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Sam Demma

Carl Cini – Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Carl Cini - Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)
About Carl Cini

Carl Cini (@cjrpc55) is the Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He began his career at Loyola CSS in 1995. Since then, Carl has been a Law, History and Economics teacher at St. Joseph CSS and St. Edmund Campion CSS. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel CSS, John Cabot CSS and St. Joan of Arc CSS before becoming a Principal.

During the past 27 years, it has been a pleasure to mentor students to see them grow in so many ways. Carl is focused on provided a variety of opportunities for students to grow into well rounded adults. He can be seen in the gym, on the field, in the audience, driving the bus and visiting classrooms to see students in action. He celebrates the success of every student. Carl firmly believes that we only as successful as our students and teachers, and with that in mind, reaches each individual in the way that student and teacher will best learn.

Connect with Carl Cini: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga

St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School

St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Carl welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Carl Cini (00:10):
My name is Carl Cini and I am the principal of Iona Catholic Secondary School in Missassauga.


Sam Demma (00:17):
At what point in your educational journey did you realize you wanted to be in?


Carl Cini (00:26):
Well, when I was in university, when I first went to university, I thought, you know, I’m gonna go into business and go make money and all of those things and the more and more I took courses, well, I took my first business course. I didn’t like it, so that didn’t help. And and then the, the more and more I started, you know, doing things around campus and, and the courses that I was taking, I did some volunteer were and some coaching. At that point I realized that that working with young people was gonna be my calling.


Sam Demma (00:52):
That’s amazing. When you say the things, when you say doing things around campus, what did that look like? Or what were the things you got involved with that made you realize this work was meaningful and something you really wanted to do?


Carl Cini (01:06):
Well, I had more to do with sort of hang on one second.


Sam Demma (01:11):
No worries.


Carl Cini (01:19):
When I was at university I was a tour guide. I was a mentor to like new people that came to my campus and did a little bit of peer tutoring. I was involved with with student council and and just, and then as I said, coaching, I was coaching basketball for young people and coaching a team in our, it was an as a competitive intermural league. And so I was there as well. And like I said, the more and more I got involved and the more and more I was talking to people in you know, in other years it just kind of made me think a little bit about some of the mentorship I didn’t get when I was in school and and thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to you know, to share my talents and to share my experience with other young people and to help them grow and develop.

Sam Demma (02:13):
Paint the picture. So you, you finish your degree or your teaching degree and what did the journey look like from there?

Carl Cini (02:22):
Okay. So, I mean, I will give even the journey, getting to teachers college was not an easy one. Yeah, please. It took a couple years for me to get into teach interest college and and even at the time it was very much based on marks and not so much on experience and other things. So I didn’t, I didn’t get in, I applied a couple times. I didn’t get in. I remember being at U of T and sitting in a meeting with all the other people that got rejected and being asked you know, being told, you know, if you have experience and, and you have decent marks, and this is your second time around, you know, you might wanna book a meeting with the registrar and see what’s happening. So I booked a meeting, I went into the meeting and the guy basically told me at the time, he said, you’re got good marks.

Carl Cini (03:08):
You got good experience. But your application just lacked, possess. Well, unfortunately at that point I kind of was like, okay, I came all the way down here and you tell me my application. And I kinda said to him, so if I put in old folders, I mean, it’s gonna be any better than it was. And I went on a bit of a tie rate to say that, you know, what your system is flawed. You can’t pick people so solely based on marks. And that, there’s lots of other things that, that encapsulate being a good teacher, but by the time it was all over, he’s like, oh, I guess we made a mistake. And then he let me in on they on appeal. Wow. And so I made it through teachers college, which was a phenomenal year. I, I was with some really, really great people. Interestingly in that year, all of us that were on student union were all students that got in on appeal.

Carl Cini (03:56):
I thought it was a bit of an interesting process back when that happened. And then, you know, and I graduated, I took a, a job at school by the water at Harbor front leading field trips in may and June. And then I got my, you know, I got on a Duffin peel, got called for a supply job the first day of school. And as they say, the rest is history. So they it was it was a bit of a journey.

Sam Demma (04:19):
You’re not the only one who’s had a journey going to education. Every educator has a different story. How did you pick yourself up and keep going when you were kind of facing those barriers or the nos and the rejections?

Carl Cini (04:37):
And I knew, I, I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Like they, they talk about education being a vocation or being a calling. And that’s exactly what it was like for me, it was like nobody was going to stop me from going to do it. Like, in fact, I mean, I would have, at that time when I was going through this you know, if we didn’t get an Ontario teacher’s college, there was always the option to go to the us to the Buffalo schools. And I have a number of who are excellent teachers who did their EDU, their education education in in Buffalo. So I was all set and ready to go to Buffalo and you know, had all my paperwork in and, and I did everything I needed to do to get in. And then I just happened to get in, in Ontario instead. So I chose you know, I always, to me anyways, it was, would’ve been better to to be in Ontario then to have to go to another jurisdiction. I had friends that went to Australia for teachers college. I mean, I was prepared to do and go wherever in order to, to go into, go into education.

Sam Demma (05:34):
Understood the willingness to do whatever it takes is something that I think is super important, not only in be coming an educator, but any path you choose to pursue in life. So I appreciate you sharing that little insight and story. What, what, so once you got accepted tell me more about the journey from the moment you got into education to where you are now.

Carl Cini (05:59):
So I originally at the, and again, this was like 94. At that time, I, I mean, I always wanted to be a high school, a high school teacher. However, I also knew that the jobs are few and far between for my qualifications. So my qualifications are in my degrees in economics and politics. So I didn’t really have great teachables to go into secondary plus at the time I know that there was a push to have more men hired into elementary schools. So I did my teacher’s education and junior intermediate. And because of my economics degree, I had quite a bit of math. So I was able to, to start to go through that, that angle. And so I went through and, you know, took my, my courses for English and history and intermediate. And then I continued through teacher’s college.

Carl Cini (06:47):
And then, like I said, when it was over, I I took it the, the best education job I could find, which was leading field trips. And then when I, I applied to almost every school board that I could think of I will say the only thing is I only applied to Catholic school boards. I did not apply to the public school boards. I mean, my education has been in Catholic schools. And, and even when I went to university, I went to Kings college at Western and I specifically chose a Catholic university to go to, because it, to me faith is, is a very important part of, of everything that we do. And so I did want to work in a Catholic school board. So I applied to all of them, ended up getting a position at Duffin peel. And, and again, at that time, you used to have to check a box as to what you wanted to supply teach for, whether it be for areas in elementary, secondary, or for French. So I just checked on up all the boxes. And then on the first day of school, I got a call from a high school that they needed me to come into supply teach. And again, I was there supplying for about the first three weeks before I got my first LTO job at Loyola. And it’s been fantastic.

Sam Demma (07:56):
You mentioned you took the best job you could get in education and they, it was leading field trips, which I think is amazing. When you just were starting out, what, what, what about leading field trips do you think was so special?

Carl Cini (08:11):
Oh, I, I thought it was great. I mean, first of all would be the outdoor part of it. We were outside all the time and the program was different depending on what grade we had and and what exactly the, the field trip was about. So there was certain themes with regards to the field trips, if I recall. And you know, a lot of it had to do with the history of Toronto and how Toronto developed. And, you know, we were, I remember showing pictures, standing on a parking garage and showing students pictures of what the Toronto skyline looked like in 1880, what it looked like in 1912, what it looked like in 1950. So students can see the growth and development of Toronto and just being able to work with different students from a whole variety of different grades. It also had me even have a better idea as to what I wanted to do when I, you know, sort of a grade that I might wanna teach when I get to when I get to schools. And then the other part, just the flexibility of the whole thing. You know, learning very clearly that you have to be flexible and you have to tailor your, your pedagogy and tailor what you do to the students who are before you at that specific time.

Sam Demma (09:15):
Understood, understood, and the different roles you’ve held in education which one has been the most meaningful for you. And I know it’s a difficult question to ask because they all provide such awesome experiences and can give you, you know, the opportunity and ability to make a very positive impact. But what’s your role, have you found the most, me meaningful or enjoyable as well personally?

Carl Cini (09:41):
Well, I think I might have to separate those two people and enjoyable. I mean, I really did enjoy being a classroom teacher and and I really loved it. And then I became a department head for canner world studies and, you know, being able to be in the classroom every day, I, I missed C tremendously. But I will, but then I will turn around and say that the most meaningful job I’ve had is the one that I’m in right now. Hmm. I think being a principal of the school it, it was interesting before I became an, like I told I did not wanna do this job. I remember scoffing at people who wanted to be principals at one time, cuz I’m like, why would you wanna be away from the kids that our job is to work directly with our students.

Carl Cini (10:20):
Yeah. And that, you know, to put yourself in those positions put, takes you away from that. And I reached the point in my career. I had an administrator who who kept pushing me to do, to become, you know, to go into administration. And and he made a comment to me where he said to me that, you know, when you’re in your classroom, you influence the students that are around you. And then you coach and you participate. And, you know, your 90 students are a hundred, maybe whatever, 120 students every day that you get to influence. And when you move into a leadership position, you influence more and more and more students. Cause I mean, as a, as a classroom teacher, not every student’s gonna have you, not every student is gonna be in your class. And I mean, I know that I sat at graduations and, you know, when we had some really big graduating classes at 400, 450 students and they’d be walking across stage and I’m like, I don’t know who that kid is.

Carl Cini (11:10):
I’ve never seen that kid before. Mm. Because they did, you know, they didn’t take the classes that I taught. They didn’t, you know, or maybe they did. And then I wasn’t their teacher or, or they didn’t participate in the co-curricular activities that I supervised. So I, I couldn’t know them all. But, but then as you continue to grow and you continue to move into leadership, not only do you influence more students, but you also get to influence the teachers and you influence the systems and the runnings of the school so that everybody is impacted by. So you get to increase your impact on the, you know, on the number of, of individuals as you move into leadership positions. And, and that I think is incredibly, incredibly meaningful as a principal. And even talking to my other principal colleagues where, you know, we will call each other when we’re having the dilemma and how we’re gonna deal with this, or how we’re gonna deal with that. And you know, and then again, you’re also being able to have an impact on even other schools that you’re not even really a part of, because you can be part of those conversations on a, on a, on a more broader scale,

Sam Demma (12:14):
Such a good point. You bring up, you also get to witness probably from a bird’s eye view, how different programs and bigger initiatives are impacting the whole school, like school culture. And you probably get to from a, another large perspective bird’s eye view, see how students are being impacted by these programs as, as well. Have you over the past, you know, dozen years you you’ve been working or more than a dozen years over your whole you know, career, have you witnessed programs that you’ve brought into schools or that your teachers brought into schools have an impact on the students? And can you remember any of those stories of student who is very transformed by something in the school? That kind of is a hopeful story. I think these types of stories during a difficult time remind educators, why the work they do is so important. And I’m wondering if you have any that come to mind.

Carl Cini (13:08):
I mean, there’s a number of, of programs that that I’ve been able to be a part of. And, and I have to say, say, I can’t take credit for any of these programs because I never did them by myself. It always requires a team approach in which to do that. And I know that as a, you know, this is my 15th year as an administrator that my role is, is in supporting what teachers do, because my other thing with any program is any program has to have legs programs, have to outlive you the person and have to outlive the people who do it because they’re gonna change. So whether they move schools or not, every student deserves that, that kind of quality programming, regardless of the person who is in front of them to deliver it, or whoever happens to lead their school or not.

Carl Cini (13:50):
So I’ve always been very cognizant of trying to make sure that whatever it is that we run is something that’s gonna have a long, you know, a longer standing tradition or legacy if you wish you know, moving forward. So, I mean, an example, one of the schools I was in, they had a program for the students that were in that were taking locally developed classes. So these are some reluctant learners or students that had some learning disabilities. And, and the program was set up. It was, I thought it was a phenomenal program and I was happy to be a part of it to help, to support that where students would take so courses would be paired up. So students would do religion and the learning strategies class and they would do it all year long. So it’d be the same teacher teaches both those courses, but it was all year long.

Carl Cini (14:37):
And then the other was science and math. So in period one and two, those students were together. They, we were able to take courses instead of teaching them in a semester, we were able to teach them over the course of the full year. And then as the day progressed you know, they ended up being able to take their elective classes. And a lot, a lot of leadership was put into those classes because it was the same the same four teachers over the course of the whole year that were working with those students with academic resource you know, we were able to spread the curriculum out and by doing that, we could fit in more leadership opportunities. And there were many of those students who may not have been college bound who ended up being college bound because of the program.

