Sam Demma

Lisa Galay – Experiential Learning Leader at the Halton District School Board

Lisa Galay Experiential Lead Learner
About Lisa Galay

Lisa is the Experiential Learning Leader at the Halton District School Board. She proactively seeks out opportunities for her students to gain real-world knowledge through hands-on experiences. This occurs through career fairs, pathway exploration events and programs that she works to implement in her school board.

Her intention is to help students see connections between what they are studying in their high school courses and jobs that use the skills and knowledge acquired in those courses in the ‘real world.’

Before growing into this role as the Experiential Lead Learning, Lisa worked as a science teacher, a guidance counsellor and taught co-op and careers. In this episode, Lisa shares dozens of ideas that you can use immediately. P.S. Her favourite ice-cream flavour is chocolate.

Connect with Lisa: Email

Listen Now

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

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. This week we have on the show, another very special guest, someone who reached out to me during COVID to do a session for them during take your kids to work day. Now, unfortunately, the session got canceled due to COVID-19 and school board regulations, but Lisa and I still had a wonderful conversation and I thought it would be very valuable to bring her back on the show so she can share some of her amazing ideas with you. Lisa is the experiential lead learner at the Halton district school board, and she proactively seeks out opportunities for her students to gain real world knowledge through hands on experiences. In this episode, she shared dozens of ideas that you can use immediately after you leave this recording. PS, her favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate.

Sam Demma (00:54):
Just know in case you want to ship her a gift. That’s what she loves. Anyways, let’s jump into the episode. I’ll see you on the other side, Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the show here today. It’s a pleasure to have you. We talked a little bit earlier on the phone about different events. You were planning in the school board about chocolate ice cream home. Ken here, can you share with the audience who you are, why you got into the work you do with young people and what keeps you going at it every single day?

Lisa Galay (01:22):
Sure. Hi everyone. My name is Lisa Galay and I’m the leader of experiential learning for grades seven to 12 with the Halston district school board. And the work that I do today is definitely not where I thought I would have landed. You may have heard that before Sam but it it’s such important work. And my role right now is really to work with educators in our board to create engaging initiatives for students that give them hands-on experiences that allow them to reflect on those experiences and then to apply what they’ve learned from their reflection and, and from the experience itself. So that’s really that experiential learning cycle. And you know, in my role before I was, I was in this role, I was a science teacher for many years. I was a guidance counselor. I taught co-op and careers.

Lisa Galay (02:18):
And you know, all of those roles certainly allowed me to work with, with youth, which I knew I always loved. It was something that I did long before I was a teacher. And I think it always gave me this real sense of satisfaction that I was really making a difference. I always knew that I wanted a job where I could clearly see the difference, even if I might not see it for months or years or, you know, who knows how long. But I always found that working with youth was, was a way to, to know that I was making a difference and I felt like I had a lot to give in that area. I felt like I, you know, I inherently enjoyed it. I was good at teaching people, things I was excited about learning myself. And I felt like that could have a contagious effect with students.

Lisa Galay (03:04):
And I think, you know, over my years in the various roles that I’ve had, I saw the impact that caring could, could do, whether it was caring about the quality of the lessons and, and opportunities I was creating for students, whether it was caring for student as their guidance counselor, when they came to you with a serious mental health issue, or now whether it’s supporting a teacher to allow them to do an amazing experience or support their students in a, in a really engaging way. I can see the impact of the work that I do. And I think that’s what keeps me going, because I know that it’s making a difference. And and it’s something that I love doing. And it doesn’t feel like I’m working.

Sam Demma (03:47):
Speaking about creating, engaging experiences during a time. Like COVID, have you worked with any teachers this far to maybe implement some ideas that you thought knocked it out of the park or that the other teacher gave you some great feedback on that you think might be valuable for another educator to hear?

Lisa Galay (04:06):
Yeah, absolutely. So like many educators when COVID struck in March and the school shut down and we were all working from home, it was definitely something none of us were prepared for. And, you know, at that point in the year, in my role as leader of experiential learning, I had tons of initiatives planned for March, April, may, and June that were bringing hundreds of students together, bringing community partners into schools and, and all kinds of initiatives and they all got canceled. And you know, initially it felt pretty devastating thinking about all the work and time and, and the excitement that had been built up around those opportunities. And, you know, I had to scratch my head for a little bit and say, as someone who was directing and supporting these engaging experiential learning opportunities, what does that look like when students are not actually doing any of these things in person anymore?

Lisa Galay (04:58):
So it was a lot of re-imagining to be honest of what experiential learning could look like in a virtual environment. And even now, you know, my school board right now has some students that are totally virtual, some that are partially virtual and partially in class, it’s still a lot of re-imagining. And I think, you know, all of the things that, that I created and did during that time really came back to, you know, we, we can’t just say because it’s, COVID because we’re at home because this is difficult and requires some out of the box thinking, I guess we’re just not doing anything anymore. That’s, that’s interesting or hands-on. So we found ways for students to do things while they were at home in a safe way. So just as an example, one of the initiatives that I helped to support was purchasing these little model home kits for construction students that were using materials and tools that could safely be used without parental supervision in the home, so that when they couldn’t be with their construction teacher, they could still be building something and getting the support of their teacher virtually.

Lisa Galay (06:07):
That’s one example, when I thought about, you know, the massive event for, you know, thousands of grade sevens that, that wasn’t going to happen in, in may, as I had planned, you know, instead we looked at how we could bring the, the virtual or, sorry, I should say how we could have brought community partners to students in a virtual way. So I created a series of what is now almost 40 different community partner videos, where I interviewed partners kind of like what you’re doing now and ask them a number of questions about their educational journey, their career pathway, the impact of COVID on their career and, you know, picked those partners so that they represented a wide range of various career sectors, and also touched a wide range of, of subject areas. So students can see, oh, I’m in math right now. And those are careers that use math on a daily basis. And you know, those, those things, did they take time and, you know, was it something I’d ever done? Absolutely not. But it was, it was a resource that became highly valued as teachers thought, how am I going to help students make these real world connections? So those are just two examples, but I think it really just required an attitude of, you know, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. This is just a challenge. And I need to be creative and flexible and look for the opportunities that I may not have even considered before.

Sam Demma (07:29):
I love that it goes back to changing the story we tell ourselves, right? If we tell ourselves that something’s terrible and not possible, then that result is going to manifest in our life in a short period of time physically. And when we think outside of the box and overcome a challenge, we can impact the student’s life forever. They may never forget it. And I’m, I’m certain in your years of teaching, you’ve had students write you letters and reach out and tell you how much of an impact you’ve had on them. How do we continue to, like you said earlier care for our students during this time, even when they’re not in the classroom like w what do we have to do to show them that we appreciate them during these times?

Lisa Galay (08:15):
Yeah. That’s a great question. So a big part of my role coming into the start of this school year and even last year, when we so quickly switched to distance learning was all about community building, right? Which, which would have been important in normal times as well, but in a virtual environment or in a situation where teachers, aren’t seeing their students every day, because of these different adaptive models that that schools have taken on building relationships is still key. So even though there might be screens between us and we might not be seeing someone face to face, if we want to have a successful classroom where people feel open to communicate to work together, they want to log on. They want to be, you know, engaged in what’s happening in the classroom. And also even in, when we’re in person, we’ve got to invest the time and energy up front.

Lisa Galay (09:05):
And I know in the times that we’re in right now, a lot of teachers feel really pressed for time. They feel like with the new models that we’re working under, you know, gosh, it’s already going to be so tough to fit in all this curriculum, and I’m not even seeing them that often. I don’t have time to, you know, as one teacher said to me, hold hands and sing kumbaya at the start of every, every session with new students. But again, I think it’s that investment of time getting to know our students getting to tell them a little bit about who we are you know, expanding their mind about the possibilities of what the course can offer, giving them opportunities to get to know each other and, and build trust and feel safe in that classroom environment that we’re going to see the biggest return.

Lisa Galay (09:48):
And that’s where students again, feel appreciated. So again, Sam, when I think back to being a guidance counselor, and when students would come down and talk about challenges that they might’ve had with teachers, it was always about relationships. And it was still often, you know, that they felt like someone wasn’t seeing them or someone didn’t care or someone hadn’t put the time in. And it’s those teachers that just remember that, oh yeah, you play soccer. I’m going to ask how your game was this weekend, or that’s right. You said you were getting a new dog. Well, how’s the new family member. It’s all those little pieces, those little attempts to, to make an outreach and get to know your students that I think makes a difference. And it’s a huge difference now because we’re not even seeing each other face-to-face as much as we normally would.

Sam Demma (10:35):
It’s those small, consistent actions as Mike Loudfoot would say.

Sam Demma (10:43):
That’s awesome. Thinking back to your guidance counselor days, can you think of a story where maybe a student wasn’t feeling heard and maybe even had problems outside of the classroom at home or in the community? I’m sure you had students break down in your office. I broke down in my guidance counselor’s office a couple of times, and I was in high school. Can you think of a story though, where the narrative was flipped and that student got appreciated by a staff member, and there was a huge transformation in that student’s life, and you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons, but I want you to share the real authentic story. So another educator listening might think to themselves, wow. I do hold the power to shape a young person’s life. Yeah.

Lisa Galay (11:25):
Yeah. I’ve actually got a great story for this. And, and this happened a couple of years ago when I was still in my guidance counselor role, and that was a student I had worked with her for many years. She was in grade 11 at the time. You know, there had been challenges with her family situation for many years and she had, you know, she would come and see me and then I wouldn’t see her for awhile and she’d come back again. And at that point in the year, you know, I I’d seen her casually, but hadn’t really come in for a big discussion in my office. And that was okay. But another teacher, someone who taught her just notice that she seemed off one day and it had sort of been a bit of a pattern, but the teacher noticed that it was getting progressively more inconsistent with her normal demeanor.

Lisa Galay (12:12):
And so it was literally that teacher just taking a moment at the end of class to pull her aside and say something something’s going on. I feel like something’s up with you. What can I do to help? And it just melted the ice walls that were around her. She ended up coming down to see me and shared some major life altering events that she was ready to share that had really been behind a lot of the pain and difficulty that she’d been facing for years. And also revealed a really serious mental health situation that needed support. So all of the supports and next steps and things that came out of that you know, in the moment I just thought I need to do what I need to do to make sure that she’s safe and protected, but ultimately the student came back and said that those actions from that teacher, and then the follow-up support I was able to offer literally saved her life.

Lisa Galay (13:14):
Because she was starting to think about doing things that, that could have really altered her path. And so again, it’s sometimes just those little connections, those little things we notice, and rather than just letting that student leave and not saying anything, you know, sometimes we’re bogged down with our own challenges and we think, oh, am I really ready to take on another, another possible, you know situation that’s gonna, you know, maybe take up more of my time today and you’re thinking about everything else you have to fit in. And I would always encourage teachers that you just never know what’s really going on for someone. And so that little moment of outreach can make all the difference.

Sam Demma (13:53):
Asking a student, how can I help is a simple question, not do this or do that, but how can I help you? I think it’s a, I think it’s a game-changer and I appreciate you sharing that. Are you seeing, you’re almost like a bird’s eye view of the school board when it comes to who you work with and the scope of students that are under your wings, if you were an Eagle are you seeing any mistakes in education right now, or things that we could improve upon or things that we might want to consider doing differently for the second quad master of education?

Lisa Galay (14:29):
Right. You know what, that’s a great question. And I, I guess I, I never want to think of it like a mistake. I always think of it as us trying things and, you know, learning and when we know better, we’ll do better. So I think I honestly, I’ve been blown away by the things that the teachers have tried to do. And I think if anything, they’ve tried to come right out of the gate being as incredible as they’ve always been and sometimes compromising their own mental and physical health in order to feel like they’re doing everything they can for their students. And, you know, it’s such a tough balancing act. You know, whether you’re a parent or you’re being a good friend to someone, or you’re an educator, you want to give everything, you have to know that you’ve really done the best you can for those people you care about, but you also need to balance that with your own needs.

Lisa Galay (15:19):
And if you can’t, you know, if you can’t take care of yourself, then what good will you ultimately be to those that you’re trying to take care of? So I think if anything, the only, you know, the only challenge that I would say, I hope we all get better at moving forward in these unusual times is that we just give ourselves a little bit of grace and give ourselves a bit of a break that this is new and unfounded territory. We’re all navigating this for the first time. And this is going to be a year of making mistakes and thinking, oh, I should have done it like that. Or looking back and thinking, gosh, like, that seems so obvious now, why didn’t I do it this way? But it’s not so obvious right now because we’re, we’re in the thick of it. So I think we just need to give ourselves a break, do the very best work we can and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves in the process.

Sam Demma (16:11):
You mentioned, we’re all going through this together for the first time. And I think it’s so true. It’s a new experience for everybody. What I want you to think about for a second is the educator who is navigating this for the first time and as also an educator for the first time, maybe this is their first year teaching. And if you could go speak to that person with your years of wisdom, who’s listening, what would you share with them? Because right now they’re getting a picture of education painted totally different than what it used to be a few years ago, or a few months ago, this person might think what the heck that I sign up for a year. I’m so confused, but what would you want to share with that person?

Lisa Galay (16:56):
Yeah. Well, one thing I, I wish I could do and I can’t do is to reassure them that it’s going to go back to normal and that, you know, what they might’ve been used to as a student themselves or what they saw the role of a teacher being, or what schools look like that it, that it will return to that. But no one really knows the answer to that. I think we’re all hopeful that it will, but it’s so hard to say. So I think my biggest advice would be to just remember why you wanted to be in education in the first place and that no matter what circumstances you’re in, you can still accomplish those goals. So if you love your subject area and you’re so excited to impart that knowledge and understanding to other students, you can still do that. If you love connecting with youth, if you enjoy you know, helping them cultivate their gifts, supporting them through challenging times, connecting them to community partners, helping to expand their world, to see the possibilities that are there.

Lisa Galay (17:56):
You can do all of these things, even in these strange times, again, with a little bit of creativity and, and relying on those that have been here before, in the sense that you know, this, this well, again, new for all of us, you know, those who have a little bit more experienced in education will know that there have been different shifts and changes over time. It might’ve been different curriculum. It might’ve been different philosophies around education or, you know, assessment and evaluation. There’s so many different changes that happen. And this is a big change, no doubt. But again, I think if, if teachers stay centered in why they’re doing this there’s always a way to do it. And again, I don’t think it’s going to be quite like the way it is now forever. And so if we can just ride out the challenging times, we’re going to all come through it stronger and with some awesome ideas that we never would have had if this hadn’t happened, right. It’s one of the silver linings of this pandemic experience.

Sam Demma (18:55):
Yeah. Tony Robbins always says, it’s not about having resources. It’s about being resourceful with what you have, and you do a great example, exemplifying that with coming up with ideas, staying positive, looking at the good side of things and not the negative. And I think it’ll rub off on everyone listening. So I want to say, we said, thank you so much for coming on the show. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around or Uber eats, or your favorite chocolate ice cream, how can they reach out to you to do so?

Lisa Galay (19:27):
They can absolutely reach out to me at my email address, galayl@hdsb.ca. That stands for the Halton district school board. I’d be happy to, to share ideas, share some ice cream, virtually whatever it might take. I I think anyone who’s been in education for, you know, 20 plus years, like I have, we remember the colleagues that made a difference when we were starting out and the ones that made a difference along the way, even when we hadn’t been starting out for awhile. And we always want to give back. So if I can help in any way, I’m, I’m definitely glad to do that.

Sam Demma (20:06):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Lisa.

Lisa Galay (20:08):
Thank you, Sam

Sam Demma (20:10):
And another interview in the books with yet again, a high performing educator, Lisa had so many ideas to share that blew my mind on our first phone call and on this podcast, if you enjoyed this and got something of value from it, please consider taking two seconds to leave a rating and review on the podcast. So more educators like you who want to hear these things can find this podcast and benefit from the conversations. And of course, if you are someone who has ideas or know somebody who has ideas, please reach out by emailing info@samdemma.com. So we can bring you or your friends and colleagues on the show to share those ideas and expand this network. I’ll talk to you soon. See you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Galay

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.

Jana Fisher – Teacher and Student Council Advisor of the year in 2020

Jana Fisher Student Leadership
About Jana Fisher

Jana Fisher (@Fisher_Jana) is a teacher, mother, and student leadership advisor at Wynard Composite Secondary School. As a member of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors, she is always striving to provide her students with unforgettable experiences. In 2020, Jana was recognized as the student representative council (SRC) advisor of the year and was named by the Canadian Student Leadership Association, as the Leader of Distinction.

During the pandemic, Jana decided that student leadership was more important than ever. To take that belief and bring it to life, she partnered with Sam Demma to facilitate a virtual program for her leadership students.

Connect with Jana: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership 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 (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Jana reached out to me back in May after I shared a graduation video with her. And since then we have worked together. We did a seven-week virtual program together for her student leadership council. And she’s just an all round amazing mom, parent and educator. Jana is a teacher, a student leadership advisor at winery composite secondary school. As a member of the Saskatchewan association of school council advisors. She is always striving to provide her students with unforgettable experiences and during the pandemic, she decided that student leadership was more important now than ever. And to make that a reality, she partnered with myself to run a seven week virtual program for our leadership students. She has so much to offer and so much to share. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I’ll see you on the other side, Jana, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. I love the backdrop with the chemistry. Can you please share with the audience who you are, what work you do and why you do the work you do with youth today?

