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Sam Demma

Mike Anderson – Principal of the Grand River Otters Elementary Remote School (4200 students)

Mike Anderson - Principal of the Grand River Otters Elementary Remote School (4200 students)
About Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson (@manderson27) is a high energy educator and the Principal of the Elementary Remote School of the Upper Grand District School Board. 

Formed in August 2020, the Elementary Remote School is a K-8 “virtual” school with approximately 4200 students, 220 teachers, 30 RECEs, 4 administrators, and 2 office coordinators. Their students and staff come from all across the Upper Grand District School Board.

Mike describes it as running a tech start-up. 

Connect with Mike: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

UGDSB Elementary Remote School Website

How company culture determines success (Culture eats Strategy)

Bachelor of Education at University of Windsor

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 a good friend of mine. His name is Mike Anderson. He is the principal of the Upper Grand District School Board Elementary Remote School. The abbreviation for that is ERS, there school is known as the grand river otters, otters being their mascot.


Sam Demma (00:59):
And there’s tons of jokes about that. Mike was a teacher who hired me to speak back in, I believe it was December. It might even have been late November and he has one of the largest remote schools, virtual schools in all of Ontario. They have approximately 4,200 students! Over 200 teachers 4 administrators, 2 office coordinators and their administration staff, and their students come from all across the upper grand district school board! Mike, on this podcast alludes to it being almost like a tech startup. You know, you’re figuring things out as you go. And I can tell you, Mike is someone who has immense amounts of passion and purpose. You know, it’s very apparent that he has time for every kid in his school. He makes time, he’s answering hundreds of emails per day. He is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and you can feel it during today’s interview. So without further ado, let’s jump into the conversation with Mike Anderson from the Elementary Remote School of the Upper Grand District School Board. I’ll see you on the other side. Mike, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just literally worked together, like a week or two ago. Tell the listener why you got into the work you do with young people today and the unique situation you’re in right now running a remote school.


Mike Anderson (02:26):
Sure. Sam, thanks for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure. So I’m an elementary school principal normally in a brick and mortar school. And I, I got into education. I think it all started when I was a kid going to camp at summer camp and, and I grew up watching counselors that had this great positive energy and were enthusiastic and playful, and they liked learning and there was a performing element to it and I found it really inspiring. To be honest, I don’t know if I found my teachers that inspiring growing up. And I always kind of thought like, I wish, I wish school could be more like camp where there was that like sense of fun and energy. And so I think, my career as an educator, I’ve tried to bring some of that camp feeling into a school environment. You know, building a community, connecting with kids being, yeah, having a playfulness around how we’re learning and how we’re doing things.


Mike Anderson (03:34):
So, so now as a principal at a remote school with, or so we’re 4,200 students, 265 staff I mean the challenges this year are yeah, in some ways, like it’s been absolutely ridiculous. This past fall has been the hardest I’ve ever worked as like in my life on anything. But it, it has this vibe of a, like a, a fast paced tech startup is the, is the way I kind of explain it. It sounds funny, but yeah, like we just, there was a while where we were, we started the year and we were short staffed, and our school together without enough teachers and we made a go for it. And we tried our best to to provide a quality program for our students. And there was a ton of challenges that we faced. And, it, it always felt like we didn’t have enough time to, to get everything done, but we’ve also yeah, we’ve had some, some good success. It, it feels good to look back and be like, you know what?


Sam Demma (04:57):
That’s awesome. Yeah, it cut out there. Just it cut out a tiny bit just near the end there. I don’t know. It was, I don’t think it was you. It was me and don’t worry. I’m gonna cut this little part out. Okay. But you said when you said it feels like, and then it, it just dropped


Mike Anderson (05:13):
And you


Sam Demma (05:14):
About sorry, go ahead, startup. Yeah, I got, I got the whole tech startup piece and then towards the end it just cut out.


Mike Anderson (05:23):
It feels like over the last few, we are starting to have some recognition of our progress and some success that we’re having. So our hard work has been paying off. And when I say art, like it’s an entire team of people that, that is working incredibly hard to make this school function.


Sam Demma (05:42):
And it’s different this year, obviously than it has been for you in the past. What is, what is keeping you motivated and hopeful during this challenging time? I don’t wanna say it’s a bad time or a negative time. It’s just different. It presents new challenges and hurdles.


Mike Anderson (05:58):
Yeah. So I, I mean the things that give me hope and that keep me going, I think it working with some incredibly inspiring colleagues teachers and office staff and administrators who been yeah, just thinking outside the box and being creative. One of the things we’ve, we’ve sort of created an infrastructure in our school that allows like we have for a while we had a frequently asked questions running on a, on our staff website and we said, we need this to be crowdsourced. So we, we need everyone. Like, if you have a question thrown on there and if you don’t wanna her throat on there, we’re gonna, we’re gonna build this together. And the analogy we kept using with our stack was we are, we are gonna build an airplane together, but we have to do this while we’re already flying in the sky.


Mike Anderson (06:49):
We’re gonna build an airplane in the sky. And, and it is, it is not gonna feel ready to fly yet. There’s gonna be problems. And we need to just keep doing our best and work together. So the, the school, the elementary remote school, and we call ourselves the, the, the otters. We have we’ve, I’ve, it is incredibly inspiring to see the collaboration and the just, just the, the helping each other people. We have a, a, a Google chat we, which is an ongoing chat room with 260 plus staff members. And people, every day, someone asks a question and five different people give different suggestions and responses. So it, it, it kind of is like being in a school and you walk into a staff room, you’re like, Hey, anyone know how to fix this, or you pass someone in the hall, but we don’t have halls.


Mike Anderson (07:37):
We don’t have a staff room. So we wanna, it has turned into a place where people are helping each other and it is super exciting to see. And also you can imagine like in, in it’s also a way to decentralize sort of the, all the information so that I can share it out. And sometimes I’m jumping in the chat and answering and clarifying and other times like, it’s yeah. It’s, it’s staff working with staff. It’s, it’s really cool to see. I think another thing that gives me hope is I mean, we are working with kids, right? Kids are like, I find they are constant source of hope. You see either their creativity and their what, like, I don’t know about you, but when I see kids doing things that are thoughtful and kind for someone else, it fills me with a joy like that. It, I mean, it, it drives me to say, well, I’m, I’m in the right business here. I, I feel so much pride in, in seeing our students when they, when they step up and, and do things that yeah, they’re just amazing. So yeah, those are sort of the, my big drivers, I think. Yeah.


Sam Demma (08:52):
I’m with you on the, the second one and the first, although I’m not in a school seeing a chat box with 260 teachers, I, you got me really curious when you started talking about that. I’m, I’m sure there’s dozens upon dozens of amazing unique ideas that have been shared in that chat. And I’m curious to know what has been working or what have some of your teachers that you’ve heard and you thought, wow, that’s a brilliant idea. And maybe they report it back, that it went well. And maybe you can also share a challenger too. That might show someone that, Hey, you’re not going through this alone. It’s, it’s a universal challenge.


Mike Anderson (09:28):
Right? So I, I think that one of the, I mean, in terms of a, an overall success that we’ve had at our school to, to, to address the remote element of our remote school, I mean, all of our staff are a few of them are schools. But most people are by themselves or in a, in a room that they set up to be a, a teaching space. And we knew early on that we needed to build a culture a connected culture where we’re all part of something. It’s not just like I’m teaching at home this year. Mm-Hmm, , it’s, I’m part of something I’m part of something bigger. So we worked really hard and it sounds funny, but the very beginning myself and the, the first two VPs that we had Jen Apgar and Alan go we met in my garage on lawn chairs, like socially, just, this is back in August.


Mike Anderson (10:25):
And we are like it that maybe one of the reasons, it felt like a tech start, starting in a garage. I think one of us tweeted out like in the beginning and, and it is like, it had this sense of excitement and we had to answer all these questions, like, how are we going to decide who’s teaching? What, who are our staff gonna be? What’s our schedule gonna be like for the day, what, well, and, and we talked about, you know, what, what kind of strategies are we gonna use? And, and the one thing, the quote that started, and I, I, I feel bad cause I don’t remember who said this quote, but it’s it says the quote is culture eats strategy for breakfast. Mm. And, and we started with, we need a culture in our school, so we need a logo, a mascot, we need a brand.


Mike Anderson (11:12):
And we came up with the otters nice. And and, and we build off of that. And we, we knew we needed to be part of, we needed people to say, I’m not just like, oh, I, I sit at home and teach, no, I’m an Otter. I’m part of something bigger. So we, now we have spirit wear, we have our website. We have at one point I actually bought a giant Otter suit and store for an dorky little I mean, it was like a, a prize if kids raised enough money for our, our first Terry Fox video or Terry Fox campaign, which is like a, a fundraising campaign. We ran that at the very end of September. And I would say that was sort of a, a pivotal moment for our school because one of our teachers, I’m gonna get a shout out to Melissa Rose who came up with this idea and she took this initiative on, and we did a crowdsourced video where teachers all, all remotely submitted little video clips.


Mike Anderson (12:04):
We, she edited together. We posted it out there and we challenged people like we’re gonna try to raise. And I think our initial goal, like, you know, we wanna raise 500 or a thousand or 1500. And one of the, if they met one of the if the students raised that kind of money there were different sort of incentives. Mine was I’d wear a, an embarrassing auto costume around to work. And I did and it was funny so, but the neat thing is like, we raised way over our goal. I think we ended up braising over $7,000. And we, we think part of the reason that we raise so much money on awesome video and staff engagement and students getting excited about it, but also I think it was we interpreted this as, as the community saying, you, we wanna support you.


Mike Anderson (12:51):
You’re doing, we really happy. And we started to about then from parents, like, thank you. You’ve created a place for my child to go to school every day and learn, and they’re happy. Mm. So some parents and, and fair enough, after last spring with the emergency distance learning the online learning this fall, I think people had some different expectations and a bunch of parents I heard from said, this is going so well. We just wanted to make sure our kids were safe at home and not getting COVID. We didn’t expect them to actually make connections and like, be excited about learning and sharing things. So I, I think about the staff we we’ve had where been like a Google meet. So like similar to a zoom and students are still like, they’re getting school work done, but we’re, we’re always trying to think about what else can we do in our school to create a positive experience for our students, in fact not, not to suit your horn there, but Sam, like when you came in last week for your assembly, for our, for our school it was awesome.


Mike Anderson (13:57):
And the, the kids, like they loved it, the staff loved it. Your, your, your message of I mean, talk about like giving kids hope and and, and a like profound optimism for how they can make a difference, even during a global pandemic.


Sam Demma (14:13):
No, I appreciate that. And it’s so into inspiring to see kids taking action. I share that feeling that you have, that when a kid, you know, believes in themselves and takes an action that maybe they’re uncomfortable with at first, but they know they wanna do it. It just lights you up. And you just finished telling me before we started the interview that you have a student who approached you and said, I wanna make a website really curious to know how as educators, can we help our students have those moments where they start believing in themselves more. And then how do we not hold their hand through the journey, but give them the permission to go try and fail, and maybe just share that story of, of that kid and what actually happened there.


Mike Anderson (14:58):
Yeah. I mean, one of our students reached out to me today and said, I have an idea for our student council. And I said, okay, what, what is it? And this is just like back and forth messaging. And I said, tell me, tell me, I like, I like great ideas. What are you thinking? They’re like, what if we had a, what website for our student council? And I said, I love it. That sounds fantastic. You do you know how to do this? They were like, kind of, and I’m like, great. I think you’re the webmaster , this is the kind of, I mean, we have this really unique opportunity and we’ve tried to our student council and we, we have a parent like a school council as well. And we’re trying to do things like we do in brick and mortar.


Mike Anderson (15:37):
We’re trying to provide those opportunities for our kids online. And student council is something that we’d I, I, I, I, I’m gonna give a shout out to a student named Gemma who back in September, she, she created a Google slideshow and she’s like dear principal Anderson. I would like to propose that we have a student council love it. And she made this whole Google slideshow. And honestly I opened it and I had that feeling of like just amazement, just like, this is exciting. This is a student who is yeah. Just has a bunch of great ideas. And you’ve actually met Gemma cuz she introduced you on our on our assembly last week. I know. So she’s like, yeah, one of the active members of our student council now. And I think she and two of her classmates are now working on a school newspaper.


Mike Anderson (16:28):
And they want to give a space for our students to have a voice to write our articles about events that are going on in our school. And I’m thinking I’m gonna connect them with our new webmaster and start getting this all published it yeah, I think giving students a voice, giving them an opportunity in their school to say, this is what I’m passionate about, and this is what I want to do. The more that we can do that for kids it has this incredible ripple effect. One, I find it quite energizing and, and exciting for to, to see that and, and to develop those young leaders it gives them a venue and it also makes them feel, Hey, I, I, I can have an impact here. I can, I can have, you know, I can do something here in my school and I can have a voice in, in what my school, the community and the culture of the school is. Like, I love


Sam Demma (17:20):
That. Yeah. Yeah. And I can’t wait to see the, the website if, you know, if they need any help. I, I built my own site on WordPress and would be happy to share some, some wisdom as a fellow web master.


Mike Anderson (17:32):
I love that. I love that. So, and this is where yeah, I mean, connecting with community partners yeah. Is is always, it makes it for the students it’s so much more authentic, right? Yeah. so I know that we have one of our grade five classes Mrs. Kat’s class they’ve been connecting they’re, they’re very passionate about environmental issues and they’ve reached out and brought in some special guests to talk about what they can do and some, some projects that they can take on and take ownership for. So I, I sat in, on one of their conferences with a a local environmental champion. Nice that, yeah, it was super impressive. That’s awesome. I, I like bringing in community connections for kids to make the learning. It just, it makes, it brings it alive. Right. You’re not reading about something in a book you’re like asking questions to an expert. Yeah. And of all the times to do that, the remote school is perfect. The kids are all on a video screen. They know how to do this. Yeah.


Sam Demma (18:40):
Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective because I’ve also heard the other side of that, where a lot of educators are saying, oh, this is the year where, you know, we can’t do so we’re just not gonna do them. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on that and how you would address that. And what yeah. What your thoughts are.


Mike Anderson (18:59):
Right. So my colleagues in the brick and mortar schools are obviously it’s the most important is keeping everyone safe and it is different. They can’t have, have assemblies like normal. So your assembly I mean at the remote school, there’s things that we can do that just cause of, yeah. Like we, we can kind of be more, we can think outside the box quite easily. And I mean, you can imagine at a school, they said, we can have we can have clubs, but we need to do it with physical distancing and maybe it’s gonna need to be remote. So I know I heard about one school, that’s trying to run a club and kids are in different classrooms, on a video meet in the same building. Yeah. Well, like we’ve got an awesome chess club right now, nicely. One of our teacher, like, yes, figure this all out.


Mike Anderson (19:52):
And we’ve got like moving towards like a ladder ranking system and kids challenging each other. And like, this is, I mean, yeah, it’s fun. We’re, we’re starting Tom Barker is taking the lead one of our teachers and we’re gonna start a coding competition in our school. And that like, yeah, now, you know, we, what we don’t have is we don’t have recess time. Mm. Right. But our, our students, like our they’re getting Ette every day or, or, I mean, depending on the age, but I know yeah, some kids are the other day when the first big major snowfall my daughter is one of the oters, so she was in grade seven. Nice. And her challenge, she’s like your physical activity. You need to go outside, you need to build a snowman as apology can, and then come back inside, you have 15 minutes go.


Mike Anderson (20:38):
And she like comes running down the stairs. I was like, where are you going? She’s like, hi, it’s ed. I gotta go. I was like, that’s awesome. Like she, and it’s cool. I mean, I don’t, yeah. It awesome. Those kind of things. We, we’re trying to leverage the opportunities we have being remote. We part a big way we do that is by partnering with parents and, and, and working, it is a partnership, especially this year mm-hmm to, to help our students kind of navigate it. And I, I should say, I mean, there, there are some people that are finding remote. I mean, it’s, it’s challenging and it’s different and we try to be creative and we try to think outside the box and still provide a quality education for our students. But it, there, it, it’s not perfect. There are, there are some stumbling blocks and there’s hurdles and there’s challenges that we we spent a lot of time trying to navigate through and, and learn from. But it does feel like we’re making progress, which is a positive thing.


Sam Demma (21:34):
No, that’s awesome. And for me, it seems like your successes with this remote school will almost become a rubric. If we have to do another year of virtual learning, what you’re going through is what Joseph Campbell would call the hero’s journey. You’re you went into the unordinary world, which is like the, the remote world, cuz no one’s ever done this before. And you overcame objections and figured things out and got challenged and figured out the problems. And now you’re coming back around the other side. And if this is to happen again, everyone, one’s gonna turn to you and your 250 staff and say, how the heck did you do that? Because you might have to do it again. And I mean, we could just call your experience right now, innovation, like this is what’s happening with your school. And I think it’s just a cool success story to highlight.


Sam Demma (22:26):
And I know there’s challenges that come all along with it, for sure. But what you’ve been able to do with all of your colleagues and everyone in the school is, and the parents and the students and everyone is, is phenomenal. And to have the kid engaged to the point where they run outside to build a snowman is pretty awesome. Which is, which is cool. But if you could go back in time to when you were just starting to teach and have wise, Mike right now speak to young foolish Mike, when you just started teaching. And of course you weren’t foolish, but you know, less wisdom, less experience. What advice would you give yourself? And then what advice would that, that this advice is probably the same as what you tell other educators, but what advice would you also give to your colleague right now and the education calling?


Mike Anderson (23:16):
I think I, I came into the teaching profession understanding that it’s important that you build relationships Hmm. With students and with parents and with colleagues. And I, I love the quote and I, again, I, I, I like quote, I don’t always remember where they’re from, but no one cares what, you know, until they know that you care. Hmm. And, and at, at the core, I think back the, some of the the, the best experiences and the best connections that I’ve made with, with students and with colleagues are through those like quality, like sincere human relationships. Mm. Caring about people is, I mean, it, it, it, this is a relationship, it’s a people driven enterprise. So I know even I, yeah, just thinking back, like connect first, build, build those relationships first cuz once you have that established then it’s so much easier to get kids excited about learning to get them passionate and enthusiastic.


Mike Anderson (24:20):
I, I should yeah. I, I just think back in my, are about the, the, the best experiences that I’ve had in this profession have come have been built on those relationships and building relationships that are sincere and honest and, and when there’s trust developed students can yeah, they thrive when, when, when a, when a, when a student knows that an educate or cares about them and is on their team and is encouraging them and supporting them it’s really exciting to, to watch what they can do and, and how far they can go.


Sam Demma (25:00):
I love that. And I C I couldn’t agree more when I think about the, the teachers in my life, who’ve made a huge to impact. It was people that were passionate about their content, like extremely passionate about what they were teaching, but then made an effort to get to know every kid in the class, to the point where they take their generic content and then add three or four words to apply it to specific students. You know, you know, I remember my teacher, Mike loud foot, who I talk about in my speech. He used to teach essence and then towards the middle and the end, he’d say, Hey, for, for you, this means this and Sam for you, this means this and Mike for you, this means this. And having those people who took the time to get to know you and build a relationship with you. And it just, it just heightened the experience so much. And I, and I couldn’t agree more. So thanks for sharing and anyone listening, you know, focus on the relationships, prioritize the relationships. Mike, thank you so much for sharing some of your wisdom. It’s already been 25 minutes time flies when you’re having a good conversation. Is there any way people like, what’s the best way for people to reach out if they like this and they just want to chat with you or have a conversation?


Mike Anderson (26:08):
Yeah, so, like, I think on Twitter, my my Twitter handle is @manderson27. And 27 is also the number I wear on my hockey Jersey shouted out to Darrell Sittler. Nice on. But yeah, so @manderson27 is probably the best way to connect with me. I’ll give you my email address as well. If people wanna send an email, Mike.Anderson@ugdsb.on.ca. Just heads up, I get between 200 and 300 emails a day right now in this current job. So it is super hard. I’m doing my very best. Yeah. To to get back to people in a timely fashion, but yeah, I’d be happy if anyone had any follow up questions or thoughts especially with the the winter break coming up. I’ll hopefully get a chance to get caught up on my email.


Sam Demma (27:00):
No, it sounds good. I’m, I’m dumbfounded that you even opened mind. So I appreciate it.


Mike Anderson (27:06):
Cool. Sam, thanks so much. This was awesome.


Sam Demma (27:08):
You too Mike. Appreciate it. 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. If you wanna 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 Mike Anderson

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.

Ryan Keliher BA, BEd, MBA, – Teacher, Author, Coach and Teenage Motivator

Ryan Keliher BA, BEd, MBA, - Teacher, Author, Coach and Teenage Motivator
About Ryan Keliher

Ryan Keliher (@superstarcurric) BA, BEd, MBA, is a high school educator who has spent the past eleven years teaching, coaching and motivating teenagers. He is a former valedictorian, university basketball captain, and Academic All-Canadian who is passionate about student leadership and personal development.

Keliher resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada with his wife Siobhan and their baby boy, Rafael.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Charlottetown Rural High School

Ryan’s Personal Website

The Superstar Curriculum

The Hate you Give

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 was actually someone who was introduced to me by a former guest, Melanie Hedley, a teacher from Bluefield High School introduced me over email to this gentleman named Ryan. And I’m so glad she did because the conversation we had was phenomenal and I can’t wait to share it with you.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Ryan Keliher has his BA his BEd , his MBA, and is a high school educator who has spent the past 11 years teaching coaching and motivating teenagers. He is a former valedictorian university basketball captain and an academic, all Canadian, who is passionate about student leadership and personal development. Ryan resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada with his wife Siobhan and their baby Raphael. He is also an author, an author of a book called the superstar curriculum. It’s a phenomenal book. He’s sold over 2000 copies and today we talk about so many different topics, things that come directly out of his book, but also his own philosophies on student leadership and how to navigate these difficult times. I hope you enjoy this conversation. I will see you on the other side. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work that you do in education today?


Ryan Keliher (02:01):
Sure. First of all, I just wanna thanks. Thank you a lot for having me on today. I’m really looking forward to being on the pod and just a little bit about me. So my name is Ryan Keliher and I am a high school teacher and I’m 14 years into my career and I teach out of Charlton Rural High School in tiny Prince Edward Island. Nice. Why I kind of got into education? I was really fortunate to have had some awesome teachers when I was going through school and they made me really like being in school and they had a really positive impact on me. And as I grew up, I kind of just felt like I’d like to that kind of do what they do. I really, I really admired them. I really thought what they did was meaningful and from a fairly early age, like in high school, kind of, it was my, it was my goal to become a high school teacher. So I really didn’t even pursue a ton of other options after I kind of got hooked in by these engaging teachers. I kind of said, yeah, you know what? I think I wanna do that too.


Sam Demma (03:07):
Ah, that’s awesome. What did they do? Like what did those teachers do for you that left such an impression on you and pushed you to pursue this path?


Ryan Keliher (03:17):
I think what, when I think of kind of the two or three teachers that stand out the most you know, they, they were really knowledgeable in their subjects, but more almost Mo I would say more importantly, they really made me and my fellow classmates feel valued and welcome in class. And when you added that combination in where students felt like they were valued in the classroom, plus they were gonna get material that, you know, from teachers who were knowledgeable in, in their content areas, it really drew me into the classroom. And, and it was a place that I liked to be at a place I liked. I liked to come every day to learn.