Carl Cini (15:20):
You know, I always find it interesting. I mean, we really don’t know the impact of the programs that we ha that we develop or that we put in place for students until almost years later. So I mean, I remember meeting a student from that program. I was at the grocery store and the student was there and the student came up to me and said, Hey, sir, do you remember me? And, you know, again, I, I get good, I’m good with faces, but sometimes after a certain amount of time, you can only keep so many names in your head. So, you know, I said, you know, yeah, I REM I do remember you, but I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name student told me their name. And they had said like, what a transformative, what a great support they felt in that program at that school. And that they, that I think they’re is now they’re an electrician and that they never would’ve been able to do that, or even have the confidence to continue to go forward and run their own business if they weren’t in that program to start off with,

Sam Demma (16:11):
Wow, it’s, it’s such a cool thing to reflect on because there’s so many people listening to this who are probably considering education as a vocation, or who might feel like it’s the right thing for them to pursue. Or there could be some educators tuning in who have been burnt out by the challenges over the past couple of years. And I think at the heart of this work is the students and, you know, seeing them transform or seeing them resonate with an idea shared in class or seeing something that’s done in school support. Hello them. Oh, can you hear me? Hello? Hello? Hello. Oh, oh, there we go. Sorry. I must have cut out there for a second. Right? I’ll edit that part. No worries. I was just saying, thank you so much for sharing that story. I think at the heart of education is the students and for an educator listening, who is just considering getting into this vocation or who thinks it’s right for them, you know, what a great reminder that the work that you’re go going to be able to do can transform kids and change lives. And then what a great reminder to an educator who might be burnt out right now as to why this work is so important. What are, what are some of the challenges that your school community has faced over the past, you know, two years? And what are some of the opportunities that you think have come out of the times as well?

Carl Cini (17:33):
There’s been tons of challenges. COVID has forced us. And I think it’s, again, you’re right. It’s a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, because all of this, you know, the, the in and out, and sometimes we’re virtual, sometimes we’re not, you know, hybrid and all of those things what it has done is it’s forced us to re-look at what we do, how we do. So I’ll give you an example. When we first in that March of 2020, when we first went on lockdown and we had to, you know, start to move things to a to a virtual virtual platform. And I remember talking to specifically our math and science teachers and saying, you, we really need to have a look at that curriculum and you need to separate your curriculum into two categories, the must haves and the nice to haves.

Carl Cini (18:24):
And, you know, that was the beginning of, of starting to re-look at what we teach and how we teach it. And really how important is the stuff that we have done on a regular basis so that we can change it, not just to fit a different platform and a different delivery system because that’s also been the hard part. There are many teachers who have wonderful presence with kids and have relied on that presence you know, to forward and, and to move their program forward and be able to take a advantage of those teachable moments and, you know, and those connections that come from being in the same room as the te you know, teachers and students being in the same room. However, when we went to a virtual virtual mode of learning where students didn’t necessarily have their cameras on, there was a distance that took place.

Carl Cini (19:10):
You couldn’t see each other. I mean, and I mean, everybody knows this, that when you’re with someone in a room, the personal connection, and I guess, you know, again, not to the person with the vibes and the mojo that takes place between the connection between those two individuals is so different than when you’re trying to speak to somebody through a screen especially when that individual’s not necessarily responding. So again, it forced teachers to rethink, you know, how they do what they do. And, and that’s been a huge challenge because there’s, I mean, teachers love consistency. And and normally we work on predictability as there’s so many variables in EDU in teaching that they’re and things that we don’t know that can change the way we do what we do. You know, a big challenge, as well as the mental health of our students.

Carl Cini (19:55):
You know, the way that COVID hit the best I thing I saw was a was a cartoon. And it was circulating around quite a bit during COVID that we may all be in the same storm, but we’re all not in the same boat. And, you know, you’re in a yacht, or if you’re in a cruise ship, you’re gonna feel that a lot differently than if you’re bombing around on a piece of it. So, you know, depending on the situation that some of these students were in and, you know, some of them were taken out of their safe space for a lot of ’em school was the place where they were safe and where they grow. And it’s, it’s sad to say, but for some students, home is not a safe place, and yet they were forced to stay in that home and not go anywhere for an extended period of time.

Carl Cini (20:32):
So trying to teach whether it’s math or science or history to a student who has very, who is mentally not doing very well they’re not gonna learn a whole heck of a lot. So there was a lot of learning that had to take place amongst the, the teachers so that they could do things differently. And there was a lot more that we had to learn about our students. I mean, it was pretty personal when you, you think about the fact that you were in a student’s bedroom or in a student’s kitchen or in a student’s home that we would never have seen before.

Sam Demma (21:04):
Yeah.

Carl Cini (21:06):
A student at school.

Sam Demma (21:07):
Such a good point. It, the challenges are similar. I I’ve interviewed a lot of educators and, and the challenges are similar. And I was intrigued by the opportunity. You mentioned about the list of the must haves and the, maybe not as important things, but are things that we could change. Do you have any examples of things that actually changed or like things that were adjusted or, or analyzed or looked more closely at that you think are starting to shift?

Carl Cini (21:38):
Yeah. I mean, I look at our math curriculum is a big part of that, right? So again, the, the idea of going through this, this process of having, you know, the, the must haves and the nice to haves means that you have to know your curriculum top to bottom. So it kind of forced our math department to be able to see all the courses. So what’s the continuum. So, you know, if a kid happens to be taking grade nine or grade 10 academic math, you know, they can possibly go and take either 11 U math or they can take 11 M math. So then what are the really, really important skills that they need to the master in order for them to be successful at the next course? Hmm. So it, it did force a more global view of what it is that we were doing.

Carl Cini (22:17):
It also forced teachers, I think, to have a look at the curriculum documents and look at our overall expectations. So, I mean, again, math was a perfect example. They, I know in the grade 10 academic math, there were a number of of certain expectations around around, I think it was geometry that were, that were dropped because it’s like, well, they’re not gonna see this unless they happen to be taking a specific course in grade 12. Mm. So, you know, let’s, you know, do the things that they need to know the more number sense and, and factoring and, and things like that. I know science was the same. I and then, I mean, my, my subject area was history. And so I was speaking to our history teachers and trying to implore them to, you know, not spend all this time doing world war I and world war II.

Carl Cini (23:03):
And let’s get, you know, let’s start moving, maybe move that stuff a little bit farther down the line and or a little bit faster doing it a little bit faster so that we can get kids to see themselves in history curriculum. Which I think which more and more important considering they’re living a historical event. I mean, you know, even what we’re seeing right now. Yeah. How we taught that great tennis course forever. What we’ve just seen is really reliving the, the Winnipeg general strike and the lead up to the Winnipeg general strike in 1919. So, you know, all of that becomes more and more important in making sure that it’s connected to things that we’re doing now, instead of spending, you know, all kinds of time talking about, you know, maybe world war II battles or or spending, you know, additional time on the rise of the nineties and things like that that are still important. I mean, everything’s important, there, there’s, there’s no doubt that, that these pieces of content are important, but contextualizing it so that the student can see themselves in the curriculum becomes really important, especially when you don’t have all the tools that you would normally have in, in which the teacher program.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Yeah, totally agree. Not to mention the real time events like what’s occurring right now in Ukraine. Like things like that can be brought into the classroom and have such an impact or conversation, you know?

Carl Cini (24:15):
Yeah, definitely.

Sam Demma (24:16):
That makes total sense. That’s awesome. It’s cool to hear that things are shifting and changing and the opportunities are being looked at. If, if you could, if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, kind of bundle it up, travel back in time, tap, you know, tap your younger self on the shoulder. And when you were just starting in education, knowing what you know now, what advice or feedback would you, would you give to yourself?

Carl Cini (24:45):
There’s a few things I think I would say to myself, I, I, I think the first one is the patient. There’s no rush. So I mean, even to go back what we talked about before, I mean our job, most of the time we are not going to see, we’re not always going to see the progress our students make. And particularly in our most difficult students, I mean, our job is to plant seeds and seeds, you know, germinate and they grow at a great, and so do the students that are in front of us, and yes, we’re gonna see students grow and develop, but we can’t focus all our energy on those because it makes us feel good to see that progress when it’s really the students who maybe we don’t see the progress at the same rate, who we’re probably doing the best work with and the ones that we really need to focus on.

Carl Cini (25:25):
So I would say, be patient, be patient with the students who, and their, their growth and development. Not everything has to be done right away be patient with yourself. You gonna make a lot of mistakes. And you know, there’s gonna be lots of things that you don’t know and you need to be kind to yourself and you need to be patient that you’re gonna be able to handle those things that, that come your way. I mean, there, one of the things that I’m hopefully other sure others have said the same to you before is, I mean, E education brings a lot of sleepless nights. Mm. And, and a lot of o’clock wake ups going, man, I probably could have handled that situation better. Or, you know, I could have, you know, maybe I should have said this to this student instead of that.

Carl Cini (26:04):
Or, you know what, I should have said this at this point, which would’ve maybe created a, a better aha moment for the student. And I did it. And, and all of that takes so much time in order in, in order to figure that out and to go through that. So I think the biggest advice I would give to myself or to any new educator is, is be patient. And then the other one I would say is ask for help. You’re not going is by yourself. You’re not going through it alone. I, I mean, when you’re coming in, in your first year teaching, and you’ve never taught a class before, you can’t know what, you know, when you’re 10 years in, or when you’re 15 years in, because all those experiences teach you how to navigate those situations. And, and there are people in your school and people who, you know, your whatever network that you’ve created, who have been through it before. So don’t be afraid to ask for help as well. You don’t have to know everything.

Sam Demma (26:57):
This isn’t again, only advice for education, but I like it’s such universal stuff. And I’ve appreciate you sharing that and like, reflecting back on your own experiences. This has been a phenomenal conversation. It’s already been 30 minutes. We’re getting close to the end here. If, if somebody listening wants to reach out, ask you a question, send you a note or a message. What would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Carl Cini (27:24):
The best way would be via email. My my board email account. carl.cini@dpcdsb.ca

Sam Demma (27:37):
Awesome. Carl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Carl Cini (27:45):
Thanks.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Carl Cini

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.

Andrew Boon – Principal at Notre Dame College School

Andrew Boon - Principal at Notre Dame College School (NCDSB)
About Andrew Boon

Andrew Boon is the Principal at Notre Dame College School in Welland, Ontario. He is the recipient of the 2021 Inspiration Award from the Niagara Catholic District School Board and currently is in his 25th year in Education. Andrew started his career working in behaviour programs and Special Education.

He moved into the role of Vice-Principal, working in various schools. This is his fourth year as a secondary school Principal at Niagara Catholic. Aside from being a fanatic of the Beatles, Andrew enjoys coaching the girl’s hockey program at Notre Dame and enhancing the extracurricular opportunities for all of his students. He strongly believes that kindness, care and humour will help each student find their unique potential.

Connect with Andrew Boon: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Welland teen awarded time with the Super Locker | The Star

‘Be Someone’s Taco’: Toronto youth speaker inspires students to pay it forward with kindness

Notre Dame College School in Welland, Ontario

Niagara Catholic District School Board: Home

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Andrew welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Andrew Boon (00:09):
Thanks very much, Sam. Yeah, my name’s Andrew Boon. I’m a principal at Notre Dame college school in Welland Ontario. And yeah, proud, proud principal of this place. I was, I know we were doing a little bit of chatting before, but just letting everyone know, I guess the special place it has in my heart. I went here as a student. I spent my first 10 years teaching here before getting into administration and now moved here. This is my first year back as the principal and so super excited to be here.


Sam Demma (00:40):
When did you realize throughout your own journey that you wanted to get into education as your career?


Andrew Boon (00:48):
Well, for me, my, I grew up in a family of teachers. Actually, my father was a retired teacher now. And for me you know, it’s that, I, I guess the light bulb moment is for me happened with some of the teachers I had actually in this building. And for me that’s another of why it’s pretty amazing to, to be back here. And for me, that impact that they had on me and, and feeling like I might be able to, to try to do that for students. So for me, I went to a, a concurrent program at McGill and they, the nice thing about that program is they, they throw you in right away, year one, you’re, you’re at, you’re in a school for a short placement. And, and that was the moment I kind of knew like, yes, this is absolutely what I want to do and, and and spend the rest of my life professionally doing.


Sam Demma (01:37):
Tell me a little more about what the educators did for you in this building when you were a student that really stuck out in your mind, if you can think of some of those experience is, or even some of the people, if you wanna mention them.


Andrew Boon (01:49):
I have no problem mentioning them. The one that comes to mind right off the bat is her name’s Kathy McPherson. She was a instrumental teacher for me. I was lucky to have her for a few different subject areas, but predominantly in English. And and she was some, she was also, I, I was on student council. I was involved in that, but she was also one of the moderators and someone that kind of just innate kindness and care and caring for students. And you felt it, and it’s, what’s great about her is that, you know, you could interview literally a thousand people that would tell you the same thing. And so you know, I think as students, we often learn sometimes when we make mistakes and for me, some of those mistakes that I made as a student where she helped guide me and, and showed that compassion and, and and care that helped I think send me in the right direction and not just, and, and motivate right. And so for me she was a big piece of that. I think everybody will have that teacher that they can talk about. And who’s still very present in, in what shapes them and for her, for me. Anyway, Kathy was certainly that person.