Jana Fisher (01:11):
Definitely. Thanks, Sam. I am from Wynyard, Saskatchewan. We’re a very small school of about 200 students. Grades seven to 12 and community is about 2000 people and I’m teach mostly senior science, but I also am the SRC advisor and I’ve been an SRC advisor. This is the third school that I’ve worked with with student leaders and why I do what I do the youth they’re our future. And if we don’t have somebody giving these students some guidance we’ve got fantastic students, but they do need some guidance from some adults about how to be effective leaders and how to be positive role models. And so I think that’s, that’s probably why I do what I do.

Sam Demma (02:00):
When did you know, in your journey towards education that you were going to be a teacher?

Jana Fisher (02:06):
I was bossy from about the time I was six years old. And so I think I just always knew I’ve got some teachers in my family, but I think that I would consider myself lucky because it’s really hard at for, for students to, to try and figure out what they are going to be when they grow up. Right. And so I was, I think I’m lucky, but I think I’m in the minority and I, I, I always consider myself lucky that I’ve known that I wanted to be a teacher. And then along the way I taught swimming lessons and that’s what told me that I wanted to teach older students and rather than be in the elementary school. Cause they’re cute. But I have more patience for older, older kids than I do for, for little kids.

Sam Demma (02:46):
You should also know Jana’s a mother. So that’s why our patients is running a little low these days. How, how are things going for you? I know every teacher and educator I speak to has a totally different experience right now with COVID. It’s like we’re all in the same lake, but in a different boat is through always says, do you know what is your experience? And do you have any hopeful stories to share with other educators about overcoming challenges or continuing to do things despite the current reality? I know you put on a killer grad last year. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit or any other story where you’ve overcoming COVID related obstacles?

Jana Fisher (03:27):
Right? Sure. So I think March 16th was one of the most frustrating days of our lives and not just frustrating, but unknown. And I think if we could go back to March 16th and live that day again, we would’ve all hugged each other and, you know, made some, had some closure with our classes, right. Because we were kind of left with, well, maybe we’ll be back in a couple of weeks or maybe this’ll be a short term and little did we know that, that we weren’t going to return back to school? So yeah, so being that there were definite challenges and, you know, as far as, as mental health goes, I would say my mental health is pretty strong, but some of those times through April, as we’re trying to, you know, encourage students to get online and, and to try and learn some chemistry it’s got to be a little bit frustrating, but talking about successes, I think first year, right, our grad was, it was a huge success.

Jana Fisher (04:22):
We had to figure out we had 34 graduates and we had to figure out how to celebrate those 34 graduate, say they needed some closure, they needed a way to, to end this chapter of their life. So one of the things that we did as a staff was we got together and we traveled in separate vehicles from one house to another. We showed up honking horns and, and playing loud music. And, and of course we’re all trying to social distance as we’re meeting with each of the graduating families at their house. And with those, with with the graduate will also with their families. And, you know, we had so many comments about that saying that that was far more personal than, you know, a student wash walking across the stage and that type of thing. So I think we had a, I was exhausted by the end of that day, just because every house we went to there were tears, but they were tears of joy and tears of gratitude.

Jana Fisher (05:17):
And thanks for, for making that a fantastic day, that could’ve just been, you know, it was June the 12th and could have just come and gone. And I know that certainly was a success we did then go ahead and plan a big ceremony as well, a more formal ceremony that we did in August. And that was just a little bit different of a celebration, but I would not June 12th day for us, that was a huge highlight in this sort of dooms time of COVID. Because by that time we’d had quite a few students check out of our, of our you know, our programs and that type of thing. So I think that was really important that, that we did that day. And, and we could put stars beside that day, cause we’ll always remember 2020, but we’ll always talk very positively about June 12th, 2020 in the, in the COVID times.

Sam Demma (06:05):
That’s awesome. And speaking about the fall as well, the grad was a huge success. I know the fall brought its own. I don’t want to say problems. It just brought some challenges that we had to creatively leap over and figure things out as anyone in the school, including yourself, done something a little different this year that you think is a sharing with another school. Maybe there’s some cool ideas that have been executed. And maybe you can say Sam, it’s a little too early to talk about that, but I’m curious to know.

Jana Fisher (06:36):
We’ve we basically were told that our SRC or our leadership team were not, we weren’t, we’re not allowed to go ahead. And so we thought, well, we’re not okay with that. So not that we’re going against what, you know, what the people above us are saying, but we decided how could we do this and still fit in with right ideas. So we, I mean, we’ve been having bi-weekly meetings, but then we did, we partnered in with a young motivational speaker, which is you. And, and it just, it’s funny how the times work out that, you know, you had reached out to us with sharing a graduation video and that’s kind of how we got connected. And then, you know, we really, we were appreciative of your, I think that’s probably where I came from was I was appreciative of your response saying, no problem.

Jana Fisher (07:20):
You saw, however you see fit and then looking more into you and your high-performance program and that type of thing. That has been a fantastic opportunity for our students keeping us together. We have a really strong leadership team, but it’s hard to continue being a strong leadership team when people are saying we can’t meet and we can’t plan activities and we can’t, and we can’t, and we can’t. So we just said, well, yes, we can. We just have to do it in a different way. So, you know, we’ve partnered up with you. We also are looking ahead to seeing the, what can we do? So Halloween’s coming up. We usually have a fantastic, you know, couple of hours or hour to two hours of things throughout the day. So we’ve decided we’ve got a committee. Our students are going to come together and make a Cahoot, which if you’re not familiar with that, it’s kind of a quiz, something they’re thinking about, you know, dressing up all the teachers in which costumes taking years have contests and saying, you know, which, which is which, and so students can guess, you know, who’s Mrs.

Jana Fisher (08:22):
Fisher, who’s Mr. Oates? That type of thing. So we are doing some virtual games and that type of thing, our administration’s really supportive and they, they know the importance of molding these students and teaching them leadership skills through these activities. We’re also in charge of remembrance day. So we’re thinking about having some of the veterans in town, getting some videos of them and then virtually showing that as part of our remembrance day ceremony. So we are going to have to put that together. We’ll do videos of students. We, we have some musical students. So in the past we’ve have had steps. We have had students sing songs of remembrance, recite poetry of remembrance, do those kinds of things. So we’re not going to stop doing those things. We have to, we have to recognize the importance of leadership recognize our veterans, recognize that we do still need to do all of this just in a different way,

Sam Demma (09:18):
Just connecting students right now and giving them a community makes such a big difference. And I know in your years of teaching, you’ve seen that difference firsthand. You’ve definitely had students reach out, write Mrs. Fisher letters and let you know how much of an impact you’ve had on them. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story that sticks out in your mind of a young person whose life has been touched by education, who had been touched by leadership. Maybe they were struggling with something outside of school and maybe just caring for them or doing small thing for them made a huge impact. And the reason I’m asking you to share this is because there might be an educator listening. Who’s thinking what is going on this year? They’re feeling burnt out. They’re, they’re lacking hope and your story could reignite that fire within them. And by all means change the name of the student for the sake of privacy for the story. But the more vulnerable, it isn’t honest, the more of an impact it will have on others.

Jana Fisher (10:18):
I know that that student leadership, we always there saying, okay, we, we want volunteers, right? We’re asking at the beginning of the year, who wants to be on SRC, put up your hand. If we have a certain number of students while we need to kind of have representatives from their particular classrooms. And so we get these room wraps and quite often, you know, it’s not us that are running, it sits, it’s different teachers that don’t necessarily totally understand leadership, right? So it might be a vote. Lots of times that’s a popularity thing. So what, we’ve, what we’ve decided that we need to do as students that we see that are sitting somewhere that are, you know, not involved. We think it’s important that we go to those students and we say, Hey, you know what? We have this really cool thing we meet once a week or twice a week, would you like to join us?

Jana Fisher (11:06):
And of course their answer, all, always this, you know, they’re struggling or, or it’s not for me. And, you know, if we can just get those students to come to one meeting, we quite often, we quite often will, you know, we’ll, we’ll save those, not save those students, but give them kind of a, a purpose and a, and a thing. Right? So in my opinion, every student needs a thing, right? We’ve got some kids have basketball, that’s their thing. Some kids have sports. That’s their thing. Some kids, you know, they have dance, that sort of thing. But if we have a student who doesn’t have a thing, I think as educators that said, this is a really good opportunity to just have them be involved with something within our school. So, you know, we do, I can think of a couple of students that, that are like that, but one in particular.

Jana Fisher (11:53):
And I think I won’t use the name, but one in particular, in grades, I partnered in with the grades sixes because they coming over from the other school. So we quite often have these kinds of conversations, you know, do we have a student who really doesn’t have a thing? So, so we kind of shoulder tap this, this one girl shy, you know, if you asked her to speak out in class, she would just wouldn’t do that. And so, you know, they said this girl, I think she needs a thing. They didn’t use that, that actual terminology. But that was my understanding. I talked to this girl and she just, she wasn’t going to do it. But I said, I said a few things about, you know, being a bound partner, it has to be part of a team, not necessarily a sports team. I’m a big sports person that my kids play lots of sports.

Jana Fisher (12:38):
I played lots, but being part of a bigger idea, I talked lots and this girl showed up in grade seven and she handed me this, this page. And here, it was a list of things that, that list of goals that she had and these goals that she had quite a few of them were things that I had said aloud to her. And I thought, wow, like if I had not talked to these grade six teachers and had this fading and said, you know, what could we, what could we do to make this work? What kind of students do you have with who should we do? You know, if we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have gone ahead and had that kind of conversation she would have existed through she’s now in grade 11 she would have just existed through and gone out of high school, kind of as one of those students that you just don’t really know this, an unknown student that just try to blend, she tries to blend in. And I think that was a, that was a real success story. So that would be one example that comes to my mind.

Sam Demma (13:34):
That’s awesome. And how do we make students feel appreciated and heard and valued even when school is a little different, maybe things are virtual. Do you have any ideas?

Jana Fisher (13:47):
We have, we have some different ways that we communicate. We do have some chat groups on that kind of thing, and that’s extremely important to us right now because we can’t get together in a room. And when you can’t get together in a room, well, what happens is the grade 12 students take over right here. We let them, they’re going to be the bosses. They’re going to say remembrance day is going to be like this. And the Halloween is going to be like this, but so we’ve got these chat groups that we we meet with and it might be, you know, I might be at five o’clock at night. We started, we have, you know, we’re not doing this at midnight, please don’t send me a message at midnight. But, but I mean, we kind of have office hours and, and we say, Hey, let’s, let’s have these conversations today.

Jana Fisher (14:34):
We’re going to have these conversations, you know, sometime around five, or I’ll send a message at work to talk about this right now. I think that’s, that’s really important. There is a fine line there, right? Because we’re, we’re dealing with some communications through this, through social media. There’s few challenges. As far as parents go grade seven students, grade eight students, for example, maybe aren’t allowed to use that particular type of social media then that involves educating parents and talking about, you know, the idea that phones and technology like that is not going to go away. So we, our responsibility is to educate those students how to properly use those, right? Because parents come and say, well, we’ve heard these horror stories about how so-and-so took this picture and ends up cyber bullying and that type of thing. And we have to teach kids how to use this technology. And I, and that’s what works for us is we do, we do have an, and this is, we used to do that before, but now it’s, you know, it’s, it’s times a times a hundred of what we did, you know, say a year ago just because it’s the only way that we can actually have discussion.

Sam Demma (15:43):
That’s awesome. And I don’t know if you remember your first year in education, but there are, there are a bunch of teachers who are tuning in educators who maybe it’s their first year in school. If you could give advice to your younger self, not that much younger, you’re still very young, but if you could give advice to your younger self, when you started in your first year of education, imagine this was your first year. Like most teachers starting this year, I thinking, what the heck is this? I did not sign up for this job. What advice would you have to, to share with them?

Jana Fisher (16:21):
I, first of all would say, congratulations on being part of this awesome profession. It, it really is, you know, there’s lots of negativity that goes on, but I think the first thing that we need to know is that it really doesn’t get much worse than this. They’re there on top of all of the things that they ask us to teach, we now are also trying to, you know, sanitize and make sure kids are wearing them and make sure they’re staying six feet apart. And add-ons right. So, so one, the best advice that somebody ever said to me was, as long as you are continually saying, how could I have done that better? That means that you actually are caring and you’re thinking about, and you’re, and you’re going to grow. If it, if you say that’s as good as I can do, this is the best I can do.

Jana Fisher (17:08):
That it isn’t true. You, everything that you do, you can do better at, but you can’t beat yourself up over something that you would consider a failure. You’re going to have classes. I’ve been, this is my 24th year of teaching. I sometimes have classes at the end. I go, whoa. And what was, what was going on there? Do we, you know, do we need to reteach that? I, I’m not sure what happened there, but as long as in my head at 24, you know, my 24th year, I’m still saying, what can I do differently? What do I need to do now? We can’t beat ourselves up. We can’t back up. We don’t have a DeLorean to go back to the future. We just need to be okay with what we did, but what can we change and, and moving forward, but it won’t get any more challenging than this year.

Jana Fisher (17:51):
You’re if it’s if you’re in your first year, it’s challenge, it’s the most challenging year you can possibly have to start with. And now we’ve, we’ve multiplied that by 10. So survived through this year B be an hour or two ahead of the kids, right? Don’t run out of material. So if you’re teaching something, make sure you’ve got an hour more than you actually think that you need. And then you live from one day to the next. And in soon enough, it’ll be, you’ll be 23 years into this. And you’ll say, how the heck did that happen?

Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s awesome, Jana, this has been a really fun interview. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out and share some cool ideas and talk to you, what’s the best way for them to do so.

Jana Fisher (18:32):
The best way to start off would be just to email me that’s how that’s, where we can start out. And then we can decide if we want to, you know, do a zoom call or something like that. But my email is jana.fisher@horizonsd.ca

Sam Demma (18:53):
Awesome. Perfect. Thank you so much for taking some time to record this interview with me. It’s been a pleasure and I can’t wait to stay in touch, continue the sessions we’re doing and see what other unique things you come up with during the year. Right.

Jana Fisher (19:05):
Great. Okay. Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (19:07):
And just like that, another interview on the high-performing educator podcast is complete. If you took something of value away from this conversation with Jana and myself, please leave a rating and review so that other educators just like you can find this podcast benefit from the ideas and feel motivated by the inspiring stories. And if you are somebody who has something to share, or, you know, somebody who has some inspiration and ideas to share, please email is info@samdemma.com. Should we can get your story and get you on the podcast and how hopefully connected with other educators around the world. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jana Fisher

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.

Agi Mete – Coach, Program Chair of Social Sciences, and Teacher at Notre Dame College School

Agi Mete - Teacher Niagara Catholic District School Board
About Agi Mete

Agi Mete is the Program Chair of Social Sciences and Teacher at Notre Dame College School in Welland, with the Niagara Catholic District School Board. A teacher of over 30 years, Agi has been teaching both the grade 11 & grade 12 law curriculum since he began his teaching career.

His classes over the years have participated in the OBA Mock Trial tournament as well as the OJEN Charter Challenge which his students have won several times. His co-curricular involvement at his school includes being the Teacher Advisor for the Students’ Council as well as the Head Coach for multiple athletic teams.

Connect with Agi: Email

Listen Now

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

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. Agi and I met back in May after I sent him the dear class of 2020 graduation video for all the students who were missing their graduation celebration. He really enjoyed the video and shared it with his graduating class. And we have become great friends ever since. And then in August, I think on August 15th, he was one of the first teachers who reached out to me about doing a welcome keynote speech for all the grade nines. I was supposed to travel to Niagara and do five talks, but due to COVID things got cancelled. Instead, we settled on a three-minute video, which was shared with all of his students, but aside from our personal relationship, after hearing the wisdom he had to share, I thought it would be very valuable for me to bring him on the show and share a piece of it with you here today. Agi is somebody who has been teaching for over 30 years.

Sam Demma (01:03):
He was the program chair of social sciences at Notre Dame college school in Welland with the Niagara Catholic district school board. And he has been teaching both grade 11 and grade 12 law curriculum since he began his teaching career. His classes over the years have participated at the OBA mock trial tournament, as well as the old J E N charter challenge where his students have won several times. And his co-curricular involvement at his school includes being the teacher advisor for student council and student leadership, as well as the head coach for multiple athletic teams. He has won the advisor of the year from the Canadian student leadership association. He’s a father has a beautiful family and a lot to offer. So with that being said, let’s jump into that episode. Auggie, thank you so much for coming onto the high performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we connected way back at the start of the school year when things were a little bit in flux, things are starting to settle down. Now, do you mind sharing with the audience who you are and why you do the work you’ve done with young people over the past few decades?