Sam Demma (04:00):
Wow. That makes sense. And, and I think right now that’s a challenge that all educators are, are faced with. It’s tough to do it virtually. Now, maybe in PEI, you guys might be still working in the classrooms, but what are some of the current two things, challenges and opportunities during this time, because I think both are present and I would love to some insight on, on both sides of the coin.


Ryan Keliher (04:22):
Yeah. Well, PEI has, we’ve been very fortunate to kind of, of to keep COVID 19 the spread of it at bay here on the island. So we’ve been quite fortunate. But that, that being said the last two weeks actually my high school has moved to online learning leading up to leading up to the career break. So, you know, it has presented its challenges, but like you said, with, with those challenges come opportunities. I think with education, the biggest challenge, whether it’s virtual learning or in person learning is developing that connection and maintaining that connection with students. And then kind of like what I alluded to the, you know, the teachers that I admired most growing up, they made that connection first and then that made learning a lot easier. It made engagement a lot easier. It made buy a lot easier.


Ryan Keliher (05:10):
So I think that gets more difficult when you, when you move to the remote learning model. So it’s about keeping that at the front of mind as an educator, but how can I still maintain these connections with my students when I’m not seeing them day to day? So for me, it was, you know, little checking emails here and there creating some engaging videos to kind of start class you know, whether they were funny or fun or, or just a little different. And then, and then, you know, using that as kind of the springboard to the content of each lesson, but showing that you care and showing that, that, that you value their time you know, whether it’s in person or online, I think is the most challenging, but it, it kind of, I important opportunity in education and when it comes to opportunity, I’m a big believer that, you know, I think it’s Napoleon hill who says, you know, your biggest opportunity is where you are right now.


Ryan Keliher (06:07):
So, you know, as, as educators or as students, right, it’s important that we think about what we can do in the moment to kind of have actions that create positive reactions for our students. So whether, like I said, it’s a welcome video that puts a smile on somebody’s face, or whether it’s a really well laid out plan that is going to be challenging for students, but you’ve thought about what supports you can put in place. And at the end of it, they’re looking back and saying, you know, that was really tough, but I felt I was able to do it with, with supports in place. I feel like I’ve grown from it, you know, it’s, it’s how, how can those actions create those positive reactions?


Sam Demma (06:49):
And right now, maybe not yet in PI, but sports have been canceled as well postponed, or, you know, they practiced virtually through zoom all in their basements. You, I know you growing up were a big athlete. I played soccer, you played basketball, saw the Steve Nash picture on your page. I loved it. You dedicated the first part of your book to building character, and I would assume that sports helped you build your charact to a huge degree. Mm-Hmm how did sports have an impact on you and how are we, how can we continue to build young people’s character through this time?


Ryan Keliher (07:27):
Okay. Yeah. So with, with sports, I mean, sports played a huge part in my life. And as far as character development, like it, it played a really important role. And with, with my book, you’re right, the first quarter of the book is dedicated towards character development and then it progresses into have in my development and some opportunities for leadership. But as far as character development goes, I, I often share kind of my leadership story with, with my students. So I was a kid I grew up and I was playing hockey and, you know, I was pretty good hockey player, but I definitely wasn’t the best player on the ice. And, but it seemed every year I would get the opportunity to be the captain or the assistant captain on my hockey team. And I, and it just kind of became the norm. And I never really understood why I just kind of was that per, who would become the captain or the assistant captain.


Ryan Keliher (08:21):
And then I went to junior high and I started to play basketball and the same thing would happen. I’d be thrown in the captain role of the team. And then I went to high school and the same thing would continue. And then in high school, I was named the valedictorian of my high school class. And again, I would always kind of wonder in the back of my mind, I’m like, why am I always thrown in this role? Because, you know, I don’t feel like I do anything exceptionally special as a, as a leader, but people always seem to put me in this role for some reason. And it, and it never really, even, it never really clicked until I went to university and I played university basketball. And so I was 17 leaving high school, going to my first year university. And by Christmas time I was named the captain of my university basketball team.


Ryan Keliher (09:14):
And we had players who were 25, 24, 23 years old on it. And I’m thinking, how, how come I am the captain of my team? And it finally, that’s kind of when the light bulb went off and all it was was that my personal bar, as far as character went over time, whether it was through instilling values fr from my parents was high. And I, I cared a lot about being a good teammate. I’m a big believer that, you know, the only thing better you can have than good teammates is being a good teammate. Hmm. Think better. You can have than good friends is being a good friend. I think that really helped me pursue a opportunities in life. It opened up a ton of doors and it allowed me to lead by example a lot. And like I said, there was nothing ever special about it, but I was always willing to do my best. I was always willing to set the bar high and is always willing to cheer and help others along and over time. I guess people notice. So, you know, when you’re thrown into these opportunities through sports, it there’s the skill development, but there’s the character development that occurs that is equally important. And as you grow older and you may divert away from sports that character develop, it becomes even more important than maybe the skill development, you know, ever, ever was.


Sam Demma (10:41):
And without sports present at certain times, especially right now, how can we ensure that we’re still helping young people build their character? Is it by giving them unique opportunities or pushing their boundaries? Yeah. I’m curious. What, what do you think?


Ryan Keliher (10:56):
Yeah, I, I think it’s about giving them opportunities for growth. Like for me, school, you know, is always about growth, more than grades. And sometimes students don’t see it that way. And, and, and sometimes educators don’t see it that way. Cuz we do have that responsibility to kind of assess curricular content. But when I think of my 14 years and the most important conversations I’ve ever had with students, very few of them were curricular content related. And the most important ones that stick out were always character related or, or opportunity related or, you know, goal related and the more teachers, you know, and, and, and educators think of their students in front of them. As, as people who are gonna go and do great things in a variety of fields I think you, you can be a little bit more per perceptive about developing that character education in the classroom while still, you know, making sure the content of your course is, is, is covered and, and covered to a high degree. You know, I’m not trying to discount the importance of curricular content, but it’s, it’s everyday success principles, you know, are not explicitly taught in class, but the opportunities develop to develop the, those principles are abundance. So teachers have to be aware of that and you know, are able to kind of pull those threads when the opportunities present themselves for students.


Sam Demma (12:20):
I love that. And I’m curious now, too, as well, you mentioned Napoleon hill, you have your own book, the superstar curriculum. What prompted you to write that? Was there a moment in education where you thought this is needed for, for young people? It was in a personal challenge. You set for yourself, where did that come from?


Ryan Keliher (12:38):
It, it happened when I was finishing my masters of business. My so when I finished my MBA, I was kind of in writing mode cause I just finished my thesis and I was doing a lot of journaling at the time. And I noticed a lot of my journaling had to do with these important convers that I’ve had with students over the pro the over the last decade. And a theme kind of started to emerge on how a lot of these conversations had to do with character. And they had to do with leaders, personal leadership, and they had to do with seizing opportunities and they had to do with developing strong habits of mind and thought, you know what? I’m a big non-fiction reader. And in my opinion, there, there weren’t a ton of non-fiction self-awareness books out there for, for young adults.


Ryan Keliher (13:27):
So I thought, well, maybe I’ll go and create one. And so I, so I did create the superstar curriculum and the idea behind superstar is that what, what I’ve come to learn over the years is that, you know, the biggest superstars in our lives, although, you know, we often think of the major celebrities or sports stars or movie stars. But when we think about the biggest superstars in our own lives, they’re the people who are much closer are to us, they’re our parents or our coaches or our teachers or our friends. And the, the reality is, is, is if, if that’s the case, then if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you might be the superstar in somebody else’s life. Hmm. So it’s just about the profound power we have to, I packed others on a daily basis and it happens at, at the ground level. And it does expand out to, to, you know, the stars that we’re talking about from Hollywood to sports. They’re tremendous inspirations, but the reality is the, the day to day inspirations that we have are all around us, including all right, ourselves.


Sam Demma (14:36):
Oh, love that. And where can people find that resource if they want to check it out? I think you offer an online version for free and then like a paperback version and a discount right now, where can they find all that information?


Ryan Keliher (14:47):
Yeah. If they wanna check out ryankeliher.com it has kind of all the information there, the book’s available on Amazon, but if, you know, if a school or, or an educator was looking to a bulk order, I would recommend contacting me cuz I can probably get you a better rate than what, what Amazon could provide. So yeah, so ryankeliher.com and you could check me out there or on Instagram @superstarcurriculum.


Sam Demma (15:13):
Cool. And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Ryan, when he just started teaching, what pieces of advice, knowing what you know now would you have given yourself?


Ryan Keliher (15:26):
I think for me, I, what I always try and keep in mind is, so my grandma, there was a teacher and I remember vividly that a conversation we had. So she was 87 at the time. And she said, you know, Ryan, now that you’re a teacher and your job is to teach. It’s really important that you also remember that your prime married job is to learn. Hmm. And that always stuck with me. And I think moving forward for, for anybody who’s going into education is to keep that kind of front of mind because COVID changed everything, new practices are going to change everything technology’s going to change everything. So the, the way kids interact is constantly changing. So educators have to be willing to learn and adapt year over year, whether they’re, you know, you’re just adding little tweaks to your practice or there’s something fundamental that has to, you know, involve you making a major shift in your practice, the importance of teachers having that willingness to learn is paramount.


Sam Demma (16:37):
I love that. And one bonus question, just for fun. What, what books are you reading right now? Is there anything that’s been interesting you or you’ve been cracking open?


Ryan Keliher (16:48):
Yeah, actually I just I’m into the hate you give right now. And I I’ve, I’ve just kind of started it, but it’s been tremendous thus far and I’m looking forward to reading it. I don’t read a ton of fiction. So it’s, it’s a good opportunity over the holidays to kind of break into that. And I’m, I’m more of a non-fiction reader for sure.


Sam Demma (17:08):
Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for taking some time to come out on the show. I really appreciate it and, and have an amazing holiday season with family and friends. And I look forward to keep continuing to follow your journey.


Ryan Keliher (17:20):
Great. It was great talking to you. It was nice to meet you and I’ll be following your journey as well. Happy holidays.


Sam Demma (17:26):
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. If you wanna 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 Ryan Keliher

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 Eduful – Teacher, Basketball Coach, Youth Minister and Mental Health Advocate

Jason Eduful - Teacher, Basketball Coach, Youth Minister and Mental Health Advocate
About Jason Eduful

Jason (@__MrE) is an educator, basketball coach, youth minister and advocate for mental health.  His goal is to bridge the gap between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. 

He is also the youngest guest that we’ve had on this podcast! 

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School Website

Equity Studies at York University

Coach Carter Movie

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, his name is Jason Eduful. He goes by Mr. Eduful for his students. He is an educator, a basketball coach, a minister, and an advocate for mental health and his goal is to bridge the gap between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. Jason is one of the youngest educators.


Sam Demma (01:06):
I’ve had the chance to bring on the show and you can tell by our very energetic conversation. He’s super excited about the work that he’s doing. Although there are challenges, he’s seeing them as opportunities because he knows like Malcolm X said without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed it. See you on the other side. Jason, thank you so much for coming onto the High Performing Educators podcast. You play the perfect role visually. I know no one can really see you right now, but you got those beautiful glasses on and can you please tell the audience who you are, why you got into teaching and the work that you do with young people today?


Jason Eduful (01:46):
Yeah, no problem. First of all, thank you so much for having me, Sam. I’ve heard so many great things about you, had an opportunity to listen to some of your work and it truly is inspiring. So keep doing what you’re doing. My name is Jason Eduful. I’ve been teaching for about, this will be year number eight. I currently teach at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in the Peel region. You know, I really started with studying equity and racial studies at York University. That was like my passion and then I took that and kind of switched gears a little bit and started studying philosophy and theology. And so that’s really what I’m teaching now. I’m teaching theology at the grade 12 level, for the most part, they kind of throw me everywhere other than math and science, ’cause we don’t get along, but usually anywhere else , I’m usually free to go. Married for a year and a half now a year and a bit.


Jason Eduful (02:43):
So yeah. She’s also a teacher normally grade five, but due to the whole pandemic situation, she’s online kind of teaching kindergarten. Nice. but yeah, I’m usually I’m a coach, I’m a mentor. I guess I’m a best friend at some point but , but normally that’s what I do. I usually love working with kids just mainly because you know, I, I just remember being a high school student. And I remember really that lead up into high school. I hated school so much. And I hated it mainly because I felt like nobody number one could relate to me. I grew up kind of Weston and Lawrence ish back in the day. It wasn’t the nicest neighborhood I’ll leave it at that. But we had a lot of outreach in the community specifically Weston park, Baptist church and front lines with a special woman, who’s kind of like my mentor still Bonnie Parsons.


Jason Eduful (03:41):
Mm. She kind of took us under her wing and made sure that we were, you know, not only getting that educational side of things, learning how to become men in a really rough neighborhood, but also kind of connecting that spirituality to it. Hmm. And so I still partner with front lines when I can, but for the most part you, yeah, that’s really where I started things. And then grade 10, I believe, I wanna say I started or something piqued my interest in school, you know? My grade 10 teacher, Diana Espanza, who also is ironically my vice principal right now. , she I don’t remember what the assignment was. I’m not gonna lie to you sound, but I remember the response, like the response was huge. I, I handed in an assignment and she tore it apart.


Jason Eduful (04:31):
Like just, if I could say like red ink on a paper, there was no white spots. Like just ripped it up and gave it back to me and said, this is not acceptable. Like, this is not who you are. It’s not a reflection of what you’re capable of. And it was the first time that somebody ever really said that to me. So in my mind, you know, you’re in grade tenure. You’re like, okay, lady, whatever. Like , I’m with the next, let’s gone with this. But she, she just kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. She kept pushing me. I, I, and it was the first time I resubmitted an assignment. Like I wasn’t like an, a put less student, but I was a pretty solid kid. Like you don’t talk to me, I’ll do the work. We’re good. And so when she ripped that apart and she gave me the opportunity to redo it, and then we connected again.


Jason Eduful (05:11):
And from that time I remember ironically, I had her every other year till I graduated. And so I was kind of stuck with it. There was no getting around it, but she really, she really inspired people and challenged them to really think about, not only like you could have your own opinion, but she was gonna challenge that opinion. And you had to make sure that you were able to back it up, you know? It’s funny, cuz my cousin Reggie sent me a video yesterday two days ago and it was about either, it was a youth you video just about something saying who’s your worst or your best teacher. And it was, it was hilarious because most of it was all like negative things, but like the passion that these people had for the teachers that they hated like full names, like Jason Eduful, grade six.


Jason Eduful (06:00):
And I’m thinking, I think that we forget as teachers, how powerful of an impact that we can have on kids either positively or negatively. Mm you know what I mean? So that’s kinda a little bit above my background where I jumped into it. And then from there obviously she inspired me to really become a leader in the community because it was more like one learning can be fun. Mm. Right. and number two, if you really put enough time into any student and in all like now times like people are like, well, how much time can we really put in versus press for time? But if you just take that time to build those connections, you can literally inspire anybody. And so that’s what really got me jumping into why I wanted to become a teacher and why I’m still doing it now.


Sam Demma (06:47):
So you’re telling me, your teacher gave you nightmares about red pens. So you touched, you touched on something really cool. You mentioned the fact that she gave you a second chance to resubmit the assignment. How do we give students that feeling? Like, what did you feel like when she gave you a second chance? If you could go back to grade 10, Jason or grade six, Jason, I can’t remember which one it was. What was going through your, on your mind when she gave you that second chance and how can we give kids today that similar, similar feeling?


Jason Eduful (07:25):
Grade 10, Jason would probably immediately be like, what is wrong with this woman? Like, you’re not my mom, like, get outta here. We don’t need any, this, I was very confrontational. And now in the, that I’m in now after obviously years of mentoring people and doing things like that and coaching, you can tell when somebody standoffish, there’s a reason, you know? And so I think from the teacher perspective, giving kids an opportunity to resubmit, isn’t gonna kill you. You know what I mean? I know we’re crunched for time, but if our goal is to make these students and these pupils into better human beings, right. Especially I’m in a Catholic school. So we kind of have our own little virtues that we’re kind of going off of. So we want them to be it’s called Catholic graduate expectations. So what do we want them to look like when they graduate?


Jason Eduful (08:14):
If we can focus on those and just put the curriculum to the side for a second, if we can focus on the making kids better people, we’re doing way better of a job than just, Hey, you deserve a 90 on this paper. Hey, you deserve a 50 on this paper. But from the student perspective, I remember thinking, number one, why won’t you leave me alone? Like I don’t get a number two. Wow. Like once, once it kicked in and it didn’t kick until grade 11, I won’t even lie to you. Mm. But grade 11, when I had her again, I was like, oh my God, here we go again. This lady is gonna rip everything up. And then just gimme a, like, she would write paragraphs of like, you should improve in this. Why don’t you think about this? Why don’t you? And I’m like that now, unfortunately, but for my students that have me my bad, you know, where it comes from now.


Jason Eduful (08:59):
But as the student, I think it wasn’t until grade 11, like I said, but in grade 11, I really thought, man, she actually wants us to succeed. Like, it’s not about like, here’s the mark that you got. Thanks for doing the assignment. It was really, yeah. You did this assignment, but dig deeper. Like why, why did you, why do you think I made you do this? You know what I mean? Why do you think I made you redo this so many times because you’re just hitting the crust, like jump in there. And so yeah, like I think we should all give second chance again. Second chances. Isn’t gonna kill anybody, man. I know we make it a big thing, but it’s we can do it every day.


Sam Demma (09:37):
Yeah. It’s so true. I’m curious to know, you mentioned that now that’s your teaching style which is, which is awesome. Is there, is there a story that comes to mind and you can change the student’s name for the sake of privacy, but I want a story where you believed in a kid where they didn’t believe even themselves and you know, you push them past the threshold and maybe they even broke down and told you how big of an impact it had on them. I feel like a story like that told right now from a place of vulnerability, but also to remind another educator that the work we do is so important, cuz it can transform a student’s life and their whole future can really re spark and reignite a passion in another educator. Do you have any of those stories that come to mind when I ask you that question?


Jason Eduful (10:22):
Yeah, I got a couple I’ll just use my cousin’s name that way. It’s not keep privacy there. So Reggie graduated. Oh man. How many years ago now? Maybe three and a half. Three and a bit years ago. Mm. And at that time I was teaching at a different school in Brampton. Reggie was how would I describe Reggie? Reggie was a ball of energy that couldn’t sit still only cared about girls. Like that was, that was Reggie’s by like the only thing that mattered to him was girls. Didn’t really care about school was on the basketball team, not the best point guard out there but you know, you tried, you tried. And so I, I started this kind of mentor, mentor mentor relationship with the student. And Reggie really started to open up and really talk about, you know, his upbringing, his life.


Jason Eduful (11:25):
And I remember one of the assignments that I got Reggie to do at the time. I don’t know if you’re a DC Marvel kind of guy, but at the time arrow was like number one on every list. And so he had to do a CPT and I, I, I, he handed it his CPT and it was, it was, it was done. do that. It was done but just didn’t meet any of the expectations, you know? And so as opposed to me just ripping it apart I, I said to him, I’m like, listen, and, and again, we talk about like building those relationships with students, getting to know the learner. Right. All that’s very important because every day he would come in, we’d have a conversation, honestly, about the episode of the, like that week, that Wednesday we would talk about it.


Jason Eduful (12:15):
And I had said to him, why don’t you just rewrite the ending? He said, he didn’t like this season finale rewrite the ending. The curriculum is so huge, right? When we’re thinking about curriculum documents and what we have to accomplish in the semester and blah, blah, blah, you can tweak it to be whatever you want it to be. Essentially, as a teacher, a teacher knows that. So why not get him to do something that he’s interested in? Right. get him to reevaluate what he’s doing, still hit the major learning goals, overall specific, whatever. And then go from there. And so I got him to do it. He killed that script. It was amazing. And then the second half of that was with all the personal, what that was going on, he needed like a big brother. And I didn’t realize that I was doing that for him at the time.


Jason Eduful (13:00):
Cuz you know, guys, guys come in, you talk whatever. When, when you know, everybody’s out of the doors is a different type of conversation. Right. And so coaching him, teaching him really got us, I guess, a lot closer than I even thought. And so he was sharing things with me and we were building and we were teaching like, what is the correct as a man? You know what I mean? What’s the proper response that you should be having in certain situations. And so I told you that he was a a point guard. I didn’t tell you he was good, but he was a point guard and I remember we were up in a very important semifinal gay and I called him and I was like, yo, Reggie, you’re going in? And he’s like, what? like, the game is close.


Jason Eduful (13:44):
What do you mean? And so, you know, he did shoot like, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t, there wasn’t that much faith, but I was like drop on the blade, kick it to the corner, our shooters shoot, you know? And I remember him doing exactly what I said, do it to the corner, hit a shot rimed in and out. And then he got the rebound and I was not expecting that at all. Hit the got the basket, got an N one missed the free throw. So we lost, but he came me at this a coach, you have no idea how much that meant to me, blah, blah, blah. And I was just like, we lost is the only thing that through mind, I like, yeah, we lost, what are you talking about? But anyways, fast forward, three years later he came to visit me at the school that I’m at now.


Jason Eduful (14:34):
And we just had great conversation about life, man. And I didn’t realize in the moment I was just being me, you know? And I didn’t realize how much I impacted him. So now he’s in university, he’s studying to become a teacher. I don’t think he’s gonna be as a crazy mark as I am, but he is definitely loving his experience and he credits me for most of it. And I just say like, honestly, all the glory to God, cause like I didn’t even in that moment, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just being me. You know what I mean? So that’s one story. I’ve had tons, but I won’t kill you with them. But that was one, one story of Reggie,


Sam Demma (15:11):
Reggie, the point card, Reggie,


Jason Eduful (15:14):
The point card that cost to speak.


Sam Demma (15:17):
That’s amazing. You mentioned, you know, you transitioned from teaching to mentoring, you know, you have a different conversation when it’s one student in the classroom, teachers that are listening, educators that are listening. Could you give them any advice on what the difference is? Like if you had to explain what the difference is between teaching and mentoring, a young person, you do a lot of, you know, sports, coaching, mentoring, young people and teaching, mentoring and teaching are a little different. What’s the difference? And how can a teacher also be a mentor to some of their students who need it most?


Jason Eduful (15:48):
Yeah. I think the biggest one is, is confidential and, and privacy. I think that’s one of the biggest ones. Obviously as a teacher, you have certain obligations that you have to fulfill, right? So if you hear something or you’re alerted to something, then you have out that obligation to report if you’re mentoring somebody, you still have that same obligation, but your scope needs to be widen a little bit. Right. And so when you’re thinking about, because mentoring can vary, right. It doesn’t have to always be something negative. Right. and so when we’re thinking about mentoring, especially mentorship, every coach, if you’re coaching properly, you’re a mentor mm-hmm right. And I think people forget that. So like I, even on the basic level, like I mentor, I, I always call them my sons. Like I have 15 sons a year, not this year, cuz we don’t have any season, but I have literally 15 sons every year.


