helpful? You know, imagine you were talking to a friend of yours, who’s a teacher.


Jason Schilling (20:50):
Well, and I have these conversations with teachers all the time over this last year about feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the requirements and, and things like that, of what they have to do, or working with the health protocols or carrying the stress of, you know, trying to keep a class of the 30 kids safe through the course of the year so that they don’t get ill. Is that time it’s okay to, to step back a little bit from the pressures and it’s okay to say no to some things, and I’m, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Or I’m not running book club this year. If I was at school, actually in the classroom right now, there would be no way I’d be doing a drama production this year. Just on top of everything else that needs to be done. It’s okay to take a break from that stuff.


Jason Schilling (21:33):
It’s also, I would just say, you know, talking to people we sometimes get stuck in our heads over things, or we, we, we see a lot of negativity maybe within social media, stuff like that. And, and it’s hard to put that down but to put it to, to try to find ways to support mental health and, and things like that as well. And also talking with your colleagues, because if you might be struggling with some aspect on something, they might be as well. And just finding ways teachers work very well collaboratively. And so finding that space in that time, I was really appreciative of this last year. We had a couple school boards in the fall, actually changed a couple of their PD days into just wellness days and just gave everybody the day off. And it was around the remembrance day weekend.


Jason Schilling (22:18):
And I thought that was a really good approach. Not saying, okay, well, kids, you have the day off teachers, you have to do all this extra work. And they just said, no, here’s the day off. And so I think that’s important for employers as well to, to look at what’s happening and saying, okay, we need breaks. Let’s not try to cram everything in cuz this year’s not normal. And I’ve always cautioned people from normalizing this year. Nothing about this year is normal. Nothing about the way that you’re teaching is normal. And it’s okay if you don’t get to everything because a resilient I’ve, you know, I’ve taught for English 20, 30 for 20 years. I know what I need to do in the curriculum as a professional to make sure that my students are reaching the outcomes that they need to have in order to move on to the next grade, teachers are professionals and they’ll do that. And so it just, you know, having that conversation with them and saying, you know, it’s all right, it’s, we’re all in the same boat together. And, and to just reach out that way. So


Sam Demma (23:13):
I love that I was talking to another educator the other day and, you know, we were, you know, talking about the situation, but trying to make it a little more lighthearted by like laughing about some things. And she said, you know, we’re all in the same boat and the boat’s the Titanic. I was like, relax. Like I, I know I totally get it. And you know, like yourself, I’ve had lots of conversations on this with this project on this podcast. And yeah, I think it’s important to have those people in your life that you can talk to and have conversations with and realize that it’s okay to take a day off. I’m curious to know personally what is, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to once this passes blows over the world opens up per like what is the first thing that you’ll be doing at that moment?


Jason Schilling (23:58):
Joe, what’s funny is I’m, I’m often known for not being a hugger. And so I, you know, when I keep saying to people, when this is all over, I’m still going to keep that six foot rule away from me at all times. And there people are like, we are gonna give you a hug. That’s great. I think it’s one of those things is I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time, you know, with my parents and my family. And, you know, I have a sister who lives in the states and that, and being able to see them in and for probably well over a year now. Right. And so just getting to, to be around people in that capacity, we’re, you’re just not afraid at the time and, and, and stuff like that as well. So that’ll be the biggest one. Yeah, yeah.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Yeah. You know, as long as everyone stays six feet apart, right.


Jason Schilling (24:42):
As long as there’s just not some big hug I’ll be working with.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today about education and you know, it’s important and why you’re so passionate about it, and some of the things that you’re observing and seeing. If someone wanted to reach out, you know, send you an email you probably already have a lot of those, but if someone did wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe have a conversation?


Jason Schilling (25:06):
Actually the best way is just through email and it’s just jason.schilling@ata.ab.ca. And I always, I always say to teachers, I try to get back to everybody. Even the hate mail that I get, I always respond to those as well but not always as quickly as I would like to sometimes; just always depends on what’s going on.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Sounds great. Again, thank you so much. This was awesome and I look forward to staying in touch and watching the great work you do.


Jason Schilling (25:34):
You bet, Sam. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (25:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Schilling

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.

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association
About Brandi Rai

Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.

Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.

She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.

Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.

Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.

Connect with Brandi: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA)

Alberta School Council’s Association Conference and AGM

Expanding Mental Health Supports in Schools

The Transcript

**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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.


Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.


Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?


Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.


Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.


Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.


Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?


Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.


Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.


Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?


Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.


Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.


Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?


Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.


Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.


Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.


Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?


Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.


Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?


Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.


Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.


Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.


Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.


Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.


Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.


Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.


Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?


Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.


Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?


Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work


Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?


Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?


Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.


Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.


Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (23:16):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brandi Rai

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.

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association
About Marco LeBlanc

Hooked on Leadership and Community Service since 1999, Marco LeBlanc is doing leadership right! He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local, provincial, national and global student leadership conferences.


Married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate, Marco has also adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his Mother. Scott lives with a mental and physical disabilities but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time, he is amazing!

Marco is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice- President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association, President of the Local Association for Community Living, where we run a learning center for 35 adults living with mental and physical disabilities as well as a community residence for 7 adults, and Co-President of a Drug Free Community Committee. He’s a Grad and Student Council Advisor and Homestay Coordinator for Atlantic Education International finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students.


Winner and Recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero Award, 2014 Tom Hanley Leadership Award, 2014 and 2018 NBSLA Community Outreach Award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teacher’s Association Teacher Recognition Award.

Connect with Marco: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association (NBSLA)

Atlantic Education International (AEI)

New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA)

The Transcript

**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. I’m super excited. Today’s guest is Marco LeBlanc. He has been hooked on leadership and community service since 1999. That’s right; the year I was born. Not to age Marco, he’s a phenomenal dude. And he has been doing leadership right since that day. He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local provincial/national global student leadership conferences.


Sam Demma (01:03):
He’s married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate. He has adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his mother. Scott lives with the mental and physical disabilities, but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time and Marco believes he is absolutely amazing. He is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice President of the new Brunswick Student Leadership Association, the President of the Local Association for Community Living, and the Co-President of a drug free community committee. He’s a grad and student council advisor and home state coordinator for Atlantic Education International, finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students. His bio goes on and on. Marco has done so much in the world of education, so much for young people, and it’s really inspiring. And I hope some of his stories that he shares today in his podcast really touch your heart.


Sam Demma (01:54):
Marco is the winner and recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero award 2014, Tom Hanley Leadership award 2014 and 2018 new Brunswick Student Leadership Association Community Outreach award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teachers association Teacher Recognition award. There’s a reason for all of that and you’ll hear about it on today’s podcast. And I hope that his stories really touch your heart and remind you why you got into teaching. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Marco, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit, why you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Marco LeBlanc (02:41):
Well, my name’s Marco LeBlanc. I’ve been an educator for about 12 years and a student council advisor for about 10. I’m part of the New Brunswick Student Leadership and the Canadian Student Leadership Associations. And I guess I would’ve gotten into this leadership journey because it was offered to me as a student and I just grabbed onto it. Totally fell in love with being of service in my community, whether that be in my direct community or my school community. And from there, I mean, I just wanted to share that passion with students and give them some purpose and, and things to do while they’re at school and so it’s been working great.


Sam Demma (03:29):
And what made you back when you were a student? What made you want to grab onto that opportunity of getting involved in the student leadership? Was it the, did encourage encouragement from another educator or were there other things in your life that really like drove you towards wanting to get involved?


Marco LeBlanc (03:49):
So that’s a great question. It was an another educator for sure. And she’s actually a colleague of mine now, which is kind of odd, but it, it works. We team tag now, so it’s partnership. But basically as a student, I wouldn’t, I would not have been involved very much in, in school and probably on the path to making a few wrong decisions consecutively in, in, in my teenage journey. However, this teacher was adamant that, you know, she saw that I was always willing to help. And then from there she just used that as the spark and always made sure that I had a project going. And so she kept giving me these projects and I kept falling into it and, and taking it by the horns and planning activities, doing fundraising is being involved and having something to do. And from then on, I was hooked on this leadership thing.


Sam Demma (04:50):
That’s awesome. I love that. And when you say hooked, I mean, if that’s the analogy we’re using now, you’re like a professional fisherman then, because you’re you know, you’re heavily involved with the school you’re at, you’re also heavily involved with the new Brunswick student leadership association. At what point in your, you know, your educator career, your teaching career, did you start getting involved in the new Brunswick, you know, leadership association and, and what drove you to get involved there? You know, cause I’m, I’m sure you were heavily involved at your school, but I’m assuming that took it to a whole new level as well.


Marco LeBlanc (05:22):
Yeah. So in, in my last year, as a high school student, I was able to finally take part in a new Brunswick student leadership association conference. And, you know, that was a wonderful experience. I networked so much by just being an attendee and, and learning many new things. And when I went into college and university, I mean, I still took part in, in some social clubs and, and I did a, a working group from the university as well. So when I returned into education at a school after, I mean, I, I dipped my feet in to get my first year under my belt, but starting second year, we went right into let’s get a student council going. And after that first year of having a student council connected with the new Brunswick student leadership Associa, and then have never looked back, went through as a, as a director. And then now I’m vice president and loving what, what we do and the opportunities we provide for our New Brunswick youth.


Sam Demma (06:32):
That’s an amazing story. And I’m curious to know, like, I’m, I’m sure there’s other educate who you share your experiences with with student leadership that are very fascinated by it. And there’s also other educators who sometimes think like, why is this stuff so important? You know, like what makes student leadership such an impactful and essential part of school? Like, we’re not, you know, we’re not teaching them math or science here, it’s, it’s life skills and other, you know, other things, what would you share with another educator who might be thinking to themselves? I don’t understand why this stuff is so essential and so important. Yeah. In your opinion, why is this this work around student leadership, very foundational to learning and growing as a young person?


Marco LeBlanc (07:17):
Well, I think, I think given the anything with student leadership is a lot about finding, finding out who you are and, and tuning into you know, the, the skillset you have and, and the things you want to develop and, and maybe try out, it’s also having that ability to take a risk also. And so once, once these students start entering into these, these leadership opportunities, you really see them develop and, and, and turn into, you know, students who wanna make a difference, wanna make an impact, wanna serve their community. And, and there are still those students that want to be at the background, and that’s fine because that’s still a foundational element of, of anything. And so in speaking with, with educators, I would say that the best thing would be, you know, the, the importance of this is that students find like their, their niche. They find something that they can and hook onto. They can invest in it and they see what happens. You know, they, there’s, there’s an automatic response. So it’s either, you’re gonna see that people are enjoying themselves at an, a event you’re running, or you’re gonna see that people are getting involved in a fundraising effort for a cause, whatever it be, if it’s social awareness and, and just that networking that happens, the connections, the community, partnerships, all these things, follow them beyond school. And, and that will be where the benefits will show.


Sam Demma (08:57):
Yeah, that’s a, I love that. And I mean, from the perspective of an educator, you’ve also seen the impact firsthand in your own life, but also in the lives of the students, in your schools and communities. And I’m curious to know, like if I had described the state of the world right now, I would say, it feels like sometimes it feels like someone has taken a large blanket and just dropped it on top of the planet. And it seems a little dark at times. And a little lonely at times, and student leadership provides a light, a light for students. And I’m curious to know in your experiences, if you’ve seen firsthand, you know, student transformations occur maybe because of student leadership or because of a, you know, a caring adult or educator, and do any of those stories come to mind. And if they’re, if they’re very serious, you can change a student’s name just to keep it private. And the reason I’m asking you just to be transparent to share it is because I think another educator listening can be reminded of why the work they do is so important. We hear about these transformational stories.


Marco LeBlanc (09:59):
Yeah, I guess the, the one thing that I always go back to is a story of I’d say about six or seven years ago, I had a student council election coming, and I had a student who was basically peer pressured by his buddies to, to join in, but it was, it was as a joke. It was as a first, it wasn’t going to be an authentic commitment and whatnot. And anyways, we went through the election process anyways, and I knew that, that this had occurred, but I wanted to see what the results were. And after student vote basically I had a tie for who was going to be leading the student council. And so this individual had received almost 50% of the votes from the student body. And so I sat down with the student with the two individuals, and I said, you know, I think this is an opportunity to, to work as a team show that teamwork is possible.


Marco LeBlanc (11:02):
That one position can become two, and maybe we can you know, have more success this way. And obviously the voice of the building was saying that they, they really think that that person might, you know, do the job real well and represent their student by. And so we went for it and everybody was in agreement. We had a wonderful year, tried new events. Everything went well so much success, but in the end, at the end of the year, we had what we call a turnaround award in our, in our school district. And that’s that award is actually created so that students who have totally flipped their lives, they were experiencing some difficult circumstances in their lives or academic, behavioral, troubles, whatever it’d be. And they’ve shifted their life around fully. And, and this student one, I mean, he had, because of peer pressure, he was obviously in a bad place, poor choice, poor decision making, but went for it anyways, got into student leadership, found out that it was a passion. And he obviously brought forth a major skillset that was lacking in our student council. From there, you know, then he, he just built upon, totally changed his perspective. Everything got better. His relationships got better. His academics got better. He looked into post secondary, which he wasn’t even considering before. And he was the recipient of that turnaround award. And, you know, it, it was the best kind of full circle moment at the end of a school year.


Sam Demma (12:41):
That’s such a great story to share. And that student any chance you stay in touch with him to this day or, oh,


Marco LeBlanc (12:50):
Yes, for sure. That student is working full time and started a new family and everything’s in the up and up. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:58):
That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. And did he have any realizations as he got into it? Like I’m sure at first he might have not been the most confident in himself, but through student leadership, did you see a change in him? Like how did he transfer form personally throughout the journey as well?


Marco LeBlanc (13:18):
Yeah, he, he definitely transformed because he, wasn’t going to start this with any level of, of knowing what to expect. And so he was coming at it quite blind. He didn’t know what to expect, what his role was going to be. And, and obviously he wanted the, the appearance to peers was a major concern of his if, if he’d be accepted or not, and, and what would be the repercussions of that. But his revelation was probably his first successful event and how many people knew his name would say hello in the hallway would start to, you know, ask him questions and, and suggestions of new ideas. And he took it on and he really felt that he got the student’s voice vote. And so he needed to commit to being there for them. And the minute he started doing that, I mean, it was, it was wonderful just to see how he could blossom early.


Sam Demma (14:22):
Yeah.


Marco LeBlanc (14:23):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:24):
Oh, awesome. And this year, obviously things are a little different.


Marco LeBlanc (14:30):
Very different. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:32):
A little comedic, you know, but I’m curious to know, despite the, despite the challenges that are going on, I, I think that with every challenge, there’s an equal opportunity if we really try and find it and look for it. So I’m curious to know one, what are some of the challenges and two, what do you think some of the opportunities are as well during this time?


Marco LeBlanc (14:54):
So, I mean, a different a definite challenge is the fact that, you know, a lot of activities are not following the distancing protocols and so on and so forth. So they’ve been put on hold for the year and with a lot of activities that in involve having a lot of students gather it’s been a lot, a lot more difficult for our student council members to digest and, you know, to, to understand that those limitations exist. However, we do talk about limitations are often opportunity as well. So you need to check what can we do? And how can we flip this around so that people get to, to enjoy it too? So I mean, meetings are not in person. Meetings are virtual. We do theme days, we still plan classroom events. So if they’re in already in their bubble, we’re, we’re able to have those classroom events. And we’re starting now that the weather’s nice in new Brunswick, we’re starting to do some of the activities outside because we’re allowed to have a little bit more people outside. So, yes. Yeah. And I mean, they’re, they’re still committed. They’re still doing their part, it’s different, but they know that any, any time they commit and anything they do for the benefit of somebody else, then it’ll come back as being a successful thing.


Sam Demma (16:23):
And correct me if I’m wrong. But I also believe that this, there might be an opportunity of a reminder that reminded us how important relationships were. Yeah, I think it really showed us how important it was to maintain relationships and build relationships with not only our fellow colleagues and family, but the students in our classrooms. What is your philosophy on relationships? And how can we try and still build relationships during this like weird time?


Marco LeBlanc (16:52):
Yeah. I mean, relationships, so are key. That’s, that’s just, that is the foundation. If you don’t have the ability to sustain relationships and make relationships, then you know, leadership is very difficult. So you need to be very open to that. What students are, what I’m noticing here this year is a lot of, of youth empowerment is happening. We, we want positive messages out there. We want to tell people they’re okay. We want to have these moments of celebration and, and make sure that, that we take that time to do it because maybe before it was a little bit, you know, something that we just, we were too busy or caught up with with our own lives. But now we’re really intentional with the fact that we need to celebrate the successes. We’re having the great things that are happening. We need to tell people that we love them and why we love them. And we need to tell them why we appreciate what they’re doing for us. And I think not only do we need to say it, but people are really starting to show that they feel it too. And so you know, I think students are learning. There’s still a, a curve. Some people are struggling through this, obviously, but others are, are taking that advice and they’re, they’re going with it. They’re offering some positivity and it’s, it’s working for us.