Agi Mete (02:11):
Okay. Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having me, Sam. Thanks for doing this. And I appreciate being on with you today. So yeah, my name is Agi mate. I teach presently I’m at Notre Dame college school high school, about 1200 students in Welland, Ontario. We’re a part of the Niagara Catholic district school board. Pretty exciting school to be at. I graduated from here 1985. It’s now 2020. So that was a long time ago. This is year 32 for me in my teaching career. And half of it was spent here in Notre Dame and half at another school lecture, Catholic high school, which is not far from here. So I’ve had a pretty fantastic career all in a school board and a community that I know really well. And you know, my involvement with students has been co-curricular. I mean, I teach, I teach social sciences, I’m the program chair of social sciences here at the school, which is I teach law and economics and civics. And, but predominantly my involvement has been with co-curricular coaching, basketball, coaching lacrosse, predominantly and students council and student leadership, right from day one. When I started my career.

Sam Demma (03:25):
W what got you into teaching? Was there a moment you knew one day when I’m a little older I’m going to teach, was there a person who pushed you into it? How did you get into teaching?

Agi Mete (03:37):
Yeah, I mean, I love that question because it really speaks to, you know, what, you know, teachers like myself, there’s so many of us try to do with when we’re in the classroom is that we try to connect with the kids. And the reality is that, you know my high school experience was fantastic. And there were teachers who connected with me. I was in students council here at the school. So, you know, my student moderator who I know very well and is still not teaching of course, but retired teacher was a great motivator, my basketball coach, great motivator. These are all just people who, you know, what was clear to me is that the classroom experience was one thing, but the other classroom experience was something else. And I, I wouldn’t, I would not be the person I am. I don’t think a lot of teachers would be the kinds of people they are, if it wasn’t for the impact, someone who went above and beyond the classroom had on them. And so I, I always felt that that was something I could see myself doing. And by the end of my university career, I thought this is teaching is where I wanted to be. And you know, it would be fantastic to be able to give back, given that I had gained, gained so much during my experience.

Sam Demma (04:56):
What, what did those teachers in your life, when you were a student do for you that really impacted your own life? Is it that they cared? Did they tap you on the shoulder? If we were to try and boil this down to some actions and principles that they had so that other teachers can do the exact same thing, what would you, what would you share might be the most impactful?

Agi Mete (05:18):
You know what I, I think it’s under underestimated is that you know, like what makes a minute a winning? Like if we pick a sport, what makes a winning team? And some people say, well, you’ve got the best athletes. And I don’t agree with that. I think what, what you, you know, you can certainly win with great athletes, but what you, what you get the most out of athletes or student leaders, or the band that you work with is when they realize that you are just as committed as them and goal, whatever that is. So, you know, there are people who do co-curriculars and they do them, and that’s great. They’re giving up their time, but kids pick up pretty quickly. If the person is a hundred percent committed or not. And I think to me, it was my experiences. Weren’t just co-curricular, they were being around someone who was working just as hard and want it to be just as successful, whether we won or lost.

Agi Mete (06:13):
It didn’t matter. They never gave up on us. And they gave us a hundred percent every single time. So to me, it was the, they took it serious. And that had a lasting effect because it, wasn’t just putting your name on a list and saying, I’ll volunteer for this. It was, I’m going to volunteer for volunteer for this, and you’re you, you’re going to have me 100%. And I felt that they were they were empathetic. I thought they were committed and I thought they were in it for the right reasons. And I think that’s the impact. So I think kids are very perceptive of that in a classroom setting on a, on a football field. They know that you’re in it a hundred percent. If you show up late or you’re, you know, you’re not prepared or you’re just kind of doing it for the sake of doing it, it’s pretty obvious to me, pretty obvious to me. Yeah.

Sam Demma (07:02):
You are one of the only educators back in September that was trying to do in person socially distanced speeches for your school. It’s evident that you’re someone who was very serious about showing kids the best experience they could have starting high school. I’m curious to know how do we be serious about those activities, co-curriculars sports during a pandemic? You know, how can we still express that appreciation and try and give students opportunities despite the challenges?

Agi Mete (07:30):
Yeah, that’s, that’s a difficult one. So, you know, I reached out to you in August and said, you know, we still want to run a grade nine day. We want to bring kids in. I had invited you to come be our keynote speaker and we were going to make it work. And then, you know, logistics and protocol got in the way. And we had to come up with plan B and I think it was a really good plan B for me. And I’m trying to get my head around right now, how I want to continue to do that. And that was, I asked you, you know, could you put together a, like a nugget of information or a, a great message that we can then put in video form and then share with students through social media and through our email and through our web portals, that we’re all using to connect with kids.

Agi Mete (08:14):
And we got great feedback from the, you know, the message you sent for us. So I’m just right now trying to get my head around. I just, I’m, we’re finishing our first, we’re in a different we’re, we’re going one course at a time here at Notre Dame, which means I just had grade 12 for you law for, you know, 22 straight days. So tomorrow’s our last day. So I, haven’t had a lot of time to kinda to kind of get my head around this, but what I want to do is tap into a lot of speakers that I can and say again, can you come up with a, you know, a, a message that we can then grab, and then somehow filter it down to the kids in our, in our classroom setting and sort of a homeroom setting and say, here’s the message.

Agi Mete (08:56):
Here’s some questions to think about. Can you sort of use that as a tool? So I think we’re still gonna try to do it. The sports is is challenging. I’ve reached out to people in my building saying, can I still run practices and workouts after school? And we’ve sort of been told everything’s on hold and it’s hard. And it’s, and that’s frustrating because in the community setting, there are organizations running stuff, and the school protocol is putting a little bit of a, a stoppage on that. And the reason is probably because we can’t, we’re not in the same position to clean and maintain the facility is probably we should. And I get it. So I’m hoping that now that we’re into like a month or so of this, that now we’re, we’re getting better at it from a school board perspective that we can maybe start to open up some of our facilities because we have great facilities if we can open them up.

Agi Mete (09:50):
So I’m not giving up on any of that. I’m just sort of trying to sort of, I think there’s a maneuvering that has to happen and I’m trying to do the best I can to do that. So I’m confident we’re going to at least get the motivational piece out to kids and, you know, I’ll be tapping people like yourself and some other great speakers on the shoulder and saying, can you come up with some thing for me? And and I know anytime I ask people to do that, they’re always on board to say yes. So that’s the plan right now. Anyway.

Sam Demma (10:21):
Cool. And extracurriculars, just giving kids opportunities to get involved makes a huge impact as I’m sure it did for you. When you were a student over the past 32 years, you’ve been teaching 12 years longer than I’ve been alive. You’re a veteran. You you’ve been doing this for a long time, so much wisdom to share. I’m sure you’ve had dozens of students write you letters, reach out, you know, tell you how much of an impact you had on their life or their journey. Maybe some of them even teach now besides you, you know, coming full circle. Can you think of any story that you think would inspire an educator to remember why this work is so important about the impact we can have? And you can, you can change the name of the student for privacy reasons if you’d like, if it’s a very serious story. And yeah, anything that does anything come to mind?

Agi Mete (11:09):
You know I, I, I, I’m not sure there’s going to be like this. There’s a lot of all stories that are on the same level and those, those levels are that. I mean, to me I take great pride in knowing where, you know, how, what we did here in this building has had impact on students. But I like relationships afterwards. I mean, I judge, I really kind of think of, you know, what’s my relationship with some of these students. I, I kind of look at the number five years in 10 years down the road, and they’re hundreds of kids that I still stay in contact with. And to me that means a lot because they have to say go to the way to say anything special. I think the idea that I’m still part of their life is probably where I say the impact has been long lasting.

Agi Mete (12:05):
And, you know, there’s all a lot of short term impacts kids asking for references kids asking for jobs or for schools, students who say, Hey you know, I pursued this career because of a conversation we had, or I remember when we did this and that sort of been very beneficial, but to me, it’s it’s that somehow we’re still connecting five and 10 years and 20 years down the road. There’s a lot of students now that I tell them the tables have turned. Now I tap them on the shoulder. I got students who I say, you’re, you know, you, you’re, you’re going to come into my class and guest speak, or we need a donation for this. And you work at this company now, or we need some money because we’re needing to fundraise for this. So I’m not afraid to turn the tables very quickly and say, Hey, we were good to you.

Agi Mete (12:54):
You know, we know each other and I know you loved the, the experience you had. Can you help us out? And I think those, you know, when the answer is, yes, that makes me feel great. Cause I think kids are those, those kinds of students say, yeah, I’m ready to give back. All you had to do was ask. And so that’s how kind of, I mean, get invited to a number of weddings, which are pretty exciting and that’s a lot of fun. People invite you out socially. There’s a lot of good people that still, you know, we get together with these are students and these are former teachers. And I think those are, those are, those are priceless. Those are moments that I say, you know, this is why we’re in it for it’s a, the, the, the, the total experience package of having connected with kids short-term and long-term.

Sam Demma (13:45):
And if you could travel back in time to year one in teaching, like the first year you taught and give your younger self advice about education, about teaching, about life, what would you say to yourself? Because some, some educators, this is their first year in education and they’re scrambling. They’re not sure what to do. There’s a lack of hope. What advice could you share with them?

Agi Mete (14:11):
Yeah, I well, the first advice I would say is don’t say no when an opportunity that’s new and maybe a little bit that you’re not, you know, you don’t feel comfortable with is presented to you because there’s this feeling that, you know well, I’m, I’m teaching, but I don’t want to take on too much. I got to get myself comfortable, find my way. And I, I, I don’t, that didn’t work for me. This didn’t work for a lot of people who you know, who came through me and a lot of the educators, I know that I’m friends with who are really involved. I think they, you know, there’s this tendency to say, I’ll involved. I’ll do more. I’ll do connect with kids in a different way next year, right now, I just want to get comfortable. But what happens is that comfortable, that comfortableness creates a complacency.

Agi Mete (15:03):
And I find that, you know, my piece of advice is someone said to me, Hey, you’re gonna, you know, this, this is a true story. My principal, who my first parents for me passed away this summer. And it was a funeral that was very sad, but it was a celebration of some great people who were, who were there, who all had the same story. I’m glad he tapped me on the shoulder and told me to do something that I was sort of uncomfortable with because I had to persevere. I had to be resilient. I had to sort of manage a busy work of teaching and co-curricular all at once. And that made me stronger and that sort of laid a foundation and a path that I carried my rest of my career. So the advice for young people would be take on some responsibilities in your building that are outside your classroom, that might force you it to be uncomfortable, but yet you can kind of figure a way to get through.

Agi Mete (16:01):
I don’t know if I would change anything in my, in my, my career, Sam, I don’t mean that in a, in a way that’s, you know, just trying to be, you know, too cocky about what happened to me. I, I think I was, I was young. I was you know, a little naive. I was, but I was energetic and I had the right people point me in the right direction. And I felt safe. I felt there was always going to be someone to sort of give me some support. I had great administrators. I had great colleagues. The senior teachers were always looking out for young people, young teachers. And it was an incredible, you know, first few years of my career, I wouldn’t change that. But I would say that I’m, I’m glad people put me, asked me to do things that were new and foreign to me because that sort of laid the foundation for where I am today. No question,

Sam Demma (16:56):
Don’t say no, and get your hands dirty. That’s the main theme there, you know, go out there.

Agi Mete (17:03):
And I use that with kids. I tell kids, I said, do something that’s uncomfortable. Right. You know as long as it’s safe, it’s not high risk do it. Right. And I think kids surprise you still when we asked students those things. I’m, I think they, they, they ended up surprising us in a positive way.

Sam Demma (17:20):
I love that. That’s awesome. I like it Agi. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat on the podcast with me today. Lots of nuggets to share and words of wisdom for other educators. If, if anyone wants to reach out to you to have a conversation or bounce some ideas around, what’s the best way for them to do so.

Agi Mete (17:38):
Yeah. So my email would be the best way. And the school board email is agi.mete@ncdsb.com which stands for Niagara Catholic district school board. So that’s my work email and I monitor it all the time. And that would be the, probably the easiest way. Feel free to call the school if that easier they can connect me 905-788-3060, which is the number or Notre Dame college school. And I’d be happy to chat. I share any input or I’ve, you know, I’ve never been afraid to ask for help. And and I’d be excited to help anyone who needs it as well.

Sam Demma (18:20):
Awesome. Thank you so much. And I look forward to hopefully seeing you sometime in the near future in person.

Agi Mete (18:26):
Yeah. Thanks again for having me Sam. Really appreciate it. We’ll talk soon.

Sam Demma (18:30):
Perfect. There you have it. A full interview with Agi Mete. He is someone who has so much to offer so much to give, and I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you found it valuable, make sure you tell your colleagues in education to tune in. And if you want to come on the show, please shoot me an email info@samdemma.com and we’ll share your ideas and your inspiration with an audience full of educators. So you can have better conversations, meet like-minded people and share some of your amazing work. I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Agi Mete

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Michael Consul – TCDSB Student Leadership Coordinator & 7 Habits Trainer

Michael Consul student leadership
About Michael Consul

Micheal (@MikeCLeadership) is a DJ, Fisherman, Father, TCDSB Teacher, Student Leadership Facilitator, 7 Habits Trainer, and was the OECTA Teacher of the Year back in 2016. His energy is infectious, and his passion to help students become the best version of themselves is obvious.

In this episode, we talk about the 7 habits of highly effective teens, and how they relate to creating students that have a positive impact on society. When Michael isn’t in the classroom, you can find him on the TV show, CFN Fish-Off.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Workshop)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Book)

Catholic Student Leadership (Website)

I-Lite Student Leadership Conference

Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw

CFN Fish-Off (Tv Show)

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. Michael Consul. Our guest today is not only a veteran teacher and educator, but also a professional fisherman. He’s a DJ, a father, a Toronto Catholic district school board teacher, a student leadership facilitator, a seven habits trainer, and was the OECTA teacher of the year, Back in 2016. His energy is infectious and his passion to help students become the best version of themselves is evident and obvious. In this episode, we talk about the seven habits of highly effective teens and how they relate to creating students that can have a positive impact on society. And as I mentioned, when Mike isn’t in the classroom, you can find him on his own TV show and fundraiser called the CFN fish off. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did having it talk soon. Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Can you tell the audience who you are, why you do the work you do with youth and what initially got you involved in it? Wow.

Michael Consul (01:09):
That is three big questions right there. Thanks for having me, Sam.

Sam Demma (01:15):
It’s going to be a great conversation.

Michael Consul (01:17):
So my name is Michael Consul. I work at the Toronto Catholic district school board, and I have the awesome job of facilitating, organizing, and putting together anything to do with Catholic student leadership. We will say, what does that mean? Well, basically, no I’m of the frame of mind that everyone has the potential to be a leader and you’re not born a leader like you grow into leadership. And so whether it’s conferences, overnight camps service trips, abroad PD for teachers workshops for kids, how can we develop something so that our students can reach their fullest leadership potential, find that leader within them? What skills do they have already? And how can we develop those skills and give them more skills so that they can reach their leadership potential? Hmm.

Sam Demma (02:11):
I love that. And what got you into this work? It’s a very specific calling. I would say you could have been just the teacher. Not that that’s any less of a job. There’s so many roles in a school. What directed you specifically to leadership?

Michael Consul (02:29):
Wow. When I look back, I have no idea how I got here, but I love that I’m here. They have the best job in the world. And I do because I, I get to work with amazing students and amazing teachers to try to find that leadership potential in every single one of our students and, and in their teachers. I started out at my old high school and that’s same mother Teresa in Scarborough. And that’s where I started to teaching. I left McGill university with two teachables religion and phys ed. And so those were the subjects that I taught. But while I was in high school, I was also a part of student council in my last year. When we back in the days when we had always see brief your team. So, you know, when I went back to mother Teresa, I said, Hey, who’s the student council moderator.

Michael Consul (03:22):
I would love to be that person because I know my student council monitor moderator, Mr. O’hara. He had such a positive impact in my life, and I want it to be that positive impact on the current student council. And they said, you know what, perfect timing. No one’s running student council. If you want to take it, it’s all yours. And I love that opportunity. And I love that challenge. And through student council, you know, that’s all about putting students in positions of leadership. And from there we developed a leadership course within, within the curriculum and within the day. So now not only did I have my student council like meeting at lunch and meeting after school, but I had a group of 30 leaders meeting me every day, second period. And we, we talked about leadership. We tried to find roles for them within the school.

Michael Consul (04:13):
We learned about the seven habits of highly effective people. And we did outreach to elementary schools. And so throughout this process, people started to say, wow, that that program you did is amazing, or that outreach you did to the grade seven sevens and eights. That’s awesome. I got a phone call from the school board saying, you know, all that we could stop that you’re doing in Scarborough in terms of student leadership, how would you like to come to the board level and not just serve those that pocket in Scarborough, which is the Malvern community, but what if you do leadership throughout the T CDSB and, you know, expand the awesome work that you’re doing in Scarborough. So that’s how I got to the position I’m in now where my whole job is treading, trying to create opportunities for kids to find that leadership potential within them.

Sam Demma (05:10):
Awesome. And you mentioned the seven habits. I know you’re also a facilitator of them. I’m curious to know what, which of the seven habits do you think is the most important during a time like COVID and why?