Jason Eduful (16:38):
And what mentoring looks like to me and how I do it is 6:00 AM. We’re in the gym, right. We’re teaching them not only time management, but how to be productive. Right. We’re teach them how to do everything else. Are you in uniform? We go to a I’m at a uniform school. So like upholding yourself etiquette. Right? Respect. You can’t respect yourself. If you’re not dressing properly, you can’t respect administration if you’re not following rules. Right. So again, making sure that each of them are in uniform moving on to like they’re not allowed to cuz they know all it’s not gonna fly, but you’re not allowed to skip class. Mm-Hmm you’re not allowed to get caught cheating on a test. Not that anybody cheats on tests or anything like that. and again, then we have study hall like before we actually have practice, we have a study hall and that’s usually because the gyms used and we’re waiting, but still we have a study hall and myself being an educator, I should be able to, I’m not saying if you’re an educator, you should know every single subject for the most part.


Jason Eduful (17:39):
I know most of them, so there should be no kid. And if I don’t know anything, I know colleagues that do you know? And that’s when you start calling in favors, mm-hmm, my mentorship. Doesn’t just stop at, you know, the 30 people, unfortunately that are in my class. You know what I mean? That goes beyond that. So anytime there’s a situation, whether they’re in trouble with administration, whether they’re in trouble with their teacher, I try to make it a point that their teacher should contact me. Right. Mm-hmm I wanna know what’s going on with my boys. And I want make sure that they’re in the best position to not get I at of whatever situation, but the best outcome could that could possibly be obviously displayed is the one that we’re gonna choose. So yeah, there is a difference between teaching and mentoring, but I feel like every coach and every teacher should know that at very most they’re a role model. And if you’re a role model, whether you like it or not, unfortunately we sign up for this gig and that’s what it is. You are quote unquote, a mentor, right? In any way, shape or form. So, but again, coaching any, any coach out there will tell you the same thing. Like you, you can’t coach and not be a mentor like it doesn’t that’s just


Sam Demma (18:42):
Go and just go watch coach Carter and you get it. Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:50):
Coach Eduful I love it. That’s awesome. And you know, right now is a time that’s very difficult, very different. If you signed up for teaching and this was your first year, you would be thinking, wow, what is going on? This is so different. While some educators that are listening are in that boat. And so you being someone who’s been in the assistant teaching for, you know, over seven years, eight years now, you said, what advice could you give that person who’s just starting and maybe has a weird perspective on what this job looks like?


Jason Eduful (19:22):
The first thing I would say is it, it, it gets better. this is not the norm. This is not the norm. I know everybody’s calling this the new norm, but this is about the norm. It’s really hard for me right now, just because of my personality and the way that I teach. Right. So when I really started teaching my philosophy, everybody has to make like a philosophy of as a philosophy of education. And that philosophy as of education, for me, was bridging at between marginalized youth and extraordinary education. And so for how I did that was being a relational based teacher. Right. And so what that looks like on paper is, you know, starting to getting to know your kids, right? Whether it is their needs specific, right. And every kid has needs, man, whether it’s an IEP, whatever, like everybody has, you needs what are their skills?


Jason Eduful (20:13):
What are their interests? What are their likes? What are their dislikes? And then I would say once you have that, understand that, man, I know we preach this all the time of this thing called like backwards design, right? Where it’s like find what’s the most important or start from your end goal and work backwards. We really need to jump back to that. But in that we really need to talk about rationale. And I think that for me is the most important, especially if you’re a new teacher coming in, or even if you’re a teacher that’s been in here, why do they need to know this? I’m so sick of kids graduating and be like, sir, I learned nothing. Like I went to university and like, this was like, why am I starting from scratch? You know what I mean? And I get that, that’s true, but we should be teaching.


Jason Eduful (20:55):
‘Em Critical thinking. We should be teaching them things that they can use in the future. You know, like kids shouldn’t be coming back now they’re buying ready to buy a home and they have no idea what a mortgage is. Hmm. You know what I mean? And so certain and things like that in terms of life skills, life lessons, we should be teaching them straight from the jump. You know? Another thing that I really, really love doing and anybody that knows me will tell you, this is I’m, I’m an advocate for experiential learning. Mm. And so that’s literally just like a, a process of learning that really involves you kind of getting in like getting in their, your hands on. And it always has to come with a rationale. And so again, why are we learning this? So in, in ethics or philosophy or great 12 religion, we learn about ethics and morality.


Jason Eduful (21:39):
Okay. Why do I need to know about ethics and morality? Because we live in a society, right? Yeah. You might have your own principles, your own moral compass, but what does society deem to correct. Based on the job that you’re in. Right. And we have those type of conversations. It’s difficult, especially in COVID obviously, cause I’m the type of teacher. I don’t know. Maybe you have a teacher like this, that would you remember? I would just, I usually sit at my desk, like on my desk. I have like the concepts on the board. And then we have conversations. We have just have a, like a big discussion. Yeah. And as kids are talking and as I’m facilitating that dis discussion, I might bring up, okay, well, that’s a key word that we need to learn and that’s on the board, let’s copy this down.


Jason Eduful (22:16):
And then we fill and we learn like that. And so obviously on a computer I might be a little bit difficult. Right. I I’m just thinking of like Dr. Christopher Edmond, who I, who I’m a big fan of. And he talks about, he’s really like a stem advocate who speaks on issues of race and culture, but mainly known, he’s known for his like hiphop education where he takes hiphop and rap and he makes it, and he interviews it with, you know, science, technology, engineering, and math. I really love the backbone of that. Like get back to the roots of things that kids wanted to you, if you know what your kid wants to do and you know how your kid can thrive, you can have four or five different assignments in your classroom. Yeah. We’re so stuck and rigid on this. Well, this is my rubric, so how am I supposed to, well, yeah, your rubric is made to be changed.


Jason Eduful (23:02):
You typed it at one point. So we type it , you know what I mean? But yeah, like I, I would honestly tell that first year, if it, if it is a first year teacher, I’d be like, man, it, it gets better. It definitely gets better. This is different. It is challenging. But again, we just have to find ways to get around these barriers. And we’re like, we, every teacher’s had that day where they’ve gone up to the front of the class, had no lesson plan and just swing it. Like you guys, you know, we, we know how to do this. So it’s just about adapting, you know? Yeah.


Sam Demma (23:31):
Jason, you’ve had a smile on your face, this whole interview. and I wanna know what gives you hope personally and what motivates you personally to show up to work despite the challenges optimistic, enthusiastic, and ready to serve.


Jason Eduful (23:44):
Right. I gotta say faith. Faith is number one. My faith keeps me grounded. My faith keeps me going. I know that I’m doing some sort of vocation, at least I believe so. And, and I’m hoping that that transfers are manifests to the kids and they know that I’m not here just to get a paycheck, but I I’m here to see each and every one of them succeed. I think that’s number one, student success is a huge motivator. Hopefully one day a championship for a school would be a great motivator, but yeah, no, just seeing the kids just be themselves and grow. And, you know, I’ve had kids from grade nine and I’ve had the pleasure of being at this school long enough to be, and see them in grade 12. And it’s like, when they see me, like we, they still remember the handshake that we had in grade nine. You know what I mean? They still remember the nickname that I gave them. You know, I like, I don’t even remember these things and just to keep them grow and just become men and women and mature. That’s one thing that gives me hope because I know that something’s working so things changing, you know what I mean? But again, that all jumps back to faith. The thing that keeps me grounded and motivated. So I think that’s one of the biggest factors that gives me hope.


Sam Demma (24:20):
That’s awesome. I love that so much. And, you know, especially during a time, like COVID when we have so many challenges, faith is a huge thing that keeps you grounded. I, some, some of the challenges you already mentioned with COVID were teaching online. Were there any other challenges you’ve currently been faced with and have you had any unique ideas to overcome any of them that you think might be helpful to other educators?


Jason Eduful (25:20):
I think again, the biggest one for me, challenges would like not being able to just interact with the kids on a, on a more personal level. Yeah. Like some kids don’t want it to run the cameras and that’s totally cool. And I don’t push anybody to do anything like that, but just in general, like that face to face interaction, like we crave that we miss that for a lot of people that what builds them up. That’s what keeps them going. Some of the things that I’ve tried to do, especially since we shut down in March and then kind of reopened now I’ve really tried to start doing assignments and tasks that have everything to do with allowing students to really dig deep and critically think in terms of how to overcome whatever it is. Right. So I’ve literally, I’m done with tests for now.


Jason Eduful (26:08):
I don’t do any tests, all assignments like, Hey, there’s no exam anymore. So your CPT is another assignment I’ve changed and revamped all my stuff. So that it’s really not only engaging for them but relevant. And I think that’s the most important thing. If it can’t be relevant, if it’s, I usually ask myself, if I wouldn’t do the, is I’m not gonna make them do it. Hmm. Right. It might be better because I’m a little bit inclusive to age. I kind know what they like, you know what I mean? Like that might be a factor, but if I’m not feeling this, if I’m not vibing with it, then I’m not going to give it out to my students. Right. and so I think, especially on a time where, you know, they, half of them don’t want to be on the screen.


Jason Eduful (26:48):
Half of them don’t want to be, they rather be playing video games. They’d rather be with their friends. They can’t do that. Mental health is a really big factor right now that I think a lot of us are forgetting to acknowledge. So why give them stuff that you wouldn’t even want to do? Mm. You know what I mean? So I, I, I would go back to rationale, why are we giving this to them? Right. I think people forget that we’re honestly living through history right now. like and we can accomplish so much more if we just take the time to slow down and give out relevant assignments, relevant topics, relevant lessons. And I think that will help people in terms of what we’re struggling with, you know, and gotten some of the mistakes that we’re seeing.


Sam Demma (27:32):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. Jason, I could talk to you for an hour, man. This has been an amazing conversation and will definitely do a part two part three. If any educator right now is listening into this, maybe from another province or country and thinks this guy has some cool ideas. This guy’s unique, this guy’s out the box. I wanna talk to him and just bounce some ideas around, how can another educator reach out and have that conversation?


Jason Eduful (27:56):
Yeah, for sure. I would say thank you please, please do reach out. they can find me on Twitter @__MrE. Also, if you wanna shoot me an email Jason.Eduful@dpcdsb.org. Cool. Those are my two main platforms.


Sam Demma (28:16):
Yeah. Awesome. Jason, I’ll be staying in touch and this has been phenomenal. So thank you so much for taking the time to chat.


Jason Eduful (28:23):
Thank you so much Sam. Have a good one.


Sam Demma (28:26):
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. If you wanna 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 Eduful

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.

Ren Lukoni – Teacher and student leadership advisor at L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School

Ren Lukoni - Teacher and student leadership advisor at L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School
About Ren Lukoni

Ren Lukoni (@RenLukoni13) has been a teacher in Nipawin, Sk. for 24 hours – just jokes – 24 years. She is also the student leadership advisor at L.P Miller Comprehensive High school.

During that time she has written two leadership courses, two local pottery courses, and has been involved in student leadership not only in her school and community but also through provincial and national organizations. 

Hosting and attending student leadership conferences has been a highlight of her career, as has the relationships she has formed through those conferences and leadership networks. Ren is a firm believer in “being the change” and is also very aware that people usually hear her before they see her.

Connect with Ren: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School Website

Kahoot

Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference

Virtual Bingo

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 a new friend of mine. Her name is Ren Lukoni. She has been a teacher in Nipawin, Saskatchewan for 24 years. During that time, she has written two leadership courses, two local pottery courses, and has been involved in student leadership, not only in her school and community, but also through provincial and national organizations. Hosting and attending student leadership conferences has been the highlight of her career as has the relationships she has formed through those conferences and leadership networks.


Sam Demma (01:13):
A lot of her friends are actually other guests on this podcast. Ren is a firm believer in being the change and is also very aware that people usually hear her before they see her. This is a very powerful conversation and I hope you enjoy it. Ren has so much passion and advice and insight to share. Make sure you have a pen and a sheet of paper ready for this interview. I hope you enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Ren, thank you so much for coming on of the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge honor and pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the listener, why you got into education and why you do the work that you’re doing today?


Ren Lukoni (01:55):
All right. Well, thank you so much, Sam, for having me on, I I’m really honored to be in the esteemed ranks as Mark England, as I saw before, and some of the others that that you’ve had on your podcast. I think what you’re doing is great. Basically my parents, both of them are educators. So it just kind of came in the, the bloodlines and I never really thought of doing anything else. Well, I did think of being a veterinarian until I realized you don’t get to play with animals all day long so that got me into education. My parents are both educator and like I said, I’ve been doing it now 24 years.


Sam Demma (02:28):
Wow. And despite the fact that your parents were educators, I know you still had to make the personal decision that you wanted to get in teaching. At what moment in time did you know I’m gonna be a teacher and dive down that path?


Ren Lukoni (02:43):
I think it just, I, I always, I guess what solidified it for me was my internship. Okay. I’m just being with the students, you know, being hands on you know, you get your four years of education you know, through lecturing, but it’s the hands on being in the classroom, that energy, that vibe that’s what solidified it for me. And I knew that that was, that was my jam.


Sam Demma (03:03):
Awesome. And you’ve been doing it now for 24 years. I would call you a veteran things, things have definitely shifted changed. You’ve had different challenges over the years. What keeps you going though? Why this work even it’s tough and challenging. Why is this the work that you think is so important to keep doing?


Ren Lukoni (03:23):
Because it’s rewarding to work with students. It’s, it’s, it’s a reward. It’s a, you, you learn from them every day. They’re inspiring. You know, lots of these students come from backgrounds and, and things that, that we have no idea what they’re, what they’re going through. And so just to, to be, be part of their day and try to brighten their day and, and make it be a you know, make school, be a place that they want to be, that they want to learn that they wanna be part of. And that’s been really tough in COVID because everyone’s been so, you know, separated and so kind of isolated. Right. Literally. So you know, that that’s, that’s been tough, but being back in has been so good on so many levels.


Sam Demma (04:06):
No, that’s awesome. And mm-hmm, speaking of, you know, seeing students change and transform and being able to impact them no matter what part of the journey they’re on right now, over the past 24 years, I’m sure you’ve had lots of students reach out. Or you’ve seen students, who’ve had huge transformations and they thank you, or they write you notes. And I’ve been talking to mark and other teachers, and they tell me that some of them have a rainy days file where they basically pull out notes that people have read them, or students wrote them, sorry to brighten their spirits. And I’m curious to know if any of those stories you’d like to share if any of them come to mind. And the reason I’m asking is because if another educator is burnt out on the edge right now, forgetting why they got into this work, a story of transformation could be something that reminds them, why, what they’re doing is so important. And if it’s a very serious story or a big transformation, that’s great. But you can change the name for privacy reasons if it’s, if it’s really serious.


Ren Lukoni (05:03):
No, it’s just there’s been a couple of things I’ve had like, like I, I said in my classroom, I keep up reminders of kind of legacy pieces from students. I mean, I keep in touch with a lot of them through social media, although not till after they graduate. That is one thing that I’ve been, been really tough on. And actually, it’s kind of funny because as I tell them, okay, once you graduate, then, you know, you can, you know, look me up on social media and I’ll have some of them at their grad parties at the stroke of 1201, send me, you know, the friend invite or whatever. And I’m just like, oh yeah, like that, that kind of, that’s a feel good thing. Right? Yeah. You know, and it’s been interesting, like I’m at the point now where I’m even, and starting to teach some of those students some of the kids of my students.


Ren Lukoni (05:46):
Nice. and so that’s, you know, a real con you know, a real feel good thing, but kind of a, a realization of, of, you know, it’s kind of cyclical, right. I actually, one of the biggest transformations that had actually, it was last year, I was actually away on medical leave. I, both my knees replaced at the same time. And, and the I was honored enough to have one of my former students who just freshly got outta university, be the one who covered my leave. And so that was really inspiring for me too. It, it has been tough with COVID it’s that connections, right? It’s the connections that are key with the students, you know, when they’re in the classroom, when they leave the classroom, I think a lot of educators would agree that our jobs are to teach ’em in the classroom, but the important ones are outside the classroom.


Ren Lukoni (06:35):
It’s what sets them up for life after, you know, high school and, and the real life situations. And I think that’s what really actually made me gravitate towards student leadership. Right. Is those, those, those impactful experiences, those life lessons. And, and I think that, you know that’s been part of key of why I’ve, I’ve kept doing things is just to keep that those life lessons going, they keep you on your toes, they keep you AF fresh. Right. and then that’s why I, I enjoy doing those kind of things, but it has been challenging in COVID that’s for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:09):
And when did you get involved in student leadership? Was this something that when you started teaching, you got involved with right away or were you introduced to it? How did that introduction to student leadership happen?


Ren Lukoni (07:20):
Well, I was I was actually involved in student leadership when I was a student myself. And I looked back in my notes when I became a teacher and I got to go to a conference in Chicago, Illinois, and one of my favorite speakers there was Mr. Mark, she Brock. Nice. and so I actually still have like, and it was a typed copy of a handout. You know, that was kind of what got me hook, line and sinker. And then I thought, you know what, I enjoyed that myself as a student. So I want to continue that in, in my role as an educator you know, getting involved in student council I actually was one of the first ones in the province to write a leadership course for credit. Nice. So that really got me inspired.


Ren Lukoni (08:03):
You know, I got involved with hosting our school here. We’re a, we’re a town, literally a town of 5,000 people, one traffic light. nice. And we hosted the, the Saskatchewan student leadership conference. We’ve hosted it three times. Nice. so at, you know, having a thousand people come to our school, come to our community and, you know, be part of it. And, and another thing too is, and I, I tell this to my leadership friends my, my C slickers people who are missing really, really greatly during this COVID experience, because we usually get to see each other at CS slick in, in some time each year. But like I said, it’s just getting involved in that and getting to know those people and having that, that network of, of people who are like you and who want to do the same and want to, to be better and, and make things better.


Sam Demma (08:55):
I love that. That’s such a great story. And it’s funny, you mentioned Mark Sharon Brock because I called him last month to talk about speaking and what advice he would give a young person, the nice bike principle. He was telling me all about his own journey. And I’m sure that had a huge impact on you. You alluded to a little earlier the challenges that you’re being faced with right now, and what do they look like? I know they’re different for each teacher and each school in each location, but what are the current barriers you’ve been facing? And maybe you can share a little bit of how you’ve overcome some of them and some of them that you’re still working on?


Ren Lukoni (09:29):
I mean, it’s an ever evolving process. And I think that’s part of it just kind of wrapping your head around it. it, it’s, it’s been a challenge, I think for me, and I don’t know what other educators feel like, but it’s the constant cleaning. Yeah. That part has kind of, you know, taken a bit of a, a hit on me. The challenges are just with people being in the classroom and then not being in the classroom. Or, you know, here, I feel we are providing a, a very safe environment you know, with the masks, with you know, sanitizing hand washing those kind of things, but it’s those connections doing so safely that at first was a barrier and now it’s, it’s been a good thing we’ve realized, you know, you can socially distanced and be safe.


Ren Lukoni (10:13):
I think it, that it’s part of the trust issues I think, is what has been the hardest overcome. Mm. And that we’re working, we’re working on it. And again, I mean, we’re just a town of 5,000. Like, you know, I, I tell my saying before I tell my, my friends, you know, N one’s really on, on the, the road to nowhere. Like, not that we’re at the end of the road, but you know, we’re not on a trans Canada. We’re our closest city of 40,000 people is an hour and a half away. So at first it was kind of interesting because , some people were joking with us like, oh, you know, Laconia, you always have an isolated life because you live in nip one, you know, you’re, you’re on the way to nowhere. And, and that was kind of the chuckle, but I mean, you know, COVID is proven to us that it, it can be in any community anywhere. And so it’s, it’s that establishment establishment of trust, you know, and, and hard during these COVID times to, to, to keep that going.


Sam Demma (11:06):
Yeah. No, it’s so true. And the relationship building is harder. I know you mentioned it earlier a little bit as well. Are you doing classes in, like in person or are they virtual? Is there of both, how’s that looking for your school?


Ren Lukoni (11:19):
It’s a mix of both for us here, our high school, well, our school, I should say it is a high school, but we’re grade seven to 12. We have about 425 students here. Nice. so with grade seven and eights they’re in the same kind of cohorts are same groupings, grades nine, about the same, they switch a little bit up for some of gonna apply to our classes. And then our grade 10, 11 twelves are division fours. We’re running a block timetable mm-hmm which I’m sure lots, others are doing two, two hour classes running quarters and then one, one hour class for a whole semester. So that’s what it’s looking like for us. It, it, you know, we’ve had to make some tweaks, some adjustments. I also happen to teach art and, and pottery. So having a two hour class of that has been really good.


Ren Lukoni (12:02):
We get a lot more creativity and, and things like that done. And I am looking forward to, I have my leadership class next quarter. So I’m really excited to do that, but then there’s gonna be challenges with that too, because, you know, we want to do things to help people and be out in the community. And it’s, it’s finding those ways to be, to, to do that still and be safe and show that we care and build those relationships and and, and just kind of get out there, but doing so in a safe way.


Sam Demma (12:26):
Yeah. No, it’s so true. And things are definitely difficult, but not impossible. And so I’m curious to know what things are working in the school right now, in terms of maybe some ideas that the school has tried to engage the students, or maybe that you’ve tried on zoom or in your classroom, any ideas come to mind that you think are worth sharing?


Ren Lukoni (12:46):
Oh, yeah, for sure. So we are running, I didn’t answer that in the previous question, but we are running like fully face to face. Okay. cool. So we do have some students that have elected to go online when people have to self isolate or self-monitor, I mean, they’ve been in touch, you know, we, we, we go online for that. So we’ve been able to do some things in our school you know, running Kahoots doing some virtual bingos have been great. And I talking to some other colleagues just this morning, actually in their saying, okay, what can we do to get that spirit up? You know, you can do your spirit days and, and people can do those individual things today as plaid day mad for plaid day. So, I mean, lots of people were dressed up unintentionally even, which was great.


Ren Lukoni (13:28):
Nice. but that’s been a challenge too, just because of the, the numbers. Right. you know, we’re still lucky enough we’re running our extracurricular programs and then live streaming them. So that’s been kind of a connection you know, to our sports. We’ve had modified sporting seasons. But like I said, our student council’s meeting our humanitarian group is meeting. They actually did they was their idea. They came up with post-it notes on lockers, just to old people that they care and to kinda give ’em a boost for the start of a second quarter. Nice. So that’s good, but you know, you do what you can and you, like I said, you have to kind of make it a place where people wanna be worth doing school clothing right now, which is also, you know, help kind of boost morale. But like I said, you know, other than that, you’re always kind of looking for something, okay, what can I do reach out? Or, you know, it’s tough to, we think of our school as like a hub for a community. And yet the only ones that are allowed in are really the staff and the students. So that’s been a real barrier as well.


Sam Demma (14:26):
Yeah. That makes sense. No, it’s true. I love the ideas of Kahoot. I love the virtual bingo. those are all, those are all great. And no one can see it right now cuz they’re listening, but you you’re in an art room with beautiful paintings all over the walls and on the roof. And you know, what, what got you interested in art? I know we didn’t talk too much about that. We talked about your journey into education, but why is an art teacher? How did that start for you?