Sam Demma (18:13):
Awesome. It’s so true. And you’ve been doing this for a while. Not to age you, you’re not old, but, but


Marco LeBlanc (18:26):
Yeah, no kidding.


Sam Demma (18:28):
You’ve been doing this for a wow. I’m sure you’ve, you’ve changed your own philosophies around education since you’ve started teaching from now. And I’m curious to know if you could go back in time and speak to Marco when he first started teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now and from learning from so many, the other awesome educators?


Marco LeBlanc (18:50):
I think I’d actually go back to that relationship piece. When I was starting into education. I mean, it was all about the content and it was all about delivery and it isn’t about that. It’s about the relationship with the people you have in your class. You make sure that they feel valued. You make sure that they understand that they’re worthy and, and then you can get to content because they’re comfortable in your class and they’re ready and willing to learn. And I, I think I’d tell myself back then that it, it’s very important to spend a lot of time on building relationships and then the rest will come.


Sam Demma (19:23):
Mm, love that advice. That’s awesome advice. Awesome. Marco, this has been a, a great short but jam packed conversation and I appreciate it. For everyone who’s listening to this, Marco and I recorded an earlier episode about two months ago, and we had both some technical difficulties so he was kind enough to come back on and rerecord, and I’m so glad that we did. If, if an educator is listening and wants to reach out to you just to share some ideas or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Marco LeBlanc (19:53):
So the best way would be through email probably. So it’s quite simple; marco.leblanc@nbed.nb.ca. I can also be reached through any student leadership platforms, whether that be the Canadian one or the New Brunswick one. So feel free, reach out.


Sam Demma (20:10):
Awesome. Cool, Marco, thank you so much for calling on the show.


Marco LeBlanc (20:14):
Thanks Sam. Keep doing that amazing work of yours. We appreciate that.


Sam Demma (20:18):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Marco LeBlanc

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.

Suz Jeffreys – Stress Management Consultant, Tai Chi Instructor & Certified Nutrition Therapist

Suz Jeffreys – Stress Management Consultant, Tai Chi Instructor & Certified Nutrition Therapist
About Suz Jeffreys

CEO Wellness Founder Suzanne Jeffreys, MS in Education, helps high achievers stress less, power up and create more balance in their lives. Want to look and feel great, work/volunteer smarter, and have plenty of time for family and fun, but not sure how? As an international Speaker, Fitness Professional, Tai Chi Instructor and Certified Nutrition Therapist, Suz teaches the self-care and stress management strategies you need with her signature Harmony of Body & Mind Method. 

Developed over 25 years, this unique system blends moving meditation, ancient Tai Chi principles, and her love of all things fitness, food and nutritional science. Suz offers keynote speaking, health coaching, corporate consulting, live classes and online courses. 

Suz and her husband Bob live in beautiful Estero, Florida. She has 3 kids, 4 stepkids, and 7 grandkids. Quirky facts: Suz loves Thai food, good wine, stand-up paddle boarding, horses, rescue dogs and beautiful beaches! Are you ready to stop trading your health for your lifestyle and impact? Find out more at Suzjeffreys.com or www.TaiChiwithSuz.com.

Connect with Suz: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Bank Street College of Education

The Health Sciences Academy

Suz Jeffery’s Personal Website

CEO Wellness Blog

Tai With Suz

The Transcript

**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. I’m super excited to share with you today’s interview with Suz Jeffreys. She has an Ms in education and she helps high achievers stress less, power up, and create more balance in their lives; in your life. The reason I was interested in bringing Suza on is because I thought her ideas, her philosophies, her practices, her teaching could help you stress less power up and create more balance in your life.


Sam Demma (01:07):
Want to look and feel great, work and volunteer smarter and have plenty of time for family and fun, but not sure how? Well, as an international speaker fitness, professional and Tai Chi instructor and certified nutritional therapist, Suz teaches the self care and stress management strategies you need with her signature harmony of body and mind method. She has been doing this for over 25 years. She has three kids, four step kids, and seven grandkids. And here are a few quirky facts about our guest here today. She loves Thai food, good wine, stand up paddle boarding, horses, rescue dogs, and beautiful beaches. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed recording it. There’s a moment where she literally takes us through a breathing exercise. So get ready, be in a quiet place while you listen today so you can get the full benefit of this interview. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Suz, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from Florida on this beautifully bright morning, both in Pickering and where you’re from. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how, a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Suz Jeffreys (02:23):
Yeah. Thanks so much, Sam, for having me on, I love your vision. I love your energy and your mission, and it’s just very cool and quite an honor to be interviewed and spend the time together. So for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Suz Jeffreys. I’ve been an educator my whole life. I’ve worked with everything from three year olds who had learning disabilities all the way up through 98 year olds and fitness. And the best thing for me about being an educator is helping people to become more empowered by helping them learn and ask good questions. So whether I’m teaching Tai Chi, which I’ve taught for 27 years, or I’m teaching water aerobics, or I’m teaching stress management techniques now; working with younger, old, it’s just a privilege to help people be empowered to change their own lives with good education.


Sam Demma (03:06):
I love that. And I’m curious to know what led you down this path. You know, it’s funny people all often tell me that was such a great speech. And in my head, I’m thinking to myself, sometimes I give the advice I most need to hear. And I’m curious to know if you had a stressful experience in your life that let you down this path, or if not, what did, was it an educator or a calling? Like, how did you decide this is what you wanted to do?


Suz Jeffreys (03:29):
Such an insightful question, Sam. You’re so young to me that insightful. I love that. Yeah, actually. Yeah. So my original I’ve had several different chapters in work as an educator. I began to be a first grade teacher. I studied in college my last year to be a first grade educator because I studied political science. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And I was putting myself through school and I was working full time, just like supporting myself. And I became interested in power and why some people take advantage of others and small groups. You know, I worked as a waitress called waitresses back then in New York city. And some people were nice and some people were not so nice. So that question expanded to why are groups of people kind to each other and not, and why are some groups of people more easily taken advantage of?


Suz Jeffreys (04:14):
And I was looking at first third countries, I was looking at indigenous populations first in the ruling class. And what I really found out Sam, it was kind of a mindblower was that people who couldn’t read or couldn’t ask good questions were the most vulnerable people. Mm. Because if they couldn’t read what was written or understand what was being said, or ask good questions, you know, really questions that would really reveal the answers that were meaningful, then there was so much more vulnerable to being manipulated. So I was like, Hey, all good. I know what I’ll do. I’ll become a first grade teacher and teach young children to love, to read and love, to learn and to love to ask good questions. So that’s really where I started, but then the story continues on from there. Cause I’ve worked with a lot of different people and several different actually as well.


Sam Demma (05:04):
Okay. So when you say that you make me even more curious, what do you mean several different species and, and how did that lead you into Tai Chi and the work you do with, you know, moving the body?


Suz Jeffreys (05:13):
Yeah. Great, great question. So a picture, this, I was a first grade teacher. I had two children was married and then when my two kids were really, really little, we were divorced and that was a very healthy decision for all all included. And the issue was I had like no money. I didn’t have a teaching job yet. I had finished my master’s degree, had a lot of school debt was struggling to find a first grade job in New York did find one. It was great. Cause I went to a great college to get my master’s degree. I had a great student teaching experience, but you know, back then in that year, which was oh, 30 years ago, like the job market was tight. Yeah. So I finally got a job. I was super excited yet. It was very challenging because I didn’t have very much money.


Suz Jeffreys (06:00):
I was paying for child support or childcare. Pardon me for two kids like babysitting for two kids, my child support wasn’t coming in. And I was like stressed the max, I’m kind of a, I can do anything kind of person. Like, let me add it. I’ll take it on. And yet I was super stressed out and overwhelmed and, and I, there was this one class. I could take my kids to where I bartered with the, the martial arts school in town. And I had no money for lessons, but my, my youngest really, really, really wanted to be in, in martial arts since he was like two. So I made him wait until he was four, but my youngest and my eldest seven and four took them to the community, martial arts school, all about building camaraderie and teamwork and supporting each other. It was a great school and cheering with all the parents on the side.


Suz Jeffreys (06:45):
But one day I was trying to hide tears while everybody else was cheering because I just hit rock bottom. That day. I’ve been struggling at that point for two years to support my children and to work hard. And I loved teaching, but I was working way too many hours with my teaching job. Plus also my part-time tutoring gig. I had started on the side to bring in more income. And honestly my kids were in daycare a lot more than I liked. And that day everything kind of came crashing down because the one treat I could afford for my kids and I saved up all week was to take them after clung Fu class on Fridays to get a slice of pizza. Mm. Back then remember like 30 years ago, 25 years ago pizza was a dollar, a slice and I would save up $2.


Suz Jeffreys (07:30):
They, they could each have one slice. I didn’t have any, we had ice water. That was it. But that was the big deal that day though. I didn’t have the $2 Sam. I did not have $2. And I felt like such a failure. And my biggest disappointment was that I was gonna disappoint my kids and I didn’t wanna do that. So I was trying to hold back, tears, sitting on this hard feature. Everybody’s like cheering. I’m just really trying not to cry. I’m literally praying for a sign. Cause I’m like, God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m working like a hundred hours a week. My kids are in daycare too much. Nothing is changing. I’m trying everything. I need a sign. What should I do differently right at that moment? And this is nuts right at that moment. I hear this soft music walking down the hall from the classroom, just down the hall.


Suz Jeffreys (08:17):
So I’m curious, I get up and I follow it. And I peek in the door and there’s all these people moving together in this beautiful, slow motion flow to this beautiful music was just mesmerizing. And I was peeking in the teacher, saw me, which I was like, ah, didn’t wanna interrupt them. And she’s like, come in. So I go in and pretty soon I start flowing with them and class went on for maybe five more minutes and I felt different. I began to breathe again. I felt my shoulders just sink and drop evident. They’ve been way up here. I was so stressed out. Mm. And I was just fascinated that I, I found out it was called TA Chi and it was all an ancient martial art to help to for self defense, but also distress less and balance better. And I was, oh, I was like, oh my gosh. That was amazing. And that moment my kids came running in. God’s honest to, they come running and mommy, mommy, guess what? Our best friends wanna take us all out for pizza? Can we go with them tonight?


Sam Demma (09:24):
Wow.


Suz Jeffreys (09:26):
Got it. That was my sign. Yeah. So I arranged with the school to bar with my Tachi lessons. And, and then honestly, in a couple weeks, everything began to shift in my life. I’ve things started to flow more easily. I was struggling less. I was feeling more centered. And honestly, even my kids told me, like, it was more fun again. They’re like, mommy, you’re smiling again. And that almost broke my heart because I didn’t even know. I hadn’t been smiling. I had no clue. Then within a couple of weeks, my tutoring business took off money was coming in. It’s like everything changed. And I took that as a sign Sam and I decided I was supposed to share this ancient TA Chi series of principles that helped create more balance in life with everyone. So I committed to a five year program to become a certified Tai Chi instructor. And I’ve been teaching in Taichi ever since,


Sam Demma (10:19):
Even to different species.


Suz Jeffreys (10:21):
Yes. Well, that’s where that comes in. So few years later I have, I get remarried. I have another child and I had the opportunity to leave my first grade job, which I love, but I was ready to have more time with my kids, still tutoring and had low spare. I loved horses as a child. And then I saw this flyer at my vet’s office for a horse rescue. They needed some extra money and they needed some extra hands. I’m like, ah, I love horses. Maybe I can help. I have a little extra money now. So I got involved with this organization and pretty soon I adopted one of the horses. Nice. And she was very traumatized. She’d been very abused. And I was looking for someone who could help train her to help her be calm and safe. Also, excuse me, to be rideable one day. So I found this horse whisper. If you ever heard that term, it’s like horse whisper named Bob Jeffries. And I couldn’t believe it. I went to watch him work with this one horse who again, not my horse. I was checking out first.


Sam Demma (11:20):
Yeah.


Suz Jeffreys (11:21):
And without touching this horse in about 10 minutes, he had this frantic terrified horse calm and centered, and he never touched the horse. Mm. It was all Tai Chi. Now, Bob didn’t know that at the time it was all flowing with energy and shifting energy and being very ground and centered and breathing now as a horse whisper, he had no idea. He was actually implementing ancient TA Chi principles, but the horse responded. I saw it and I’m like, okay, I’m supposed to do that work. So for 15 years I became a horse whisper. I became the centered riding instructor. And I went from teaching children in the classroom to teaching horses and people to bring out the best in each other.


Sam Demma (12:02):
I love that. That’s such a phenomenal story. And like what a, what a way to see the sign, you know at a moment, your life where you needed it the most. And it makes me think about the hun, the hundreds of people who might be stressed out in their life right now. Like if there’s an educator listening, who’s in the exact same shoes you were in, you know, maybe super stressed out, working so many hours per week to make sure their kids feel safe and, and healthy during this crazy time in the world. Like, what do you think their first steps should be? Like, what would you advise them to do? What would you advise your younger self to do maybe, you know, a week before you saw the signs?


Suz Jeffreys (12:41):
Yeah. So first of all, I wanna say, thank you to everyone. Who’s an educator. It’s the work that we do to serve can often be underestimated by others. Yeah. And often go unappreciated. And in those moments, it’s so important to remember why we do this work. Whether you teach first grade, like I did, or you teach high school or you teach something else completely like fitness or movement, whatever it is that you teach. Thank you for doing that because that’s how we make the world a better place, right. To share our gifts. And in response to your earlier comment. Yeah. Sam, usually we end up teaching what we need to learn the most. No doubt. I went from stressed out to much to understanding how to manage my stress and protect my energy. And for those of you who are teachers out there, or students or parents whoever’s listening, I I’d love to give you just some simple tips that you can use right now, anywhere.


Suz Jeffreys (13:35):
Anytime, if we want to let go of stress, tension, anger, fear, whatever’s just exhausting us and depleting our energy. We can always go to our breath and think about it this way. Our breath is literally biomechanically speaking. The easiest way for our body to release tension. Tension is an important to be aware of tension, anxiety, stress, fear, because they burn up our life, energy, our Chi, which is what she means in TA Chi, life energy. And then the philosophy of Tai Chi. The only cause of death Sam is that you’ve used up all your Chi, like you run out of gas. So we need to protect our Chi and to make sure that we don’t let it get wasted by things that are not important, or we can’t change. So stress, fear, regret. We gotta let ’em go. And the easiest way to do that is with the focus on her breath. So if y’all wanna do this with me, it’ll just take a minute and you really can do this anywhere. If you’re sitting sit up tall and relax your shoulders back, take your left thumb, place it gently in your belly button and layer Palm on your abdomen. And then your right hand on top. We’re gonna take a few moments to focus on our breathing in, through the nose, to fill our hands and out through the mouth, to empty


Suz Jeffreys (14:55):
Into the nose, to fill and out through the mouth to empty. If you like, you can close your eyes. That’s how we do it traditionally. But if you prefer, you can keep your eyes open, softly, gazing out. It’s something easy on the eyes, breathing into the, and out to the mouth. Listening to the sound of your deep breath Sounds a lot like the ebb and flow of waves on your favorite beach. And as we breathe deeply in this manner, you’ll fill your hands, filling up and emptying out. Our hands are on top of our center. It’s two to three inches inside our body. And we inhale to fill our center in exhale empty. We’re breathing deeply down to our center of gravity center of balance And center of power. We’re breathing deeply to relax the body, quiet the mind, and smooth out the energy. So whenever we feel stressed out anywhere, anytime I’ll invite you all, I’ll invite us all to just take 10 deep breaths, enter the nose so we can hear the sound of our beautiful breath And out through the mouth to empty. We inhale to fill up with positive energy and we Exel a let go of anything. That’s not serving us. Inhaling joy in


Suz Jeffreys (16:43):
Exhaling, anger, out, breathing balance, and Breathing, chaos out, breathing centeredness in breathing stress out. Let’s just do three more deep breaths together, breathing in and out In and out last one, together, breathing in and out, filling up with the good stuff and let going, letting go of literally anything that does not service the breath is powerful. It’s a beautiful tool we have at our resources that are accessed anywhere. Anytime. Just really a matter of realizing the potential for releasing stress powering up and balancing better. It all begins with the breath. We just have to remember to do it and to give ourselves the time it for a few deep breaths.