Michael Consul (05:23):
Oh, wow. I know for myself, sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll be like, I really need to practice that habit right now. But then there’s other times in my life where I’m really good at that habit. And I need to focus on a different habit. So if we’re talking about these unique pandemic times, what habit, no really stands out that we should really focus on. That is interesting. That is interesting. You know, habit number one is, is be proactive and that’s basically one, don’t be reactive and to take initiative rather than waiting for things to happen. So is that what we need to do during this pandemic and, you know, be less reactive and take initiative. I don’t know, having number two is begin with the end in mind and basically that’s the habit of goal setting. So that’s definitely a habit that, you know, where do we want to be as, as society or as, you know, as a city or as a country come, come may.

Michael Consul (06:28):
So have a number two is important. Having number three is put first things first, which is the habit of time management. So what are the most important things we need to be doing right now versus instead of wasting time on other things. So those three habits are so important and they called those three habits to private victory because you can practice those habits all by yourself. If you’re on a loan on a stranded island, you can practice those three habits. And that brings us to habit number four, which is think when women. Yeah. And that might be the most important in this pandemic because we need to think when we need to think win-win, how are we going to serve our students in school? How are we going to make sure our economy is running? How are we going to, how are you going to serve those who are greatly affected by the pandemic?

Michael Consul (07:20):
Like the elderly or those with existing problems. So thinking win-win is definitely a philosophy that we need to, we need to look at when we’re trying to solve this pandemic crisis. Habit. Number five is seek first to understand then to be understood is the habit of listening. So getting all the information first, before forming your own opinion and then creating a solution based upon all those pieces of information would definitely be important during this time have a number six is synergize, and that’s basically the habit of cooperation. So I can do a lot by myself. But if I have a team around me and we’re synergizing and using each other’s gifts and talents, then that’s what synergy is all about. And I know the only way we’re going to beat this pandemic is if we synergize, you know, whether it’s the government plus the school board, plus the public plus all the other players.

Michael Consul (08:21):
If we work together, then we will definitely come out of this faster than if we work in silos. And then a number seven is sharpen the saw. So taking care of your heart, mind, body, and soul so that you can better practice the other six habits. And I know having number seven is the one I struggled with because I’ll burn both ends of the candle and realize like today here I haven’t ate nothing. And I have this in my bag, it’s a cookie. So I have to be not just a good teacher, but I have to be good to myself in terms of whether it’s praying, eating well, exercising. So having number seven to sharpen the saw, which people often often forget, because unless you take care of yourself, then you won’t be good at the other six habits. So I’m not sure if that answers your question.

Michael Consul (09:12):
I kind of gave you a preview of all seven habits. But yeah, they’re definitely all important. And I know when I took the course and became a facilitator, made me a better parent, made me a better son, made me a better partner, made me a better person. So for those listening that have not read or heard of the seven habits, it’s definitely definitely a book that you should read or maybe listen to the audio book. There’s two versions. There’s the teen version w and that’s the textbook that I use when I teach my leadership class seven habits of highly effective teams. And then the original version, which is seven habits of highly effective people, exact same habits, exact same titles for each habit is just the stories. And the way the authors write it is, is a little bit different ones geared to older people. One’s geared to teenagers. But both amazing. Stephen Covey develop the habits, the late Stephen Covey and his son, Sean Covey said, dad, you know, those habits that you teach in the corporate world, or those habits you teach adults, teenagers should learn those habits too. So he took the book, took the same habits and then rewrote it. So that it’d be easier for teenagers to follow.

Sam Demma (10:33):
He was being proactive.

Michael Consul (10:36):
He was, I wish I learned the seven habits when I was in high school. Oh man. Yeah. It would’ve been a world of a difference.

Sam Demma (10:44):
How do you think as educators, we live out, especially the first habit of being proactive in a time like COVID, especially for principals, for student activity, advisors and directors like yourself, where it’s tough to put on events or it’s a little, I don’t want to say challenging, but it’s a little bit different. How do we still exercise that first habit? Have you maybe made some mistakes that you learned from, or through some spaghetti against the wall that stuck, that you think is worth sharing?

Michael Consul (11:14):
If you asked my girlfriend, I always tell her that I don’t make mistakes and I’m always right. But that is really not true because she’s the one who’s always right. So yeah, being proactive is key. And that’s really, you know, if you’re going to run an event or if you’re going to have students in your building, or if you’re going to run this extracurricular activity, like think of all the different scenarios. So that rather than being reactive and putting a band-aid and dealing with it, when it comes up, you’re being proactive. So that issue doesn’t even doesn’t even arise. So whether that’s making sure if we’re bringing students into this building, let’s make sure that they’re physically distance. Is there hand sanitizer or are we disinfecting surfaces? Is it too tempting for them to socialize if we do this activity? So all those things you kind of have to, you know, troubleshoot before it even becomes something to troubleshoot. And that’s, that’s really what being proactive is about.

Sam Demma (12:21):
You told me about a software before we began the podcast that might be useful for other educators who are thinking about doing virtual events. Do you want to share a little bit about it and your own experience using it?

Michael Consul (12:31):
Yeah. We’ve been using software called stream yard and it’s free. There is a free account, and then you could also purchase a license for a, you know, for the higher level of that an account, but the free account is awesome because you can do so powerful. And it’s basically a software that we’ve been using because now I can’t run those conferences with 500 people, or I can’t run those monthly leadership meetings with 200 people, however I could run it virtually. So streaming mode is a software is a platform that allows you to broadcast a live stream and we broadcast it to YouTube live and you can also broadcast it to Facebook. So it’s your choice, or you can broadcast to both at the same time. And so similar to what we’re doing here, where, you know, I’d be speaking to the camera and I can have an audience of however big I want, because it’s basically a YouTube live link that the participants click onto.

Michael Consul (13:31):
And I think our highest was over 2000 students watching at the same time. So there’s no, you know, there’s no limit on the amount of viewers and there’s also some interaction involved because there is a chat box feature on YouTube live or through stream yard where I can ask a question and say, okay, how many people here? And then the question can be anywhere. And then the chat box will just blow up. Or I could use online tools and say, everyone in the chat box, I am going to put this link, click that link, and now bring you to this website, or I want you to fill out a poll. And in that poll, I can ask whatever I want, but streamlined is a great, great tool because it allows me to have a guest, like, let’s say I’ll have you as a guest and me, and you can be on the screen together.

Michael Consul (14:21):
I’ve had a panel and you can have nine people on the screen all at the same time. And so, you know, I could be hosting the panel and post questions to different members of the panel. So powerful tool. I could show my slideshow at the same time, I can embed a video. I can put up banners or a ticker tape at the bottom. So it’s free. So easy to use. It’s I mentioned before, it’s kind of like an iPhone. It’s very intuitive. Even. You’ve never used it before. If you jump onto the first time, it’s like, so I click this. That happens, oh, that’s easy. Like it happens the way that you want it to happen, which makes it, which makes it easy in it. And it’s free. So it’s an alternative to zoom. It’s a, you know, alternative to Google meets and it’s most powerful if it’s an, if it’s an a, you know, a webinar capacity. So if I’m meeting with 20 students, I wouldn’t use it because I could meet 20 students and on zoom and I could see all 20 at the same time, but if I’m meeting 200 students, I can have 200 little zoom icons. And so streamline allows me to have a larger audience and still be able to interact at the same time

Sam Demma (15:44):
That I think it’s important to share because educators are looking for ways to continue doing events. And there’s someone who was proactive and who’s figured some things out that I thought were valuable to share those experiences, the classic camps, you usually run camp Olympia, your conferences, they change young people’s lives. And I’m sure over the years, you’ve had students reach out to you. Maybe even after they graduated and wrote you letters telling you how big of an impact it had. Maybe some of them are now good friends that you stay in touch with. I’m curious to know if there’s any story that sticks out in your mind about how leadership changed a young person’s life, and you can change their name for the purpose of the story. If it’s a very serious one. And I want you to know, the reason I’m asking is because an educator might be listening and is a little burnt out right now. And I think it’s these stories of transformation through education that reminds educators, why it’s so important, the work that they continue to do.

Michael Consul (16:39):
Yeah, it is. It is important that we do, you know, I might be biased, but I think a teacher’s job is the most important one in the entire world. You know, you might be a doctor or a lawyer or a carpenter or, or, you know, a broadcaster or a utuber, but at some point there’s a teacher in your life that taught you what you needed to know. So without that teacher, where would you be? So I definitely think the teaching profession is definitely the most important profession you could ever enter. And I see like planting seeds because I never know what I say or what I do or what experience I create or what opportunity. And I’m able to make for a student, how that seed is going to grow. And sometimes it’s immediate sometimes next semester because of the cause they went to this camp or because I went to this conference or because they wanted this meeting next semester, it changed person, or it might be five years down the road where the student comes back and says, I never realized is that, that particular speaker that I heard at that conference made such a impact in my life.

Michael Consul (17:53):
So you never know, you never know how big that tree is going to come from that tiny, tiny seed. I remember I was speaking to, I went to a gradient graduation and the valedictorian had a speech. And in her speech, she talked about a guest speaker that we had at our Eyelight conference. And I told this, I told the guest speaker, Hey, I went to this graduation and they S they were talking about you. They were talking about you. And, and the speaker, his name is Andrew. Andrew’s like what, who? And I described the grower. And he goes, oh, I think I remember who it was, but she sat in the back corner and she didn’t say nothing. And now she’s the valedictorian of her grade eight class. And she’s in, I was like, here’s the speech? I got a copy. And she had like three different quotes that he said within that one hour.

Michael Consul (18:50):
And she’s, he’s never met this girl before. And they only had that one hour together at this one conference. And she’s quoting him saying this piece of information has allowed me to X, Y, and Z. And so we never know what we see or what we do, or how much impact our words can have on a particular student. And there’s so many stories. I have tons of reference letters that I’m writing for. Cause cause now, because of whatever influence I’ve had or whatever, you know, whatever experience they had with me now, they want to be teachers and they want to, you know, they want to pay it forward and they want to also be that influence on other people. So I have a ton of students that want to be teachers. I have a bunch of students that said that camp that I went to, oh my gosh, it changed my life.

Michael Consul (19:47):
You know, it sounds cliche and stuff, but I you’re. Right. It’s true. And I never realized how impactful these things are until people come back and, and tell me, there’s I had the best job in the world because not only do I have fun doing it, but it’s extremely rewarding. When a student comes back and says, Hey, I’ve, I’ve entered the police foundations. And the reason why I did so is because when we went to smile camp, you had five police officers there. And they were such a role model to me. And I, it made me want to become a police officer, or I take kids overseas to do work in the Philippines where we, we build houses with, with the poor. And we work in the orphanage and we do a clean community cleanup, but then I’ll get, you know, I’ll get pictures sent to me the year after. And student says, Hey, I went back to the village that we, that we went to or where we were building with the people. And they, they show me all the donations that they’ve accumulated throughout the year. And they went back to themselves to bring it back to the community. So stuff like that is like, it makes you smile and it is super heartwarming.

Sam Demma (21:04):
That’s awesome. That’s so true. And I wanted to ask, because, you know, an educator might be listening and it might be their first year in education. And they’re thinking, what the heck is going on in this, in this world right now, this is not what I was prepared for. And I want you to think back for a minute, to your first year of teaching and with all the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years. Now, what advice would you give yourself looking back? Because there are some educators that might be listening who are just getting into this profession and are a little bit flustered and not sure what to do, how to manage themselves. And what’s going on.

Michael Consul (21:41):
When I look back, wow, I thought I knew everything. I know way more now than I did back then. One, be yourself, be yourself. You know, everyone has their own strengths. You might be a funny person, used your funny personality. You might be super organized. Use your ability to, you know, be super organized be yourself too, is you gotta get involved outside the classroom in terms of extra extracurricular activities. You can bond a lot with students in the classroom, for sure. But the level of relationship bonding that you can have with a student, you know, on the soccer field, like I know you’re telling me stories of your coaches or in the student council room or at camp, because you’ve decided to become, you know, a chaperone for the grade nine orientation or sitting on the bus three hour drive to camp Olympia, like that level of conversation.

Michael Consul (22:47):
And that level of relationship building can’t happen if you’re only in the classroom, so definitely get involved. And when you have those students that you’ve bonded with in those extracurricular activities, now they’re in your classroom. Those are your biggest allies. Those are the ones that are taking initiative. Those are the ones that are telling everyone else to be focused. Those are the ones that, you know, help run the class with you. So yeah, definitely be yourself, get involved and then number three, and I’m still bad at doing it. And I started teaching in 1999 and it’s, it’s 2020 right now. You gotta take care of yourself. You gotta take care of yourself. Whether that means, you know, a couple evenings or one evening, a week, spend time with your partner and close your phone, close your laptop, no email, no marketing, and just have quality time with your family or the people that you love.

Michael Consul (23:54):
Whether it’s saying no, because as a new teacher, you’re going to always have principals and administrators and other teachers say, Hey, you want to be part of this program. Hey, can you do this? You know, you are allowed to say no. And I know you want to make a huge impression, especially if you don’t have a permanent contract yet, but say yes to everything, but you also have to say yes to yourself. So if you’re finding your way too busy, and now you have to drop going to the gym, you might have to realize, you know, figure a way out that you could still go to the gym. Don’t drop that exercise part of your life. Or if you’re finding, because you’re doing all this stuff, now you’re skipping breakfast. You gotta either say no, or find a way so that you’re not hurting yourself. And I guess that happened. Number seven, sharpen the saw, and you can’t be an effective educator unless you sharpen the saw because eventually if you keep, like if you never stopped to fill up for gas, you’re going to end up empty. So from time to time, you have to fill up that gas. Awesome.

Sam Demma (25:06):
I love that. Mike, this has been an amazing conversation. If there are educators listening who want to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around here about the conferences you’re running, maybe even get involved in some of the virtual stuff you’re doing. What’s the best way for them to reach you.

Michael Consul (25:22):
A couple of ways. You can send me an email and my email is Michael dot Consul@tcdsb.org. So that’s Michael dot Consul, C O N S U L at T CDSB, which is Toronto Catholic district school board that org, or you can check out our website, it’s Catholic student leadership.com. So every time we have a new conference, a new camp or new PD opportunity, we always posted on the website and that’s Catholic student leadership.com. Or if you look up Michael Consul on Facebook, not on Facebook, on YouTube, we’ve got Michael Costa on YouTube, our live stream. So, you know, we have different, we have different live stream events, student leadership meetings, guest speakers, it’s all on my YouTube channel, which is Michael Consul. And on there, you also see, you know, footage from different events prior to COVID, you’ll see footage there from our service trips to the Philippines, you’ll see footage there from camp Olympia.

Michael Consul (26:24):
So there’s a whole bunch of stuff that you’ll see there as well. If you YouTube Michael Consul, there’s two things there to come up. They’re giving you my teaching career and my fishing show. So I also have a a fishing show called the CFN Fisher, which airs on the sportsman channel Canada and the world fishing network on in the states. So know that two things will come up click the one that’s me smiley face without holding a fish. And then you’ll get to my education side. Watch both. You can watch both for sure.

Sam Demma (27:05):
All right. Awesome. This has been again, an amazing conversation and I look forward to staying in touch.

Michael Consul (27:10):
All right. Thank you so much, Sam. You’re doing amazing work and I can’t wait to hear all the episodes and all your amazing guests.

Sam Demma (27:17):
Another interview was done on the High Performing Educator podcast. Mike is a close friend of mine and someone, I really look up to an education. And if you got some actionable ideas, consider connecting with him to bounce ideas around and have a very fruitful conversation. I’m sure he’d be open to it and also consider leaving a rating and review. If you enjoy these episodes, it will allow other educators like yourself to find this podcast and also benefit from the conversations we’re having. Maybe you’re a person who has ideas you’d want to share, or you know, somebody, a colleague who has ideas that they could share. If so, please reach out by email: info@samdemma.com, so we can share your story and inspiration on the podcast. I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Consul

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.

Brent Mattix – Activities Director for Roseville High School in California

Brent Mattix Activity Director California
About Brent Mattix

Brent Mattix is the current activities director for Roseville High School, in Roseville, California.  He had the honour of attending Roseville High School as a student (Class of 1992).  His two sons are graduates of RHS and his daughter is a junior.  Brent Mattix began coaching in 1994 and has coached over 50 teams, from varsity football to t-ball.  He has coached football, wrestling, water polo, soccer, basketball, baseball, flag football, and is the current track and field coach for the high school.  

Mr. Mattix began teaching in 1999 and has taught English, speech and debate, positive power, leadership, and student government.  He has served as a class advisor, club advisor, smaller learning communities program coordinator, and link crew coordinator.

For nine years, Brent Mattix was an administrator, working as an assistant principal at Granite Bay High School for seven years and principal for two years at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.

Driven to make a positive difference, Mr. Mattix loves working in the community in which he grew up.  In addition to teaching, Mr. Mattix is also a scoutmaster, magician, and pyro-technician.

In his free time, Mattix is passionate about spending time with family and friends in the outdoors via camping, hiking, cycling, canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing.

