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Sam Demma

Michelle Strube-Hauser – Vice-Principal and Student Council Advisor at Melfort Comprehensive School

Michelle Strube-Hauser, Principal
About Michelle Strube-Hauser

Michelle started her teaching career in 1991 in Outlook, Saskatchewan teaching Business Education.  Her career then took her to Manitoba and then eventually back to Saskatchewan.  In 1998 she took a teaching job at Melfort Comprehensive and has been there ever since. 

In 2004 she became Vice-Principal and now splits her time between administrative duties and the classroom.  She has been involved with Student Council from the first day of her career and still loves it to this day.

Connect with Michelle: Email | Pinterest

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

SASCA Leadership Association

SASCA Facebook Page

Melfort Comprehensive School

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):
This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Michelle Strube-Hauser. Michelle started teaching in 1991 in outlook, Saskatchewan teaching business education. Her career then took her to Manitoba and then eventually back to Saskatchewan in 1998, she took a teaching job at Melfort comprehensive and has been there ever since in 2004, she became the vice principal and now splits her time between administrative duties and classroom activities. She has been involved with student council from the first day of her career and still loves it to this day. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michelle and I will see you on the other side, Michelle. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (01:30):
Hi Sam. I am Michelle Strube-Hauser. I am vice principal and student council advisor at Melfort comprehensive collegiate in Melfort, Saskatchewan. What else do you need to know? I have just started officially my 30th year in education. So that was…


Sam Demma (01:53):
I’m going to, I’m going to give you a round of applause real quick here. That’s so awesome. Congratulations. And what, what led you into education? I’m going to ask you to think back for a second to when you were younger and going through school yourself and trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. You know, how did you land upon teaching?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (02:17):
I landed on it. I started high school at Carleton comprehensive and prince Albert, and for anyone who knows that institution, that is a huge comprehensive school with lots of offerings and I want it to be a hairdresser and I took cosmetology 10 and went, oh, am I bad at this? And then I took a class called accounting and loved it and thought maybe I wanted to be an accountant. And then I realized, geez, accountants are in their office by themselves, a good part of the time. And I knew I wouldn’t like that. And so I was talking to my accounting teacher one day and I said, I think I want to do what do, and so kind of went into it blindly. I wasn’t one of those people that have them as a calling since they were 12 years old or anything like that, I went into it, blindly thinking, let’s try this and, and this just lucked out and it turned out very well. I’ve enjoyed my 30 years and it has gone so, so quickly that, that I must like it because it it’s blinked and it’s gone by. So I was lucky. I was.


Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s awesome. And did you have educators, teachers along the way that kinda mentored you or that kind of told you, you would make for a great teacher Michelle? Or did you just pursue it after those great experiences?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (03:42):
You know what? I pursued it after some great experiences, but, but at Carlton, yes, I had a couple of those businesses at teachers that really said, yes, you should do this. You would be great to have it. And, and really kind of helped me make my decision. I just needed that little push and they, they helped me make that, that decision. So I, I appreciate them immensely. And actually when I got to my internship, I got to work with a couple of them again and, and have stayed in touch with a couple of them along the way. So yeah, they meant a great deal.


Sam Demma (04:17):
That’s awesome. And what was your, what did you teach initially and did it ever evolve or was it always like lined up? Is it always, always the same kind of subject or how did your, your career kind of evolve?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (04:30):
Quite a few of the same sub subjects I taught my first year in outlook, Saskatchewan, and I taught every grade from grade seven to 12, nice keyboarding accounting history, a little bit of history back then. Then my career took me to Manitoba for a few years and, and same thing, everything in that business genre called different things and that type of thing. And then I found actually took two years off and did my masters in educational administration and, and kind of fully immersed myself into that experience. And so I did a little bit of teaching at the university during that time in the education department. And then that led me to Melfort and I’ve been here ever since. And for the first few years I did accounting the information processing, personal finance and now I’m, I’m basically part-time in the offices, vice principal and part-time classroom.


Sam Demma (05:32):
And out of all the rules, do you have experienced or worked in they’re all different and they all offer great things, but what trends have you personally like enjoyed the most and why?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (05:44):
Well, I hate to say this, but probably being student council advisor has been my favorite and that has nothing to do with my classroom, but, but it is my favorite part of the weekend of the date is working with the student council kids, which it, which here in Saskatchewan is extracurricular. So we spend a lot of new, a lot of new hours and a lot of after-schools together. And then the other ones, even out I do, I do enjoy being vice-principal. I do enjoy helping the teachers be the best teacher that they can be. But between the two, the best part of my day is still walking into the classroom and, and being with the kids. I, that’s still the best part.


Sam Demma (06:32):
Tell me more about the love for student council. So what is it about the student as student leadership and student council that really fires you up?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (06:42):
You know, what, just seeing the potential of the kids and what they can do and seeing how excited they are for certain activities just trying to help coach them along on their journey. We’re at the very early stages here of the year. We have our first event tomorrow. Our first big event is tomorrow it’s grade seven, welcome a B grade third grade twelves of planet. The grade 10 and 11 room reps are helping them with it. And it’s always a really fun way to start the year. And then after that, I make them sit down and tell me what their goals are for the year. And then I very much see my job as helping them meet those goals. So if they have an event they want to do, if they have an initiative, they want to do whatever it is, they join for a reason.


Michelle Strube-Hauser (07:34):
Let’s, let’s try to make that come to be th th the other thing is, is helping them learn that leadership is about helping others kind of servant leadership mentality and, and just watching them, watching them grow and watching them figure that out and seeing their successes and having them learn from a few mistakes. We’ll have some bumps. And how do you learn from that? Yep. And I’m sure, I’m sure Sam, you were part of a student council. So, you know, the student council kids are the most energetic, most fun group of kids you will ever be around and you feed off their energy gives you energy, you just feed off of it. So the more excited they get, the more wound up buying it. So it’s, it’s good.


Sam Demma (08:26):
That’s awesome. I love that. And student leadership has so many qualities that sometimes are more geared towards in-person school. And I know it’s been probably difficult over the past couple of years for student councils or for student leadership in general. What has your school been doing like for student leadership and how things changed?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (08:50):
Well, we’re really lucky this year. We’re face to face. We’ve got everybody here and our restrictions are, are ever changing in Saskatchewan. We had very few at the start of the school year, our right now we, we have a few more that we’re abiding by. So right now we’re able to do quite a debt last year. However, we had cohorts and we had no mixing and we had a lot of health and safety guidelines that we have to follow. And I won’t lie to you. It was tough, a lot of virtual competitions. We did a lot of things where, you know, each group, we, we brought them down a group at a time and timed them or stuff like that. We had to kind of be a little bit creative. The teachers were amazing because if the teachers got geared up and, and said, come on, let’s go. The kids kind of followed suit. So we, we had still had some good things going. We just needed a little bit more help in doing them. Yeah, there, I, I, it, it was tough, but we did the best we could. We’ll put it that way.


Sam Demma (10:06):
Yeah, I totally agree. Oh, sorry.


Michelle Strube-Hauser (10:09):
Go ahead. Yeah. And then, and this year we’re off to a much better start in that things have changed just enough that, that it kind of allows us, allows us a little bit of wiggle room. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can kind of keep going.


Sam Demma (10:23):
Yeah, I hope so too. I hope so, too. Speaking of, you know, continuing and keep continuing to improve and keep going there might be an educator listening right now who is hoping to improve and continue their own teaching and their own, you know their own craft of being a teacher. And maybe they’re in like their first year of teaching or second year or third year. And, you know, it’s probably been a little difficult for them. If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, maybe the first year you ever got into teaching, but with the advice and experience that you know, now, what advice would you give your younger self that would have been helpful for you to hear?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (11:03):
Oh, man, that is a good question. What would it sound like self my younger self, you know what, take one day at a time at the end of the day, sometimes you have to take a deep breath release your shoulders and let the day go and kind of step away. I think first year teachers and I was no better. I was at school 24 7. I was, I was always there planning and prepping. And every once in a while, you need to take a little bit of time for yourself and, and take a deep breath and do that thing that feels you and feels your energy, whether that’s a walk outside, whether that’s a sport that you play, whether that’s spending time with your family. But don’t forget that there’s that, that other side. And you, and every once in a while, it’s okay to let it go and, and, and step away from the student that challenges you or the situation that’s challenging you, or just work work in general, you need to find a little bit of a balance. And I think as first year teachers, we have a really tough time finding that balance.


Sam Demma (12:19):
Yeah, I couldn’t agree. I think getting into education right now would be a very interesting experience just because it’s, I guess I want to say it’s more difficult. Like, would you say that this year, the past two years were a little more difficult than past, or is it just different?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (12:38):
W you know, it, both, it, I, I would say it was more difficult but maybe it was more difficult because it was so different. When we all got sent home in March of 2020, the learning curve of online and how to reach out to the students. And for those of us who are kind of all call us old dogs, learning new tricks, just the technology that we have to use and how to get the kids hooked up to it. And all of that was just completely overwhelming. I think this past year, and even a little bit now what’s overwhelming is that we still have kids that have to go home for a week or two at a time. So you, now you’re doing both, right. You have a classroom of kids that you’re teaching face-to-face, but you’ve got three or four or five that are at home. And so you’re kind of trying to do a little bit of both. And, and that’s the part that gets difficult is you’re is you’re doing both jobs now. So different. And, and I would agree with you a little bit more difficult as well. Not only that, but this year has found a lot of kids coming back to school that have been online, and it’s a difficult transition. Yep. Then teaching yourself one-on-one, and now you’re back into a class with 25, and that in itself has been a difficult adjustment for some people


Sam Demma (14:11):
Not to mention the difficulty of teaching yourself to be social. When you haven’t seen people for two years, you know, like


Michelle Strube-Hauser (14:19):
Absolutely how to work in a group again, how just absolutely how to be social. And, and I think even we, as adults have had a hard time with that, because now over the summer, we’ve been, I’m going to use the word allowed, but we’ve started to become more social and you really do use you sort of forget what it’s like to be in a large crowd. And so if it’s, if it’s a learning curve for us adults, can you imagine what it’s like for, you know, a 12 or 13 year old? Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:52):
So true. So, so true. Well, Michelle, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to come on here and share a little bit about your own journey into education. Some of your advice for new educators and also how you guys are dealing with the challenges you’re faced with right now. If another educator is tuned in listening, what would be the best way for them to reach out in case they had a question or just wanting to connect with you?


Michelle Strube-Hauser (15:14):
Probably email me. It’s probably, I always answer my email. And if you are a student leadership advisor out there, we have a great Facebook page. It’s called Sasca leadership. It’s the Saskatchewan association of student leaders. And there is a few of us that are on there quite often, and we share ideas and we share what’s going well, and what’s not going well. So if you’re a student leader and you’re looking for a great point of access, you should follow that Facebook page.


Sam Demma (15:48):
Sasca leadership. Awesome, Michelle, again, thank you so much for coming on the show. We appreciate it and keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Michelle Strube-Hauser (16:00):
Thanks.


Sam Demma (16:03):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelle

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.

Matt Sanders – Experiential Lead Learner at the Lambton Kent District School Board

Matt Sanders, Experiential Lead Learner Lambton Kent DSB
About Matt Sanders

Matt Sanders (@mr_sanders78) is currently the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Lambton Kent District School Board.  In his role, he creates engaging experiences for students to participate in, reflect upon and then apply insights in meaningful ways. 

Matt has been an elementary teacher for 10+ years, passionately searching for ways to incorporate technology and creativity into every lesson!  Here are the resources he mentioned: 
Bit.ly/reflectionstrategies

Connect with Matt: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Matt’s Suite of Reflection Strategies (FREE)

Chris St. Amman (Another Experiential Lead Learner)

The Reticular Activating System Explained

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 educators podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Matt Sanders. Matt is currently the leader of experiential learning for the Lambton Kent district school board. In his role, he creates engaging experiences for students to participate in, reflect upon, and then apply insights in very meaningful ways. He’s been an elementary teacher for 10 plus years, and he passionately searches for ways to incorporate technology and creativity into every single lesson he delivers.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Not only that, but this teacher, Matt, this high performing educator has a Rolodex of resources that you can find in the link of the episode here today, if you check the show notes, you can click on his personal website. He has a ton of free resources and virtual events, virtual activities that you can do with your class. I think you’ll find it very useful without further ado. Let’s jump into the interview, Matt, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you do with young people today.


Matt Sanders (01:46):
Sam, thanks for having me on, I do appreciate you asking me to come on. I’m again, as you said, my name’s Matt Sanders I’m the experiential experiential learning coordinator for our board. I work with young people. I’ve been an elementary teacher for a long, long time previous to that. And to be honest, like the reason why I got into this gig is because I love working with young people. Like more than anything no offense to the adults I work with today. But to be honest with you, they’re the coolest and awesome as clientele there is. So just like all that for those that maybe don’t know what an experience learning coordinator would be, basically I’m engaging community partners in schools, in planning. So I’m bringing community partners. We have looking at student and school needs and then, then trying to create opportunities for kids. I think you and I have listened to a bunch of your podcasts by the way, absolutely loved your session on homework extension. And actually I had a couple of conversations recently where I was able to kind of like structure the negotiations with perspective, taking at the core because of that podcast. So and I think you and I have similar hearts and I think that in itself is the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing.


Sam Demma (03:00):
Yeah, absolutely love that. And I’m glad you got some takeaways from the negotiation episode. Definitely don’t share it with your, with your kids because they will, they’ll get more out of you than they should. But what point in your journey did you know, I’m going to work in education because you know, having a big heart and being of service and wanting to help others can land you in a job in so many different areas, how did you end up being, you know, an employee and a person working in education?


Matt Sanders (03:32):
No, it’s funny, Sam. I, a lot of my days I spend working with kids on career and pathway planning. So having conversations with kids on what things make you awesome, what things do you love? What things make you excited? What skills do you have and how can we leverage those things into a future career for you so that you wake up every morning? And you’re like, I am just totally geeked up to go to work. I am so excited because I love what I’m doing. I remember when I was, I want to say like grade seven grade eight, my grandma and my grandpa lived next door to me, our house. And we’d walk over there and we visit hang out and play cards and whatever. And I remember going there when I was in grade seven and I said to, I was in their house and I looked at the, the table and there was a reader’s digest magazine.


Matt Sanders (04:18):
And for those who don’t know what that is, I mean, it’s a, it’s an old school. It’s still around town, but it was definitely something that she had in her house regularly. And I remember looking at the cover of it and it said 10 Canadian teachers and the impact that they make on their kids top 10 Canadian teachers or whatever. And I remember looking at my grandma at that point and saying, I want to be in this magazine one day. And I mean, that was, and so coming back to my first part of this answer I knew at that point I wanted to be a teacher and here I am, and I’m always telling my students, like I know a lot of students will say, well, I’m just only 12. Like it’s not going to impact me. I can, I can dream, but like, it’s not gonna actually happen that way. Well, it did happen that way for me. And if you have a goal and you set forth, you know, planning and thinking and reflecting on that and then push yourself towards that, anybody can do anything you want to.


Sam Demma (05:14):
Yeah, I agree. I agree.


Matt Sanders (05:16):
So I should also say Sam that I think that, and I should say that the human aspect of education, I mean, I love curriculum and I love teaching and I love the knowledge piece, but I think the human aspect of education also really driven, drove me into that. It’s like teaching the life skills, it’s inspiring change and growth in young people. It’s having them think about their future and what their pathway might look like going forward. Looking at passions and interests and seeing how that can be a lightning rod to future success and fulfillment. So it’s all that stuff that makes me love my job.


Matt Sanders (05:59):
I have not.


Sam Demma (05:49):
That’s awesome. Have you ever played the yellow car game with your kids when every time you see a yellow car, they punch you on the shoulder when you’re


Sam Demma (05:59):
Okay. It’s similar to, you know, punch buggy, no punch back. When you see a Volkswagen, you know, punched by a young the highway and when you start playing those games and you look for the car, you realize that you start seeing them more often. It’s like when you start looking for something, it shows up more. And I, I started getting curious because I’m a big advocate for what you mentioned about, you know, dreaming and creating a vision for yourself and setting goals. And I came across this research about the reticular activating system, which is a part of your brain that basically filters through your conscious and subconscious thoughts. So you might have 2 million subconscious thoughts a day, but if your RAs system knows that you’re looking specifically for yellow cars, when it notices a yellow car, it makes that a conscious thought and you’re there for aware of it. And so there is a science behind what you just mentioned and why maybe you ended up in teaching because of your vision back when you read the reader’s digest magazine. So I think that’s awesome. You know,


Matt Sanders (07:01):
I never heard that research before either. That’s awesome.


Sam Demma (07:03):
I’ll send it to you afterwards. But when I’m sure when you got in education and you first started things have changed, you’ve learned a lot you’re not working in a different role. You started as an elementary teacher. What are some of the learnings you have, you know, in this industry that you could share with other educators and maybe it’s things that have worked very well for you or things that have been challenges and you’re still working on figuring them out.


Matt Sanders (07:33):
Yeah. Yeah. I’ll just, I just want to say this, cause I just thought of this and I, it is something that I think is worth mentioning to all young people or did educators that are listening. My dad’s a pretty like wise dude. And I listened carefully when he talks because he’s got valuable things to say. And I remember him saying one day to me about, you know, there are not many people that are lucky enough to go to work and are able to change the world. And I think that’s one of those things where, you know, getting an education, that’s something I feel like I’m able to do. And that’s, I mean, that’s pretty cool challenges as far as COVID are interesting. Cause I think as an experiential learning coordinator, we really do want kids to manipulate with their surroundings and fix things and move things and be creative in their thinking.


Matt Sanders (08:17):
And as well as to reflect on their learning from that, that process of experiencing whatever it is they’re experiencing. I think the absence of experiential learning in schools today is what is making school so challenging. So it’s, it’s missing that togetherness and that collaboration and kids are bottled up kind of working independently and it just doesn’t make for a good learning environment, I guess. It’s so it’s, it’s that challenge that teachers have kind of had to grab hold of and, and work towards making it a positive change. You know, one thing as far as COVID goes, cause I guess I’m going down that pathway right now. There are obviously no silver linings around a worldwide pandemic, but as far as education goes this process of coming back to school through a pandemic has really made educators at least to myself.


Matt Sanders (09:17):
And I would think most educators reflect on every aspect of education and drill down to the core of everything about school and critically think about best practices. So it’s like saying goodbye to that like mindset of we’ve always done it that way, and this is why we’re going to do it. And actually saying like, is this best? I’ll give you a really quick example of my own reflections and my own learnings through this process. I used to send, you know, 40 kids to an event on a bus and I’d get a $600 bill for that bus and I’d go, okay, that was an awesome day for those 40, well, we can’t do that now because of COVID. And so now I’m realizing that the 600 I could have spent on the bus, I can have a community partner come in and work with all 600 kids at that school for the exact same price. So it’s just like stuff like that where we like, no, there’s no silver lining because of this pandemic, but we are probably going to grow and change for the better on the other side in education, at least I think


Sam Demma (10:23):
That’s so true. And not to mention the amount of unique ideas that will come out of this time period, that will be used far after the pandemic ends. You’re someone who actually has a fricking Rolodex of ideas, the website you sent me, can you shed a little bit of light on the bank of resources and what inspired you to create that and where are there educators can get access to it?


Matt Sanders (10:49):
Yeah. So it’s interesting. I mean, we’ve presented that. So a colleague of mine from a different board and I his name is Chris St. Amman. He’s an amazing dude like the best. And he’s also an experiential learning coordinator in Ontario. And we were getting a lot of questions from teachers as far as ref. So we were really pushing reflection and I think all of your, anybody that’s listening to this right now, like make reflection a part of your everyday look at don’t dwell on your mistakes. Like that’s not what we’re looking for, but really like that reflection piece and developing our reflective mindset can help us decide to be optimistic in certain situations. It can help us control all the situations we come through because we’ve been there before and remember thinking through it, it’s that process of like setting goals, taking action and reflecting on those actions and then like doing it again and just everyday growing, I listened to your podcast the other day, Sam, about pain and like bringing on the, and I’m like, that’s in a way that like mistakes are that right?


Matt Sanders (11:57):
The mistakes we make, we can grow from as long as we think through those mistakes. So anyways, back to that, so people were reaching out, we were pushing reflection and people reaching out asking about strategies to get kids reflecting. So not just saying like, yo go reflect, but like legit, like what can we do? What can that look like? So Chris and I started developing basically a bank of strategies and that turned into like essentially a labor of love for helping people digitally. And so we developed this enormous kind of resource it’s called the suite of reflective strategies. Maybe I can send you the link later, but it’s a Bitly it’s bit, bit dot a bit dot L Y backslash reflection strategies. And it’s like, it’s got so many things in it. I was thinking though, Sam, about your audience, if it was young people listening, what could they get from that?


Matt Sanders (12:55):
I do tweet every day, what I call, I call them like five days of reflection or something. And I tweet out a question every day through my Twitter it’s Mr. Underscore Sanders seven, eight. And so I tweet out every day at reflection question and those are in there as well. I call that chatterbox, but it’s basically a box of resources for people to think. So reflection, questions for discussion thought and growth. So I’ll give you a real quick example of what one of those might look like. Yesterday I just pulled it up three things I’d like to change immediately. And three things I’d keep exactly the same as they are now. So just like it could be dinner table conversation with mom and dad. It could be like, I’m going to think about this before I go to bed. For teachers that could be like, throw it up on a screen and have a conversation as a class or like journal about it. Whatever. So anyways, so that reflection resource is, you know, it’s gotten really big. My favorite moment of the summer was I logged on and there was like 45 people on it all at once in August at one time. And I was like my, like my happiest part of school-related summer. So it was pretty cool.


Sam Demma (14:08):
That’s awesome. So cool. That’s amazing. And I’ve dug through those resources a little bit, so I can assure any teacher listening or student it’s worth the time to check them out. If you’re a student, share it with your educators. If you’re an educator, share it with each other. There’s a lot of great information in there, you know, without, without experimentation, there’s no failure without failure. There is no pain without no failure and pain. There’s no reflection and learning. I think all learning is experiential. Meaning you try something, you fail, you learn, you iterate, you try again. A lot of educators have been telling me the state of education is like, you know, thinking and then throw spaghetti against the wall and seeing if it sticks. And I’m curious to know what have you, what have you thrown on the wall? What have you tried that has stuck so far and on the other end, what has not worked out and what have you learned from it that might be valuable for other educators?


Matt Sanders (15:09):
So I, I think it’s interesting. So this whole process as, as really we’ve tried a lot of things there’s I mean, there are things that you try and education or you want to have happen and then they just can’t work out whether it’s, you know, funding or whatever. But I will say you know, one thing I’ve really learned is that best practices in education, whether you’re teaching face to face or virtual are absolutely the same. It’s, it’s building relationships. It’s encouraging students to use their voice. It’s providing engaging content for kids. It’s connecting content to real life and showing students why it’s meaningful to them. It’s honestly, my favorite thing in the world is allowing students to be experts, finding situations where students can be the experts and lead like every day. So it’s stuff like that. Like I know you try stuff and you like, oh, this, this is, I hope this really works out and it doesn’t, but I always come back to those like that, that idea of give kids a voice, allow them to see themselves in their own learning, allow them to be experts and take, you know, positive, make positive change.


Matt Sanders (16:22):
You know, I will say I was reflecting on this the other day. Cause I, you know, I love young people and I think they’re all amazing. And one thing that gives me a lot of hope going forward about our world in general is our young people. It’s such an, it’s so inspiring. Like when you turn on the news and you look at, you know, people protesting injustices in our time, it’s typically not 60 year olds that you see standing outside, you know, it’s, it’s our young people, it’s their drive to make a difference in the world and be a catalyst for worldwide change. It’s them pushing equity and inclusion and acceptance. I have a five-year-old at home and she has autism and I couldn’t be happier that she’s growing up in this time when we are just so we’re getting better at being inclusive as a society. I want to say, at least from my own experience within our schools. So you know that, I mean, that’s in general, that’s, that’s where I’m at right now with, with all of that.


Sam Demma (17:30):
That’s awesome. I love it, man. I absolutely love it. And in fact, I had a teacher Mike loud foot who inspired me to try and be the change I want to see in the world by teaching this simple lesson that a small, consistent action can make a massive change. And that led to a whole thing about picking up garbage, but it’s so true. It’s, it’s the wisdom of people like yourself who pass it on to youth who then go out there and want to make a difference. And I think that’s just like, it’s such a beautiful process to witness and to watch a young person make an impact and then stand in their belief in themselves after saying, wow, I did do something that I thought maybe before wouldn’t have been possible that has a huge impact on others. So I think that’s amazing in your experience as an educator, you know, teaching young people, mentoring young people because a teacher is not just a content facilitator.


