About Lisa Spencer
Lisa Spencer was born and raised in North Bay Ontario. Inspired by amazing educators, she dreamt of one day having the chance to teach. Early entry to Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program, she was able to start her undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography learning through the lens of an educator.
Following passion for Special Education, alternative and experiential learning, Lisa found her place teaching youth identified as “at-risk” of leaving before graduating. Teaching in multiple schools, in multiple roles, she turned her focus to Special Education, gap-closing initiatives and the integration of experiential learning to enhance engagement and build relationships.
Now serving the Near North District School Board in a central role, Lisa supports Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning initiatives as the Secondary Program Coordinator.
**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 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 Lisa Spencer. She was born and raised in north bay, Ontario inspired by amazing educator. She dreamt of one day being a teacher herself. Early entry to Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program, she was able to start her undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography learning through the lens of an educator.
Sam Demma (01:00):
Following she, she developed a passion for special education and alternative and experiential learning, and she found her place of teaching youth identified as at risk of leaving before graduating. She taught in multiple schools in multiple roles, and she was able to certain her focus to special education gap, closing initiatives and the integration of experiential learning to enhance engagement and build relationships. And today she serves as the near north district school board and she supports student success gap closing and experiential learning initiatives. A as the secondary program coordinator, Lisa has a ton of wisdom. I hope you enjoy this episode. I will see you on the other side, Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to, to have you on the show. We had an awesome conversation a few weeks ago, so much so that I thought we needed to share a little bit of it on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you got involved in education?
Lisa Spencer (01:58):
Sure. Good morning. And thank you so much for having me. So my role this year is a program coordinator for Near North District School Board. My official title is secondary program coordinator, gap, closing student success and HSM. So it’s a very wide portfolio. And I think that that kind of touches on part of why I, I involve of myself in education to begin with. I feel like public education is a very holistic process. I was moved by a teacher when I was 14, which may seem like a fairly cliche story, but I was on a journey to learn. And I love information and I love systems and I love natural systems and observing them. And I had a, a very involved science teacher in grade nine who not only was able to help students connect information in a meaningful way, but really worked to develop community and how community impacts learning.
Lisa Spencer (03:02):
So she very much inspired me and inspired me to follow education in the sense that you can appreciate it, not just for being a, an objective learning adventure, but more so that the more you sub immerse yourself in it and find value in it, the, the more it pays you back. So my first teaching experience was eight and a half years of, of contract work working with at risk youth specifically have a knack for developing rapport and relationship, but by showing and helping students find the relevant, see, and what they’re learning and attaching it to everyday experience. So my journey led me to experiential learning, which is a method by which we help students understand the context of their learning through hands on activity and linking it to everyday everyday activity, seeing it in the world around us and being able to draw connection between theory and application and, and derive meaning from that process. And it’s super inspiring. And the reason I get up and go to work every day is to watch the light bulbs come on for other individuals. And that doesn’t just limit itself to students, but also to adults too, because adults have just as much fun learning as, as students do.
Sam Demma (04:19):
I love that. That’s so awesome.
Lisa Spencer (04:22):
Relates what you’re looking for, but yeah.
Sam Demma (04:24):
Yeah, absolutely. I’m actually curious to know more about what your teacher did back in school that really inspired you. Like what, like what specifically did she do that made you so inspired that, you know, you decide that one day you wanted to be an educator?
Lisa Spencer (04:41):
Well, there’s a number of things. She and I actually continue to have a friendship past my high school experience. Nice. I had her three times. I come from a small community and at the high school I attended, there was only a few hundred students when I attended there. And so you end up having the same teacher more than once. So I was able to, to see her teaching practice in grade nine, and then again, repeat itself in my senior years. But the, the one story that comes to mind most easily is they’re talking about particle theory as you heat a substance, the molecules and, and particles inside substances spread apart. And we know that when a, it becomes a liquid and then a vapor, those particles become chaotic in their movements, inspired by the energy around them and how they, and she was able to liken that to things that we would see in her everyday life.