Connect with Brent: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Workshop)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Book)

Phil Boyte (Learning For Living Program)

Link Crew Transition Program

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 Brent Mattix. He is the current activities director for Roseville high school in Roseville, California. He had the honour of attending Roseville high school as a student in the class of 1992. And his two sons are graduates of R H S and his daughter is now a junior.

Sam Demma (01:04):
Brent began coaching in 1994 and has coached over 50 teams from varsity football to T-ball. He has coached football, wrestling, water, polo, soccer, basketball, baseball, flag football, and is currently track and field coach for the high school. Mr. Mattix began teaching in 1999 and has taught English speech and debate positive power leadership and student government. He has served as a class advisor club advisor, smaller learning communities, program coordinator, and link crew coordinator for nine years. Brent was an administrator working as an assistant principal at granite bay high school for seven years and principal for two years at Thomas Jefferson elementary school, driven to make a positive difference. Mr. Maddox loves working in the community in which he grew up. In addition to teaching, he is a scout master magician and pyro technician in his free time. Brent is passionate about spending time with family and friends in the outdoors via camping, hiking, cycling, canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing. I hope this bio does an awesome job of encapsulating everything that is Brent Mattix. He is a phenomenal person and educator. I had such an amazing time speaking with him on the podcast, enjoy our conversation, and I will see you on the other side, Brent, 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 your story and what brought you to where you are in education today?

Brent Mattix (02:46):
Sure. My name is Brent Mattix activities director at Roseville high school in Roseville, California saved by the bell. Love it. There we go. We get long bells here. So I actually had the pleasure of attending the high school in which I teach, which was outstanding. So I’m class of 1992. I also, some of my backstory is I got kicked out of Roosevelt high school my senior year. So February 21st was my last day of my senior year. I pulled a prank. I was the top student in the school and suffer the consequences. So I guess the only way I was coming back was via education. And so I started coaching at Roseville when I was 20. And then in the interim, I was working on my teaching credential and came back to Roseville high school as an English teacher in 1999 and taught for eight years and then took an administrative position.

Brent Mattix (03:43):
So as an administrator for nine years and then came to my senses and wanted to get back into the classroom. One of my big motivations is my own three kids were at Roseville high school and I kind of had this scare where I realized my baby has seven years before she turned 18 and was out. So my mission shifted a little bit and I was very fortunate to get the activities director position. And now I’ve got two years left with my daughter. My two sons have graduated. I got my oldest boy in the us air force and my second is just graduated and he’ll be starting at UC Davis here in a few weeks.

Sam Demma (04:23):
Wow. That’s awesome. I mean, you can’t mention prank without explaining what the heck happened. You got to bring me back and tell me what’s going on back there.

Brent Mattix (04:33):
Well, I’ll tell ya. That was in 98 and 99. That was in 92. And you know, it was just one of those things where we had had some stuff going on with our rival. And so it was one of those feeling like, Hey, I’m the all American kid you’re supposed to pull off this epic prank where I went wrong as I involved firecrackers. And so that was right on the cusp of school violence. This was pre Columbine, but we had had a shooting and all of hers, which is not too far from us. And so I haven’t been an administrator and looking back, I can definitely get a sense of the concerns administration and the community had with, with stuff going on. And so anyway, what I tell students is that you make a mistake, you learn from the mistake you grow and that’s what life’s all about. And so took responsibility for it. And then it was really cool being able to come back and actually participate in graduation as a teacher. But I counted it.

Sam Demma (05:37):
Oh man. That’s awesome. That’s a good story though. Go, it goes to show that your, your current situation doesn’t have to equal your future, your future destinations as well. What, okay, so what led you down the path of education though? So after high school ends, you get it, you know, you go to school like what made you decide yeah. Want to go back to education where you direct them down that path, or did you know from a young age at that, that’s what you wanted to do?

Brent Mattix (06:05):
Yeah, I actually in high school wanting to go into politics because I I’m a community person. Yeah, I was really active when I was in high school, making a difference for the community and just wanted to give back in some capacity. I had the opportunity to go to Washington DC on a youth leadership, going into my senior year and went back and spent a couple of weeks at, we actually stayed at Georgetown and set up a mock Congress. And so that was an outstanding experience, but I realized some of the challenges in politics. And, and I remember, you know, here I am 17 and I’m thinking, holy smokes, this is going to be a grind to really make effective change. And so I, I think that’s when I started to shift gears and felt like I could be more inspirational and a benefit to the community by going into education, I’ve always wanted to help people.

Brent Mattix (06:59):
And I started coaching, you know, like I said, I was only 20 years old when I was coaching and, and just had to make a shift in a little bit of thinking and maturity in the sense of I wasn’t playing anymore. So now it’s all about a drive to help others loved English. I grew up reading and had a passion for it. And if I could teach anything, I wanted to teach a course called life. And they didn’t teach that in class. And I felt like English gave me the most flexibility to kind of hit some of those components again, just to be an inspiration and had some really good teachers in college and had some good folks that I was when I grew up, I had outstanding teachers and coaches. And so I think just probably looking at two, what they modeled and the impact they had had on me was, was what got me going.

Brent Mattix (07:51):
So I do have a little side note. One of my heroes was my Spanish teacher in high school. And I started coaching at the same high school I got kicked out of. And so Mr. George IVIG would always be working the gate as one of the supervision assignments. And so I’d come in with the football team and usually interacting with, interact with them for a few minutes. So when I finally made the decision, okay, this is where I’m headed and made a shift. I let him know and he looked at me and he said, don’t do it. And he was dead serious. And that was a little crushy cause I just idolized them. And he was just such an outstanding teacher and really did well with his curriculum, cared about his students. And for him to say, don’t do it. I, it, it caused me to pause and think like, okay, what’s that all about?

Brent Mattix (08:44):
And what he was trying to communicate was a, was a shift that he felt with the responsibilities as, as being a teacher and feeling a little bit set up where the challenges were going to outweigh the benefits. And so, thankfully I didn’t listen to him. So I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and then had the opportunity last year to sit now with him at just a little social gathering. We were, we were all outside cause of COVID we all were masked. And so it was great to catch up. So I reminded him that he told me that he kind of laughed and said, well, I’m glad you, you stuck it out. But I have seen it change a lot. And so that was the kickoff, just jumping in a full go right out of the gate, you know, I’ve lucky to get hired.

Brent Mattix (09:30):
I actually went to go see the assistant principal or sorry, the assistant superintendent who was in charge of discipline and said, Hey, do you remember who I am? And he laughed and said, oh yeah, you like to play the firecrackers. So I, I told him where I was in my life and I said, I didn’t want to waste his time or waste my time. And he said water under the bridge go ahead and apply. So yeah, I was fortunate right out of the gate. I, I got a job at a school that I knew really well and had a passion for and, and just jumped in as much as I could. So I, my first year of teaching, I got married, bought a new house, had the new job, and then about oh seven months after we got married, we were pregnant with our first kiddo. So I said, Hey, the four stressors in life, the biggest stressors, they’re all, they’re all. No, man, I don’t have to worry about anything else. Now that’s all.

Sam Demma (10:25):
The early stuff out of the way. Yeah. So you mentioned coaching a few times and it sounds like coaching is also an important part of your life. If I read your mind correctly, you coach tennis. Tell me more about it. And also is that a sport you played growing up or do you coach multiple things?

Brent Mattix (10:44):
So I actually have not coached tennis, but my daughter was leaving my class. So I have, I’m fortunate to have her in my class. Got it. She was out, she, she is playing tennis and a couple of her girlfriends that she was with are playing tennis. So they have their first match today. So we’re going to go check that out afternoon. Nice. So you’re going to get me on my soap box for youth athletics here. I’ve coached, I think somewhere between 50 and 60 teams anywhere from probably half of them at the high school level, from varsity football down to, with my own kids T-ball and little bitty soccer, so, and everywhere in between. So I’ve done football at the high school football wrestling on the current track and field coach and water polo, which I knew nothing about and just the coaching that had a blast with that for six years.

Brent Mattix (11:38):
And then at the youth level we had baseball, basketball, soccer, flag football. So, you know, a variety of stuff. I grew up loving athletics. She has had so much fun and was fortunate to be on really successful teams with coaches that were positive and it wasn’t about winning. So I think the winning piece was probably a lot of a by-product of just having this really engaging atmosphere that was enjoyable and, and made a lot of relationships. So I’m still best friends with my football buddies from high school and we still get together, you know, 30 plus years later. So it’s been a definitely an important part of my life. And just seeing where I feel athletics has changed with students where I, I see for a select group of students, it’s outstanding because that’s their life. And they really want to dedicate a lot of energy or all their energy to it.

Brent Mattix (12:42):
I’ve seen a lot of students just not have as much fun where it becomes a little bit more of a job and had conversations with them where they feel and communicate that they’re burned out. And so after I think it was 15 years of coaching in high school, that’s about when my, my kid was my own kiddos were getting into athletics. And so I jumped down to the youth stuff and there’s some amazing organizations that really focus on making it fun for the athlete and informative where they get to learn and grow. And then there are some programs that are difficult to work with because, you know, like my wife said, one time first graders should not be crying after a game. You know, so much intensity that gets pushed upon them by the Allston. It’s, it’s a difficult deal to work with. So I’ll tie this into education. I had a psychology of education professor that one of my other heroes in my teaching credential program and something that he would pull out often as there needs to be more teaching and coaching and more coaching and teaching. And that’s something just stuck with me through the years.

Sam Demma (13:51):
That’s a, I love that. It’s awesome. I played sports my whole life. I was supposed to go to Memphis university on a full ride scholarship and had three knee surgeries rip that apart. But yeah, I think sports are such a crucial part in development. And even if it’s not a sport getting involved in something outside of the classroom, I think is just so important. Did you play a lot of sports growing up yourself? Like was that a big part of your childhood also?

Brent Mattix (14:20):
Yeah, I started in like first grade with the T-ball did soccer, did flag football. And then once I got into middle school, we started with with football, with tackle football and that was my main sport in high school. Then I also swimming and wrestling and then just a ton of intermurals, but, you know, I grew up I’m 47. So I grew up in an era where that’s all you did as far as athletics. Cause if you weren’t playing with an organized team, you were playing out in front of your house, on the street, your front yard, if you’re playing tackle football is two and touch right in the street, less, less we wanted to get bloody. Yeah. I mean, constantly we, we would kind of mirror the professional sports where we’d be playing basketball and then the basketball season’s done and then we’re playing some baseball or football or whatever the case may be. So it was kind of 30, some kids in the neighborhood that would be in and out doing unorganized sports. And that was just an amazing experience where we had to figure it out ourselves and, and we kept score, but it was you know, it, wasn’t about just the score. It’s mostly about being together and having a good time.

Sam Demma (15:37):
And you mentioned at the beginning of this interview, that if he could have taught any class in the world, you would have taught a class called life. What does that mean? And if it was to be a legit class that does exist, what would it include and why are those things crucial?

Brent Mattix (15:53):
So I, I guess even when I was young, I, I gotta tell you when I was in high school, I was probably the shyest kid in the school. I at least successful, but I was an introvert. And I was always a teacher’s pet. I always could have great conversations with adults, but when it came to interacting with my peers, I really struggled. So I was talking about that youth leadership program. I went to and flew back to Washington DC, and we had to wait for another group to come in before they put us on the shuttle. So it was about a 45 minute wait. And we sat about a half hour in our seats, in the airport waiting for this other group to show up. And I think there’s probably between 12 and 15 other students all the same age. And nobody said a word for like a half hour.

Brent Mattix (16:41):
And I remember it was so painful for me to sit there because I wanted to say something, I just couldn’t get myself to, to do that. And finally somebody broke the ice and it wasn’t me. And within like seconds, we were just having this really great conversation because everybody’s the same age. Most of us were AP students. So we had just taken the AP exams. And so, you know, we were in the same place in life and we just, just got going. And that was a watershed moment for me, where I thought, why did I just spend 30 minutes of wasted time? Because I didn’t have the courage, the guts, the gumption to just, you know, say something. And so I started shifting where I pushed myself more to interact. So I say that as a foundation, for whatever reason, when I was in high school and even younger and early adult, a lot of people would come to me and just ask me for advice.

Brent Mattix (17:36):
Or they would share things with me where I felt like I was helpful. And so I think that carried over. So it was just that wanting to help people and make a difference for them. And that’s where the life piece comes in. So I had really, I was so fortunate. My second year of teaching, I had an administrator come to me and say, Hey, we’d like you to teach a class, a leadership class. And I didn’t know what that was. And I said, oh, that sounds awesome. What is it? And she looked at me and said, we don’t know you’re going to figure it out. So they said, we want you to write this course. They sent me off to a Stephen Covey workshop. And Stephen Covey is probably most famous for writing the seven habits of highly effective people. And that program was repackaged to the seven habits of highly effective teens.

Brent Mattix (18:27):
And that was what they were teaching. And so I remember I, it was a two day workshop and I spent the first day just not being very excited by it. Cause I, I, you know, wasn’t grasping where they’re going with. I hadn’t read the book before. And, and then day two, I think we were halfway through day two. And all of a sudden the light bulb went on for me like, oh my gosh, this is what I can use for my class. So that became the foundation for their, our leadership class. And so I’ve been teaching that I, I said I was nine years in administrator. And so I was away from the class for nine years, but you know, otherwise I’ve taught leadership for a lot of years. And just teaching students, some foundational elements or habits has been fantastic. What I have seen in the last five years that I’ve been an activities director is that a lot of students struggle with skills.

Brent Mattix (19:27):
So their managers, if I give them a task sheet, they will get it done, especially if I attach a grade to it. So if I put points on it, that’s been something that we’ve been working on is changing things from being expensive motivator to intrinsic motivator. And I’m so proud of the students in our program because we’re, we’re almost to that point where that’s where everybody is, but the points piece for kids. Yeah. It gets them going. So they’ll do stuff if you give them the list, but if you give them a task, which is, or I’m sorry, a project, which is where we are with activities, I’ve seen a lot of struggle and I’m in the midst of rewriting where we are with our student government program and also come back and retool our leadership program, where it just gives students the opportunity to create or learn more skill sets that they can then apply because they, a lot of times have the desire. They want to make a difference. They just, they don’t have as much life experience. I think adults have done too much for them as we have. They’ve been growing up and they have some pretty good skill sets maybe when it comes to English and math and science and history, but just some of the leadership stuff that we need to see from them as is painful. Watson, try to grow wings there. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:52):
I love that. That’s awesome. It sounds like such a rewarding class. How many students are roughly in there? Is this a large group, a small group? Like what does it look like?

Brent Mattix (21:01):
So our, our traditional student government program, which is the student leaders that get elected. So we have four ASB officers that are elected by the student body and then for each class. And we’re a nine through 12th grade high school frees class. They have three officers that are elected. The other students that are in the class for student government get in through an application process. And so we are generally it ebbs and flows, but generally the numbers there between 45 and 55. Yes. And I continually say, Hey, I’ll take a hundred. If we have students that are engaged in taking care of business, then we’ll take as many as we can get in. We we only have so much space in the physical classroom we’re in right now. So that kind of dictates a little bit just the functionality of the room.

Brent Mattix (21:58):
And then our leadership class is an elective. And that traditionally is right around 40 students. And those students that are in the class are it’s a wide spectrum. So I’d say I ended up with about 40% freshmen, 40%, maybe 35% sophomores. And then the other group would be juniors and seniors, and anywhere from students that are super motivated and want to take the course so that they can learn some more skills to get into student government, to students that are behavior issues on campus and a counselor or an administrator said, man, we got to get them in the leadership class. And that’s what I love because we have just across the gamut and when we do our group work and when we’re in our committees and working together, there’s so many different ideas because we have so many different walks of life involved in that class.

Brent Mattix (22:53):
Sometimes I say we’re a little incestuous in the student government program in the sense that the same type of students attract their friends who want to be in the program. And so that can be a good thing. It’s a double double-edged sword to some degree because you get into that group think sometimes, and it’s hard to break outside that mold. So that’s something we’ve been challenging students with. Now that we’ve kind of changed at our school, changed the, the culture of the student government program, where it’s more about the school than just the students are in the classroom. It’s a matter of, okay, now we got to get out to our stakeholders and make sure we’re understanding what their needs are and what their desires are and give them a voice and get them a more, more involved that way.

Sam Demma (23:39):
And which of the seven habits have you integrated in the classroom that you think has been the most impactful on the students and why?

Brent Mattix (23:50):
That’s a great question. You know, I, I tell the students in my leadership class, but we’re going through a particular topic or habit. I say, Hey, this is the most important day. And then I tell them, okay, I know I’m always saying that. So it’s, it’s difficult. I’ll tell you the, the habits and the concepts. I think that are probably, I, I see that are most powerful is one of them is, and it’s not particularly a habit, but it’s the circle of control and no control. And I asked students, I don’t say anything about the circle of control, but I asked students about a time that somebody made him really upset. And I tried to get a few volunteers that will share a story with the class. And my goal is, and that interaction to get that person upset and reliving the experience.