Sam Demma (18:22):
Sometimes you take on the role of a second parent or a guidance counselor or a coach or a mentor. Have you had any experiences where you’ve seen a student transform and maybe you had a huge change in their self-esteem in their life, in their direction and you can change their name if it’s a very serious story. And the reason I’m asking you to share this is because another educator might be listening, forgetting why they actually got into education. That’d be burnt out listening to this and a story about transformation might remind them why they actually started.


Matt Sanders (18:57):
Yeah, I think, you know, I’ve got, you know, dozens and dozens of situations where I’ve seen enormous change. You know, I, I mean most educators, if they’re building relationships and really deeply diving into those relationships and showing kids that they care, you’re going to see positive change, no matter what, you know, it’s the, it’s the teachers and I am sorry. It’s, it’s my own teachers. What I was a kid I’m not going to, I don’t want to critique teachers in the world today, but it was my own teachers that thought the way to get through to others, other students was to punish them or to yell at them or tell them to put their head down on the table, like kids today, students today, adults today don’t want to do what they’re told. If they’re being told it in a negative or rude or disrespectful way.


Matt Sanders (19:48):
Like we all want to just get along. And sometimes kids reach out in a negative way and behave in a negative way because of just wanting attention, wanting love, wanting to be respected. And so, you know, I, as, as far as you know, situations right now you know, in my role right now, I’m not teaching all the time with kids, but I say that I always really pushed. Like we talked about already in this conversation today, we’re always really pushed students to think about their mistakes, to have a growth mindset, to reflect, to make decisions based on those reflections. And I, and I also, you know, always gave every bit of myself to my students. And I think I always, I mean, I shouldn’t say I sound like I’m bragging a little bit, but I definitely always saw positive change in my students because of the relationships that I built.


Matt Sanders (20:44):
And I think for any educator that’s out there today, you know, I’ve heard a couple of times and not educators on my board. I remember when I was in teacher’s college, I remember a teacher saying to me, don’t smile until December and that’s the way you get through to your kids. And I was like, that is still not the way it goes, man. And because of the relationships and you know, I’ll stay in at recess and help you with this and I’ll stay after school. If you need support and I’ll coach basketball and I will give you love every day. And I will tell you that I care deeply for you and I want what’s best for you. And that’s the way I’m going to teach every day. That’s the process that I’ve always had success, even with the kid. That’s like, you know, we’re that kids are gonna have a real struggle. It’s going to, he’s going to be taking people off task and it’s going to be a challenge every day. I was like, no, just, just show them. You love them and that you care and that you want what’s best for them. And they’ll be your best friend. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:39):
So true. Everyone’s human needs are the same, whether it’s an adult, an 80 year old man or a 10 year old kid in a classroom. So that’s a great philosophy to live by and teach by. If, if another educator has been inspired by anything we’ve talked about today and wants to reach out bounce ideas around, have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Matt Sanders (22:01):
Great. I would love, love, love, love to connect with any other educator. That’s interested probably either through Twitter, Twitter’s easiest. Mr_Sanders78. Check the reflective resource. I’m not making a dime off of it. It’s all a labor of love and it’s all a drive to make a change in the world. And that’s bit.ly/Reflectionstrategies check it out. I mean, my emails on that as well. If somebody is looking to connect with me or have questions about that resource itself, happy to have a conversation and students that you, if you’re listening right now, you know, don’t give up on yourself ever, you know, be the best you can be reflect the great overachieve smile. Think positively. Here’s a story for you, Sam, before we sign off. Totally. This is a perfect example of me saying to myself, I will think about things in a positive light.


Matt Sanders (23:02):
Two weeks ago I dropped my phone at a gas station, brand new iPhone fell out of my car. I think that’s what happened to it. I spent like three hours trying to find it. Couldn’t find it. It was gone. I called, I used the like find my app, all the things. And I was like, I left it for the night. I’m like, well, I probably won’t ever see it again. Like I’m just going to have to move on. And by the next day I had actually got myself to realize that maybe it was a sign that I needed to put down my phone more often. And I was going to get out of my old iPhone seven. I had a crack in it and I was going to be just fine. And I had completely moved on and it was just me saying to myself, you know, it’s, it is what it is.


Matt Sanders (23:43):
You gotta be more careful. I learned from that. I need to be more careful with my stuff and that maybe it was a sign I needed to just like, not be so technol, technologically inclined. And and then five days later somebody had found it on the road and called me and said, I’ve been looking for you for four days. We tried everything and they messaged my wife through Facebook to get it back to goodness lady inside them. She found on the side of the road. So like I had completely moved on. I had changed over my, until my old iPhone seven and I was totally good with it. But it’s an example of like that like mindset, like just it’ll be okay. Just push. So anyways, that’s just a funny story.


Sam Demma (24:26):
On the other side, seeing the good in people, right? Like that lady looks for you for five days. That is less.


Matt Sanders (24:33):
And then she ended up, she just found somebody had texted me and sorry, my wife had texted me and then her, she saw the name and then looked up my wife’s name on Facebook to find to message her, to see if she knew me. So. Cool. Incredible. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:52):
Yeah. Selfless, selfless lady. That’s awesome. All right. Perfect. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Matt, it’s been a huge, huge pleasure. We’ll definitely stay in touch and I look forward to continuing watching your labor of love and all the positive impact your work has and all your teachers from your school have in your board on all the students you guys would like that look after. Thank you. So, and there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoyed 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www dot high-performing educator.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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Matt

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.

Bridgit Moore – Leadership Teacher and Student Activity Director at Grace Davis High School

Bridgit Moore Student Activity Director Grace Davis High School
About Bridgit Moore

Bridgit Moore (@MooreBridgit) is the Leadership teacher and Activity Director for Grace Davis High School.  She has been an educator for 20 years and has done a variety of positions such as math and psychology teacher, school counselling, and coaching. 

She is married and has 4 kids ages 9, 10, 14, and 16, and this year, opened up her house to a 15-year-old exchange student from Germany.  She loves her job and loves helping inspire students to be leaders!

Connect with Bridgit: Email | Facebook | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bitmoji’s Explained

Shoe Box Float Parade Idea

Example of the ABS Advisor Manual

PHAST (protecting health and slamming tobacco)

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):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Bridgit Moore. Bridgit Moore is the leadership teacher and activity director for Grace Davis high school. She has been an educator for 20 plus years and has done a variety of positions, such as math and psychology teacher school, counselor, and coaching. She is married and has four kids age 9, 10, 14, and 16. And this year has a 15-year-old exchange student living with her from Germany. She loves her job and enjoys helping and inspiring students to become the best leaders they possibly can. I hope you enjoy this interview with Bridgit. I will see you on the other side, Bridgit. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Bridgit Moore (01:36):
Well, my name is Bridgit Moore and I am a leadership teacher and activities director at Grace Davis high school in Modesto. I have been teaching since 2001. I started out as a math teacher. I actually did do activities that my very first teaching position for a couple of years, but then when I switched schools in 2003 to the school I’m currently at I kind of went out of that role, but I’ve taught math. I’ve taught psychology. I’ve been a school counselor and I’m going on my fifth year now in a row of being the activities, director leadership teacher, which I love. It’s a lot of fun.


Sam Demma (02:16):
That’s awesome. And what, like what brought you to where you are today? Like if you had to go back in time to when you were a student, you know, growing up, kind of tell me the progression of how it went from growing up as a student to getting involved or interested in education and then becoming a teacher.


Bridgit Moore (02:33):
So when I was a student, I kind of always had this feeling of, I want to be a teacher. I would go back and forth between, I want to be a teacher or I want to be a Marine biologist or I want to be a teacher or I want to be I don’t know, I can’t even remember some of the other stuff, but it always came back to wanting to be a teacher. So I finally settled on that. I was a very involved student. I liked getting involved. I was involved in dance production. I was in a whole bunch of clubs. I was in the Raleigh club. They had that at the time. Just various things. I was involved in sports. So I just kind of was always a very involved student. I wasn’t actually in student council when I was a student, but I got involved in homecoming floats and things like that when I was actually attended Davis high school, the school that I work at.


Bridgit Moore (03:24):
So I’m an alumni working at the school, but I went to kind of fun. So I did that. And then when I got to college I had a hard time picking a major. So I did settle on psychology and I thought, oh, well maybe I want to be a school counselor at some point, but I still kind of went back to, I want to teach, took a while to figure out what I wanted to teach and realized, well, I’m pretty good at math. So let’s do that. So I, I, I did major in psychology because I picked math kind of late in my college education career and graduated from UC Davis with my degree in psychology and then wanted to go right into my teaching credential, but I didn’t have enough subject matter competency in math based on what I took at UC Davis. So I went back to Stan state and took a bunch of math classes. And I guess I kind of say I double majored. Cause I took all of the classes for a math major. I just don’t have a piece of paper that says math degree.


Bridgit Moore (04:33):
I have one that says psychology, but I literally have every class that would constitute a math degree. So I did that after my psych degree at UC Davis, I got all the math classes done at Stan. And then I did my teaching credential at San. And then my first teaching job was at Waterford high school and I was offered an 80% math position, but they said, oh, but we can make you a hundred percent if you’re the activities director and teach leadership. So I got one period of leadership there and was the activities director. So I mean, it was fun, but it was a very small school and I was a new teacher. So it was kind of a struggle. But at the time I was also coaching at Davis high where I currently work at the same time. I was coaching diving at the time because I was you know, a big diver back in the day, did gymnastics and diving.


Bridgit Moore (05:29):
And so when I came over here to Davis teaching, they recruited me to come over, Hey, you’re already coaching here, come teach here. We need math teachers. And it was when there was a big boom in education back in 2003, the schools were growing and there were just a ton of kids. So I came over here and just ever since I started teaching at Davis because I was invested in activities at my previous school and because I was very involved student, I just kind of naturally got involved in things. I was the advisor for our fast club, PHAST protecting health and slamming tobacco was kind of a big program. I did that for nine years. We put on red ribbon week and different tobacco prevention days and things like that. We won the Stanislaus county red ribbon week contest a couple of times. So that was pretty fun. And then I also helped out with the programs every 15 minute program where we stage a crash, like a drunk driving crash scene on campus. So I would help with people putting that on and I would help with this activity or that activity. Well, when this position became available, it just kind of seemed like a natural fit because of all the things I had already helped with. Now I’m in charge of that’s kinda what led me to what I do now.


Sam Demma (06:53):
That’s awesome. And for someone who doesn’t understand what a student activity director is and does, like, how do you, how do you explain that role?


Bridgit Moore (07:02):
Okay. So the way I explain it is this, cause this was a very strange role and I’m very alone in my role at my site. Every buddy that has this position, it’s done differently at different schools, but at my site, I’m a hundred percent activities and I teach the zero period as my optional class. I get paid a little extra for that for my leadership and it’s, I oversee the student council. So anything that’s not academic and not a sport is under my umbrella. So like student mentor programs, all the clubs. So like the activity or the athletics director oversees all the sports and the coaches. So I would oversee all the clubs and the club advisors. That’s one piece of mine. I, I helped put on that. Like I said, that every 15 minute program, or I’m also in charge of helping with just overall school culture and helping build up positive school culture within the school climate and coming up with ideas and leading committees on that all the different activities that my leadership kids put on. I’m kind of the background I’m in the, I’m the, the person doing all those things, that kind of thing.


Sam Demma (08:17):
Okay, cool. And when you were growing up, did you have educators in your life that kind of steered you towards teaching? Or where did that initial passion come from to want to be a teacher?


Bridgit Moore (08:29):
It’s kind of funny because as I went through school, the grade or age I was, that was the type of teacher I wanted to be. So, you know, fifth grade, I loved my fifth grade teacher, so I wanted to be a fifth grade teacher, sixth grade, oh, I love sixth grade, my sixth grade. Teacher’s awesome. I’m going to be a sixth grade teacher. Once I got into high school, I kind of struggled with exactly what I wanted to teach still because I science and I loved math and I love this and that. So it wasn’t just one particular teacher. I don’t think I just really loved the idea of teaching. And I had several different teachers in my life that I looked up to. I had a very distinct English teacher, my senior year, who I would never want to teach English, but just the way she taught her class was very inspiring ahead as particular math teacher who, you know, I still remember the circles, the perfect circles that he would draw on the board. Like we would all just blow our mind. He would do a circle and it would be super fast and it would be perfect and the whole class would go crazy.


Sam Demma (09:38):
Wait, wait, is this the guy on YouTube that that’s like 4 million views or something? And he draws a perfect circle?


Bridgit Moore (09:45):
That tired at this point, so.


Sam Demma (09:48):
Oh, okay, cool. That’s awesome. That’s so that’s all amazing.


Bridgit Moore (09:53):
Yeah. He would play chess with us and he wouldn’t be looking at the board. He would just like, look at us and we would be playing chess against him and he wasn’t, he just had the board memorize. So things like that. He’s very inspiring and was kind of, you know, it’s very nerdy math teacher, but very inspiring that teacher and very memorable.


Sam Demma (10:15):
Yeah. Super memorable. It sounds like that’s so cool. You mentioned that your English teacher, the way she taught was really inspiring as well. What about that class kinda stuck out to you?


Bridgit Moore (10:25):
He was very she was very strict, but she had a system, you know, it was very similar every day. She went over this, she had a for vocab we’re on the board and we had to make sure we looked that up and then she would tell stories about mythology and then she would go into some other things. So she had this system where it made things interesting because here we’re learning about these cool mythology stories, but then we’re turning around and learning about now, whatever other story they will. Things like that, that we had to do senior year. She just, she sat on her stool. She had different heels every day that were, I don’t think she ever wore the same pair of heels every day. So just little things about her, but then the way she taught the class, it made it. So, you know, you either thought she was really strict and you’re like, I don’t want to be in this class. Or you were like, this is the best teacher ever. I want to learn from her. She’s inspiring.


Sam Demma (11:26):
I like that. Not the self by 365 pairs of shoes. That’s so awesome. That’s amazing. And then why didn’t a university study university, your first teaching job you said was math.


Bridgit Moore (11:41):
Yeah. My first official teaching job was at a Brett. It was a brand new high school. They were just starting Waterford high school, super small town. And I was teaching algebra four periods of algebra. And then I had my one leadership class that was the fifth class that I taught.


Sam Demma (12:02):
Awesome. That’s so cool. And I’m sure activity directing from that school versus the one you’re in now looks a little bit different especially with COVID and things that have happened over the past two years. It was probably a little challenging for awhile. But what if you could tell your younger self advice, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now in the position?


Bridgit Moore (12:27):
Oh well, honestly, when I first did this position at my first high school, I had no idea what I was doing. So I think I would go back and tell my younger self read the ASB advisor manual, look at all the rules, make sure that you’re proactive in recruiting students who are passionate about leadership and putting on activities. It was, you know, we had a bunch of students, it was a very small school, was brand new. And so we had a very small group of students that were in leadership. And I guess I’ve been know really how to recruit students that were going to be passionate about that kind of thing. And so the students that I had in there, they struggled a little bit with wanting to get things done or wanting to do whatever or being creative. One of the kids that were in there were just kind of in their, for a title. And so it’s really important to get kids in this program because they do put on a lot of work and a lot of time you want kids that are truly passionate about what they’re doing and otherwise you’re going to be the one doing all the work.


Sam Demma (13:42):
Yeah. It makes sense. And what do you think look different about activities over the past two years than maybe three, four years ago because of the pandemic?


Bridgit Moore (13:52):
Oh, so, well, I mean, think about it. So before the pandemic, so go back to 2019, 2020, right? So at the beginning of that school year with like any other normal school year, we had a big event at the beginning of the school year. We had beginning of the school year advance where kids came and danced and we have our big homecoming events where we had royalty and his regressing up and planning activities at school and how to float and did all these things. Right. We had a, we had a winter formal event where the kids came, dressed up and got to do that dance. And then we’ve got to do the same thing for our winter homecoming. Well then COVID hits in March, boom promise, canceled. Every other dance that we have is canceled no more rallies for the rest of the school year.


Bridgit Moore (14:47):
My job at that point became social media market manager because everything that I was able or allowed to do was digital in online social media. So my position definitely shifted and changed right at the beginning, I had to learn all kinds of different programs. I had to learn how to do video editing, which I didn’t really know how to do very well. I had to learn how to compile different videos and helping use that to inspire students, not to lose heart. I mean, at the end of that first school year where COVID hit the, our district was not making kids super accountable for their work because they thought, oh, we can’t really make them accountable at this point. So a bunch of kids weren’t doing anything. And then how do you try to get them to do something, even leadership kits. So they were even losing heart. These are the, you know, the heart and soul of the school. And they’re getting all frustrated because they’re missing out on all the fun things they to do on plan. You know, we didn’t even have a in-person graduation that year.


Sam Demma (15:53):
The district.


Bridgit Moore (15:54):
Yeah. We recorded it and everything. So


Sam Demma (16:00):
Yeah, no, it’s, it’s funny. Same, same stuff happened. All the schools here and in an effort to help, I actually made like a graduating speech for like the graduating class of 2020. I ended up making more than 20, 21 as well because schools here were still shut down. But yeah, it seems like the past two years have been really difficult, but amongst the challenges I’m sure there’s some positives and I’m curious to know like what did work and what did go over well. And maybe some programs you ran or things that you think the school really enjoyed


Bridgit Moore (16:33):
Well with learning how to do all those different new media outlets. We did learn how to do some fun things. We did something called the five days of winning, leading up to Christmas or winter break. And a bunch of kids got up. We just posted a little thing on, Hey, comment on this. What’s your favorite Christmas movie. And then anybody that responded got put into a drawing and we got to post that drawing up on social media and the kids got subpoena fries, things like that. We wouldn’t have come up with, or for winter homecoming, we did a shoe box float parade. So we had all the leadership kids create shoe boxes based on the homecoming theme. And we created a spray or, you know, they can’t come to school and dress up. So for homecoming, we did dress up your Bitmoji.


Sam Demma (17:33):
And for those, and for those, for those people who are like, what the heck is a Bitmoji, you want to explain it real quick.


Bridgit Moore (17:39):
So a bit Moji is this digital character caricature of yourself that people create and you can send them in text messages and stuff like that. And I think it originated from Snapchat, but there’s this whole thing, this whole Bitmoji world and be classrooms and yada yada yada. So we got kids to dress up their Bitmoji or like create a digital background. So we had these kids that created these funny digital backgrounds and for an action adventure. One of them was like, action adventure. Since the thing was Netflix, I want to say. And so this kid had, it looked like a dinosaur was right there. And then she was like, made it look like she was in the movie screening. So that was kind of cool. So different creative ways to dress up. Quote unquote.


Sam Demma (18:29):
That’s so awesome. Yeah. It sounds like you guys got really creative Yeah. And try different things. And what is this year looking like so far?


Bridgit Moore (18:42):
This year is actually looking more like it did previously. You know, I know COVID cases are starting to come up again, but at this point our school is running and functioning close to a normal school year. So as far as my position and my students though, they are planning for a normal homecoming, you know, like what we’ve done in the past. And we got to put on one of our big beginning of the school year events. We just couldn’t allow people to dance at it, but we could do every other piece to it that we used to we’re doing activities at lunch, encouraging kids. The kids did our lunch rally. So they did it outside. This was the first week of school. And so they are getting, you know, they’re kind of being somewhat creative, but also going back to things that we’ve done in the past. So it is good. The kids feel refreshed and re invigorated. They’re, they’re getting excited to be able to do things like they used to do.


Sam Demma (19:47):
That’s awesome. Oh, that’s amazing. That’s really good to hear. And if, you know, I asked you advice on activities directed, like on your role as an activity director, overall, as an educator, there might be someone listening who’s getting into their first year of teaching. Like if you could give a first year educator a piece of advice or a couple of pieces of advice that you think would have been really helpful for you to hear when you first started what would those things be?


Bridgit Moore (20:12):
Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow experienced educators for help and advice. There’s gotta be at least one or two people at your school site. That’s willing to help you out because the first year is daunting. And I think the biggest thing that most educators struggle with when they first start out is how to manage their classroom. And that’s not really something they teach in the classes that they do in the credential program. For some reason, that’s not a class it’s not, oh, cluster management 1 0 1, no, they don’t have that. I don’t understand why they have all these other classes that they want you to take, but they don’t have that one. And that is probably the most important piece that you need to know to be able to actually do all those other things that you learn in the credential program. If you don’t have a functioning classroom, then you’re not going to be able to teach them anything.


Bridgit Moore (21:05):
So just getting advice and getting tips and tricks from different people. And then even just, if you pick one or two things that you like, that somebody else is doing and you implement them in your classroom, and then once you have that down, you go to the next thing. Okay. I really want to try to add this in or, or use this piece. Then you, you add that in and just little by little, they’ll get into a routine and they’ll figure it out for themselves, but also not to get discouraged that first year is hard. The second year is still hard, but a little easier if you don’t kind of really get into that full rhythm until maybe your third year, honestly, you know, it, it takes some time, so just be patient. And if it was your passion, just keep it up. Keep going.


Sam Demma (21:59):
That’s awesome. And if someone’s listening right now and liked any part of this interview and just wants to chat with you or reach out, or it would be the best way for them to do so.


Bridgit Moore (22:11):
Well they could email me, I guess. So my email I’ll give my personal email is bridgit777@gmail.com.


Sam Demma (22:26):
All right. Cool, Bridgit, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work. I can’t wait to stay in touch and see what the rest of the year turns out to be like for you.


Sam Demma (22:39):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Bridgit

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.

Marc England – Teacher and Leadership Advisor at Fleetwood Park Secondary School

Marc England
About Marc England

Marc England (@mreteacher) is a teacher and Leadership Advisor at Fleetwood Park Secondary School in Surrey, British Columbia. He is now in his 23rd year of teaching. For 20 years, he has been involved in Student Leadership as a Student Council Advisor and leadership educator. He is a strong believer of “people first” in schools, and that if we have strong school cultures, the rest will look after itself.  

Marc has presented for many years across Canada at various Student Leadership events. He has worked with the BC Association of Activity Advisors and worked with his students to host a BC Student Leadership Conference in 2017. Since 2008 he has been involved with the Canadian Student Leadership Association in various capacities and helped develop their Leadership Advisor Certification Program. 

He is a husband, an uncle to his amazing nephews and nieces, a sports nut, and still thinks he has the best job in the world. 

Connect with Marc: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian student leadership website
Fleetwood park secondary
Canadian student leadership conference (CSLC)

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 student podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Marc England. Marc is a teacher as well as a student leadership advisor and a director for the Canadian student leadership association. He teaches out in Surrey, BC. In this episode, he talks a lot about school culture and a dozen actionable ideas that you can take with your students in your school to boost student morale, to increase engagement, and bring everyone together to build some real community during this tough, challenging time professional life aside, marc loves hockey, specifically the New York Rangers, his grandfather played in the league and he even draws some parallels along the lines of hockey and student leadership. In this episode. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this episode. It’s packed with nuggets and gems. Get a pen and a sheet of paper and enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, marc. Thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. We just chatted a little bit about your family lineage with the New York Rangers. Please let everyone know who you are, where you teach and why you got into the work you do with young people today.


Marc England (01:16):
Awesome. Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, this is a great opportunity and you know, to give you a little bit of a shadow before we even start, you were part of the global loose to the global student leadership day therein may, that Stu put on. And when I asked her my kids’ reflections, you were on more than a few about what they had to say about the day. So something about what you said is surely identifying with our kids and that’s important. So a little tip of the hat to you, my friend. So yeah, my name’s Marc England and I work in Surrey, British Columbia at Fleetwood park secondary, and I started out as a humanities and social studies teacher and evolved into student leadership. And right now that’s kind of the hat I wear is teach a little bit of humanities, but run our student leadership program and teach a couple of blocks to that and leadership department head and, and work with some other things around here too.


Marc England (02:06):
So yeah, that’s, that’s my job. And as far as why I do what I do, you know, Conlon always says it best Dave Conlin, a fellow I work with with the Canadian student leadership association says we have the best job in the world. So why would, why would you not want to do and not do the work when you have the best job in the world? I think like most teachers were really in this to see and help kids succeed and to really see their journey. And for our case in BC, at least in Surrey, we don’t have a middle school model. So for five years, we get to see that evolution and see that success grow including the bumps in the road sometimes, but that makes it rewarding at the end. So whatever that might be most for some, it might be graduation and some of it might be a full-ride scholarship to uni.


Marc England (02:51):
Whatever that success is when they leave, that’s what we want. And that’s why we love what we do. I love working with student leaders. It’s honestly, that’s, that’s the part of the job that keeps me going every day still. I mean, I love teaching and teaching humanities and social studies, but 23 years in, I’ve been doing that. And student leadership is different every day and it’s a different group of kids all the time. Those are the kids that are engaged. Those are the kids that are, that want to contribute to their community, contribute to their schools. I mean, who would want to work with those kids? And you know, to be honest with you, I’ve always kind of asked for, for us, we started at eight and go to 12 and I’ve always wanted to have great 8, 10, 12’s, because I, I don’t like just teaching seniors. I want to have the newbies, cause I want to try and get them excited about our school and make them feel, feel belong. So those are a whole bunch of reasons, kind of why I do what I do.