Lisa Spencer (05:33):
And I can remember being 14 years old and her talking about how the electricity and the summer heat passing through the power lines on the power poles, outside the wires would, would stretch and you would see them lengthen in the summer and they would dip and, and to have someone bring something so real to the table. And then that really made a difference for me. And it’s not something that I would’ve observed or made sense of without someone having pointed that out, but it really did build a firm foundation for, oh yeah, that’s really, that’s really cool. And I mean, watching the, the processes that go on in the world around you, without context, you just kind of take them at face value, but to have someone explain to you at a science, atomic particle level, why something is happening and that you’re able to take that away.
Lisa Spencer (06:26):
And that’s just the learning inspiration. I mean, personally, she developed a rapport with students in our class and maybe students that other teachers might not necessarily always make time for, but she’s sought them out. And she pulled them in and she made sure that they knew they were cared about and that they mattered to that learning. And and to watch that objectively was a, was a very moving thing for me to connect to an adult who valued you as a person. Who’s not related to you and not maybe a friend to you. That was a very moving thing to see meaning not just in learning and progress, but also to see meaning in the development of individuals who eventually will, will contribute to society. That, that to me was a very, very wraparound as we call an education, a wraparound process that affected all of the parts.
Sam Demma (07:15):
Awesome. That’s so cool. I love that because when I look at the teachers that had the biggest impact on me, it was also teachers who connected the dots. Like my one teacher that I always talk about Mike loud foot, who like totally inspired me and changed my life. He would take his lessons and then try and apply it specifically to every student’s interest. So he knew us, he knew us so much. So on a personal level that he could had teach a lesson. And then after teaching, it’d say, Sam, for you, this means X and Koon for you. This means X. And for Julia, for you, this means X. And he would take the lesson and give his best attempt to apply it to all of our personal situations and the things that he knew we were passionate about. And like you, like, I still remember the lessons that he taught due to that reason. And I think it’s so powerful. I’m curious to know though, you’ve piqued my interest in relation to your interest in experiential learning. What does that look like right now? I know things are a little odd and funky. But what does, what does hands on learning look like during this crazy time?
Lisa Spencer (08:18):
Oh my goodness. What agree? A question hands on learning has been impacted in, in the sense that in, in the educational community right now, it’s a, it’s a huge challenge to bring in community partners who, who we very much appreciate because they are that real world context. And so we have a, a, a huge palette of community partners who we so very much, and we’ve developed great relationships where they can come in and help us to, to bring the relevancy to the table in the sense that like, here’s the real world connect. Here’s how hands on learning looks in the work field. In this climate, we have been able to activate a lot of outdoor learning, and we’ve really stretched ourselves to engage with partners who can meet us outside and help our teachers scaffold the work of teachers to bring the learning outside shared manipulatives off the table.
Lisa Spencer (09:13):
It’s looking around the, to see how we can engage students with that hands on aspect. And again, it’s a, it’s about bringing that relevancy and that skillset because experiential learning really is about skillset. It’s about critical learning critical thinking, problem, solving, teamwork, collaboration, you being frustrated and moving through that frustration. And there are a lot of applications that we can still access. Yeah. Despite the restrictions of, of the climate that we’re living in many teachers especially at the secondary level, because here in, in in north bay at the near north district school board, we’re working within an Okta master schedule. So teachers have those 25 days in class with those students all day for 25 days, while that sounds stressful, it really does silver lining allow teachers to develop really rich tasks with their secondary learners. So the labs that we may not have been able to fit into a 50 year, a 60 minute period for chemistry or biology or physics or mathematics, because we know that there are labs, many labs that we could be using for, for mathematics and, and other abstract concepts and ideas.
Lisa Spencer (10:30):
The 25 day opt master schedule really does allow teachers again, to develop those relationships in and use those timetables to their advantage, to expand the learning, to reach those experiential learning goals that they may not have been able to reach in different constraints. So I guess the, the, the, to sum it up, it’s been impacted in the sense that we’re moving from a more traditional model where we would have someone come in, show us the relevancy and participate in an activity to a more teacher driven teacher custody of that, of that learning where we’re doing it in class, we’re doing it outside, but we’re doing it as a group and as a collective and we’re moving through it. So I really do think that there’s a lot of positives to that process, but we do need to support our educators and feeling confident to do that. And so that’s kind of how the, a role has shifted this year.
Sam Demma (11:19):
That’s awesome. And your interest in education started with at risk youth. I wanna dive into that a little more. Tell me more about that. And what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to building a relationship or connection with a student that might be just a little more difficult to get through to?