Ren Lukoni (14:52):
Well, believe it or not. At the time our current art teacher, it was over Christmas and he was roofing and actually fell off the roof and broke his arms. Oh my gosh. And then I came in. Yeah. So it was kinda trial by fire. At that point I was just kind of a newbie. I was, I was teaching arts educat, which is music, dance, drama and art. Yeah. So the principal at the time said, Hey, you know, can you fill in? And, and that’s just how I got my start in, in doing art. Kind of took some, took some workshops and, and had help of another teacher. And I also was teaching Potter kind of self taught, took some lessons on that. You know, and just kind of went that route. And, and it’s interesting because I actually started all my educational career as an elementary teacher grades four or five.


Ren Lukoni (15:40):
And actually what, what brought me to this area? This is actually my, my dad’s hometown. But it was my, my grandmother who saw an ad in the nip one journal. And she actually sent me the clipping mail, but when I went to apply for it I heard from the division office. Oh yes. We’ve heard your grandmother. She called and I was like, really? And they’re like, oh yeah. And it went along the lines of likely my granddaughter need job and and you know, so that’s what brought me here. You know, I was lucky enough to have many years with my, with my grandmother here in Nipon my dad’s hometown. So there’s a bit of that kind of legacy. And I think that that’s a, a, a key point that we need to, you know, maybe go back to, or you know, when things kind of get tough or when, you know, things kind of seem impossible or like we’re dealing with COVID it’s, it’s, it’s those reminders of the leg see of what you did in the past, but then also how you can move forward.


Sam Demma (16:36):
I love it. and I could relate to the grandparents story. I never had my grandma or grandfather call, but they’re very, they’re very, they’re very outspoken as well. That’s how I’ll say it. And that’s a great story to end with because you showed that despite you didn’t know the role and the requirements and the skills involved, you kept a growth mindset and you were, you pushed yourself to learn the skills by taking extra classes and by jumping into the fire and with COVID, it’s a very similar scenario, although it’s not art class, it’s just new reality that we don’t know much about. And we have to put on that growth mindset and try and figure things out as we go. if you could give your younger self advice in education, like if you could go back to the first year you started teaching, but have all the wisdom you have now, what would you tell yourself that you think would be really valuable to hear.


Ren Lukoni (17:28):
Take the small risks, take the safe risks cuz those, the ones that you either learn from or they pay off the most mm-hmm I, I really believe strongly in like, you know, smart risk taking I would say like just, just put yourself out there and, and always want to lifelong improve. Mm. You know, there’s always things you can learn and be open to those things. You know, if you would’ve asked me then would I be a high school teacher teaching art, pottery leadership and art Zeta? Absolutely not, but that’s just the way it went and, and you just have to kind of roll with the punches and go with what’s what’s thrown at you and, and just find to persevere. I think that’s a big I think that’s a, a big area that we all need to, to, well, we have been persevering, but especially with students, it’s just to, to persevere, to stick with it you know, try to make it fun.


Ren Lukoni (18:21):
Yeah. Obviously you know, that first year teaching is is a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun as well. That’s a tough one to go back and tell myself because you know, you reflect back on, on your career and, and you look back at how things have changed or how things are evolving, especially now with COVID. You know, and I think that’s also advice that you need to give is just be, be ready to evolve. You know, take, take those experiences, take those risks and, and, you know, do it for the better and to stay positive. You know, it’s easy to say it it’s hard, it’s harder to do, but it it’s that it’s that positive outlook, that positive mindset, that growth mindset, like you said that we need to, to, to really emphasize right now.


Ren Lukoni (19:09):
And, and for me, it’s the people. Yeah. People are, are, people are what and the relationships are what keep me going, keep me inspired. You know, and, and I, I wouldn’t be the person I, I am today without those, those, those impacts and, and you know, the Nicole hairs of the world, the mark E Englands of the world, Dawn, we here in Saskatchewan the, the two twisted, I call ’em twisted sisters, even though they’re not Sandra and dot out of Alberta, like I’ve had so many you know, really I’ve been so fortunate to have the crew of people that have been around me to, to you know, support me and, and help me grow. And like I said, I could go on for hours on the list of people. I mean, we got a crew from our cease, like the PI crew, the new fees you know, our own Saskatchewan crew, our SACA crew, like I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many quality people and quality leaders. And I think that that’s a good piece of advice is, is, you know, be around a good people. Hmm. Surround yourself with a good people and learn from them.


Sam Demma (20:13):
I’ll tell Nicole, you say, hi, she’s in Qatar as I’m sure. You know I interviewed her literally two days ago. And her you’ll be coming out just, just before yours. So maybe too can connect about it.
Ren Lukoni (20:26):
Yes, no, I, like I said, I miss Nicole and like I said, she has been a leader by example, let me tell you.


Sam Demma (20:33):
Nice, awesome, Ren, thank you so much for making some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. This was a great conversation and keep up all the great work.


Ren Lukoni (20:40):
Well, thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate all you’re doing and, and truly thank you. I’ve really appreciated it.


Sam Demma (20:47):
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. If you wanna 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 to you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ren Lukoni

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.

Michael Booth – Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses

Michael Booth - Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses
About Michael Booth

Michael Booth is the Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses. Previously, he taught undergraduate courses at Northwestern University, Loyola University and Indiana University while pursuing a Ph.D. in Film Studies. Michael has a B.A. from McGill University and an M.A. from New York University.

Connect with Michael: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Blyth Academy Website

Principles by Ray Dalio

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Michael Booth. He is the Principal of the Blyth Academy, Yorkville and Orbit campuses. He has previously taught undergraduate courses at Northwestern University, Loyola University and Indiana University while pursuing his PhD in film studies. Michael has a BA from McGill University and an MA from New York University.


Sam Demma (01:06):
I had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of Blyth campuses over the past few years, and Michael’s energy really reflects the professionalism that all of the Blyth students and campuses have and contain and pass on to all of their students. I hope you enjoy this episode. I’ll see you on the other side. Michael, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself with the audience and explain why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Michael Booth (01:36):
I am the the Principal of Blyth Academy’s downtown Toronto campus. I started with Blyth Academy. We are a, a small boutique private high school in Southern Ontario with campuses across the province from, I think we have 10 campuses now stretching as far east, as London and west as Ottawa. I started with the school 11 years ago now when I was returning to Toronto with my family after the first half of my career was mostly in, in academia, in the states and I was doing my graduate work there. And we were coming back to Toronto. I was looking to come back to secondary education and they were opening a new campus at that time in Mississauga and asked if I would be interested in running that, which I did for eight years. And a couple of years ago go, move to the Toronto location, and this summer I’m also the principal of a new campus we’ve begun, which exists in the virtual hemisphere. Nice. Which is in following the model of what all of our bricks and mortar campuses did in the wake of the lockdown in March running classes face to face with teachers and students through the zoom platform on an entirely, but the, these classes are exclusively virtual for its students.


Sam Demma (03:17):
That’s awesome. And it’s slightly different than maybe what teaching was like last year in the past 11 for you. What has been working in your two locations, virtual and in person with your students right now, and what problems or challenges have you been faced with that you guys have slightly overcome or are still dealing with that someone listening might find valuable?


Michael Booth (03:38):
Well, we’ve been very fortunate at Blythe because I think that more than most, any other school in the province our existing, physical model the gap between that model and what we, we are doing virtually is I think smaller at our school than most any other. And the reasons for that is that we have always had very small class sizes. So in the physical campuses, our class sizes have always been capped at 16 students. The average class size is eight students in the virtual world. We cap them at 12 and they still average about eight. We also have what used to be a, a fairly unique academic calendar where most high schools in the province are either semester with two semesters of a full course load being four courses per student, per semester, after or full year with students taking all their courses from September, until June at the same time, we’ve always been on a quarter system which is in fact what most of the public schools in the province have now turned to.


Michael Booth (04:57):
And the quarter system means that a full course of students is two courses per what the public schools are calling quadmesters. We call them terms. So from September, until mid-November, you might take geography and math, and then you’ve completed those courses, and then you move on to science and history and, and so on. And so that that mix of two courses at a time plus small class sizes plus our school is everything we do and, and our entire structure is dedicated towards very rigorous, comprehensive communication between ourselves students and students, parents, and guardians. Mm. And so in the wake of, of COVID in, we, we were notified, I think, right before March break by the Tuesday after March break, we had resumed classes on the same schedule, same timetable, and didn’t miss a day for the rest of the, the year.


Michael Booth (06:13):
And we simply maybe not, but more simple for us. We were able to effectively mirror what we do in the physical campus, through the zoom platform, so that those are when students are only doing two classes a day, the duration of the classes is longer. So we have two hour and 15 minute time blocks for each class per day. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that students just, as in the physical campus, it’s a very rare, you virtually never would walk around our classrooms and see teach every teacher classroom after classroom standing at the front of the room and, and in a more of a lecture mode trying to pitch it down the middle and hoping that more advanced students aren’t bored and weaker students are following. We have two hour and 15 minutes with an average of eight students in the class to engage in different styles of teaching different styles of assessment.


Michael Booth (07:20):
A lot of one-on-one conferencing, a lot of group work. Our teachers float around the room and students have opportunities to engage in different learning activities in the same class. On the same day, we can do that through the zoom platform as well. So it’s not necessarily the case that our student are listening to a teacher drone on, as I am for two hours on end. They might have a half hour 45 minutes of more traditional classroom conversation, discussion, PowerPoint presentation, have a small break rejoin, and then they might be assigned independent work that they might in breakout rooms on zoom. They might do off camera and then come back. They might have conferences scheduled with the teachers in that second hour to do one on one work. And so our model is really equipped us well to, to carry on in, in that format, the physical school we have resumed physical classes in September and because of our class sizes we’ve been able to maintain social distancing and cohorting of 15 or fewer students.


Michael Booth (08:34):
So no student is exposed to more than 15 other students at any given time of the year. And if a student is unable to come to the school because of an illness in their household, or a situation of immunocompromised or something like that, there is a virtual option coupled with the physical option, always available mm-hmm . So teachers have cameras in their classrooms and you’ll see if a student’s not able to be there. The student will be projected onto a a screen through zoom and be able to interact with their classmates and the teacher.


Sam Demma (09:10):
That’s cool. That’s how awesome game plan. And I think you’re existing model sets you up and life up really well to adapt and evolve with the current situation. What has, what have the students really enjoyed about the changes? Have they given the school or teacher any feedback on what they’re liking and disliking or what they wanna see more of and less of?


Michael Booth (09:34):
Yeah, I think, I mean, I was, I was actually really impressed and we, because we are, we’re a small school community, very, very inclusive, very diverse, very supportive. We all last year, we already had, you know, a very strong community that proved quite resilient. And our approach was able to cater to students that were struggling to adapt to a virtual classroom. And they supported each other for some students they actually really, I mean, they like the fact that they don’t have a commute for some student into, might be struggling with anxiety for them, some of them, the virtual format has actually helped alleviate that. I think, but I, I don’t know that the students have really in the virtual school their are students that don’t live within commuting distance to our physical campuses.


Michael Booth (10:41):
And so we have students from Alberta, we have international students that, that appreciate being able to join our schools without being physically there. They appreciate that we’ve been able to maintain continuity. So where many students in the last half year have, have effectively lost quite a bit of their access to teachers and curriculum. So we’ve, we’ve really this year, for example, our grade 11 math class is struggling because many of the students did not gain the fifth foundations they needed in grade 10 math. So we’ve been kind of triple timing it to help those students through their grade 11 course. But the students that have been with our school ha have not had that struggle because they didn’t have that interruption. We still have the same flexibility and of time tabling. So students have as much course selection and of course, flexibility and adaptability through the year that they’ve always had with us, whereas in many schools, because of the, the challenges that they’re facing the timetables are pretty set and they’re not changing and they’re not adapting.


Michael Booth (11:59):
And and very often they don’t even know exactly what it’s going to be in the next quad master, much less the third or fourth quad master. I think that the challenges that we faced are, are again, they’re, they’re not dissimilar from what we face in the physical school, it’s just, they’re taking on digital forms. So for example, students being shy about or, or, or lazy about, or not wanting to turn their cameras on. And we, as with everything, we, we approach that with empathy and support, we reach out to the student and their families to try and have discussions about what’s happening. If it’s a case of something appreciable like, like anxiety or their, an internet connection, isn’t speedy, we’ll make arrangements where that, you know, that’s okay. But as, as the, as the weeks progress and the year progresses, we, we approach that not unlike we might, we would approach attendance.


Michael Booth (13:06):
So if a student is struggling to make it to class on time or to come to class that’s, that’s enters into the conversation that the school has with the student and their, and their parents or guardians. And unlike, I, I, I know again in the, I, I’m not meaning to I fully appreciate the challenges that, that some of the public schools and the province are facing. And I, I really admire the work they’ve done, but they simply don’t have the capacity to help students and, or require students to have their cameras on. So they’ve got, you know, 25 students in a class and all of their cameras are off. And we, that’s not the case with us. We, we might have one student that we’ve made an arrangement with, but otherwise their cameras are on, they’re engaged and we’re having daily lessons with all of the interactions that we normally would.


Sam Demma (13:57):
Nah, that’s fantastic. And I know your campus has a lot of athletes as well, and extra quicks are a big part. How are you navigating these students who were super involved in other areas, aside from academics, not being able to do those things anymore, is there some way to deal with that and manage with that that’s been successful?


Michael Booth (14:15):
I, Yeah, that’s the, the athletics part is, is more challenging. Where, where one of our strengths lies is with the four terms and three periods a day of which students take two they can manipulate the schedule so that if they’re doing athletics outside of the school, so we have competitive figure skaters, hockey players, soccer players track athletes who have been able to maintain their, their practice schedules. There’s not a lot of games going on, even outside the school. So that’s a nice option with, with our clubs and physical education classes. We, we ran PHY ed in the fourth turn in the spring last year. And it was actually a great course to run because it, it helped us to motivate the students to get outta their bedrooms, which I think initially, I mean, it’s still a problem, but it’s initially it was a serious problem.


Michael Booth (15:16):
And we were doing yoga classes online and we were doing fitness classes, or we were asking them to design their own health programs, but varsity soccer is not really happening. Unfortunately mm-hmm, with other extracurriculars and clubs, because we’re trying to maintain the cohorts of students on Wednesdays. We run a shortened academic day and then we have two periods in the afternoons dedicated to extracurriculars and clubs. So our student council is up and running. We have a math club, we have a model UN club. We have, I think about eight different clubs going and extracurriculars going on for a total student population of 150 students. And so weekly, they’re getting to do that, meet other students in the school. And and that’s how we’ve been able to


Sam Demma (16:10):
Do that. That’s awesome. No, it’s fantastic. There’s so many different challenges, but it seems like you guys have been very successful at managing it and pivoting and finding what works and sticking with it. I think a huge key was the empathy piece that you mentioned in meeting kids where they’re at and understanding their situation before trying to coach them through anything. And I’m curious to know when you were a young person, not that you’re old , but when you were younger and you were in school did you have an educator in your life that made a huge impact on you and what did that person do? That made a big difference. And how did that, like, how did that lead you into education? Was there a defining moment where you decided I want to be a teacher?


Michael Booth (16:53):
Yeah, I think grade seven. I was I was fortunate to go to a, an independent school in Toronto where not unlike many of my friends, my dad was in, in, on base street and banking. And I, I thought until grade seven that I would just do whatever it was he did when he put his suit on to go to work in the morning. But I had an English teacher who was that teacher that, that that touched a lot of us and made me even more excited about the humanities than, than I had been in the past. And really after that, it didn’t occur to me to do much of anything but teaching. And that was really twofold. One was, I always liked working with, with kids. I was a camp counselor but it was also the academic side of it.


Michael Booth (17:46):
So that was, you know, my first job was actually working at the high school. I went to I was working in the boarding house and I was and actually my high school teacher that really inspired me had to take a leap of absence for the second half of the year. So when I was in my second year out of undergrad, I took his, his courses. And that was that, that kind of sealed the deal. And then I wanted to pursue graduate work. But the thing I loved about the graduate work most was the teaching and the thing I didn’t like as much as it was not as conducive to raising a family and yeah, and, and engaging students as much as I wanted to focus on. So that, that was what prompted me to come back to Toronto and, and, and work with life.


Sam Demma (18:38):
That’s awesome. That’s a cool story. And was it just a push that he gave you that inspired you? Was it, what, what made him an impactful teacher? Because the educators listening who are thinking, how can I be more effective with my students? And I can tell you, I had a grade 12 world issues teacher named Mike loud foot who changed my life. And the thing for me with him was his passion. He really cared about what he taught, what he taught. And when he talked about it, you just wanted to listen because he was excited. And I I’m curious, what was it like, what was the qualities of your teacher that made it different from every other class?


Michael Booth (19:14):
In the, in the case of the grade seven teacher, that’s when we started talking about themes in the novels, we were reading of the story and that I’d never done that. And so it brought my level of engagement with the material and my level of thinking beyond what I knew existed. Mm. And then he, he taught like, instead of in, for the poetry unit, instead of only doing 19th century romantic poets, we studied pink, Floyd’s the wall. And we did, I, I think it, I think it was a three or four week unit on that. and so that made me realize that studying wasn’t just out of the textbook and it wasn’t remembering dates and so forth. Mm-Hmm . So in, in my, the case, my high school teacher he, he taught a course that was of his own design that he, that called modernism and I, I, and about modern the modernist movements in art and literature and and the arts in general and, and philosophy.


Michael Booth (20:20):
And I didn’t know that existed either when, when I was in grade that was grade 13. And like a lot of my teachers in high school, I, I would sit in class and I wanted to be as smart as they were. I wanted to be able to cite thinkers and I wanted to be able to interpret the world. I wanted to be able to give commentary and analysis at levels that I couldn’t at the time. Hmm. So that’s a little, that’s a little passe these days. I think, I think a lot of times when people, you know, the current pedagogical trends are more towards experiential learning and student driven learning, and finding ways to, to engage the students almost as if it’s your job to, to, to tap into what they are interested in. Mm. Whereas in my day it was more the case that you’d kind, it was, the teacher would stand there and just be so illuminating that you would be inspired.


Michael Booth (21:32):
And I, I think I, I, I think a mix of both is, is worthwhile. And I, I, I sometimes worry that we put we certainly do it Blyth and, and we put a lot of emphasis on making sure are that we are engaging, the students interests as they exist before they enter the classroom. And my feeling is there’s actually nothing wrong with challenging them to move outside of their, their the interests that they bring in to recognize connections between those interests and what the teacher may be talking about that day. Mm. And, and there’s nothing wrong with challenging them to exceed what their immediate knowledge is of. And I, I, I think particularly in the age of social media where their interests, their desires, their curiosities are being satisfied by the second. And it’s whatever they, they within themselves think to tap into quite literally they don’t have as much experience with feeling uncomfortable or challenged.


Michael Booth (22:47):
And so I fear that if we don’t, build those skills in them, that the world is a much harsher and crueler place to enter as an adult for them than it was for me in my generation. And I fear that when confronted with the challenges of having to meet the expectations of someone other than themselves, that they won’t have much practice in doing that. And so we’re constantly trying to find that balance with us and, and, you know, like with the black screens, like we start with empathy, we start with accommodations, but ultimately the goal is to work on resiliency and that may involve consequences. And we don’t lay them down at the outset. As a matter of course, we work with each student with each family to find what the, the line is. Yeah. But ultimately we’re working to wean them off of the accommodations and the need for degrees of empathy that they might need at the start.


Sam Demma (23:50):
That’s so true. And Ray Dalio, hedge fund manager wrote a book called principles, and he talks about problems and he says most often the bad outcome is just a root of a bigger issue. So having a screen is not actually the, the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem, which you have to uncover through conversations. So I think the approach that you guys take is a great one and it’s well thought out, and I think it can be applied to any problem a students facing. It’s probably not the real problem. Just a root, gotta dig a little bit deeper. That’s fascinating.


Michael Booth (24:25):
Yeah. One of my refrains to the teachers is 99.99, 9% of the time, whatever the behavior or posture a student is, is, is presenting is not what’s actually going on inside. So if it’s a boy that’s kind of fronting and pretending, or not pretend, but acting like he doesn’t care and he’s not interested and sometimes a little oppositional or what have you underlying that is actually some, probably some insecurity maybe you know, certain struggles in particular areas of processing or what have you mm-hmm . And so you always have to translate what’s in front of your face, into an understanding that you don’t actually know. And until you have a better sense of it, give the benefit of the doubt because otherwise they’ll shut down. Yeah. But then going back to my earlier point, ultimately, we’re going to work to get you to, to the place where we don’t have to do that translation, because we figured, figured out where, where the problem lies and what we can do about it.


Sam Demma (25:35):
Yeah. There’s a quote what people don’t or what kids or students don’t, what, what kids don’t speak out, they act out I think Josh ship was the speaker who said that once, and it really resonated with what you do is saying what you’ve learned so far on your educational journey. Maybe you, if you could, could you summarize your key learnings that if you could talk to your former self, when you just started, like what key learnings or pieces of advice would you give? Imagine there’s an educator listening. Who’s just starting teaching now, or is a little overwhelmed your experience over the past 11 years, what do you think are some key things to tell your younger self or a new educator?


Michael Booth (26:14):
Well, I think what we were just talking about is, is is probably the, the refrain that I, that I use the most and the, the way I can best explain it is there’s a great seminar that I’ve gone to a couple of times that my wife is a social worker. So she, she introduced me to this and it’s called walk of mile in my shoes. And it’s for parents of students with learning disabilities and what they do. They start the seminar by showing parents of student of children with, with learning disabilities, a problem on a, on a board and asking them to take five or 10 minutes to solve the problem. And, but the problem is pure gobbly go, and there is no solution. Yeah. And when the parents experience that, then the presenter says, so that’s what your child is going through 24/7.


Michael Booth (27:11):
Mm. And I’ve been to a couple, my wife has been to many and, and she says that she’s, and it happened when I was there. She’s never seen, been attended the seminar when one of the fall, others has not broken down in tears realizing that when he was brow eating his, his son or daughter, that they weren’t being lazy or resistant or whatever, just for the cuz they liked to do that. Cause they were having a struggle that was invisible to the parents. And I think it’s similar. We all fall into habits of, oh, they’re Johnny. So and so is struggling again and giving me a hard time because Johnny is lazy or unmotivated or what have you. And I’m not in the trenches in the classroom as much as I used to be. So I feel like it’s my job to remind teachers to try to walk a mile in their, their student shoes.


Michael Booth (28:07):
Mm that’s awesome. And, and then on the other token, I mean, it’s all about navigating these, these, these often conflicting or competing demands not necessarily only accommodating and this is parents and students. Yeah. We have the capacity at this school to be highly responsive to students struggling or trying to achieve a higher goal or what have you. And the, the immediate impulse is at times to, oh yeah, we can make that accommodation. So we will, and that’s fine at the start, but ultimately the end goal is always, how do we, how do we work ourselves off of needing that accommodation? Like if, if possible.


Sam Demma (28:57):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And a side note question before we wrap up today over your right shoulder, there’s a picture on the wall. It might it be Martin Luther king. I’m curious to know if this is your office or what that picture says.


Michael Booth (29:12):
No, that, that is my office. It’s it’s an album cover for a John QUT train jazz saxophone player.


Sam Demma (29:19):
Nice. yeah. Cool. Very cool.


Michael Booth (29:22):
Having a rough day. I’ll just turn around and look at that and it makes me feel a bit better.