Sam Demma (03:06):
You went to the concurrent program. What was your first role in education and what did the journey look like to bring you to principal at this school today?


Andrew Boon (03:17):
The first placement I had was actually teaching a vied class at a, a school in Montreal and in Montreal, the high schools under that the C E system. So their grades were seven to 11. There wasn’t a massive difference between a first year university student and, you know, potentially a 16 year old in grade 11. Right. and it was funny cuz the very first thing that happened to me was I had I had some money stolen from me if you can believe it. And it was literally like, oh, okay, so this is happening. And it was a tough school, but there was some great kids, even in that 10 days that just kind of gave me that again, that feeling of that this is what I wanted to do and what I loved about the program, it’d be quite fair too, is that for, you know, if you’re, if you’re in this business, if you’re teaching, you gotta love what you do in terms, you gotta love kids.


Andrew Boon (04:15):
You gotta love trying to support them. What I liked about that program is that there are a few people that did placement in their first year and it quickly dawned on them that they do not like this. And so you know, to their credit, they were able to say, well, hang on a second, this isn’t for me. But for the rest of us, that, that were in that you did a placement every year, whether it was in that you did a special ed placement it wasn’t just like you, you did your education and then you went out, they, they tried to give you that practical experience each and every year, which I felt was so important because it actually reinforced what you, what you felt about what’s happening in the school. There’s a big difference, obviously, between your theory and, and your in classes content, but then when you get into those placements or you really see, and I think for the other part to that was, I, I had a, a placement in, in Montreal. They, they tried to put you in a a public school and a private school to give you two different placement experiences. And they were most certainly different. But each of which brought a number of fantastic people and experiences that I I’m so grateful for.


Sam Demma (05:24):
How did Montreal bring you back here? Like,


Andrew Boon (05:27):
Yeah, well, it’s funny cuz there was that in that particular time you know, teaching jobs were definitely a little bit harder to come by and I remember putting out my my resume right across the country and I was quite prepared to, to go anywhere. I, at one point I was very close to actually going to Japan. I, I applied to this jet program. It was called and basically was, went through this, you know, ridiculous interview process and then and then was offered the job and but I was playing football at McGill. I had an opportunity to try to take a shot at the CFO. And so for me that was was one of the other, I couldn’t do both. And so I, I decided to do that no regrets, but when all was said and done I got an interview request with our what is now the Niagara Catholic school board. So it was very it was a definitely a bit of a homecoming, very surreal, but, but obviously a blessing when you, you think of everything else that has happened,


Sam Demma (06:40):
Education looks very different now than it did probably when you first started hopefully slightly and then even more so in the past couple of years with the pandemic, definitely You’ve been in a fortunate school that hasn’t been affected as much. What has the school culture been like over the past two years?


Andrew Boon (06:58):
Well, the interesting thing for me as a principal here, even coming in new, I was very much a part of this Notre Dame community. My daughter graduated from here. My son is is currently a student here. Nice. I dunno how happy he is about that. You know, that being the principal, but I think he’s managed it very well. So I’ve kind of been still within that Notre Dame culture and there’s, you know, I know probably everybody says this but there’s something special about this building and this place and you know, that we’re I feel, again, I keep saying it about how lucky I feel to be back here. And I do know that the, the teaching staff and the extended community the level of care that they exhibit to us, to students right across this entire city and, and region is something that is incredibly special. I, and again, so I you’ll hear that probably from everybody when they talk about their schools, but of course I feel that, you know, it’s something unique here


Sam Demma (08:02):
Is football a big aspect of Notre Dame?


Andrew Boon (08:05):
Yeah. Football’s a big deal here. Matter of fact, we just had an amazing year, our junior team won, like what is the salsa championship around here? And that, so they won the, their, the ultimate championship that you could win as a junior. And then our senior program for the first time in our history won offset which is the provincial championship. And so it was one of those fantastic years for me, you know, I love football, but it was also the fact that kids could be back doing something after COVID and actually participating and going to practice and being around each other. So for me, that was a wonderful to watch as a principal. And obviously I’m very proud of of all those kids and the effort they put in.


Sam Demma (08:51):
You grew up playing sports football as well. Do you think there’s a link between coaching and teaching? I’ve had other educators on in the past and they, they talk about coaching and teaching, and I’m curious to know from the perspective of the coach, do you think there’s similarities and then also from the perspective of an athlete do you think it helped with your grades or for your athletic growing up for your academics?


Andrew Boon (09:17):
Yeah, I absolutely think there’s that correlation. And as much as I’ve talked about, for example, Cathy, as an inspiring educator, you know, I, I had a a coach, his name’s Joe Perry who to me had a ma massive impact on, on me as a coach. And then ultimately as a, an educator you know, it was someone actually, I ended up when I returned to teaching that I ended up coaching with. So it was one of those, again, beautiful moments that happened. And and, and I, I always make, you know, like to, to think that he had a major part of my my career as a football player at McGill and beyond. So but yeah, like that, that the, the lessons learned, I guess, as an athlete for me anyways, certainly were about time management. And, you know, when I went to McGill, I, I have no problem.


Andrew Boon (10:09):
I tell the students all the time. I struggled that first year trying to figure out how to manage that. You’re jumping into a, a program that’s definitely intense, and obviously I’m very proud of, of being a Manil grad, it’s an amazing school. But you know, then you add 30 hours minimum per week for football and full course load and being on your own in a province for the first time and learning how to manage all that. So that my first year definitely struggled with it and needed to make sure that I, I reached out and took, took some help and, and figured out what’s the best way of managing my time. And that includes actually 20, like reaching back out to old coaches and, and, and having those conversations when you would, you know, end up back at home visiting or something like that. So yeah, the correlation between those two and, and time management, I, that, you know, are so important. They’re great skills that that you’re, that, you know, you’re gonna learn that you hopefully will hang onto for your, the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (11:17):
You’ve definitely witnessed some student transformations over your years in education. Maybe it was a student in your school, someone else’s school in someone else’s classroom, but, you know, a student transforming or realizing something or pursuing their passions. Isn’t the result of one individual it’s the whole community, but I’m curious to know over your career, have you seen any student transformations or seen the impact that a program has had on a young person? And if so, like what, what, what was that story? And if, if it’s a serious one, you could change their name if, if you have


Andrew Boon (11:52):
To. Yeah. I mean, I have, so when I started my teaching career I was offered a job basically teaching what was a a behavior class. And it was an alternative classroom. And the unique part about this was that a I had students that were bused from different high schools to my location here at Notre Dame. And so our, you know, our first, my first foray into teaching was a class of about 36 very challenging students and each of whom are unique, different. And so the, the, the, for me that, I mean, I feel so again, so lucky that, of all the things that you could have started to teach it was that, and I was teaching you know, English to, to, to some of these to these students and to, to be able to have an impact on them and see their transformation not just in, in a, in a, a semester, but then potentially moving forward, there are some of those students and I know I feel like an old man when I say it, but like that, that I still am in touch with and still have a great connection with, and I it’s, it’s one of those blessings where someone will tell you, well, you had an impact on me a as a teacher.


Andrew Boon (13:22):
And so that, that kind of behavior classroom was like the, you know, a great platform for really trying different things that, that, that would be applicable to, to an individual, not just a whole class. And I’m, I’m super proud of that, I guess, as an administrator, when you jump into that you can do the same thing. It’s finding those students that need that help. And, you know, there’s a few that they will say the loveliest things that, you know, somehow I had an impact on their ability to grow graduate or, or move forward. And I hold that dear to my heart, but I, I know that you know, it, it does, it takes, it takes a, a group effort as at a school when you’re surrounded by other incredible people that are helping with these kids. So yeah, I mean, I, I don’t know if I like individual stories.


Andrew Boon (14:13):
I I’ve been lucky cuz there’s, there’s a few of them. Right. And and some that are doing incredible work right now. I think the, the most satisfying thing is I see their their kindness and their, they become incredible citizens in their community. And that to me is what this is. What’s really interesting about what we do is you know, I tell this to people all the time and I betcha, even if I were to ask you this question, if I said, tell me about your high school, like a, a positive memory of high school and chances are, you’re gonna tell me about friends that you met the activities that you did that maybe trips that you went on and no offense to any of the math folks out there, but like I’ve yet to hear anyone say, oh, I remember that one math class on equations or something like that. Right? Yeah. It’s more about how did someone make you feel? Yeah. And so me, when I see some of my former students now and see what they’re doing in the community and, and as citizens, that’s the most satisfying element of, of, of what we do


Sam Demma (15:22):
For everyone tuning in today. Andrew and I am recording this on pink shirt day. So the topic of kindness is very, very relevant. , that’s awesome. I, I call those moments being someone’s taco. You can see this little


Andrew Boon (15:36):
Nice


Sam Demma (15:36):
Big taco on my shirt here. And the start of the pandemic, one of my good friends was just calling him to check in and see how he was doing. And very quickly I realized he wasn’t feeling too great. And just asked myself, you know, what can I do to make him feel a little better figure? He didn’t wanna make dinner that night. So I went on his Facebook to figure out what foods he liked, eating and found out that he was a big taco fan and Uber Ubered, him and his wife, Emily, this taco dinner for two and left a note saying, this is from Sam. He helps you feel a little better. And I just thought, you know, this took me five minutes less than $20, he’s going to, you know, ex he’s gonna be happy about it, whatever they FaceTime me at dinnertime crying box of tacos, open behind them telling me I’m never, ever gonna forget this moment.


Sam Demma (16:25):
That’s and then they went ahead and like created this little logo to be someone’s taco. And they were like, you need to encourage other people to be someone’s taco every day. And education is one of those fields where you have the opportunity to do that every day, because you have a classroom sitting in front of you and not only do the teachers have the opportunity to do it to their students, they could also do it for their other staff. And it’s not about buying them food or giving them tacos, but it’s looking for those intentional moments where you can create an experience for somebody else that they may remember for the rest of their life. I, you know, I’m sure if I asked you the same question, you know, what was your favorite memories in school, or do you remember the last time someone made you feel special? You can probably recall some of those memories of kind things people have done for you and require is no special skills, talents or abilities, just a decision, right?


Andrew Boon (17:18):
Yeah. And, and for here, like, so we, we have a, you know, I know social media is is a big part of how we communicate with kids now. And so we have this hashtag that we use here for everything kindness lives here. Mm. And when I get here, that was one thing I brought up to our staff, our students, and same, like, it’s kindness. I hope we live here and kindness does live here. And I say it to kids. And I mean, this, that, you know, it’s only a cliche if you don’t mean it. Yeah. And if you, so for here, it, it’s something I take very seriously. Yeah. And you know, for those little gestures that you talk about, those little moments of how you make people feel that’s, what’s gonna shape them to be better citizens and, and leave here you know, moving in the right direction.


Andrew Boon (18:12):
You know, one of the things we do here, which I I’ve done it at a couple schools I’ve been at now and I think it’s it’s kind of fun. So we have here, what’s called super locker. And so we had our construction class participate and we built a locker there’s about four or five times the size of an actual lock. And then we we put the, we wrapped it up to make it look really good. And then we put a fridge in it. We put a charging station. And so once a month we give that to a student for no other reason than just that they’re kind, and that they’ve exhibited kindness. It’s not about academics, it’s not about athletics. It’s strictly just, they’ve done something kind that another person has noticed. And it’s wonderful to get these submissions from staff and students saying, you know, oh, this kid did this for me.


Andrew Boon (19:08):
This kid did this for me. Right. And so and then what what’s lovely about it for me is we get to surprise that kid and they get to move in. We give him the key. We, we hook him up with a bunch of, you know, of, of, of swag, I guess. And we’ve got, I’ve got some people that have donated some things for this student. And then the, you know, again, we have some fun with it at the end of the month, I get it to a victim and basically saying, you’re out. Right. And we, we, and we have another student move in. Right. And so this is taken off in our even in our board, I’d like to think cool. There’s myself and another principal Glen Gifford. And we started this back at when we were working together at at lake shore, like in port Coburn, and then we’ve each kind of now gone our separate schools, but super locker has, has continued.