Sam Demma (17:52):
Hmm. What is tie? If she is life energy, what is, what is tie?


Suz Jeffreys (17:58):
I love that. So tie is grand ultimate.


Sam Demma (18:01):
Okay.


Suz Jeffreys (18:01):
Grand ultimate. And she can be can be translated in several different ways. It can be grand ultimate life energy. It can also be grand ultimate way.


Suz Jeffreys (18:13):
So the grand ultimate way in TA Chi is to conserve your energy, to protect it and cultivate more. And, and here’s why TA Chi, this is actually super interesting. And for you teachers out there, I think you’re gonna relate to this Tai Chi was created 1800 years ago by a Dallas priest named Chun. And he was head of this very important temple in China. He was the most highly regarded master of the temple. And he had a really big problem. His problem is he had a lot of responsibilities as head priests at the temple and his students meant back then Brazil men would flock from all over China to study with Chung fun and, and, and to be a dad was priest. You’d have to be a monk first and you’d have to study the, the ancient books of wisdom. And then you’d also have to practice Kung Fu, which is a martial art.


Suz Jeffreys (19:02):
And you had to become a warrior, not only a warrior that could attack and protect, but also a warrior that could heal. So you may have seen pictures or videos or movies where there’s all these Chinese people in the monk uniforms doing, you know, E so, so doing all these things together, they’re practicing one of the most important parts of ch fund’s job was to assess the students as any good teacher does. And one of the assessments was he had to test the martial arts skill and they wanted to go up to the highest level up being a monk and be ready to become a priest, which is a huge honor. Very few people made it there. It was a very, very high level of mastery, not only in the philosophy, but also in martial arts. And so Choong was a master. He was the one to test them.


Suz Jeffreys (19:48):
And if any of you out there have ever taken martial arts, you probably know for the higher levels of martial arts, you fight you spar. And that’s how they would test. But back then in China, they didn’t have like headgear and face masks and pads. No, you love like you fought. So Cho’s Ben’s problem was that he had to test all highest level students by fighting with them. And it’s not that he couldn’t beat him because the master never get every move. They always have a little secret on the head in the back pocket. It’s just no don’t mess with the master. It’s just not worth it. But his problem Sam was that he was using all this G you know, fighting with all these students. So I had to figure out a way to test his students and serve them without wasting his own energy.


Sam Demma (20:31):
Mm.


Suz Jeffreys (20:31):
So you know what he did


Sam Demma (20:33):
Invent to TA Chi,


Suz Jeffreys (20:34):
He invent to Tai Chi and you know how he got the idea. This is nuts. I’ll keep it short. He went to a cave and meditated until he he’s like, I gotta figure this out. So he went and meditated, you know, he’d get up every day and walk and eat whatever, and go back and sit and meditate. Three years later, my friend, he was coming up with nothing three years. Wow. So he went out for his daily walk. It was a sunny day. Like it is in Toronto, like it is in Southwest Florida. And he saw this big fat snake on the ground in front of him, just like, like taking a sun bath, you know, they just appeared to be totally sleeping there’s and he was looking at it and there was this circle circling on the ground and it was a spec and he looked up in the sky, there was a bird of circling. It was a Hawk. Well, he S possible second just rolls out the way and hits dog gets back up and he circles dives down again. The snake just rolls out the way, and the Hawk hits the ground really hard. Again, that happens over and over. And so finally, you can tell the Hawk is really exhausted. He does the last circle against more momentum than ever. He dives down and guess what happens at the last possible second, Sam


Sam Demma (21:47):
Snake just moves out the way


Suz Jeffreys (21:49):
They just moves outta way. It was working. The Hawk kicked himself on the ground so hard. He knocks himself out the snake, slithers over circles, a snake, and has the Hawk for lunch. Mm. And ch sun fun goes, that’s it. The snake wasn’t attacking anyone, but he wanted to protect himself off. And he was able to protect himself by getting out of the way, by allowing the attacker to waste his own Chi until he is completely de depleted. And then to go ahead with very little energy, very little effort, be the Victor. And that’s what inspired Tachi.


Sam Demma (22:25):
Hmm. It reminds me of Japanese ju to slightly it’s like the, you know, the art of Japanese jujitsu is using your enemies force against you or against themselves. And yeah, right before COVID hit here in Toronto, I, I did it for four months and it’s funny cuz you’re mentioning Kung Fu and all the different practices. And I enjoyed them, the, the sessions and the training, so much, many reasons, but one of the reasons that I enjoyed it the most was the aspect, the aspect of discipline. And and I think it’s really, it’s really awesome. And then, you know, discipline also ties into Tai Chi. Like there’s, there’s an older gentleman that I see at the park near my house, like every other day doing Tai Chi. And I never like looked into it like looking so peacefully and calmly and I just, I was always fascinated by it. And it’s really cool that you brought this up today and you’ve taught me so many things. So I appreciate it. And I know that the guest listening can say the same. If someone wants to learn more information about Tai Chi, get even get into it like what, what would, what would you advise? Would you just search up like classes and near their, or do you offer this thing online? Do you do this stuff online? Like what would be the best way for them? Yeah.


Suz Jeffreys (23:34):
Great, great idea. Yeah. For, for anyone who wants to try Tai just for free and play with it, I have a bunch of free Tai Chi videos on YouTube. Just look up Tai Chi with souse and that’s a growing library. I also have a free Facebook page called Tai Chi with souse and you can check it out. I have new content there every single week, cuz I really wanna spread the word Sam, you know, not only is Tai Chi and martial art. It’s also a way to stress less to protect our energy and to create my or balance there’s 10 ancient principles in TA Chi that were literally would change my life. And when we begin to learn those ancient principles and we implement them on day to day basis, whether we’re a parent, a grown up a kid, a teacher, a student it’s truly life changing.


Suz Jeffreys (24:21):
So my vision is to help spread the, the information and share it around the world. Cause in these crazy times, we need to find simple, profound truths that can allow us to connect more, to be healthier, to, to be more of who we truly are in this world authentically like you, Sam, you’ve got so much clarity around your purpose that you want to serve and help others learn how to serve this remarkable at your age. You’ve got the clarity and in TA Chi, we call that clear intent. Mm. When we have clarity, that’s one thing that can absolutely help us not only transform our own lives, but the lives of others. So you can go to TA Chi with sues.com or TA Chi with Sue on Facebook or Tai Chi with sues on YouTube. And you know, hit me up, send me an email if you’d like to get I have some TA Chi principles and little videos. I can actually email you. If you go to TA Chi with sue.com, you can sign up for that. I’d love to love to help anybody who’s interested in just finding simple ways to make their life better.


Sam Demma (25:20):
And you know, you mentioned the principles and every time you say something, I have like five more questions, but I’m keeping this. Like, I love that as concise as I can. The out of the 10 principles that you mentioned or alluded to, which one or two have had the biggest impact on you. Like I can imagine they probably all impacted you in various ways, but which of those 10 ancient principles impacted you the most and what are they


Suz Jeffreys (25:43):
For me, there’s really the, what had the really created a whole pivotal experience on many layers in my life was remember back in that class, the first class I just found by, I really say it like company. I didn’t, I wasn’t looking about it. Our seafood told us that story about the snake in the Hawk. And she said, so remember this means we all have Chi life energy and our life energy is precious because when we use it all up, it’s gone, we die. Mm. Instead, like if you were, it’s not that you have a heart attack, we die from a heart attack. It’s that people die from a heart attack and didn’t have enough cheat to survive. Mm. So she’s like, so our life energy is precious and we all have life. And that means every single person on this point is precious. I was like,


Suz Jeffreys (26:37):
Because till that moment, Sam, I had real self-esteem issues. Whole long story will get not get into. But I don’t know. I think a lot of people out there maybe don’t believe in themselves or their own words as much as we should. And when she said that, I’m like, wait, so Chi is precious. We all have Chi. That means I’m precious. And that means that I can protect my Chi. I can take care of me. I can simplify do less and give more. So the idea of conserving my Chi and that she is precious, keeping it simple has been just profound, really profound for me.


Sam Demma (27:13):
Cool. Yeah. I love that. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. We’ll definitely have a part two, sometime in the future. If a teacher does want to get in touch with you, do you have an email address you can actually share and recite right now on the podcast?


Suz Jeffreys (27:26):
Absolutely. The other website you can check out ’cause I do many things is Suzjeffreys.com. You can email me at suz@suzjeffreys.com and there you’ll see, I’m also a certified nutrition therapist, I’m a fitness instructor, and I’m a speaker ’cause I just, you know, the so many ways we can nourish ourselves and when we nourish ourselves and take care of ourselves, we have more to give to others. So suz@suzjeffreys.com would be awesome.


Sam Demma (27:52):
Awesome. Suz, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, really appreciate it. Keep doing awesome work and I will see you soon.


Suz Jeffreys (27:59):
Thanks Sam. It’s been a pleasure


Sam Demma (28:02):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Suz Jeffreys

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.

Dov Shapiro – CEO of ConnectU Program Inc.

Dov Shapiro – CEO of ConnectU Program Inc.
About Dov Shapiro

Dov is an Experiential Educator and Business owner with over 30 years of experience working with students. His commitment to improving their well-being, regardless of the challenges they may be facing, is a life-long journey.

Today, more than ever, students are facing stress, anxiety and depression. There are solutions to reversing this trend. As Founder and CEO of ConnectU Program Inc. Dov is responsible for leading the vision to ensure the CU Program positively impacts as many students as possible. His business mindset has allowed him to scale the program in order to benefit all users: from administrators to teachers, to parents alike.

He has over 3 decades of North American education and outdoor recreation industry experience.  His previous roles as Director of Westcoast Connection Travel Camp (NY), Owner/Director of Camp Chateaugay (NY) and Mad Science Director and Science Teacher (FL) have brought a wealth of knowledge to the team about the academic industry. Dov has had the opportunity to empower over 15,000 students, in 4 countries and 3 continents over the last 3 decades.

Connect with Dov: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

ConnectU Program

ConnectU Program Youtube Channel

Westcoast Connection Travel Camp

Camp Chateaugay

Mad Science Group

The Transcript

**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 is Dov Shapiro. Dov and I were connected about five or six months ago, and we postponed the podcast because he was working on this program called ConnectU, and it’s a very cool technology that they’ve been building that supports students. I won’t get into it because he talks about it a lot during today’s episode, but here’s a little bit about Dov.


Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s an experiential educator; experiential educator and business owner with over 30 years experience working with students. He has three decades of experience in the outdoor recreation industry. He has been directors of camps, owned his own camp, been the mad science director, and a science teacher in Florida. He has worked with over 15,000 students in four countries and three continents over the last three years. His business mindset also has allowed him to scale his program; ConnectU program in order to benefit all users from administrators to teachers and parents alike. Dov is a trail blazer in the education industry, and I hope you learn something from today’s interview and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed interviewing him. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Dov, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. A huge pleasure to have you on the show. I mean we talked months ago and here we are talking again, and between those two points in time, you know, some exciting things have happened in your life, which we’ll dive into in a minute, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do with young people today.


Dov Shapiro (02:16):
Thanks for having me on the show Sam. My name is Dov Shapiro, and I’ve been working with children for over 30 years between mad science, west coast connection, former owner of Camp Chateauguay in New York state. So my passion has always been working with kids and making an impact inspiring youth. And so about a year and a half ago, we noticed that there’s been a massive dip in the mental health and wellbeing of our adolescents and teens and youth; not just in north America, but across the globe. And then as a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen an incredible spike in the rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. So even prior to COVID, we decided that we wanted to impact mental health and wellbeing of students. And that’s why we decided to do some research and develop our new software program called ConnectU or the ConnectU program.


Sam Demma (03:24):
That’s amazing. And I mean, you got me curious now and I’m sure the listeners are too, what is this software? What prompted you, you know, to, to create a software as opposed to a different tool and, and you know, how can you know, how, how can we learn more about it?


Dov Shapiro (03:41):
So the connect U program is specifically designed to improve student wellbeing, excuse me. And we use a platform, a web app, if you will, to first do an assessment of the student. So we create a profile of each student whereby teachers and principals can learn about each student at a really deep level, because right now it’s really hard to know your students. And even before COVID, it was challenging at times, but now with distance learning hybrid, learning, whatever learning you’re doing, it’s really hard to understand the characteristics and traits of all of your students. So by doing this assessment in real time, you get results, learn about students and their core, you know, kind of personality and where there might be students that could benefit from more teacher based support. Then what we do is we have an intervention model or a means of helping to improve those construct scores.


Dov Shapiro (04:41):
Those assessment scores called smart goals creation. So that’s the name of it is called CU you smart or connect you smart and smart is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. And it’s a widely used acronym in pedagogy throughout the globe to help help students learn how to create and achieve their goals. So we developed a web app that helps students go through a curriculum, teaching them about how to create goals using the smart method. And we have a six week curriculum that is teacher led and supported with 2d animated videos. So we run this program in schools from majors 12 to 18, and we start actually in the sixth grade level. So some 11 year olds are using this as well.


Sam Demma (05:34):
That’s amazing. Why, like what prompted you to create this? Like there’s, you know, anyone could have made this software, you know, why you, what, what, what inspired you to to do this?


Dov Shapiro (05:48):
So I know that in my life it’s always been a challenge to attain the goals that I wanted to achieve. But when I started using smart and started following a formula and being really diligent about it, I started to see some results. I started to change my programming and started to develop healthier habits. And so I did a lot of research, looked into the, you know, the educational systems that are mandating standards. They call in education to teach goals. And there’s very limited standards requiring smart goal methodology to be taught to students. And it’s through research, we’ve studied several old different papers and, and researchers who have shown that by using smart and more importantly, by using goals or teaching students, how to create goals, they’re more likely to achieve better GPA. They’re more likely to stay in school. It as well even has shown to reduce signs of bolding and incidents.


Dov Shapiro (07:05):
So we decided we were gonna hire an educational psychologist, a child psychologist, public teachers, principals, and bring them on the board to put this together in a manner that really made sense. And the reason why we did this is because again, through all the research papers that we’ve been studying, we can see that students are improving their wellbeing by simply creating and achieving their goals. When students create and achieve, they build resilience. Now the whole concept of goal setting falls right in line with what we call social, emotional learning. So social, emotional learning is the process where young people and adults develop healthy identities. They learn how to manage their emotions. They achieve personal and collaborative goals and they learn how to feel and show empathy for others. So it’s really an important element for students to establish and maintain supportive relationships in, you know, in these kinds of processes. So long story short, you know, students who go through this program are hypothesis, is that they’re going to improve their assessment scores and to improve their GPA.


Sam Demma (08:23):
Hmm. Love that. And you mentioned the focus on giving also educators, a way to learn more about each student. And I think that’s an amazing tool because right now, like you mentioned, it’s very hard for you to build personal relationships, especially right now when every kid is stuck at home and who knows how long the learning thing is gonna continue, but why do you, why do you think it’s, it’s important that every educator and principal in a school knows a lot about each individual student.


Dov Shapiro (08:53):
So as a former educator, myself science teacher, director of mad science, I know how important it is to understand your students character and really what makes them ticked. That’s how we connect with our kids. That’s how we connect with students as an owner and director of a summer camp in New York for 15 years. If I knew my, my campers really well, I could connect with them. Mm. And so learning about them, getting to know their family, getting to know their names, getting to know what their passions are, and even where they have room for improvement was a way for me to connect with my campers and a way for me to connect with my students. And now teachers, I believe find it harder than ever to make that kind of connection, to understand their students at that level. They don’t see the kids walking in the classes with a tennis racket or a book or a football or a basketball. It’s not the same experience. So getting to know your kids, getting to know your students is a real challenge. And now more than ever, we really need to, we need to know where our students can benefit from more intentional learning environments. When we understand our kids and what they need, we can really support them.


Sam Demma (10:12):
And you know, you’ve been an educator you’ve been around student in forever. I’m curious to know what got you into education. You know, your interest in science, it sounds like could have taken you down many different avenues, why teaching?