Brent Mattix (24:43):
And a lot of times it gets to that point. And usually it’s something with a friend or sometimes a parent. And to the point where sometimes, I mean, they’re, they’re yelling, they’re fleshing in the face and at the end of them telling their stories, I tell them, now, wait a minute. I asked you guys to share a story about a time where somebody made you mad and you guys all lied to me. And then they get more upset at me when I tell them that I did not lie to you, Mr. Maddox, and they go, go and go. And then we start talking about the circle of control and no control. And the goal is for them to understand that somebody didn’t make them mad. They allow themselves to become mad and that they are empowered and they need to they need to really control that and understand there’s very few things in life that they can control.

Brent Mattix (25:31):
And when that sinks in, you see some students that really kind of have an awakening because they’ve had crap in their background in their life. And they understand that, Hey, I, that was outside of my control and I can’t get upset and emotional about it. Or if I do, I got to have some tools to back down from it and, and take back my control, take back that power. So that’s my favorite lesson plans. I think that the just creating habits to begin with and that habit number one is be proactive and getting them. And that’s where the, the control piece comes in and get them to understand that how they respond to everything that’s coming at them is so important. And having some tools that they’re at their experience and disposal to be able to utilize and pushing pause, and maybe not reacting is just outstanding.

Brent Mattix (26:31):
I feel for these kiddos with how bombarded they are with everything technology. I tell a story where I was a sophomore and we had lockers back when I was a sophomore. We don’t have lockers at the school anymore. And so I get to school and I go to open a lock my locker, and right as I open it, this piece of paper falls out. So I bent down to pick it up. And as I’m bending down to pick it up, I’m realizing that there’s in the row, there’s like five or six other students that are picking up this kind of same piece of paper. So I look at it and it was a letter that one of my fellow students had written about his girlfriend. They had just broken up and the most worst message, disgusting comments. Her secrets were on this sheet of paper that were typed out.

Brent Mattix (27:19):
And I mean, they were horrific. I didn’t know that young lady, but that young lady was gone that day. We did not see her back at the high school again. And I don’t know what happens her. She transferred schools and went elsewhere. And so I juxtapose that with, we had a student that was incoming and it was from tech. He was coming in from Texas. And some kids were talking about him coming to the school and they were talking about the baggage. He was bringing from an incident in Texas. And I just had this realization that, I mean, these kids can’t escape the negativity sometimes and, and heartbreaks for that a little bit. It, it breaks for the kids that have stuff. That’s just a constant reminder of things that they feel are inefficiencies or challenges or, or bad stuff in their life.

Brent Mattix (28:11):
And so back to trying to empower them where they can take control and, and reprogram themselves and be proactive, come up with a plan is just really, really important. So the first three habits focus on what’s called the private victory. And so I teach leadership in that. You’ve got to, you’ve got to teach yourself, you’ve got to control yourself. You’ve got to your beer best you before you work with others. And so then the public victory where we transition into working with others habit four is think win-win. And so that’s really trying to empower them with some tools and how they can work well with others. And come up with ideas that are bigger than themselves, right? It’s about what they want, it’s about what others want and how they’re gonna work well together. And then my favorite habit is habit six, which is synergy and synergizing and working well with others.

Brent Mattix (29:08):
And to me, that’s what LIFE life is all about. And bringing us full circle back to athletics. There is nothing more powerful than when you’re working with a group of people that have the same mission, and you’re just hitting stride and in the flow and, and winning and winning doesn’t mean you got the highest score. Winning just means that you’re working well together and make a magic happen. So I love seeing that. I love it when students create those types of events on our campus and when they have that same experience in the classroom. So I got end with saying that you know, I’m super Pollyanna and positive all the time, but going back to that circle of control, I say, now, you know, the reality is you’re going to get awesome times. And when I get frustrated and I’m at home and my wife and I are in a disagreement, or I’m having a challenge with one of my kiddos and I feel my blood come up and I’m just starting to shake a little bit you know, I’ve got to back myself down. So it’s one thing in theory, it’s another thing to actually put it into practice. And so that’s the, that’s the toughest part. And, and trying to model that for the students is really important for me as well. Yes.

Sam Demma (30:21):
Oh, such an important book. I was, I was lucky enough to stumble across the seven habits of highly effective teens back when I was a freshmen in grade nine.

Brent Mattix (30:33):
Good for you.

Sam Demma (30:34):
Yeah, because I was a, I mean, you didn’t mention sharpening the saw or the, the, the square, the four places where you could spend your time, the time charger. But yeah. I know those are, it’s such a good book and I think it’s so cool that you’re teaching it in class. If you could, if you said you’ve been teaching now, how many years?

Brent Mattix (30:54):
Well, I started my student teaching in 1998. So what’s that, I’m not a math teacher. So 23 years, somewhere 24, I don’t know.

Sam Demma (31:04):
Yeah. So if you could go back to year one with the experience and understanding that you have now, what advice would you give your younger self? Because there might be an educator listening. Who’s just getting into education and might be willing or able to learn from something you’ve experienced. Sure.

Brent Mattix (31:23):
So you, you talked about sharpen, the saw, which is habit seven in the book, and this is by the way, I don’t get any royalties from FranklinCovey foundation. The sharpen, the saw is probably where I’ve most struggled and sharpen the size just about reenergizing yourself, taking care of yourself. And, you know, I feel for educators, we get emotional here was setting boundaries because our profession is a passion. It’s a calling. And I really think that a strong majority of educators are in this to make a difference for our kids difference for our community. And education has evolved where it’s not just about teaching the content that we were trained, that when we got our master’s or whatnot in we’re teaching the whole student, and there are so many things that come at us with working with special education students and working with English language learners and working with behavioral issues, I can go on and on and on.

Brent Mattix (32:25):
And I think I struggle with this. And how do you set healthy boundaries? Because we all care. We want to make a difference. That’s why we chose a profession. And I don’t know. I don’t know what the advice is. I haven’t done yet, but trying to set up those healthy boundaries where you take care of yourself and, you know, Hey, I’m in a good place. I I’m healthy. I’m happy with my job. I work my butt off and it’s a constant struggle to keep up. I don’t know what I could have done earlier, except maybe downsize what I was doing, mess the job.

Sam Demma (33:09):
No, I appreciate you sharing that. And you know, all the students that, and parents that haven’t told you, you know, you’re making a huge difference and not only you Brent, but everyone listening, you know, it’s a, it’s a profession where sometimes you plant the seed in and then someone else watches it grow. So it’s a, yeah, it’s a great way for y’all doing

Brent Mattix (33:29):
Well. Okay. So one of my, one of my good friends, I’m a name drop here, Phil boyte, who has a company called learning for living. And he’s the gentleman who started the link crew program. I had an opportunity for him to mentor me for awhile. And he, and I think I brought up setting healthy boundaries and he said, Brent, you know, what I’ve found is you’re juggling a lot of balls to use an analogy. And those balls are all up in the air. And if you drop them, I’ve found that most of them you’re going to find are made of rubber. They’re going to bounce back up. You’re going to be able to get them back in the game. The two balls that are made of glass are your health and your family.

Sam Demma (34:12):
Boom. We just dropped the mic there and call it a day.

Brent Mattix (34:17):
Well, you know, that’s why he’s got a company. He’s a smarter guy than I am, but I it’s like talking to Yoda.

Sam Demma (34:23):
That’s awesome, man. So cool. I’ve seen Phyllis speak at some conferences, which is phenomenal. But thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your stories and experiences. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Yeah. Keep up the great work. If another educator is listening and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Brent Mattix (34:42):
Sure. Well, I’m setting healthy boundaries, so don’t call, I’m just teasing. We’re all in this together. And so my emails, my to-do task lists, that’s what I keep coming back to. So my email address is bmattix@rjuhsd.us

Sam Demma (35:09):
Yeah, I’m going to put it in the show notes as well.

Brent Mattix (35:12):
Emails that email’s the best way. And Hey, if I can make a difference and share anything with anybody, happy to do that because you know that old metaphor or analogy or whatever it is is I am an English teacher of the pebble and the pond is so true. And, and we’re in this together. Keep doing good stuff for kids because they truly are our future and deserve everything.

Sam Demma (35:38):
Awesome. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it again, keep it up and we’ll stay in touch. My pleasure, Sam, 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 fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent Mattix

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.

Jerell Maneja – Activities Director for Milpitas High School

Jerell Maneja - Activities Director
About Jerell Maneja

Jerell Maneja (@jayraffe87) is an Activities Director for Milpitas High School. Since stepping into this role two years ago, Jerell is working to redefine the role of ASB Student Government for his campus.

His students have dramatically improved the school climate by establishing a clear and unifying vision and adopting an objective-based framework used at tech companies like Google and Intel known as OKRs.

Connect with Jerell: Linkedin | Instagram | Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Objectives and Key Results (OKR’S)

California Association of Activity Directors (CADA)

Operation Smile

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com.

Sam Demma (00:35):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Jerell Maneja. He is the activities director for Milpitas high school. Since stepping into this role two years ago, Jerell has been working to redefine the role of ASB student government for his campus. His students have dramatically improved the school climate by establishing a clear and unifying vision and adopting an objective based framework. Use that tech companies like Google and Intel known as OKR’S, which stands for objectives and key results. I know you will love and enjoy today’s episode. I will see you on the other side of my conversation with Jerell talk soon.

Sam Demma (01:24):
Jerell, 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 today?

Jerell Maneja (01:35):
For sure. Thank you for having me. My name is Jerell Maneja. I am the activities director at Milpitas high school. I’ve been an educator for nine years and I started off wanting to teach science. I was one of those that got through school as a high tune suit with zero direction, got into college, and it said, I think I science and computer. So I got into biotech, realized I enjoy working with people a lot more. And so I said, I’m wants to be a science teacher. I want to get our youth to care about science and the world they live in. And so I, it took me a few years. Went through my credential program, got started teaching in 2013, teaching science. And over time I realized that there’s, that I love the environment I was working. I felt our students deserve more. And so there came to a point where I decided I need to move up into a position where I can influence school culture more because I think our school culture was strong academically, but for our students, they needed much more than that thing is to know what it’s like to be a student in a campus where they felt comfortable and connected. And so I became a class advisor and then eventually transitioned to be the activities director. And I’ve been doing this for three years now.

Sam Demma (02:54):
That’s awesome. And did you get a tap on your shoulder to go into this role that someone else recognized that you had some skills and pushed you in this, in this way? Or is it something that you more so observed, like you mentioned and decided I want to try this and do this.

Jerell Maneja (03:10):
I think it’s a combination. The activities director at the time when I was, when I was invited to be a class advisor she saw that I love volunteering. I love being a referee for the, for the lunch football games. I love participant events just because I’m here for the students. And so when she saw that she saw me as potentially an easy target to volunteer for this four year long commitment, or just saw as someone as someone who can lead the campus. And so I oversaw the class of 2020, and for those three years, I helped them in their homecoming. We have a big spirit event in March called Trojan Olympics. And I enjoyed that work. And then there came to a point where the position open and I said, I think I can do even more for the school if I was in that role. And so I had to leave my class of 2020 to be activities director which was funny enough the year that COVID hit and we had to go into shutdown. And so I’m hoping this year is the first year. It gets to be an Exodus director for a full in-person there. But yeah, I think it’s a combination of both. It required me to see the potential that the school can help, but it didn’t, it also helped that I had some of the motivational, Hey, you should consider going to this role.

Sam Demma (04:28):
You talked a little bit about the different roles you’ve done, but what got you into education and its whole, like what led you to teaching and working with youth, you know, growing up, did you know that you were going to be an educator and working with young people or was it a career you kind of fell into and then fell in love with it?

Jerell Maneja (04:47):
It’s a good question. I don’t think about a lot, but I realize, you know, growing up being in a Filipino household, teaching was one, it was a very respected you know, career choice, but one where the pay was definitely not the ideal that you want to encourage your children to go to as a, as an immigrant parent. But then I realized, you know, all my life experiences show me. I love working with people. I love working with people. I was an RA in college. I did a lot of tutoring. My first job right out of college was a tutoring job. And then I started teaching science classes and science camps for elementary kids. It was a company called mad science where it would just do just random science experience as an afterschool program. And I have that experience.

Jerell Maneja (05:37):
I graduated biotech within 10 houses to work in a lab. I got into a lab, I got to work in a research Institute and it has, this is cool. I can not do this for the rest of my life. I’ve worked behind the lab bench on your own, just doing kind of the same routines. I love the exploration of it, but I need to work with people. And so every thing in my life showed me, teaching was just one of those places that could be at unfortunately there was a teaching program at UC Davis where I did my undergrad where you can get some hours in the classroom. And once I stepped in there, I was like, yeah, this is where I need to be. This is, this is where I belong.

Sam Demma (06:17):
That’s amazing. And when you think about your own high school experience, I’m asking you to go really far back, not that you’re old, but you know, when you think about your own high school experience how did, how did the teachers in your life play an impact in your own educational experience? Did you have some teachers that stick out that you can remember like, wow, this person really made a big difference on my life and upbringing as a kid. Or was that an absent thing in your experience, which kind of inspired you to be that person for other students?

Jerell Maneja (06:49):
I joke a lot with my friends that some, that a lot of the things that I do in school is because I want to be different than what I experienced. I did not have one of the most positive school experiences. I, I had, you know, I had teachers who knew their stuff, helped me succeed from an academic standpoint, but in terms of helping me find who I was and making me feel like I was connected to the school, it was kind of lacking. And I, it was, I it’s ironic that max who’s director, because I applied for the ASB program when I was in high school and I wasn’t selected, I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I was not invited to after they interviewed. And it’s one where my entire life being a teacher and just as a professional in the school campus where I realized what I would have loved to have and seeing if I could deliver that to the students, but also realizing, you know, this is a new time where student needs are very different and at the very least it’s helped me realize not to think about my own person needs, but the needs of the campus and the students.

Jerell Maneja (07:53):
And how can I work to that? So, yeah, to answer your question, high school was exempt was exemplar. Just how much better it could have been for me, but I mean, that’s, that’s why we need educators, right? We need teachers who have that mindset of our youth are our future and what experiences and guidance can we provide and search our campus to give the students what they deserve. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:18):
I love that. And w so what gets you fired up about activity directors or the role in and of itself? So what is you responsible for doing, because some of your colleagues from Canada might be listening where we don’t have activity directors. Can you explain what the role entails, what you do in the role and why you’re so passionate about it?

Jerell Maneja (08:37):
For sure. I guess it’s been one that’s redefined. So before I was, I got into the role, it was, you oversee the ASB officer. So your student officers that are elected, you oversee them, you oversee some of the on-campus activities like rallies campus decorations, any class, spirit events dances, and you oversee also oversee the club system. Our campus is big. It’s the largest in Silicon valley with 3,200 students. Now we have more than 90 student clubs and really overseeing that system, making sure they’re following the rules, but also that we’re supporting them. So that’s what was advertised to me. But when I came in, I redefined my role as just someone who has an influence on school climate and school culture. And now that I had a vision of what kind of culture I want to create, and because I talked with the students I was working with in my organization to say, what do you envisioned for your school?

Jerell Maneja (09:35):
What is your ideal campus? Really? That’s what defines my work. And to be honest with you for the last two and a half years, a lot of my work has been almost dismantling or completely recreating some of those old traditions just because they did not serve our campus anymore in this new age of education and with this new generation. And so we it’s, it’s been a lot of work, but that’s, I really that’s what inspires me is to idea that I have such a large influence in school culture and that I have, I’m giving students the power to implement their vision and their voice. I think that was the biggest shift that I made with this organization is that the students are controlling the show. I’m truly just witnessed to their work. And that’s what pushes me every day.

Sam Demma (10:22):
I’m curious now about these conversations. So what do the students tell you? What is the school culture that they want to build on campus? Cause I would assume that most students similar in their age are all all thinking the same thing. So another educator might be listening to this thinking, oh man, I’ve never had those conversations with my students, but maybe I can hear what drills kids are saying. So what, yeah. What are some of your students saying?

Jerell Maneja (10:47):
So this year I’m adopting a model that’s used that Google and in selfie objective and key result where the OKR model, where basically you allow your team to establish, these are, these are objectives. There’s so much work we can do on campus. Let’s focus on our three. And so the three that we focused on, because as soon as it says, this is our biggest areas in the campus. First one is campus unification. It is just unreal how you can have the largest campus, but still have students feel the most lonely. We have students who are sitting out there during lunch by themselves. This year we have a huge situation with ninth and 10th graders. Who’ve been virtual and now they’re on campus in person and not knowing how to make friends and not knowing where to go. So how do you allow them to have a place where not only they feel included and feel connected to campus, but they feel included, connected with each other.