Andrew Boon (19:57):
And it’s just a fun thing to kind of talk about the most recent one that we did here in September when we or October when we first kind of did it here. When I got here. It’s just funny how a little story like that. Again, I, I look at it as more as like its just a little community thing and next thing you know, for us, it’s picked up by the Toronto star and it’s, we’re hearing about it kind of running across the country. And I had a, you know, you talk about former students and I’m gonna mention her because I’m so proud of her, her name’s Laura cope. And she was a student of mine here at Notre Dame and she’s now a teacher now doing great things in Toronto. And so she had actually messaged me to say that she saw that and approached her principal and you know, can we do a super locker at our school? Oh wow. And so it seems like that would be an idea that maybe every school could have something fun like that secondary anyway. Right. I guess. Right. Yeah. But it, all it, I mean it all relates to those little acts of kindness, those moments that are are memorable that, you know, that, that actually impact a, a person and that you don’t ever forget. Right.


Sam Demma (21:05):
Yeah. So a true what a fantastic idea with the super locker. That’s so cool. Do, do they actually, is it big enough for a person to sit in this thing?


Andrew Boon (21:15):
Yeah. Like they they’re, it’s when you open it there’s a place for like a hanger. There’s a place for their shoes. There’s like a, a little stool that can come out where they can sit. And what I love about it, obviously our construction class, when they’re when they’re doing it, they’re they’re, they’re involved. Right. I, I think the funny thing about it is that my son is aware of it and you know, he’s in grade 11 here. And the first thing he said to me is like, dad, I, I understand I will never win super locker. And I was like, that’s correct. You will never, ever win this super locker. So I said, but that’s not gonna stop you from being kind which, which he is. Right. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:54):
That’s so awesome. That’s amazing. If you could take all your experiences in education, bundle them up, go back in time, tap end you on the shoulder when he just started teaching, what advice would you give a younger self? I,


Andrew Boon (22:09):
That’s a great question. I mean, I think I’ve definitely learned it’s, it’s okay to, to be wrong, to completely, to make mistakes and and not to be afraid to try things. I know as a principal I love trying stuff and if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. And no big deal. And I think that, of those things where you try things as an educator, whether it’s different programs or, or or different guest speakers or whatever it may be. And sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. And I think then the other thing is don’t ever be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. And I think sometimes as maybe as teachers that, you know and, and as administrators, that, that we can kind of worry about that. And I think it’s actually refreshing when like I’ve had parents, that’ll call me and they’ve have a concern about something or they’ve had something that they wanna maybe complain about and I have no problem going you’re right.


Andrew Boon (23:06):
Yeah. We, we, we gotta do better. And on behalf of the school, I’m sorry. And you could just see everyone just come down and realize, oh yeah. Okay. Well, I can work with this. And, and then you try, then you actually have to try to do better. Like you can’t just say that. Right. but I think sometimes that being willing to act like really listen, and I, and you must, you know, do this all the time because I’m sure you’ve had conversations with people. And when you know, someone’s not actually listening, they’re just waiting for the other person to finish so that they can talk. Right. And that’s something I try hard to do when I have people come in my office saying that they get my full attention. I’m, I’m listening to actually what they’re doing. I think when people come to you as an educator, it takes a lot of courage to come and say, Hey, I need to do this, this or this. And if you’re not giving them your time or actually listening, they’ll people will submit all that a mile away.


Sam Demma (24:08):
How do you remind yourself to be present during conversation and listen to what someone’s saying rather than wait for your turn to respond? I feel like it sometimes is a challenge when you have so many things going on, but it’s, so, yeah,


Andrew Boon (24:22):
That’s a great, it’s a great question. You’re right. I, I, so you have, I have a couple rules, at least for me, you know, like I don’t answer my phone. Cuz you know, that’ll happen. I’m surprised you haven’t heard it yet to go off sometimes because it’ll happen. Right. But you just, I said, well, I don’t answer it. And staff and teachers are so caring, they’ll say, oh, it’s okay if you need to get that. And I’m like, no, you’re here that’s I don’t need to get that. Right. you know, obviously sometimes it’s like the phone goes five times in a row and like, something’s up, I better take that. Right. But but little rules like that, you know, put your phone down. Right. there’s nothing, you know, again, I, I always think about, who’s taking the time to walk down here and, and I remember being a teacher and walking into my principal’s office and, you know, to ask for some advice or ask for something and that’s the kind of, for a younger teacher that was a big deal. And so I always try to remember, like, someone’s taken the effort to come walk down here to ask a question that, you know, be present for that.


Sam Demma (25:30):
I love it. That’s awesome. Great piece of advice for not only education, but any conversation or relationship. Yeah. If someone is listening to this wants to pick your brain about super lockers, your experiences teaching in CG schools or almost going to Japan what would be the best email for them or contact information for them to use, to reach out?


Andrew Boon (25:52):
Yeah, I, I, and I use my, my board email there’s two, a couple ways. It’s just Andrew.Boon@ncdsb.com. What I is very important to me when I send out messages to our school community and they know that you know, they can respond directly to that and they’re gonna get an answer from me very quickly cuz that again, you’re letting people know that their time’s valuable. You want to hear from them. And, and is it a lot of extra emails sometimes. Yep. But it’s worth it. If people know that you’re gonna pay attention to that you probably are way better at the, as than me, but like you, the presence of social media now in schools is, is critical to sharing information to parents. And so and, and students, by the way I know for, you know, I joke with the kids that like follow our Instagram account because you’ll, you’ll hear all that you need to know for the old folks like us follow your Facebook account and our website, that’s another, you know, Notre Dame college.ca is a great way of, of kind of seeing and getting in touch with us and seeing what we offer try to do a lot of fun stuff cuz school, like it should be fun.


Andrew Boon (27:07):
It really should be right. And so yes, we’re an education institution. Yes. You know, you’ll hear all the, you’ll see all the great things that are happening in class, but schools should be fun. And and I think we try to do that when we’re sharing me in for, with our students and you know, I think, I think it’s working again. I hope it’s working, I guess we’ll see. Right.


Sam Demma (27:32):
good stuff. Good stuff. Well, Angie, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here. Talk about some of your ideas, journey, philosophies, and education, the projects going on in the school community. It means the world to me, and also a lot of other people tuning in wanting to learn more about education or pick up some creative ideas. So again, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and keep up the great work.


Andrew Boon (27:55):
I appreciate it. No, thanks so much for for, for reaching out and yeah, very much appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andrew Boon

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.

Paul DeVuono – Vice Principal at St. Anthony’s Catholic School (BGCDSB)

Paul DeVuono - Vice Principal at St. Anthony's Catholic School (BGCDSB)
About Paul Devuono

Paul DeVuono (paul_devuono@bgcdsb.org) is the Vice-Principal at St. Anthony’s Separate School in Kincardine, ON. Paul continues to be a strong advocate and supporter of publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

In addition, Paul is involved and connected to the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO), ensuring our provincial government continues to make necessary investments in publicly funded Catholic education for students, families and staff. Paul has been a Vice-Principal for three years now, serving the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB).

Paul represents a deep passion for Catholic education while ensuring all students are provided with the fundamental opportunities to develop their God-given talents, gifts and skills.Paul holds the premise that when students feel safe, secure, included and connected in their learning, they will continue to progress and excel as learners and collaborative contributors in our society.

Paul believes moving forward, and we need to ensure our schools are seen and utilized as community hubs where our stakeholders and partners have access to board, municipal, provincial and federal programs that benefit all.

In closing, Paul believes that our youth is our most prized asset and that, as a society, we must make significant and purposeful investments in our youth and education. Paul is married to his spouse Erica, a Vice-Principal, and has two children, Leonardo, who is 8, and Isoline, 5.

Connect with Paul Devuono: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO)

St. Anthony’s Separate School

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB)

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 (00:01):
Paul welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Paul Devuono (00:08):
Good afternoon. My name is Paul Devuono. I’m vice principal at St. Anthony’s elementary school inOntario working with the Bruce Grey Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:19):
Why education? And when did you figure out that you wanted to work in education?


Paul Devuono (00:25):
So I think for myself kind of why education, why kind of starting a vocation in teaching was certainly from many past educators that I’ve had the privilege to cross paths with certainly from a young age, right from elementary. I always thought it’d be really cool to be a teacher. Great, great pathway, great vocation. And certainly when I first started off in school encountering you know, some learning difficulties and struggling, and I think had it not been for some of my early primary teachers, especially and certainly those educa theaters that really helped me propel through high school. I would not be standing here before you today. And I think I owe many of them a great deal of gratitude and thanks. And I, I always think that I probably wasn’t as grateful and thankful in some of those moments, certainly in my teen years definitely think of them often and really draw on the wealth of expertise that many of them had.


Sam Demma (01:30):
What do you think those educators did for you growing up as a student that made a significant impact? If you can remember?


Paul Devuono (01:37):
I think for many of them it was, it was their patience but also their, their sense of care and, and really trying to be good role models. But also certainly very much being very patient and not giving up and just kinda allowing students to be the people that they, that they are and kind of respect them you know, for who they are and, and do their best to work with them, not trying to force them to be something that they’re not, but certainly a great deal of empathy and trying to kind of best support is certainly what I felt made them extremely successful.


Sam Demma (02:17):
When you started your path towards education and decided this is what I’m gonna do. Tell me a little bit about what that path looked like. Where did you go to school and where did you start and what brought you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (02:30):
So I, it was interesting. And it’s funny when we engage in this conversation you know, many of my friends were going off into business other types of professions and, and not many of my circle of friends were really looking at education. And at that time too, the trades were just something that was being started about. So there was things with the Ontario youth apprenticeship program. And I so wished I could have done a trade. And many of my family are, are extremely gifted in the skilled trades, but it just wasn’t my forte. And it certainly was one of my guidance counselors that said, you know, have you thought of teaching? And I said, yeah, you know, it is something that I continue to think about but was a little worried about some of the application process to it.


Paul Devuono (03:21):
And he probably gave me some of the best advice in grade 11 and 12, cuz he said, you know, it’s gonna get really competitive to get into teachers college. He’s like, if you’re really passionate about education, you can sit, you should consider going into concurrent education. And it was the best advice. Cuz certainly at that time it was becoming competitive to get into teaching. And I was fortunate to go to Lakehead university in thunder bay and did concurrent education there. I did a four year undergraduate there a double major in political science and history and did teachers college in my fifth year. And it was a, it was a great experience.


Sam Demma (04:04):
That’s amazing. And when you finished the postsecondary requirements in education, where did you first start working? And what did the progression look like to bring you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (04:17):
So we had had a job fair kind of late winter of our graduating year. Nice. In 2004 and the GTA, the greater Toronto was kind of the last place that I wanted to go and work. I kind of wanted to be closer to home being from Northern Ontario, but many of those boards were not hiring. And so at the job fair, it was really clear place like York, York, district York, Catholic der peel P public, and certainly Toronto Catholic in Toronto district were boards that were really actively recruiting. They had full year LTOs, they had permanent positions for some teachers. And so I had made a, I was fortunate to make a contact with der peel Catholic was someone from their HR recruiting crew and managed to, to get a seven, eight position in Mississauga on the border of ACO. And it was a great, great experience.


Sam Demma (05:13):
That’s awesome. And now you’re back in the Bruce Gray county. What, what brought you, what brought you up here?


Paul Devuono (05:22):
So being from Northern Ontario was always kind of a goal to kind of move out of the city and kind of move into a more rural area. And certainly with with job markets and then getting married and starting a family, it became a lot more trickier and we kind of thought maybe it would just be a lofty retirement goal. But my wife’s family is from the Bruce Gray area and we managed we were grateful enough and blessed to be able to find work up here at both as as vice principals. And so it it all happened kind of through the pandemic. It was a little, a little tricky, but it certainly worked out.


Sam Demma (06:04):
That’s amazing. And what do you enjoy about the work you do today and for someone listening who might be a teacher and not, and doesn’t really know the experience of a vice principal what does that look like?


Paul Devuono (06:19):
So I would say you know, our youth are our most like prize commodity and I think especially going through this pandemic now into two and a half, getting closer to three years you know, it’s a little bit concerning to that I, I, I feel more and more often our youth are kind of being forgotten about. And I think if you look at any great society throughout history and even those today there’s societies that have really put their youth and education at the forefront of everything that they do. And I think you know, in terms of education, yes. It’s challenging. It’s trying any institution that works with the public and that works with youth definitely has as ups and downs, but I think again, you know, just, you know, listening to our stories and, and sharing to be a part of having an influence on someone’s life and having them have that opportunity to look back and knowing that you perhaps made a small difference not only maybe the career that they chose, but certainly the path and the people that they are today is huge.


Sam Demma (07:35):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And what gives you hope to show up every single day and continue doing this work, even when things like a global pandemic start getting in the way.