Sam Demma (03:44):
At what point in your life did you make the decision I’m going to be a teacher? Was it because someone else tapped you on the shoulder? Was it because your parents told you to, or was there just an innate feeling that you wanted to teach? One day?


Marc England (03:59):
It’s funny. I didn’t really set out to be a teacher. I went to school, my mom was an instructor in the psychiatric nursing department at a local college university. And so she was fairly academic and there was that pressure to go to school. But I didn’t really set out to be an educator. I kind of was working in the business for a buddy who had his own business. And I pretty soon realized that that wasn’t really something that I wanted to do. Not because I didn’t enjoy the work and being part of a business, but I just didn’t really find it that rewarding profession. Like, you know, you go to work, you kind of go do the grind and, and it just, wasn’t what I kind of was looking for. And I could feel that in my soul. But I had been working, I, part of my youth was working at, with softball, Canada.


Marc England (04:46):
I played ball and then I started umpiring at the age of 11. And as I kind of got older, I got, we got to climb the ranks of the empire world. And I got to work with kids as I got older in a mentor capacity and a local kind of park empire and chief. And so part of that was teaching the clinics. And part of that was working with kids and something with that, just kind of jived with me and being able to see them learn and then see them apply skills. I thought you know what? This is kind of cool. Maybe this is something that I want to do. And a lot of the guys that I kind of hung out with within that world were educators, or either already established, dedicated educators or going in to be educators. And so I thought, well, you know what, this, this might be cool.


Marc England (05:26):

So I reached out to a, to a local, to one of my favorite teachers. And I mean, I think we all have those people in our school lives that really kind of pushed us and drove us and got us and, and really inspired us to do what we do with kids. And for me, the first guy like that was Mr. Jamison in grade five, you know, the brand new kid from Winnipeg just made me feel welcome and was, probably one of the best teachers that I’ve ever seen in my life. And then my 10 English teacher grade eight and 10 English teacher, Mrs. Hilman. I approached her and she was hard. Oh, she was hard, but she was good. And talk about keeping kids at the center of what she did. And I think that’s why I reached out to her and said, you know, I’d like to maybe think about this. She said, come on in. We did some volunteer work. And from then I was hooked. It was, it was, that’s what I wanted to do. So it wasn’t necessarily that I’ve always felt this string, but there is no doubt in my mind that I have ended up doing what I was meant to do.


Sam Demma (06:28):
What did those teachers in your life do for you that made all the difference? Jamison and the teacher you just alluded to?


Marc England (06:35):
Oh, man. Mrs. Hellman. Both of them I’ll tell you the one thing, and this is what I draw. This is what this is at the center is, is relating to kids and keeping it’s the relationships piece, right? Like everything on, you know, Phil boy talks about the relationship pyramid or the leadership pyramid. And at the bottom of it is this is the relationships, it’s the foundation of everything we do. So there was never any, like the first day I walked into school. It wasn’t like, you know, I remember as the new kid from, from December too wasn’t, even in September, I remember he’s like, Hey, how are you? Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Where do you come from? What’s your story? So that was huge, right? What’s your story? Who are the, who are you coming into my room here? And it wasn’t a bad thing.


Marc England (07:13):
It was like, I just want to know you and the other stuff took a back seat. And then the other Mrs. Hilman same thing. But boy, like I said, she was tough. She was firm, she was a hard teacher, a hard marker, but at the center of it was relationships. And you talk to, you know, she sadly passed away a few years ago, but you talk to anybody who went through that school. And some people, you know, didn’t like her class because it was hard, but I don’t think you’d find too many people that didn’t love her. Right. And that’s the key is that you know, it, if you keep the kids at the center of what we do and every kid at the center of what we do, it’s that it’s the success. That’s awesome. That’s the common denominator between those two. I like that.


Sam Demma (08:01):
And during COVID it’s a challenging time. How do we still keep students at the center? There are so many things to worry about. There are some challenges you’ve been faced with, how do we make sure students still stay at the center of our focus during these tough times?


Marc England (08:15):
You know, it’s an interesting calm kind of question because we’ve talked about this. One of my hats that I wear is I work with the Canadian student leadership association. I’m part of their board of directors, but you know, really I’ve been working with them for 15 years on, at the board level anyway. And, and, and I’ve been, you know, to go back to your, how did I get into this work question? Can I go back and answer something on that? Of course I just, you know, that I F I feel like there are things in our lives and in our, in our careers, that when they happen, they happen for a reason. And I was in about 2001 as a brand new, not brand new teacher, but new to a school teacher who, and they, the principal said, you know, what would you mind taking over student council?


Marc England (09:07):
And I had never been, I was a wannabe student leader in, in high school. And I, you know, my best friend, she was on student council and I always kind of admired it from afar. And I thought you know what? That would be cool. I would really, that that’s something that I would like to do. And I liked all the events that we were running at the school. I liked the planning stuff. I thought it would be just something that would be right up my alley little did I know that I would be still doing it this many years later? The thing is too, is that the average leadership life teacher’s lifespan is about what Dave says. It’s about three to five years, just simply because it’s all-encompassing, right. And you’re running events all the time and doing all these things, but it’s so amazing.


Marc England (09:51):
And I fluently kind of fell into what I do. So this one principal just kind of said, Hey, do you wanna? I said, sure. And then what, like go back to the empire thing. One of the guys that I was umpiring with when we were kids, he was doing a leadership program in hope, British Columbia, and he and his wife were planning a national conference or part of a committee. And they said, do you want to join us here? And that was, that was how I got hooked into CSLC and the Canadian conference, and the Canadian student leadership association. And that was 2002. So here we are in 2020. And, and it’s something that still is amazing. So, you know, sometimes it’s people that tap you on the shoulder, and sometimes it’s people that you have things in common and, you know, some things just happen at the right time in your life and really guide you in what your path might be.


Marc England (10:37):
So going back to your COVID question. Yeah. You’re the COVID question, you know, it’s I think the struggle question is, is the hardest piece. And the biggest piece that in schools is culture. School culture right now is really, really suffering during COVID-19 and it’s nobody’s fault. Honestly, everybody’s doing the very best that they can, but most events in schools that bring people, kids, staff together are not happening. Yeah. So you have some instances of a little bit of student culture where the kids are interacting and, you know, there may be hanging out at lunch and this kind of thing, and you have some instances of staff culture where the adults in the building might be hanging out, but there’s very little beyond the actual dynamics of the classroom. There’s very little activity between staff and students in those events that really form the basis of school culture. So I think that’s probably our biggest struggle within the school system right now.


Sam Demma (11:38):
Great point. And not that I was going to ask if the school has done anything or had any unique ideas that they’ve tried, maybe you’ve tried something, it hasn’t worked out. Maybe it’s been a home run. I’m just curious to know if you had any ideas that you thought were good or that tried so far.


Marc England (11:53):
Well, you know, it’s interesting. We I have to backtrack and we have to kind of figure out where people are at and now we’re, we’re kind of almost, we’re a month into school out here. We’re in Surrey, we’re three weeks into full-time. This is week four of like full-time classes. We’re on a quarter system. So we’re basically, we switched over and kids are taking two classes at a time for basically two and a half, three hours a day. And one in the morning, one in the afternoon, seniors are remote in the afternoon, except for one day. So, you know, kids are overwhelmed a little bit it’s nobody’s fault. Like I said, it’s kind of the only system that we can make work. And so I think anything that we plan has to work around that, and, you know, the kids we forget about the kids that might have algebra, or, you know, they might have pre-calculus 12 and chemistry 12 in the same quarter and or English 12.


Marc England (12:49):
You know, I have one of my leadership kids has chemistry 12 and English 12, and that’s hard. She’s going home and doing a lot of work right now. So kids are overwhelmed a little bit and especially the seniors. And, you know, the one thing that we have to have to look at when we’re starting to plan how we can make this work is how do we build collegiality? How do we build back that collegiality with kids that collegiality with our colleagues in the building, we have, you know, a hundred plus adults in this building? How do we build that collegiality back? How do we get out of our isolation? Cause it’s easy to stay in, want to be safe in your classroom and close the door and do those kinds of things. And again, Phil boy talks about silos, but how do we do that?


Marc England (13:31):
We don’t have big lunches. You know our PE department, you know, I give them credit. Our PE office was always kind of a magnet for lunch. People went down there and ate lunch. So what they’ve done is, you know, spread some tables out in the small gym so that adults can come and eat lunch together. Our library and our teacher-librarian said you know what, I’ll open up the library. So rather than small prep rooms, people can space out and start to have that collegiality. Because I think by week two, we recognized that it was missing in building our staff culture. So I think in terms of how do we overcome things and creative ideas? I’m lucky that I work in a district with a director of instruction who, I don’t know whether a principal tapped her on the shoulder or somebody that she knew, but she is such a phenomenal educator herself.


Marc England (14:23):

And she you know, Gloria is, was beloved as a principal and now she’s working in the district office and she just said, you know what? I’m going to gather as many people as I can safely together at the district center. And let’s have a brainstorm as to how we can run events safely. So last week, in fact, she held two days where she brought together elementary schools and secondary schools, one administrator and perhaps a leadership teacher, but two people from each school. And she had a list of kind of the main events that would happen. So starting with the Terry Fox run right through to Halloween, right through to Christmas, right through to Valentine’s day. And we kind of the whole year, and you could, it was, she ran it almost like a speed dating thing where you could sit six feet apart and talk safely, but from other schools.


Marc England (15:08):
And then she kept a live document as to how, you know when you get a hundred people brainstorming, how we could do these things safely. And man, some of the ideas that came out of there, you know, Terry Fox run, for example. So rather than having somebody, having the whole school out on the field and say, go and collecting coins that are, you know, we can’t do so how can we do that safely? Well, most schools now have an online payment system. So encouraging your kids to, if the, if they can make a donation through the online payment system, let’s do that. So that’s safe. And then some schools ran staggered walks where the different cohorts were going off at different areas. And they were going at different times and they were starting at different places and they were ending at different places and the teachers were walking with them.


Marc England (15:52):
But they were all in the community and there was kind of marker posts around and it was all done with that Terry Fox run mentality in mind. So it wouldn’t be lost. Hope secondary did something I just found out about yesterday called T Terry Fox 40, this being the 40th year, of course, rather than, you know, they didn’t do their run, but what they had was they contributed each kind of classroom contributed something around 40. So the woodshop made 40 pieces of, you know, their project, the cooking class made 40 cookies. And so they did whatever their kind of curriculum area was, you know, the French class conjugated, 40 verbs, whatever it was, they were doing things around 40. And they made that their number for the day that they were, they were honoring Terry Fox’s purpose.


Marc England (16:43):
And so all sorts of creative ideas that you, you may not be able to do the event that you’ve way you’ve done it. But if there’s a purpose to the event, is there a way that we can do the event and still honor that purpose? So I think that’s kind of the nugget that I took away from last week and through conversations with people and, you know I think I give all the credit in our world to ours, my staff that I work with. I’m fortunate to work with some amazing people. Our biggest event here at the fluid park is something we have run for our grade eight. It’s called the grade eight retreat. And essentially every year we take 250 or 300-grade eights away to camp. And so half of them go have one night and half of them go the next night.


Marc England (17:26):
And it’s just a day of activities, fun team building activities and what it means to be a dragon, and how they give back to their school. Here are the clubs, but it’s all run by our student leaders and they run the sessions. They do the, they do the breakout things. They run the games, you know, teachers, are there, basically to serve lasagna and kind of supervise. It’s awesome. So you talk to any kids when they graduate. What do you remember about the fluid park? It’s always, you know, I wish I may be gotten involved more, but man graded retreat that’s and the kids, the amount of kids that want to sign up when they’re grade 10, 11, 12 to be mentors is incredible. So it truly is one of, it’s probably our secret event. It’s our traditional it’s, it’s rooted in our, in our traditions. And it is part of our culture.


Marc England (18:12):
So obviously we can’t go to camp. We can’t put kids on buses, we can’t do things like trust falls. We can’t do things that are, you know even, even team-building hot potato games where they’re touching the same thing, we can’t do that. How do we, so we asked ourselves, how can we take the mentorship piece? Because when we looked, I said to the colleagues that I was working with on this what’s our purpose with this? What, what purpose does this serve? Well, it really came down to mentorship and it came down to basically having our grades have something coming into our school. So we decided the purpose has to be well, let’s still have them. They’re Fleetwood park shirts that they’re going to wear with pride, and let’s try and do something where we can still have that mentorship piece. So through some creativity our team sat down and they hammered out.


Marc England (18:59):
Basically, each graded cohort of 30 kids is going to have two hours with senior leadership kids this week in, and it’s not retreat at camp, but it’s retreat activities outside on one of our fields. Cause the weather is supposed to be nice. So every grade eight is still going to get two hours of team building and what it means to be a dragon, but it’s going to be done safely. It’s going to be done at a distance. It’s going to be done, but we haven’t lost our purpose. So when I think when you step back and ask you that what’s the purpose of the event, I think that’s, that’s something that you can sometimes overcome.


Sam Demma (19:30):
Tony, Tony Robbins always says the quality of our life is determined by the questions we ask. And when you ask yourself those questions that leads to a positive outcome. If you have enough brains in a room like you did with your brainstorm with your school board and Gloria, of course, you’re going to have some amazing ideas. I think this is a great takeaway for any educator listening, who might be out of province, struggling to come up with ideas. The classic mastermind principle is so key and your school is evident of that. Marc, you’ve obviously built over the past dozen years, an amazing school culture at Fleetwood. I’m sure there’s been dozens of stories of students when they graduate writing you letters and reaching out that you didn’t even know you impacted, but telling you how big of an impact that you had on their life.


Sam Demma (20:16):
Can you think of a story, maybe the first story that pops into your mind of a student who’s been deeply impacted by student leadership work by your work, by your colleagues work. And can you share that student’s story? You can change their name for privacy reasons. If it’s a very deep story, the purpose of sharing, this is in the hope that another educator might be inspired to remember why the work that you do, that we do is so important, especially if this is their first year in education and they’re thinking, oh my goodness, what did I sign up for? So what stories come to mind?


Marc England (20:47):
Oh, Man! You know, so student leadership, like I said, that I keep you’re right. I have, I mean, I hate talking about myself, Sam, I’m not going to lie, but I sometimes show my kids this, when we get too stressful points, I keep what I call my bad day file. And it’s literally, it’s probably too big for one file now, but it’s every card, every note, every piece of every letter that I’ve ever gotten, I just keep it in the file. And then that’s 20 years now of, of stuff. I keep a wall of fame in my classroom with kids that have graduated from various things that we do as far as specific kids there, there’s a few I think, let me, let me answer your question through a little bit of a different lens if that’s okay. Of course.


Marc England (21:40):
Let me tell you about why student leadership’s rewarding for me. And it, it is, it is along the same lines of your question, but here. So I had a kid Brittany that came into my classroom in grade eight and you know, she was like any other grade eight and nervous and self-conscious and all of those things that go along with your first year in high school. And, you know, I think it was grade nine. We tapped her on the shoulder to get involved with the student council and she just started her journey. And, you know, she came from a family of four kids with a single mom. I taught, attended up. I taught all the kids, the whole family, and she, her mom was such a hard worker. Oh, just worked so hard for those kids. And she was always at school doing what she needed to do. A good student.


Marc England (22:30):
You know, she was a good academic student, but just jived on the student council stuff, grade 12, we can, she came to PEI with us, for Canadian student leadership conference. And for her, I could just see the light bulb go off for her. And that was something that she loved. So she’s a great example of, you know, sometimes all it takes is to ask that kid to alter or find a way to get them involved. And it takes them through four or five years of their high school journey. And the reason Brittany’s story is special to me is that, you know, she was one that wrote me this beautiful letter upon her graduation that I put into my bad day file. And it sat there for 5, 6, 7 years and last year or two years ago, I guess it was because she wasn’t here last year.


Marc England (23:21):
Brittany ended up as a colleague at my school and she’s become a teacher. And so here we were from mentor and teacher and student relationship to now colleagues. And, you know, she’s still a pretty special person. She came to my wedding last year. But you know, I showed her, I said, you know, when you’re doubting your purpose as a teacher, don’t forget that you never know what somebody’s journey is. And I pulled that out and I showed her, and I think that reaffirmed for her that because she’s with the student council here and working on some things here in student leadership. So for me, that was a special moment. That’s a special kid that, that I was able to see, go and end up, you know, doing something similar, but just she’s similar to me. And she just loves what she does and keeps kids at the center.


Marc England (24:13):
So there’s been others, there’s been other kids that I’ve seen. You know, I have a student who was with me and was my student council president. Who’s now, you know, one of the local managers, team management, a high up management team with one of the most successful restaurant chains locally. And she’s doing well and succeeding and you know, and those are skills that she learned through student leadership. So whether it’s a kind of personal story and you see the personal growth or whether it’s a professional story and you see the professional growth of these kids, to me, that’s worth everything.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. So cool, marc. I absolutely love the story. And again, I wanted to ask because there might be a teacher who’s starting their first year thinking, what the heck did I sign up for here? And if you could travel back in time to when you were starting your first year, what would you have told your younger self? What pieces of advice would you give your younger self?


Marc England (25:09):
I would say don’t get frustrated by policy and don’t get frustrated by people or things that seem to be in your way. You know, they’re there for a reason I would say, keep working at finding solutions. And I think that’s something that I’ve always pushed for. You know, if something I find, if something frustrates me, I just ask my principal, how can we make this work? What can we do? And nine times out of 10, we find a way to make it work. You know, it may not look as exactly as it is in my brain, but I think, honestly, your question, if I were to go back, I would tell myself, you know, don’t ever stop keeping kids in the center of what you do. When I first started, I was young I was easily relatable to kids and it was easy to kind of get them, right?


Marc England (26:05):
And I got kids, kids got me. And, but now, you know, here we are 23 years later and I still find it relatively easy to relate to kids. And so why is that? Well, I think it’s because kids are the purpose of what we do and it doesn’t necessarily matter that I’m going to get through a, to Z of the curriculum. I’m going to teach all the skills and I’m going to do as much as I can, but some days, some days it’s more important to just ask kids how they’re doing rather than teach that one lesson.


Sam Demma (26:37):
That’s Awesome. I love that so much. And as an off-topic question to wrap this up, your grandfather, New York Rangers mentioned at the beginning, it looks like you’re also wearing a hockey Jersey. First of all, do you see any connection between hockey and student leadership? Could you draw any connections between the sport and the game and two, what makes you so passionate about hockey?


Marc England (27:00):
Well, I grew up, I grew up partly in Winnipeg so, you know, there’s not much else to do besides the sports there, but, yeah, you know what I was, my grandfather played in the New York Rangers, he’s in the hockey hall of fame and, you know, it’s always been, it’s something that as a kid, we took for granted, I won’t make any bones about it. He’s my hero. And my role model. I was lucky to grow up with three incredible male role models in my life. My grandfather and my stepdad and my dad, all three of them had such a profound impact on where I am in life. But for my grandfather, though, hockey player, what, what I learned from him is how to treat people. And he, we would be with him and he would stop. And whether it was somebody that wanted an autograph or somebody that just wanted to chat, he made time for everybody.


Marc England (27:45):
And he was never in a rush, drove my grandmother nuts, but he made time for people. And I think that’s the lesson learned is that I might need to get out the door, but there’s a kid standing at my door that wants to talk, and I need to give that kid that time. Right. And make time for people. And people will make time for you. The other thing I learned about that is his teamwork. You know he was a goaltender, he was kind of the backstop of that team, but it really took, you know, five other guys on the ice at the time or 15 other guys on the bench at the time to find any kind of level of success. And always said that he said, you know what, we, we did, we had didn’t have the greatest the clubs as he would say, but he said, we really got along and we worked hard and we did well together that year.


Marc England (28:31):
And they made it to the Stanley cup final game seven-double overtime. And so he, that’s something that I even take to education is that I’m, you know, I’m part of a team, I’m part of a team of adults in this building. I’m part of a team with our student leadership family around the country. I’m part of a team with my kids. I always say to my kids in class, I’m like, listen, what I do reflects you, what you do reflects me. And so, we’re in this journey together. It’s not me, the teacher, it’s us as this group. And I think the final piece around what I would say from hockey to, and sports to this is that nobody’s bigger than a game and, you know great hockey players retire, and yeah, they’ve made an impact and they’ve done some things, but there’s always somebody else that’s going to move into that position.


Marc England (29:24):
And I’ve learned that I’ve learned that, you know, in my young days I thought, oh, I’m, I’m good at what I do. And, and there was some swagger, but there’s always somebody that’s going to, if I were to be gone tomorrow, somebody would roll into my chair and do a good job and make it different and make it better. And nobody’s bigger than the game. And so sometimes we need to check ourselves as teachers and revisit that relationship piece and revisit that purpose piece. And what drives us. We were talking about this with you know, part of the thing that kind of pushes me as I move forward. And it’s not just kid’s success, but seeing all of our leadership friends, we didn’t get to go to the CSLC this year with Canadian leadership conference. But seeing people post about how special our jobs are and how, how awesome it is to work with kids and, but work with each other and get ideas from all around the country. So, yeah, it’s pretty, pretty awesome.


Sam Demma (30:21):
I think what you said about nobody’s bigger than the game, not only applies to the teacher, but about anyone in life, and it’s a beautiful analogy and I’m glad you pulled it from the sport. And I love the Jersey. I love the backdrop. It’s cool to see the passion for it. Anyways, this has been an incredible interview. The audio sounds great. Shout out to your headphones that no one can see right now, but those are awesome.


Marc England (30:44):
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And you know, oh, sorry. Go ahead, Sam.


Sam Demma (30:48):
I was going to ask you if an educator from around the country wants to reach out and bounce some ideas around what would be the best way for them to do so.


Marc England (30:56):
Oh, probably email. It can be reached at, if you go to the Canadian student leadership website: student leadership.ca under the contact, the team I’m there, or just, my email is england_m@surreyschools.ca that’s, that’s easy as well or DM through Twitter at @mreteacher or Instagram mreteacher27.


Sam Demma (31:19):
Awesome. And any last thoughts? Any last thoughts to share?


Marc England (31:23):
Yeah. You know what I do I’ll share a story a little bit about the struggles that we’re kind of working on. And, and as we kind of, I, you know, this isn’t going away, Sam COVID is not going away anytime soon. And so when I started this, this year, coming back to school, there was a lot of uncertainty, myself included. I was anxious. Like everybody else, there’s a lot of anxiety in our buildings. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst staff. There’s a lot of anxiety amongst kids. My advice and what I, my, I think as we navigate this together, as we are, we are in together. Stu likes to say, we’re all in the same ocean, different boats, which is a good analogy, but we all are on our journey. Kind of experiencing different things in the same way, like the same ocean as he says.


Marc England (32:10):
So, you know, I think for me, it’s about helping colleagues and just say, let’s, let’s not give up. Let’s focus on the, let’s revisit the purpose. When we were in the spring, we had a kid, and again, you kind of your COVID question. You know, we had an email from a dad and this is a shout-out to my colleagues at our school here. We had an email from a dad that said, thank you. And the reason he was saying, thank you was that there was a lot of discussion as to whether you do a synchronous session or an asynchronous session for your academic classes. And the dad simply said you know what, thank you for not making everything synchronous because I have four kids. I’m a single dad. I got four kids in one laptop. And that to me, he really made me step back and say, okay, you know what? Everybody’s circumstances are different, but when we truly are appreciative and we understand, and we help each other through their journey through this, I think we can overcome what we need to overcome. Right? School’s not going to be the same, but let’s revisit our purpose, our events, our culture, and find ways that we can try to make things happen as best we can. If it’s virtual, it’s virtual, if it’s six feet apart is six feet apart, but let’s always kind of keep that purpose at the root of what we do.


Sam Demma (33:29):
Awesome. Thanks so much, marc. This has been a phenomenal interview. I really appreciate you taking some time to share some ideas on the show.


Marc England (33:36):
Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me, Sam, I look forward to, I’ve been listening to some of your work with the student podcasts. So you know, keep doing what you do as well. It’s, it’s inspirational to the kids. And like I said, you’ve made an impact even on my kids, just through your work with the global student leadership day.


Sam Demma (33:52):
Appreciate It, marc. I’ll talk to you soon.


Marc England (33:53):
Okay. Thanks, man.


Sam Demma (33:56):
Wow. What a jam-packed interview with Marc England. He has so much to offer and so much to provide. I’m sure you took so many notes away from this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope it was valuable and worth the investment of the time you put in to listen to it. And if you did enjoy it, consider leaving a rating and review on the show. So more educators like yourself, find this. And as always, if you have something to share, please reach out to us at info@samdemma.com so we can get your stories and actionable ideas on the podcast for your colleagues around the world to hear, learn from and implement and as always, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Marc England

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.