Dov Shapiro (10:27):
So my father always taught me that if you’re really passionate about something, you should teach it. Mm. So I love to ski. I became a ski instructor. I love to work with kids. So I wanted to teach children. I wanted to inspire children. And I love kids because kids really are the essence of what is possible. I mean, they inspire me because of the fact that they’re so enlightened and infused by the smallest things, they get excited about, you know, fun activities and, and in summer camp, they get, you know, inspired by any kind of music and song and dance and the spirit of what a camp is like. I mean, that environment is absolutely incredible. So when I think about the fact that in 2020 kids, mostly didn’t go to camp. That was a huge blow for kids. So my experience working with kids, whether as an educator or sorry, or working in summer camps has always been about inspiring youth because they are, I hate to say it, they are our future. And I know that saying is often used. Yeah. But that’s what drives me because I know that kids have so much opportunity. And so if we can empower them and if we can create an environment that feels very safe for them, or they can grow and develop, who knows what they can do.


Sam Demma (12:07):
Mm. I totally agree. I, I think it’s, it makes sense to me, you know why you’re so passionate about it. Was there any teachers or educators who along your own journey, you know, poured back into you and inspired you to get into teaching? It sounds like your, your dad played a huge role, but did you have any educational mentors as well?


Dov Shapiro (12:28):
I had a few actually. I had one principal and two teachers who really impacted my life, especially when I went to a military academy. Mm. In just outside of Toronto. That was an incredible experience for me. And definitely had a very positive impact. I’m still in touch with some of those faculty members to date, in fact, doing some work with them for another initiative that I’ve developed for student mental wellbeing. Nice. And so, yeah, teachers have always been a big part of, of, of my life in terms of, you know, inspiration, support, even me the idea that anything is possible, but really what it boils down to. I would have to say my late father, he was definitely my hero. And he definitely was the one who inspired me to, to continue this work.


Sam Demma (13:22):
Ah, I love that. Thanks for sharing. And if you don’t mind me asking, what, what did he do? Was he a teacher as well? Or


Dov Shapiro (13:28):
He was a ski instructor, but no, he actually he was a luggage luggage manufacturer And I did not wanna, did not wanna get into that industry. And he actually encouraged me not to,


Sam Demma (13:41):
So that’s awesome. But, but it sounds like his entrepreneurial spirit kind of was, was, was handed down to you in some way, shape or form.


Dov Shapiro (13:51):
It was definitely, he, he definitely was an influence and a very, very positive man, always, always looking at the bright side and always had a very, you know, open mind and a growth mindset. He was definitely an inspiration.


Sam Demma (14:10):
Cool. I love that. Very awesome. Okay. So I wanna go back to the, the software for a second school interested wants to learn more about it, wants to understand what this actually looks like. Could you gimme a breakdown of how it would look if a school wanted to use this and get in touch? Like what would the actual program itself look like?


Dov Shapiro (14:30):
Sure. So right now we’re actually at beta testing the software with several schools in the Montreal area, like ECS, sacred heart, the primary school LIC, and a few others. And we’re also beta testing with schools across the globe. So at this point, if schools are interested, we’re running a summer pilot program that begins in June. So if they’re interested, they can always go to connect U program.com and they can reach us that way through requesting a demo, or they can call our toll three number, which is 807 0 6, 8 8, 7, 6.


Sam Demma (15:10):
Perfect. That’s amazing. And if a school did want to get involved, like and wanted to pilot it, like how much of a time commitment would they be looking at for something like that?


Dov Shapiro (15:19):
That’s a great question. It’s about eight weeks total, which includes the six week curriculum to get everything on board and get all the consent forms arranged with parents because every parent and child who’s 14 or older plus faculty have to sign electronic consent forms through our app.


Sam Demma (15:41):
Perfect. Awesome.


Dov Shapiro (15:42):
But we need about, we need about two months.


Sam Demma (15:44):
No, that sounds great. And if, if a teacher’s listening right now and wants to just get in touch with you personally, what would be the best way for them to, to reach out, would it be email or, or what could you share for an educator listening?


Dov Shapiro (15:55):
Yeah. best way is just info@connectuprogram.com. Awesome. And we’re happy to share information. There’s also a fall pilot project, which launches in September. So for anyone who’s interested in is not running a summer school this year. Of course we have those programs available, we have a few spots open for those as well.


Sam Demma (16:17):
Amazing. And one last question for you, I see over your left shoulder rack of dumbbells, and I’m curious to know if personal fitness plays a huge role in your own life.


Dov Shapiro (16:28):
Absolutely, very physically active. I’m a rock climber, skier, water skier, and physical fitness. More importantly, strength training is what I’m doing these days, just so I can do the sports that I love aAnd it’s always been a big part of my life.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Cool. Love that. Dov, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it and keep up with the awesome work. I can’t wait to see the impact you make in these schools.


Dov Shapiro (16:52):
Yeah, thanks. I really appreciate having me on board and I hope you have a very safe and healthy rest of your week and the rest of your year. Good luck to you guys.


Sam Demma (17:02):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dov Shapiro

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.

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development
About Jim Rieder

Jim (@riederj) leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College. providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities focused on future careers opportunities in Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and International Languages and Culture. 

Jim is always looking to partner with professional organization who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths.  Jim has had a dual career in Education and in the Software industry.  Jim started his career in education and education administration, becoming a Vice-Principal at 27 years of age.   

After a 7 year stint as a school leader, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew, went through a series of acquisitions and went public.    

Jim eventually became a sale director who looked after sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across North America and the globe.  About 6 years ago Jim returned to his educational roots and started working at West Island College, leading the Admissions team, and eventually transitioning to his current role as the Head of the Institute program.  

Jim has been married for 27 years and has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in Business and Biotechnology.  Jim’s enjoys hockey, golf, travel, backpacking and just being with people.

Connect with Jim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now (Part One)

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Listen Now (Part Two)

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Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Flagship Institute Program at West Island College

Bachelors of Education at University of Alberta

College of Education at San Diego State University

Books by Peter F. Drucker

The Transcript

**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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s guest. He is the head of Institute and strategic development in Alberta at West Island College. Jim leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College; Jim rider. He’s providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities, focused on future career opportunities in business, engineering, health science, liberal arts, fine arts and international language and culture.

Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s always looking to partner with professional organizations who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths. He has a dual career in education and in the software industry. In fact, he started his career in education and educational administration. He became a vice principal at 27 years old and after a seven year stint as a school teacher, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew and went through a series of acquisitions and ended up public. Jim eventually became a sales director who looked after a sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across north America and the globe. About six years ago, Jim actually returned to his educational route and started working at west island college, leading the admissions team, and eventually transitioned to his current role

Sam Demma (01:53):
as the head of the Institute program, Jim has been married for 27 years, has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in business and biotechnology. And when Jim’s not in a classroom room, he enjoys hockey, golf, travel backpacking, and just being with awesome people. Jim is a kind human being. I’m so excited that he agreed to come on the show today. I’m actually working with him and his school and bringing them some awesome presentations, and I really thoroughly enjoy this, this interview and this conversation. And I hope you do as well. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Jim, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that led you to education today?

Jim Rieder (02:40):
Hi Sam. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here. It’s a, it’s an honor for me actually, to be invited on your podcast. I appreciate that. So my name is Jim Rieder. I am an educator in Calgary, Alberta. I currently work at West Island College. I’m the head of institutes and strategic development. I’ll talk a little bit about that more, I guess, during the podcast. My journey started a long time ago, actually sitting in a classroom in high school. I think I was in a grade 10 or 11 social studies class and I was watching the teacher teach. She was a bit of an old school teacher and it was the, the class was a bit boring and, and I thought to myself a few times in that class, you know, I think I can do that better.

Jim Rieder (03:28):
I think if I was in charge of this class, I would, I’d be able to provide a great experience for the kids that are sitting here board to death that are, that are trying to find any excuse they can to get out of the class and, and go to the washroom or in those days go have a smoke outside. Yeah. And I think that’s what started me on my journey into education way back in the day. And yeah, I went to, I went to the university of Alberta and did a bachelor education. And then my very first teaching assignment, I went out to the, I was, you know, I was a young kid living in the city and I’m like, you know, I’m never gonna, never gonna work outside of the city. All my lifestyle and friends are here. And I found myself very shortly after graduation out in rural Alberta, a few hundred kilometers away from Edmondson, a teaching in a K to 12 school with 300 students in living in a teacher Ridge way back in the day. And that’s where it all began.

Sam Demma (04:19):
Oh, I love that. That’s an awesome story. And I can relate to the boring classes, but I, I also, on the other hand know that I had some teachers that were super inspiring correct me if I’m wrong, but your journey took many different turns. I mean, you got involved in technology, you got involved in sales, you did a bunch of different roles in and out of education. How did some of, how did some of those opportunities appear for you and what encouraged you to pursue those?

Jim Rieder (04:47):
Sure, great question. So when I was in university still, I, I you know, they started bringing in what they called computing computers for teaching. And we were all made to take a computers for teaching course. So when I graduated, I went out to these rural school, these rural schools for the first time. Well, I was now, I now became the computer expert in the school. Nice. And I remember in the, in the in the school that I was in, in Wayne Wright, they had just brought in a brand new lab of apple, two GSS or something like that. And nobody knew how to use them. But I had taken a computers in, you know, education course. So I was the resident expert. So I started running the computer labs right back from the beginning of my teaching career.

Jim Rieder (05:30):
And I eventually moved on into the Calgary area to south Calgary. And again, got involved in teaching out there was running the computer labs. I became a vice principal very early in my career. I was a, only about 27 when I became a vice principal. And I was involved in bringing technology into the division. I sat on a districtwide technology committee and we, we were the ones bringing new computers, new, new software, new programs into the school district. So about 10 years into my teaching career, I’d already been a vice principal for about seven years. Some friends of mine were involved in a educational startup out of Simon Fraser university. Nice. And they asked me to, they were looking for sales people who had education experience.

Sam Demma (06:14):
Nice.

Jim Rieder (06:15):
So it was a very young company just getting started. And I thought, well, you know, I’ll take a bit of a flyer and I will, I will, I will leave the reigns of education behind. I was quite young. I knew I could come back to it. I was in line for principalships, but I was a bit young yet for, for, to really take on the, on that role. So I thought, Hey, I’ll, I’ll try it out. And my school division was kind enough to actually give me a leave of absence and hold my position for me. And they did that for two years while I went away. And cuz they wanted that, you know, young technology leader to come back anyway, I became the, the, the, the Western north American sales manager for this brand new company and, and and started traveling and that company we started doing quite well.

Jim Rieder (07:02):
We were selling collaborative, educational, collaborative project based learning software early days kind of prebi internet access. So local servers with kids accessing accessing projects to the web browser, its very pioneering, very interesting. Well that company went public and we bought, we bought a much, we did a reverse sort of takeover and bought a much bigger company and that carried on my journey of selling collaborative groupware products back to education. And for the next 15 years I sold with its sales team across north America. I became the director of sales north America us Europe and we sold collaborative groupware solutions to big school districts, universities, private schools allowed them to have their groups of people working together, collaborating. It was a very exciting journey that being in the public stock markets was very exciting, both the rise and the fall of the, of the stock markets.

Jim Rieder (07:57):
We, we, we injured the dock calm bubble both the growth and the bursting of it. Yeah. And about about five years ago, six years ago now I guess I was friends of mine were working here at the west island college and the economy was changing in Alberta and one of them reached out and said, Hey, you know, we love your background. We love your experience. Why don’t you come check out a private at school? We know that’s your background and your journey. And so I came over and talked to the headmaster and they said, we really like your blend and your mix of experience and maybe you should come and work with us. And so that, so I’ve been here for six years and it’s been a, it’s been a great journey here at west island college.

Sam Demma (08:35):
That’s awesome. I, I have so many questions. You know,

Jim Rieder (08:41):
That was the Kohl’s notes version

Sam Demma (08:42):
Of the, yeah, I know there’s so much more to it. Especially during the rises and falls, I’m sure there’s a lot of, a lot of great stories packed in there, but I’m fascinated by,

Jim Rieder (08:51):
Well, everybody was a, everybody was a stock expert back in, you know, the.com era

Sam Demma (08:56):
Making all

Jim Rieder (08:56):
The, we had stock tickers on our computers all day long,

Sam Demma (09:00):
Making all the projections and assumptions, people going on the news and saying when things are gonna happen and then the total opposite happening

Jim Rieder (09:07):
It wasn’t about wasn’t about making money. It was about how much you could spend in those days.

Sam Demma (09:11):
Interesting. It was

Jim Rieder (09:11):
Different era.

Sam Demma (09:12):
Yeah. I’m curious though, you know, you mentioned become becoming a vice principal at 27 and then, you know, moving out of education, getting into sales very quickly, becoming a, a, a national sales you know, manager, what do you think are the principles and philosophies that you carry that allowed you to Excel quickly in those different roles and positions, because they’re, they’re very different. But I’m curious to kind of dig into your own philosophies. What do you think makes a, a great leader, salesperson educator, et cetera? Sure.

Jim Rieder (09:44):
Well, that’s, that’s an excellent question. And I always, I often thought about that and talked about that in terms of someone from education who transitioned into the business world and what skills that being an prepared me for. You know, the idea that and, and I think a lot of it comes from the classroom where you, when you walk into a, into a room full of people and you’re ready to do a presentation or a sales pitch, you need to very quickly understand who your audience is. You need to understand how, how to to make sure that you are addressing their needs. And building a rapport very quickly with them. Reading the room is a very important skill for an educator. They need to know what students are up on a given day or what down or on a given day, which students might be causing you a little bit of discipline problems and how to deal with those, how to, how to, how to control the flow of your presentation.

Jim Rieder (10:33):
How to understand if you’ve got half an hour as you’re a teacher, if you have a, some plan you’ve got pacing skills, all of those kind of play into effect in, in a sales pitch, of course, as an educator, you’re naturally just trying to, you’re trying to get your audience in front of you to learn something new. And I always thought, you know, I’m not selling, I’m teaching, I’m educating my audience about the benefits of my product and how that will help them in their organization. And that’s not what a teacher does. 6, 7, 8 times a day is they get in front of a room of a new group of kids and they, and they try to convince them that what they’re providing is valuable and useful and having them to, to, to take that up. So, you know, organizational skills, thinking on your feet just the interrelational skills that teachers have with, with, with, with working with other people, all those skills are, are empathy for other people. Mm. Those are all skills that are very transferable into the business world. And I’ve said that time and time again, to, to people who are thinking about making, making a transition,

Sam Demma (11:33):
Who, who are some of your inspirations just outta curiosity, people that you have looked up to that taught you these own philosophies and principles that have served you well, personally.

Jim Rieder (11:42):
Yeah, that’s a great question. Probably my most, the largest inspiration I probably too, but in my early days it was the principal. It was the principal who I was the vice principal for out in in just south the Calgary and the Foothill school division. Doug Anderson was his name. He was a long time principal. And that, and Doug just taught me about empathy, about caring for the people who work for you about knowing, knowing who they are, what their family situations are like when your staff was, when your staff was having good days and bad days and, and just reaching out and making sure that they felt valued and listened to, and that you tried to help them out of tough situations. Or as many times I know was with him. And it, it was just about taking care of people in need. The other thing that he was really good at was, was, was always looking for the, yes,

Jim Rieder (12:36):
He he wasn’t, when you came to him with ideas, it wasn’t about, oh, no, no, we’ve never done it that way. Or we can’t do that. It was always about how could we do that? That’s you know, let’s, let’s explore that. How does that fit into what we’re doing? So the, the yes, and philosophy is something that I really learned from him. Just the idea that we, we want to keep moving forward. And I think that that’s played very well for me in my career. And then when I first came to, when I first came to west island college, the headmaster here at the school as well Carol Grant wa was of the similar fashion. She was at the pathetic leader. She, she really cared for the people who were working for her. She really cared for her students.

Jim Rieder (13:20):
If someone was sick, you immediately go to the hospital to, to see what they need. If they’re in the hospital, just that reaching out and making sure that people feel welcomed in a party or community was very important. And the other thing I learned from her too, was that she was a very quick to quick decision maker and people, if they come to you, if they come to you with a problem and they’re looking for a decision I learned from her that, you know, you’re better off making that decision quickly, whether it’s something they want you to, whether it’s good or bad, just make the decision and move on. And those are a couple things that I learned from those two people.