Sam Demma (29:26):
Oh, I love it. Cool. That’s amazing. And if anyone wants to reach out, have a conversation, they think something you said was impactful or inspiring, what’s the best way for someone listening (an educator) to do so?


Michael Booth (29:39):
My email mbooth@blytheducation.com is, is great. And I can schedule zoom calls and, and phone calls and or email exchanges.


Sam Demma (29:48):
Awesome! Michael, thank you so much for taking some time today. I really appreciate it, it’s been really insightful. 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. If you wanna 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 Michael Booth

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.

Paola Di Fonzo – Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School

Paola Di Fonzo - Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School
About Paola Di Fonzo

Paola has over 10 years of work and volunteer experience in youth and adult faith formation in both the Catholic parish and Catholic school settings. Currently, she is the Chaplain at the All Saints Catholic Secondary School.

She recently finished her Masters in Theology at the University of Toronto.  

Connect with Paola: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

All Saints Catholic School website

BA in Christianity and Culture at the University of Toronto

Masters of Theological Studies at Regis College, University of Toronto

Meditation Basics

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend, Paola, Paola Di Fonzo is the chaplain at All Saints Secondary School. She just recently got her masters degree. So she’s still pursuing education, even while she’s teaching. She is a powerhouse. I had the opportunity to work with her last year with her entire school, doing keynotes for all four grades.


Sam Demma (01:06):
And this year I got to work with her again, to do a SHSM certification, a specialist high skills major with her with, with her students on public speaking, it went really, really well. It was awesome. This year she’s also responsible for OYAP, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Programs coordinating that and SHSM programs, so she has a lot in her hands. Here’s my good friend, Paola. Paola thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to see you again, virtually not in person this time. Can you share with the audience who you are, how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today and yeah, I think that’d be a great way to kick this off.


Paola Di Fonzo (01:46):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me, Sam. So my name is Paula Di Fonzo. I’m a chaplain out here on the east end with the Durham catholic school board and I’ve been here for about, I think it’s like two and a half years now. Before that I spent the last decade, the last 10 years, which sounds crazy, because I’m still such a baby. I’m still so young, but I started right after I graduated high school working in like churches, parish settings, and developing youth programs for young people. So I’ve been sort of doing this sort of faith formation work with young people for the last decade. And, and yeah, that’s, that’s what I do. And the reason really I got into this kind of work is because during those formative years for me, probably starting in grade five till well into high school, I had such a wonderful group of adults who took care of me and cared for me on that deeper level.


Paola Di Fonzo (02:43):
Like I played sports and I was in the musicals and I was on student council and I did that sort of stuff, but it was this one particular community that cared about me on a spiritual level that, that held me up throughout those major years where things get really tough and you’re changing so much and the world seems to evolve so quickly. And it was that group that really sustained me during that time. And, and the reason that I think that I’ve been successful and I don’t mean that in an academic or a career way, but just as a human being, it was that group that really held me up and all, all I wanted to do was do that for other people. Mm-Hmm and I didn’t know that at the time, I didn’t know that it was a career opportunity.


Paola Di Fonzo (03:26):
I always thought I, I get a job as a teacher. Not that that’s a, a bad job, but I thought I’ll do that and then on my evenings and weekends, I’ll work in this faith formation setting and I’ll work with young people and guide them in that way. And then as I grew up and started to branch out a network, I realized, oh, like I could get paid for this. This could be my livelihood. I would love that. So that’s what I did. I pursued it. I, you know, I studied Christianity and philosophy and my undergrad, I did my masters in this and, and here we are and I’m loving it. I’m really happy.


Sam Demma (03:58):
That’s awesome. I know you completed your masters recently, so congratulations again. Thank you. Going back to that group for a second, that really uplifted you through high school. What was it that they did for you that made a huge impact because whether you realize it or not, you kind of describe the current state of the world being that it’s changing and evolving and have a constant support, or I guess someone looking over your shoulder could have a huge impact. So I’m curious to know if you could boil down, you know, from that group, you know, what did they do that just made such a massive impact for you as a young person?


Paola Di Fonzo (04:33):
That’s a great question. And it’s hard to really reduce it to one thing, but the word that immediately came to mind for me was relationship. They, we built real relationship. It wasn’t, you know, you come and you listen to this message and you go home. It was a family so much so that you couldn’t wait until Friday night came along because you knew you were spending your weekend with these people. And it felt like a home you felt like that need for belonging was truly fulfilled them getting to know you getting to know like the deepest parts of you and still like loving you and caring for you through that is transformative. And, and I can only hope to replicate that in the roles that I’m in, but it’s really grounded in that relationship building. I think that’s what it was for me. If I could reduce it to one thing that was the major part.


Sam Demma (05:20):
That was awesome. And the way they, I guess, built those relationships was just asking questions. And like you said, getting to know you on a deeper level and you know, during COVID, that’s a huge challenge. I know usually you you’re in an office and the student walks right in and has a conversation with you. The state of the, the world in education right now is totally different. And I’m just curious to know, as you take in that big breath, what are, what are some of the challenges that have been presented? And I’m sure they’re very similar to everyone who’s listening. So you’re not alone here. I’m just curious to know what it looks like in your world.


Paola Di Fonzo (05:55):
Yeah. Like it’s exactly what you just said. I mean, as I was preparing some thoughts for our conversation today, I kept going back to that. The biggest challenge for me and my role right now is how limited we are in building relationship, real, authentic connection. Isn’t really happening virtually. Like that’s the one thing that I haven’t been able to translate to the virtual platform. I, I can’t have, you know, like the students would come in before and after school on lunches, we’d just hang like, it’s not, yeah. They certainly came in to, you know, seek guidance and some counseling and, you know, to pray together, we did that, but for sure, we’re the beauty lies more so than in any other.


Paola Di Fonzo (06:39):
I think interaction is like those casual Hangouts where we’re just chilling. Like we’re just being real with each other. We’re being human with each other and we get to know each other in that real way and that’s just not happening. And I, I haven’t been able to translate that again to the virtual platform just yet. So that’s been, that’s been a challenge that it’s something that I miss terribly. That’s something that without it makes my job really hard, really, really hard because there’s no relationship of trust being built and relationship of vulnerability being built. So how do we, how do we journey together in the faith without those things, right? How do we journey together as human beings, without connection and trust and vulnerability that can really only be established with human connection. Like we need to be around people and that’s been the hardest part I feel. Hmm.


Sam Demma (07:29):
Yeah. The reason I ask is because there’s a lot of educators listening who might have some great ideas and if they do at the end, we’ll share your email address for you. Two can connect, having been power in conversations and just bounce different ideas around on the other end of a challenge is I would say hope and overcoming it, which is obviously a great feeling during these difficult times. What sustains your personal hope? What keeps you hopeful? Although there’s lots of challenges and, and turbulent times right now.


Paola Di Fonzo (08:03):
Yeah. I, as difficult as it’s been, and as exhausted as I feel, I don’t feel like I’ve lost hope. Hmm. And that’s a major blessing. I’m so happy for that because as soon as you lose hope, like you’re in trouble, right. Things can get really, really dreadful. But for me, I’ve, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get back to basics mm-hmm and what I mean by that is like reflect. So we can’t my role as chaplain, right? So some of the big things I would coordinate in our school are, are large scale school masses. That’s not happening. Our grade retreats not happening. Anyway, we gather for liturgy together not happening. So I have had to really reinvent the wheel here and ask myself, all right, what are the basic human needs that I can cater to? Mm-Hmm what can I do to really see, like going back to like the most primitive needs of human beings, right?


Paola Di Fonzo (08:57):
The need for rest, especially during this high emotion time, the need for community, the need for belonging. Like how can I cater to that? And just the opportunity to, to just strip away all the layers, you know, sometimes you can just build up so much around the base needs of a human being and we start to layer up just so it make it look like we’re doing something good or you know, it makes it look good to other people like, look how much I’m accomplishing all of that’s out the window. And we’re just, we’re down to the most basic needs of our, of human beings of our students and stuff. And that’s sort of been exciting. It’s so terrifying, but so exciting to have the opportunity to do that because I think it’s a gift to have that opportunity. And it’s gonna change the game from here on out. It’s gonna change how we do things going forward. It’s given us an opportunity to stop retreat, reflect and kind of come back stronger. And that’s, what’s giving me hope, knowing that we we’re learning a lot right now, we’re gonna learn a lot about ourselves, our communities, and how to do things better. And that’s exciting. That’s


Sam Demma (10:01):
Exciting. Yeah. That’s what you just explained is how I’ve even felt during this time, because I made the rash decision before even watching the social develop. I meant to take a year off social media and it’s been over a month and a half now. And that to me was the whole like, Hey, look what I’m doing. And Hey, let’s, you know, keep in touch and Hey, check out my life and there’s positives and negatives to social media. But, but you’re totally right in terms of, you know, the state of education right now, it’s, it’s going back to those basic needs. How are you reinforcing those things? Are you make, are you just ensuring students are getting enough rest by encouraging them to or what does that look like for you as a, as a teacher and an educator?


Paola Di Fonzo (10:44):
Yeah. So in a very PR I, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my time. At least in the first few months of transitioning back to school, it it’s looks very different. It’s not transitioning back to what we know school to be. It’s, it’s a totally different world, but I knew that I didn’t wanna do anything that would just be for the sake of doing them. Like I don’t operate like that. Right. nothing showy and nothing, you know, I just wanted to make sure I was caring for the person at the most basic level. And so what it’s and I’ll explain maybe one of the, the things we’re are trying to do around here, but I’ve developed something called tee time and meditation on the field. Mm-Hmm so classes sign up one class at a time and I do two slots a day in the morning.


Paola Di Fonzo (11:28):
And because they’re only here for a couple hours in the morning, right. Our students, and we go outside and we sit on the field, they’re six feet apart. So it’s a mask break. And I have, I have cookies with, for them. And we chill under the sun and we do some breathing exercises, some meditation, some stretching, and like, that’s it. And like, that’s just upping our self care game. And that’s really the, the extent of my connection with the students. But by the end of that hour together, they are just so relaxed. Some of them are asleep, which is like, I give them that permission. I’m like, I’m not gonna get offended, listen to your body. And mind here, allow yourself to just rest. And that has been so great, so fruitful, but we’re getting back to, to the basics, right. They just need time to check in with some deeper parts of them that maybe they don’t have the opportunity to, or even know how to, without some guidance. So those tee times have been a gift for, for me, for sure. And I hope for the students and staff and we’ve been doing that pretty much every day since mid-September, it’s


Sam Demma (12:30):
Been good. You must feel like a monk by now two hours a,


Paola Di Fonzo (12:33):
Well, that’s what someone says to me. They’re like, wow, you get to meditate for two hours every morning. And I’m like, you know what? I’m not really meditating. Like I’m guiding them in it. So I’m so like, okay, what’s next? And I’m in my head. So I’m really not relaxed when I do it. But but I hope they are. That’s the whole point.


Sam Demma (12:49):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Is there any common questions that come up that you use as prompts to have them reflect during that stuff?


Paola Di Fonzo (12:57):
Great question. It the whole time is really just them listening to their bodies and their minds. So I say to them, I always give them this. Disclaimer. I say, no matter what I demonstrate up here, whether it’s a type of breathing exercise or it’s a stretch that we’re doing, or, you know, I encourage you to lie down for the meditate, no matter what I demonstrate or model at the front of the space, if your body or your mind is saying, I’m not into that today, I don’t really want to, or I don’t feel comfortable or it hurts, listen to your body and give yourself the freedom to adjust, modify, or sit that one out and, and give yourself what you need. And that’s really, the only prompt for the morning is I just want you to learn to listen to yourself. And that’s not just for that hour.


Paola Di Fonzo (13:38):
It’s hopefully a skill that you take with you for the rest of your life. Like, I’m learning that I’m getting to the end of my twenties now, but like spend a lot of time listening to so many other things. So many other voices, so many other opinions, so many other, you know, expectations and, you know, social media is a whole other thing, but we don’t listen to what we need sometimes. Right. And so that’s really what I, I ground the whole exercise in learn to listen to yourself. Do you need to practice this breathing? Probably like, we, we all need some deep breaths every so often, but give yourself what you need. And I think that’s, I think that’s the message that we need right now as we transition back to school and figure it all out. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:22):
So true. And sometimes an educator just needs a reminder that the work they’re doing is really important and it has a huge impact. It makes a huge difference. A lot of the educators that I’ve spoken to tell me that they have a file on their desk, they call it different name, but sometimes it’s called the bad day file. And it’s filled with all the notes that students sent them over the years or have written to them. And I’m curious to know, if you have a story of a student who has you have witnessed become, you know, become transformed into a, into a better version of themselves and maybe had a big breakthrough through school because of the work that you do and that your school does. And the reason I’m asking you to share is because another educator might be listening is a little burnt out, is forgetting why they got into education. and the impact you have, you can have in this, in this, in this work is tremendous. And you can change the student’s name if it’s a very personal story. But when I ask you that, is there any student or story that comes to mind?


Paola Di Fonzo (15:26):
There’s there’s names bouncing around in my head. But I’ll say this one thing about the work we do as chaplains and educators, and is we plant a lot of seeds. Mm. And sometimes we don’t get to see the fruit. Mm. Right. And so, like, I’m sure maybe some educators out there are like, I can’t even think of a name of a person who I’ve seen change because of my influence. And that can be so disheartening and you lose motivation, you lose hope. But something I was always told in this role was you just plant the seed. Right. And that might bloom in an hour, a day, five years three decades, who knows. Right. But it doesn’t mean that your impact wasn’t wasn’t relevant, wasn’t important. You plant the seeds and, and it’ll be watered, you know, and, and you might not see the fruits of it, but it doesn’t mean that you’re, that you’re any less effective as an educator, as a chaplain.


Paola Di Fonzo (16:30):
So that’s something I hold onto. Like, can you a specific example of students who, you know, their lives are transformed cuz of my influence? I don’t know. Like, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t even think that way sometimes. Like I don’t, I just hope that God’s doing something in their heart. Right. And I’m just here going, God loves you, you know? Right. In my role as chaplain, it’s very faith focused. So I just, I just plant that seed and I hope that it’s being watered down the road, but I love that. That’s that’s I think how I would respond to that.


Sam Demma (16:59):
Okay, cool. I love that. That’s a great, that’s a great way to look at it. And planting the seed is just as important as re you know, sewing the fruit. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. So I think that’s a brilliant way to look at it. Amazing. And if there’s an educator listening, who’s in their first year of teaching and they’re like, what the heck did I sign up for? This is very different than what I expected it to be. You know, what advice would you have for them? Think back to when you just got into teaching what advice do you wish you had someone tell you, or maybe they did tell you it and you think it’d be wise to share it with someone listening. Who’s also getting into this role,


Paola Di Fonzo (17:36):
Give it time, give it time. Like in the first I’m still so new at this. So I like, I feel kind of silly giving, sharing some wisdom, but if there was anything, like if there is anything I could have heard in the first few years of this kind of work, it’s, it’s gonna feel like a whirlwind of emotion and chaos in the beginning, and you’re gonna be so busy and tired and maybe unmotivated. Can you hear that? That’s okay. It’s okay. Oh, they’re even calling me. Perfect. So , we’ll wrap up here. Iming. No problem. No, it’s no, it’s not a big deal. I think it could be easy to quit the game because you’re so tired and you’re like, I don’t want this. I didn’t sign up for being this overworked and maybe feeling unmotivated because you’re not again, seeing those fruits from the seeds that you’re planting.


Paola Di Fonzo (18:35):
And it could be really easy to walk away, but over the years, as you, you know, you grow and you, you develop as a person. And as an educator and as a chaplain and whatever it is it gets easier and you start to maybe see those fruits and to just trust that you have gifts to offer, like we all do. Every single person on this planet is put here for a reason. And we have something to offer the world. It’s just discovering what that is. What are our gifts? What are our desires and how can we give that to the world? And we all, we all have that purpose. So that’s what I would say.


Sam Demma (19:09):
And if there’s, someone who wants to reach out and bounce ideas around or have a conversation, like I mentioned earlier, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch with you?


Paola Di Fonzo (19:18):
They can certainly reach out through my board email. Okay. So I don’t know if you wanna put that into the description or anything, but it’s paola.fraietta@dcdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (19:32):
All right. Perfect, Paola, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show here and chat. I really appreciate it.


Paola Di Fonzo (19:37):
Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure.


Sam Demma (19:39):
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. If you wanna 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 Paola Di Fonzo

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.

Julie Champagne – Co-Founder at the English Tutor and Teacher

Julie Champagne - Co-Founder at the English Tutor and Teacher
About Julie Champagne

Prior to settling in Toronto, Julie (@TheEngTutor1), an Ottawa native, studied at The University of Ottawa and Queen’s University. She is the Co-founder of the English Tutor as well as a teacher. In her ten years of teaching, Julie has taught everything (except math!) to a variety of age groups in a variety of locations including Kanata, Bradford West Yorkshire, and now at an independent school in midtown Toronto.

A proud Hufflepuff, Julie is an avid Harry Potter fan and has lost count of the number of times she’s read all seven books. Julie lives with her husband, young daughter, and dog named Pepper Potts. She eagerly shares her love of reading with her whole family. 

Connect with Melissa: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The English Tutor

Park Street Education

Blyth Academy school website

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Julie Champagne. Prior to her settling in Toronto, she was from Ottawa. She studied at the University of Ottawa and Queens university and in her 10 years of teaching, she has taught everything except for math to a variety of age groups in a variety of locations, including Kanata, Bradford West Yorkshire, and now in an independent school in Midtown, Toronto. Julie and I met when she taught at Blyth academy, which is the private school in Midtown Toronto.


Sam Demma (01:20):
And now because of COVID, she took an entrepreneurial path into teaching, virtually, students from all around the world. She has a company with her business partner, Sam, and they have an amazing venture called the English Tutor. It’s a really interesting idea. They are very energized about the work they’re doing and having a huge impact. She has a ton of wisdom and ideas to share, and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed recording it. I’ll see you on the other side. Julie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we worked together. I, I wanna say over a year and a half ago now, and it’s really cool to connect with you virtually again. Share with the audience a little bit about who you are and why you initially got into the work you do with young people today.


Julie Champagne (02:07):
Sure. Yeah. Thanks so much. And I I’m so excited to be here. You’re right. It was about a year and a half ago with my foundation’s kids. So I mean, obviously I’m a teacher. I I teach high school primarily and you know, when the world changed, we had to all adapt very, very quickly. So I, I have my own tutoring business now that I own with my co-founder Sam, it’s called the English tutor and we teach kids all over the world, guided reading. And then I also am a middle school teacher with another school called park street. And I guess, you know, why do I do what I do? I, I honestly, I don’t think I could do anything else. I absolutely love my job. There are people let’s say there are jobs and vocations, and I truly feel that teaching for me is a vocation.


Julie Champagne (02:57):
You know, the, the joy I get from planning lessons that really get kids, right. Get them engaged, get them excited about something, especially if they’ve never been excited about something before. I mean, that is such an amazing moment. It’s so wonderful to be there, to be there supporting and talking them through the challenges too. Right. I mean, I do it because the kid like the kids, I not to sound cliche, but the kids are amazing. Right. They’re they’re the future and what they’re doing and who they’re becoming. I love that I can play a small part in that with them.


Sam Demma (03:36):
Yeah, no, it’s so true. And for, for some clarification, I’m not the Sam that she started the English tutor with. If anyone’s wondering no, it’s, it is a different Sam. That being said, you mentioned, you know, getting into teaching, being a V a vocation, and I’m curious to know, at what point in your journey did you decide teaching I’m gonna be a teacher was there a defining moment, a person who pushed you in that direction or when did you know?


Julie Champagne (04:03):
I mean, I think, I think there’s probably a few different things. I don’t know that I necessarily believe in one sort of sign that led me, led me down the path. And I think I probably took a few wrong turns along the way. Yeah. Before I, before I landed you know, but I think one of the primary ones that comes to mind for me is, is my brother mm-hmm . So my brother has what’s called Asperger’s and that’s it’s high functioning autism essentially. And so we’re going back 20 years now. Right? He, he hasn’t been in the school system in, in 10, 15 years. And as a kid I’m older than him and, and as kid, I just watched the school system, let him down. They just didn’t know how to reach him, you know? And to me that meant that the box of education, the box that I had somehow managed to make work for me, you know, I fit that mold somehow some way it wasn’t working for somebody else in my family.


Julie Champagne (05:02):
So it must not be working for everybody. Yeah. And, and I just, I was determined, especially when I got on the path to teachers college and, and my sort of first view teaching posts, I was determined to be the teacher that took the chance. Mm. Right. The teacher that, that said, okay, this box, doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be a box. We can push this. We can push against the constraints that the education field is, is throwing at us. You know, I think we’ve all got one or two teachers in our history that we remember. And if we’re lucky, one of the, one of the ones we remember is because they, they made a difference. Right. They, they pushed us in a really fantastic way. My brother doesn’t have that, you know, like he doesn’t have a teacher like that. And, and I do, I’ve got a couple like that. I’ve got teachers that took the time. And so that’s how I approach my own teaching. And, and it’s certainly when I look back at, you know, how did I get into this? Those are, those are the reasons that come up for me, for sure.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. My teacher was Mike Lafa who changed my life, inspired me to go into the community and take his theory of small actions and put it to the test and totally change my life. And fact, I still stay in touch with him, him today. And he was a very principled man very alike, my own grandfather who taught me that if there’s a will, there’s a way. And you know, you are a perfect example of that. You were just telling me how as school was reopening. You made the decision, you know, I’m gonna fill a need here and make this work. And you were teaching at late hours. Can you share a little more about the English tutor and how it actually got formed and what it is today?


Julie Champagne (06:43):
Sure. Yeah. So my co-founder Sam when the school systems shut down all over the world, I mean, just absolutely wild. We started teaching these guided reading English courses to students in China. Mm. So we would be up at just ungodly hours, you know, five, six in the morning. And then again at eight o’clock or nine o’clock at night teaching these kids English and in a way it was, it was just so amazing and so wonderful to be doing this, but then we thought, how do we take this further? How do we really make this meaningful for the kids? So it’s not just a, it’s not just a bandaid for COVID, but legitimately something that they’re gonna get out of it. And we decided why not just read them books that are in their age level. Right. And, and not necessarily comprehension wise, you know, like they’re gonna struggle a little bit with a Royal doll text, but let’s break it down for them.


Julie Champagne (07:43):
Let’s create these beautiful resources that lead them through reading these books with us. Mm. You know, and so we’ve done all kinds. We’ve done Royal doll, we’ve done Charlotte’s web. Sam’s working her way through Harry Potter right now with her kids done nonfiction units and poetry units. I’m doing a nonfiction course at the moment with kids in Shanghai. Nice. so it’s been really, really incredible. And it’s been such an amazing thing for Sam and I to witness the equalizer that is a child. Mm. Right. All kids, it doesn’t matter. Culture, language, kids are kids. And, and they find the same things funny, and they they’re challenged by the same things. And so reaching a whole new set of kids has been super, super amazing and definitely a silver lining to COVID because it led us to form our, our business. And then when the school shut down here in, in Ontario, you know, we, we had, I think something like 200 hours worth of content worth of teaching content.