Jerell Maneja (11:40):
You know, we have, we have this epidemic of cliques and groups. How do you dismantle some of those old traditions and old ways? It’s a one where everyone feels like they belong. Even they’re part of a 3,300 student campus. The second area is inclusivity. Our, when I first started, we were in the news for an unfortunate event, the blackface incident during Halloween. And we, you know, it really exposed how much oh, need, we need to reflect on the diversity we have on campus and where we’re inclusive, all the different of the diversity that we have. And so students are really focused on how do we feel make each person feel included. And then our third objective is social-emotional wellness. We focus, we’re a very academically rigorous school. Us news, top 100 academics is number one, but at what, at what sacrifice for students’ wellbeing and really finding themselves. And so when I first started first exercise with my students is okay, we’re going to create a mantra. That’s going to drive our work. And so we came up with a simple slogan, embraces individuals together as Trojans. And it’s just really, this overall need that in the end, we need to be together. We need to feel like a campus, but not at sacrificing who each individual is. And really showing that each individual brings something a really interesting story for a campus. How can we empower that rather than force them to hide it?

Sam Demma (13:11):
That’s awesome, man. That’s so that’s such with great power comes great responsibility. Thinking about Spiderman. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s a, it’s a worthy one and it sounds like you’re, you’re off to a great start. I mean, school just started right. A couple of days ago.

Jerell Maneja (13:25):
We started last Thursday.

Sam Demma (13:27):
Okay, nice. And how has it been so far?

Jerell Maneja (13:31):
Yeah, it’s been wild. It’s, it’s the, it’s the balance of what does our campus need? And our students are my students in this organization. We looked at how do we, what kind of campus we want the students to feel welcome to w what’s the, what’s the climate we want to create early on. And so the school started Thursday, but the students were, had been starting since July because they understand this is a very critical time. What the tone and culture we set now will pay off in the long-term. And so we’ve done a lot of great activities so far. We’ve already having our first spirit week. And then last Thursday is one of our key market events. We call it the welcome splash. You have students who are entering campus for the first time in a year and a half.

Jerell Maneja (14:19):
What’s their first experience when they stepped foot. Our hope is that it’s a positive one. And so for the welcome splash, what we did, we invited all our club officers. We had all our ESP individuals, our MGA ROTC program. And we sit, we spread them around our campus because our campus is difficult. It’s a largely outdoor campus and there’s many points of entry. So we spread them around and I give them one objective. Your objective is to say hi to every single student and say, good morning, because if the first thing you could do to someone is help them smile or say good morning, or hello, we’ve already won battle because that’s their first ever experience. And for our ninth and 10th graders, it’s the first ever experience of MHS is the first person that gets a seat is saying hello to them. And it’s a, it’s a unbelievable experience. And one that we want to carry out throughout the year. And then on Monday, we start our club rush. We have 97 clubs the most we’ve ever had, and we’re going to be helping them build membership throughout the week. Because if we can create this home for each individual student based on their interests, then their engagement will be higher, which means in the long run, academic performance can be even better.

Sam Demma (15:26):
And they also feel like they’re a part of a family, right? Exactly. I’m not just, I don’t just go to this school, but I’m on this club. Like I dedicate my time to this group of individuals to work towards this common goal and vision that we all agree on and believe in. And I guess that ties back into the unification piece of the whole culture. Right. that’s amazing. That’s so cool. And you also wear a nice Palm shirt. I don’t know. I can see it cause they’re listening, but

Jerell Maneja (15:54):
Today is beach day. And so you have to, you have to show up, you have to be the model of the leader for two.

Sam Demma (16:03):
No, it’s a nice shirt. I was curious. I know. No, one’s actually going to see it, cause this is all audio, but oh, that’s amazing. And so where do you, like if you were to fast forward five years from now and the culture is what you’re planning it to be, and you’re no longer in this role? I think because it’s a four year thing, I think you said, or maybe you renew it and you do it again. But you know, yeah. Sorry. Correct me. How long is it?

Jerell Maneja (16:29):
Oh, so to, for class advisor, it was four years because you go from them from their freshman year to their senior year for activities records, as long as I choose to stay here.

Sam Demma (16:38):
Got it. Cool. So if you could fast forward five years from now and everything that you guys are doing is working out and it’s, it’s building this never-ending culture at the school. What is different? What is the school look like? What does the vision look like if it’s fully like complete and obviously it’s going to be forever growing, but you know, if you could dream about a perfect campus, what would it look like if five years?

Jerell Maneja (17:02):
I think it will be, it’ll start off with a unified campus, all behind the same culture and vision where you see it. Not only during the lunch periods or Donna spirit days, but every minute that a students on campus, they feel connected. They feel included. They see their culture represented and they feel this is truly their second home. How we talk about how you ask a student to describe their school and how many times the students get to say to boring? Oh, it’s okay. And in the, I want them to change. I want them to see that this four year experience is a transformational experience for them because in the end, whatever we can give to them, that’s what they carry on to in their future. If we show them, we are in a campus where you are accepted, that they go out to the world and start accepting others for who they are.

Jerell Maneja (17:53):
If we show that mental wellness is a important thing, that it’s not about just running yourself to the ground, but you need to care for yourself. And we model that and we include as part our systems. Then as students got to go out to college career and they’re going to take care of theirselves, they’re not going to sacrifice their own well-being for this pipe dream. And so to me, I can, it’s one, that’s hardest part, but it’s one you just feel when you’re going on campus and you just feel, and you see students’ faces. This year I look at how many students are actually looking up, actively looking for people to say hello, to and say, hi, give eye contact versus what we see today. People on their phones, people head down just thinking, okay, let me just make it to my first period. I want that to change. I want people to be excited to be on campus. You are excited to go to place because you feel like you belong. You feel like this is where you need to be.

Sam Demma (18:45):
Ah, I love that. And yeah, it comes back to this idea of feeling like it’s a health, like it’s home. Like you want the school to feel like home. Right? You treat everything with respect in your health. So hopefully, and the people that are in it. So, you know, you do the same at school. I think that’s really cool. I’m not a rapper. I don’t know why that rhyme, but it’s kind of funny. This is amazing. So did you have a what do you call it? Like did you have events that you have run in the past? And I know last year was virtual, so it might be a little bit different, but if you have been a part of events at the school that have occurred that have had a big impact on the students, you know, sometimes we, we see and we hear about the impact that school culture has on our kids and our staff.

Sam Demma (19:30):
Right? Cause there are some great news stories that come out and, you know, a kid might come up to you and tell you, you know, draw, this really helped me. Thank you so much for putting this together. Thank you to all the students and everyone who put it together. Other times you don’t hear about it. Right. But, but five years later, a kid comes back and says, oh, Jerell. When you said that thing, it changed my life. And when you, when we did that event, it changed my life. And, and you’re like, what event? You don’t even remember, it’s so long ago. Right. And both of those experiences are true, but I’m wondering if you can share any stories that come to mind of how culture has impacted students on campus. And if any of those come to mind and there’s very serious, you could change your name and if not, that’s okay too. Cause I I’m putting you on the spot

Jerell Maneja (20:07):
For sure. Oh man, we,we’ve run so many events and rather than go through the counter, I feel I’m just going to rely on. So at the end of the semester, I asked my students to think about what is the most impactful event that they experienced. And, you know, we could talk about rallies and just the different way we did rallies. Last year we would normally do an end-of-the-year rally it’s it was in a weird environment, not the most participating, not the most well-received. And so we said, let’s change it. Especially since it’s virtual, let’s do a 20 minutes show where everyone gets the play, everyone gets to participate and you can find that on our YouTube channel. And it’s great because everyone feels like they’re a part of the rally rather than just watching. But to be honest with you, it was never a big, it was rarely a big event that was the most impactful for this group.

Jerell Maneja (20:54):
It was actually some of the smallest initiatives that seems so simple. But to them it meant the world, our current ASP president, when he was a sophomore, he realized there was a problem with that lunch where so many students were sitting by themselves. And so what he devised was a lunch buddy program. Everyone in the organization would sign up for a date where their job is to go around and find someone who’s just sitting by themselves and just say hello, sit down, get to know them if they are well-received and just reconnect with them. And for nearly 25% students, 25% of students, it was life-changing for them. That was their biggest moment compared to the rallies all the spirit weeks. That was the key mark moment for them because they felt like they made a direct impact with one student. And that alone was enough for them because we worked so hard to do rallies for 3,200 students.

Jerell Maneja (21:48):
We’re like, God, that’s over. But this is a case where it’s truly a, one-on-one where they get to see immediate results. And then for another group, it was, we decided we have like kind of an advisory period. And we invited our English learner teacher to have their group of newcomers, brand new to the country to just hang out with the leadership students, no prompt, just go talk. And that alone made a huge difference to us because these are students that are mainstream students, mainstream students never get to see because are different classes, almost a different part of the campus. But here they are in one room of student leaders who are really trying to change the world and individuals who are brand new to the country and they are talking with each other about cartoons, about video games. You never re your my role is to facilitate and just stand back and hope and cross a fierce. It works and you can see the demeanor change. It becomes so impactful and all it was was just the invitation to go talk in a classroom. And, you know, it’s, it’s unreal how some of the smallest initiatives can create the biggest impact on both sides, not only for the campus, but for the student leaders who get to really experience it. And so that’s the mantra we talked about. It’s not about how much time it takes, how much money we spend, but really who are we trying to impact and how can we measure it? Hmm.

Sam Demma (23:22):
I love that. Okay. Back to the OKR objective key results. Yeah. I’m right back to that. Okay. That’s awesome. So cool. So cool. And you’ve been teaching for nine years. There might be some educators listening right now who are in their first year or even second year of teaching. And, you know, they might be a little nervous still knowing the first couple of years of education, even, you know, your whole career. It’s it can be a tough job at certain, certain times. It’s not for all people. It’s a tough calling. But you’ve been through it now for nine years, maybe nine, more than someone else who’s listening. And if you could go back in time and speak to DRL at year one, knowing what you know now and gone through the experiences you’ve been through, what advice would you give your younger self or another educator? Who’s just starting out listening.

Jerell Maneja (24:09):
I think it’s not being afraid to remind yourself what you care about, what you value and allowing that to drive your work. It’s very easy. When I came in the science department, you, you want to impress people. You want that tenure, you want that job security and you want to fit in with your department. And so you get, you get all these lessons too. Like, this is how we do it and you just fall and you just follow suit. And it’s important to think about, look at the school as a whole and look at the students and realizing this is not about you being the Sage on the stage that needs to know everything. It’s. This is you. Who’s leading a group of young individuals who are depending on you to give them a classroom experience that they need to not only learn but to grow.

Jerell Maneja (24:57):
And so the advice I give myself is not to be afraid to find your own path early on, and to really change some of those old traditions. It’s so hard to be a teacher in this day and age, because for like in my case, I didn’t have a good model in high school. We don’t have a lot of those good models. And so yet we see what research shows is. Good practice. It’s really trusting yourself that what you experienced the past is doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be what you do in your own future. And the moment that I changed what science teaching looks like for me was the moment I found my stride because it made me realize this is, it doesn’t matter how I teach it, all that embarrasses. How are students learning? Hmm.

Sam Demma (25:42):
That’s so cool. When you mentioned changing the way you taught science, what did that look like? Very quickly?

Jerell Maneja (25:47):
Yeah. you know, when I, when I go through science, it’s true. You can imagine, what do you remember doing in school? Oh, sometimes we do it lectures. Sometimes we do this lab where you follow these instructions and you just try to get the entire results. And then you take some tests very rarely, but then work. Luckily working in science, I realized that’s not the case. It’s a lot of exploration and guessing and trying to figure out how am I going to do this problem? And so I luckily went to this conference that taught me about argument based inquiry, where ultimately you give a student a challenging question, you give them the tools and you say, good luck. I’m here to help you, but you need to find the answer. And so you don’t tell them how to use a tool. One of my favorite labs I did was looking at bird migration patterns due to climate change.

Jerell Maneja (26:39):
I mean, in my day, we would be learning about the carbon cycle. Here’s what climate change is. And look at. What’s happened in this, in the past. This article that’s already been studied in this lab. What I do is I tell them, look at this birding website that avid birder submits. Anytime they see a bird and you can go look in the history the last 10 years and see where these birds are spotted and their job. The challenge question is how has bird migration change due to climate change? Tough question that is still being researched. There’s article, research articles being done right now about it. And now you’re having students learn how to use this tool and figure out their own way to study it. They have to figure out how do I show climate change? How do I look at bird migration using this tool?

Jerell Maneja (27:26):
And how can I put those two pieces together? How do I describe it? It is, it is the best to see your students struggling even more, but that’s finally have that aha moment. And when they don’t, that’s where I found my stress as an educator. My job as educators is not to just tell them, this is how the world works. It’s Hey, here’s some ideas which one of these do you think works for you? And I carry that mentality all the way to my work here as an ASB director in my first year, I said, okay, here’s all the things that was done in the past. You’re going to do this. You’re going to do this. And it didn’t vibe well with me because the students aren’t learning to be leaders. They’re learning to be followers of what I want. So since a year and a half ago, right on the same semester of pandemic story, I said, everyone, you’re going to do a project. It’s your call? What it is, I’ll give you a FIM, but you decide what this campus needs. And that’s where the, the ASIS, the advisory period English learner talk came up. The lunch buddy program got created. We have a brand new week called start with hello week where the job is getting everyone on campus, say hello with each other. That’s where real magic happens because now it’s not one brain dictating the world. It’s my 90 students who get to really impact school culture.

Sam Demma (28:46):
That’s awesome. I love it, man. It’s so cool. It’s so interesting to hear about, and I can’t wait to see what the culture looks like in five years, and I’m sure by then you’ll have new OKRs and new goals that you’re working on, but it’s definitely exciting to hear your passion for this role. I think you have to be a really passionate person to be in the position you’re in. And you know, if someone’s listening and they’re really inspired by anything you’ve shared, or might have a question for you, a fellow educator from around the world what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you, reach out and set up a chat?

Jerell Maneja (29:16):
I invite them to email me. It’s jmaneja@musd.org. Email me. Connect with me. Being the activities director is a tough job because there’s only of you on every campus and sometimes they can be a lonely island, but, the more we connect with individuals like at CADA was another reason that drove me to be in this role because I realized how much power and influence I can have in this position. And so if there are others that I can work with, I’m not here to act as the master of this. I’m still figuring this out. This might hopefully again, first, the full year, hopefully, cross my fingers up. In-person actually as director and I can use all the help I can get. Oh, I love collaborating. It’s the only way we can get through all of this.

Sam Demma (30:15):
Awesome. Jerell, thank you so much again for coming on. The show has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work.

Jerell Maneja (30:20):
We’ll talk soon. Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (30:23):
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 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 in the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jerell Maneja

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.

Dave Conlon – Program Director for the Canadian Student Leadership Association

Dave Conlon – Program Director for the Canadian Student Leadership Association
About Dave Conlon

Dave Conlon was an activity director at the secondary school level for over 26 years. He has chaperoned over 120 dances and knows how to get a cow into the principal’s office.

He is the Program Director for the Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA), prepares national newsletters, sells all the CSLA resources, maintains a leadership website, corresponds with CSLA members through a monthly e-letter and still manages to get his laps in the pool!

Connect with Dave: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned


Above and Beyond Blog

Horizons Leadership Conference

Cody Deaner

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. Today we have on a special guest, Dave Conlon. Dave is a grandfather. He’s a friend of mine and someone who has so much to teach as he’s been doing this for so so long. Dave was an activity director at the secondary school level for over 26 years. He has chaperoned over 120 dances and knows how to get a cow into the principal’s office. He is the program director for the Canadian student leadership association. He prepares national newsletters, sells all the CSLA resources, maintains the website and corresponds with all the CSLA members through a monthly e-letter and still manages to get laps in the pool. Dave is also more formally known as the grandmaster by his grandkids. And he’s an awesome, awesome friend and educator. And with that being said, let’s jump right into today’s interview. Dave, welcome to the high-performing educators’ podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you. I know we’ve crossed paths multiple times when I was 17 and again at the Horizons Conference in Waterloo. Tell the audience who you are, the work you do, and why you got into the job, you do with youth today.

Dave Conlon (01:23):
My name is Dave Conlon, and I was a teacher in the Waterloo board for over 30 years. I had the best job in the world. I was an activity director and, which meant essentially that anything outside of the classroom was my responsibility or my fault. And, I ran the assemblies, the fundraisers, I got to deal with the motivated keen kids who wanted to create a positive climate and atmosphere in school. It was a great job. During that time, a fellow teacher tapped me on the shoulder and said, Dave, we’re having a meeting in Toronto with a bunch of these, other teachers who want to start a national association across Canada. And I was a young teacher. I said, sure, I’m up for anything. I joined this meeting in Toronto and I haven’t looked back since. So I’ve been involved with the national association of student leaders. Oh gosh, for now again, over 30 years. And I love it. It’s working with some of the best teachers and best students in Canada and promoting real life skills that students actually get to learn at high school and take out into the world real world, make their communities and make this country a better place. It gets me excited and keeps me going.

Sam Demma (02:39):
You mentioned you have been in this work for over 30 years, what has helped you remain passionate? It’s evident through your words that this is something that you love and you enjoy doing. A lot of teachers experience burnout, especially during challenging times. What is something, maybe an experience you’ve had or, an impact you’ve made that just reminds you every day that this is why you do the work you do, and you need to keep doing it regardless of what’s happening?