Lisa Spencer (11:38):
Sure. So when, when working with, at risk youth, we recognize that they’re coming to school every day with a different need set. Hmm. Their goals aren’t necessarily to get an, a plus with R O S S D graduate and, and look at post-secondary. A lot of students come to school with a mindset and I have to be here till I’m 16, and they don’t really necessarily engage with the learning in the same way. So as a classroom teacher, the most important thing is to try and show students how, what you’re offering to them can open up the possibilities for them in the future, but more so to express to them that they mean something to you. They mean something to the educational community, and they mean something to the community outside of the classroom and developing that report. And it was interesting as you were, you were expressing your story from the teacher that meant so much to you taking the time to know what’s gonna make the difference to know that, you know, so, and so’s father owns a garage, and that’s how you spend your weekends to know that, you know, you have a, a person in your life who’s experiencing X, Y, Z to get to know those students.
Lisa Spencer (12:52):
And , again, these are things that in education we say over and over, but being in the hall when they arrive to class and, and welcoming them, but being genuine about it and really taking a notice about what’s happening. And if, if you take the time to, to set that groundwork and to build a community in your classroom, not only does your attendance go up, but the engagement, it goes up, the respect is there mutual respect between you and between the student. And then you can meet in the middle to kind of Fasten that, that learning. The most important thing I think is, is to understand why learning is important to that individual and making sure that you’re gearing and planning your activities and learning to meet their needs. And while that sounds like a, a self-service, is, is that not what learning is anyways, because if we don’t, if we can’t show students why it’s important, then why are we teaching it? Yeah.
Sam Demma (13:47):
Love that. So, so true. I, I, I remember there was a few situations where I was sitting in a math class and asking myself, why are we doing this? And have had teachers that didn’t connect the dots and you get disengaged. Like if the dots aren’t connected, you, you get disengaged. You forget why you’re doing it. And frankly, you don’t really wanna do it. But if someone makes that, why clear the how and what fall in place, very easy. There’s, there’s an awesome book called Start With Why by this guy named Simon Sinek. And he talks about the importance of, you know, figuring out why you’re doing something before you figure out how you’re gonna do it, or what you’re gonna do, or when you’re gonna do it. He’s like those all come after you figure out why. And I think it’s just a great reminder because at every point we should be asking ourselves, why am I teaching this?
Sam Demma (14:31):
And if you can’t come up with a clear reason, you know, you better find one or change what you’re teaching which is a great reminder for every educator when it comes to students and learning, you know, something that also happens sometimes is transformation. You know, a student could, you know, come into a classroom at the beginning of the year and be totally upset and, and a totally different person than the person when they leave the classroom. And those stories happen. Sometimes we see them. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we hear about them 25 years in the future. When a student writes a handwritten note or sends you a random email, but I’m curious to know in your years of education, have, have you seen a student transformation and of the of the many of them can you actually share one of them in detail, but you can change their name so that, you know, they, they can remain private. The reason I’m asking is because it will help another teacher remember why they teach and that that reason could re spark and, and Repar their passion for teaching. And despite the challenges they’re facing this year, remind them why, what they do is so important. So do any stories come to mind that you wanna share?
Lisa Spencer (15:45):
So many so many, I think if I could start maybe with a broader concept here. Yeah. The students. So in, at risk programming the students that, that present themselves at my door and so when they were 14, we’ll say, and I was, you know, a young go-getter teacher, those students were coming with a parcel of I’m gonna call it additional baggage whereby they come from houses with addiction or incarceration histories, or involvement in social services and things like that. So the students who come don’t trust the system, they don’t trust adults. And so the number one thing is we had just discussed is developing that rapport, but they frequently come to their, so your classroom and think like this isn’t for me, this is not how I’m going to survive in life is by doing well at school. I have other means by which to be successful outside of this place.