Julie Champagne (08:52):
And I happened to I happened to teach one of my grade 11 students. His mom is the CEO of the big brothers, big sisters organization in Toronto. Oh, cool. And so I reached out to her and I said, listen, like we have, we have all these teaching resources, we’ve got hours and hours of programming. We’d love to volunteer for your littles virtually. Mm. And so they created this amazing partnership with Rogers where Rogers dropped off all these devices to these kids. Holy and so since April Sam and I, five days a week have been doing these courses with the big brothers, big sister students ha. And it’s awesome again, like what an equalizer, right? Like kids are, the equalizer happens in China in the morning, happens again at 4:00 PM with kids in Toronto. You know, they’re laughing at the same joke from Willy Wonka, which is so cool.


Sam Demma (09:44):
That’s so awesome. And I just want to shed light on it because whether it’s facing a challenge with, you know, engaging students online or facing a challenge with hybrid learning where you have to go in class or room and back online, if there’s a will, there’s a way, and I just wanted you to showcase that story because I think it’s a great example. You know, you really pivoted and you’re teaching kids not only virtually, but across the freaking world. Like that is so cool. And I’m glad you, you got a chance to share it. I’m curious to know someone recently described education to me as the own spaghetti on the wall calculatedly and seeing what sticks is there any mistakes you’ve personally made or great successes you’ve had that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?


Julie Champagne (10:28):
Absolutely. I think that’s such a great analogy. I think one of the big mistakes I made when I first started teaching was being a little bit of a slave to the curriculum and overplanning, right. Just creating these absolutely gorgeous lesson plan and I recognize, I just said, I talked about how with the English tutor, we make these great lessons and these great resources and you need that. But you have to have some flexibility. You have to allow the classroom to derail sometimes and, and go off in these weird, fantastic sidebar conversations. Kids have so much to share if we let them. And it’s in those moments, it’s when you, when you pull back from the very regimented lesson that the real magic happens, but between a teacher and, and their PE and their students and, and the classroom community. So yeah, absolutely. The, the flexibility in the classroom is, is so important. It’s, it’s how you’re gonna build relationships with kids.


Sam Demma (11:32):
No, that’s awesome. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice even in life, you know, I have this weekly planner and no one can see this, cuz it’s not , it’s not, there’s no video here, but it just gives me a high level outline of the week. And so often I find myself not beating myself up, but realizing I didn’t complete everything I said I was gonna do, but then reminding myself that’s okay. And I, I think it’s the same for teaching. I’ve never actually taught, you know, for nine hours a day or eight hours a day for a whole year. But even with speaking, sometimes things don’t go as planned the person before you, you know, cuts you short 20 minutes and you gotta adjust on the fly and figure out how to fill the gaps. And it’s, I think it’s really cool. It’s a like painting, you know, I just gotta take the colors as they come and figure out how to paint the picture. And regardless of what you plan to, you know, create before you started painting.


Julie Champagne (12:21):
Absolutely. And I think more than ever this year, that holds true. Right. Mm-hmm and, and, and just being ready to meet kids where they’re at this year, you know, like you’re saying with your, your agenda, like feeling bad that I didn’t get through everything at the end of the week, you can feel like that teaching all the time. Right. Because, oh, I’ve gotta get to this piece of curriculum. Yeah. They need to learn how to write an essay and sure. They absolutely do. I’m not saying they don’t, but if it derails, because you know, there was a playground fight or some, some, one of your students saw something really spectacular on the news and they wanna talk through it. You have to allow space for that. You have to allow the air to come into your classroom. And, and this year, especially, right. We’re seeing kids who are, they’re just at varying degrees of readiness to learn. Yeah. Right. They are where, what they’ve experienced this year, what we’ve all experienced, the collective experience adults are going through. So we certainly can’t expect kids to, we certainly have to be ready to say, learning’s not happening today. Cuz they’re just not, they’re not ready for it. You know, and being okay with that being okay with saying, okay, but we’re gonna make some progress elsewhere. Mm-Hmm .


Sam Demma (13:40):
And that progress elsewhere is sometimes just showing kids you’re there to hear them and that you care and you’re paying attention. And I’m curious to know, how do teachers do that in a virtual scenario? You’ve done, it seems excellently with kids across the world. If an educator’s listening and you know, maybe the day comes where they decide today’s not gonna be a teaching day. It’s gonna be a, let me show you a care day. What does that day look like for a teacher?


Julie Champagne (14:05):
Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It is not without its challenges. This world, you know, student isolation is, it’s a big challenge this year. Isn’t it like it’s and, and teacher isolation. Right? Our, our we’ve all lost our communities. There’s, there’s no lunchroom to say, Hey, you know what, this wasn’t working for me today. What worked for you? Yeah. I think one of the ways that we’re doing it, so I, you know, I mentioned, I teach at a school called park street. It’s a grade four to grade eight school. So the kids are pretty little. And I think one of the ways that we’re addressing that and, and showing levels of care is, is recognizing that we have to treat the school day as though we were in person. Mm. And we have to be willing to work on the relationship and work on, on building the trust between teacher and student and, and student and student.


Julie Champagne (14:57):
Right. So all of our lessons are live. The kids are in zoom together, nice learning together, interacting. Right. So as much as we can taking that, that physical space and putting it virtually really helps to lay the groundwork for creating that level of care for kids. And, and then beyond that offering opportunities in class, right. You know, like next Friday, we’re gonna do we’re gonna do a Halloween costume and pumpkin carving contest over zoom, the whole gonna get together. You know, we’ll play, we’ll play the Halloween haunt music and nice. And we’ll all carve great photo, great pumpkins and, and just have some fun. Right. And that’s certainly what’s missing from the virtual space right now, right. Is the fun that comes with school. So we’re trying to find ways that you can inject that in. And that’s when the conversations where it’s let their guard down and, and tell you what’s really going on with them and tell you where they’re at and what they need from you. Right. Their hands are busy or having some fun. And then just all of a sudden that little, that little Mor, so is something that you wanna tease out of them a little bit more shows up, you know? But it doesn’t even have to be as big of an event as that. Right. What Sam’s last fry? She did feel good Friday in her class and all she had them do. I’m not kidding. All she had them do was change their zoom screen name to something that they love about themselves.


Sam Demma (16:23):
Oh, that’s a great idea.


Julie Champagne (16:24):
Right. And so this group of great eight boys, they’re all these great eight boys who are all very different person. And they’re reading about the hound of basketballs. They all, they all took it so seriously and really thought about what they were gonna put out. And we saw some just spectacular answers. That’s amazing, you know, like things like, I’m so glad I have courage or I really love that I can be the calm voice in the room. Mm. Like just what a reflective moment for these kids, but also allows the teacher to just get to know them really quite well and so simple to do. Right. It took two minutes. It didn’t detract from the lesson and the kids leave feeling pretty, pretty good about themselves.


Sam Demma (17:05):
Yeah. That’s so true. That’s an amazing idea. And like, I hope people listening right now are writing down in their own, you know, planner for the next day at class, because that’s an amazing idea. Not only does it encourage self-reflection, but it also allows you to honor your gifts and talents and maybe give you that feel good moment that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Yeah. Which is phenomenal. And on the topic of student transformation or students being impacted as a direct result of over your dozens of years, you know, working as a teacher and teaching, I’m sure, you know, you’ve had students reach out and tell you, you know, Ms. Champagne, you made a huge impact on my life. And thank you so much for what you’ve done with me. And, you know, it’s really helped. Maybe some of your kids even stay in touch with you today and they’re older and you go out to the bar and have some food and catch up and talk life.


Sam Demma (17:53):
I’m curious to know if there’s any stories of transformation that stick out in your mind and you can change your name. If it’s a very profound story. The reason I’m asking is because a lot of teachers are burnt out. Some teachers are just getting into teaching some teachers plant, but don’t see them. They don’t see the, they don’t see the efforts or the sewing of that seed for 10 years down the road. And especially right now when that network of teachers is gone, I think it’s even more harder to stay motivated and hopeful. And a story of transformation might just be the thing to remind an educator, listening that you know, what they’re doing is important and they should keep pushing forward.


Julie Champagne (18:29):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think, I think those sort of impactful moments, they, you can have one really great one and then two, three weeks later, maybe that student takes a backside. Right. I, I, I really feel for new teachers this year. Mm-Hmm I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in a silo. Right. Just without that sort of support without the sounding board. And to feel like you’re not making a difference, but honestly, any programming, I just, I will answer the question, but I just wanna say any programming that a teacher is providing right now, whether it’s a worksheet that they got up onto Google classroom, or they were hoarded a quick lesson for 10 minutes, or they threw up a cool video that they found on YouTube that is reaching kids. Yeah. And it’s making a difference and it’s, and it’s more than they’re getting otherwise.


Julie Champagne (19:22):
Yeah. Right. And so we just have to be okay with that and we have to celebrate that and recognize we’re all just doing our best, not just teachers, teacher of students, we’re all just doing our best this year. And, and muddling our way through it. Right. So if you know, any new teachers that are feeling that way, I, I, I think they, I, I hope that they just take a pause and realize this is quite honestly the hardest year they will ever teach. Yeah. Right. It’s it’s only gonna get easier from here. Yeah. But not for one second to think that they’re not having an impact. Yeah. Cause they are, even if they have to wait 10 years to get the email from, from the kid, I love it. I think for me, I mean, you, you met some of these kids.


Julie Champagne (20:06):
I, I taught the foundations program at, at my old school. It’s grade nine and 10, and you knew a little bit about them, their, their students who, for whatever reason, the, the mainstream wasn’t working out for them. And so a lot of them arrive with some pretty icy chips on their shoulder. Mm-Hmm . And I can think of one student in particular and, and you know, this student, we had lots of ups and, and downs. This was not, this was not a, a fixed by October. It was a, it wasn’t even a fixed by the time he graduated. Mm. You know? So he arrived in, in grade nine just all over the place, all over the place. He couldn’t predict his actions. You couldn’t, you couldn’t predict if he was gonna listen to your lesson that day or not, or if he was gonna show up or not, and wicked smart, wicked, wicked smart.


Julie Champagne (21:03):
And, you know, I just remember pulling my, a hair out in the staff room. Like, how am I gonna get through to this kid? How am I gonna reach him? He’s more than capable. He can do this. And then we’d have these breakthrough moments where he’d come in and be like, miss, I just read Richard the third, last night for fun. You’re like, wait, sorry. So you won’t read to kill a Mockingbird, but you’ll read Richard the third, your, okay. All right, well, let’s talk Richard III. I’ve read Richard. The third. Let’s do it. Let’s have that conversation. Right. And, and those little moments, I think go a really long way in helping that kid see that I believed in him and that I knew he was capable and I knew he could do it. And I think the real turning point was, was a, was a trip that we took.


Julie Champagne (21:50):
I took the foundation students on a Portage trip to Algonquin. Mm. And I saw a different side of all the students, but this student in particular, there was a confidence and a surety of himself in this environment that I’d not seen in the classroom walls. Mm. You know, the not tying ability, the fire building skills, naming of trees, the all get outta the canoe first to see if there’s any, any bear sightings on, on the site before we pitch our texts, right? Like this is, this was real roughen at camping. There was no glamping about it. And, and it really changed something in me for him. I came back to the classroom and, and just equipped him with so many more hands on things and told him, you know, okay, this is your seat, but this is your squad. Like, this is, you know, if you can’t sit in your seat, the whole class cool.


Julie Champagne (22:42):
But stay within the, stay within this squad that we’ve created. Mm-Hmm right. And, and he did it and, and, you know, to your, yeah, he is, he is a student that I stay in touch with that, you know, sent me a Christmas card last year, who, when he found out I was moving to Ottawa, asked if he could take me out for, for a, a goodbye drink and, and just wanted to say, thank you. And it’s incredible, like what a moment. Right. But at the end of it, like, he taught me so much about my teaching practice. Do you know what I mean? Like yeah, sure. I made an impact in his life. He’s off at Guelph. I mean, he’s home, but he’s not Guelph. Yeah. And, and he’s lighting it up and that’s a, my own practice because of what I went through with this student. Right. So he he’s, I he’s gonna go down in the history books for sure. That’s awesome. So cool. I think if he’s listen, if he listens, he’ll know it’s him too. That’s the funny thing, like he will know


Sam Demma (23:38):
, that’s awesome. I love that. Maybe you just send it to him. yeah, I will. There’s something about you in here, you know, we have to catch up and get a drink and it’s an excuse to have another conversation with a person. Exactly. in the, in the effort of making sure that we try and support teachers and educators, as much as we can and give them opportunities to connect and move away from the silos that they might be in right now, how could someone reach out to you if they wanna bounce ideas around, have cool conversations and just yeah. Talk and connect.


Julie Champagne (24:09):
Yeah, absolutely. I love, I love that. I love sharing resources. I love getting new resources and, and supporting each other. I think that’s the best. So you can find the English tutor on Instagram, just @theenglishtutoronline. You can email me at it’s julie@theenglishtutor.com. Or you can email me at park street, julie.champagne@parkstreetedu.com. Awesome. Would really welcome any anybody that wants to reach out and have a, have a chat I’d love to, I’d love to learn more. Cool,


Sam Demma (24:39):
Julie, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and I can’t wait to see all the students you keep to mentor and teach and read to is really exciting.


Julie Champagne (24:48):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (24:49):
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, if you wanna 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 Julie Champagne

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.

Nicole Haire – BC Program Head Hayat Universal School Qatar

Nicole Haire - BC Program Head Hayat Universal School Qatar
About Nicole Haire

Nicole Haire (@NicoleHaire) is a powerhouse educator.  She worked in Canada for most of her career, but for the past five years in Qatar as the BC Program Head at the Hayat Universal School.  She has hosted the Canadian Student Leadership Conference and is a nerd for self-development books and literature.  Enjoy this interview.

Connect with Nicole: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Hayat Universal School Qatar Website

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Activities that Teach

University of Toronto Education Programs

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is someone with an insane amount of energy. She geeks out on self-improvement books, just as much as I do. And she’s someone that knows everybody in this space of student leadership and, and student advisory. Nicole Haire is the British Columbia, the B C head of all the grade 8-12 students at Hyatt Universal School (HUBS), which is in Qatar.


Sam Demma (01:10):
She’s been in Qatar, I believe for the past five years and she’s doing amazing work, like absolutely phenomenal work. Previously, she’s hosted a CSLC, the Canadian student leadership conference at a school. She’s, she’s been around. She knows everyone in this industry. She’s someone that you should know if you don’t and she’s someone that has a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. Nicole, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by telling everyone on listening, where you’re tuning in from and how you got into the work that you’re doing with young people today?


Nicole Haire (01:49):
Well, thank you, Sam. What a privilege to be with you. I’m tuning in from Doha, QAR in the middle east, which about six years ago, I had no idea that that was a place or where it was, but it’s attached to Saudi Arabia right next to the United Arab Emirates near a lot of people know Dubai, but Doha is a city of about 3 million people and it’s beautiful here. We’re actually hosting. We, we, because I live here now are hosting FIFA in 2022. So the whole place is under construction. There’s this go bigger, go home in Doha. So I work at a, a BC offshore school. I was a Principal in prince Edward island for Ooh, a lot of years, 25, 26 years. Single mom with three kids in University and I felt like I needed a challenge and an adventure and this opportunity fell into my lap and


Nicole Haire (02:45):
I decided to take a leap of faith and come to the sandbox. And I came for two years. And after a year and a half, when I had to make the decision, whether I would go back to Canada just yet, I wasn’t finished learning what I need to learn here so it’s been quite an adventure. I’ve done lots of traveling, but my students, my, my teachers are from mostly Canada, but also UK, South Africa. So lots of diversity and the students themselves are 98% Qatari nationals, which is unusual for an international school here. Usually they’re mixed, but our school is mostly kids from here. So it’s, I’ve learned so much and not really speaking fluent Arabic yet, but , I, I know the, I know the school where’s like Halas, like that’s enough and yallah get going. You’re late. They’re like, oh, Miss.Nicole, you speak Arabic. No, no, I just school, I speak


Sam Demma (03:40):
School. that’s so awesome. Tell me more about how this opportunity fell in your lap. I think, you know, especially in student leadership, we can talk about seizing opportunities, but the opportunities typically come when the students ready or prepared to take advantage of them. And I, I want a little more context on how this fell into your lap.


Nicole Haire (03:58):
That is so so true and it’s, it’s not that I hadn’t had, you know, little voices talking to me prior to that, but I wasn’t, I wasn’t ready to listen. And to be honest, as a single mom, I was working three jobs. I was a principal for all week long. I was a waitress on the weekends. I was teaching at the university and I was just going solid I all the time. I was also heavily involved with student leadership at my school and at the national level. And I just, I, I was passing myself on the highway. I was just running, running, running all the time. And one night I was driving home from the restaurant where I was waitressing at like two in the morning, cuz we, we closed late and I fell asleep at the wheel and I went off the, to the side of the road.


Nicole Haire (04:43):
I fell asleep and I almost hit a post wow. In a country road in prince Edward island. And I went home and I, I just thought I I’m out of control. Like I, I have to get a handle on this. And, and to be honest, I know everyone has different faith, but I wasn’t in a faithful place at the time. And I just said, I prayed. And I said, you gotta show me the way. And I put my name into a search agency and I had an opportunity to go to Toronto to a job fair. And I met the people from my school and because I had this leadership background and because they were building a high school and they wanted somebody experience with that, they offered me a job within like two months. My household, I had a job in Qatar.


Nicole Haire (05:27):
Nobody knew where Qatar was including me. I blindly went and everything inside of me just told me it was the right move and I needed to take the risk. I needed to take a leap of faith and I did. And it has just been in the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and, and was a one time in my life where I truly knew what I was doing was exactly right. So I think going with your, your gut instinct, whether you call it your gut instinct, your gut instinct, like I think we know when we’re doing the right thing for us mm-hmm and just to get over the fear is the biggest thing like to take, to take that leap of faith means to put the fear aside and just, and just trust and, and go for it. And that was what I did and it’s been the best. So,


Sam Demma (06:10):
Wow. That’s such an amazing story. You see, if I ask a simple question, we get a whole nother layer. So the decision and the move, and I absolutely love that. That’s that’s, that’s the truth. Yeah. I love it. And you know, you mentioned earlier that you were you’re super involved in student leadership. Mm-Hmm how has that translated into your role now in Qatar? Are you still striving to do things on campus? And where did that passion stem from to get involved in student leadership and be the president of C S a and, and really champion the leadership activities in Canada?


Nicole Haire (06:46):
Wow. Well, I, well, I laugh cuz I always say I’m a Leo , that’s part of my problem. nice. Yeah. Born in July, but also just as a, as a child growing up, like I, we can all trace our leadership roots back, you know, and I was the girl guide and in girl guides, I had leaders who saw the potential in me and I wasn’t right away a leader. You know, I had, I had adults in my life, take me aside and say, I think you have this skill. I think, I think we’re gonna put you in a position to practice. And they corrected me and they guided me guide ha ha girl guides. But you know, I got to, when I got into school, I was just always a, a person who was an extrovert and wanted to, I wanted to be happy and I wanted school to be happy.


Nicole Haire (07:30):
And so I was in student council and I, I did all those things. And then as a teacher, I think you, you kind of paid the, you know, so people did that for me. So I started being a student council advisor at my school in Toronto where I started my career. And then again, when I moved back to prince Edward island and then one day a friend of mine said, we’re going to take some kids to the Canadian student leadership conference. It’s in Sacville Nova Scotia, 2001 let’s just go. And I’m just, I think that’s part of my personality is I’m usually the one that jumps on the bus and says, where are we going? You know, it’s kinda like get on a plane to Qatar. Where am I going? You know? And I, I just always, I like that adventure and that, that sense of fun.


Nicole Haire (08:14):
And so we took kids to see SLC 2001 in the Sacville and it was right after nine 11, it was the whole thing was just serendipitous. But we got there and we had no idea. We got off the bus and everyone was screaming and our kids were just like, Deering the headlights. Like, what is this place? And by, by the middle of that conference oh no, actually it was the first night when they say, you know, soon. So see whatever first year and you know, Yorkton, Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan kid scream. So I’m saying to prince Edward island, get ready, get ready. We’re gonna, they’re gonna say PEI and we’re gonna scream. And they didn’t say PEI. They said every province except PEI. So I turned to Dave Conlin and I said, why didn’t they say PEI? And he said, PEI is the only province that hasn’t hosted.


Nicole Haire (09:03):
And I said, well, that’s unacceptable. We’re gonna host. So in 2008, they put me in the board and I was a director for PEI and in 2008, my, my school hosted the first CSLC in, in, in prince Rhode Island. Nice. And it was fabulous. And just, just memory will never forget. And a team building experience as a school that will never forget. Because when you have to bring a thousand people from across Canada to your school for five days, the best part was the ability because my mother in charge of billing with a friend of mine and, you know, a small town Summerside PEs 15,000 people, we had 45 extra families that didn’t get to host billets because everybody wanted to be part of it. And it was such a, yeah, it was such a feel good week. And so that, that kind of thing, like just seeing of people benefit from you know, just seeing them become leaders.


Nicole Haire (10:00):
I think that that’s why I love being a principal. It’s, it’s not about me being the leader. It’s, it’s finding leadership in my staff and empowering them and kind of working yourself out of a job. The best thing you can do as a leader is work yourself out of a job because every, everybody around you is, is doing their part and, and their body in, you know, so I think they’re all kind of different transferable skills. Some of the things I did in grow guides, I used in my school in, in Qatar, but when I got here, the school was not a high school and the oldest grade was grade nine. Mm. Were gender segregated as our community here is Muslim. And the boys and girls after grade from grade four on, they separate into boys classes and girls classes. So I came in kind of naive to that whole culture and religious tradition.


Nicole Haire (10:51):
And, and I decided I would bring the boys and girls together to train for student leadership my a first month here. And they tried it and then they both came, both sides, came to me and said, please, please don’t do that to us again. That’s not how we do things. and I realized that I, it was a good lesson for me because rather than coming into a place and imposing my view of what I thought things should be. I had to come in and, and be quiet and observe and be respectful and get feedback and find other ways to do some of the things that I wanted to do. So one one thing we’ve done when I was in my school in PEI, we dismantled student council because we found the same 20 kids were doing everything. They were, they were fundraising, they were spiriting.


Nicole Haire (11:40):
They were, you know, doing everything and exhausted. And about three teachers as their advisors were also exhausted. And student council runs from August to July. I don’t care what anybody says. It might take a couple of weeks off in July, but you’re all the time. So we dismantled our student council into into councils, like the ministry here, here. I did it. I brought the idea here and our students do it here as well. So here we have the ministry of sport. Nice. The ministry of the interior is the got government ministry of activities is student activities, ministry of finance. They all wanna be in that ministry of global citizenship because here in Qatar, they have ministries and ministry of the interior is actually the government. And we had just a boom of kids because some people do wanna be just finance. They don’t wanna rah and cheer and march in the parade, or do philanthropic things.