Scott Kirkness – Classroom Teacher in the Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division

Scott Kirkness, Educator
About Scott Kirkness

Scott Kirkness is an educator living in Southeastern Saskatchewan. Raised and educated in Ontario, he moved west in 2013 after teaching in the UK. Scott is married with three beautiful children and enjoys training for marathons in his spare time. He graduated with BA (History) from Laurentian University in 2010 and a B. Ed from Lakehead University in 2011.

Scott has plans to obtain a Master’s of Education in the near future. Previous to his work as a teacher, he was a construction site Superintendent for Century Group Inc, a position he obtained after starting out as a labourer. Scott is a firm believer that nothing in this life will come easy, and hard work is the only way to get what you want.

He is passionate about education, athletics, and self-improvement. Scott believes that technology can alleviate much of what ails this planet and the people on it.

Connect with Scott: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camp Kodiak

Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Stoughton Central School

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 (00:02):
Scott, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to, where you are in education now?


Scott Kirkness (00:12):
That sounds great. So my name is Scott Kirkness. I’m originally from Toronto and I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario got a teacher’s degree at Laurentian university and Lakehead university very excited to be here. Kind of how I got here. You know, it was one of those things where people, they never know what they want to be when they grow up until they’re faced with it. Right. And I had it in my head. I was going to be a paramedic. And then all of a sudden grade 10 science, wasn’t going so well for me. But grade 10 history, I had, my teacher pulled me aside and she said, boy, you know, in 30 years, I don’t think I’ve ever given a a hundred on an exam. So a what do you want to do with your life? I said, you know what? That sounds really good. So I got on the teaching express and here we are.


Sam Demma (00:54):
Speaking of Laurentian, it seems like you loved school so much. You went back there and ran events for them too.


Scott Kirkness (01:00):
I did, I did. I was the vice president of student services for a year with a student general association. It was great.


Sam Demma (01:07):
So you finish school at Laurentian and then what did the path kind of look like from there?


Scott Kirkness (01:16):
Well yeah, I graduated from Laurentian with my honors in history in 2010. So then I spent the next year at Lakehead university getting my faculty of education, my, my B ed. And that’s my first experience really in a classroom. Cause that’s when you have your practicums, right? That’s when you’re a student teacher. And my first experience was, was phenomenal. I got really lucky. I got to work at a place called Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school thunder bay, which is an all indigenous high school run by the Northern Nishnawbe education council. And they run it really different that they fly their students from remote reserves. They board them in thunder bay. And so as a result, they’re actually only at school, eight months to a year instead of 10. So their day is longer, their semester ends at Christmas instrument. Yeah. So I only got a five week placement, but my five weeks for longer than everyone else’s because my day was longer.


Scott Kirkness (02:08):
So that was an incredible experience. And then of course in the second semester I have another placement. It was at closed garden school also in thunder bay. Really enjoyed that experience as well. Nice. And then I was faced with the great crushing Ontario right now. Right? It’s, it’s seemingly impossible for new teachers to get work. And so I kind of went back to what I’d been doing on and off throughout university. I was a laborer for construction companies and about a year and a half after that, I just decided I had to throw my hat in the ring. And I went overseas. I taught in, in London, in England for about a semester. I had a five-year work visa. I was very fortunate. I have, I have family from the UK. So it was easy for me to get a visa, but you know, ultimately all my family’s here, the money isn’t quite the same. The experience is very different than what we have in Canada. I’m very grateful for it. But while I was over there in 2013, we didn’t quite have zoom, but we still had Skype. And I did an interview and I I landed in Saskatchewan and I’ve been at the same school, stout and central school here in Stoughton Saskatchewan since September, 2013.


Sam Demma (03:16):
Awesome. And did construction run in your family or was that something you just jumped into?


Scott Kirkness (03:22):
No, no, I was, I’m very fortunate, very privileged. My father worked construction, so he was able to usually get me work and I was not very grateful for it. Initially. I wanted to just kind of go to the bank of mom and dad, like all my friends, but to be honest, you know, you swing a shovel and a sledgehammer for eight hours a day or longer, you really start appreciating the going to class a little more.


Sam Demma (03:46):
Yeah, it’s true. My dad is a contractor. He was a licensed plumber. And in the summer times I would do some work with him. And I used to hate when he would ask me, can you help us with this unfinished basement? I mean, we have to, we have to move the stones to put some what do you call it? Like some pipe in the ground. And it was always a, a very physical job, so I definitely can relate to the experience. So at what point in your journey did you go back to Laurentian and do like student services and run events? There was that after the construction or before?


Scott Kirkness (04:18):
Oh, it’s before, during and after. Oh, cool. I actually graduated from high school in 2004 and I went back for a semester that was around the time that Ontario had dropped grade 13. And so they called it the year before me. It was the double cohort were twice as many people were going into university and I, I didn’t have enough money to be honest. So I went back to high school for a semester, tried to upgrade some credits, maybe get some scholarship opportunities. And while that didn’t really work out, I really didn’t need the second semester. So I was, yeah, that’s when I started, I was my first foray into construction. I was 18. And you know, a part of you thinks I really don’t want to take a whole gap year because I don’t know if I trust myself to go back once you get a taste of the money, but you know, sure enough, you find yourself freezing there in minus 40 shoveling.


Scott Kirkness (05:04):
And again, those classrooms looked mighty inviting for some people. And, you know, I, I have utmost respect for those people who choose that path and that’s what they want to do. Everybody is there’s great opportunities in it. But it wasn’t for me. I was really glad that I was able to make my dream come true and become an educator. That’s awesome. That actually puts me in 2005. I’m at Laurentian. I go through it and I was kind of one credit behind the whole way. And so I didn’t actually graduate in 2009, I needed one more credit or class from however they split it up. And so I did the vice-president of services while I was getting my last credit, because it’s a full-time job. You’re working 30, 40 hours a week.


Sam Demma (05:49):
And what was that like? Like if you have to put, but, but if an educator listening and want us to put themselves in the shoes of a event planner or students or head of student services at you know, a university.


Scott Kirkness (06:01):
Yeah. Well, I guess in a word, a learning experience, if I can make an eight, it, you know, it starts with, okay, so you have to get the frosh kits ready. Okay. Well, what do I put in the frosh kits? Well, this is what they did last year that doesn’t tell me what I’m supposed to do. You know, you’re really figuring a lot of this out and our executive director, God bless her. She’s a Saint who worked for peanuts for longer than she ever should have. Her name was Tanis logon and she was on maternity leave. So sure she kept coming in with the baby and everything, but I’m trying not to bug her too much. There’s a whole story about ordering lanyards. And I thought I got us a great deal. And I accidentally kind of screwed over a product user we’d been using for a decade and, you know, learning experience. But the best thing that came out of that was I got media training. How to deal with an interview on the phone, you know, get the questions in advance, don’t say yes to any interview right away. Think about it, things like that. Cool. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:54):
That’s amazing. That’s so awesome. I know from speaking to buddies who go to university, they, they love events, but little, do they know the amount of work that goes into them from behind the scenes?


Scott Kirkness (07:05):
Little did I little, did I know that frosh concerts are usually paid for, with a briefcase of cash? Really? Yeah. You give the band a, you know, 25 grand in cash in a briefcase at the end of the night and their rider kits are phenomenal too. That’s fricking cool.


Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s awesome. You also did some stuff with camp Kodiak. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how that kind of shaped.


Scott Kirkness (07:26):
You as well? For sure. So camp Kodiak is, you know, one of the happiest places on earth, they are essentially a camp for children with different learning disabilities, primarily who are on the autism spectrum. It’s run for, I believe kids about eight to 18, and then they even have club Kodiak for it. You know, adults who had been part of the program which is also really cool. It’s incredibly expensive. But part of the reason it’s expensive is because they have an incredible camper to counselor ratio in my cabin, you know, it’s a three to one ratio, there was three kids to every adult and you, you can’t get that anywhere to summer camp. You know, it’s, it’s international. We had kids flying in from Russia, the Arab Emirates, Venezuela half are from Ontario, but a lot are not. Wow. And so you get a lot of experience, you know, waking up at 7:00 AM meds for some kids while other kids are getting them throughout the day, the programming is very rigid.


Scott Kirkness (08:22):
You start learning the how important routines are to a lot of the kids on the spectrum. Right. And it just teaches you compassion on a level that you wouldn’t have expected. Right? You, you read about it and patience and understanding, but until you’ve lived it, you know, the kid does not have his X-Box at camp. Right. And so his routine is already totally thrown into the woods, but you know, they, the relationships they’re able to form. And then I was able to form with them. You know, I, I only did it the one summer, but I still have campers who were in cabinet year. They were 16, 17 years old. And you know, they still reach out to me occasionally and, you know, Hey, you know, God, I’m dating myself now, but you know, they’re 21, 24 years old now all of a sudden, right. Some of them are older now than when I was, when I met them. That’s so cool. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:11):
And you know, speaking of international flying kids and our kids were coming all over to camp when you were in London. Yep. What was that experience like? I know you mentioned it’s very different. Give me an idea.


Scott Kirkness (09:24):
Well, here’s an idea of different. So I got off the airplane, not knowing where I was sleeping that night. Wow. Yeah. I was newly married. I got married in January. I flew over there and I love my wife very much, but we all knew that the idea of living in a hostel for a few weeks was just not something that was going to work for her. So the plan was for me to go over there and get established and she’ll come join me in the fall. And that didn’t end up happening. You know, like I said, I came to Saskatchewan, but you know, I, I thought I had this big joke. I was going to tell all the people I’m moving to England to teach the English kids how to speak English, you know, little did I know, I understand cosmopolitan metropolitan cities, but I didn’t realize just how diverse London is.


Scott Kirkness (10:10):
You know, about a third of the kids were English as a second language, maybe more. And so that was just my first thought was okay. Not every kid in my English class in England understands the English I’m speaking. And so again, the level of patience and I had a lot of hubris as a young teacher, like, all right, I got this like, look at me like, they’re going to want to learn from me. I have this figured out. I was just recently a student, you know, like every new teacher thinks. And again, it’s, it’s, you need to be patient. You need to be flexible. And the idea that every single kid in your room is going to do the same thing is just a fool’s errand.


Sam Demma (10:48):
Did you end up watching any soccer games while you were there?


Scott Kirkness (10:50):
You know what I did? I’ll try it. I’ll always try and watch the language here. But one of my first days I’m going down to a pub and I said, oh, you know, my friend is a big football fan. And he said, you got to get down to a pub. It’s all right, man, you versus man city for the premiership title, you got to go watch it. And I said, all right. So I’m in north London and I walk into a pub and I said, oh, are you gonna put the match on? And he just looks me right in the eye and says after United and F city, this is an arsenal bar.


Scott Kirkness (11:21):
Not putting the match off, dude. That’s amazing. Okay, cool. I got some culture, but I’m feeling a little homesick later in the year and I’m a Toronto boy in the Toronto maple Leafs make the playoffs for the first time, since I’m in high school and it’s 2013 and they’re on the dream season and they’re going to win it all. Well, the game start at midnight. So I come home from work. I have a nap. And then at midnight, I’m like, I’m going to watch the hockey games. And then I go to bed at 4:00 AM and wake up and go to work. So then I’m real excited to have this place called the maple leaf Tavern. And I’m excited to go watch a hockey game there. I take the subway. I go over there, bars closed at midnight. Wow. Taking this Canadian pub hockey game, maybe Burton now didn’t work out. But it, it was just, I wouldn’t trade that experience in London for the world. It was so good for me professionally and just the personal growth of, you know, living in a foreign country.


Sam Demma (12:16):
That’s awesome. Would you recommend other educators try and do the same?


Scott Kirkness (12:18):
So particularly early in your career, I had through the company I worked with, I got guaranteed supply work. They called it. So I was guaranteed four days a week, but I was a substitute teacher. So I was in different buildings all the time. And it’s, it’s almost like an apprenticeship, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re not the one making the planning and the decisions, but you’re still there doing the work. And I think that’s an important skill. And I think a lot of times new teachers really get rushed to the front. And I think that’s part of the reason there’s a big burnout.


Sam Demma (12:53):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, especially right now. Things are so different. Things have changed a lot. I’m curious to know what are some of the challenges you’ve been facing personally or as a school in education right now and how you’re striving to kind of overcome those things or deal with them?


Scott Kirkness (13:08):
Yeah. lots of things, right. I mean, in my personal life, I’ve had three children who are under the age of five. You know, one of them was born during the pandemic. You know, the sleep is still not quite a part of my life, but professionally it’s the same challenges. I think educators face all over the place. We’ve been fighting for a few, a few of the same things forever smaller class sizes and, you know, greater compensation. And while yes, in Canada, our teachers are taken care of, and I’m not here to complain about money. I’m quite happy with what I’m doing, but money is a factor in class sizes, right. You know, there are not standard class sizes across the countries, across the province. They vary so dramatically. And you know, in some of these small rural areas, you have three and four grades in a same class.


Scott Kirkness (14:03):
And that’s an incredible challenge. I’m fortunate and I’ve never dealt with a triple or a quad split, but every class, almost every class I’ve taught in my career has been a split class, just because of the nature of the size of my community. It’s rare to have more than 10, 12 kids in the same grade. Like I work in a K to 12 school, it’s kindergarten, grade 12, and we only have about 160 kids. So do the math. I’m not saying it’s viable for you to have a class of 10, but every educator, every educational theorist in the world would tell you, you’re going to have a better learning experience if you were to have some of the smaller classes. So that’s the big challenge. And then of course the other challenge staring us in the face is the global pandemic. You know, I got a lot of friends back east and it was hard in Ontario.


Scott Kirkness (14:52):
It really was, you know, they had such strict lockdowns and this whole thing came out of nowhere, but ultimately they were largely able to shift online that isn’t the case in rural areas. Our, our internet is just not really capable of you know, live video streaming everywhere. So the kids can do it, but it wasn’t a reality for everyone. And so I guess the greatest answer to how to overcome some of these challenges is a, the answer is more technology, right? Get the upgraded internet systems. You know, you hear the federal government talking about, you know, making high-speed internet and an essential service. You know, we kinda got a flash forward and what the future of education looks like with the pandemic. And I didn’t like all of it, but you know, as long as the technology works out and you’re not having inequity with some children not having access to it, some of it wasn’t all bad. Yeah.


Sam Demma (15:50):
Yeah. I agree. All right. Can there be more you raised a lot of great points and I’m curious to know if, when you initially started out your career as well, you had someone kind of mentoring you and guiding you like a, another educator or people that you would go to and kind of ask questions. If you weren’t sure about certain situations.


Scott Kirkness (16:08):
I was really fortunate to walk into a veteran building. You know, there was another rookie teacher on staff with me who has since moved on to Alberta. I had to add Alberta cause they didn’t want people to think she had died. Yeah. So, you know, we had some rookie conversations, but we had a lot of veterans in the building. Right. It was a matter of what do I do when this happens. And, and there’s also a lot of kind of falling off the horse. Sometimes you really do just have to screw up initially and I’m not talking about, you know, oh, well, you know, I just decided I didn’t want to read the novel in advance. And we watched the movie, you know, I, I don’t mean that, but you know, there were things I didn’t understand about how to take what’s in the curriculum and put it into the classroom.


Scott Kirkness (16:50):
And I, I made some mistakes along the way, and I’ll never forget. I have a colleague who I sure would want to remain nameless. And they had a prep period and they were sitting next door and my door was open and they heard me talk and doing my lesson. This said, so what, what class you teach in there as well? That’s great. Eight social studies. She chuckles and she says, no, it isn’t, that’s not part of it. And so, you know, she gave me the, you know, the fact that life conversation very gently about, okay, well know, I understand how you, you got X for that answer, but really it’s why, and they were able to share resources. And it’s just one of those important things you need to build comradery and culture within the room.


Sam Demma (17:35):
That that’s amazing. That’s actually a very helpful person.


Scott Kirkness (17:39):
Yeah, yeah. That could have been terrible. I mean, they could have completely thrown me under the bus, backed it over a few times, but we’re very fortunate that education, it’s not a cutthroat competitive field, a field where everybody, you know, I’m not fighting with her for a salary demand next year. Yep. So we both have the job, we’re all in this to make other people’s lives better. Right.


Sam Demma (18:02):
That’s awesome. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, you know, rookie Scott in your first year teaching, but then wisdom and advice and you know, experience you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Scott Kirkness (18:14):
I would undo a lot of the advice I got from unsolicited people going into education. One of the things I had a professor telling me at the faculty of education was as a young teacher, don’t smile until Christmas. They won’t, they won’t take you seriously looking at it as like what they were trying to foster an atmosphere of intimidation. And, you know, I have a loud, booming voice. I wear a suit. I stay, I stood at the front of the room. I taught really old school initially. You know, it was okay, desks in rows and we’re gonna teach like this. And I thought I was all futuristic because I was having them, you know, use Microsoft office 365, a congratulations. You’re gonna use a shared document. That’s my modern teaching. That’s it? As opposed to the idea of small group instruction, as opposed to the idea that relationship building is the most important part of this job.


Scott Kirkness (19:11):
People somewhat more salient than I said something along the lines of people will rarely remember what their teacher taught them, but they will always remember how their teacher made them feel. And people who are in a good Headspace who are happy to be there. You know, the learning happens a lot easier. I’m not saying it happens by osmosis. You can’t just be friends with them and Powell around and put on the basketball game, but you need that positive relationship. It’s the whole Maslow before bloom theory, right? If the, if their immediate needs are not being met and often those needs are for an adult relationship outside of their family, it’s real difficult to get to the higher levels of thinking.


Sam Demma (19:53):
Yeah. I agree. I think back to the teachers that have the biggest impact on me and a lot of them got to know me on a personal level, built really strong relationships. And that’s why I felt more interested in, you know, engaging in their lessons and everything they had to teach.


Scott Kirkness (20:08):
Yeah. And that’s it. It’s the old data Ms. Frizzle, right? Take chances. Make mistakes and get messy. Yeah. I remember being real proud of the fact that when I was a first year teacher, I was deducting marks for kids who didn’t underline the date on their notes. Like, why did I even care? Why am I evaluating their notes? What their notes, show me, congratulations. You know how to copy not congratulations. You thought of something and showed me something.


Sam Demma (20:34):
Yeah, I like that. That’s a good point. That’s a really good point. Scott, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I I loved it and this was a great conversation. If another educator is listening and wants to reach


Scott Kirkness (20:47):
Out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you and do so? The best way to get ahold of me would be to access our websites, find Stoughton central school. And you’ll find my lovely photo there. You can give, shoot me an email. It’s the best way to get ahold of me or find me on LinkedIn. I’m Scott Kirkness.


Sam Demma (21:07):
All right, Scott. Thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. I appreciate your time.


Scott Kirkness (21:11):
Thanks very much for having me. It was great to be here.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott Kirkness

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.

Kelly Weaver – Director of Student Activities at Iolani School & Fo under of Soulvivor808

Kelly Weaver, Director of Student Activities lolani school
About Kelly Weaver

Kelly Weaver (@NaturalRedHead) is the student activities director at Iolani School in Hawaii. When she’s not in the school building, Kelly is a certified Law of Attraction Life Purpose Coach, solopreneur, writer, speaker, wife, and mother of two beautiful daughters. For almost two decades she has taught middle and high school students in both public and private schools.

In 2014, she finally took her own advice and moved from inner-city Reading, Pennsylvania to Honolulu, Hawaii to pursue HER dreams! Let her teach you how to reach new heights in all areas of your life through her amazing book, “Living Your Own Aloha: 5 Steps to Manifesting Your Dreams” and personal coaching services.

Connect with Kelly: Email | Linkedin | Website | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Law of Attraction Explained

Living Your Own Aloha: 5 Steps to Manifesting Your Dreams

The Dream Machine Tour USA

Charlie Rocket

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 (00:05):
Kelly, Aloha, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Kelly Weaver (00:23):
Sure. Well, Aloha Sam. Thank you so much for this opportunity. My name is Kelly Weaver. I currently live and teach in Honolulu, Hawaii at a private school. I actually am the director of student activities, but I had taught English for 16 years and my heart and soul was at the middle school level. I actually do work at both the local and national and state level for the middle school association. And so my career started right out of high right out of college, like most educators, and this is my 23rd year.


Sam Demma (01:06):
Wow. That’s amazing. I have to give you a round of applause for that. That’s amazing. And so tell me more about, you mentioned that middle school is it’s the heart of everything you do. And what brought you to that realization? Tell me more about where that passion grew from.


Kelly Weaver (01:26):
That actually grew from my own experience as a middle school student. So I had an incredible middle school experience, which I know most people that is like an oxymoron that doesn’t happen. But my favorites teacher, the reason I became a teacher I had both in seventh and eighth grade, my school did a looping, so the teachers really got to know us developed relationships with us and it was then that I just knew when I, when I student taught, I specifically said, I really want to teach middle school because I know that that’s what I want to do. And then it was exactly where I was supposed to be. I feel like those kids are in the middle, they’re misunderstood. I had a pretty rough growing up and if it hadn’t been for my middle school teachers and that age, those teachers that were supporting me, I would not be the success that I am today. So I kind of felt like I wanted to return it to those students. And yes, they are full of energy. Some days are hard, some days are crazy, but they really wants an adults and they need someone that cares about them. And so I just committed most of my career to really learning everything that I could about that developmental age.


Sam Demma (02:39):
That’s amazing. And I want to, I want to go back to when you were that student again for a second those teachers that had a huge impact on you, what is it specifically that they did, if you can think back and remember that you think made a big impact on you when you were going through those tough times? I’m just wondering, because if another educator is listening and wondering, they can be there for their kids or be that teacher like they were for you. Yeah. I’m just curious to know what those things might’ve been.


Kelly Weaver (03:06):
I know exactly what it was, and it’s one of the things that was always my philosophy as a teacher. They don’t care how much, you know, until they know how much you care. And I was going, like I said, through a very tough time in my childhood. And if it hadn’t been for them, recognizing it and taking a moment to say, you know, some of the things going on with this, with a student outside of the classroom, let’s develop a great relationship with her. Let’s figure out what’s going on. No one would have known what was going on. And so, and I don’t think I would be where I am today without that guidance. So I really encourage people. It’s building relationships is the absolute first key. And I spent a lot of time when I was in the classroom, making sure that I spent a lot of time getting to know my students as, as people and what motivates them before I could teach them pronouns and adjectives. They just, they’re not going to care about that stuff. That’s not what they’re going to remember about you. They’re going to remember how much you cared about them.


Sam Demma (04:10):
Yeah. It’s so true. And what does that look like in the classroom? Getting to know your students? Is it just like having everyone share a story or how do you encourage students to share about themselves so that you can kind of learn some more and start building that, that, that personal relationship?


Kelly Weaver (04:26):
It starts, the minute they walk in the door, it’s a personal greeting. It’s knowing their names, getting to know their names. I can say is the absolute first thing, you know, especially, I know it’s hard with teachers. We, a lot of us teach, you know, hundreds. Literally. I remember when I was in the classroom, I had, you know, like 180 kids on my team. You got to get to know their names. You got to ask questions every day. You have to be cognizant when they come in, you know, do you see them smiling? Do they look sad? Just really talking to them and getting to know them. And one of the other really cool activities that I used to do was actually involved the parents. It was called in a million words or fewer. So one of the first things I would send out to parents was asking the parents to write a, basically an essay about their kid.


Kelly Weaver (05:10):
And they could tell me in, you know, just a few sentences or I had people write pages, but that really got me to know the kid on a level that I would not have known. And then as a team I would share, I would share that with our team. So we would really get to know. And one of my favorite stories about that was a mother who wrote in that when she was in labor, she was a professor and she was actually in labor during a final exam and she couldn’t leave. She felt like she couldn’t leave. So she watched a Palm tree swaying in the wind to concentrate on her breath. And she swears the that’s why her son has such an easygoing and loving personality. So things like that, you wouldn’t learn right about your, about your students, but really cool stories and sometimes some really good information.


Sam Demma (05:59):
That’s so cool. And did you know when you were going through school that you wanted to be in working in a school in the future and be an educator yourself, or where did that career passion stem from?


Kelly Weaver (06:12):
A million percent. I wanted to be a teacher since I probably could talk. I just loved school. I loved it. But it wasn’t until middle school that I, I loved writing and I loved reading and it wasn’t until middle school. When I met my favorite teacher, the reason that I became a teacher, Mrs. Henrik, that I realized I could combine both love for reading and writing and be a teacher and teach that to other students.


Sam Demma (06:39):
Wow. That’s awesome. And did you have people or teachers in your life direct you in that direction and say, you know, Kelly, when you grew up, you know, please get into teaching. Did you ever consider anything else or was it just a straight arrow path? Like you’re saying like high school university, you go to teacher’s college, boom, boom, boom. Get into teaching.


Kelly Weaver (07:01):
There was one time. So when I got into high school, I was interviewed for the, our we had a wonderful TV program and I was interviewed about something that I did and the teacher of that came up to me and was like, you know, you did such an amazing job and you feel so comfortable on TV. Would you like to be a news anchor for our show? And so I did do TV news, both in in high school and then in college I did for a semester. And so I was really considering communication and maybe switching. But to me, honest with you, I’m glad that I didn’t because teaching is where it was supposed to be for sure.