Sam Demma (13:55):
And I’m interested to also know when you took the shift away from education and into the business world, who were some of those similar role models that you looked up to, and maybe they were authors or people that you haven’t even personally met yet, but drew a lot of inspiration from,

Jim Rieder (14:10):
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, I think one of my early sales managers, sales director was his name was Scott Rosses and he, and he, he taught, he taught me a lot about, and he’s still in the business world and he’s still selling a lot into back into the education space. And he was a, he was a world class rower competitor. And, and he, he had that competitive edge, you know, do whatever it takes to, to get it done. You know, overcome the excuses. I can remember being with him at a conference in in Texas, we were in, we were in Austin, Texas, and our materials. We were at a trade show and our materials had not showed up. And we were kind of like in a bit of a panic and, and it was just like, well, we’re gonna make this work. And we were at, we were at king coast, you know, king coast in those days, you know, at two in the morning, the night before at big trade show, getting all of our, getting stuff, printed it, getting trade show materials printed. And it was just one of those, like, let’s just get this done kind of attitudes. And I learned that from him that, you know just, just, if people are counting on you to get something done, then, then get it done. Mm.

Sam Demma (15:27):
No, that’s awesome. Love that. So, so cool. And this all comes as experiences that you’ve had, and it’s, it’s almost like you’ve, you’ve been building your life’s resume through these experiences, which have led you to where you are right now, which is strategic planning and development at the school. What is that role? Why are you passionate about it and what are you responsible for doing with the school?

Jim Rieder (15:48):
Sure. Those are, those are great questions. So I guess, so the first part of my role is the our Institute program here at the college and the Institute program is what I would call a, a, a unique academic experiential education offering. So we all know the idea that we, we offer academics in the classroom and this that’s, you know, the core, bread and butter of the school. And when we talk about the co the experiential education, you know, Westtown colleges does a lot of travel programs. We do a lot of sports teams. We have a lot of clubs that run throughout the school day, but the Institute programs are kind of over and above that. And what we try to do this is give a, give kids experiences and opportunities to explore future career path for themselves. So about 11 years ago, the first Institute, if you will, was developed, that’s called the, was the business Institute.

Jim Rieder (16:40):
Mm. And the whole model was that we would expose students to they might they could be in the city or outta the city class, outta class experiences at businesses on offices, meeting professionals you know, accountants, finance, people, investors, and and those kind of things. We expanded into engineering, liberal arts, fine arts, health sciences, and international languages and culture. So we have six institutes running now, and, and I oversee that program. We have coordinators for all of those institutes. And on a weekly basis, we try to provide 20 or 30 different opportunities for students to just do that experience. What a future meet professionals in the, in fields, in their field experience some activities around what they might do in their, in their career, in their lives, find out what their educational background was like, what their journey’s been like. It really just expose them to what the future sure. Career potentials could be. We run a block of time on Friday in our timetable called focus Friday. And every week we, we plan 20 or 30 activities that the kids can participate in. Usually there are a series of four or five that occur a week after week. So the kids can actually participate in, we have a group graduating on Friday with drone, pilot licenses. Wow.

Sam Demma (17:54):
For example,

Jim Rieder (17:55):
We we have students that just built a virtual reality experience. We’ve got yeah, we just, you know, on and on, we do engineering courses. We’ve got kids who have built battery pack systems that are for green energy supply and how they’re adding solar panels and things like that to them just various various kind of activities in all of those institutes. And it goes, and the we also plan weekend activities for them. And we have travel programs that are associated with them. So a couple examples might be a trip to the Silicon valley, which we unfortunately had to council of last year where the kids would go and learn about the, the tech sector and entrepreneurism and the history of computers. And we were going to Tesla and Google and to Facebook and the history of computer museums.

Jim Rieder (18:43):
We have a trip that goes to New York city, and we go look at the financial district and go to investment banking houses and go to wall street and get them exposed to the, to the financial districts. So, yeah, it’s just that we have, we go to hospitals, we go talk to doctors, we have you name it. We have people coming in. We really, we really rely on our alumni community who are willing to you know, get us into their facilities and tell us about their career path. And we, and we rely in our parent community who are all, you know, leaders and experts in their own. Right. And it’s just a fantastic program. So I’m very excited about that. The kids are excited about it. They can earn certificates alongside with their high school diplomas. It becomes a resume builder for them, but most importantly, it really helps them on their journey and their path to what their future might look like.

Sam Demma (19:32):
I can tell, like, it seems like it sounds like a core belief of the school and yours is the importance of experiential learning. Why do you think, or does the school think experiential learning opportunities are so essential and important to young minds?

Jim Rieder (19:47):
Yeah, we really, we really do feel that that’s the value add of the program that we offer here is is that opportunity to, to go off and, and explore and to, to become independent and to work collaboratively with collaboratively, with others to, to build leadership skills, to, to and just to open their minds to what the global possibilities are for their future. So our travel programs are, are, you know, are about exposing them to the become global citizens. And, and to give back as we do service work in those things, our sports teams, like most schools are about developing leadership and, and, and you know, comradery and, and, and on and on and on it go. So, you know, if you’re, if you’re only coming to a school to just take, then you’re missing out on all of the things that you, that you should be participating as a young adult that will help you build your, build yourself, build your character, build your, build your leadership skills, build your public speaking skills, all of the things that will do you well in the future,

Sam Demma (20:46):
It’s a holistic picture, right. And you gotta have all the, the separate pieces before we continue. Do you have a hard stop right now? I know we started a little late. I just wanna make sure you still have time, but if you had it, I’m good. Okay.

Jim Rieder (20:58):
I’m up until 10:15. I have a meeting at 10:15.

Sam Demma (21:01):
So, okay, perfect. So, so many things happening at this. Cool. what do you think right now is the most exciting project? I know that there’s so many things going on before we started this call. You talked about a, a business case competition. What are some of the more exciting projects that are going on? And I guess that’s a subjective question. So you can add in your own personal flavors and passions in this one.

Jim Rieder (21:25):
Yeah. It’s interesting. I know some of your early questions were about COVID and Marilyn talked about COVID, but I wanna talk a little bit about the school in general, in that sense, because when we in Alberta, the school’s locked down in March and we really only closed the school for a day to train our, make sure our teachers were up to speed on using the, the virtual, the zoom technology. We went to the zoom platform

Sam Demma (21:48):
Just a day,

Jim Rieder (21:49):
Just one day. And the next day we were, we were back, we were online, we were completely virtual. And our students were taking their classes on a regular schedule online with their teachers. So we, we really only instead of being in person, we went virtual and classes carried on. We for normal, this was, this was an incredible pivot and an incredible change that, that occurred. And it allowed us to carry on and finish the school year strong. Mm. And when we started up in the fall again, we took that. We took that and we learned, and we came, cuz we came back in the person, but we added extra into all the classrooms. We continued to train our teachers on how to use technology for teaching and learning when the students weren’t weren’t present. And now we went into a hybrid model.

Jim Rieder (22:39):
So some of our students were at home and some of them were in the classroom. Most of them were in the classroom, the teachers. And just to see, I mean, that’s an, a challenge in itself, but just to see, but to see the whole community thrive and grow on that has you’ve you we’ve added technology. We’ve never thought we would be using before this, every week we celebrate and showcase new software. That’s being used by teachers and their students in the classroom. There’s always one of our, our, our one of our senior leaders who works with teachers on their professional development is always showcasing on a what kind of innovative and new things that are being done in this school in this virtual hybrid mixed model. You know, if you talk about a project, that’s the big project that’s carrying on.

Jim Rieder (23:25):
Now we see all the clubs have returned. We’ve seen our we’ve started to be able to sneak back. We had outdoor ed occur with some grade nines. They went out cross country skiing, you know, instead of taking one bus, you take four buses and spread them out. And, and just the, the adaptation that’s occurred has, has been a, a amazing to watch this, the whole school go through that transformation, even in my program, you know, I couldn’t, we can’t go to Silicon valley. So we’ve been bringing Silicon valley to the school virtually. I’ve had Tesla engineers. I’ve had, I’ve got a Google engineer coming in tomorrow. We’ve got, you know, all sorts of resources that we would’ve gone to in person are now coming in and virtually. So that, to me, that’s the big project. And then the question will be, I think that will change us as we, if we get back to, you know, the normal we’ve got so many more tools in the tool belt that we’ll be using going forward. That just makes us a better place.

Sam Demma (24:19):
And, you know, you mentioned going on field trips with four buses instead of one, I think it’s important to also share that, you know, you’re one of the people that just became certified to drive the bus. That’s great.

Jim Rieder (24:30):
I just went through a nerve wracking class, four driver’s license test last night.

Sam Demma (24:34):
Yeah. And I, well, what, what I think is so awesome about that is that, you know, you are in this position of influence and leadership within the school and you’re the one going and getting the, the, you know, you’re not hiring a bus drive, you’re the one going and getting certified. It just kind of shows your principle about, you know, I can, we can, let’s figure it out and just make it happen. I think that’s just really interesting and cool. What do you think is one of the greatest opportunities in education right now with challenges? There are opportunities and sometimes they’re hard to find but I find that if you look for them, you know, they, they kind of present themselves.

Jim Rieder (25:07):
That’s a good question. I think, I think, you know, with our new gen ed gen Z cohort, that’s kind of in the school now. Yeah. I think just to continue on the path of personalization. Mm. I think students are looking for that. You know, they want to be known in the school, which we think we do a good job of, and they want personal, they want their, you know, their, their, their journey through school to be personalized. And I think that with the ability to be flexible in our programming, whether students are here, whether they’re at home you know, students are in and out all the time now the flexibility of, of not having to, you know, they don’t have to be in the school to take the test at the same time as other kids, we can bring them in after hours, for example, which we’ve run in after our test center.

Jim Rieder (25:52):
So they can come in and write tests in a, you know, more secluded environment, if that’s what they need modification of programming, you know, we’re an academic school. We’ve, we’ve added us. We’ve really beefed up our student success center and are really trying to do a lot more with personalizing the per programming for all the students. I think that’s, I think that is the, the model you know, do we have to be in school five days a week? Can we be in school three days a week can be at ha at home can the families be at their, you know, away on holidays or those kind of things, and still have the students come into the school. We are moving in that journey already where we have, you know, high performing students who are away for athletics or for something that they’re pursuing outside of school and the ability to give them programming that sort of meets their needs. I think we’re on a journey that that’s gonna take that to a whole nother level.

Sam Demma (26:45):
I agree. There’s, there’s so many opportunities right now to personalize, especially I was talking to another school recently, not only with the students, but also with the parent community. I had a teacher tell me that they, they would do all these parent engagement events and not many parents would show up. And the moment it became virtual, you know, parents started showing up because they could keep their greens off. They didn’t have to talk to other people if they ended a long Workday and just wanted to sit back and learn and listen. So there’s even in some cases, opportunities for increased engagement or increased interest. And I think you highlight that with all the different things happening, you,

Jim Rieder (27:16):
You hit the, you hit the nail on the head there. We just ran our parent teacher interviews last week. They were all virtual, of course. And, and, and parents signed up for 10 minutes, you know, their blocks of time. And it was solidly booked for two days. Wow. So, you know, those kind of things are definitely changing. We just ran a, an information meeting on Wednesday on Tuesday night with eight alumni who are in the medical profession. And the whole theme of the theme of topic was how to get, you know, what, what’s it like being a doctor? What’s it like getting, how do you get into medical school? What are the kinds of things that are going on? And we had about a hundred people on that call. So, so people are definitely willing to sit in the comfort of their home and, and be a part of a, of a zoom call or a interactive session that way,

Sam Demma (28:02):
Love that. Awesome. And being cognizant of the time maybe we’ll do a part too as well if you’re open to it. But I, I would love to know if you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you just got into education and teaching, what would you say? What, what advice would you give knowing what you know now?

Jim Rieder (28:22):
Oh, that’s a, that’s a pretty philosophical question. And You might wanna cut this outta the interview.

Sam Demma (28:31):
No, not at all.

Jim Rieder (28:33):
No, I think I, I think probably one of the things I would do and maybe it’s still down the road for me is I would, yeah. I really think that there’s a education is in, in is in a stage of transformation and you know, the virtual world is coming. Technology is coming. I always thought there was a, I always thought there was a room for a different model of a school and maybe that’s part two of the conversation. But yeah, I think I would’ve, I think I would’ve you know, worked harder, maybe it’s still to, still to come, but yeah, I think there’s a, there’s some new models of education that I probably should have, could have pursued in terms of, you know, stepping out on my own. I have the business experience now. And I would’ve said to my said to, you know, I always say to my kids and I’ve said, it doesn’t matter what you do, what your passion is, but try to own the business that you’re, that, that you’re in. So you can, as long as you’re, you know, living your dream own your business and, and take it. So I think that’s something I might have done differently to my, or told my younger self is you’re in education. You can change the world. You know, you, you know, you can do this well to take the, take the reins by the horn and create your own vision in your own school or your own, your own your own education system. If that, if that makes sense,

Sam Demma (29:48):
It does. And I love that. You said if it’s yet, maybe it’s yet to come. I was listening to a podcast recently with Jim Collins and Tim Ferris. And Jim is one of his mentors was Peter Drucker. Who’s like this know brilliant thinker. And I believe he has something like 29 or 39 books that he’s written over this, this man of his lifetime. And

Jim Rieder (30:10):
I’ve read, I’ve read some of his books.

Sam Demma (30:12):
They’re awesome. And Jim was

Jim Rieder (30:14):
A master’s degree.

Sam Demma (30:15):
Yeah, that’s amazing. And, and Jim was telling Tim, Jim Collins was telling in Ferris that he got to visit his house and see all the books he had written in order sitting on a shelf. And he asked the person who owned the estate. Now, can you point on this shelf to where Jim was 65 years old? And the lady pointed to the first third of the bookshelf and he blown away that this guy wrote the two thirds of his life’s content after the age of 65 years old. And it’s just a test Testament that goes to show that age is a number. You can create things for the rest of your life. Sure. And I think its just important to end on that note because someone listening might be a little older or, or just starting and now’s the time was the time.

Jim Rieder (31:03):
Right. I agree now is the time. Yeah.

Sam Demma (31:05):
And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all, wants to chat with you, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jim Rieder (31:13):
They can email me. I’ll give you my email address. That’s okay. Yeah, Jim Rieder. So JimRieder@mywic.ca.

Sam Demma (31:27):
Awesome. Jim, this has been awesome. We’ll definitely do a part 2, and until then keep doing great work and I’ll talk to you soon.

Jim Rieder (31:34):
Sounds good.

Sam Demma (31:35):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jim Rieder

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.

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal
About Tim Cavey

Tim Cavey (@MisterCavey) is a husband, stepfather of two, 8th-grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a Master’s in Educational Leadership degree that re-ignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.

Tim’s a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, vlogs, or podcasts. When he’s not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the pacific northwest.

Connect with Tim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Vancouver Christian School

Masters of Education in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University

Teachers on Fire Podcast

Mindset by Carol Dweck

EdPuzzle

StreamYard

FlipGrid

The Transcript

**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 come back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tim Cavey. He is a husband, stepfather of two, eighth grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a masters in educational leadership degree that reignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.


Sam Demma (01:05):
Tim is a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, blogs, or podcasts, just like this one or his own. When he is not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Tim is a brilliant, brilliant educator and an awesome human being. I’m so glad that he agreed to come on the show and I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Tim. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Tim, super excited to you on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself in whatever way you choose to do so and share why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and with young people.


Tim Cavey (01:56):
Thanks so much, Sam, what an honor to be here. You inspire me so much. So thanks for having me on I’m an eighth grade teacher, assistant Princip, both rookie assistant principal this year, and the host of the teachers on fire podcast. You asked about where my fire comes from, and I always point back to the start of my master’s program a few years ago, and reading Mindset by Carol Dweck as, as kind of a couple of really pivotal moments in my academic journey, my education journey. So those together with launching the podcast have really sort of set me on fire, and gotten me excited about learning again and sharing what I’m finding with other educators.


Sam Demma (02:37):
Love that you mentioned the book mindset, I’m a big fan, and I sure you could riff about the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. I’m curious to know what would those two perspectives of a growth and a fixed mindset look at today’s current situation of education and, and take away from it. So looking at the challenge of COVID 19, what would the fixed mindset person think say or do versus the growth mindset?


Tim Cavey (03:02):
I think the fixed mindset would look at all of the problems and sort of stop there and attach labels to the problems. Talk about the, just the difficulties we face the, the, the way states and districts are not really listening to the needs of educators, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, and, and like I said, kind of stop there. I think the growth mindset recognizes the adversity we’re facing, but actually says, okay, what are the takeaways? What can we learn from this? How can we actually move education forward and transform it in a permanent way based on what we’re finding. So educators have learned so much and grown so much and fully mindful that the last year has been a nightmare for a lot of teachers. I, I do see tweets about teachers leaving the profession and so forth, but on the other hand, teachers have really gained a lot of knowledge. Teachers who really didn’t spend much time online a year ago are now fully embracing these ed tech tools, getting into new spaces, covering better strategies for delivering formative assessment to their learners. And it’s super exciting. So the fixed mindset is all about labels. The growth mindset is all about saying, how can I evolve? How can I adapt? How can I move forward based on what I’m facing


Sam Demma (04:16):
And what are the opportunities that you personally have discovered? I know you, you know, you teach grade eight and rookie vice principal in those two roles, what are some of the opportunities that, that have surfaced for you that you think have been very transformational in your own learning and growth?