Paul Devuono (07:46):
You know, what it’s, it’s certainly our, our kids and their families you know, to know when we opened up our doors to welcome students and families back and, and air support is huge. And I think RA I’m in an elementary school, so we’re K to eight. And if you ever need your bucket filled on those difficult days, I just take a stroll and a walkthrough into our full day learning kindergarten classrooms. And when you see three and a half and four year olds tugging at you and hugging you and kind of telling you the words that they’ve learned in their numbers, it’s so inspiring to see them soak up like sponges that learning. And then again with our seven and eights, they’re excited about the next phase of their academic careers. It’s just so amazing to be a part of, of those opportunities.


Sam Demma (08:38):
That’s awesome. I love on your journey. What do you think some of the resources that you’ve found that have been helpful whether it’s people you’ve met or potentially even some things you’ve been through that you thought were beneficial to yourself?


Paul Devuono (08:56):
I think when we’re talking about resources, definitely like human resources I think by far are like people you know, conversing with you know, that’s one of the unique things with education is that like, we have such a rich dichotomy of people that we and interact with, whether it’s social workers, childhood, youth workers our custodial teams, our educational assistants, our, our educational early childhood educators, administrators, like there’s so many people that I feel so fortunate that I can connect with and dialogue with and share experiences is huge when you’re coming to people. And certainly for us as a Catholic system, you know, drawing on some of the work of our, of our chaplaincy of our priests and their support as well is extremely influential into the work that we do. And certainly you know, really helps, especially when you’re kind of going through some of these challenges that we are now yeah. Society to help ground things is huge.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah, I agree. And I know there’s been a lot of changes and challenges over the past two years, but what do you think some of the opportunities might be or, you know, areas for growth and improvement because of all these changes?


Paul Devuono (10:14):
I would say that certainly technology, we, we, we continue to talk about technology and I think like the whole virtual learning piece was something that especially at the elementary and secondary level was still kind of not quite at the forefront and I think for better or not, the pandemic really helped kind of thrust the up forward cuz maybe had no other choice. And I think those virtual connections for our students is definitely something that’s gonna carry them forward through their academic careers and, and through employment. I also think too, at the same time though, we, we recognize the importance of a experiential education in the outdoors. Knowing that our students were in front of screens and maybe perhaps not going outside, cuz they were kind of in a room or in a basement or in an office. Certainly kind of bringing that back to the forefront, how important it is for students to interact with their peers, but also with friends, but also outside. And those opportunities, whether they’re playing ice hockey, going to boing, going for a walk all those great things. I think sometimes we forget how, how important and how critical those are for kids.


Sam Demma (11:32):
I agreed. Agreed. can you think of a time where a program or an initiative has made an impact on a student and as a vice principal or as a teacher you got to see and witness the change or the impact that it had?


Paul Devuono (11:47):
I, I think for certainly one that comes to mind is certainly our, our transitional work with our, with our grade eights as they move to grade nine and working with our seven eights, getting them prepared and ready for high school. And, and just knowing that that is such a, a big step in a, in a huge leap for many of our students and families. And sometimes I don’t think we understand the gravity of that and just our board has done a lot of work building connections with our seven and eights before they step foot into high school. So if they have an opportunity to connect with teachers, student services, guidance counselors and other supports through the high school so that when they’re walking into those much larger buildings and seeing all those students, they can and already have a connection in rapport with people and that there’s already a go-to person for them.


Paul Devuono (12:38):
And again, you know, you know, for some students, it might not be, it’s a, it’s an easy shift that, that are very outgoing, that are very social, but certainly for those that may have some anxiety may have some stress or a little bit more introverted, it’s a huge, huge help and support for them. Once they have that opportunity to kind of have a connection at the high school. So I I’ve had an opportunity to see that first and foremost and have our students come back and say how, how great and amazing that was.


Sam Demma (13:07):
Amazing. And if you could take if you could take all the experiences you’ve had in education, kind of bundle them all together, travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just getting into teaching. What advice would you have wanted to hear? What advice would you have given yourself when you were just starting that you think might also be beneficial to someone else just getting into this work?


Paul Devuono (13:35):
I think that it’s and, and we hear this all the time that, that you have to take risks. Mm. And I think we, we hear that all the time, but it, it’s hard to put into practice. Yeah. And I think we need to take risks and we need to feel that we’re gonna make mistakes and then that’s gonna be okay. And I think to it’s being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake, but also when perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed or maxed out or stress that you’re able to vocalize that to whoever you have faith in or that you trust or that there’s a circle of security for, because the work within education is very dynamic. It’s challenging. It certainly can be stressful. And I think also just kind of knowing that we’re never gonna have all the answers and that that’s okay. And that kind of humbleness again, when I think about pat ask teachers is so critical and that it’s okay to reach out to people around you.


Sam Demma (14:42):
Perfect. If someone has listened in on this conversation, found something intriguing or interesting and wants to ask you a question or reach out to connect and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Paul Devuono (14:58):
I, I would say the best way to reach out and certainly get in touch with me is to connect with the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And certainly if you type in BGCDSB St Anthony’s my contact information will come up as vice principal here. Or even if you call the mean switch line at our board office, they’ll certainly put you in touch with me here. If you have any questions or I can do anything to help support perhaps a pathway into education.


Sam Demma (15:24):
Awesome. Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon.


Paul Devuono (15:32):
All right. Thanks a lot. Really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Devuono

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.

Rebecca Newcombe – Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)

Rebecca Newcombe - Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)
About Rebecca Newcombe

Rebecca Newcombe (@Ms__Newcombe) is the Principal of Aldershot School in Burlington, Ontario.  She has been part of the Halton District School Board for 20 years.  Rebecca is a firm believer in student voice and innovation.  

Rebecca is a Collaborative Problem Solving Trainer for Think:Kids. CPS is an evidence-based approach that flips the traditional way we look at students with behavioural challenges and supports the student’s skill development to reduce challenging behaviour while building relationships with the adults in their lives.

Connect with Rebecca Newcombe: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Think:Kids

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Aldershot School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Rebecca welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.

Rebecca Newcombe (01:50):
Hello, Sam I’m Rebecca Newcomb. I’m the principal at Aldershot school with the Halton district school board here in Burlington, Ontario.

Sam Demma (01:58):
It’s an awesome, it’s awesome to speak to you because I would always take the go train. Last stop would always say elder shot and was always wondering what was over there. Cause I never actually got off at that stop.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:10):
Worth the visit!

Sam Demma (02:12):
At what stage in your own educational career and journey did you realize? I really want to get into education.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:21):
Honestly, since the, the very beginning I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. All always wanted to be a principal and I just was, was lucky and fortunate. And here, here I am.

Sam Demma (02:33):
So you grew up kind of just telling everyone around you when I grow up, I wanna work in a school.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:39):
Yeah, weird. Right. that’s awesome. I was, I always loved school. Always loved teaching, always loved learning. It’s just was, it was just natural fit for me.

Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me a little bit about the actual journey. So you finished high school and then what, what was the path that you took that led you to where you are today?

Rebecca Newcombe (02:56):
So I it was right outta high school, got into the concurrent ed program at Lakehead university in thunder bay. So I was living in Ottawa at the time with my parents, so 17 hours straight north and was there for five years.

Sam Demma (03:13):
That’s awesome. And then right after the five years at Lakehead did you start with the Halton district school board and been here ever?

Rebecca Newcombe (03:21):
Since? I just started out with the Durham district school board, I taught at Fort Perry high school for two years. Nice. Yeah. And then got hired on with Halton and made the move.

Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s awesome. And I would, I’m assuming you started it in the classroom and then

Rebecca Newcombe (03:35):
I did. Yeah, well, yeah, but what my first jobs was with special education. So I kind of fell into special education. It, it became an UN, like, I didn’t realize that it was gonna be my passion, but it’s, it’s turned into that just sort of by accident. I started teaching English and history and then, and special ed. So in terms of GLE, so learning resources classes within the resource room, so supporting students who may have learning disabilities right, right out of right from my, from day one up in, up in Durham. And then when I moved to, to Halton, I ended up being the the head of special education at EC ju in Milton for, I don’t know, maybe a decade and with kids with intellectual disabilities, autism, you name it. And it was amazing.

Sam Demma (04:26):
That’s awesome. Those first couple of years probably informed the rest of your teaching career which is awesome. When you think about those experiences working in special ed, are there any memories that stick out to you or, you know, experiences that you had that were really impactful on the way that you approach teaching today or education?

Rebecca Newcombe (04:53):
That is a great question because I really think it does. And when you think about it working with kids who have special needs it, you know, you have to have a different, different approach. And also found kids who, you know, who may be labeled with behavioral challenges really really were, were those that struggled, struggled the most. And I, when I moved to Halton was introduced to the model of collaborative problem solving with Dr. Alon through Massachusetts general hospital. Nice. And there it’s a, it’s a program or department within their department of psychiatry and the whole model and framework really focuses in on a mindset shift. So when we look at kids or, or people or anyone really with challenging behavior or, or, you know, even, even, you know, a problem of a opposing view, looking at it from a diff a different lens.

Rebecca Newcombe (05:52):
So looking at it as a skillful versus willful. So what I mean by that is that kids, conventional wisdom tells us that kids do well if they want to. So that they’re as if they’re choosing to, to behave poorly when really it’s a skill deficit. So if kids had better skills to manage what were asked, the expectation we placed on them, they would manage it better because that’s what people wanna do people inherently wanna do well. Right. So that changed everything for me. So and I think that really helped me in my role as the head of spec ed as a vice principal and definitely as a principal as well.

Sam Demma (06:33):
That’s such an awesome perspective. I love that, that mindset, that shift, and I think it’s so important. This year kids were forced, not only kids, but teachers and anyone in everyone in education was forced to learn a ton of new skills due to COVID 19. What are some of the challenges that have been facing the school community that you’re in right now and how you all been striving to overcome those things?

Rebecca Newcombe (07:02):
So, so part of my learning with CPS that CPS really is a trauma informed and culturally responsive approach, nice to, to working with humans in general. And I think through COVID 19 and through the murder of George Floyd and through the way we look at at racism and looking at how to become an anti-racist it’s really supported my growth that way. And I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges. I think we face not only in school, but as a society looking at how, how are we anti-racist and what are we doing and how are we breaking down those barriers of oppression and, and racism that, that do exist in all levels of society and how, how we approach that. So that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges that I’m facing right now. I also think too with the pandemic, the pandemic has taught us a lot.

Rebecca Newcombe (08:03):
We don’t, and I never wanna hear folks say like, oh, we need to go back to the way it was. It was so much better. The back at the way, it was, there’s a lot of good things about pre pandemic times, for sure. However, there are some things that we can, you know, we can take from it and looking at, like, for example right now it’s exam time, you know, traditional exam time at high schools. Well, now we’re looking at it from a completely different way, looking at it from what, what are some engaging ways that we, that students can demonstrate their learning without having to sit down and like memorize, you know, binders and textbooks and anything you can Google? Why, why, why would we ask kids to do that? Why can’t they create something that demonstrates their learning that also demonstrates 21st century skills, creativity, collaboration critical thinking, all those amazing things that we want kids to be able to do while adults be able, able to do humans in general.

Rebecca Newcombe (09:00):
So just looking at it from, from that lens, when we think about a classroom in the 1880s, you know, rows and desks and that kind of thing, and we compare it to now, I would say we don’t always see a whole lot of difference, especially when we compare to like a car, think about a car in 1880s to a car to now, or a phone, like a cell phone. Right. So, you know, one of those old school phones back then and a cell phone now, I mean, so many, so, so much different, so much change, so much innovation. And really in the school, in the classroom, we wanna harness that and really change it and bust it open and make it better for kids

Sam Demma (09:44):
As a principal. How do you, how do you manage, like bringing these big ideas into like actionable steps? So like for a teacher listening, who’s never been in a principal role before what is it like day to day and how do we try and get everyone on board with a, with an idea?

Rebecca Newcombe (10:05):
Yeah. It’s, it’s, that’s like, if you can solve that Sam, then you’re solving, like, it’s a million dollar question. It’s multimillion dollar question. I think as a principal, really, you have to trust your staff and you’ve got amazing educators in the building and they have amazing ideas. And if they feel supported in trying something new and taking a risk, you know, it is a thing pedagogically sound for kids. Yes. Okay. Does, is someone passionate to do it? Yes. That as a principal, it’s my job to say, heck yes. Get outta their way and, and let them, let them try it. Like the magic happens when, when teachers, when anyone educators step outta their comfort zone. So as long as people feel supported that way then that’s how you make stuff happen. Because if folks don’t feel supported, then it’s, you know, then they’re, they’re like, oh, what if it goes badly? What if it fails? There’s learning in that. Right. So if it doesn’t go badly, if it goes badly or if it doesn’t work the way you thought it’s, it was gonna work that’s okay. Learn from the experience, tweak it and try it differently. The next time,

Sam Demma (11:11):
One of my favorite rap artists, his name is Russ, and he talks about failures being stepping stones. And he, he even talks about bridges that got burned in the past, lighting the way for the future. And that could be used as like a failure analogy as well. And I think it’s so true that our failures are not really failures. They’re just lessons if we choose to learn from them. You mentioned when you were working in special ed that you were introduced to this new model, which is awesome. What other resources or mindset shifts have you read watched been through or philosophies that you have about education that have really helped you throughout your, your career and journey?