Sam Demma (07:42):
That’s amazing. I love to hear that. And what did the first role that you took on in school? What was it, and then tell us about, like, tell me about the other positions you’ve worked in and then also what you’re doing now.


Kelly Weaver (07:57):
Oh my goodness. So my first year was the typical first year teacher. Where, how do you survive? I actually was teaching eighth grade and ninth grade and I was teaching journalism and speech. So I had four preps as a brand new teacher to different grade levels. It was a junior high model. So it wasn’t like the teaming model that we had. I coached track. I helped with the school play. Like I remember when I got the job, right. It was what you do as a new teacher. You do everything because you’re lucky to have a job. But my student teaching actually really prepared me for those preps. You know, I didn’t realize that at the time, but my mentor was losing her mind and administration saying, this is not fair to give those poor 22 year old. And you know, it was, I’m not gonna lie.


Kelly Weaver (08:45):
I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but it was a tough year because here I am 22, these kids are not that far in age, you know, ninth grade, they’re 14 and 15. And they gave me a run for by money for sure. But it’s solidified that absolutely. This is what I was supposed to be doing. So I started out at a small school, so I grew up, I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. So that’s where my career started. And then I got pregnant with my first daughter and I transitioned to a school that was much closer to my home. And I, I took on a reading course. So I was teaching reading for a year. Then I went back into teaching eighth grade on a team level. And throughout my career, I’ve taught seventh, eighth and ninth grade. I’ve taught English, journalism, drama, speech a class called communications. And then I had a dream and I wanted to move to Hawaii and I wanted to teach here. And so I applied and I taught English for one year. And then I moved into my dream job of student activities, where I direct all of the activities from grade seven to 12. So I like to say on the director of fun.


Sam Demma (10:04):
That’s amazing. And so your dream was to move to Hawaii. Where did the rest of the dream come from to do student activities? At what point in your career did you want to get more involved and be the director of fun?


Kelly Weaver (10:17):
Well, I did not know that that position existed because on the mainland, that’s not really a thing. And maybe it is, and I apologize to anyone listening that, but it wasn’t on the east coast. Right? I did all the things that I did on top of teaching, but all I do now is focused on student leadership and activities. So it wasn’t really that I was looking for the dream job in Hawaii. I didn’t, like I said, I didn’t know existed. I was moving thinking. I was going to just teach English. And that was my passion. And that was what I thought I was wanting to do. Actually, I started to get an itch that I wanted to get out of the classroom. I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to do leadership. And so initially I started looking at becoming a middle school. I really wanted to move into the private sector because what I liked about the private sector was you could actually become a middle school director or the principal.


Kelly Weaver (11:09):
If, if public school people are watching, but you still could teach a class, you still had that realm in the, in the classroom, which I always felt as an administrator is important. You can’t lose touch with what it’s like in the trenches. So for me, I wanted another leadership position. And to be honest with you, the more I looked, I was like, it’s taking me away from the students. And that’s where my love is. So this job was perfect because it’s a leadership position, but my, my day involves kids. And that’s my focus all day, not all the politics and red tape, put the bureaucracy to the side, focus on the fun and the students.


Sam Demma (11:42):
I love it. You know, all of the educators that are tuning in potentially from Canada and some places in Ontario, they’re probably like student directors of fund student activities. Like what does this entail? It might be called something different in Canadian schools. So if you want to break it down, what do the roles and responsibilities look like for a, you know, director of student activities? Sure.


Kelly Weaver (12:07):
So our school, it’s basically student council, student government. So each class seven through 12th has their own election for president vice president, secretary and treasurer. And then we as a school community, elect what we call three pro councils, which are basically the student body presidents. There’s three of them. And then we have committees. We actually have 10 committees and they are different. They’re like spirit, big spirits, small. And all of those are very focused on something. So I’ll give you one example. We have a faculty relations committee, those students apply to be on the committee. They there’s an application process. And then we go through and vet them out. And what they focus on is strictly our faculty. So they create activities and all kinds of different things just for the faculty. So for example, right now we just welcomed a whole bunch of new teachers.


Kelly Weaver (13:01):
So they bought popcorn bags and they created this little tag that said, just popping in to say, have a great year. And we put that in all of the new teacher’s mailboxes. This will make some people very jealous listening out there, but because we are a private school and we have some funding, we actually have, what’s called one teen week, which is our teacher appreciation week. And that’s the week that my faculty relations committee really delves into. So they plan teacher dress stays like fun days. Like it might be what we call fashion. No, no day. They we’ve. We’ve done gone so far as we’ve brought massage therapists for our teachers, we do food giveaway, we have lunches. So basically it’s, what’s the kid’s imagination is the limit. And they come up with really amazing things to do, you know, in that particular committee. And that’s one committee, but I have nine others that focus on other aspects of the school. So we really make sure we reach the student body as well as our teachers and stuff.


Sam Demma (14:03):
Oh, that’s amazing. And


Kelly Weaver (14:04):
Then we do all the activities. We do, homecoming proms dances any kind of activity nights assemblies. We do it all from my office. So we really teach students the leadership skills and the qualities that they need to run events and what’s required of those so that they have those skills when they go on to college and do things like that.


Sam Demma (14:27):
That’s amazing. And is this your, this, this doesn’t sound like it’s your first year in this position? How long have you been doing school activities?


Kelly Weaver (14:35):
This is my seventh year in student activities.


Sam Demma (14:38):
What was it like on year one?


Kelly Weaver (14:40):
Oh, my gosh, year one was like my first year teaching. I remember sitting down in front of, so my, I have a partner and she actually is, what’s called daughter of the school. So when a student goes from K to 12 and graduates, they are a son or daughter of the school. So she is an alumni. So she knows the school and the culture very well. And I remember the first year I sat in front of my computer and it was the first time. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. And I mean that sincerely, I was like, I’m looking at her. Like, I don’t even know what to do. You know, with teaching, didn’t matter what school you went to, you learned the school and you learn their systems, but I knew, okay, I got to do a lesson on this.


Kelly Weaver (15:25):
This was like, what? So thankfully the person before me wrote meticulous notes and a blueprint, and I had been here you’re for one year as an English teacher. So I saw all of the activities that we did, but it was very, very overwhelming. But now my partner and I, we are a well-oiled machine. We don’t even have to like, it’s like, she knows, this is my lane. This is what I’m working on. I know this is what she’s working on. You know, things we do together, but we really are an amazing team. And then we have amazing students. It’s like, I can’t shout them out enough because if it weren’t for our students and their ideas and creativity, my job would be way harder.


Sam Demma (16:08):
Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. And you can tell that you enjoy the job. Like, even while you’re talking right now, you seem so happy and like energetic about it, which is so important. You know, putting teachers in positions that they actually love. And you’re definitely going to make teachers jealous, talking about massage therapists, bringing them in.


Kelly Weaver (16:27):
I can’t believe I lived this life. I’m just like really


Sam Demma (16:30):
Well, you know, it goes to show that you, I mean, it started in your head, right? You created it. It started in your head. You, you decided what you were going to do and Aloha now we’re here. You know?


Kelly Weaver (16:41):
Well, if I could say something to that, cause you just triggered down my next love. So I’m also in my free time, which I really don’t have free time. I’m a law of attraction coach. So I believe very much in deliberate creation. And I actually wrote a book, my first book called living your own, aloha five steps to manifesting your dreams, which is on Amazon. And it’s the method and the steps that I created to use to manifest my dream life here in Hawaii and my dream job. So I love that you said that because you’re exactly right. We have a vision, we take action toward those steps and we can really create the life that we love


Sam Demma (17:18):
Kelly, you and I are going to be best friends!!


Kelly Weaver (17:24):
Together for a reason.


Sam Demma (17:25):
Right. It has. This is so cool. And what when in your career did you write your book and what prompted the creation of it?


Kelly Weaver (17:32):
So I wrote the book it just got published in March, so it’s been out. I started the book actually finished it really during COVID. I was writing every single Sunday. I was making a point to it. What started? It was just that I just love the law of attraction. I love how it has actually, to be honest with you. I know this is not about teaching, but I had my spiritual awakening in 2009 here in Hawaii. I dislocated my ankle in the airport, coming home from a 10 year wedding anniversary trip with my husband. And it really broke me open to healing that I needed to do. Like I told you about my childhood and I wanted other people. I just, I saw so many people and teachers, especially, especially during COVID so burnt out, not feeling like they have any control in what they can create in their life.


Kelly Weaver (18:23):
And I was like, you know what? I need to share this with people, how I did it. They need to know that no matter what their life has started as, as a child or whatever they’re going through, they can, they can create this beautiful life that they want to live. And it’s what I’ve taught my students over the years. Like I use these principles with my students and I’ve helped them get into colleges and help them get more money for college. And so it’s just something that I love to pass on to people. And I thought, you know what a book is the best way. It’s the fastest way. It’s the cheapest way. Let’s get this information out.


Sam Demma (18:55):
And how do you explain the law of attraction to a teacher? So there’s an educator listening right now and maybe they’re not familiar with the concept. Can you break it down a little bit or maybe even using some of the ideas from your book?


Kelly Weaver (19:05):
Yeah. So law of attraction is just about what you put out. You get back, whether that’s good or bad, and you are a Dilbert creator, you have the ability to create your own life. So in the book I use the word Aloha this and see, this is where my teaching has paid off because my book is very much a handbook, a guide. I give you very tangible tools. That was very important to me as an educator. It’s like, I don’t want to just spell, you know, theory and rhetoric to you. I want to give you tangible what I call inspired assignments that you can actually do. And so the five-step process is a low hot ask. Listen opportunities, how, and act as if, and those are all the principles of the law of attraction that you can take. So basically you set an intention.


Kelly Weaver (19:51):
You believe, you feel that you’re going to receive it and you trust in divine timing. You don’t know, worry about how it’s going to come and you bring it into your life. That is how I got the job here. When I was initially hired here, I applied for the student activities job. I did not get it. I went home. I was convinced Sam. I was like, I told my husband, I’m like pack your bags. The guy that I met here had family and connections in Pennsylvania. We had this amazing connection. My husband’s like, I can’t believe you’re going to get this job just because you know someone at Pennsylvania, I didn’t get it. I was, I was, I was denied the job. And then I, I was so angry at the universe. God, higher power, whatever you believe in. I, I was like, that’s it.


Kelly Weaver (20:35):
I throw in the towel, I’m over this. Why is nothing happening? I had been trying to get a new job. And a week later they called me from the school and they said, we know you were looking to move into leadership. And we know you applied for this other job, but you, you amazed us at the interview. And we would love to have you as an English teacher here. And at first my husband said, we’re not moving for you to teach English. We’re not moving all those miles away. You’re teaching English now. And I said, that job is going to be mine. And guess what happened? I had the clear intention. I knew it was mine. And several months later the man that interviewed me he left, he left the island. And not only did he leave, but his assistant left. So not only was there one job now, there were two. So it works. You know, it works how it comes about and what timing. That’s what we have to let go of. But if we are, if we know and we have a sense, it will work out. And so I want to encourage educators. If there’s other things out there that you’re passionate about, that you love, like put it out there, you know, and take some action. You gotta take some steps. You can’t just sit around, but you can make it happen a hundred percent


Sam Demma (21:48):
And Aloha act as if is that for acting as if it’s already happened?


Kelly Weaver (21:52):
Yeah, this is really weird. But I write about this in the book. I literally, when I got, when I found out that the job was open again, I actually would, anytime I would pretend to answer the phone, I would say, hi, this is Kelly. Student activities would say that all the time. I envisioned myself in the, in the deck at the desk. I mean, just really put myself and my feelings into that. And I’m telling you, it worked multiple stories like that in the book of like, that’s the other thing in the book. I don’t just, this, isn’t all just theory. This is what I’ve had to go through. And what I’ve done to prove to you that, that whatever that assignment is, it works


Sam Demma (22:37):
Well. I have goosebumps because I live by the same philosophies and there’s a guy actually, who’s going to be driving through who I assume named Charlie rocket. And he has this bus called the dream machine. And he goes around in the U S and make people’s dreams come true. And I wanted to reach out to him because I speak in schools and he was doing all this work, but he wasn’t talking to students and I had this idea and this was like a year ago. Wouldn’t it be so cool. If in all the states he stops in while he’s doing amazing work, I kept like, you know, speak to the students of the schools in the local cities and spread the, you know, initiative on the ground. But the issue was, you know, he has 500,000 followers. You know, he’s super big. And it’s like, how is, how am I going to get ahold of this guy?


Sam Demma (23:18):
And so I started writing down in my notebook, Charlie and I are working together. He just doesn’t know it yet. Charlie and I are working together. He just doesn’t know it yet. And low and behold, I got so obsessed with the idea because I was acting as if it already happened. Your mind starts racing and the obsession led to some ideas. And so I realized he had his own podcast was 62 episodes. So I made a, I took two weeks to listen to all 62, made a page of notes of every single episode, stapled them together, put a cover letter on it that said, Hey, Charlie, my onboarding is done. When can we get started? Put the notes inside a custom printed box with his logo all over it. Then I interviewed his co-founder, who was more of a behind the scenes kind of guy to try and get a mailing address.


Sam Demma (23:58):
We had a phenomenal conversation at the end and he’s like, here’s the mailing address? I got the mailing address, got the box, shipped it off a week and a half, two weeks later, Charlie FaceTime me on my phone. We had a full hour and a half conversation and, you know, things didn’t work out for different reasons, but I wanted to share that story with you because I think that I manifested that into my life. The same way you’re explaining you as an educator manifested your role and the work you’re doing now. And I think it’s such an important thing to remind ourselves that we are the creators of our destinies. And at any moment we can change something we’re not happy about. So I just want to share that story as well. Real quick.


Kelly Weaver (24:36):
Yeah. I literally, they had, they called chicken skin here in Hawaii. I mean, that is a cry. Yes, you totally did. And you know what, that’s another good point. Even if something doesn’t happen at the end of it, right. You just never know what it’s going to eventually, you don’t know, like it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. It could, it happened to me. Like I won’t bore you with another story, but I do a radio segment here in Hawaii on Tuesdays. And I initially, you know, was asked to just do one episode and they weren’t they weren’t calling me back and they were calling me back and I like got really upset. I’m like they said, they were going to put me on. It was, you know, to help me promote my book. And then sure enough now only am I now on one episode, if through a whole other story, I’m now on the show on Tuesdays. So again, when I thought I was mad that they weren’t calling me for one thing, the universe was like, you said, you want it to be on radio. It was already working in the background for me. And it was working better than I expected. So sometimes you just want to say, okay, you know,


Sam Demma (25:40):
Yep. What if things could turn out better than you expected? That’s the question you ask yourself. Right. And, and it’s funny, like, I, I was thinking the same thing. So like what ended up happening is I had the choice to make it was to leave what I was doing now and do something very different that I wasn’t as passionate about or to continue doing the work I’m doing now. And so I ended up not going, so I didn’t want to give up something that I love here, but we still stay in touch and who knows what’s going to happen four or five years down the road. Right.


Sam Demma (26:09):
So we just keep living the Aloha lifestyle. I love it. Well, this interview is taking an amazing turn. I’m so glad we touched upon this. If you could give your younger education self one piece of advice, if you could go back 23 years and speak to Kelly, when she just started teaching, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?


Kelly Weaver (26:31):
Oh, my that’s a great question. I think it would be to not to be able to say, and I know that that maybe sounds counterintuitive, but I now live by the mantra. Does it tire or does it inspire me? And I think early on in our careers, as you know, we want it, we want to be the model teacher, which is great. We want to do all the things, but we burn ourselves out, you know, when we take away from ourselves and our own self care. And so it would just be that it’s, it’s okay to say, no, you’re not a bad person. You’re setting you’re setting boundaries because you need that. And I think it with COVID this past year, I’m hoping a lot of educators were able to do that. They were able to set those boundaries because otherwise, you know, I think that’s, you know, you just would burn out. And I see that in so many younger people, they feel obligated to say yes to everything, you know? So I would just tell myself it’s okay to say no, sometimes


Sam Demma (27:39):
Amazing love that. Awesome. And if someone’s listening to this love, the conversation wants to either buy your book, get in touch with you, ask a question, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Kelly Weaver (27:50):
I do actually have a website so they could, you know, email me on there. It’s www.soulvivor808.com. And you can also just email me at soulvivor808@gmail.com as well. I’d love to connect if anyone has any questions at all.


Sam Demma (28:16):
Amazing Kelly, thank you so much again for taking some time to chat about all this on the show. Enjoy the rest of your school year and well, we’ll talk soon.


Kelly Weaver (28:25):
Aloha. Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kelly Weaver

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.

Aubrey Patterson – 30-Year Teacher, Principal, Superintendent & Founder of Warm Demanders

Aubrey Patterson, CEO Warm Demanders
About Aubrey Patterson

Aubrey Patterson (@PattersonAubrey) spent 30 years as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in a high-performing school district. Today, he is the CEO and Founder of Warm Demanders, an educational consulting company that provides coaching and online programs. Their goal is to help leaders build a high-impact remarkable culture, provide clarity with a smile, and find the time for the things that matter most!

Aubrey works with leaders to effectively use technology to develop structures and procedures as the means to improve learning conditions for teachers and students. To this end, Aubrey has developed highly regarded systems to recapture time and provide for exceptional communications.

These systems, like the extensive induction, formative job descriptions, truly collaborative meetings, and professional learning programs for teachers and administrators, are built upon three distinct leadership stages that much like dominoes, fall in succession: simplify, clarify and amplify. For more information go to: WarmDemanders.com

Connect with Aubrey: Email | Linkedin | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Principals Seminar

Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk

David Allen; Getting Things Done (book)

Getting to Inbox Zero

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 (00:03):
Aubrey, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and also sharing a little bit behind your journey? What brought you to do the work you’re doing today?


Aubrey Patterson (00:15):
Yeah. Well, that’s great to be here, Sam. Thank you for having me here today. Yeah, I’ve was a teacher and a coach and a principal and eventually a superintendent and I had like all these different roles in education and, you know, absolutely loved it. And I did that until 2017. And then after that time, I, you know, wanted to make some different dance in the universe. And so I, I started creating some, some new opportunities for people with with our educational companies. Nohea, and principal seminar were the first couple, but the main thing that, that I focus on right now is Warm Demanders that’s our, our newest company and, we help mostly school and district administrators you know, with their, with their day to day functions.


Sam Demma (01:12):
That’s awesome. Where did the, where did the passion come from or what was like the Eureka moment when you were going down the teaching path that you decided to make different dents and, and how did you kind of develop the courage to make the jump?


Aubrey Patterson (01:29):
Well it, when we go through like go through it, a teaching career, we, we always talk about growth mindset, the growth mindset ideals. And we talk about this all the time and it’s become kind of cliche, but if you really want to, you know, embrace those kinds of ideals, you have to be willing to take a, take a risk. You have to be willing to fail forward. And man, I’ve done a lot of that. And and, and honestly, I just never really had a problem with making mistakes. And I used to encourage them with the, with the people around me. So taking a leap, isn’t a, a difficult thing for me, it’s actually, you know, taking a leap and then sticking with things and trying to make that really big damp, that thing that will, that will really, you know, imprint success and, and pathways upon the people that we think we serve.


Sam Demma (02:25):
Oh, it’s amazing. I love that. And what, like, what is the principal seminar and Nohea and explain maybe the name behind the years? Cause I know it has an interesting backstory.


Aubrey Patterson (02:36):
Yeah. So my, one of my passions, like I have this deep belief that, that especially principals and also superintendents, assistant superintendents, like, like all of these people are so encumbered by all of the stuff that comes at them. Day-To-Day and it’s really unfair because everybody wants to have deep conversations with their people and everybody wants to have this amazing school culture. But they just can’t get there because there’s just so much stuff that comes at them. And a lot of that happens right at the front doors and often at the front office. So originally when I was looking to, to try, you know, help some people out, we started focusing on the school office and I spent a lot of time in, in Hawaii, especially in Maui and love a lot of the Hawaiian, the Polynesian ideals, and no Hayah is kind of like you know, everybody’s familiar with the Aloha spirit.


Aubrey Patterson (03:40):
It’s like the Aloha spirit plus leadership, like strong leadership. And, and what I really love about it is that it, it, it really allows you to be kind, and at the same time, you can be, you know, fanatically meticulous about systems and details and things like that. So it allows those, those people who, you know, like to get things done, to also be able to smile during the day. So know, Hey, I was focused on the school offices, principals seminar was, and is focused on new principals, helping new principals, but all of that has kind of evolved into our largest entity, which is warm demanders. And that’s where we have actually taken over those, those particular courses and brands and put them into this package to, to help all school and district leaders. And, and of course, warm demanders is kind of just as it sounds, we help people who, who want to be true to themselves in every part of their lives. You can be nice and be the principal. You can be kind to people and be really firm. You can, you know, be there for all the right reasons and love the kids and do all that stuff and still be very careful and with your processes and things like that. So anyway I see what you do, Sam. I just go on and on about this stuff. Once you get me started.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Hey, that’s why I brought you here today. I want you to continue speaking so warm demanders. What does the company do? Is it, is it solely providing courses consulting? Like if you had to explain it to a principal or a superintendent listening right now, how would you explain the whole organization?


Aubrey Patterson (05:30):
Yeah, so, so we, we do have multiple courses that, that we’ve released. We just opened up the doors in may. We’ve been overwhelmed with a huge, huge response with it. It’s, you know, it’s asynchronous learning at its best. And so that’s been really, really helpful, but like, that’s, that’s the courses, but we also do one-to-one coaching and that’s probably 60% of what we’re doing right now is one-to-one coaching virtually helping, helping school and district administrators you know, to, to get through all of the, the things they need to meander through in the, in these crazy times. And then we also provide these menus of you know, one stop shopping for, for schools and districts, where they can have an abundance of courses, you know, one click access for teachers or for administrators, et cetera. There’s a, there’s a lot there.


Aubrey Patterson (06:31):
So ultimately I would just kind of sum it up with everything is focused on helping people who want to be warm demander leaders. It is not focused in any way upon a traditional educational leadership where there’s a lot of hierarchy or there’s a lot of bureaucracy. I spend most of my time helping people get through the bureaucracy, get rid of the bureaucracy all of that, that kind of a thing. I’ve found a lot of success with it, both as the principal and a superintendent. And, and I like to help people, you know, with those kinds of things. And, and I honestly, it just finds that a lot of people don’t know which domino to flip over first. Right. And once we get them started, it’s, it’s just amazing. I just love it. Ultimately I, I love the one-to-one coaching the most, just love it.


Sam Demma (07:31):
I love that. That’s amazing. I want to selfishly go back to Maui and Hawaii for a second in my mind. So let me ask you, like what brought you out there and how were you exposed to these ideas of Nokia and this type of leadership?


Aubrey Patterson (07:51):
I honestly, I just got there like many people from some friends recommendations and then I stayed there longer and longer, more and more. I’ve always had an affinity to to hang out in, in Hawaii, like who doesn’t right, but like Hawaii and Southern California for whatever reason we do, I would say 70, 75% of our contacts right now are coming from the west coast. And there’s a particular vibe that really, that we really resonate with. And that I think that, that we give off in our, in our work that is, you know, with that warm and friendly part. And that part that you can be, you know, true to yourself in every, in every part of your life. And I think that’s what actually appeals to me the most about, about Hawaii, about, about many of the cultures that I, that I love is, you know, you can be the same person at home hanging out with your friends or, you know, leading a school or a school district. Like you should be able to always be comfortable in your skin. And I found that those ideals really allowed that. And and that’s where I kinda got, I don’t know, that’s where we got the vibe, that’s where we got the whole concept of, of know-how and you know, probably we would have called that first company Aloha, but, you know, that’s been used


Sam Demma (09:23):
And it didn’t go with that main stream. Right,


Aubrey Patterson (09:25):
Right.


Sam Demma (09:27):
That’s awesome. And when you were growing up, I want to, I want to go back for a second. Did you know that you wanted to get an initially into education and become a teacher superintendent and principal, or were you kind of steered down that path by other people in your life?


Aubrey Patterson (09:44):
Yes, I did. I, well, I knew that I wanted to coach my, my dad is, was an amazing teacher and basketball coach. Like he was, you know, won multiple provincial titles. He’s that, that guy that everybody loved in the community, he was a fantastic role model. And I, and I want it to be that, you know, I want it to be just like that. And at the same time I did quite well in school. I wasn’t a typical student that you know, that does well, that is, is studying a lot. And all that things came easy to me. I was just really lucky for, with that. And, and so I had a lot of people actually telling me, oh, you shouldn’t be a teacher when I wanted to be a teacher. And those people were encouraging me to go into business or to go into, you know be a lawyer, be a doctor, be these other things.