Lisa Spencer (16:44):
And so the number one thing is to show them that they have so much potential and to find their diamond and kind of help them dust it off and find out what that it is. Mm. And I find that if, if we can really help individuals or show individuals or enlighten individuals to find out and embrace what their, what their diamond is, that’s when we see that transformation that you’re discussing, and you might not be the cause of it, you can surely help them on that journey. I’m still quite good friends with the graduate who’s 27 now, which makes me feel very old, but , and so he’s 27, but he came from a very difficult home and he was, you know, I would be teaching him environmental science. I also taught him English. And he would show up to class. And the entire time I would teaching, he would be drawing and sketching and distracted and whereby in many classes you would get in trouble for that disengagement where teachers would redirect him to task, which is absolutely something that we’re taught to do. This was something that I knew that he had to do in order to focus. And so watching this person really struggle through school but recognize that he had so much talent in specific areas. I nourished that. And so and other teachers did too, not just me, but that was a, a thing that, that we nourished and him and encouraged him to do. He’s now a very, very successful tattoo artist. He graduated from school.
Lisa Spencer (18:17):
And, and he did at one point in his life have a very difficult time with addiction. But we stayed in touch. He found it within himself to overcome that. And he’s a very successful tattoo artists. He’s moved to Cochran and he he’s doing wonderfully. He visits anytime he is in town, but to see his reflection on education and recognize that he just wasn’t ready because of the things that were going on in his life, but to still feel welcome every day. Like to me, that’s a huge success us. I could talk about students who I’ve connected with as well, who, you know, they’re, they’re shy and awkward in high school and they graduate and find themselves and their doctors and lawyers and obstetricians. I, my sister, when she had her son, I was in with her during labor. And there’s one of my former students coming in to do, you know, wow, the OB Y N check in.
Lisa Spencer (19:11):
And, and so there’s a lot of in a very small community, especially too, you get to see those students who decide to stay in the region, you get to see them blossom and flourish and be successful. And those students who maybe aren’t, you know, as successful, they still see you in public and they’re kind and friendly, and they have children of their own and they’re being successful. So I feel like pretty much every student I’ve ever worked with has a success story. It’s just that you have to be the type of person that helps people see their own success.
Sam Demma (19:44):
That’s so cool. It would be such a round circle moment to go get a tattoo from that student. that’s yeah, that’s an awesome, that’s an awesome story. And I love that. What personally drives you? Like if I had to ask you what your, why was like, why you mentioned it briefly, but I’m curious to dig into it. Like, why do you get up every day? Why do you teach, why do you love doing this work? Like what’s the reason behind it for you?
Lisa Spencer (20:10):
Very philoso. So off of a question, I, I would have to answer that by saying that all things are connected, all human beings are connected. And I think it’s our job as human beings to find that humanity and that kindness to support others. And I’d rather be an optimist who’s disappointed every day than a pessimist. Who’s always a right. Mm. So I think that it’s really important to look for the best in, in the world, around us and to make change when we can, right. If you want better do better. And I think that, like for me, getting up every day is, is maybe I’ll be able to help a situation or solve a problem that makes the world better, easier, smoother for someone and and show someone the value in learning and progress.
Sam Demma (21:03):
Oh, cool. I love that. And if you could go back to I, the first year that you taught the first year that you worked, what advice, knowing what, you know now, would you give your younger self?
Lisa Spencer (21:18):
You have to focus on the good that’s happened in the day. Hmm. And learn from the things that you’re very self critical about, and you’re always your own toughest credit. You’re always. And so the things that you see about yourself that you’ve done wrong will not be the things that others focus on. Hmm.
Sam Demma (21:39):
That’s great. Now that’s great advice.
Lisa Spencer (21:41):
And don’t teach kindergarten, haha. I’m just thinking it’s very overwhelming. Kindergarten kids are very overwhelming and it’s when you speak to elementary teachers, they would say the opposite that teenagers are terrifying. Whereas I find that those adolescents are just so much more open and honest. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to know. We four year old child, like, I, why are we crying? Cuz we can’t find our myth and I would cry with them. So so I guess the, the short story is know, like know where, know where you wanna be and invest in that. Hmm. With all you got.
Sam Demma (22:19):
Cool. No, I love that. And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all by the conversation, what would be the best way for them, another educator to reach out to you and just have a conversation?
Lisa Spencer (22:29):
Sure. I would love to have a conversation with anybody that would like to chat. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. They can email me anytime.
Sam Demma (22:42):
Lisa, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Keep up with the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.
Lisa Spencer (22:47):
Lovely chatting with you, Sam. Thank you so very much and have a great Tuesday.
Sam Demma (22:50):
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 in 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode. So 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 Lisa Spencer
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.