Nicole Haire (12:37):
They just want to count the money. And they wanna put that on their CV as going to university to study accounting say, and some kids are spear kids, and some kids are philanthropists and some kids are sport kids. And so each ministry has a mandate and we had 20 plus teachers involved and about 200 kids. And they had never had student leadership at the school because the school was never a high school. So they decided to, we didn’t have recycling in Qatar when I got here and our kids by their initiative came up with the reusable, like the wa water bottle stations. And they did a whole proposal and got the school to put in the water fountains so that the kids can use wow. And they banned, they banned plastic water bottles from the school. Nice. Like, and so kids are kids, you know, and that’s, that’s what I found when I came here, I was like, okay. So they may dress differently. They may have a religion. And that’s different than mine, which is often more, more like it than different from it. As we have more conversation with one another, but just kids or kids and they still love to lead and they want to have great schools and they’re excited about life and they care about this planet and they care about one another. And I just, potato potato, I just felt like I was home when I got here. You know? So I, I stayed because of the kids. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:03):
That’s so cool. Mm-Hmm you mentioned over 20 teachers help with it and have participated. There’s other people I’ve spoken to on the podcast and outside of the podcast who sometimes tell me that these positions of student leadership or student council sometimes go vacant, cuz someone doesn’t wanna step up. How were you able to get 20 teachers interested, involved, and excited to help with this work?


Nicole Haire (14:29):
I think you have to be contagious. And I’m not saying that the people that struggle to get help are not contagious because I think people are exhausted right now. Mm-Hmm , especially in this time, like we haven’t launched our student ministry because everybody’s online and now we’re starting to, we’ve all got our legs under us. And it’s like, okay, let’s get student assemblies running virtually let’s, you know, there’s ways around a mountain, but you have to have energy to create energy. And when you’re running on low with your battery and everybody’s just in survival mode, because there’s so much new learning and teachers are learning technology while they’re trying to deliver curriculum and they’re trying to, you know, sleep. And it’s been D to try to do the proactive things, but it’s kind of like when you’re tired and you don’t exercise because you’re tired and then you eat potato chips because you’re tired.


Nicole Haire (15:21):
And then you exercise cause you’re tired. And it’s like a, a vortex of doom. I find that if you do the push and you get people rolling, the energy feeds the energy. And I think we, we were, it’s new also. There’s a little bit of a novelty attached to it here because we haven’t done it before. So people jumped in and were, were willing to get involved. And maybe I think in some schools, traditionally at home, the one person would be kind of tagged as you’re student advise, you know, the student council advisor and, and you’re stuck. It’s like a life sentence. And and other people might think, oh, that’s what they do. And there’s no room for me. And what I’ve always found with leadership is you have to sometimes ask, if you put out a, an email and say, anybody wanna be involved, you’re not going, you’re gonna get of crickets.


Nicole Haire (16:12):
Nobody’s gonna answer that. But when I’ve walked up to specific people and said, I’m just gonna tell you what I see in you. I see this, you know, trade in you. I think you have a lot to offer. Would you be interested? People are usually like really you see that in me because quite often they don’t see it in themselves and they would kind of like to, but they don’t really see themselves that way. And once they’re invited and once they get a chance to get their feet into it and, and the kids are, the kids are the energy. I mean, you can’t be in student leadership and not stay young for the rest of your life. You know, you go, you go to those leadership conferences and you just come back. Like the world is, is perfect. You know, you only took three kids with you and there’s always the crash, the crash that comes with, they go back to school and they’re like, ha, then the whole school’s like, , it’s always a bit of a downer. But then they, then they bounce back and they do great things. And it’s the same way that I think kids get other kids involved. It’s what adults do with adults, you know? And, and half the time it just takes an invitation.


Sam Demma (17:19):
Yeah. I love, I love that. Cause I think it applies to inviting anyone to do anything. Especially if you appeal to people’s your belief in their people’s abilities, especially like you mentioned when they don’t see it in themselves. Yeah. Have


Nicole Haire (17:33):
You, and to off and offer them support, I think is the other big thing mm-hmm , you know, like to just say to somebody, okay, you’re gonna do student council and take off and leave them with that big piece of, you know, the work to do. I think the, the scaffolding is important too. It’s sort of like a coaching mentorship gradual release, you know, you walk with them for a while and then they take off and do wonderful things without you. And that’s what I mean by working yourself out of a job.


Sam Demma (17:58):
Yeah, no, I like that. And it’s passing the Baton on really. You’re just sure.


Nicole Haire (18:03):
And building capacity, building capacity is huge.


Sam Demma (18:06):
You know, it’s like the relay the 4, 4, 100, you don’t just slap the Baton in their hand and just stop. It’s like you guys both run together and you slap it and then you slow down and they speed up.


Nicole Haire (18:15):
That’s an excellent analogy.


Sam Demma (18:17):
For sure. Yeah. And you know, this work is very transformative and sometimes you don’t see the transformation that a student or a teacher might have when being invited into student leadership. But I’m certain that over the years you’ve seen students change and transform and incredible, you know, you might be listening right now thinking that, you know, this year is different and you’re burnt out and you know, an educator listening might think, you know, they might, they might be thinking, what the heck did I get into if this is their first year teaching Uhhuh yeah. And a story of transformation might just be the thing they need to hear to remind them that this is really important work. And if it’s a serious transformational story that comes to mind you can change the name for privacy reasons, but I’m curious that you have any stories of transformation that you think are worth sharing with other educators to inspire them and remind the, then why they started teaching


Nicole Haire (19:12):
For, for teachers transforming or students,


Sam Demma (19:15):
Maybe one of each .


Nicole Haire (19:17):
Okay. Well, I can, I can tell a story about a teacher that was a first year teacher, I won’t say in which country. But that person came in sort of dear in the headlights, very, very fresh, very green and in a very challenging, you know, situation and was sort of thinking that she had to have it all figured out. You know, there’s some sort of false sense of, I don’t know what they teach you in teachers college, that if you show any, any weakness or any need or you know, need for support in your first year that you’re not gonna get your contract, or I don’t know what, but I never in my life have seen anybody start something new and not need that support. So I just keep, always saying to people, it’s smart. People who ask for help, like, don’t, don’t just take it on and try to do it by yourself.


Nicole Haire (20:07):
Let us know. And finally, she came to me in tears one day and she was just like, it much, I can’t handle, I’m gonna quit. I’m done. And I, we just sat down, we had a coffee and I told her the things that I saw that were strong and the things that I was willing to help her with. And I went into her classroom and I, I was in her classroom once a day for maybe two weeks and eventually still started extracting myself and she left her school because she was going to further her education go do her masters. And when she left, she was probably one of the strongest young teachers that I had. And she wouldn’t have said that about herself in the first year. And I think, I think we need to be kind to ourselves. Like I always say this to my children when they start, you know, talking badly, I’m always like, no, no, don’t talk about my daughter that way.


Nicole Haire (21:00):
Or don’t talk, you know, don’t say those things about my daughter to yourself. And, and I’ll just say, you know, you should treat your yourself and give yourself the same advice and the same cut yourself the same slack that you would your best friend, because you need to be your best friend. I think the biggest piece for teachers is to find some allies like Steven Covey says, you know, access your allies. And we’re not, we we’re in a very isolating profession in the sense that we surrounded by people all day. We have 150 kids on our rosters, but we go into our little silos and quite often we work in isolation. There isn’t great time for collaboration, you know, to get together, to talk things out. And I think it’s really important to carve time outta your day, to sit in this staff room, but only sit next to positive people.


Nicole Haire (21:50):
I’m sorry, I I’m, I everybody’s valuable, but if I only have 10 minutes to sit in the staff room, I’m gonna sit by someone who’s gonna feed my soul, not suck me dry. You know? So you have to be very strategic about who you talk to. And not just because not just likeminded people. I, I’m not saying not to open your mind a different points of view or, but some people are, are just negative because they’re negative. And you know, you can say a prayer for them and wish them the best, but you don’t have to allow them to steal your joy. And I always say, nobody gets to rent space in your head without your permission. So, you know, everything that happens, I choose how I react to it. I choose whether or not it ruins my day. I everything’s on a Richter scale of one to 10.


Nicole Haire (22:35):
I ask myself, is this a two or a 10? Quite often, it’s a one mm-hmm and just get on with it. You know? So I think we have to be patient with ourselves that our career is it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the teacher I am today was not the teacher. I was in my third year when I thought I knew everything. Mm-Hmm I was just smart enough to be dangerous. Mm-Hmm so I think, you know, it’s possible to, to learn and grow if you open your mind and your heart and you just be kind to others and to yourself as far as students to transforming, oh my God, like, that’s why I do the work I do. I it’s like caterpillars and butterflies. And, you know, I think the biggest thing that I see with the students, both here and at home is a generation of kids that have been protected from struggle or are afraid of struggle.


Nicole Haire (23:29):
And I always tell the story and I’m sure you’ve heard it of, you know, the moth and the cocoon and the little girl comes by and she sees this moth and it’s struggling. And she takes the screwdriver and pops it open and the moth falls out and dies. And when her grandfather says, you know, what did you do? She said, I tried to help him. And the grandfather said, you know what? It’s in the struggle that it learns how to fly. Mm. And you know, so I have a student right now, who’s struggling. And we zoom once a week for 45 minutes and he just wants to talk. He just wants to talk about the things that he thinks about. And, and I, I see his struggle, but it’s good struggle, you know? And, and I think we’re afraid of this struggle. We think I don’t wanna be sad.


Nicole Haire (24:13):
I don’t wanna be challenged. I don’t wanna be disappointed. I don’t want to grieve. I don’t want to feel these things, but it’s through working through the feelings of these things that we build our strength, so that the next thing that comes, we’re ready for it. And I’ve seen students that thought that they were, you know, victimized by everything, around them, terrible things in their lives and, and realized that inside of them was this strength and this, you know, capacity to be happy to, to move through things and around things. I always say there’s many ways around a mountain. Like you, we don’t just have to keep slamming into the mountain. Like we can go off road, we can blow it up. We can, dig a whole under it. We can, you know, there’s, there’s always a way through. But I think it’s okay to embrace the struggle. Like I, I, it’s not supposed to be easy all the time. There’s gonna be happy days and sad days. And, and when I see a, a student learn that lesson and, and just embrace their journey, that’s when I know they’re gonna be okay.


Sam Demma (25:21):
I love that. So that’s awesome. And you mentioned a lot of educators right now are working silos, and that’s the whole reason I started this, this project, this podcast, and the hope that I’m so happy to hear this. Yeah. And, you know, you shared so much great ideas and advice, even just the simple ministries idea of someone’s listening and wants to turn their student council into many governmental divide and conquer. Yeah. I think it’s a really unique idea.


Nicole Haire (25:49):
Yeah. And, and I think everybody’s willing, nobody really wants to take on except for crazy people. Like the people I know love want to say that they’re gonna take on the whole student council. I mean, that’s a big job and, and only crazy people like Dave Conlan and marking Lynn that, you know, those people do stuff with joy. But if you said to, like we did at home the lady that was usually used to counting the money for the student council is like, would you like to be the advisor for the finance council? She said, absolutely. I can do that. You know, and somebody else was like, well, I have an interest in sports. I have no interest in, you know, running student activities, but we could do Dodge ball at lunch and, and do healthy living stuff. And it’s like, but then those people became the advisor for that council.


Nicole Haire (26:39):
Mm. And all of a sudden I had all these leaders in my school and they weren’t leaders before they didn’t have the opportunity to practice being leaders. And they just had their little poss of people and they, you know, so each, each just to finish that, what that is each council here, we have ministries, we have prime ministers here, there, we had presidents. So funny, I’m in no sense with prime ministers and in Canada, I had presidents. But anyway, we had a president’s council here. It’s called the prime minister’s council. And so each it’s sort of the nights of the round table. So each council has a prime minister, has a leader. And it’s chosen by the people who work with him and her. And they come once a month around the table. So this is how it would work. There would be like a, a student activity week coming up like Qatar national week, we celebrate the birth of Qatar.


Nicole Haire (27:34):
And the, the activities council would say, we wanna have like an activity every day. And the sports people would say, we’ll take one of the days. We’ll do Dodge ball teachers against do, okay. That’s done. The finance people will say, does anybody need to buy anything for this? You need supplies. You need money. They’ll do a proposal. And they’ll tell them how much money they can have. The communications ministry will say, do you need like announcements, posters? What are we gonna do with that piece? And the global citizenship kids say, you know, we should have a food drive. And at our school be like, we have a dance and everybody brings food and we do something and, you know, hunger for whatever. And it just, they just collaborate. Mm-Hmm , and it’s like a, it’s like a network and it’s so cool. And they support one another and they all have a different piece, but together they’re a whole student body ministry of the interior is the voice of the school, the elected council that deals with policy and meets with the PRI meets with the principal once a month to talk about student issues.


Nicole Haire (28:34):
And they’re the student voice. So if something happens at the school, it’s the prime minister of the interior who speaks on behalf of the students because he’s elected by the students or she is.


Sam Demma (28:44):
That’s so awesome. I love that. Yeah. Very cool. It’s like a mini society in the school. Yeah.


Nicole Haire (28:50):
It’s and, and everybody’s invested, right? So the more kids who are involved, the more it’s just like everything. Like, if you wanna do something, you say, you have to do this. I may or may not. Mm-Hmm , but if you get me involved and I’m part of co-creating what’s happening, and I have invested interest in it, when an activity happens, our kids are like, get involved because this is something that I’m passionate about and I’m excited about, and, and it’s contagious. It just, yeah. And you, you start with things that kids are interested in and over time they just, they start to realize it’s the culture of their school. And that’s what they want. A, a good school culture.


Sam Demma (29:29):
Nice. Yeah. And for all the keen educators listening, the keeners, I know you mentioned Steven Covey, I’m curious to know what are some books or resources that you’ve really enjoyed that have helped with your own personal development that you think another educator might, might fancy , you


Nicole Haire (29:46):
Know, I, well, and to be honest, I’ve read all the, you know, the Gladwell and all these types of books. But for me, the, the books that I have used, and I’m not doing this as a pitch to make money for anybody, but the Canadian student leader association has resources. Dave Conlin has been overseeing that they have books that I’ve used in my classroom called ones called activities that teach. And what I loved about them was we would have fun day Fridays, and you would just open the book and it would be like an activity. It tells you how many minutes it’s gonna take, what you’re materials are, how to run it, what the debrief questions are. My kids used to just my students, like when I was a teacher, they’d be like, is that fun day, Friday? , you know, like we would always do these leadership activities.


Nicole Haire (30:32):
And then we had climate days at school where we brought together a hundred kids and did sort of breaking down the walls, kind of fill void style stuff. Which completely completely changed the culture of our school, getting kids, talking to kids, they didn’t usually talk to. And just understanding that everybody has a story and it’s hard to hate someone whose story, you know, and you know, so that wealth of resources, I took those books. And when I got over here, I couldn’t carry them all. Also then I ordered them and Dave shipped them over and we’ve been using them here, spirit activities and just, you know, kind of fundamental values type leadership activities that are fun. But at the end of it, you go, whoa, I didn’t know. I just learned something. You know, kids, kids are having fun. They don’t know what’s happening until you hit them with the message. And then they never forget it. It’s, it’s sneaky, sneak attack


Sam Demma (31:27):
but it works,


Nicole Haire (31:29):
But it works. And those resources are fabulous. I’ll, I’ll be honest. I’ve used those the most.


Sam Demma (31:34):
Okay, awesome. I’ll make sure to link those in the show notes as well. And if anyone wants to get outta their silo and visit another farm, maybe talk to you a little bit and connect and have a conversation.


Nicole Haire (31:45):
Yes, absolutely. And I mean, we zoom like to me, we are, we’re blessed in a way this whole COVID thing has been, you can look at it one of two ways you can look at it as the, you know, the disaster that everybody talks about. Well, I wish it would get back to normal. I hope it never goes back to normal. I hope we go back to what we were before, because I think this COVID this big stop and think that we have had where it’s like everybody go to your room and stop and think . Yeah. Seriously, it gives, it’s given us an opportunity to reflect on what’s important in our lives about our own personal health and wellbeing. About, you know, I, in the COVID time where we were completely online, I started walking again. I started eating healthy. I was sleeping more there, you know, it was different stress, but there were other stresses that weren’t there anymore.


Nicole Haire (32:39):
My kids and I started zooming every Sunday. Nice. And I’ve been here for five years. We had never zoomed all of us together. Now we have religiously every Sunday, got it. We have family time and we zoom them to catch up my sisters. So we are in silos, but we’re in silos by choice. There’s there no excuse for us to be in silos. And I would love to talk to anybody that wants to talk. So, you know, I’m, I’m a few hours ahead of you right now. It’s almost 11, o’clock my time. But we, we seem to be able to make connections. And I, I keep in touch all the time through zoom and WhatsApp and we’ve, we’ve got all this technology and it’s like nuclear energy. It can be a weapon or a tool. And if we start using, I think the tools at our fingertips to stay connected instead of to keep us separate we have a hope of , you know, it’s like everybody together.


Nicole Haire (33:35):
I always say to my team at school sticks in a bundle or unbreakable, it’s like a Kenyon proverb. It’s like, you can’t break a bundle of sticks. You can break individual sticks, but you can’t break as if we’re a bundle. And I see it over and over every time someone’s, we keep in touch with each other, we’re checking in, you know, there’s perpetual chocolate in my office. People have places that they can go one other person a day just to check you in on you and say, they see you. I think having mentors is very important. And just, just to say hi, just to know that, you know, if I didn’t show up today, somebody would call my house and see where I was. you know, so it’s, that’s awesome. It’s about relationships. I think that’s, if we have those relationships, we have, we have hope.


Sam Demma (34:19):
That’s awesome. I, and if someone does wanna reach you and build a relationship what would be the best way for them to do so? Is there an email that’s best or?


Nicole Haire (34:27):
Or, yeah, sure. Yeah. I it’s it’s easy for me. It’s hairenicole2@gmail.com and it’s H A I R E like hair on your head with an E, but yeah, they can just email me and then if they wanna chat further, we can and chat or share resources or share stories, whatever. But I think I think people should, I mean, I’m not saying don’t contact me, but I think people haven’t even tapped into the resources that are right beside them. Yeah. The teacher next door. I always, in my notes, I give a challenge each week to my staff and a quote of the week and the challenge this week was go find somebody, spend 10 minutes with them and ask them how they are. And just reach out to that teacher next door. And we don’t know what they’re going through, you know, and, and you’d be surprised sometimes you have things in common with people that you think you don’t. Take 10 minutes to talk. Yeah.


Sam Demma (35:22):
Love that. That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Nicole so much for coming on here. So much positive energy, and I know everyone listening can feel it as well. I really do appreciate it, and I wish you all the best and I’ll, I’ll definitely keep in touch. And I, you know, one day maybe I can come to Qatar and say, hello.


Nicole Haire (35:38):
But I would, I would pay to work with you, Sam. I’m really, I have to say that when I meet young people, that just, you can, when you say you see potential, I’m just sitting here going, I’m gonna keep track of Sam, cause someday I’m gonna say I talked to him in 2020, but I think you’re a phenomenal person and congratulations for the work you’re doing. Thank you. I appreciate it. You’re most welcome.


Sam Demma (36:02):
I’ll talk soon, Nicole. Okay. 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. If you wanna 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 Nichole Haire

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.

Christa Ray – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) Coordinator at the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB)

Christa Ray - Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at ALCDSB
About Christa Ray

Christa is passionate not only about teaching & guiding the next generation but also intently interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment. She is also an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator(OYAP) at the ALCDSB. Her career path has been very rewarding so far and she always looks forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector! 

Connect with Christa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Queens University Bachelor of Education Degree

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Christa Ray. Christa is the Ontario youth apprenticeship coordinator at the ALCDSB, the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. She’s passionate, not only about teaching and guiding the next generation, but also interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment.


Sam Demma (01:01):
Her career path has been very rewarding so far, and she’s always looking forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector. I hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I enjoy doing it and I’ll see you on the other side. Christa, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Christa Ray (01:27):
Sure. Thanks Sam. It’s it’s great to be here with you today. I, I’ve been in education for about 17 years now. I started at the high school that I actually graduated from and initially I was a geography teacher among a few other things, and then I jumped into guidance shortly after my career started. So I was a guidance counselor for about 10 years and then I decided to take a leap of faith and I left the school that I loved and a job that I loved and I came to the board office. And now for the last three years I’ve been working with five high schools and a couple of college, local colleges. And for the first two years, I worked with student success teachers mainly. And this year starting in September, I have a new role called the OYAP(Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) coordinator. So those that’s rounded out the last three years of my career.


Sam Demma (02:20):
Awesome. And what made you take, tell me more about what made you take the leap of faith. Why did you make that decision? Was there anything behind that?


Christa Ray (02:30):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, I loved what I was doing in the high school and I was coaching and I was doing a few clubs, but I was getting tired and I had needed a change of scenery and had young children at home. And so I thought I would try a different venue. And it was very nerve wracking, actually. I, I didn’t, you know, normally people change jobs when they don’t like something, but I was leaving something that I really liked to the unknown. And so it, it turned out it’s been really great for not just myself. And I’ve learned probably more in the last three years than I have in the, in the full 17 years that I’ve been teaching. So it’s, it’s been a good, a good move for me.


Sam Demma (03:16):
Oh, that’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know, I wanna work in education. Was this something you knew from a young age? Did you stumble upon it? Did someone kind of guide you in that direction? Or how did you come to that decision that you wanted to work in schools?


Christa Ray (03:31):
You know, my sister and I always had a little Blackboard in our house growing up and we would always play school as I’m sure a lot of people do. So that was a something that we just enjoyed. But I don’t think it was really until my third or fourth year of university that I had confirmed with myself that I wanted to get into education. And my main driver was was geography actually, because I had an amazing geography teacher in high school who really propelled me into not, not the world of teaching, but the world of geography. Thanks and sustainability. And I mean, I know you have your pick waste initiative. Those, those were all things that I really wanted to to talk about with students. And I felt that the, maybe the biggest way I could have an impact on the world would be to spread my love for the environment with kids. So that’s why I mainly got into it and I didn’t foresee myself getting into guidance, but that just sort of fell into my lap. And I love that just as much so.


Sam Demma (04:29):
Oh, that’s awesome. And I’m sure the first 10, 15 years are a lot different than what school looks like specifically this year. as you exhale that’s right. I’m curious. What, what is different? I mean, what, what are the challenges that you’ve been currently faced with? I know you you’ve put put in a slightly different role this year, but what are the challenges specifically that your school board is facing?


Christa Ray (04:54):
Being the OYAP coordinator? I really rely heavily on hands on activities with students you know, bill building things and talking about the trades and the importance of tools. And so that’s probably my personal big, biggest challenge would be not being able to do the traditional activities with students. We generally try and work with our two local colleges, as I mentioned earlier, and we get students bused into the colleges to see the programs there. We’re not allowed to be busing students. So we are really having to think outside the box and do some alternative planning. And I have been going into schools and I’ve been doing like smaller presentations because I’m still allowed to travel into schools. But I find even just a small thing would be students wearing masks and myself wearing a mask while I present. It’s very unusual for teachers to see a room full of masks in front of you. And you don’t really necessarily get I mean, I’m only in a classroom for an hour at a time doing my presentation. So I feel like I don’t get to know the students very well, especially when they’re have their faces half covered.