Rebecca Newcombe (11:58):
I would say so like the cloud of problem solving model through think kids that’s really, that’s really, that’s, that’s really guided me guided, guided me through, throughout my journey. I’m also re I’ve read a few different books and always interested in podcasts. Nice white parents listening to that podcast. Nice. the reading a book by Dr. Betina love and really looking at like, anti-racism like, so how, how do we be become anti-racist educators? And how can we make sure that all of our kids feel like they matter? And what does that look like? And how does that, how does that look in the classroom and what, what do we see in the classroom that we know we’re, we’re intentionally breaking down those systemic barriers. What does that look like in a school? You know, so really looking at that.

Rebecca Newcombe (12:54):
So as a staff we, we did an equity audit, so what are we, what are we look, what are we looking at? What are we looking for? And then we also had our equity team, our student equity team, they went and did an equity audit. Hmm. And so then sort of meshing those two, two things together and sort of, okay, what did they, what did the kids see that maybe the adults didn’t and vice versa. And so just kind of identifying the barrier, not the barriers, but identifying those things that need to be improved like life and learning and schools, it’s constant change and it’s constant improvement, and it’s not about, that was bad. It’s just, oh, we, we, we know something different now. So it’s like, when you, when you know, better, you do better. So that’s that’s sort of we’re at as, as a, as a school community.

Sam Demma (13:39):
Teachers principles, the educational field as a whole has staff and people that this year at certain points have felt really burnt out. Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. Maybe some of your staff has as well. When you are, are not feeling at your a game or when you’re a little burnt out, how do you kinda pick yourself back up or fill up your own cup?

Rebecca Newcombe (14:05):
The kids really like the, the kids are brilliant. The kids have so many great ideas. And when you look at some of the experiences that our, our students are having, in terms of the pandemic, make, it gives you sort of a, a blast of reality as an adult. So many, you know, kids 14 years old dealing with ma major life issues and major life changes. So for me that I, it it’s, you know, the, the support in that or the, the hope that they, they have is inspiring. So it just keeps you moving forward. And and the staff, you know, they continue, they continue to work so hard, despite all the challenges and despite things that are said in the media, they keep going, and that is inspiring. So I guess it’s really like you know, the others around me that, that make it, make it worth at all.

Sam Demma (14:59):
Hmm. I love that. It there’s so much inspiration to gain from everybody if you’re, if you’re looking for it. So that’s so cool to hear, you know, the past two years have been challenging. Like we, we all know it’s, it’s been different slightly in education, but it’s opened up lots of opportunities. Like you’re mentioning in areas of equity and innovating education and trying to do new things. If you could take all the learnings you’ve gained over the path entire span of your career, and walk back into your first teaching job and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rebecca, I know you’re just getting started. Here’s what I wish you heard. Or here’s what I think you need to know when you’re just getting into this profession, because, you know, there could be someone starting in education right now and their new experience is gonna be awesome, but you might, you know, you might have some things to share. That could be some good reminders.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:00):
I would say don’t take it personally. Mm. Do do your best. And every day’s a new day.

Sam Demma (16:09):
I love it. I love it. And you know, one other thing that fascinates me is the program schools run. There are some uniformity in all that, like certain boards bring in the same programs to all their schools. And it’s awesome. And then there’s also some individual cases where a school is looking for a specific program or thing that run with the students. I’m wondering if there’s any programs outer has run at any point in the, in your career at this school that we’re very successful. And I’m wondering if you could share the impact it made and also what the program was.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:44):
Sure. I like the servicing that it’s the students, it’s, it’s a, it’s the teacher student relationship. That really it is what is, is the, is the thing that makes a student successful. It’s not so much the, the the program we’ve, we’ve got many different programs but really, it really boils down to that student teacher relationship. And we’ve got a, a school full of amazing educators. So for me, it’s not about specialized programs. It’s about how, how a teacher makes a difference in the life of a student. Yeah. And and that can be in any classroom, not just specialized programs. And you don’t always hear about those. Right. As, as an educator, you’re lucky if a, if a, you know, a student sends you a Facebook message, you know, 10 years after they graduated to say, Hey, like, thanks you, like you made, you made a difference for cuz you as an educator, you don’t, you don’t see the fruits of your labor, right?

Rebecca Newcombe (17:39):
You, you you work hard with the students in front of you and they, it’s kind of not, not a thankless job, but you don’t always get, you don’t always get the, the depth of your impact. So for me, it’s about it’s about it’s about that. We, we have great teachers, we have a pretty unique school. We’re seven to 12. So we’ve got traditionally grade seven, eight elementary students. And then also, you know, the traditional nine to 12 high school. So that’s that, that’s a kind of a cool unique profile that enables us to have, you know, our grade seven and eights into our various tech shops and and have experiences with, with iSTEM. So we do have an iSTEM program here. So that’s amazing. It is you have to apply to be part of that program, just a, we also have a SHSM, so which also it’s actually doubled in size for, for next year, which is amazing and a can fit pro. So we’ve got lots of cool, unique opportunities for students to hopefully help them find their passion. And, but really the difference is made by the individuals, the student but the individual teacher in the classroom. And in my personal opinion, you know, it takes a village you know, to raise a child or educate a child. And that village must be equally valued. So it’s not just the specialized programs that, that make the magic happen for kids. It’s it’s the collect is

Sam Demma (19:12):
That reminded me. It’s funny, this popped into my mind, there’s a, a book by Malcolm Gladwell called outliers. And in the book he references this study of this little village filled with European people that were all from the same place in Italy. And they found that this very tight knit, close knit community lived longer than everyone else in that state in America. And they also had very low rates of heart disease or heart attack. And it was a spectacle for doctors and they ended up doing a lot of studies on the people living within this small C community. And what they found was you couldn’t determine the health of an individual solely based on that one person’s actions, but you had to look at the community as a whole and how they interacted with each other. And I think that really relates to what you’re saying about, it’s not just about the students individual actions. It’s not just about a program am coming in and that person’s individual actions, but it’s the community as a whole that, you know, lifts the, the student experience and educator experience up which is, which is really awesome. Thanks for sharing that. You mentioned, I stem, I’ve never heard of, I stem, what is the, I stand for?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:29):
It stands for innovation.

Sam Demma (20:32):
Oh, cool. That’s awesome. And then the SHSM. I know what SHSM is cause I live in Pickering, but can you explain a little bit about SHSM for educators who might be outside of Ontario?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:42):
Sure. So it stands for specialist high skills major. And so it’s a number of different courses that students will, will take to then sort of specialize in a particular area. So our equalism is you know, so the teachers who teach it are, are the experts. So if you wanna find out more about that and get all those details, you should talk to them because they they’ve lived that experience for over a decade. So they it’s a bundle of courses and the kids get actual experience being leaders in our community at the RBG through a program called Eagle Rangers. And then also through going out and doing camping and Portage and doing all those wonderful things in Northern well Algonquin. So opportunities that way. So it’s just really about experiential learning, right? Like, so digging in and not just learning about cool things in our world, but actually experiencing them. So again, it’s all about that teacher, student relationship and students following their passion to be able to, to dig in and do what do what they’re interested in.

Sam Demma (21:47):
Love it. I did not get involved in SHSM enough when I was in high school being a high performing athlete. I rarely got involved in any extracurriculars. And I think it’s one of the things I not regret, but wish I did more of. So it’s cool to hear that your school has those opportunities existing for kids. If someone wants to reach out to ask you a question based on anything we shared during this conversation or interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:14):
They can follow me on Twitter. They can send me an email, give me a shout at the school.

Sam Demma (22:20):
Awesome. Perfect. I will make sure I link the links. What is your Twitter handle?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:26):
It’s @Ms__Newcombe

Sam Demma (22:30):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to add that in the show notes, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun. Keep up the great work.

Rebecca Newcombe (22:37):
Yes. Thanks. So nice to meet you.

Sam Demma (22:39):
You as well. You as well. Bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rebecca Newcombe

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.

Jacquie Pece – Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)

Jacquie Pece - Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)
About Jacquie Pece

Jacquie Pece (pecej@hdsb.ca) has been in education for 33 years. She began as an Health and Physical Education and English teacher. She also worked in Guidance and as a behavioural specialist in Special Education. She taught AQ courses in Health and Physical Education at OISE for 10 years. She was a vice-principal for 8 years before becoming the principal for the last 6 years at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton.

Jacquie has taught Principal Qualification courses for OPC. She was the co-chair of OPC in Halton for 3 years and is now the past president of the Halton Secondary Principal Association. She enjoys leadership work within the system to help strengthen all schools across the board and to mentor vice-principals and principals.

Jacquie loves working in complex schools that honour all pathways. She cares deeply for her students and staff. She strives to create a school where students feel safe to be themselves and are kind to one another.

Where teachers want to come to work to collaborate, and work in an environment where they are respected and encouraged to try new ways of teaching and learning to improve student achievement. She has coached her entire career in rugby, volleyball, and track and field sports.

She loves getting to know students outside of the classroom and has also travelled all around the world with students to enhance their love for life long experiential learning. She believes in all aspects of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellness and encourages others to find the balance in their lives.

Connect with Jacquie Pece: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Principal Qualification courses OPC

Craig Kielburger Secondary School

Halton Secondary Principal Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Jackie welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Jacquie Pece (00:09):
Well, hello and thank you, Sam, for giving me this opportunity. I’m Jackie Pete. I’m a principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton. And I’ve been an administrator now for 13 years here for six. And I love what I do in the Halton district school board here.


Sam Demma (00:29):
At what point in your own career did you realize education was your calling?


Jacquie Pece (00:36):
Well, it’s kind of funny because I was one of those kids that ended up playing school in my basement. So it was the type that I actually set up a little desk for Teddy bears and dolls and gave them actual like worksheets to do and mark them. I I really loved school. I had great friends in school. Played a lot of sports and really felt that I, you know, wanted to make the most out of every day type of kid. And when I played a lot of sports and, and was we were quite good at them in school and outside in sports. And then I suffered an injury. And after I think that injury that really propelled me to work more into a, a coaching aspect of, of teaching. And I ended up going into the concurrent education program at York university to become a teacher and coach, because I couldn’t be an athlete, even though our crew boats were really successful. And one crew, I was in set, a Canadian record that stood for 12 years. Wow. Couldn’t pursue sports at that same level. So the next best thing for me was to coach and coach what teaching. And then after that I became a teacher of pH ed and English and, and teaching seemed to be a natural progression and you get to coach at the same time. So it’s like a win-win for me.


Sam Demma (01:59):
Did you draw parallels between coaching and teaching? Are those, are those similar roles and what do you enjoy about coach?


Jacquie Pece (02:08):
Well, I love mentoring young people and I love to try to get them to see their full potential. Like, so if you, you take somebody who doesn’t understand a sport or a skill and you break it down for them and you make it so that they can do each part, and then you see the progression and they see the progression in themselves, the light kind of goes off and they go, wow, this feels so great. Then you like to work towards something. So you see kids bright and, and they think, wow, I could really work towards this. Sports teaches you about the limits that you think you have in yourself and you, you break through those limits. And so that breaking through that, you could do anything if you’re, it really worked hard, enough mentality transfers to life. And so we hear that all the time that sports builds character, but I love that aspect of coaching and mentoring young people to become their best.


Sam Demma (03:02):
That’s awesome. And what was your first role in teaching and how did your career evolve and bring you to where you are now?


Jacquie Pece (03:12):
My first role in teaching was teaching at pinch and mark Grove in grades 6, 7, 8, right out of university in back in 1989, which nice be there a little bit, but that had a pH ed job as well as a home room. And I really wanted to be in Hilton. So I, I transferred, I actually resigned a, a full six section job, which my mom thought I was crazy doing, but I did be because I lived in Oakville. I, I went to school in Hulton and I wanted to teach in Hulton closer to home. I knew that down the road, I wanted a family and that would be quite easier for getting my own kids involved in sports and all and raising children. So I thought I’ll hop over to Hulton. And so that’s what I ended up doing is getting sort of forcing my way in the board through long term occasional contracts.


Jacquie Pece (04:05):
And, you know, somebody said they weren’t hiring, but I didn’t listen to that. I just kept working my way in and ended up getting great jobs. And often with the students that had students that had special needs and behavioral kids, I was kind of really good with students that, or the behavioral smart alecky kind of kids. They were like, like jam. I love them. And so I, I really wanted to work with them in, in somewhat school, within a school formats where you really concentrate on developing relationships with the, the most needy and in risk kids in your school. And I get to teach them vied and English and make a whole day with them. So that was my first kind of break into teaching. And then I just evolved from teaching more English and more Fette and always working with students with special needs or guidance or any other aspect of student success that was needed. I loved all that.