Tim Cavey (04:33):
I think some of the most growth that I experienced was actually last spring during the lockdown when I was forced to go virtual along with a lot of my colleagues and I did get into some new tech tools that were pretty transformative. So I, I started to experiment with ed puzzle and I’m, I’ll forever be an evangelist for ed puzzle. I think it’s such an underrated tool. Pad is an another one, Flipgrid wake lit some of the tools that I, I, to that point I sort of knew about, but hadn’t really played with too much. Now this past school year we’ve been face to face. And so I’m sort of going back in some ways, but still a, as I said earlier, like trying to implement those new tools in the old spaces, if that makes sense. So trying not to go right back to the way things always were and bring some of those new insights and strategies into my practice. And I would say to some extent I’ve been successful now this year has been really tough in other ways in terms of masking and COVID protocols and, and no field trips and no assemblies, and just a lot of things that kill the joy of school. And so in that process, we’ve learned how to, within our school building livestream assemblies in and deliver them into every class and, and bring about or livestream parent teacher conferences. So those are some things that in terms of access we can move forward with as well.


Sam Demma (05:55):
I love that. And you do a phenomenal job with your own podcast, which we’ll talk about later on today. It’s a huge, amazing resource, not just the podcast, but you have thousands of links on your website to different books and, and past episodes in blog posts. And I was getting overwhelmed with how much you provide, like, it’s just, it’s phenomenal. And I see that you use streamy have like multiple educators on the screen at once, which is amazing. You know, you mentioned a bunch of awesome tools and you said you’re a huge evangelist for the ed puzzle. Can you explain what that is? And also maybe explain what streamy yard is if anyone’s curious about using that for their own virtual assemblies.


Tim Cavey (06:32):
Sure. So full disclosure on ed puzzle, I’m at a new school this year and I, I have not yet convinced my it department to get on board with ed puzzle. So that’s still, that’s still a discussion that is ongoing, but ed puzzle is basically a way to engage and to monitor student engagement with video content. So if you think about the flip classroom, if you think about asynchronous learning resources, we know that our students re night with video, we’re creating more and more tutorials all the time, whether you are a math teacher, English, whatever you’re working in, hopefully you’re starting to do a little bit more screen casting. And so thinking about that, ed puzzle is that tool that actually shows you have my students viewed the content. Have they responded? You can integrate questions really well. And so I it’s, it’s simple. It, it’s not an elaborate tool, but it’s so effective.


Tim Cavey (07:24):
You also mentioned stream yard, which is something pretty different, but I’m having a lot of fun with that one Sam a year ago, I, I started seeing teach better and other friends streaming. And at first I was like, this content is not so great. Like what, what sort of educators gonna sit around and watch this grainy video one on one interview, right on YouTube or whatever platform. But I started to warm up to it. And I realized that there are certain things going on there that are actually really powerful and impactful. So the live Q and a, the live connections relationships are actually forming around some of those streams. So yeah, I, I made the decision to start streaming every Saturday morning on streamy yard, which you mentioned, and it has a free base level that you can just experiment with. And then there are tiered levels above that, that allow you to stream on multiple platforms and get rid of watermarks and so forth.


Tim Cavey (08:17):
But the goal is really just to share ideas and amplify voices. That’s what I do on my podcast. And so now I’m starting to do so by video. And, you know, just last Saturday, I had the pleasure, the honor of hosting five Latina superintendents from California. Nice. And that was such a fun conversation. I was way out of my depth, but it was a really fun conversation. And I learned a lot. I left super inspired, so it benefits my professional practice I find, but it also just gets the word out and shares ideas as well.


Sam Demma (08:50):
My mind immediately jumped to three years ago, being in Costa Rica, dancing the Beata and salsa with people in, in Costa Rica. When you said that that’s so cool ideas, spreading ideas, such an impactful way to share content, to share practices again, your podcast teachers on fire and your whole platform does a lot of that. I’m curious to know out of the, I don’t know, hundreds of conversations that you’ve you’ve kick started and had so far, what are some of the ideas you’re hearing that you think are important to listen to important to try and maybe implement during these crazy times?


Tim Cavey (09:30):
There are so many different directions I could take that. I mean, I guess my brain is still stuck on the virtual sort of hybrid mediums and platforms. So another part of my work, something I’ll be engaging in later this afternoon is is connecting with a virtual conference presentation platform and looking at what they can offer educators in terms of a local conference happening in this area. And so I, you know, I look ahead to the future and I think, yes, I look forward to getting back to face to face. I mean, who doesn’t love those face to face conferences, but as I mentioned earlier, I think we have to really improve our access at, especially when I think of rural educators, international educators, we, we need to think about how we can scale our learning and share it a little bit better. And so virtual conference presentation platforms that that’s one way to do it. And, and then I think your part of your question related to the classroom as well, right? Could you just reframe it for me?


Sam Demma (10:29):
Yeah, absolutely. So a, a teacher right now might be listening or an educator who is struggling. I think the basis of all change stems from an idea, right? Like the water bottle that’s beside me on my desk was an idea in someone’s mind before they created it. You’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands of ideas within your conversations. And I’m curious to know if there’s been any ideas educators have shared that you think might help a classroom teacher or principal or educator in any sense.


Tim Cavey (10:56):
Yeah. Wow. So you just opened the door for me. One, one example that is fresh in my mind that I was just talking about yesterday is there’s an educator on Twitter by the name of Tyler Roblin. I hope I’m seeing his name correctly. And he is experimenting with different forms of assessment and some really progressive practices in his high, high school English classroom. Something he has done is built a rubric for his high school English writers. That is it. It’s got those proficiency columns. So it’s grade list in that sense. And then each of the proficiency levels is actually hyperlinked out to a YouTube video that explains exactly what that student needs to be focused on. And I saw that Sam and I was like, wow. If we can start to hyperlink rubrics like that, then students can on their own time asynchronously actually dig into exactly how to take that next step.


Tim Cavey (11:54):
And so when I think about tools like that, when I think about tools like moat that are offering audio feedback embedded right in Google classroom and other learning management systems, it’s a pretty exciting time just for better feedback, because we know students learn best when they have immediate precise feedback. If you just think about the coaching the coaching metaphor, right? Like a basketball player doesn’t benefit too much from a review of a game two weeks later. Yeah. They benefit from some coaching right in the moment. So looking at the tools that allow us to do that faster and, and more precisely like moat or, you know, deliver that pinpointed advice to take the next step, like the hyperlinked Google docs that really excites me. And I think moving ahead, teachers teachers are going to be adopting more of those practices. And, and it’s a good time to be a student.


Sam Demma (12:47):
Teachers are also struggling to find balance between work and life. And I, I mean, I saw your recent post that said in, in 48 hours, you had 858 emails. And I was, I was blown away and I was curious to know personally, what tools and management systems you use to organize your own time you know, to separate work in life. What is your own system to look like when it comes to time management? Do you have something that’s that you try and follow? That’s been helping you?


Tim Cavey (13:19):
Usually my answer to that is just obviously using a calendar. I shouldn’t say obviously. So using a calendar cementing in those times that are non-negotiables. So, you know, I’ve got Friday family fun night, make sure to connect with my boy and my wife, and actually have some quality family time. Saturday is really date day or date night. Nice. For sure. So spending some quality time with my wife device, free dinners, shutting it down, usually weeknights, we try to shut it down around 9:00 PM and those are all just guardrails that sort of help to put some structure around my life, make sure I’m getting decent sleep, make sure that I’m cultivating relationships and not neglecting them. But other than that, Sam, it’s an ongoing struggle. And so yeah, you saw that tweet where I, I mentioned, I just sort of ignored email for a few days and of the emails piled up and I ended up blowing a couple of appointments and one of them was use and my heartfelt to apologies.


Tim Cavey (14:15):
They, no. So it is, it is tricky. And, and to that point, let me just say about email. I hear some educators or I see it sometimes on Twitter saying like, yeah, I just step away from email and completely ignore it for a while. And I think, yeah, well, yeah, that kind of works. But on the other hand, when you, when you know that the emails are piling up, it, it is going to stress. It’s going to add more people to get back to you. So I, I think email alone is just such a difficult space to manage effectively. One more thing I’ll pass on that might be helpful to somebody in your audience is I keep, I keep my iPhone on, do not disturb twenty four seven. So if you’re not in my favorites list, you probably won’t reach me by phone or by call or by text, at least in real time.


Tim Cavey (15:00):
You’ll sort of have to wait until the next time I actually look at my phone, but to me that just slows down the mountain. Well, it does more than slow down. It kind of eliminates the mountain, the avalanche of notifications. And, you know, I look at some of my colleagues who get a notification every time they receive an email. Yeah. I, I just think that would drive me crazy in a short amount of time. So try, do not disturb on your phone if you are getting a snowed under by notifications. That really that was a game changer for me.


Sam Demma (15:30):
I love that. It’s a great piece of feedback. I saw this funny tweet the other day as well. And it was this girl explaining how you could hang up the phone without letting the other person know that you hung up and essentially you just slide up and you hit the airplane mode button and on the person calling you screen, it’ll say call disconnected or did not go through as opposed to, as opposed to hang up. So if you have to avoid a phone call too there’s this little strategy for you.


Tim Cavey (15:57):
Nice, nice, bad connection.


Sam Demma (15:59):
Yeah. Right, exactly. I’m curious to dive a little more into Tim, your passion for education. Like, you know, you could have taken many different paths back when you were in school. What, with the passion you have for technology with the, in the, the entrepreneurial spirit that you obviously have starting these ventures, what drove you specifically to teaching?


Tim Cavey (16:24):
I think at the time it was a love of people. I knew I, I enjoyed working with kids and a love of the classroom. And I, I will say too, like some really impactful teachers that influenced me. And I just thought, like, I can see myself in this space and teaching has sort of a sense of autonomy, at least within the classroom. Most teachers have a sense of autonomy and independence in the sense that you can really make what you want of the day. Yeah. You’re you caring for these kids of different ages, but you can shape the learning experience and, and you can impact your own level of fun. And I, I get excited when teachers are actually teaching to their passion and that is very evident to their learners. They’re teaching to their strength and they can bring in things from the outside, whether it’s a side hustle or other passions, bring that right into their practice.


Tim Cavey (17:16):
I think on, so another answer to your question, Sam, I look at you at, at, you know, 21 years old, you blow my mind. And I think if I could do it all over again you know, if, if that was my generation, I would take a, a really hard look at content creation as a path to act, actually developing and building your own career. And that may involve some level of being in the school system. It may not, but you, you really excite me because you have that whole, you have your whole career track in front of you. You’re making all the right moves. My Matt,


Sam Demma (17:49):
I appreciate that. And I, I’m learning from gracious educators like yourself, who give their time to chat with me on this podcast. You know, one of the reasons I started it was because I don’t have all the answers to give educators, but I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could just invite them on the show to chat about what’s working for them in the hope that other educators might listen. I want to go back though, still to those teachers that you said deeply impacted you when you were in school. Mm. What did they do? Like, what was it that those teachers did that had such an impact on you that it drove you to go to education? Because I know I had teachers that changed my life and I can pinpoint the reasons why, and I feel like for every person it’s a little bit different. And if you can pinpoint those things, it’s essentially teaching other educators what they can do to also impact their kids. So I’m curious to know if you can pinpoint the characteristics or things that those teachers did for you.


Tim Cavey (18:39):
I think one of the teachers, I always look back to his name was Mr. Bergen and I had him in eighth grade. And it’s kind of funny that I’m an eighth grade teacher today. Yeah. And although my, my teaching assignment is sort of going to evolve a little bit next year, but I, I teach eighth grade. And so Mr. Bergen was such a supporter. And, and like, you always hear, I mean, I don’t remember a ton of specific moments or lessons that he taught, but I remember the way that I felt in his class. And I remember the way that he encouraged me. I came to Mr. Bergen. Now this is going to sound so nerdy, but I came to Mr. Bergen as a really passionate writer and content creator. Pre-Internet nice. And I was, I was, I, I had fun like working with word processors at the time, there was one called print master.


Tim Cavey (19:28):
I I’m sure no one has ever heard of it. That was, this is the time of word perfect. And corre draw and some really primitive tools now. But I was, I was excited to play with these tools and I had the vision of creating a class newspaper. And Mr. Bergen actually trusted me enough or gave me enough space to actually print a few additions of my newspaper and put them up on the bulletin board. And just something like that. I know I, I look back and I’m like, okay, he was giving me that commendation and that encouragement, that, that approval at 13 years old and now you know, much, much later I am writing blog posts. I’m creating content, I’m doing writing all the time. And I look back at him as a really key you figure in that journey. So there were others in my high school experience as well, but I will shout out Mr. Bergen. I haven’t had contact with him in decades, so I hope he’s still around, but, but I will, I will shout him out as someone who just, just gave me that encouragement and gave me the space. Like he took a risk, right. Because I could have, I don’t know, put something really awkward or inappropriate up on the bulletin board or sort of made him look bad somehow. But he, he gave me the space to try that and he cheered me on and I think it shaped who I am today.


Sam Demma (20:46):
I think giving students responsibility is such an impactful way to build trust. I had a pass guest on, who told me that he had a student in his class that was giving him issues or giving them issues. I can’t remember exactly who the guest was, but they told me that after a couple months of of struggle and he took his car keys and said, can you go into the parking lot into the front seat of my car and grabbed the jug for me? And the kid was like, do you want me to do it? And, you know, gave this kid his trust and his responsibility. And he went and he got the thing, he brought it back into the school. And it was like, he said, it was like a flip switch. The kid changed from this problem to this. Wow. I was useful to the teacher.


Sam Demma (21:28):
He trusted me enough to give me his car keys. I kind of crashed the car. And so, you know, hitting on that piece of, of responsibility is so huge. When I look back at my experience, when I was in grade 12, Mike loud foot was the name of the teacher for me, who’s now retired. And you mentioned it already, but he was so passionate about his, that it just rubbed off on me. Like I felt like he was doing his life SQUI teaching was his ministry. And it was so evident. And you mentioned that, you know, you loved when teachers are passionate about their content. Do you think that’s also a, I wanna say a trait of a high performing educator or a teacher on fire. Like you, you need to be passionate about the material that you’re deliver in teaching


Tim Cavey (22:10):
100%. And if you don’t have the passion, maybe you’re stuck with an assignment that you didn’t really want. I mean, try to generate that passion, dig into it, lean into it try to, to bring that curiosity to life. But absolutely if you’re, if you’re in a situation where you have no passion for your content, it, it really is to think about maybe moving on or changing context, right? You don’t necessarily need to leave education, but as I’ve interviewed educators, one story that I didn’t see coming, Sam was this idea that for many teachers, it was just finding a different situation that actually better aligned with their passions and that brought their fire back to life. So I, I do have a, a concern or a passion for those teachers that are burning out or don’t have much fire left. And I think one of the solutions, one of the answers sometimes is just finding a, a situation that fits their passions and aligns with their values a little better.


Sam Demma (23:06):
And how long have you personally been teaching or in educational?


Tim Cavey (23:11):
Well, I’m embarrassed to say beside you, but that’s okay. I started, I actually entered the field in 2001. That was my first fall.


Sam Demma (23:19):
So 20, 20 years now.


Tim Cavey (23:21):
Yes,


Sam Demma (23:21):
That’s awesome. And if you could, if you could like go back in time and speak to younger Tim and give yourself advice relating to the practice of education and teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?


Tim Cavey (23:36):
Oh, man. Well, my thinking has evolved in the area of assessment quite a bit. Okay. And so the way that I collect grades or, or marks, whatever you wanna call them that would evolve considerably. I would make sure to clarify I could talk about that quite at length, but basically it would be keep the focus of assessment on the learning and not any not any of these old compliance measures that we used to keep in mind. So, you know, that’s a whole other topic, but you know, that’s something I would definitely bring back. And again, Sam, if I could go back to the beginning, I would say just from a content creator perspective and just a growing professional, like just write one blog post a week. And that would be absolutely transformative over the, the decades. Not just for any kind of an audience, although that audience would certainly come.