Sam Demma (06:11):
No, that’s so true. yeah. It’s so, so true. I, I know they come out with these masks and now called mingle mask, which is like a, it’s like a clear visor. Okay. But then it has other problems, like it’s not close to the nose. It’s like, it’s a whole disaster , but it might be too early to ask, but someone described to me education, like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that your school board has done or tried that has stuck so far. Maybe there’s maybe one little nugget or one thing you might share about teaching online or something the schools have tried.


Christa Ray (06:49):
Yeah, I, I feel like our school is still forging ahead with some plans we have to downscale it a little bit and because we can’t get together in large groups due to COVID we are targeting a smaller classroom type activities. So for example, there’s an activity that we’re going to be doing in December, just building a birdhouse with some grade seven, eight students. Oh, cool. And hopefully they’ll be able to, to put that together. It prefab kit actually from one of our local colleges and we’ll take those out and then students can build them and maybe wrap them up and put them under the Christmas tree as gifts. Nice. And and that’ll tie in nicely with when I have my OAP presentation and where I, you know, cuz my job this year is to promote the trades with students.


Christa Ray (07:37):
And oftentimes college and university pathways are really well spoken about in school with guidance counselors, but sometimes the apprenticeship doesn’t doesn’t get highlighted the way it should. So that’s one thing that I feel even though we’re not be allowed to have 300 kids in a room at a time building a bird house, we can still have 20 or 25 building. Yeah. And, and you know, we might have to sanitize things a little more frequently than we normally would, but it’s just one of those challenges that we will, we will overcome.


Sam Demma (08:10):
That’s awesome. I love that. Mm-Hmm and I wanna go back to your geography teacher for a second. What made that teacher really impactful for you? I’m sure the content was great and, and they taught it really well, but there was probably some other characteristics that made this teacher really impactful for you personally. Is there any traits that stick out when you think about this teacher that you think made it such an impactful class?


Christa Ray (08:32):
Yeah, actually as you’re asking that question, I just got goosebumps because he was pretty amazing and I still work with him. Oh fun. Because the irony is he was my geography teacher. I went away for five years. Got my geography degree, came back to the same high school and he was still teaching. Nice. So I was his student and his colleague and I just saw him the other day, but he, I don’t know, he just made learning really fun because he was a storyteller. Mm. He had a story for almost anything and everything, any of our lessons, he, he had done a lot of traveling and I just thought that that was really really interesting. And he was very passionate. Even when he talked about things, places that he had never traveled, he, he made you feel like you were there anyway.


Christa Ray (09:19):
Mm. And so I just felt like you know, that was something that he really instilled in us was to become knowledgeable global citizens. Even though, even if you’re not traveling, you can still do a lot of research. And obviously the worldwide web is really good for checking out initiatives across across the world. And I tried to do that with my students as well. You know, we talked about some of the people that really make a difference. I mean, I was so interested to read a little bit more about your pick waste initiative that you did with your friend and you know, that it’s just two high school students picking up trash. It seems insignificant, but when you get a, when you get a bit of a following, especially now with social media, mm-hmm, you find out that you can really make a difference really fast. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:08):
So, so small actions compounded over time. Right? Small, consistent actions. exactly. Yeah. That’s awesome. And you know, your teacher had a huge impact on you. I’m sure there’s so many stories that you’ve seen of students transforming due to education. And I’m curious to know if any story that you know of, whether it’s a student that you had, or it’s a student that you’ve heard of that had a huge transformation due to the support and care of a teacher. And the reason I ask is because there might be an educator listening right now, who’s a little bit burnt out who is maybe on the edge of even getting out of this calling and, and getting into a new job or career because they’re totally stressed out, but those stories are transformation might remind them why it’s extremely important and why the work they’re doing is so necessary and needed now more than ever. And if it’s a serious story, feel free to totally change the name to John DOE or whatever. You’d like . And anyways, yeah. Does any story come to mind?


Christa Ray (11:09):
Oh, I have a few. But one in particular that really sticks out in my mind was a student that came to our high school. He was a, a grade 12 student at the time. He came from Toronto to a small town in Beville to finish up his high school diploma. And when he came to my class, he was a grade 12 student in my grade nine geography class, cuz he had failed geography a few years prior and I’d never had a Stu an old, older student in my class and I was a little worried, but I realized really soon that he became he was kind of like a role model for the younger students. So even though the everybody else was in grade nine and he was in grade 12 and about a foot taller than everybody I, I realized that he was a really good resource for me to have.


Christa Ray (11:58):
And I mean, as a guidance counselor, I could see his transcript and I knew that it wasn’t very shiny. He hadn’t been doing really well. Due to many circumstances his life in Toronto was very difficult and not to get into too many details. He, he was trying to make his life better for himself. Hence the reason why he had moved to Bellville. And so when he came I, I think my biggest mistake was kind of pre-judging him, mm-hmm , you know, this is, this is gonna be a student where I’m really gonna have a lot of troubles and I actually didn’t at all. So near the end of his grade 12 year when he had accumulated his geography credit, which is a prerequisite to graduate in Ontario. Yeah. And he had accumulated other credits. He, he, I was so proud of him and I think he was proud of himself.


Christa Ray (12:52):
And I, I told him specifically that I don’t know what I would’ve done without him because he was a good motivator. He always had his homework done. When other students didn’t, he would sit with them and ex like, say, you know, I, I like to help you, which baffled my mind because I thought that he would just stick to himself, but he literally was a, like an older role model for the students. And he helped a few other students get through my class as well. It was like having a peer helper. Yeah. Actually, and I he went on to do welding at a college program. That’s and I’ve since lost track of him. I, I always wonder what he’s up to, but I don’t know. He, he is definitely one story that sticks out in my mind and I will remember him for as long as I live, actually.


Sam Demma (13:42):
That’s awesome. That’s such a beautiful story. And maybe this podcast is a reason to try and reach out and figure out what he’s up to these days. And if, you know, if you’re listening to this, remember that these stories are not far in between that, I think so much transformation happens inside schools or even outside the school walls with conversations because you, as an educator, you take on the role of parent. Sometimes you take on the role of teacher. Sometimes you take on the role of coach. It’s like, you’re so many things to these young minds and you can have such a huge impact. And it sometimes transforms students lives, which is pretty cool. Anyways, this has been really, really awesome. If you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just starting teaching with all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you, would you share when you were just starting?


Christa Ray (14:36):
Hmm. I think, well, I mean, you learn more and more each year. So even though I’ve been teaching for quite some time I would tell my younger self that you’re, you’re basically on a journey. You’re not gonna know all of the answers. You’re not gonna have it all figured out in your first fifth or even 10th year of teaching. And as we all are very aware of this year has thrown everybody for a loop and we’ve had to change our teaching style significantly, especially earlier in the spring when we went to remote learning. But I just think that teachers need to not be so hard on themselves. Mm. They need to you know they need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their classrooms. Yeah. And you might not be able to get it all done in a day.


Christa Ray (15:28):
So try not to be too overworked because I know a lot of teachers and myself included, we bring our work home with us. We try to make things as good as we can make them. And sometimes we can’t have perfection a hundred percent of the time. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I’d give people is you know, doing a good job is okay. You don’t need to do an awesome job every day because it can get very tiring. And so just do as best as you can do. And that’s good enough.


Sam Demma (15:59):
I love that. That’s great advice. And I think it applies in all areas of life. Like if you’re tr if you’re trying to be perfect, 24 7, you’re gonna burn out fast. And then instead of being great each day, you’re gonna be poor on a couple of them now, because you’re not actually able to physically perform and show up for your kids. Correct.


Christa Ray (16:18):
We, we talk a lot about, sorry to interrupt. Like, we talk a lot about mental health with students mm-hmm , but we really should also focus a mental health with teachers because I know a in particular this year, a lot of teachers are feeling very strapped. Our, our schooling system right now is in an Okta master system. So yeah. Credits are being accumulated at a very rapid pace in 23 days. And that’s, it, it’s a very different reality from what we’ve been experiencing in the past. And so I think teachers need to get sleep. They need to eat. Right. they need to do something fun on the weekend yeah. To re-energize their batteries.


Sam Demma (16:59):
So, yeah, I think it’s true. Almost like a teacher retreat or something


Christa Ray (17:03):
If yes, that’s right.


Sam Demma (17:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Cool. Well, Christa, thank you so much for taking some time and to come on the show, I really appreciate you sharing some stories and ideas. If another educator listening wants to reach out, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Christa Ray (17:18):
Well, they can email me. My email is raychris@alcdsb.on.ca. And if they want to email me, I can, I can do what I can to help.


Sam Demma (17:34):
Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much. Again, I look forward to staying in touch and watching all the cool things you do with the school board.


Christa Ray (17:40):
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (17:43):
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. If you wanna 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 Christa Ray

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.

Dr. Seth Goldsweig – Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership

Dr. Seth Goldsweig - Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership
About Seth Goldsweig

Dr. Seth Goldsweig(@SGoldsweig) is the vice principal at The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. He has been in formal education for 17 years. His PhD is in educational leadership and believes that education is a tool to help students find their voice and change the world.

Connect with Seth: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Leo Baek Day School Website

Padlet

Easy Baking Recipes for Kids

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Seth Goldsweig. He is the vice principal of the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. I had the pleasure of speaking in front of his entire student body last year before COVID 19. And it is my absolute pleasure to bring him back on the show here for you today.


Sam Demma (00:59):
He has been in formal education for 17 years, has a PhD in education leadership, and thinks that education is a tool, a very strong tool to help help students find their voice and change the world. The other day, he sent me an email telling me that one of his students at his school is working on building the reactor that’s in the middle of iron man’s chest, and he’s supporting this kid on his venture to learn about technology and bring this project together. And I’m sure in this interview, you will hear Dr. Seth’s energy just shine through in his responses. I hope you enjoy this, I’ll see you on the other side. Seth, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a, it’s a pleasure to have you.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:42):
You it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Can you share with the audience who you are and what got you into the work you do with young people today?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:52):
Sure. My name is Seth gold. So I’m the vice principal at the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. And I’ve been, this is my, I think 11th year as a vice principal. I started a school before, now is my eighth year at this school. And I’ve been in education for I think, 17 or 18 years. What got me into it. I mean, many things. Certainly, I love that feeling when when you see a kid starting to feel really good about him or herself and know you played a part in that, it’s just, it, it, it makes you feel warm all over. It’s just a really special feeling. You know, you had a part in, in someone’s success. There’s a selfish reason. I think kids are our future and and I’m only gonna be in this business until, until I retire and I wanna make sure we’re in, we’re in good shape for the future.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (02:44):
So I, you know, I wanna make sure that they’re set up to succeed and then I think the most important one though Sam, is that kids are amazing. Can I tell you a short story about something that happened to me today? Absolutely. I hear that a student we’ll call him Ben. Ben is looking for me, right? Dr. G Dr. Goldsweig. Ben needs you. Okay. So I like, he’s not in my waiting for me in my office. I go, finally, I find him outside Ben, you know, what’s going on? Oh, I had to ask you something. I made a pinata for my friend; it’s her birthday. And I wanted to know if I could hang up my pinata and so she could hit it. So here I’m worried, like there’s some big, like major thing going on. He had a fight or he’s upset about something stress, but no it’s cuz he had made a pinata for his friend and they wanted to to set it up. It was her birthday, I think, hours making the pinata. It was, you know, it’s things like that, that happened every day that you’re surprised by their creativity and what they do. And it just, it makes it really special.


Sam Demma (03:44):
How do you cultivate a school culture where kids decide to make pinatas and ask you to help them and hang it up? I think that’s a very unique culture you’ve built. And I’m curious to know if you think there’s any specific traits of students that you’ve encouraged in them to have them doing things like that.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:05):
I think it, listen, it all starts with the teachers. You know, if it’s happening in the classroom, that’s happening elsewhere to try to, you have to cultivate a, a love of experimentation and learning and, and inquiry. And, and if you are interested in what the kids have to share, then I think they’re gonna keep sharing. There, there’s a study that shows about creativity and the most creative people are kids in SK and then every year we get less and less and less creative. And and they did this by asking about paper clips, how many different things can you do with a paper clip? Mm. And adults will come up with a few things, you know, I can put paper in it. Maybe I can use it to like, hang my keys or something. Kids start asking, well, what color can it be?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:51):
What’s it made out of, can it be different sizes? Can it, and so, so if you, if you use the kids imagination as a model and you just keep keep encouraging it, then I think you end up with a, a school culture that does that the other day, a kid comes up to me that Mr. Gold or Dr. Goldstein, I’m trying to figure out how to build an arc reactor from Ironman. And so he showed me, had this this whole diagram and he’s trying to figure out the technology for reactor every day. He says he gets a little closer. He shows me the updates and my job’s simple. I just have to listen and say, that’s amazing. Keep going. I can’t wait to hear the updates. So I think if you just show an interest in the kids, they’re gonna, they’re gonna thrive.


Sam Demma (05:35):
That’s awesome. And times are different right now with COVID we’ve been presented with unique challenges. What are some challenges that you’ve been faced with as a school that you’ve overcome and maybe even a mistake or two that you’ve made that you’ve learned from that you think is valuable to share?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (05:52):
The the challenges are numerous. The mistakes are numerous and learning is numerous. You know, one of the, one of the challenges community is really big at my school. And we, we were very lucky for, for many, many years that you could physically come into contact with people and community physically, whether it’s having a school barbecue or, or having a new parent breakfast all of these things that, that make community possible. And so now we find ourselves in a situation where we still wanna build community, but everyone has to be physically separate. And so we’ve had to get creative in how we do that. So some of it is doing things online. Some of it is, you know, for our new parent breakfast, we had a as online zoom, but we still, we, we wanted the breakfast to be part of it.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (06:38):
So when they dropped their kids off at school, we gave them boxed breakfast as a way of saying, you know, sit down, eat when we have our, our our orientation. Let’s try it, let’s try and make it special. You know buddies, we have a whole buddy program where big, our older kids are with our younger kids, which is really, I think, an important part of our school, that kids, when they go into grade four and they they suddenly become up till grade three, they’re the little buddies. And then at grade four, they become the big buddies. It’s a big, important moment for them. And how do you do that when you can’t have kids come into contact with each other? So we’re trying new things, we’re trying a pen pal system, or we might do an introduction over zoom, and then they start perhaps creating a, a Padlet together, which is an online program.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (07:22):
So we have to look at it at new ways. You know, I think another challenge is we have some kids who are learning in class and some kids who are learning at home and how do you meet the needs of everyone at the same time the teacher are finding it very it’s time. It’s really hard to be there for, for so many different people. And I think so part of it is trying things and as I said, failing miserably, and I think that’s an important part of the learning process. Part of it is just getting used to the routine. And part of it is sort of giving teachers the space to, to know that I support them and that , you know, I can only ask you to try as hard as you can. I can’t ask more than that. And so if if they’re trying things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, you know, hopefully they know that that that I, I, I support them.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (08:12):
And as long as we just keep trying to, to meet everyone’s needs the best of our ability, then we’ll, we’ll get there. It’s not the same as being in person. But, but there’s a, a certain understanding the times are different. So there’s a flexibility that, that comes on, you know, and I think the, the other piece is, is the things that make school amazing outside of the classroom mm. Where it’s clubs, sports teams, field trips and, and those rethinking how we’re doing them. So we, we thought figured out a way to do student council. So that’s gonna come back. Some of our field trips now are virtual field trips. There’s a definite loss. You know, we have kids in grade eight who are, you know, ready to be the stars of the basketball team or the hockey team. And, and it’s a loss for them that, that they’re not able to do that. And, and so some things we don’t have answers for, we’ve not yet figured out how to create a basketball team to compete against other schools. But we’ll, we’ll keep working at it.


Sam Demma (09:04):
I had a conversation with another educator who said, maybe this year, we just do e-sport tournaments and play against other schools on PlayStation or Xbox. And I thought it was a pretty unique idea, but it, it takes out the physical aspect of it. And a kid who may have been dedicated to basketball’s whole life. Maybe I didn’t play video games, and isn’t a good online eSports gamer, but so many unique ideas. You have kids hanging pinatas and building iron man suits. What, what can you share in terms of a story? I’m sure you have dozens over the years. What, what can you share of a story where a student has been impacted by something you’ve done in the school? And maybe it’s totally changed their life and education. Oftentimes we don’t even know the impact we’re having until 10, 15 years down the line. And they write us this letter that we keep in a folder on our desk. Have you had a story like that of a student and you can change their name for the purpose of this podcast? The reason I’m asking you to share is because an educator might be listening, who’s a little burnt out and lacking hope. And I think it’s those stories that remind us why education is so important.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (10:14):
So I had a unique opportunity. I’ve been out of the classroom for 10 years mm-hmm and last year we had a need for for some, for some teachers. So I went back into the classroom and I was speaking specifically when we went online. So from April, till the end of the year, I was teaching grade four classroom. So on top of it being the highlight of my day I got to connect with the students in, in in a different way that you don’t get to as an administrator, as an administrator, you’re sort of over, you know, you’re trying to oversee the whole school and making sure everyone’s safe and happy, but you don’t develop those personal relationships that you do if you’re the classroom teacher. So along the way we read, you know, I’ll share sort of a general thing, I think about the class, but then some feedback a student even gave to me that, that I think I didn’t even realize it had an impact.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:02):
Hmm. So in terms of the overall students, you know, I, I, I want my kids to be creative and, and explore, and we had read a story and they had to show the ups and downs of the main character in a way that, that worked for them. So one of them is into baking and he created, created a sheet of brownies and then showed the ups and downs to the icing that he did on, on the brownies that he took pictures and presented. It was amazing. Another one we, we, we played around with a program called Flipgrid. And so she made a video where she did like spoken monologue. I, I gave 10 minutes as the time limit for the video and that wasn’t enough time. So she had to do two videos where she went through the whole story just spoken model.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:45):
It was incredible. Other students, you know, created posters and, and other students like created these Lego cities to show what they did and they spent hours and hours on it. And so, you know, I hope that for all of my students, you know, I was able to help them find a love and education and, and finding their own voice in these projects and, and feeling that they put in their time and express themselves in the way that that that sort of meant to them. Now, I also had a policy where you, if students didn’t do great on the first try, I would give feedback and say, you know, here’s, here’s what I think you need to do to make it better. If you wanna do that, I’ll, I’ll take a look and give you a new grade. And I had one student who kept on doing that and she would say, you know, thanks.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (12:27):
I really appreciate that. And, and this and that, and, and she would always take the work and the feedback and then send it back to me. And at the end of the year, she wrote me a letter and just said, you know I really appreciated the fact that you gave me a chance to do stuff second time and, and make it better. Mm. I felt like I learned and grew. And and that made, I don’t know, it made school better for me. So it’s not like an amazing life changing story, Sam, but, you know, I think that little thing kind of made my day. I didn’t even realize that that had an impact on her. And here she’s telling me that that one little policy I had was, was a very impactful experience for at.


Sam Demma (13:02):
School, small, consistent actions make the biggest changes. Right.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:07):
Oh, I heard you say that. Absolutely.


Sam Demma (13:10):
That’s, that’s awesome. And when it comes to you know, bringing people in, you’ve been teaching now at the vice principal level for 11 years, how do you decide what specific types of messages to bring into your school, whether it’s in person or virtually you, you’re obviously very specific with the, the, the messages that you put in front of a young mind. So I’m curious to know there might be an educator listening who wants to understand that a little bit better, and maybe you have some insight to share?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:39):
Well, in terms of messages that we bring. I guess, you know, we, it’s never something I decide on my own. We, we haven’t seen I would say one message that keeps coming back in terms of this current COVID time is we’ve been so overwhelmed by the resilience of the kids, the the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents. Mm. And so, you know, that that is a message that I want out there, you know, loud and, and clear like it, you know, there’s always, there’s always some issue here and there that we have to work through, but all in all, like the kids are just so happy to be back. They like every kid I’ve asked, do you like it better here with all the protocol for COVID or do you prefer to be at home, online learning every kid I speak to says that I’d rather be here wearing a mask so much better.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (14:27):
Teachers come to me every day and say, can I try this? Can I try that this didn’t work. So let you know, maybe this will be better. They want it to be a good experience for the kids. They really wanna do everything they can to help make the, the experience better for the kids and, and the parents. I get emails on a daily basis that, that say we are beyond impressed with how hard you guys are working to try and make this possible. And so, you know, the appreciation also goes a long way. They’re in a way they’re sort of our clients, right. We’re trying to make them happy and give ’em a program that I am at a private school. So we’re trying to make a program that they feel good about that they’re happy about. So I, I guess that’s the main COVID message, again, the resilience of the kids, the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (15:14):
But then other messages, it has, it’s the same, whether it’s COVID or not, I mean, be a good person, be kind explore the world learn from differences. Have an open mind, have a growth mindset. Like the, these are all things that are common. Like we just want our kids in many, I, I, I say to teachers often, we’re trying to teach ourselves out of a job, right. We know we’ve done well. If we can set the stage where kids are, have the tools to learn on their own and that we’re on their side, maybe to guide them, but that really they’re driving the learning. And that takes a long to get there, but that that’s really our goal is to give kids the tools to, to learn.


Sam Demma (15:55):
Awesome. And if you could go back in time to your first year in education, but still know everything that you know now what pieces of advice would you share with yourself? There’s a bunch of educators listening who may just be getting into education, and this is their, or first year teaching. And they’re thinking to themselves, what the heck did I sign up for? what can you share with them through the years of, of, of accumulated wisdom through teaching?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (16:24):
So if if you’re, if you see this as a job, you’re not in the right profession, mm-hmm, , it’s more than a job teaching the, the commitment you, you don’t go home, leave it behind you. And I’ve been reminded of that every day of my career. Mm-Hmm so that’s something that I, I would keep in mind and just, it would reinforce in me saying, well, you know, you’re doing the right thing, cuz you, you feel good about what you’re doing. Relationships, relationships, relationships, relationships, that is the most important thing in teaching have a in good curriculum is great. Having a cool technology that you use is great, but if you don’t have a relationship with the students, then it’s gonna be really hard to teach. And so that, that, that, that is sort of the, the main thing that, that drives everything else that I do.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (17:09):
So how do you do that? You gotta get to know the kids, you gotta ask and learn new things about them. And I keep asking them questions about it. So that is certainly something I would, I would remind myself as a, as a new year teacher who has the wisdom of someone who’s been teaching for a long time. And then, you know, the final thing is every day is different. Mm. Every day is different. And that sometimes the different is great and sometimes the different is, is brutal. But you know, if one day’s bad then, well, probably the next day is gonna be great. And so just a, a reminder that you never, if you feel stuck, you know, you’re not gonna be stuck forever.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You went as an educator, you’re the main character in that story that you shared in grade four and you’re gonna have ups and downs. Right. And that’s a good thing to remind yourself of often, Seth, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. If another educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around what is the best way for them to do so.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:08):
What I, what do I do? Do I give you my email? Do I tell you the school that I’m at? Whatever, whatever works. My email is sgoldsweig@leobaeck.ca I’d have be, you know, more than joy to bounce ideas. That’s that that’s education, right? We keep, we keep learning from one another. And so the more ideas we have, the, the more positive we can do. Awesome.


Sam Demma (18:39):
I look forward to hearing about the finished iron man suit and more birthday parties in your school. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:46):
Okay. Thanks, Sam, take care.


Sam Demma (18:48):
Awesome. 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. If you wanna 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.