Sam Demma (05:00):
You mentioned not listening to the advice or, or feedback that the Halton board wasn’t hiring. I find that really fascinating. Where do you think your drive comes from to put aside other people’s limitations as well?


Jacquie Pece (05:17):
Well, they will sort of tow, I think party lines when it comes to we’re closed to hiring, or there’s too many teachers in the teaching profession, or, you know, you, a lot of people can even say that’s not a great profession. You could make more money doing something else or, or so you, you can’t listen to the stereotypical statements that people make about a profession. If that’s in your heart, that that’s what you really wanna do, then nobody can really deter you. So you actually just keep pursuing it and the perseverance to not listen to the naysayers, even if the odds look against you is to find your way in. It’s just like a love to be solved, find your way in. So what, what do you do to, to be known, to, to get people to see that your worth is that you’re really quite good at what you do and then pursue it to the point where you end up getting your way a little bit.


Jacquie Pece (06:10):
And I, I think my older sister, Debbie, she was told that teaching was, again, one of those professions that was overpopulated and she shouldn’t be one when, and she kind of became a nurse, which was fantastic for her, but she actually wanted always to be a kindergarten teacher. And in reality, she could have easily been a kindergarten teacher and she would’ve been a wonderful one if she just didn’t listen to them. So me being the fifth child, I learn from all my other older siblings. And I’m that one that says, yeah, no, I’m gonna go after what I want, who cares what they say?


Sam Demma (06:45):
That’s awesome. I think there is both types of educators, those that love the job and absolutely wanna be there. And there’s also others who may have, have also had a different dream but are in the classroom now. And I think that’s just a refreshing piece of advice that it’s also never too late to make an adjustment. If you think you need to enter this profession or potentially part ways. And


Jacquie Pece (07:14):
We, we do have people leaving business professions, cuz it’s not as satisfying as they thought it would be. And they really found that their heart was in helping people. And so this is a people industry and it’s a helping profession. And so they end up going back to teachers college later and, and transfer over ’em we think that’s amazing. They bring a lot of worldly experience then straight going into teaching from university.


Sam Demma (07:40):
Yeah, that’s awesome. You mentioned making assignments for the Teddy bears in your basement. Did you have parents, teachers mentors in your life tap you on the shoulder along the way and say Jackie, you would make for a photo educator or yeah. What, what was your mentorship like?


Jacquie Pece (08:06):
Well, for me, my mom was critical in helping all five children do well at school or well at anything. She’s a very positive person and she’s a very organized person who breaks down things for you. She was a pretty good athlete in school as well. Mm. So she she’s the type that loves school. So she kind of brought that love of school into our hearts at a young age that, you know, you don’t quit on something. If you, if you put your name on something, it’s always gonna be the best that you can be and do. And so she would say that for me, that I would make a great teacher. I think she wanted me to first to be a dentist and I was like a dentist. I’m not gonna be a dentist. And I had it’s all through your coaching and your teachers at school that say, Hey, you, you know, you’re good at helping other people on a team or lead.


Jacquie Pece (08:56):
So you naturally end up stepping up to leadership roles at some point in your life where you go from being, making a team, which is awesome, but then actually leading a team or being a captain of a team or pursuing that chance to help other people. So coaches along the way, would’ve said, you know, this would be great. It’s a natural progression for you. I think you’d be a great teacher. And I think we all have, have had great teachers in high school too, or in elementary school, even that really you thought, well, this person I remember to this day, or they made a, such a great impression on me and I see how important it is in a child’s life and meant to have at least that one caring adult that really sees them. And so I think we’ve all had those people in our life. And that’s what helps to turn that corner. If you’re really thinking about going into education, if, if that’s the reason you also wanna give back to children and people then makes sense that you go into education,


Sam Demma (09:57):
What, what resources or mindset shifts or things have you found helpful along the way in your own professional development. And, and I’m putting you on the spot here with this question, but yeah. Share anything you might have found helpful.


Jacquie Pece (10:15):
Well, resources for me are always kind of, well, you’re gonna do your education. And if you, if you need help with any step of the way of an education that you’re trying to pursue, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re not expected to know everything first, right at a gate. It’s I tell our teachers and our students here right now, we don’t expect you to be first time smart. You know, you’re here to teach, you’re here to learn. You’re here to make mistakes. So you have to persevere and really pursue what you want to pursue. So that’s, that’s a big, that’s a big thing in education. School can be hard. So if you can get as much of an education as you can, it opens more doors. And if you have more and resources available to you, whether you want to go to right to the workplace or to college or university, then just the more skill you have in general will give you that opportunity to do whatever you want to do and pursue it as a passion.


Jacquie Pece (11:14):
So ask for help for sure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do some of your own work and re and research. Sometimes a lot of us feel that what needs to be handed to us or, or given to us. And, and they say, I don’t know where to look or well, do you really care about it? Like rise up and go pursue things in, in the sense of be information hungry, find out everything you can about what you want to do and find your angle in. Because even in, in, in a health sector, let’s say not everyone’s gonna be a doctor, but people wanna be in the health helping profession. So where in that sector are you going to fit? Cause you can be happy doing that. If you wanna give back in the health and science sector. So finding where you fit is really important. And I think finding the balance, we all gotta learn to balance our life, whether that’s managing our social friends and, and people, whether that’s figuring out our physical bodies and what we need rest wise, eating wise and and then our mental health and our emotional health. So you gotta find those balances and really do the work to shore up those resources and all those quads of your wellbeing. And then you can do anything.


Sam Demma (12:30):
Right now. I think a lot of educators are burnt out and balance seems to be extremely difficult especially with the pandemic. And there’s so many things going on that no one expected to happen. What are some of the challenges you see on the front line that staff and even yourself are going through? And then also two part question. What do you think some of the opportunities are that are starting to bolt to the surface because of this huge change?


Jacquie Pece (12:59):
Well, yes, currently we are faced with the years of a global pandemic restrictions that have been placed on our lives is, is hard for a lot of people. School looks different now, and sometimes that can be a good thing. We don’t wanna stay stagnant in education. So however, the speed of which all things are changing makes it challenging. Yes it does. But some things had to go let, go of goodness, we, we cannot stay still. And if you think about it being oxymoron in education, if we weren’t on the cutting edge, so we should continually changing. It’s just that a lot of people find changing hard. It, it comes at you too fast. You’re not prepared, but what it has shown people is the amount of resilience that they do have, and that we always do what’s best for kids. And that’s really important if you keep kids at the center of what we do, then it, it does make coming to school a bit easier because they are struggling as well.


Jacquie Pece (13:54):
And then you’re gonna find new things when you, when you break open that box of creativity, cuz you’re breaking down those walls and dismantling things, even with the equity work and racism and, and, and discrimination. It’s a good thing to blow it up sometimes, cuz of course it’s time and it needed to happen. And that learning is so rich. And so life changing for so many of our students and each other that that’s very important work. See, I, I never mind the the change because I think it, it brings about some very much needed growth and development in people and that’s what, that’s what we’re here for. So we have to reach our students better. We have to actually get them to breach their full potential and make sure that they have equal opportunity in life. And that’s what it’s all about. So how do we overcome these challenges?


Jacquie Pece (14:50):
Well, for me as a leader, we get information from the board who gets it from the ministry. And I do, I steal a little playbook page from your stuff, Sam, that you say, well, if I, what are those three consistent things I could possibly do actions to make a difference? Well, they have to see me as a, as a stable leader. I gotta show up every day and I do show up every day with a, a smile on my face. And I show people that I really care by being kind. And I’m pretty funny sometimes and because I, you know, you gotta keep it real, but they see that I’m here and not a lot of things get to me because they’re outta my control. So I will just control what I can control. And I happen to be very calm, under pressure.


Jacquie Pece (15:39):
I get excited but about things that I need to get excited about. But I think showing up every day and saying, I’m here for you is really important to students and staff and listening to what students and staff are going through, pointing them in the right direction. Cuz I’m the type that feels that there’s a solution to every problem. So I will work with a, a team of people to come up collaboratively with, with problems, to any concern that a student or staff have, because I I’m like, okay, okay, that, that doesn’t sound good yet. You know, I listen, I’m very patient and I’m going, okay, let’s get busy fixing this. Let’s get busy finding out what the barrier is and get rid of it so that you can, can make the most of your life, right? It’s not just about school, you’re teaching them skills for life.


Jacquie Pece (16:26):
And so these days, for sure everything is being thrown at them. So you have to be steady for, for them. You have to be that calm in the storm. And I don’t sweat the small stuff. Small stuff does not get to me. I’m the type that just says, okay, here’s the problem? Here’s the, here’s the solution. Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But I do very much appreciate my students and their kindness every day and staff and I, and that makes me, that makes me happy. I want, I want a place like a school to be a place where students and staff wanna come to school and they’re happy to be themselves. And that’s really important to me that they feel secure enough and safe to rise and be who they’re meant to be.


Sam Demma (17:14):
And I love the, the ideas. I think they’re so important. Listening, being kind, showing people that you care, how do you, how do you care for yourself as well? Your self-care, as I know, that’s something that sometimes people in education struggle with when you put the student at the center sometimes you, you might neglect your own personal your own personal routines and habits. And I’m curious to know how you, how you balance and also fill up your own cup.


Jacquie Pece (17:46):
Well, the goodness is I was a PHY ed grad. So even though I wanted to play sports and I couldn’t play sports competitively anymore, I do believe in a healthy, active living lifestyle. So I, you know, ran till I couldn’t and then I do spin biking or do an elliptical cuz I feel it’s very important. It downloads my brain, the exercise. So I make sure that I download that stress and anxiety that might build up on me by getting those natural endomorphs to release through exercise. And I do Pilates. I have a little Pilates table at home that I invested in years ago and I stretch, I do all those things. I try to eat, right. I have a wonderful husband who feeds me, he’s a Italian. So he wants to the time. So he allows me to do my thing at work and I come home and I have a meal we’ve always eaten as a family cuz that’s very important to him, especially.


Jacquie Pece (18:41):
But to, to me also, my kids are out of the house. Now they’re 26 and 27. But that balance of knowing you come home to a loving house I never take for granted. And that note when I come home, even if I’m here at school, let’s say, and I start to think, wow, this is really hard day or this is gonna be difficult that comfort and knowing you’re gonna go home and you’re gonna be loved and it’s gonna be okay. And I picture myself sitting and, and decompressing, I do some meditate and that, and that helps. So I balance my life out. I’m a good sleeper, oh my goodness. I can fall asleep. Mid-Sentence if I had to.


Jacquie Pece (19:20):
I can turn it off and go to sleep. And so I love that, but I really do strive that in that balance I have a couple dogs. I walk dogs are great energy. And just knowing that I have a great support system is really, is really great. I have wonderful friends and you can always, you know, that’s that critical friend you can call and talk to. And, and I love movies and I love to read cuz it’s escapism, right? You turn out away from your world and jump into another world. And I love that.


Sam Demma (19:52):
Hmm. That’s awesome. Every Saturday night I go to my cousin’s house for two, three hours and we play FIFA, some soccer on his PS five.


Jacquie Pece (20:02):
See, see, it’s funny cuz I never played video games, but my son does my husband do, but I kind of get the obsession of video games cuz I could sit and do a puzzle for three hours and lose myself. And then when I’m always bugging my kid, get off the game, you’ve been at the game for like three and they’re like, mom, you’ve been at that puzzle for I’m like, oh yeah. Right. Okay.


Sam Demma (20:24):
It’s awesome. It’s funny. I didn’t grow up with video games either and never owned a console. Parents just didn’t buy it and being a high of athlete. I was always outside anyway, but in recent months, literally just these past months I found working at home and then walking upstairs to the kitchen, which is five steps away. And then walking upstairs in my bedroom, which is only another five steps away and just being in this little area and it was really nice to lose yourself in something. And I found it in playing some soccer on a PlayStation. But I think it’s important to find that outlet, whether it’s puzzles, video games, Pilates all these things are important. Invest some of our own time in.