Dave Conlon (03:09):
It all comes down to the individual. I remember a kid who signed up for my leadership class. His name was Paul. He thought I was a cool teacher because he was on my swim team. Now Paul had what we call a timetable of avoidance, which means anything that was hard, he didn’t take. So leadership looked like it was not a lot of work, or homework and Conlon was in charge. So it was a win-win as far as he was concerned. So we gave him an event. It was called stars of the school, pretty simple. We cut out yellow stars. We put every kid’s name in the whole school, on the yellow stars, put them up in the main hallway. And it was called stars of the school, great little event.

Dave Conlon (03:53):
Great idea. And at the end of it, Paul came up to me and he said, you know, sir, that was really good for me. And I said, you know, as a teacher, well, Paul, yeah, you did a really good job helping nobody cut themselves. And everybody was happy at the end and the students liked it. So that’s good. He said, no, you don’t understand. That’s good for me. I said, what do you mean? And he said, you know, sir, that’s the first time that somebody ever listened to me. I get fired up by little nuggets like that, where kids actually feel power and they feel powered to do positive things. And I have lots of stories of students that I’ve run into across my career as a teacher and an activity advisor. And now as a national leadership person where I’ve put a silly idea out there and some students will come up to me and said, you know, we ran that in our school.

Dave Conlon (04:45):
It was amazing. And I go, great. I thought it was a dumb idea, but you guys, you guys made it work so fantastic. And that’s, that’s what really gets me going, is to see kids do things. And it all comes down to, I always used to tell kids when I taught the most useful thing I learned in high school was first year typing in grade nine. They taught us how to type. We took a whole course on typing. And honestly, we spent most of our time there were manual typewriters. We tried to Jimmy them. So the next class coming in couldn’t type. But anyway, but I did learn how to type, which meant I could type my essays in high school. I made money typing essays for other guys in university, and it was a useful skill. And I say to students, when you do student leadership or student activities and you run that event for cancer, or you run that prom, or you run that stars of the school event, you will learn skills that you will take out into the real world. And that’s what keeps me going.

Sam Demma (05:48):
I find it fascinating. You mentioned silly ideas turning into major successes. And the fact that one of the major things that keeps you going is seeing young people embody the power that they have, especially your student Paul in these challenging times of COVID have you had or come across any silly ideas yourself or CSLA has come across that have turned into some great building blocks for new success or a new impact for young people that you might want to share with other educators, for them to consider.

Dave Conlon (06:20):
It’s way too early, um, for COVID and students and advisors are saying, what’s your best COVID idea? And I said, look guys, it’s three weeks of school tops by now. And we haven’t figured out the good ideas from the bad ideas, and I know enough bad ideas. I don’t want to pass those on because those gets you into trouble. And usually you’re in the principal’s office. I’ve been in for a few of those, but, um, through CSLA that’s Canadian student leadership association, we have our Instagram and any great idea that we see. We will pass out to other schools across the country. A neat idea that I saw was called a shoe box parade. And all it was was each student built a parade float out of a shoe box. So you get your Nike’s toss. The Nike’s because they’re no good anymore. And decorate the shoe box as a parade, float in a theme for Disney or for your school mascot or whatever.

Dave Conlon (07:17):
Hi, that, that was a dumb idea. And yet I saw the parade floats and I said, oh, that’s an amazing idea. And all the kids did then is that they put them in a zoom little video and they made a parade with some commentary. And again, it’s the power of students who say, I can make that work. Another idea that I know students are trying is they’ve had coffee houses and coffee houses are great because you go to your school and see your friends up on stage where you can’t do that in these days. So what we’re going to do is have a zoom coffee hosts. Well, that’s great. Kids can gather in their rooms at home, their living room and see their friend up on stage in his own living room, playing his guitar or doing something, reading poetry. So I think those are great ideas and those ideas will come from students. And it’s a student who says, I think I can do that. I’ve got lots of great ideas that never happened, really because no student came up to me and said, I think I want to try that. And that’s where it happens. It’s when the student says, Hey, I think I can do that. Let’s run that at our school. That’s fantastic. That’s the energy. And that’s, that’s the power of the idea.

Sam Demma (08:27):
And leadership class, the stuff you teach helps students feel that way about themselves, helps them and pushes them to raise their hand and say, I can do this and educate.

Dave Conlon (08:39):
Yeah, absolutely. It makes it possible. And a lot of kids, and that’s the beauty of leadership class. Some kids come in because they’ve already done things and other kids have not done anything. And so we have a wide range of skills, wide range of abilities and interests. And some kids don’t want to run a dance, but they’re certainly fired up about the environment or they, you know, they think the environment is important, but they would rather do something for cancer. Exactly what we need is the range of people, the range of ideas and just the power of young people, making positive things happen in their school. That just keeps us going.

Sam Demma (09:18):
How do we help a student get to that point where they raise their hand and say, Dave, I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m going to definitely try.

Dave Conlon (09:29):
Real simple. They just watched the first couple and say, Hey, I can do a better job than that. That’s what most teenagers do they go like, you suck, you dry it, buddy. You get up on stage. And the beauty of doing these things in high school, through student leadership, student council, student activities, whatever we want to call it, you’re allowed to fail. And there’s people there who are going to help you. And I will make sure that the school doesn’t burn down or nobody gets blood on the floor or anything else like that. But we’re going to make sure that you try and experience and possibly you will fail. That’s a good thing that you don’t do so well your first time. But look, we’ve got another three months in this semester, you’re going to run something else and you’re going to discover, okay. Forgot to look after the garbage, got to figure out how we collect the garbage at the end.

Dave Conlon (10:21):
That’s a life skill that you think through the event from the beginning to the end. And the real thing that happens with students and student leadership is all through their high school career. They’ve been an audience they’ve shown up into the gym and there’s been an assembly on stage or a pep rally, or they’ve shown up in the cafeteria and they’re running spirit events or challenge games or whatever. All of a sudden they’ve crossed that line on the stage behind the microphone. And they’re now in charge. And that’s quite different because not only do they have to prepare before the event, they have to then clean up afterwards and talk to the custodians and work with the admin and all that stuff. So that’s the beauty of it. They get to see the whole package and not just the event and then walk out of the, the gym or the cafeteria or the field, wherever things are being run. So it’s a whole package that they learn.

Sam Demma (11:15):
Do you mention, if someone believes they can do it better, they’ll give it a shot. And the analogy he uses you get on stage and you try it. You’ve, you’ve spoken to thousands of students. You’ve also had the pleasure of, you know, doing Canada wide tours with horizons leadership conferences, from an student success educator perspective. Someone’s considering bringing in a speaker. How have you decided on what messages to bring in front of young people? What speakers to bring in front of young people, young people, if someone’s listening and wants advice on how to bring in a message that’s going to impact their kids.

Dave Conlon (11:51):
My first test is they’ve got to have done something, um, that there’s something, something tangible that this person has done not. Everybody’s won a gold medal at the Olympics. I understand that. What have you done? There’s lots of young speakers that will come to me and say, well, I’d like to be a speaker. And I say, great, what have you done? And they say, well, I know a lot about leadership. And I say, yeah, what have you done? So that’s my first test goal. My second test is authenticity and the kids judge authenticity and the kids judge, whether they can trust that person for what they’re saying. And you see it every time a supply teacher walks into a classroom. And I can tell you within two minutes, that class knows whether they’re going to do work or whether they’re going to pick on this teacher.

Dave Conlon (12:37):
So it’s the audience, the teams that are in that room that decide. So when I say to young speakers, I say, I need to see you in front of a student audience. I know your video. Doesn’t matter to me. I need to see you in front of a live audience. And then I will get the vibe, whether they’re connecting with the students. And the difference is I don’t need you to connect with a hundred percent of the students, but I need you to connect with that pocket of artsy students over there, or that bunch of jocks over there, or the metal Headbangers over there. I’m reminded of, , we went into a Saskatchewan into Weyburn, brought Cody Diener rustling, and, um, Cody did his presentation for the whole school. And he’s great. He’s an amazing speaker. And at the end about six guys came up, who I would say, are your fringe candidates in your school?

Dave Conlon (13:30):
And they said, oh, that was really cool, man. And um, Cody said, oh great. They said, yeah, we usually dip these assemblies in Weyburn speak. That means they skipped the assembly, but they said, we checked it out and heard you’re a wrestler. We thought it was worth staying for. So it was cool. You did a good job. That was the highest praise. Cause those are guys, they don’t skip assemblies because they don’t go, they check it out and they say, am I going to get another lecture? They’re not getting another lecture. Cody was there. He connected with that group. He connected with other kids in the room, but that group really got his message. So that’s what I look for because, um, not every speaker is going to connect with every kid, but they’re going to connect with a small group. So those are all things that I look for. That’s all.

Sam Demma (14:17):
Awesome. And I mean, I was looking at your new and improved website. I know the blog is something you’re really passionate about and sharing a ton of ideas. I even saw.

Dave Conlon (14:27):
Those are the ideas that, that have been out there. And I want kids to see those ideas because I know some kid in new Brunswick is going to look at that idea and say, I can do that and I can do it better. And that’s exactly what I want is for them to see that crazy idea or that fun idea, that community aspect and say, I want to do it. So we’ve got over 250 ideas on the above, beyond blog. So it’s kind of like a Pinterest for crazy student activities and leadership. So that’s, we’re hoping.

Sam Demma (14:58):
I love it. And I saw the video from the national conference, the promo video, and it pumped me up. I know this year, things might be a little bit different. What’s going on behind the scenes. So what are you guys planning and working on right now?

Dave Conlon (15:11):
Well, right now we’ve like anybody, we let’s start with school. School’s impossible right now. It’s almost as that, like every school has been invited to play basketball. Well, we all know how to play basketball, but they haven’t told us the size of the court. They haven’t told us how high the nets are and the refs haven’t shown up yet with the new rule book. So nobody knows what’s going on. Like that’s the situation. Most schools are finding themselves in. So as soon as they figure that out, we’re going to be able to help them. And we’re ready with number one, we’ve got an online curriculum for student certification. So if you’ve gone online with your leadership, because you can’t do it in class, we’ve got that. So there’s four levels there. Um, we’re online this very week with a student spirit week at our, on our Instagram of CSLA, Canadian student leaders.

Dave Conlon (16:01):
So all of those things are happening and we hope to run some online horizons, but we’re going to wait until schools are settled till they figure things out. And we think that’s going to happen sometime after Thanksgiving. And then we’ll be able to say, because schools, kids, teachers, they don’t want us bugging say, Hey, we got this, we got this, we got this. No, they have to figure out how high the nuts are, how big the court is. And then we’ll be able to help them. And we’ve gone online with a lot of our stuff at a know like speakers like yourself have gone online for performing, performing to schools and talking to school. So we’re going to invite you and other speakers to connect with the kids that, connect with us.

Sam Demma (16:46):
No, that’s awesome. And I’m wondering, I know you shared this story about Paul and the impact you had on him in your class. You mentioned that you have so many others. And I think stories when told effectively can change our feelings. And again, there’s an educator listening to this right now. Who’s burnt out who maybe hasn’t had a Paul moment for themselves in awhile. Can you share maybe one or two more stories? You can even change the name for privacy reasons just to re inspire or reignite that hope in it and an educator.

Dave Conlon (17:17):
There’s a couple things that I learned. And I only learned it when I retired. Was it kids don’t tell you immediately what a change or what it meant to them. How many times has a student walk? I started out as an English teacher and I had never had a student at the end of the class go, Mr. Conlon, you rocked my world. They don’t do that. You know, so I retired. And then all of a sudden I started getting all these emails as Caitlyn. I heard you’re retired. I just got to tell you, and I hear about something happened 10 years ago, or I hear about something that I honestly don’t even remember doing. And these are kids who it made so much to their growth and so much to their, their life in school that kids don’t tell you, um, kids make things happen.

Dave Conlon (18:07):
And then they realize later how important it was to them. But I think of my own children, I have four kids and each one of them in their school career, Mehta teacher who made a difference and believe it or not, they went to the same elementary school. So they’d basically the same elementary teachers. They went to the same high school. So they had almost the very same high school teachers. And yet for each of my kids, it was a different teacher who made a difference for them. And I think of a girl that I met as actually a, the horizons that you spoke at and she was in the audience and she was part of our student council. And the reason that I liked her in our student council was she was so gullible. Like she would believe that anything that I would tell her and I was, I wasn’t picking on her.

Dave Conlon (18:57):
We were having fun. And she would come back from war and she grew and became a strong student leader by the end, she was valedictorian. But I just thought of her as a really nice together kid. I only found out about five years ago, she came and had coffee with my secretary and myself and said, you guys don’t understand what you created for me. You created a home. My home life was not very good. I didn’t know that I knew this girl, but I thought pretty, pretty well. I knew her sister. She said my home life, wasn’t fun. And you guys created a home and something for me to grow from. And I only learned that I knew her as a great, competent, and I thought put together kid. But I only learned that just five years ago. And I’ve been retired for nine. So, you know, you don’t, you don’t know what you do for kids.

Dave Conlon (19:54):
And it’s often I say, it’s the tap on the shoulder. I’ve tapped so many kids on the shoulder just because I thought they’d be good for something. And they haven’t taken me up on it. And that’s okay. And there’s other kids that I’ve tapped on the shoulder and they’ve done it. And they it’s been amazing. So I say to teachers, don’t be afraid to tap a kid on the shoulder because how did I get involved in student leadership? Because another teacher tapped me on the shoulder as a young teacher and said, Hey, Conlon you got an English background you can write, or you got to know something about these new fangled computers. So we need that come and join us. And I did. And I’ve had fun ever since. So it’s been quite a ride for me. I’ve enjoyed it. Wow.

Sam Demma (20:33):
That’s awesome. And you’ve been doing this for a long time, so much so that people now call you the gram stir. Where does the name come from?

Dave Conlon (20:42):
Well, it came from my birth of the first grandchild and my wife turned to me and she said, ah, so what are you going to call yourself? And I said, well, what do you mean Dave is good enough? And she said, no, no. We have a grandchild and you get to pick your name. And I said, well, what are you going to call yourself? And she said, grad. And I said, cool. So I thought about it. And I said, I got it. The grand master capital T capital G lug hamster, and my wife hated it. She said, no, you’re not going to call yourself that. And I said, yes, I am. And my own children for kids, you know, there’s a dad, you’re not going to call yourself the Gramp stir. And I said, yes, I am. And my grandson and my granddaughter call me grandma, sister. And that’s what it is. It’s a, it’s something I’m proud of. And as I say, the kids, there are moments that you can, you can make a difference and make a change and become who you want to be. I’m the grandmaster.

Sam Demma (21:44):
Dave, the grand master capital T capital G. It’s been a pleasure having you on here. It seems as though you’ve done many of these, you’re great at it. I appreciate you taking some time to chat. If another educator out there, somewhere in the world, listening to this wants to reach out to you, have a cool conversation or just bounce some ideas around how can they do that?

Dave Conlon (22:03):
I always answer emails. It’s DConlon@studentleadership.ca. And that email is on the student leadership.ca website. , I’m always available and love to share ideas. And it’s much better talking one-on-one because you tell me what you’re doing in your school, what level you’re at and what students that you’re working with. And we’ll find an idea and a program that works for you because I’ve been doing it for a long time and there’s not a textbook kind of approach to anything. You have to make it your own. And there’s a lot of activity, people, leadership, people that I respect a lot. And I look at what they do. And I say, I can’t do it like that because it’s different. It’s like someone who’s a great cook. They mixed and meld all the spices and the tastes together. So great teachers are like that. They make it their own. They’re different. and that’s what I’ll do. I’ll provide the smorgasborg of ideas you pick and choose what works for you.

Sam Demma (23:10):
Cool, Dave, thank you so much. If you have any last idea or word of wisdom or catchphrase or anything you’d like to share with an educator, now’s a chance to do so.

Dave Conlon (23:21):
I honestly think that in the big game of life, being a teacher is one of the best, best games of all. Um, you get to work with some pretty amazing kids and I think you get to change the world in a positive way. And that’s, what’s kept me fired up about teaching and it still keeps me going. I said I’ve been retired for nine years. And the beautiful thing about being involved with this association is I get to travel. And when horizons conferences are back up and running, I go into some of the best schools in the country. And I see some of the best kids in the country, and that’s not just one province. That’s every province, that’s north and south. , there are some truly amazing students and truly amazing teachers and in this country. And that gives me hope and gives me great positive vibes for the potential of this country and the students in it. Awesome.

Sam Demma (24:19):
Thanks so much for coming today. It’s been a pleasure.

Dave Conlon (24:21):
Well, thank you, Sam, all the best. And I think this is an awesome idea. Running a podcast for teachers and students. Great job.

Sam Demma (24:29):
I hope you enjoy today’s interview with the one and the only Dave Conlon. If you enjoyed this show, I have one ask of you, please take two seconds to leave a rating and review. So more educators, all of your friends and colleagues can find this podcast and listen to it and please share it with them. Tell them to check it out. If you found this episode valuable in any way, shape or form. And if you want to come on the show because you have some ideas to share and inspiration to provide, please shoot us an email: info@samdemma.com and let’s get you on the high-performing educator podcast as well. I’ll see you in the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Conlon

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.