Aubrey Patterson (10:38):
And I listened to them at the start. And so my first year in university, I was in, I was in business and, and I did really well with the marks and all that. Like I loved that I was on the Dean’s list, but I hated it. And I quickly switched into education and everything felt right. And so and you know, from there, I was just really, really lucky to have fantastic role models when I was becoming a, a new teacher. And then I got to meet all these people that were like incredible leaders. And I said, huh, I think I could do that too. And I could, you know, and I keep on going and, and, and it was the same with coaching. I’d be coaching basketball. And I was around all these fantastic basketball coaches that just wanted to be better at it. And so that’s always been something for me is to, to see people that I’d like to emulate the qualities or the values that they have that I’d like to emulate, or that I’d like to, to grow. And, and, and that’s always, what’s been, been driving me.


Sam Demma (11:39):
Where does your principles come from? You mentioned earlier that failure is something you encourage and you want to fail fast and you want to fail quicker. Was that something that your dad instilled in you growing up or people in your life, or maybe a coach R where, yeah. Where did that come from? Because I feel like it’s such an important lesson, but not only high school administrators or any school administrator, that’s something that they need to embrace as well, but it’s hard to embrace. I find sometimes for all human beings.


Aubrey Patterson (12:09):
Yeah. Like I like, honestly, I, I think I, I got that. Yeah, definitely from my dad, but also from, from all of the coaches that I had when I was in, in school. You know, I was, again, really lucky to be in in some fantastic athletics programs, you know, as a player. And, and we always knew, like, for example, in baseball, you’re, you’re going to fail. If you fail 70% of the time, like you’re, you’re doing really well, like, like black junior right now is, you know, failing 680% of the time. You know, when he’s batting and he’s, he’s, you know, leading the league, like, like it’s just, it’s, it’s just part of getting better and it’s, it’s just what we have to do. And, and so I’ve always been comfortable with that concept. I know it’s become really cliche to say things like fail forward in that now, of course.


Aubrey Patterson (13:06):
But I’ve actually heard that for a long, long time. And, and I always encourage it and people, I know there’s a, there’s a guy that I hired years ago as a teacher. He came over from from a district close to us and, and he came up to me the very first day, you know, when he was kind of like an opening days thing. And he said where, what’s your number one word of advice. And I, and I had known him fairly well in the community is a great guy. And and I said, make a lot of mistakes the next time I see you, I’m going to ask you to tell me about your mistakes. And he started laughing and he said, no, really what? And I said, no, seriously, like, it didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Like I want you to make a lot of mistakes. And if, because we didn’t bring you over here to play it safe. And, and so anyway, he, he tells me all the time now that I’ve been gone for quite a while, and that when I bumped into him on the street, he’ll say, I’m still making lots of mistakes. I’m still making lots of mistakes. And so honestly, I think I was really lucky to have people encourage me to make mistakes. And I’ve just really always embraced that I’ve been comfortable with it.


Sam Demma (14:14):
Yeah, I like that. I love it a lot. And you mentioned before we even started this call, that one of the trainings you did when you were growing up was the seven, the seven habits with Stephen Covey. Where does your, your endless curiosity you continue learning come from? And do you think that’s like an important attribute of not only being an educator, but you know, someone who’s working with young people?


Aubrey Patterson (14:39):
Yeah, no, I, I, I’ve always been fascinated with how things happen, like the algorithms of how things happen. And like I love for example I think it was back in what, 2008, 2009 originally when Simon Sineck was first doing his Ted talk and talking about my why, and you know, where the, why came out in the whole, the whole thing of the golden circles and talking about apple and all of that. And that’s kind of been, become cliche for people to say, you know, what’s my why instead of saying, what’s my mission, what’s my, why I’m not against that. Please don’t get me wrong. I, I use it to what, what I’m saying is people are so focused on it that they often forget the importance of how and when, who, and where, and when we’re actually serving people, taking care of people, clarity is kindness, especially in difficult times like we’re facing right now.


Aubrey Patterson (15:34):
People really need clarity when they’re scared, when they’re nervous, they want, they’re looking for that, that step. It’s like when you jump into the deep end of the swimming pool for the first time, when you’re a little kid it’s exciting and you’re happy. And it’s like, look at me. And you’re in there about three seconds and you’re reaching for the side, you’re reaching for something solid. People want that clarity. And I think that clarity is exposed with the how, when, who, what, where, and again, I am not diminishing the why part at all, like completely believe that I love it. It’s a great starting point, but I’ve always been fascinated in the algorithm. The, if this, then that the how part, and that’s what I work with people on all the time is, and that, you know, we S we always say, we can save you anywhere from 10 to 20 hours or so 10 to 20 minutes in a day.


Aubrey Patterson (16:32):
And when we add up that amount of time, that, that adds up into like 6,000 minutes in a year, a hundred hours, you know, like and it’s really easy because we just have to go through and look at the algorithm and get really scientific with it. So going back to your original, what, you know, where did I get excited about all this kind of stuff? I was always fascinated with what led to that, you know, and in basketball, we would, we would put on a, you know, a press, a full court press. And I was always interested in, you know, what caused the turnover, you know, both as a player and as a coach. And typically it wasn’t actually the trap that on the ball that, that, you know, came that most people were focused upon. It was the, if this then that’s around it like that, that, that person had no place to pass. No, because you know, all of these other things happen. So anyway, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been fascinated by, by the how, by the way, the dominoes fall. And it just gets me to dig into things all the time. See, you just sent me down that rabbit hole. Again, I love the algorithm. Rabbit hole is my favorite. Then know,


Sam Demma (17:49):
Because you have a phenomenal mailing list, then you share algorithm type content through it all the time. And you do have like the free videos and tech tips on your website. That really helped me with the tabs that you told me to subscribe to. So like, if you had to give some quick organizational tips, things that you think need to be known and make the biggest ROI instantly what are like a couple of little things that you’d recommend people look into or educators


Aubrey Patterson (18:23):
For sure. Well, I, I love the research of David Allen who originally wrote, he wrote getting things done. And so, you know, 30, 40% of what I teach is based upon David Allen’s work or his, his original research and his, his most famous concept is the two minute rule. So if you can do something in two minutes, unless, you know, it’s rude, like, you know, you get up from a conversation or dinner and run through something and a while you’re, you’re, he should, you gotta be present with people, right. But if you can do something in two minutes, you should, because it will take you more time to file it away and bring it back. Then it would you know, just to do it in, in that two minutes. So most often, you know, we’ll, we’ll refer to email when we talk about this.


Aubrey Patterson (19:10):
So if you get something in your inbox and you take a look at it, and it’s, it’s gonna take you less than two minutes, if you can take the two minutes right now, we’ll do it. Cause it’ll take you more time to put it away and bring it back after. But that’s not only the reason that you do this with the two minute rule, because it also breaks your chain of thought in the future. It breaks your, your focus to have to go back and redo the, all these little things. And so all of these, you know, five seconds, 20 seconds, one minute here and there add up, but they don’t just add up to time. They add up in giving you an opportunity to focus better. And so my favorite or my second favorite tip is the two-minute rule. No matter what, if you can do it in less than two minutes, if you can, whether it’s email, whether it’s, you know, picking up a dish and putting it in the dishwasher, you know, whatever it is like day-to-day life or work, you know, you can do it less than two minutes, do it.


Aubrey Patterson (20:12):
This, my favorite tip is the next best action rule, which is have all of your subject lines in your email, in your things to do lists in your notes, in the posts that you write yourself, have every subject line begin with a verb with an action, and then you will always hit the ground running when you restart with that. So, for example, if I send you, if I write down on a, on a posted, you know mum’s birthday, you know, and if I just write down mom’s birthday and I come back to that a week later, I have to think, what, why did I write down mom’s birthday? Of course, I know her mom’s birthday is coming up, but am I getting her a present? Do I need to get something? Do I need to call my brother? Do I need to arrange something? Do I have to get some time off? What, why did I write down mom’s birthday? Now, the simple fact that I just wasted 20 seconds asking myself that is a problem. That’s a time problem, but I’ve also broken my train of thought on whatever else I was working on at that particular time. What if instead on that post-it I took the extra two seconds and wrote, get mom a present


Aubrey Patterson (21:29):
Order. Mom’s cake, no, start with that verb. What if I sent you an email Sam? And instead of saying podcasts in the email, but if I, instead I said reschedule podcast, because I’ve got a problem, then we can see, you know, the action that’s going with it. When we pick up that email or when we pick up that posted, or when we pick up that item in the things to do is we can, we can hit the ground running with it and we can keep our ideas flowing all the time. So what we’ve done is we’ve created an algorithm to keep her, our ideas flowing simply by using a verb at the end, in all of our emails and in all of our things to do. And we pass this gift on to other people you know, in emails and calendar invites, et cetera, by using, by using over. So that’s the next best action or what’s my next best action by mama cake? You know,


Sam Demma (22:27):
I love that. And when you do the, you mentioned that 60% of the work you do is with a one-on-one coaching. What aspect of the coaching do you enjoy the most? Like selfishly? Like what part of the journey of the teaching? Like what lessons do you enjoy sharing the most?


Aubrey Patterson (22:44):
Oh man, I’m going to sh when we get off the podcast here, I’m going to show you that what I get is I get a lot of texts. And so selfishly, because this puts a lot of fuel in my engine. I get, I get at least two or three texts a month that say something like, and I got this one, two nights ago, so I’m, I’ll show it to you after we got here, I got, I got this one from from a superintendent in California and it’s, and he just said, I got down from 25,000 emails to zero in 30 minutes because we have a system to do that right. To get to inbox, Sarah. And, and he went through one of the videos and I was coaching him on that kind of stuff. And he just said, I had the best sleep ever.


Aubrey Patterson (23:32):
Like he used just so happy. And it’s not that we should be so fanatical about inbox zero. I am. I like that because you don’t want to have your focus, be your email all the time. And that too. However, if you’re always worried about missing something or you’re wasting time going back into messages, or, you know, all of those kinds of things, which happens to a lot of great leaders, like they, this guy is a fantastic leader, but he he’s a fantastic leader at the expense of his own peace of mind. And, and this, this inbox, like he literally, he showed me, he had over 25,000 emails in his inbox, like aside from the technical problem, with that, like with this computer restarts and running through all of those multiple PowerPoints of that, that he’s got in there, right aside from that, it was driving him crazy.


Aubrey Patterson (24:23):
And, and so we worked on that last week and I referred him to one of our courses called manage chart lead easy that, that has that, that algorithm in it. And you know how to start with the two minute rule and to work through those things. Well, we start with inbox zero and he was so excited. And so selfishly, I love getting the texts that say I got to inbox zero, and I get a lot of those. And, and I just know that, that, you know, these people just feel so good about it. And I just, yeah, that’s just, that’s what I love the most is, is when somebody transfers those, those wonderful feelings, just with a nice text. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:08):
I love that. Thanks for sharing that. I, that’s a cool story. Putting on your superintendent hat one, one more time for one quick, last question. Like if you could go back in time and give younger Aubrey advice when you were still in that role. But knowing what you know now, like what, you know, a couple of pieces of advice, would you give your younger self with the experience you have now?


Aubrey Patterson (25:33):
Yeah, no, I that’s. That’s a good one. I actually go back on that. I actually think about this a lot because I see the successes of all these people that I’m working with. And I think, oh man, am I on my best day? I didn’t do what you’re doing on in your everyday. Like, like, so I see these people doing these things. So I have a lot of, I wish I had a redo on this and this and this. And I, I did spend a lot of time in the schools and I did spend a lot of time, you know, working with principals and, and, and teachers on, on a variety of things. But if I had a, if I had a redo on it, I’d actually, I’d spend more time with the people that, that are impacting the teachers the most. And in our district that in our division, that was like the instructional coaches and the tech coaches and the people like that.


Aubrey Patterson (26:31):
Because those, those people have a lot of fantastic ideas and they often don’t have the authority or the wherewithal to, to actualize those ideas. And we did, you know, take advantage of those things a lot, but I see all of these incredible ideas that people have, and they talk to me about it now, like the people that I’m coaching, and they’ll say, I’ve got this idea, how do you think I could get this across? And, and I wish that I had spent more time. I wish I could have a bit of a redo and go back to, you know, extract more ideas to, to add, create systems that would allow the people that lead without authority. The people that you know, are a little bit nervous to get those ideas out, like just to find ways to do more of that. So yeah.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Oh, cool. I love that. Thanks for sharing. Yeah. Ideas are a really interesting thing. In fact, I was, I actually bought a book about ideas called thinker toys, and it’s like a book that encourages exercise that lead to more creativity to hopefully come up with new ideas. Yeah, that’s a really cool learning. I appreciate you sharing that. And like, we’ve had a great 30 minute conversation now it’s flown by if an educator or a superintendent and principals listening to this wants to reach out to you or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Aubrey Patterson (27:58):
Well, I’m really easy to find because you just go to www.warmdemanders.com and I’m all over the place there. But you can also email me at aubrey@warmdemanders.com. You can find me on Twitter. Instagram, I’m easy to find. And, and just DM me, just find me. I’d love to have conversations. I never, by the way, if anybody contacts me, I never hard sell anyway, anybody I’m like, I’m always telling people what I think would be their best next action, you know, like their best lead domino. And quite often, it’s not to work with us. Like quite often, it’s like to work with one of these amazing other people that I’m working with and that too. So anyway, if somebody wants to find me and to do anything, just, just email me, www.warmdemanders.com or go to the website and click on something and just find us.


Sam Demma (28:50):
Okay. Sounds good. Awesome. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Aubrey Patterson (28:58):
Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Aubrey

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.

Christina Raso – Experiential Learning Consultant for Sudbury Catholic School Board

Christina Raso, Experiential Lead Learner SCDSB
About Christina Raso

Entrepreneur and Educator, Christina Raso (@Christina_Raso), shares her journey in education from a new teacher to a special education consultant to most recently Experiential Learning Consultant for Sudbury Catholic Schools.

The past academic year was most memorable for Christina as she temporarily returned to the classroom to support the teacher shortage. In her teaching time, she entered her class and St. David Elementary School in the Mindshare Technology School of the Future Contest earning third prize in the national contest. 

Connect with Christina: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The YMCA of Northeastern Ontario

Skills Ontario & Ian Howcroft

Mindshare Technology Contest

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 an entrepreneur and educator and her name is Christina Raso. She shares her journey in education from new teacher to special education consultant to most recently experiential learning consultant for Sudbury Catholic schools. The past academic year was most memorable for Christina. As she temporarily returned to the classroom to support the teacher shortage. During her teaching time, she entered her class at St. David Elementary School in the Mindshare technology school of the future contest, earning third prize in the national competition. Change is something that Christina is familiar with, especially because she also has a roots in entrepreneurship, which she talks about a little bit on this podcast as well. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side…


Sam Demma (01:24):
Christina, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today in education?


Christina Raso (01:35):
Well, first of all, thank you, Sam, for the opportunity to share my story. My name is Christina Raso and I am the experiential learning lead for Sudbury Catholic. And I guess if we talk about my journey it started a long time ago. Believe it or not, I’ve been in education for over 20 years and it was my second career. So I think it’s important to talk about where I started and having parents that were immigrants I think is really important because they value education. Not that other people don’t value education, but they really have a sense of you know, coming to a new country work ethic and the importance of going to school and having higher education. So my dream when I was younger was to own my own business and to be an entrepreneur.


Christina Raso (02:32):
And my parents said, yeah, of course, you can do about all of that, but first you need to get an education and a degree I, I received, but I had to get one. So I did that. So while I was going to university, I knew that I wanted to be a business owner. So I started selling women’s clothes at different you know, summer events and then flea markets and things like that. So it actually paid for my university. And then when I graduated with my degree, I was able to full force and I opened up for a ladies clothing store in Sudbury. And that’s kind of where things began for me in education is that I did that for over 10 years, but in that journey, I learned a lot about life skills, right. You know, working and all the challenges that go with that.


Christina Raso (03:26):
But I met a lot of young individuals and I had a lot of students that were coming for co-ops and then the teachers were giving me a little bit more of the heart to serve students, you know, the ones that were disengaged. And then it ended up that YMCA reached out to me and said, we have, you know, a group of young adults that you know, have, have quit school, but they really need some, some work experience. So I’m wondering if you can take a group and, you know, teach them how to use a cash register sales and, and work with them. So I did that. And and then, you know, I got a lot of praise and saying, you know, you’re really good at this, you know, have you ever thought of becoming a teacher because you’re really able to work with these kids and you know, teach them some things that a lot of them were able to catch on at school and things like that.


Christina Raso (04:22):
So you know, it’s just one person mentioned that, and actually I had never thought of that. And it happened that it was the day before admissions were due registration for a teacher’s college. And I put in an application and I decided that I would only apply to one school, which was, you know, an hour and a half away because I still had my business. So I figured if it was meant to be, I’d apply, I’d get in. I could do both. And lo and behold, I got accepted and I did that. And teacher’s college at that year at that time was one year. So I finished my one year and then I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. So I started to, you know, as my leases expired I closed my business down and I went into teaching full time.


Christina Raso (05:10):
And my first my first teaching assignment was a long-term assignment in a grade five class. And I did that from September to January and then a permanent position came up in the same school, but it was a special education resource teacher. And everyone says, well, you have to apply because it’s permanent. Right. And the position you’re in is not permanent. And then I felt, you know, as teacher, you get attached to your kids and I almost felt like I’m leaving these kids, but I’m still staying in the same school. I almost feel like I’m betraying them. Well, I felt that right. So you know, my colleagues convinced me saying, you know what? You have to, you know, think of yourself and your future, you’ll see the kids, you know, and things like that. So I did apply. And at that time, obviously, I didn’t know very much about special education other than what I learned in school and the little bit on life skills that I had working with some young individuals.


Christina Raso (06:08):
So I remember starting and the first day of that assignment, it would happen right after Christmas holidays. And I didn’t really even have an opportunity to say goodbye to the other students. So anyways, that all happened. And I had a father wait for me at the front of my classroom door and he wanted to meet me. So I came out and talked to me. And obviously you had heard that I was obviously a new teacher and I think he was concerned because I was taking over the class and he asked me if I’ve ever taught a student with down syndrome and I said, well, no, actually a habit. And you know, so he said to me, well, I’m going to give you a little bit of advice and tell you a little bit about my daughter who has down syndrome.


Christina Raso (06:56):
And he says, you know she’s very, very honest and she’s either going to love you or she’s not. And wow. You know, when your dad, when you have a parent that tells you that, and then, you know, you really have to perform. But anyways I stayed in that position for five years and that’s where I learned everything about teaching, because it was like a multi grade class, right. So I was teaching grade one to grade eight and it was basic literacy and numeracy skills. And it was a variety of learners. So it was students who had intellectual disabilities, but there was also some students who had a learning disability or who were a little bit behind. And, you know, the idea was for me to work with them and to get them up to a grade level or as close as possible.


Christina Raso (07:46):
So that in those five years, like I said, it really taught me almost everything. I think that I refer to back today about learning, you know, learning styles and students. And then that prepared me for my next journey, which was, I was a special education consultant for almost 13 years. So I did that for 13 years and I, and I loved it, just, you know, I felt like now, you know, I could do more, right. I had the students, I know how to work with them, but now I was at a different level. And I really, really enjoyed that. And then with all things, you know, you need to change, you know, and I most recently, so this’ll be my third year. I switched into experiential learning and as you know, experiential learning is, you know, learning by doing and reflecting and, you know, really becoming aware of maybe what careers you may want in the future with a push on the skills trades and computer science.


Christina Raso (08:50):
And actually,
I really had a, a turning point in my career, again, this well, this academic year I I’m in well, you know, and I think this happened provincially teacher shortages, right. Especially, you know, with the smaller class sizes and then, you know, with both remote and in class being offered. So when we pivoted back to online there, I think it was close to the end of March. Was it well before Easter? Anyways? we were significant short in our board of teachers. And, you know, when you’re a team player, you know, you need to do what you need to do to, to make your organization move forward. So I I talked to my supervisor and I said, you know, put me in wherever you need. I, I don’t mind going in. And so I went into a grade one, two class. So at first, at first it’s very easy to say, Hey, boss, put me in where you want, but then when you that, then you’re like, oh my gosh, what did I get myself into right now? I haven’t been in a classroom since 2007. Right. So, and I was thinking about this the other day I was using VHS videos. Oh my goodness.


Christina Raso (10:08):
Well, no, but it really puts the stress on how things were different. I left using VHS videos and now I’m now I’m teaching a virtual classroom. Right. And I haven’t been working directly with kids for, you know what, 15, 16 years. So it was a challenge, but you know, as soon as you go in, it’s like, I never left. That’s how I felt it. Right. I felt like, yeah, I have been in education this whole time. I’ve just been doing different things. I’ve been in classrooms. I just haven’t been the person that the child sees every day to talk about. And I, you know, I really missed it. And I did that for three months until they found a new teacher. I actually wanted to stay to finish the year, but I had to go back to my job. But while I was, you know, I felt like I was there three months.


Christina Raso (11:05):
And I felt that I put in you know, the things that I’m taught or what we’re taught as experiential learning leads. I put that into action. And I think that’s really important because I I’m able to do what I said we should be doing. And it works, you know, and it was great to see kids doing that. And I also had the privilege to work in a school where your administration team is very, very supportive and you know, we had also sorts of ideas and they ran with it and we did, you know, all things that would keep our students engaged. And there was also a contest that I saw that was out by Mindshare. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Mindshare technologies. Well, they have a national contest every year and this year’s theme was create a under three minute video on things that teachers do to engage students.


Christina Raso (12:07):
So I entered that with my class, but not only with my class, but with the things that we did as a school in that three months. And actually we placed one of the top three schools in Canada with title of a school of the future. So yeah, so that’s one of my proudest moments. And I also feel like that was also a turning point because I’ve been out of the classroom for so long. And then I went in and we tried all these things that we know that works. And, you know, the days that we did hands-on activities where the days that we had the most enrollment like attendance, right. You know, that when kids aren’t fully engaged, they’re going to learn they’re present. So it was great. So like one day we made bird houses and you know, the students picked up the kids at school.


Christina Raso (13:00):
And then the other thing that it’s really, really important, especially during during this time with COVID is working with your community partners. Partners are invaluable at this time. So we worked with skills Ontario, and they actually taught the students and they actually provided the free bird houses for our kids. And they taught the lesson and these kids produced, you know, put together a birdhouse. And then our school principal held a contest on decorating your bird house, according to your personal identity. And you should see the beautiful artwork from these kids. So, you know it was a great opportunity and I feel humbled and I feel that kind of goes back to full circle. Right. You know, you started in a classroom and you did all this, and then you kind of ended up back in a classroom and then it makes your perspective better. Like, I feel like when I go back to work a couple of weeks I have a new insight and you know, I feel like it’s given me more of a drive and energy to continue the work in the area of experiential.


Sam Demma (14:08):
It reminds you how impactful experiential learning is. If you take those ideas into the classroom and see such a big impact, right. It’s, it’s a great reminder. And it also reminds you that the programs that you’re bringing into the schools are having a difference and an impact when you can see it firsthand with the students. I’m curious to know where, where did your entrepreneurial drive come from at such a young age? And what were your stores called? I’m just, just curious about that real quick.


Christina Raso (14:34):
You’re going to like that. Well first of all my mom, my parents split up several years after they arrived at Canada. And so my mum was a single parent and she raised me, but she became she went to college in Canada and then opened she bought a franchise of photography franchise and I worked with her for all those years. So from, I think it was 1985 to when I graduated first degree in 1993, I worked with my mom and she had four locations as well. So I ended up, you know, pretty much managing one location and she did the other three. And then I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. And a funny thing is I, I still have a business on the side, but we can talk about that later. But my businesses were called Sono Bella, because of what they’re.


Christina Raso (15:29):
So I’m beautiful because of what I wear. So I kept that email address for my personal, so that’s what I do, but yeah, and that’s, you know we worked you know, when you’re, self-employed, you can work any 12 hours of the day you pick, right. I can nine at that time, I was trying to tell my son, right. It’s different work ethic. Right. And, you know, he’s tired after working 16 hours a week and I’m like 16 hours a year age, you know, go to school, then work, it’s still do my homework and I wasn’t tired, but you know,


Sam Demma (16:00):
That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing.


Christina Raso (16:03):
No problem.


Sam Demma (16:05):
And what are some of the programs and things that you’ve brought to your schools over the past three years that you think have made a great impact and a difference, and maybe you can even talk to some of the impact that you’ve seen or heard, you know, based on a program that you’ve brought in.


Christina Raso (16:20):
So I think one of the biggest, biggest things that I was involved with was building a community partnership, especially with skills Ontario. I think if I look back in my three years and, you know, your first year you know, when, when you’re talking about my first year, it was COVID started too. Right. So even a full year, right. I, I think I started I didn’t even start in September. I think I started in November and then COVID hit in March. Right. So that year was kind of wasted and that not wasted, but it wasn’t a normal year for someone to go into a new role and to learn the position because it was completely a different position. But the biggest thing that I got from that is working with your community partners and they have so many programs and contests that engaged kids that you can’t go wrong.