Tim Cavey (24:30):
And, and that brings a whole lot of opportunity and, and fun growth as well. But just simply for my own professional practice, there is power in self-reflection. We know that from the classroom, we call it metacognition. We think about it all the time. We want students self-assessing more today. We want them reflecting on their learning. Why aren’t we doing more of that as educators? Right. George Kus actually said when he was principal in Alberta, he made his staff take two hours and write a blog post about their learning. I don’t know if a lot of teachers are ready for that. Yet. There, there might be some rebellions in some staff meetings, if, if, if principals tried to force that, but there’s so much power, right. In actually reflecting on what we’re learning and how we’re doing. So I think that’s, my answer is more reflection along the way.


Sam Demma (25:17):
I have to ask, cuz you sound super fired up about assessment. As a young student myself, I struggled with my self worth because I had to hatched it to my talents, achievements and accomplishments, which sometimes was my grades. Because as an athlete, if I did get a 95% average, it would lead to a potentially higher scholarship at a university or a school. I also attached myself with, to soccer because my whole family praised me as an athlete growing up. And I thought if I wasn’t a great athlete or student, I would be worth nothing as a human being, which looking back now I realize is totally crazy, but it seems like the assessment system is set up that way. When a soccer game get a trophy, everyone praises you do well in school, get high grades, everyone praises you. But what makes it scary is that if the opposite is true, if you fail, which is supposed to be something that teaches you a lesson, you get reprimanded. And I’m curious to know how you think assessments could be changed, adjusted or altered to remove that, that issue of failure being a bad thing. And what you think about the whole idea of failure.


Tim Cavey (26:22):
Wow. Well, I mean, it goes back to the growth mindset, right? Do we see failure? I mean, you could spell the word fail as first. Why am I forgetting it now? It’s okay. First attempt, first attempt in learning. There we go. First attempt in learning, but yeah. But I think it goes back to the growth mindset. And as you say, how do we look at failure? Do we look at it as a stepping stone? Do we look at it as a, an inevitable part of the journey as a sign that we’re actually stepping out and taking risks? Do we believe that the most learning and growth happens when we leave the comfort zone? I mean, to take it into sports or into the gym, I, you know, our physical ball is only really grow and develop when we’re pushing them to their limits and the same is true of our brains.


Tim Cavey (27:08):
So to bring that back to assessment, yes. I mean, traditional assessment systems have done a great job of ranking and sorting and yes, traditional grades motivate a certain number of students, but they also demotivate a great number of students. And what they do is assign labels and validate people to say, either you’re smart or you’re dumb or whatever, fill in the blank. I mean, as educators, we cringe at those terms, but that’s the way people tend to interpret grades or have traditionally, as, you know, this, this X pathway is not for me or that kind of thing. We put ourselves into boxes. So all kinds of limitations come with those labels of letter grades and percentages. And as we can start to move away from that and actually put the focus on learning and growth and standards, the, the curricular standards then we start to create some space for students to take risks and not worry about being penalized, but try new things and move forward and move into unfamiliar territory. So there’s so much we could talk about there Sam, but yeah. I’m not a fan. I understand the difficulty. You mentioned scholarships and that’s tricky. I mean, we’ve got some big question to sort of resolve at the high school levels in terms of college and university acceptance. And we, we’re not about to convert the whole system overnight, but that’s where we want to get to in my mind is really put, putting the focus on the learning and the assessment, the feedback on growth.


Sam Demma (28:41):
I love that that’s it’s great to hear from an educator, first of all. And I would, I’d love to see how you test the different theories with the students and classrooms that you work within. And on that note, I’m curious to know, like, have you tried anything unique with your own students with your own grade eights? That’s a little different or outside of the box per se? Over the years,


Tim Cavey (29:03):
I mean, this won’t shock any edge educators in British Columbia, but I have not entered a number in my grade book in math or English in three years. So all I, all I track is proficiency levels and you know, that, and so there’s, I condition the cells in my, in my Google sheet or Excel, whatever to reflect, you know, the color code. And so I can see at a glance how a student is doing on these different learning standards. And that’s just one small answer to your question is I just don’t use numbers. I refuse to put overall assessments on math, you know, summative assessments anymore, because I know that students will just look at that overall assessment and they’ll tend to say, oh, I did, I did great. Or I, I did terrible. And then the, the quiz or the test goes in the garbage and they’re not really moving, not learning forward at all. So yeah. Keeping the focus on the standards, getting away from grades is, is one thing for sure. But does that answer your question?


Sam Demma (30:06):
Yeah, I was actually curious to know when you mentioned people in BC, wouldn’t be surprised by it. Is this like a province-wide initiative that’s been started or tell me more.


Tim Cavey (30:16):
Yeah. So I, I mean, across the province and, and you raise a good question, had know the answer to this in terms of, is it actually provincial policy? Okay. but, but the, just the, you know, if you look across all of the districts K to eight, basically there are no, there are very few holdout schools or districts at this point who are not in a proficiency scale model, you know, moving from emerging to developing, to proficient, to extending and teachers and educators are measuring, learning against that framework. And that’s gonna look different. I mean, there, there are sort of experiments happening and different variations and you see one point rubrics and things like that. But by and large, no very, very few schools would have letter grades and percentages in British Columbia at this point. And I know we’re pretty progressive on that front, so it’s not going to be the same in every state in province, but it’s a, it’s exciting. It’s a great place to teach right now.


Sam Demma (31:17):
It’s innovative, it’s disruptive. It’s, it’s leading the cha change. It, I even fascinating when you mentioned the four words, you know, the, the one at the bottom is emerging. That’s a very positive word. Like I remember getting my report card and it, you know, if you did something bad, it was needs, improve needs, improvement or satisfactory. And the use of positive wording, even if you are on the lower level, you know, of where you maybe should be in terms of the I’m an emerging student, that still sounds amazing. And, you know, the student will probably remain, remain positive in that grading. Yeah, there’s a great book called catch them. Why they’re catch them while they’re good, which talks about the importance of, you know, praising the positive behavior instead of coaching the negative and how sometimes coaching the negative diminishes or is the student’s confidence. And right. I think that system does a great job of ensuring students still feel confident despite where they’re at. Yeah. What, what has your experience been with that? Like, I mean, if you had to grade a student lower or, or as an emerging student what does their feedback, like, how does a student react to respond?


Tim Cavey (32:22):
I mean, so full disclosure, I mean, students do try to sort of compare our current system to their older models. And so they, they will interpret that typically as you know, as, as failing or we try not to use that word, but yeah, I mean that they, they tend to go there, but you’re right. It is a positive word. And the more we can use that proficiency language, it really puts the focus on learning as growth, right? This is where you are now, but it’s not static. I think that’s the key difference. You’re not an F student you’re learning on this particular standard is a urging or developing. It’s going to move forward to proficient. How can we get you there? Got, and I’ve, I’ve got a good friend on Twitter Jeffrey Fri from California who talks about getting rid of, as you said, deficit based assessment. A lot of our assessment looks for the faults. What if we focus on what if we focus on the growth? What if we focus on what we see and sort of fan those flames and work from there. So, yeah, I love it.


Sam Demma (33:25):
Cool. I love this. And I, I wanna wrap up today’s conversation highlighting your role Adex of resources, if, if you’re okay with me calling it that sure. Where can people go and listen to your podcast, give a brief explanation of the cast itself and why it started and, and where all the resources are housed.


Tim Cavey (33:44):
So thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate this opportunity. You have a brilliant future. My man, and I’m so grateful to be connected with you today and going forward. So I started the podcast on anchor. I would encourage all budding podcasters to consider it. I actually don’t know where you’re hosted, but anchor is free. It, it distributes my podcast to 12 different apps and platforms for free, which is phenomenal. Can’t beat that value. Nice. And you can, so you can find teachers on fire on just about any podcast app, wherever you listen to podcasts. And you can also find my website, which is badly out dated and needs and overhauled, but I do have some posts happening there @teachersonfire.net. And you’ll also find me on any social media platform, including clubhouse at teachers on fire.


Sam Demma (34:32):
Awesome. Tim, thank you so much. And personally you already have enough emails, so I won’t direct people there, but if someone wanted to just shoot you a question or a message, what would be the best way? Would Twitter be the best or what social platform should they gravitate towards?


Tim Cavey (34:48):
Yeah, sure. Like I said, you could probably reach me on your favorite platform, but I am most active on @TeachersOnFire and yeah, you can reach me there. I’ll definitely get back to you.


Sam Demma (35:00):
All right. Cool, Tim, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep lighting educators on fire in a metaphorical sense and thank you so much. It was an awesome conversation.


Tim Cavey (35:09):
Thank you for having me, Sam. It was a pleasure.


Sam Demma (35:12):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tim Cavey

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.

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate
About Karen Dancy

Karen Dancy (@karendancy) is an advocate for quality public education.  She has been involved in the parent council for the last 8 years.  In addition to serving as Chair at both her sons’ grade school and high school, Karen sits on two additional school committees at the Board level.  She believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. 

When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found diving into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs and working her day job, working in the History department at York University where she has been for the last 26 years. 

Connect with Karen: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Bachelors of English at York University

Department of History at York University

Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE)

OAPCE Dufferin-Peel

The Transcript

**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. We have another amazing guest on the podcast today. Her name is Karen Dancy. She is an advocate for quality public school education. She has been involved in parent council for the last eight years. In addition to serving as chair at both of her son’s grade schools and high schools,


Sam Demma (00:59):
Karen sits on two additional school committees at the board level, and she believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found digging into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs, and working her day job; working in the history department at York university, where she has been for the last 26 years. Also, she is very involved with the OAPCE they host awesome events. You should check her her workout on Twitter as well. She posts a lot of amazing content. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoy chatting with Karen, and I will see you on the other side. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I gotta say, I was really impressed with your technology, your background, the different things we were putting on; the zoom filters, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the reason why you’re so passionate about helping young people.


Karen Dancy (02:00):
Thank you. My name is Karen Dancy, and I am currently the chair at my son’s elementary school and I got involved that way. And I don’t know, it’s funny. I’m not a teacher, but when I was a kid, I thought I was gonna be a teacher. And I think I didn’t go that route at the time, because they were saying, oh, there’s gonna be too many teachers at the time. Right. So I thought, well, you know, so I ended up you know, I got an English degree and I ended up, I still work in education. I, I work at York university. Nice. So at least it kind of keeps me, but you know, sometimes I wonder if I should have been a teacher, but it’s too late now, but now what I’m doing is fun. Like I enjoy being with the students like, you know, I help out as much as I can. I’m flexible with my time. Like if I need to, if, if there’s something going on at the school at the elementary school, I will take a day off. Like I’m not shy about it. People know that if I’m taking a day, it’s usually because I’m helping at the school, you know, doing, doing pancakes or whatever.


Sam Demma (03:02):
And from reading like your Twitter, it’s very obvious that you’re very passionate about education in the best of ways. Yeah, I think it’s important that we, we share our opinions and our voices, especially during crazy times. Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you’re not directly a teacher, but you still work in a school at York university. What led you down that path? What, what prompted you down that path?


Karen Dancy (03:25):
Well, I went to school there. Got it. Sorry. I went to university, I got my I got my degree there and I, I like to joke about how I couldn’t buy the company back in, back in the back in the eighties, or so there used to be a commercial for a running tonight. I, the, the shaver. And he was like, yeah, you know, I like the company so much. I decided to, to buy it. I’m like, well, I can’t buy the university, but I ended up, it just kind of fell into my lap. Like, you know, I was working there part-time during my schooling nice and an opportunity. And it, what happened was it was supposed to be two weeks and it turned to six months into, and then it turned into a contract and now I’ve been there, you know, 25 plus years. Wow. And it’s, it’s not that, I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a job. Right. And I enjoy it. Like, it keeps me in academia at the time. And it it’s, it’s fun. I like it.


Sam Demma (04:16):
And at what point did you make the decision to get involved with, with the student council and parent council? Like, I think you’ve been doing that for eight, eight or so years. Yeah. So


Karen Dancy (04:25):
Yeah, since my son was in grade one, my oldest was in grade one. It was I guess, you know, you as a parent at the time, like this is all, it was all new to me, but I decided to go to, to my first meeting, I was curious and you know, I was quiet. I walked and I see all the camaraderie between the other, you know, chair, like people that have been going for years. Right. Cause I didn’t know anybody. And an opportunity came up for the first, for the first role, which is just a, basically a community person. So you tell them what’s going on in the community. And so, you know, I got involved that way. And then I, you know, as I went, as I more things, it was like, oh, okay, well, this is kind of fun. And so the following year we had somebody leave, the chair was leaving or, or whatever. So I did a, I did a co-chair so, cause I wasn’t, you know, I still wasn’t comfortable enough on my own, but so I, I did a co-chair ship for a couple of years.


Sam Demma (05:19):
Nice. That’s awesome. And you’ve experienced parent council, both, you know, pre COVID and now in COVID I’m sure it’s been very different on both ends. Yeah. What are some of the challenges you think are, or are students are facing right now? I think what’s very unique about your position is that you have a child of your own, who is going through school when I talk to direct caters. Yeah. You know, they give me what their students are going through, but they don’t see the students after the school day ends. Yeah. You know, you have this unique position where you’re both hearing from the educators and seeing your own student and your own, your own child. Yep. What are the challenges our students are facing right now?


Karen Dancy (05:58):
It’s hard. It it’s hard. And I see it from two ways. Cause I have a, so I have a son in elementary school he’s in grade seven and then I have a grade Niner. Right. Who’s just started. Yeah. And I feel bad for both. So, you know, a year ago when we got, when we went into lockdown you know, remote learning, it was not even remote learning at the time I called it pandemic learning because nobody was ready for this. Right. Like you were lucky. My grade, my grade nine, who was in grade eight at the time, he was lucky he had a, an Edwin, like a, a Chromebook that he was from the school so he could bring it home. But my other son had to use his computer. So, you know, setting that up and some classes, you know, were set up and weren’t so fast forward to now.


Karen Dancy (06:41):
My, my grade seven son hates online learning. Like he would rather, he goes, he goes in for, he goes in, he’d rather go in person. And I feel bad for my grade nine or because he’s not experiencing grade nine. I had great memories of grade nine. You know, like you meet new people, you do these retreats. And, and he’s not, I mean, you know, I drop him off in the morning and he goes to school for two and a half hours. I pick him up, he comes home. He doesn’t, you know, there’s four people in his class. He doesn’t get that. He’s not getting to know anybody’s


Sam Demma (07:14):
Action friendships.


Karen Dancy (07:14):
And it’s just, it’s just, you know, it’s almost like he it’s, you know, he’s a robot go in coming out, you know, there’s just no interaction. And if you’re painfully shy, you know, there’s no, there’s no way to meet other people. It’s just, I feel so bad. You know? And he, again, you know, there was no graduation last year and it, you know, for the great aids this year, there’s not gonna be a graduation. I mean, it was just it’s pandemic learning is still kind of there in some cases. I mean, now, yes, it’s better. Like it’s more organized, right? Like if you’re feeling sick, you can like my grade seven, if he wants to stay home and he did one day, he just didn’t wanna go in. So I kept him home and he was able to follow because it’s, you know, they’re doing the hybrid learning. Got it. So he’s at home learning the teachers on the computer at school and they’re teaching. So, you know, it’s, I like that, but I do miss the, like, I feel bad for them because they’re not getting the interaction


Sam Demma (08:09):
I have to tell. Yeah. I have to tell you, I feel the same way I have, I have friends who are still in school in fact last year, but a couple of my buddies are graduating college and university, and that’s a big celebration. Right. You know, graduating high school and then graduating college with all your buddies when you’re a little older and you know, they have few celebrations. And I remember thinking like, wow, this, this sucks. I actually put together a video called dear graduating class of 2020 to try and like celebrate students. And it was well received last year. Oh, good. But I’m curious know, like, despite the challenges, how do we still make the students feel seen, heard, valued and appreciated, you know, from the par from the perspective of a parent, but also the perspective of an educator.