Christina Raso (17:16):
So skills, Ontario, which started contests just after the pandemic kit. And we knew that students were learning remotely. So they started these contests called skills at home, and they were challenges for kids to do. And so what I was doing was I was promoting them and it was really important that I found that educators don’t always relate that some of these activities can be integrated into the curriculum. They’re not extras or add-ons, they’re things that you can do and make it part of learning. So they had all sorts of contests and our board, we had, I think we had five students place in CA in Ontario in their contests. So I was promoting those. So the last year and a half, I was promoting those contests. And then the contests, when I was a teacher in the classroom, I was pushing it.


Christina Raso (18:22):
So I’ll give you one example. So the one contest was on wacky hair. So I had a grade one, two class, and I said you know what, we are going to have some fun. We are going to work on wacky hair. And I made it into a procedural writing assignment. So I told the students that what we’re going to do is we are going to create a wacky hairdo. So we’re going to draw it. And then we’re going to write, how do you actually do that hair style? And during that week, so I did it over a week. So on Monday, you know, I read stories about you know, wacky hair, which Stephanie’s ponytail by Robert munch. And so we really did a lot of reading and writing that related to, you know, wacky hair. And then on the Friday we made it wacky hair day.


Christina Raso (19:12):
And like I said, I was very lucky to work in a school where the administration took that idea and made the entire school have a wacky hair day. Nice. So what ended up happening specifically on that one contest was we actually placed first, second and third in Ontario in one school. So I, my personal students placed first and third and then another student in the school place. Second. So it’s just something where you embrace your partnership. And again, hands-on right. Students are working hands-on and you have to see the hairdos that these students made. So the one student that plays first, she took a root beer pop bottle and put a ponytail through it and then put a cup on a headband. So her ponytail ran into the cup. So it looked awesome.


Christina Raso (20:07):
Hopefully you can cut that part out. No worries. That’s totally fine. I can cut it out. Sorry. so anyways, that’s one thing that we really worked with was the partnership, and then they provided us the bird houses, but I think a lot of things that I’m most proud of is is bringing hands-on activities to the classroom. And a lot of things are inexpensive too, right? So some of the ideas were making a bridge with marshmallows and straws. So a lot of times we feel that, you know, we don’t have the resources to make these things hands-on, or they cost too much, but, you know, when we look around, you know, we can find things that really work and engaged kids.


Sam Demma (20:53):
Yeah. I love that. I actually interviewed Ian Howcroft on the podcast as well, the director of skills, Ontario.


Christina Raso (20:59):
Awesome. Awesome. I was going to say that would be a, another guy to to invite because definitely doing a lot of things, but I feel that contests seem to really engaged our students. Like, you know, whether, whether it’s a big prize or a small prize, but it’s just a matter of you know, saying, Hey, you know, you know, we’re whether it’s a class contest or a school contest, I think that that helps us to engage kids, you know, a little bit of competition friendly, you know, is good.


Sam Demma (21:31):
And why do you think experiential learning is so important? You know, like if teachers are like, ah, yeah, I get it. But you know, we’re really busy and we have to get through the curriculum. Like, what would you say? Like why, why is this type of learning really important for life and also future aspirations?


Christina Raso (21:49):
Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons. And I think I’d start with the first one is that learning in a classroom is learning within the four walls, but not all students do well and not all students are made to go to university or college. Right. And hands-on, hands-on opportunities open the pathways to all those, right. You can be hands-on and still go to university and still go to college and still go into the trades and still go into the world of work. And I think when I think back of my experience working as a special education resource teacher, I think as some of those students that were disengaged, right, because they were having a hard time learning to read and to write. And I think if we gave them the hands-on activities we’re still meeting the curriculum because you still have to read instructions.


Christina Raso (22:42):
You’re still doing math, especially, you know, if, if you’re building something and I think that by giving students these experiential hands-on opportunities, we’re hitting a range of learners. Right. And you know, when, you know, you think of computer science, you know, it is hands-on, it is building, you know, and I think of the students that I had that, you know, a lot of them would be going to college and university, but there was also a large portion of those students that didn’t see themselves going to college or university and, you know, they were going to the world of work, or maybe they didn’t even see themselves going to the world of work. You know, maybe they thought, you know, they’d live on a disability pension, but when we’re looking at hands on activities and, you know, thinking of baking and cooking and, you know, there’s so many opportunities for our students that give them the opportunity to feel valued and needed in our community.


Christina Raso (23:42):
And I think of, you know, you know, chef helper or prep, you know, for these kids that thinking that, you know, they would just, you know, they, some of our students who have intellectual disability, you may stay at school until 21 because there’s really nothing else for them in our community. You know, we have one, you know, we’re at Northern community, so it’s not like we have all these big partnerships with companies and organizations. So we have one community partner that takes some of our students to work, but what about the other ones? So if we invest in them and they see themselves as, yeah, I, you know, I could do this, they could still get a disability pension and they still can work part time and feel valued. You know, every pathway is valued, but you know, if we can help kids see that there’s more for them and that they’re needed, especially in the skilled trades. Right. We know that we are already experiencing a shortage. Can you imagine five, seven years from now? So we really need to convince some of these kids who don’t see themselves going to post-secondary that there’s other pathways and there’s lots that they can do.


Sam Demma (24:52):
Every path is an option. Every student learner is unique, you know? I can agree with that more you yourself out of all the positions you’ve worked what are some of your favorites or not that you could rank them per se, but what are some of the roles that, you know, really stick out in your mind as like, this was such a great experience?


Christina Raso (25:16):
Well, I, I think one of the biggest things that I did and was when I was a special education consultant I ran some summer camps. The ministry of education gives us some funding to run summer camps for students who are behind in literacy and numeracy. And one thing that they really promoted was physical activity. It’s really important for our students to, to, you know exercise daily. And how can we incorporate that with summer camp, but still make, you know, literacy and numeracy the main focus of the program. So at that time my son was taking TaeKwonDo and he was doing it for a few years and he had a really, really awesome teacher as well. And TaeKwonDo, who’s actually a full-time stuck person now. Yeah. So I got him to teach our kids and he was doing just half an hour of physical activity in the morning, but it was TaeKwonDo.


Christina Raso (26:24):
So was kicking, you know kicking punching, but, you know, individual not and teaching the importance of self control at the same time. Right. and mindfulness. And we started every morning probably for a good six years with a half an hour of TaeKwonDo and mindfulness. And we felt that the students were better prepared to learn, you know, and, and, you know, and then the research does show, right? When students do exercise every morning that they’re, they become better learners. Whether they come to school then are not awake and then they become energized because they’re doing activity. So I felt that that was something that I really took away is that exercises important. And, and when I was teaching the grade one, two class most recently, you know, now we’re sitting in front of a computer for a long, long time.


Christina Raso (27:20):
And by the way, I can not teach TaeKwonDo. I did not do that, but, you know, grade one and two we got up a lot and we did a mind break, right? We needed mind breaks. And, you know, we did, you know, two or three minutes, I would say every 45 minutes an hour would be pushing it, but we would get up and we’d have a mind break. And I, I still think that if I was going back into the classroom and it was in a physical classroom, I still would incorporate that ability to get up and move because a lot of us, you know, I mean, I found it difficult to sit in front of the computer and I’m an adult. And you imagine, you know, these are little kids, like, I think of how old they are. And we’re asking them to sit in front of a computer, right.


Christina Raso (28:07):
First, really six hours, you know a day. And we’re asking them to do that. And they, they are doing it right. Like kids have stepped up to the challenge right. Of online learning whether they want to or not. So I think that that would be the other thing is incorporating physical activity, mindfulness and mind breaks into the classroom is really important. And it goes without saying the other thing that you know, I know you’re an advocate is positive reinforcement, right. And really, really motivating our students for them to be able to see themselves something great, right. Whatever they choose, they’re going to be great in life.


Sam Demma (28:50):
It’s so true. It’s so true. It reminds me, I’m working on a, and this is classified information, so don’t share it, but I’m working on a spoken word album. So it’s like 10 spoken word poems that I’m going to turn into videos as well. And one of them is called empty backpack. And the premise is that students and all humans carry around the thoughts and opinions of other people sometimes to a fault. And it weighs them down and a parts in our lives. We have to empty our metaphorical bag of the thoughts and opinions of everyone else and stop carrying it around. And yeah, I’m excited about it. It’s a, I have a six foot bag that I’m going to be bringing to schools with me and people are going to like drop it. Yeah, that’d be cool. Anyways, going on a tangent, this has been great. So if you could go back in time, Christina, and like talk to your younger self when you were in your first year, working with young people, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had and the learning you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Christina Raso (29:48):
My younger self. So my younger self when I first started teaching, I’m going to go back to to being a special education resource teacher. I think knowing what I know now I would have done more of the hands-on right. So I think that I would have brought in those opportunities being able to bring in those hands-on opportunities. I could see that, you know, I had a couple of boys that were really, really disengaged. And I think, you know, if I would have given them a couple of activities or a couple of assignments to say, Hey, here here’s some blocks, or here’s some things I want you to do work on this. Can you create this or give them a problem and give them, you know, some materials to figure it out, I think, and, and to promote the skilled trades. Because I think at that time, the group of students I had were really at risk of dropping out, right. Not finishing high school, there was a good percentage of them. And I think that if I would have given them more hands-on opportunities and maybe even promoted the skill traits so that they could see themselves in those roles I think that’s what I would have done know.


Sam Demma (31:04):
That’s awesome. And coming from a European family myself, all my uncles work in the trades, my dad is a plumber by trade, such a valid, an awesome career path. I couldn’t agree with that more. Oh, it’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking your time to come on the show, share your experiences or your, your ups and downs, the learnings, the journey. If another educator is listening and they just want to reach out and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Christina Raso (31:30):
They can email me and I think that you started a community. So I guess my email would be there and then they could reach out or they can call me and anyway, whatever they want. And it’s definitely been truly an honor, actually, to meet you and to be on your show.


Sam Demma (31:49):
I appreciate it, Christina, thank you so much. Keep up with us and work and we’ll talk soon. Thank you.

Sam Demma (32:01):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christina Raso

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.

Alexandra (Allie) Raper – Signature Programs, Senior Specialist at Canadian Cancer Society

Allie Raper Youth Relay For Life, Canadian Cancer Society
About Allie Raper

A quote that has inspired Allie in all her pathways and endeavours…

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. – Aristotle

Allie believes that when we learn, we grow and when we learn what we love, we are cultivating culture and wisdom. Allie has completed an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Justice, Political Philosophy, and Law and a minor in Political Science at McMaster University where she grew a passion for working with youth. In her time at McMaster, she worked with hundreds of students on an annual basis in a range of fields varying from advocacy, student experience, and athletics.

Now as the Senior Specialist on the Relay For Life Youth Team at the Canadian Cancer Society, Allie works to inspire, empower, and instill leadership in post-secondary students on a National level. On stage, Allie brings an energy that is infectious, a passion that’s undeniable, and a smiling face gazing back at you. And as a young professional, Allie embraces new challenges while also motivating others around her to do the same and become the changemakers that each of us is”.

Relay for Life hosts 260 schools across Canada (annually), and they are always trying to grow that number too. To get involved please visit www.relayforlife.ca/youth

Connect with Allie: Email | Twitter | Linkedin | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Candian Cancer Society

Youth Relay for Life

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 (00:03):
Allie welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you into a position to working with young people today?


Allie Raper (00:16):
I definitely will. Thank you so much, Sam, for having me here today. I’m so excited to chat with you and about leadership and about relay for life and so much more that we’re going to dive into. So this is a loaded question, but for myself, it there’s a couple of different experiences that really inspired me to work with youth. But I think the one that stands out is that not too many years ago, I myself was a youth looking to get involved and to make a difference. And I think that is something that, you know, stuck with me being able to grow in leadership opportunities myself, and then being able to give that back to students as well has been a really full circle experience. And I think working with youth is so special in the sense that they can accomplish so many incredible things. And so many people unfortunately underestimate our youth, but when they put their mind to something and they’re passionate about creating change and they’re passionate about a cause what they’re able to do, the results are just incredible and so impressive. So definitely a full circle experience as to how I got to working with youth as definitely starting out as one of them. But I’ll get into a little bit more about my story. I think in some of the questions coming up.


Sam Demma (01:29):
I love that. That’s amazing. And at what age were you introduced or exposed to student leadership? Was it a high school thing for you? Like, take me back there and explain how it kind of came about for you.


Allie Raper (01:40):
So I remember even being as little as, you know, in recreational soccer teams and things like that. And my mom getting me off the field and saying, Allie, don’t boss people around on the field, or, you know, Allie, you guys are a team work together. And it’s one of those things where it has a little kid. I just always kind of loved that idea of working together and creating a team and kind of wanting to instill that sense of leadership on to other people as I, of course got older, that definitely shaped into more concrete examples. So when I was in elementary school, we had like a primary junior student council. And then I continued my involvement in high school in student council capacities. And then in university is really where my leadership journey took off. I was involved with residence life as a resident orientation advisor.


Allie Raper (02:34):
I was involved with different extracurriculars such as really for life, our student union. I was the manager at one of our student restaurants and so many more different opportunities like that. So it definitely started when I was younger, but it really, really shaped itself full circle when I was in university and came to fruition there. And I think the coolest part looking back on it as there’s a difference between being a leader and putting that hat on, you know, just to have a role or just to be in a position, but there’s a difference when you get to lead something that you are excited about. And I’ve really tried when I was in university to shape things that I was involved in into my interests. And that kind of catapulted me into the role that I am in today. Because cancer touched my life in a few different ways and it really inspired me to want to create a bigger change in leadership capacities to getting me to where we are today.


Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s amazing. And when you think back to your own educational journey, growing up, going through school, did you have teachers, educators that played a pivotal role in your development and believing in you, and maybe you can remember some of those stories or some of those individuals, and can you share something?


Allie Raper (03:48):
Of course. So I do remember my student council teacher I went to high school, might be Ontario and I had a wonderful student council advisor. And I remember being in grade 10 and a little bit nervous to take on a bigger role. I was a great liaison and didn’t know really what I wanted my role to kind of look like. And she saw something in me where I had a lot of interest in athletics. I have a lot of interest in extracurriculars and really trying to bridge that gap. And this teacher sat me down and actually together, we created a new role for student council that has been on a high school student council for 10 plus years. Now I want to say so since I’ve been out of high school and in that moment, it just kind of showed me that, wow, you know, leadership, isn’t fitting one box, it’s not checking off a few things to fit a certain mold, but it’s when someone sees something in you that they’re able to shape an opportunity together with you. And that year we were able to a lot of new things that our high school had never done before, just based on the capacity of that new role that was created. And I think the role was something along the lines of athletics communications officer, but still to this day is such a unique title in itself when you think about structures and whatnot. So pretty cool thing. And, and it was great that that teacher saw something in me that continued for years to come.


Sam Demma (05:10):
Yeah. Oh, that’s amazing. And a lot of the educators are listening to this. Sometimes they don’t even realize the impact they have. Like, you’re the perfect example of someone who was impacted as a young leader and then continue down that journey and is now doing such amazing work in the world. So for them, it’s just kind of gratifying to see it and hear it. So thanks for sharing. Yeah. And so like, tell me more about how you directly got involved with relay. So you ended university and did you know that you wanted to work for relay or how did that connection happen?


Allie Raper (05:40):
Yeah, so it kind of started when I was a little bit younger. My mum is a nurse in the ER and when I was growing up, she was always involved in different volunteer opportunities. And every year her and her coworkers would do relay for life and they would do it in the community. And I remember as a little kid, you know, going to the event with her for a couple hours and seeing people walking laps and understanding that they were fundraising for a cause, but not really understanding the bigger picture, fast forward a few years. And we had a couple of family members diagnosed with cancer. And as a little kid, I think that a lot of the time, you know, your family inevitably, it tries to shelter you from some of those serious conversations. So I knew what cancer was. I knew it was something bad and something serious when someone had it, but really didn’t know the impact that it had on someone as an individual or someone’s family and community.


Allie Raper (06:35):
So when I was in university, I saw relay for life being advertised. And I had a couple friends in first year and we were like, let’s participate. You know, it’s a great event. Let’s get involved, let’s meet some more people from the school and let’s raise money for a great cause because at the end of the day, whether indirectly or directly, we all know someone who’s been affected by cancer. And it was in that moment when I attended that event, I actually have goosebumps right now as I’m explaining this. But I went to my first event in that first year of university as a participant, I just, upon walking the laps around the track and hearing all the incredible stories of the different survivors speakers, I had this inkling that it was just something that I needed to be a bigger part of. And that same year actually I lost my grandfather to cancer.


Allie Raper (07:24):
And that was one of the first times where I was like, wow cancer really does have monumental effects that, you know, people don’t always talk about if there’s not an outlet to talk about. So that was kind of something that really inspired me to continue to be more involved. And then I was on our committee for the next couple of years. And then my final year at university, I was the head chair that led the event. And throughout those next three years, my other grandfather was also diagnosed. I had an aunt diagnosed and an uncle and a friend at university as well. So, you know, when it rains, it pours, they say, but it was definitely one of those moments where I felt like I was in the right spot at the right time and doing something that was really impacting the loved ones in my life that previously I hadn’t anticipated was going to affect me so close.


Allie Raper (08:16):
But I think that’s kind of with anything serious, you know, we all think it’s not affecting us right now. It’s not, it’s not going to, you know, we’re kind of in the clear until it happens to you. So cancer definitely has a close connection to my heart. And, and then coming out of university the gentlemen who was actually in my role previously, who worked with me as a student at McMaster kind of shoulder, tapped me upon graduation and said, Hey, Allie, you know, we’ve got some openings you should apply to work at the Canadian cancer society. And as a new grad, I’m, I’m sitting there thinking no way, I’m not qualified. I am not eligible like definitely. And a quick realization that, Nope, you, you are eligible. You are very well qualified to do this and take that jump and leap of faith and apply. And so I did, and that was just over three years ago as of last week. So it’s been three great years with the Canadian cancer society ever since.


Sam Demma (09:13):
What a story. Holy cow. Thanks for sharing.


Allie Raper (09:15):
No problem

.
Sam Demma (09:18):
So three years with the Canadian cancer society, how long running the relay program?


Allie Raper (09:24):
Yeah, so all three have been with relay on the relay for life youth team. However the difference has been I was working with high school programs up until this past June, and then since June, 2021, I’m now working with our national post-secondary program. So same concepts, just different audiences now, essentially, but the relay for life youth team for all three years.


Sam Demma (09:50):
Cool. And what is relate for people who have no idea what relay is? Maybe you can share a little bit about the impact.


Allie Raper (09:57):
Definitely. So relay is first and foremost, a fundraising event held through the Canadian cancer society. People might recognize the name from their communities from high schools, from universities and so forth. And the event is typically anywhere from six to 12 hours in a pre pandemic world. So we’ll explain a pre pandemic lens of relay first. So essentially what it is is it is an event where we come together to honor and celebrate the lives of those who’ve been affected by cancer. It’s centered around four different ceremonies. And what I love about it is that other than those four different ceremonies, every school has the ability to shape relay the way they best see fit for their school community. So the first ceremony that happens typically right at the beginning is what we call an opening ceremony. And this is where we have a cancer survivor in the community of the school or the community who comes and shares their story.


Allie Raper (10:59):
It could be a student, a staff, a parent and so forth who talks to everybody about how cancer’s impacted them shortly after that, we then go into what we call our survivor victory lap. And the idea was, this is throughout the six to 12 hours of your event. People are constantly walking the track and getting their laps in, but the survivor victory lap is the first lap of your event. So let’s imagine we are at a high school event and there’s 15 survivors. We get them yellow t-shirts to signify hope in the color of the daffodil and those 15 survivors do that first lap all by themselves while your whole school is on the sidelines, cheering them on. I can’t give it justice by just explaining it. I’m getting goosebumps again, explaining it, but it’s so powerful to see that happen. And just to see, you know, how much impact and support a school has given me survivors.


Allie Raper (11:55):
So that is the second part. Then later on in your event, probably the most signature feature of a relay is what we call the luminary ceremony. So people might otherwise know this as the white decorated paper bags, but everyone at your relay gets a luminary and they decorate on it, why they relay. So for example, mine, every year says I relay for both my grandfathers, my aunt and uncle, like I mentioned, and my friends. So that’s my personal luminary. And now picture later on lining a track with hundreds of decorated luminaries, with a little tea light in it, where later on you do a lap to a more slower song, and you’re reading the hundreds of reasons why your school is coming together and relaying it’s yeah, it’s very special and it’s, it’s incredible to really see that because no two stories are the same and, you know, we’re all connected by the same cause.


Allie Raper (12:49):
So that’s the third piece. And the last piece of the event is closing ceremonies. So what that typically looks like is a big thank you for coming to our event. And very exciting people announce what the school has raised in as their fundraising total, I’m going, it’s always great to see when schools exceed and reach their goals that they set. And then following that that’s the end of the event, but all throughout those six to 12 hours, the school can plan any form of entertainment they want to do any games, any kind of areas and so forth or different theme laps. So for example, staffer students games maybe, you know, like an arts corner maybe having a varsity sport, play a scrimmage or something like that, a talent show, the list goes on and on, and the students get to shape the whole event, which is really amazing.


Sam Demma (13:38):
That’s awesome. And how many events roughly happen per year if you keep like some stats on it?


Allie Raper (13:45):
Of course. So annually on average, you work with over 260 schools across Canada, and that we’re always trying to grow that number too. So we are working a lot more so in recent years to grow it nationally outside of Ontario. And that’s been really exciting to see other provinces and territories get really involved as well.


Sam Demma (14:03):
Awesome. And if a school is interested and wants to learn more like what would be the best way for them to do so?


Allie Raper (14:09):
So they can reach out to us via email qt relayyouth@cancer.ca so, relayyouth@cancer.ca or on our Instagram as well, which is just @youthrelay are the two easiest ways to get in touch with us.


Sam Demma (14:24):
Great. And, you know, you kind of brushed over the fact that COVID is here. So what are some of the challenges that relay has been faced with and the fundraising goals because of COVID and how are you guys striving to figure it out and still continue moving along?


Allie Raper (14:39):
Yeah. What a what a two plus years it’s been a, like, I don’t think any of us anticipated to be a miss landscape for this long, but here we are. So something I’ve been finding myself saying a lot and reflecting on has been, you know, COVID stopped and changed a lot of things, but it didn’t stop and change cancer. It didn’t stop and change leadership and it didn’t stop and change, you know, our means to be able to make a difference in an impact. Yeah. So it’s been really great to see students still rise to the occasion and just flip their mindset as to, you know, how can we still take the special parts of relay and incorporate them into a re-imagined event. So what our team did this year is we essentially took those four key parts of relay those four ceremonies and reflected on, you know, what makes relay really at its core.


Allie Raper (15:32):
How can we take those concepts and switch them into alternative methods? So this year we actually had four options for schools to choose from all across the country, depending on their restrictions. Of course, we had a restricted relay model, which was for areas who weren’t really impacted by lockdowns and didn’t have a ton of social distancing measures in place. But that was just a, yeah, it restricted relay in itself. Then we had some hybrid options as well for schools. So if they weren’t in cohorts, for example, maybe classes were taking time on their own, on their breaks to go outside and do some laps, but then you’re opening ceremonies, luminaries and so forth were all done via virtual videos that were sent out throughout the week. And then we also had a fully virtual option. So what we did in this one was we coached schools on having, you know, roughly an hour to two hour long virtual event, whether that was during school hours or after school hours, where the school’s hosted a broadcast and still had all the ceremonies and some entertainment, but just in a condensed virtual setting with the idea of going to walk in your own neighborhoods on your own time.


Allie Raper (16:42):
So it definitely was different, but something that was really cool this year, which definitely kind of inspired us, was we had a ton of new schools actually work with us this year. And it was interesting to see that because, you know, we were so nervous about asking schools to do something unknown that they’ve never done before, but schools were still so excited to take on something and seeing the resources and the options that we had outlined for them made it that much easier for them to put something into place. Yeah, so that was really, those are kind of the options.


Sam Demma (17:17):
Awesome. That’s amazing. And so for a school to get involved, do they have to pay a certain amount of money to get resources? Or how does it, what is it?


Allie Raper (17:27):
Yeah, absolutely not. So basically what it looks like is the program fully and relay in itself is student led and staff supported. And by that we mean, you know, we are giving the students and staff the tools to be successful, and we know that staff already has so much on their plates, especially in, you know, navigating to the landscape that we’re currently in, that we want students to really leverage that leadership and make relay what they want to make it. Because, you know, as a peer in high school, you’re going to be a lot more enticed to go to an event that your peers are planning as well, opposed to staff or myself planning, for example. So we actually provide schools with training resources and funding right off the bat as well. So if a school is hosting some sort of in-person or even a hybrid event in a typical year, we give schools a budget of 6% of their fundraising goal.


Allie Raper (18:24):
So it’s really nice to know that they don’t have to dip into school funds to kind of offset any event costs. And they don’t have to fundraise for the event themselves, but we want to invest in them because they’re investing in us and into the cause and into the program. So yeah, schools will set a fundraising goal and then we issue a 6% of that to them right off the bat. And then we also provide one of my favorite things actually is we provide a free leadership conference. So for high school level, we call it relay university where in a typical year, you know, we bring hundreds of people into conference centers all across the country. And they hear from survivors speakers, they network with other students and staff. They do breakouts. They go through mock ceremonies of relay and so much more, and they get a full complimentary conference day and last year to account for COVID.


Allie Raper (19:16):
We did our first ever national virtual relay university, which was really cool too. So, yeah. And then the other resource we provide to, to make things again, as easy as possible is we provide a full Google drive full of resources. So instead of having a student, you know, try to create a, to do list themselves, we’ve got a committee structure of 10 outlined or suggested roles for students to take on. They each come with a guidebook to keep them on track. They each come with resources as well. So let’s say I’m a student is a ceremonies captain for all of those ceremonies. I mentioned, we have scripts already outlined for them, and we have resources on, you know, how to have sensitive conversations and how to speak to people, living with cancer or sponsorship, for example, you know, we’ve got template letters and thank you’s that can go out to external vendors. So that way, again, students aren’t starting from scratch, but they have the resources to really then customize them and make them their own to be successful.


Sam Demma (20:15):
That’s awesome. And what keeps you motivated and inspired to continue doing this work?


Allie Raper (20:21):
I think it’s, you know, Sam, I think the easiest way to answer that is the students themselves. And when they come to me so excited to share an idea or to share a success that they had, that is why I love doing what I, what I do. You know, even the other day, I had a couple of conversations with students who did relay in high school, who have now gone on to the post-secondary level. And I was trying to see, you know, if their school, if they want to get involved through late at their school and whatnot, and they had a student text me and say, I wouldn’t miss out. I’ve already told all my friends relay was truly the highlight of my high school experience. And I want to get involved at my, at my new school. So it’s little things like that that you just kind of reflect back on.


Allie Raper (21:05):
And you’re like, you know, those conversations we had or those coaching sessions, when, you know, these students were in high school, they’ll stick with them. And the impact that they make are being able to reflect and look back and say, I ran an event that raised $80,000 at my high school. That’s not something that, you know, a lot of students can say, but for them to be able to put that on a resume and talk about that, it’s, it’s really incredible. And I think the other thing, as well as it’s rewarding, but it’s also a sensitive piece in the sense that seeing when students are able to grieve and process a loss through relay is also really special in the sense that, you know, if a school doesn’t do relay for life for having an outlet, some students, you know, maybe going through a loss in their family or in their life or undergoing a diagnosis of cancer themselves. But if they don’t have an outlet to share that with it can be really tough sometimes, but relay really unites everyone as to, you know, we’ve all been affected with, you know, one in two Canadians being affected by cancer. We truly have all been affected in our lifetimes. And when I’ve see those students kind of break out of their shell or share their personal vulnerable stories and, and be confident about that, that’s something that’s really, really special to me.


Sam Demma (22:20):
That’s awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation, Allie, thank you so much for taking some time to chat about relay your own experience, growing up with it and what keeps you going and how schools can get involved. One more time, if anyone wants to reach out or get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Allie Raper (22:36):
Yeah, I’m, I’m looking forward to hopefully getting some people to reach out. So this is great. So email relayyouth@cancer.ca, that’s relayyouth@cancer.ca and Instagram @youthrelay. So @youthrelay on Instagram and either one we will reach out to you and get back to you as soon as possible. And we hope to hear from many of you.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Allie, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Allie Raper (23:01):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Allie Raper

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.

Shonna Barth – Principal of Crescent Heights High School

Shonna Barth - Principal CHHS
About Shonna Barth

Shonna Barth (@ShonnaBarth), is the Principal at Crescent Heights High School. She is a recipient of the 2020-2021 Distinguished Leadership Award presented by the Council for School Leadership of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. She started at Cresent Heights eight years ago as a counsellor and moved into her role as vice principal after three years and is now the Principal of the school. 

She cares and works with ALL students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the Grade 7-12 life including student leadership, drama, band productions and athletics. She coaches volleyball and is an avid supporter of other CHHS extra-curricular events. Shonna believes it takes a variety of life experiences and a village to help students grow and develop into their best potential. Student and staff wellness is a passion of hers as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life.

Connect with Shonna: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Council for School Leadership

Alberta Teachers’ Association

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 (00:02):
Shonna, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind your journey that brought you to where you are today?


Shonna Barth (00:13):
Awesome. Well, thanks for having me. I am the principal of Crescent Heights High School and medicine hat Alberta. I have worked in kind of all levels of education. I spent a good chunk of the first part of my career in elementary, mainly grade six, and I really found with grade six. So you had that real opportunity to build student leaders at that age. They’re the oldest kids in the school, and they’re just really keen on giving back to the community and being part of the school as a whole. So I often led the student leadership with, through the schools and just try to really branch out with student experience to not just in the classroom. How can we impact their lives beyond that and how can we help them impact the world beyond that as well? So that’s been a passion of mine, right from probably about the third or fourth year when I started teaching before too long, I moved into the role of part-time counselor.


Shonna Barth (01:02):
So I was half-time teacher part-time school counselor, not a, I don’t have a mental health background per se, but just, I always told the kids, I’m an adult that gets along with kids. Well, and so through that platform, I was able to really get to know what some of the real concerns kids were going through. You have more time to sit and talk with kids and chat about what’s going on in their lives. And then from that, we could work with the student council kids to, okay, we’ve got a lot of kids going through this. What could we do to try to support those students? Although I still put a lot of time into my classroom and my teaching that side of my career started to really feel like a passion for me. So I spent about five or six years as a school counsellor.


Shonna Barth (01:41):
And then I moved into what we call mental health capacity building, project program in Alberta. So we had three for three years. We worked in the schools to try to work in the universal side of supporting our students and families. So we would go into classrooms with programs. We would work in small groups on things that were going on, and that was funded by Alberta health. Recognizing that teachers don’t go to school in order to be able to work with a lot of these things. We don’t get taught a lot of that. So we were building capacity within the teachers to support their students through some of these challenging times, the administrators, the families we’d offer family nights. So I was really immersed then in that whole world of mental health, then resiliency and building grit. So that has been an excellent resource for me moving into high school. I moved into that after that, with working with the grade nine through 12 counseling and teenagers are a whole different breed and, you know, just as exciting if not even more. So I think grade six and then I’ve been in administration the last about five years, I guess, and just moved into being a principal this year.


Sam Demma (02:43):
Awesome. And did you know, like from a young age that you wanted to get into education and teaching, or like what kind of steered you in that specific path?


Shonna Barth (02:51):
Well, my whole family, pretty much your teachers. My father was an administrator, my aunt uncle. So I actually didn’t want to be a teacher cause I was determined to do my own thing and make my own mark on the world, but it was fairly early. Obviously I wanted to work with people and that I am on that side of the spectrum of working with things. So I had at one point really wanted to be a social worker. And my mum was worried about my, my soft heart in that world. Cause that’s a real challenging world at times. And I big props to anybody who is doing that work has that is a, it’s a challenging area, but man, you can really make a difference. But once you got into education, I realized that that side of me could also come out through my teaching as well. Once I did my first round of student teaching, I was hooked when I got to know those kids. And there’s no looking back after that.


Sam Demma (03:39):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned at the beginning of your response that you thought grade six is like the perfect age to start introducing students to student leadership. Like what does that look like in grade six? Is it getting students involved and engaged in planning events? Yeah, like take me back there for a minute and kind of explain what that looked like or why you thought student leadership was so important to introduce at that age.


Shonna Barth (04:01):
Yeah. So in our curriculum, a big part of grade six, social studies is about government. So there’s kind of a natural fit to start forming some sort of student government. I was always reluctant though to do the whole voting thing. Like I know there’s some value in learning of that, but I also know there’s value in rejection and how bad that can feel to be begins a popularity thing. So my philosophy has always anybody who wants to get involved, come on, we just called it leadership. And yeah, it was a lot of planning, looking at the fun events in the school and the extra activities and really started with that part of it. Cause to me, that kind of gave them the hook with the other kids in the school. It also gave me a hook with the other kids in school. I never had to deal with discipline because kids knew I was the lady who planned the fun stuff.


Shonna Barth (04:42):
So they don’t want us to get in trouble with her. And then we kind of branched out as I got to see how these kids had influence in the school and really started to work with them on how can you use that, that for good, rather than for evil, because you don’t want these kids thinking they’re a big deal and bullying the grade fours because they’re in grade six leadership and taking a look at those kids who maybe didn’t have a buddy to sit with or that sort of thing, like really encouraging get some of them aren’t at that maturity to be able to think outside themselves. But there definitely was ones that good. So we kind of balanced it out between planning Western days and school, spirit days with also, okay. We’ve noticed a lot of kids like really kind of on their own, what can we do to help those kids?


Shonna Barth (05:24):
So try to balance that they were lunch hour meetings. We also rounded once I moved to a more of a six to eight school, we ran a leadership class. And so within that class, the students chose to come to that. So we could go in a little bit deeper about what it looks like to be a leader, looked at traditional leaders in our community as well as throughout history and just try to pull out some aspects of things they were doing. So just tried to really branch out on the interests that they already had past planning, school dances and fun days.


Sam Demma (05:54):
I love that. It’s amazing. And when did volleyball come into the picture? I know you also coached now. And did you play when you were younger or where’d that passion?


Shonna Barth (06:02):
I did. And that I told this story a few times, I guess, but I went to a smaller high school where my dad was a principal and I tried it on grade seven and I didn’t make the team, which if your dad’s a principal, you gotta be pretty bad not to make the team in grade eight. They brought me on as a manager, cause I think they felt sorry for me that I still kept coming out and trying. And I would go to camps in the summer and I kept working and I’ve made the team of grade nine. And by grade 12, I was the captain of the team and never have I ever received an MVP trophy. But through my, my years of volleyball and different sports, I played most improved or more sportsmanlike. And I tell it to these young kids that I coach a lot that a lot of the real rock star volleyball players that I played with, they’re not playing anymore.


Shonna Barth (06:47):
As soon as they came up against somebody that maybe was as good as them better, they got frustrated and they were done. I had always been in it because I love the game. I liked being part of a team. I like part of that atmosphere. So once I got out of university, I knew I wanted to provide that opportunity for other students. So the first, probably five or six years, I coached a team of the kids. Who’d been cut from other teams. So we would just form a team, our own little team and so that they still get to play and we’d go into the league and we didn’t win a whole lot, but the kids were just so happy to be there. Mandy of them still played right through, up till about grade 11. And now we’re playing as young adults and I’ve ran into them because I still play in the ladies league, not at tier one or anything anymore, but I still play and I’ll run into those kids and they quite regularly say like, thank you for providing that opportunity. So I, the reason I stay with it now, as much as it’s a little bit overwhelming time commitment wise is that’s where I really get to connect with kids. You don’t get to, you don’t have too many kids coming back to a school going, oh, I remember when you were my principal. Like, it’s more about the coaching and the times that we get to spend with them, then.


Sam Demma (07:55):
That’s amazing. And you know, it’s cool because you are a student who tried really hard and didn’t make the team. And I’m in a situation you’re probably in yourself is, you know, you have to bring on some kids and turn down others. How do you do that effectively? Like how do you know, how did it, how did, how did the other coach do that for you when you were in growing up and maybe your dad helped a lot there? Cause he was the principal. And, and how do you do that now? Just to make sure students still feel motivated like you were to keep trying.


Shonna Barth (08:22):
We we added another team here again this year, once we got to the cat. So we try to find as many adults as possible. There was a few that just, unfortunately there’s just not enough gym time and not enough coaches to enable everybody. We try to be as respectful as possible. We don’t post a list where somebody has to read it at eight in the morning and deal with rejection all day at school, you get a letter at the end of the day and you’d take it home. And we would list all the other things that are going on in the school that we encourage them to try out. So that we’re hopefully that if volleyball, wasn’t their thing, we have a really strong drama program. We have a cross-country program, things that there aren’t as many cuts having to be made. So we try to encourage them, okay, this wasn’t your thing, but that’s all right. Try something different. And on student council here too, we’re always like, Hey, come join us. You can still be part of things. So a lot of times when kids come and they don’t have the skills, you’re not necessarily coming because they love volleyball. They don’t necessarily even know volleyball. They just really want to be part of something and be part of a team.


Sam Demma (09:18):
And you mentioned that students, some of their fondest memories are with extra curricular activities and you know, that’s, that’s how you really get to connect with kids. Like, do you think it has a huge impact on students and like, have you seen the impact be realized like you have students come back and say like, oh, the volleyball team made a big difference. And were there any stories that may have been like very impactful that stick out to you and maybe even to the point where you could change the student’s name, if it’s something really serious?


Shonna Barth (09:44):
Yeah. Well, I am a for more, I guess the teaching has so much more one-on-one impact than you do as a principal in that sense. So I reflect back on that era, maybe a little more. So through that grade six era, like we would go for outdoor ed trips where we’d stay for two or three nights out at camp and be together, we’d go to Calgary and go to the Calgary science center. So you’re sitting on a bus, you’re walking around the science center with kids. You’re walking around the zoo with kids. We did a lot of just, oh, I used to have science sleepovers where the kids would stay overnight in the school. And we do science experiments and they get to have races up and down the hallway. And just like lot of work on my part, like I was tired, but the bucket feeling you get as an adult from that.


Shonna Barth (10:25):
So what I’ve found now that I’m able to go out places where you can have adult beverages and things like that. And you run into students that you have taught at those ages. They come sit down and they had me a beverage and that like, they want to talk about, remember when we were walking on that hike and elk water, and we were talking about blah, blah, blah, like, and they can remember almost word for word in their mind what they felt. I said, I can barely remember the conversation. I can almost always remember the student, but those are the times you really get to have those real conversations with kids and they get to have a glimpse of you as a human. And you get to see them as a human as well. And I can count how many cards I’ve been sent over the years or kids who’ve stopped to have those conversations.


Shonna Barth (11:08):
Just about things that we talked about, the difference I made in their life. I’m like, wow, like you were such an easy kid. I never really felt like I was doing anything super impactful for you. Or on the flip side, sometimes the really challenging kids I’ll see them a year or two later. And they act like they’ve never met me before. And I do think some of that is they don’t want to remember who they were at that point in their life. And you’re kind of a reminder of that. We still kind of hope that some of the conversations you had maybe had some impact, you’re not going to affect every kid for sure. But yeah, I think this one young lady who I, I, I should move down for grade four, five and six on charter all three years. So I had got to know her very well.


Shonna Barth (11:49):
And then I remarried her again in grade 10. At that point, she was kind of going sideways in life, just making some bad choices and we just run into each other somewhere. I did not recognize her because she was pretty changed the makeup and the hair. And didn’t look quite as innocent as she did in grade six. And she just came over and talked and we talked for about an hour and I’ve heard from message from her about three years later about that, that conversation was that I’ve changed time for her. It just reminded her who she used to be, where she wanted to go. And she couldn’t. I asked her if she had any like specific thing that I said and said she couldn’t remember, but just having that conversation and that connection with the person that she was and where she wanted to go. And just that summer, I didn’t just walk away and ignore that. I spent some time with her time for a lot of these kids is, is a huge value. And it’s not always easy if you have 32 kids in your class to be able to have those one-on-one. So if you’re not able to do some of the extracurricular, you miss out on those really cool opportunities. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:50):
Yeah. It’s so true. I even think back to my own high school experience and I play on the soccer team cause I was a big soccer player. And I remember building not only deeper relationships with the coaches of the team, but also the teammates I find that you don’t, unless you proactively schedule time with the friends in your class to hang out, you don’t really have another opportunity during class to build super deep relationships. Because if you talk, the teacher starts yelling at you and it’s like stop talking, I’m teaching, you know? And the soccer field enabled that as well. So I ended up building relationships with so many other students which is why looking back. I wish I got way more involved in high school. I was just way too focused on soccer that I didn’t really join anything except for the soccer team. And it’s like one of my regrets when I talk to students now and encourage them to get involved. But what are some of the, like, education has changed a lot in the past two years, it’s been a lot of challenges. What do you think some of the challenges are that your school and yourself as a principal are currently faced with? And then how are you trying to overcome those things?


Shonna Barth (13:52):
I think, I guess from a personal part I’ve really pride myself a year and a half, two years ago that even with 1300 kids in the student school, somebody walked down the hall that wasn’t part of our school. I would recognize that. And now with the masks, it’s just, it feels like we’re so much more anonymous. Like kids, I normally smile everybody that walks by, they can’t tell if you’re smiling and like, we’re just losing that personal connection. And I worry about that because for some kids that just those little conversations in the hall might be the only time they talk to an adult during that day, like on a one-on-one sort of thing. Definitely the loss of some of those extracurricular this last year has been really concerning. Like they we’ve had kids not come back. Finding jobs has been really important part of high school because for some of them they’re the sole breadwinner in their home.


Shonna Barth (14:43):
So they’re, excuse me, they’re not going to leave their job and come back and play soccer or volleyball or join the band cause their family needs them. So it’s become kind of a place right now of just come get your education because that’s what you have to do. And then go back to your real life. So we don’t have the pep rallies. We don’t have this th the school assemblies everything’s done over zoom. And I do think that depersonalizes us. It’s also on the positive side, it’s encouraged us to be creative and try to find some new ways to connect with kids. I think some students, when we were online, being able to talk one-on-one with their teacher over screen was a little less intimidating than having to put your hand up in class and potentially say something down with your teacher can only hear you when you can only hear them.


Shonna Barth (15:31):
It’s it allows for some really positive relationships, but I do worry just about the students’ physical health, their emotional health. It’s been a lot of sitting in front of screens these last two years, and that becomes very easy to do. It’s when you’re a teenager, especially there are junior high kids who struggle a bit with anxiety to start with staying at home can feel really comfortable and safe, but then learning how to push through that and learning how to deal with difficult kids is, is unfortunately, this is a skill that we need, like adults, don’t all of a sudden become nice. When you turn 18, 19, you’re still gonna have difficult coworkers or difficult bosses. And so I think we’re missing out on some of those skills as well, that would benefit them in the work world.


Sam Demma (16:15):
And like what I know this has been ongoing for two years. What, what are some programs or things that you did in the past year that were successful despite the challenges or things that the school adjusted or that the teachers might’ve tried that worked out kind of well.


Shonna Barth (16:32):
Oh, we still through our school student council still been trying to organize some sort of spirit day. Sometimes it’s like, even when we were at home, like dress up and we’ll take pictures of you over zoom, like we’ve tried to encourage that sort of thing at home. We really tried to keep up with our any sort of justice projects that we can to make sure that the kids aren’t getting so insulated into their own world, that they’re forgetting what’s going on in the world. So within our English and social programs, they do a lot of work in, in those areas. We still managed to pull off a musical at the hand of last year. Our she was just amazing, like they’d practice over zoom, which of course is delayed and backwards trying to do dance. Like the creativity that they have come up with has been just incredible.


Shonna Barth (17:15):
So the last two days of June parents were able to come in and watch a performance. So those grade twelves who’ve been part of musical theater since grade seven, got to still have their, their audience, which meant a lot to them. We still ran some sports in the fall and the winter when we were in the real lockdown, not so much, but we just kept it to more of an intramural type things. We didn’t go play schools from other places, but we took more kids. So we had a guy coach guy seven last year, we had like 30 grade seven kids that came out. We just broke them into teams and they played against each other where in the past, we would’ve broke back down to only 12 students. So we had 30 students that, you know, maybe the only time in their life, we’re part of a team and got to have the shirt and take home the shirts and that sort of thing.


Shonna Barth (17:59):
So just really trying to keep things as normal as possible. We did manage to pull off a graduation both years. First year was very, I felt very personal and we had a lot of positive feedback from that group of parents took us about three days to get through it. But each parent and students and their parents and family come up on the stage, the parents handed the diploma to the student. We stood in the back and clap for them to pictures. So the parent didn’t have to sit through 200 other kids getting their diploma was very personal. We had a couple of photo booth set up and then this year was more of a traditional one in our, one of our larger convention centers, which I know the parents and kids appreciated my, the kids appreciate it because they got to have their peers with them. But it last year definitely was very, it was kinda heartwarming. Cause we, we got to those kids that really had a tough time getting to that diploma and worked their butt off together. We could really celebrate that student heart and cheer and congratulate them and made it really personal. So those are some good things have come out of this.


Sam Demma (18:57):
Yeah, I agree. I think with every adversity, there’s an equal opportunity somewhere. It’s got to be creative to find it and figure it out. What keeps you hopeful? Like what, what do you think inspires you to continue doing this work with a big smile on your face and show up every day and lead others and coach and try and make an impact in these young people’s lives?


Shonna Barth (19:18):
Definitely from the, I picked the hardship of missing my first seven days as a principal cause I was home with COVID and not being able to see people face-to-face and having to do it all over zoom or just join into assemblies, made me appreciate the energy of the kids, the resiliency of the kids. They continually amazes me. Like we really thought coming back to school this fall with mass mandate being implemented again, we had thought when we left in June, we’re kind of done with all this and we’re going to be more back to normal. And we’re really our numbers are really high mess. Not right now. We thought the kids were we’re going to be fighting with the kids and they’ve been amazing. They’ve just, I just continue to remind you why you’re doing what they’re doing. You’re doing, they’re so positive.


Shonna Barth (20:01):
And they are sometimes they’re teenagers and they’re going to grumble about things. But honestly I find the adults gumball more than the kids do. So I just, I think being able to watch those kids walk across the stage, being in a seven to 12 school where we get to Washington through their junior high axed and struggles. And then by the time they come to grade 12 and I know every one of those kids walking across the stage and like this time, we’re like, oh man, I wish I could give you a hug. Like, you know what so many of them have been through. So I think being able to watch the growth and how they learned to be grateful, even by the end of grade 12, not always grateful and grade eight, but by the time they hit grade 12, like know to just recognize what everybody in the school is doing for them of that.


Sam Demma (20:42):
I love it. And there’s a lot of younger educators listening to this podcast as well, who might be just getting into education. And I think there’s a lot of value in sharing your experiences and also your mistakes. You know, like when I talked to high school, because when I talked to high school students, I say like one of the mistakes I made was not getting involved enough and I can reflect on that and encourage students to get more involved as an educator and like a, you know, a teacher. Do you have any mistakes that you’ve made or actually learning opportunities that you’ve experienced that you think are worth sharing with other educators that are listening?


Shonna Barth (21:14):
Yeah. I think for new educators, a couple of things that I would stress is get involved. Like I’m not going to say this one mistake, cause I definitely I’ve been involved. I’ve been doing things my whole career. It is a balance though, of your personal wellness and the students. I worry sometimes now where we’re putting our personal wellness. So high up on the scale that we’re missing out on opportunities that would make us feel better. I think we don’t necessarily recognize that. Yes, physically. I was tired Saturday night when I walked home at 7, 7 30 at night after coaching all day, but just sit and reflect on how the kids improved throughout the day, playing volleyball and their excitement and their cheering, that bucket feeling kind of stuff really can. It makes you feel really good too. So I guess that’s been a vice like mistake can be thinking that putting time in equates to being tired, you gotta put your time in the right places.


Shonna Barth (22:10):
I know when I first started, I was, I’m not artistic, but I put insane amount of time into my bulletin boards in my classrooms. Like every month I’d completely change the theme of the room where I spend five hours on a Sunday, making a game of some sort for the kids to play that would take them about three minutes to play. They would never appreciate it as much as I felt they should, because I knew how much time I had put in to making that thing. I thought they should be bowing to me and saying like, you’re just the greatest teacher ever. They don’t value that stuff as much as they value the one-on-one the time you spend with them. So a beginning teacher having that Pinterest perfect classroom might make you feel good. Your kids don’t really value that as much. You know, they don’t want to come in and see a bare walls or a total disaster either. But thinking about where you spend your time, like time spent with kids will always pay off. Always time, spent marking all that stuff has to happen. But if you can find ways to make that less in your life and time one-on-one connecting with kids, you’ll have a great career.


Sam Demma (23:15):
I love that. That’s awesome. That’s amazing advice. Well, Shauna, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Shonna Barth (23:31):
Probably email. And I would love that. I really love exchanging ideas. People always tell me I’m a creative person, but I’m an idea stealer. I like to take stuff from people and adapt it from where it’s at and I’m more than willing to share that we’ve done as well. So my email address is Shonna.Barth@sd76.abb.ca. I think what you’re doing is great here, Sam. I really appreciate it. I think we need more people spreading the positive things that are happening in education and sharing ideas. So I really appreciate you taking the time to be doing this.


Sam Demma (24:07):
Pleasure, and it’s been great chatting with you. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Shonna Barth (24:12):
Sounds great.

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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.