Karen Dancy (08:53):
Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I think this year they have more time to plan. Right. Got it. So I think, I think the big issue that schools faced last year was the inequity. Yeah. When school was having a drive by and gave out lawn signs where the other school didn’t do that, you know, they maybe gave out a t-shirt, which, you know, like that’s okay. But there’s like, there has to be equity across the board, especially in the same school board. Right? Yeah. Like, that’s the problem. You can’t have one school doing


Sam Demma (09:21):
This, this a huge show,


Karen Dancy (09:22):
Doing a huge show. And I mean, I mean, you know, also you’re bound, like, you know, it’s hard, the admins, they don’t wanna bend the, like, they don’t wanna get in trouble. Right. Like at the time, you know, we were in lockdowns, you couldn’t have large gatherings. Right. So it’s, I can see it was just so difficult. I feel so bad for the teachers. And they admit, because they’re only trying to follow the rules as best. I mean, yes. They would love to put on a big celebration. Like I know I had suggested various ideas, like do have graduation. Everybody stays in their cars and


Sam Demma (09:55):
A drive cars,


Karen Dancy (09:56):
You know, a, exactly like a driving movie. And then they drive up and, you know, there was just so much and it, and honestly it took me I broke down several times. I was at different board meetings cuz I’m also involved, involved at the board level in meet in meetings. And there were times where I just, I broke down crime because I was just so sad, my son and his friends. Mm. Because I know what it’s like, like I remember grade age, you know, and it’s just, you know, he doesn’t, he, they missed it, but they don’t really know what they’re missing. I mean, they, they know it’s a big deal, but yeah. You know, it’s like, what, whatever, but I felt bad. And, and so this year I know that my particular school board is trying to make sure that there’s equity


Sam Demma (10:36):
Got


Karen Dancy (10:36):
It across the board. We’ll see what it looks like. I mean, it’s still so hard, you know, I know people are gonna be disappointed. Yes. You can never, you can never please everybody. Right.


Sam Demma (10:46):
It’s it’s such a complex issue. Right. Because when you think you have the solution, it presents a new challenge. Well,


Karen Dancy (10:53):
That’s it exactly. I mean, you know, you can set something up and then, you know, we go by into lockdown where you can only have five people outside or what happens if you have this big elaborate presentation outside and it rains. Yeah. Right. Like, I mean, we’re not, it’s not like we live in California where the sun is always shining, you know? So it’s just, I mean, there’s like different stages. Like it’s almost like you have a different playbook, a play for every different kind of scenario. And it’s like, at some point you have to just, well, you, you know, if it can work out, it works out


Sam Demma (11:23):
And from the role of a parent, because again, you play that two. Yeah. That two role person, how do, how have you been striving to support your, your kids through this time? Is it just reassurance? Is it giving them other experiences or


Karen Dancy (11:38):
It’s I just, I’m asking. I just ask them, you know, are you good? Like I tell, I tell ’em, you know, I know this is, this is, this is hard right now, but this is your history. Like in 20 years time, you’ll be able to tell, you know, your kids. Well, what I, you know, I did this when, during the COVID right? Like this is there. Yeah. I walked in a, in a snowstorm uphill, barefoot


Sam Demma (11:56):
Story,


Karen Dancy (11:59):
You know, this is their story right’s so there it’s their history, but you know, I try my best. I mean, you know, once this is all over, I’m sure everybody will be having major parties and, and celebrating everything for all the things I’m have missed. Right.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Yeah. Very true. Very true. And in light of challenges we spent a, a couple minutes talking about them. There is also opportunities, and I’m curious to know what you believe are opportunities that exist right now in education because of the disruption that’s that’s happening.


Karen Dancy (12:31):
Well, I mean, perfect example is, so our meetings have obviously like student, parent council meetings have shifted to zoom meetings and parent engagements. And we are finding that we’re getting more people coming out to our events because they’re not racing home, you know, rushing home to have dinner and then to go out again. Right. So I, like I said, I was involved involved, so at the parent council level, but then just above the parent council level because we’re in a Catholic school, we have OAP C so we have parent engagements for that. So we’re finding that the parent engagement is actually higher because people can come home, stay in their pajamas, you know, put on the pajamas and then listen or watch, right. Like they don’t have to rush out to meeting up upon meeting. So we’re finding a better engagement that way. And so, you know, maybe moving forward once the pandemic is over, maybe schools will have more parent engagements because we used to have parent engagements in person. Right. Like, got it. Paul Davis is an internet C guy. Right. He came to our school and sometimes the turnout for these things are so poor. Yeah. Like you’re lucky if you get four people and that, you know that. So


Sam Demma (13:47):
When you say parent engagement, can you clarify, do you mean like a parent event, like a parent driven event? Yeah.


Karen Dancy (13:51):
A parent. Yeah. So, so the government used to give funding for, to host parent engagement. Got it. So I know in my role as chair, I’ve organized you know, internet safety or wellness, you know mental brain gym, just to help parents kind of cope with different, you know, with parenting stuff. Like it’s, it’s, it was a fund that was only spec. It was specifically for an engagement. So we have to have a we’d bring in a speaker. And so we were lucky if we got four people. And so I used to open it up to all the schools in the neighborhood. If they wanted to come, they could come you know, still people are shy and they wouldn’t come. But having it on zoom, it, it, you know, it makes it like, oh, I don’t have to, like, I can go up, but not have to talk to people.


Karen Dancy (14:38):
Cuz a lot of times people they’re tired when they get home and they don’t wanna go out. But if they can just flip on their, you know, their computer and watch it that way. So but in the past two, I, you know, that, that money that we used to get, I used to do it for the kids. Mm. So I remember there was one, it was a math, it was it was maths. It was some kind of a math thing where they, they brought in all these manipulatives for kids to play. Like they put out a floor mat and everything. And I remember the organizer he’s like, he thought it was in the evening and I’m like, no, no, during the day. And he is like, well, you’re not gonna get parent engagement and your money is supposed to be for parent engagement. And I’m like, no, no, the parents will come during the day because at our school, they, the parents were really engaged and sure enough, I had 15 parents throughout the day come to watch their kids have fun that it was mostly that it was a thousand dollars, but that a thousand dollars was spent for the kids because any money that the school raises always goes back back to the kids. Right. We always think what’s what something for the kids is for the kids.


Sam Demma (15:40):
So you not to suit your horn, but you’re like the, the best parent, you know, you got involved in your kid’s education from grade one and stayed in all the way up to grade and you’re still here. So


Karen Dancy (15:52):
I know, I know. I’m sure my I’m sure. My grade nine kid isn’t exactly happy. Actually. The funny thing was is I didn’t, you know, so I joined, like I joined the high school council and high school is different and I’m obviously learning and this is still you to me. And I, you know, I haven’t set foot in the school yet, but the first time they report cards came out, I looked and like my friend texted me. She’s like, Hey, did you know your names on, on all the report cards? And I had no idea. I’m like, oh my God, he like kid is gonna be so embarrassed to see my name. You know,


Sam Demma (16:25):
Every single, every single student in the school is gonna be like, oh, your mom’s caring. Yeah,


Karen Dancy (16:31):
Exactly. As long as, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t wanna make friends or anything because that’s really that’s at one. He doesn’t want people knowing who I am, but that’s awesome. That’s awesome. But they just, but they say that, you know, kids get are proud like obviously in elementary. True. And they see their parents helping out. Right. It gives them a sense of pride. I remember my younger son, he was like in grade two and I, there was an issue with pizza. Like he went up to the pizza, the pizza mom and was complaining and he’s like, my mom is the chair. Well, he actually called me president or something. My mom is the president and I want another slice. And she, you know, and she joked her and she turned around. She’s like, you tell your mom that I quit because I’m tired of this. Right. So, you know, he took it a she’s too far.


Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s funny. Yeah. I love that story. How do we get parents more involved in their child’s education? Is it through parent engagement events? Like what do you think is like, like envision an educator listening to this from another school board who doesn’t have a, a, an awesome parent support. Like what do we tell that educator that might help them get their parent community more involved?


Karen Dancy (17:36):
I think that you tell that they, they need to take whatever the parent can give. If the parent can only give five minutes, the, the parent that’s five minutes of their time. I mean, time is valuable. Yeah. Right. And yes, I’ll admit that I spend a lot of time and I’ve, but if I have a parent who says to me, you know, I can only give you five minutes at this event. I’ll take it. I would never turn anybody down. It is hard it’s, you know, I guess the only thing is you keep offering things, right? Like different things. Just, it it’s, especially now we can take advantage of zoom. Right. Like I said, I mean, before Christmas we had a story time. It just, you know, it was off the cuff. I just, I messaged my principal and I said, Hey, Santa Claus, he’s gonna do a story time over zoom. And he’ll read a story. And it was just, and you know, parents can come in and watch with their kids. That’s awesome. And we had, we had like 88 families join us that night.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Wow.


Karen Dancy (18:36):
Yeah. And Mike was, my husband was Santa Claus.


Sam Demma (18:43):
That’s awesome. And the think that I know Mike, you know’s on the podcast. He fits the role perfectly.


Karen Dancy (18:48):
Oh, for sure. Yeah. That’s so, you know, it was, so it is, it’s very hard, but you have to, I think right now, especially because we’re doing zooms a lot, we just have to try different things. I mean, it’s not gonna, it’s hard. I mean, people can always come into the, like a lot of our events are in the evening. There are some things during the school, like parents can volunteer for school trips. Mm. And, you know, I mean, that’s, that’s something small. I mean, some people never come to our meetings and that’s fine because they don’t have the time or they, they’re not interested, but as long as they show up when their child’s class needs a parent to go on a school trip. Yeah. Or when it’s when we’re making pancakes for show Tuesday. Right. That’s great. That’s still in, that’s still engagement. Right. I mean, it’s, it’s a small step. It is very hard. But I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s never, if there’s a school that has never had a parent help out in some way. Yeah. Right. Like, it’s, it just, you take whatever they can give you and you never complain and you thank them. And you say, you know, thank you.


Sam Demma (19:49):
You shared a great idea with the Santa Claus reading. And it made me curious to pick your brain a little more on different events that you’ve hosted virtually, and also in person that may have really engaged the parent community that you think might be valuable for another educator or parent to hear.


Karen Dancy (20:07):
Well. Yeah. I mean, a couple years ago at the elementary school, we did a Christmas market. Nice. It was our first and only one. This was a lot of work. Yeah. But it was a lot of fun cuz it brought out the community. Not only like the parents, but the teachers came and they shopped, I mean, it was a lot of work. But there was different stations we had, like we had Santa with photos, photos with Santa, we had story time we had yeah, just a marketplace and a lot of schools do do that. So that’s not, that’s not something new. We’ve done. What else have we done? Yeah. Well the Stan, the story time was, was something new that we tried because you know, especially at the time we were, we were closed. Right. It was we’d been shut down in the fall for two weeks for COVID cuz we, our numbers were high.


Karen Dancy (20:56):
So, you know, and, and there’s right now it’s a, there’s such a disconnect between the kids that are at home and who have not set foot in a school and in person since last March. Yeah. Right. So it was a way to kind of bring the kids together. And then a few days later, Santa made an appearance at the school. He walked around the school nice and waited to the kids. So I mean, that was, so that was what we did. But we’ve had hot dog day where some, you know, parents come out and do hot dogs, like just cook the hot on the barbecue. Cause kids like hot dogs and it brings parents out. In September we, you know, we have a welcome to the school. We used to have a barbecue, but the barbecue, again, people they’re so busy. I mean, that’s the thing people’s lives are so busy. Yeah. So we have to reimagine and I don’t know, it was funny because this would in the first year that we weren’t gonna do the barbecue, but I don’t know what we would’ve done, but it doesn’t worry. Doesn’t matter because nothing happens. Right. It didn’t happen. So I don’t know, but it it’s hard, but yeah. I follow what I see what other schools do.


Sam Demma (22:03):
Yeah. You don’t have to reinvent, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just iterate or, or grab ideas elsewhere. Exactly.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Oh, that’s awesome. It’s funny when you were talking about going around the school and waving and having Santa Claus on, I, I immediately thought about this, this piece of news, I read a couple weeks ago and it was about this farmer who would bring his goat with him onto zoom calls. Yes. And people could, people could pay 80 to dollars to have a pure. And I was like, wow, there could literally be a person at the Toronto zoo that has a camera and walks around and like showcase animals to students. Like, you know, the more you think about it, the more ideas you see, the more you’re able to build off of them and come up with new interviews. That’s


Karen Dancy (22:44):
A good idea. Yeah, exactly. No, that’s a


Sam Demma (22:46):
Really good idea. I thought that was really like funny. And, and me and my buddy laughing because the goat, technically the goat made like 80 something thousand dollars that year. And we were like


Sam Demma (22:56):
80 grand.


Karen Dancy (22:57):
I know to get a buy for that, that money man. Yeah. It just, no that’s, that was funny. That is true. Yeah. Well it’s, it’s funny watching people’s meetings. Right. You know, like cats will walk by and dogs will bark in the background. You know, one day it was funny. I was on a work meeting and my dog, she was I was watching her from under my computer. So I thought I had turned my camera off. Mm. I turned my dog. I had already turned my camera off, but I thought I muted myself. And so I was calling her and all of a sudden hear the meeting going is that your dog? And it’s like, oh, sorry. I need, that’s how I turned my microphone off.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yep. So, no, that’s funny. I’m, I’m curious in your experiences cameras on cameras off. I know some teachers are having a really difficult time with that. Teaching to black screens is difficult. I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera on and I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera off. Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is or if you have any ideas related to, you know, encouraging students to turn it on or if you think it’s okay to have them off.


Karen Dancy (23:57):
Yeah. It’s, it’s hard. It’s funny. Cuz I told my older one in grade nine when he, cuz he started the new quad master a couple of weeks ago when we were home. Yeah. And so he had never met this teacher and I said to him, you, you know, turn your camera on because think about this poor teacher who is starting a new quad with a new class and he doesn’t know what you look like.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Yeah.


Karen Dancy (24:17):
And he’s like, well I turn it on for five minutes. And I’m like, it’s just so hard. I find, even in my council meetings, it’s harder when I’m having my counsel meetings. Cause I don’t know the parents, I know a few parents who have joined the council, but I hate talking to that little, you know, black screen, black screen or the initials. And it’s like, you know, say hi to me, you know, like, you know, I’m, I’m vulnerable. I have my camera on, turn it on. I know it’s really hard. I really do feel bad for the teachers because you can’t force them. I yeah. You can’t force the kids to turn on their cameras, but you know, people are such a, you get so many visual cues by having your camera on. Like if we had turned our cameras off,


Sam Demma (24:57):
It’s different,


Karen Dancy (24:58):
You know, I’d be talking to you, you know, to a black screen. Yeah. It’s hard. I don’t, I don’t have any, I don’t have any suggestions except the, you know, it really, you need to have your camera on. Yeah. At least in the beginning, you know, and turn it off if you later on.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah. I, I, I, I agree. And I, I found that, I think like social proof plays into that as well. There are certain students who really wanna turn on their cameras, but they see everyone else having their cameras off and then feel like that’s the correct thing to do. So they leave theirs off as well. Yeah. And it’s like this idea that there’s probably a handful of them who wanna turn it on, but they just, they just don’t shock. Exactly. Yeah. Right. Exactly. And, and you know, I, there’s this phrase about the first follower that the leader isn’t actually the person like leading the movement. It’s, it’s the first follower. Who’s the true leader because they took the, the, the hard decision and courageous decision to follow the, that one person, which then usually leads to a bunch of other people turning it on. That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. It’s an interesting, it’s an interesting dynamic. I strive in all the programs that I’ve delivered to get students, to turn their cameras on in different engaging ways. Yeah. Engaging ways. I know. I’m curious though, to wrap up today’s interview, if you could go back to you year one, Karen, when you just got involved in parent council, knowing what you know about education now, knowing what you know about parent engagement about educators about school, what advice would you give your younger self?


Karen Dancy (26:19):
Not to be shy?


Sam Demma (26:21):
Hmm.


Karen Dancy (26:21):
Not to be shy. Cuz I think I, you know, I sat there and was like, oh, can I speak now? You know, I have a, I have an idea once I got more comfortable. So I would think, but it took me a while to get comfortable. Got it. So I think, you know, just be comfortable right away. You, you know, you’re there for a reason you’re there for the kids. Yeah. Right. at least I, you know, I, yeah. I don’t know. I, it’s funny because PTAs get such a bad rap. They think it’s people are there for their egos. Yeah. And I’m sure there are some, but I certainly


Sam Demma (26:50):
Like every field there’s good. There’s, you know, people that are there for all different types of reasons


Karen Dancy (26:54):
I think. And I think that stops a lot of people. Like I really wish people could see what we do. It’s not the clear it is not clicky. It’s not, you know, we just we’re there for the kids and we know, and, and that’s all we do. Like we’re not there for anything else.


Sam Demma (27:10):
I love it. No, it’s so cool. And if someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation after listening to this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Karen Dancy (27:17):
Probably on my, on Twitter. So I’m @karendancy on Twitter.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.


Karen Dancy (27:27):
All right. Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (27:28):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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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.