Jacquie Pece (21:09):
Sounds like you need to get out a little bit more Sam too. Maybe you yeah. Take your soccer ball for a walk down the


Sam Demma (21:16):
Absolutely. That’s awesome though. Thank you for sharing some of your own self practices self-care practices. If you could, and you may have already mentioned some of the ideas, so it’s, if you reiterate, but if you could take your experiences throughout education throughout all the years, you’ve been teaching and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Hey Jackie, here’s what you needed to hear when you were just starting in education. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Jacquie Pece (21:48):
I probably would’ve have given myself a tap on the shoulder to say, just be brave. You, you, you know, I feel I have a, a very strong moral compass, but we do as teenagers and young adults listen too much to the chatter of other people. And I would’ve been a little braver to turn them off sooner because it, it affects your self worth or self-esteem even though I think I was a strong female growing up, they, they still work their way in and create that doubt. And so I think that no one knows yourself better than you. And I think you really honor that about yourself. You know, what other people think is none of your business. So, and they’re not the bossy. So I, I always say to students that I work with too, who cares what they think, because you have to think the most of yourself and you have to connect with your inner self. And I think for all of us, we’ve made mistakes, caring too much about what other people think and not enough about our own gumption, about what we wanna do. And we think is right. And as long as you’re doing what is right, you can’t go wrong. So I think that that’s really important. I would’ve told that girl to be a little braver sooner.


Sam Demma (23:07):
I love that.


Jacquie Pece (23:08):
That’s awesome. You know, get on with it and get busy. Don’t worry about what people think.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Thank you for sharing that. That’s a great reminder for everyone, not just educators. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question talk about this interview with you. What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Jacquie Pece (23:28):
They can get in touch with me through my board email. It’s the thing I, I read the most, cuz I’m on it all the time. That would pecej@hdsb.ca and I will return your email.


Sam Demma (23:42):
Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Jacquie Pece (23:49):
Thank you very much, Sam. You have a great day too.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jacquie Pece

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.

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett – Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB)

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett - Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB)
About Sarah Caldwell-Bennett

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (@SarahCalBen), is the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) in Treaty #3, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and Métis Peoples. 

She has taught nearly every grade from K-12, in just about every subject, but eventually settled into teaching Core, Extended and Immersion French programming before moving into a central role.  She holds an HBSc, BEd and has a Master of Education.  Sarah is an AQ course designer and instructor within the key areas of outdoor, environmental, and experiential learning.

Sarah believes that communities play an important role in partnership with educators by providing experiences for students that “stick”.  As a proud Northwestern Ontario person, she has embedded environmentalism, equity, stewardship and love for land and water in all of her courses and passes these lessons on to her own children as well. Undoubtedly, lifelong learning and moving education forward are true passions of hers.

Connect with Sarah-Caldwell-Bennett: Website | Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Keewatin-Patricia District School Board

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Sarah welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (00:09):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me. My name is Sarah Caldwell-Bennett. And I work for the KP DSB and I am the leader of experiential learning for my board.


Sam Demma (00:20):
What the heck is the leader of experiential of learning? What is experiential learning and what do you do?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (00:26):
That’s a very fair question. So the leader of experiential learning takes on quite a few things and it, and the flavor of the role can depend on the school board. So for my school board, I have a focus on experiential learning that connects to outdoor education. Land-Based learning environmental education, as well as pathways and transitions. So thinking about the future and, and for me, and how I approach this role, I really look at it as an opportunity to connect with community organizations, community members and expanding kids networks so that when they leave high school they have the biggest network they can, which really leads to that idea of being a com a responsible community member, as well as an employed community member.


Sam Demma (01:18):
How did you get into this role? What has your journey been like throughout education as a whole?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (01:24):
So, so, so that’s kind of a fun question because this is something that comes up when we talk about pathways. And my, my pathway here has not been a straight line from a to B, like with most of us. So in my first year of teaching, I thought, you know, like I wanna make, I wanna make this fun. I wanna engage kids. I want, I, I wanna be the favorite teacher. I, I wanna make this fun every day. And if it’s fun for me, it’s gonna be fun for kids. And that’s kind of how I looked at it. And plus you, you know, you’re a young, a young adult coming out of university. You think you kind of have all the answers, but I, I really had a great principal that supported me in this. And so when I went with, to him with these ideas, I, I initially thought he say no, but he just kept saying yes, and that led to the next thing and the next thing, and the next thing.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (02:10):
And although your first year is probably your most challenging year or maybe a pandemic year it made it made teaching bearable in that first year and it made it fun. And so I’ve carried on with that throughout all the different roles that I I’ve held. And even in my teaching capacities over the years, my roles have changed. So last year when this role came up a little bit different than it had been seen, it was a little more focused on skilled trades, which isn’t, it’s not really my jam. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues that work in those, in those fields, but it’s not something that drives the fire in my belly when it became more focused on outdoor education, land based learning and environmental issues. I had to jump on it. Mm.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Tell me more about that passion and where it comes from for you personally.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (03:00):
Yeah, so I, so I live in treaty number three, which is in Northwestern, Ontario, the traditional lens of the M a T people. And I think just being in this world where we’re blessed with, with lots of green space, lots of forests, lots of nature, lakes, rivers, you name it, and growing up in this area. I, I just think it becomes a part of your, your fiber and your being to be connected to the land and to the environment. And so I went to university at the university of Toronto and I learned quickly that I was not a city girl very, very quickly. It was actually a struggle to get through four years. But I did. And then when I did my B, I went to Lakehead university because late thunder bay is, you know, in Northwestern, Ontario as well, but I had that connection. So I could go to the land when I needed to, and I couldn’t do that in Toronto. So, but I think it’s just who I am and, and who I raising my kids to be. And thinking about that legacy.


Sam Demma (04:00):
When you say go to the land, how do you feel when you’re out in nature or what, what aspect of nature really calls out to you?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (04:11):
Well, I think normal’s the word that I, that pops in, right? Yeah. So I, I feel more so I start my day outside every day. Mostly cuz my dogs make meat, but nice. I don’t have that cup of coffee in the morning. Like a lot of people have, I have my cup of nature. And even on today, today we had a a little bit of an Alberta clipper pass through through the night. And as I’m out there shoveling snow, whether I realize it or not, I’m connecting with land. Right. And even if it’s a little bit of an days, cuz it’s in the dark and at this time of year, it’s a really important part of how I start my day.


Sam Demma (04:48):
There was an educator I interviewed from the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And he runs a program called the Genesis program, which is an outdoor education program where he brings students into nature for like four weeks. And it’s this huge expedition and him and a colleague created the program. And I think it’d really cool for you to connect with them. There might be some stuff you can bring or, or, or take from that into your own practice. I think learning outside and utilizing nature is so important. I’m like you and love absolutely love getting outside. We back onto a forest and I routinely forest bath or like not actually take a bath in the river, but I do a lot of like walking and, and meditative walking through the forest and find it. Awesome. tell me a little bit about your first year in experiential learning. This is your first year. How has it gone for you and what are some programs and things that you you’ve been able to spearhead within the school board?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (05:46):
So I, I don’t know if my head ever went to thinking about a central role like this because I really did love my role. Every role I’ve had up in the 15 years of my career. So this was never really actually felt very torn about applying that’s how much I loved my classroom position. But you know, there’s been a lot of change in the last couple years and the pandemic has really altered our thinking about how we do things that on and so forth. So last year I made a commitment to get outside as much as possible with my class. And I always had by the way, but this was like next level commitment because now I’m starting to think about the physical and mental health of our students. We, we had students come back to the school, not comfortable being in a classroom with, with, with other, with other students because we had been in isolation for so long.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (06:34):
So I made a commitment. I had grade nine extended French geography at that time. And I, we went outside every single day for class for an entire quad something that started off with, well, let’s try that first week or, oh, well we did last week. Let’s try a couple more days. And, and before you, you knew it, we had done the nine and a half weeks outside. Wow. So seeing that impact on had an impact on kids, but it had a, an impact on me too. So when this position came up, that was something that was kind of driving driving our work. So I don’t, we have, unlike a lot of other boards, our board is spread out into various communities. We even have two time zones in our school boards. So I don’t have, I don’t have a, a prefab cookie cutter program that I lay out in every community.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (07:21):
We want it to be as, as contextual and as community based as possible, but there are some commonalities. So a like with the other LS in the province most are giving a call for proposals. So I I’ve done that. And I’ve actually just put one out because this week marks the, the new the new term for elementary and the new quad for high school. Nice. And so we give them the opportunity to say, Hey, what do you need to make experiential learning happen? Hmm. And by the way, I’ll pay for it. Okay. I’ll pay for it. I’ll coach you through it. I’ll brainstorm with you. I’ll help you facilitate it. And I will, it’s tough to say that’s probably the most empowering thing that we do through my position and the board is, was we, we, sometimes we hand it to them on a silver platter.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (08:09):
Sometimes we’re going, Hey, I can learn from you, show me what you’re doing. Let’s elevate this. Let’s continue with it, whatever it is, but we make it as community and school specific as possible. And also looking at who their kids are. Right. And I don’t know their kids, they know their kids. So they’re, they’re the drivers of that work. But I’m always impressed about what programs are already happening, but I’m also impressed with, who’s willing to take a few more risks and try something new. And that’s what this does. Right? You, you, you know, you dangle some carrot at, in front of them and they go, Hey, maybe I’m willing to make that jump now. Mm


Sam Demma (08:44):
That’s awesome. What are some of the carrots that got danged or some of the programs that are going on in school, right? Yeah.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (08:52):
So this, this fall we, you know, we had a sustainable sewing project, so that was connecting environmental education, connecting with race waste reduction week. Also connecting with community. They brought a seamstress in to teach kids. They reached out to families to get some of that material because we were, we were trying to follow some of those sustainable S and just talking about like fast fashion and things like that. But we also on another extreme end probably one of my highlights of the year, although there have been several was the day I, I reached out to an and teacher and said, Hey, I get a deer. Can I bring a deer into your class? And meaning we are in the hunting season, right? Yeah. So a harvested deer. And, and sometimes I poke the bear a little bit and hope that they, they bite.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (09:50):
And this teacher did, and I ended up coming up with a deer and brought in I’m a I’m a gentleman to come and walk us through it. And we had just like the best slash weirdest school day of the year. And lots of classes were already doing it in other communities, but this one hadn’t. So I thought I would bring it in. And the guest speaker was amazing. The the tea did a lesson in and about my safety and how you respect the animal and, and talking about you know, like tobacco and that kind of thing. But the highlight actually were the students, and like with a lot of the, the experiential learning work that we do, this student becomes the star, not just the star of the moment, but the star of their learning story. So we were hearing kids speak that we’d never heard, like speak before in class, engage, tell the story, tell us how their families do it, tell us how that was the third deer that they’ve cleaned this year. In those moments, it’s almost like we sink back and just let them be in that spotlight and think about how, how that’s gonna stick with them for a long time. So, although it might have been a nontraditional lesson for the day, it’s not one that they’re gonna forget.


Sam Demma (11:12):
This idea of nontraditional is so important because education doesn’t only have to happen in one particular format or setting that would’ve been an amazing experience for all students. I never had an experience like that when I was in high school or elementary school, that would’ve been amazing. I would’ve loved to go through that.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (11:32):
Sam you’re stealing my line. My line is that learning doesn’t just happen in the four walls of your classroom.


Sam Demma (11:38):
Mhm.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (11:39):
Right. And it doesn’t just happen from the teacher. It can be from student to student, student, to teacher, teacher, to student, community member. And it most certainly does not have to happen inside all the time. And that word traditional is, is sometimes a great word. And sometimes it’s a scary word because our school system actually hasn’t changed a whole lot since like, like post contact, right? Yeah. Like the Western ways of, of how the education system has been organized. And so we have to look for opportunities to change forward.


Sam Demma (12:16):
Learning doesn’t even have to happen sometimes face to face, I think, physically face to face. And COVID kind of proved that one a little bit for some school boards. What are some of the, I don’t wanna focus on the challenges cuz those are obvious and we know we all have them due to COVID, but what do you think some of the opportunities are that have arisen because of COVID 19 and the pandemic that all these different school boards are going through.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (12:42):
And I really appreciate that because I think, although I think it’s important to identify those challenges. And I think certainly like one big that March, that spring, March, 2020 to June, 2020 wow. Like how about an next equity check for school boards? Right. And teachers. And I was like, how did I not think of some of this stuff before? And I’ve kind of really gone down deep into learning and exploring that stuff. So we do have to identify those challenges, but I think our willingness to connect and our willingness to overcome some of these barriers and find solutions has been probably, and I’m gonna say one of the best parts of the pandemic. And I, you know, I kind of feel bad saying it that way, but we’ve been given an opportunity and a responsibility to make some change. And I think that that’s really important.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (13:31):
So one thing I’d like to say is, is that educators around the world, not just here in Ontario or in my school board have become really good at sharing the good and sharing sharing in particular. Mm. So I can say, man, I, I saw this, this person out on the east coast and they’re doing this, this fied that’s, you know, like this, I’m gonna bring an idea back from that and bring it into my school board and see if anybody bites and, and go from there. So, and then the others thing is all those opportunities. So we talked about, you know, I live in Northwestern, Ontario, we have a small population, but we have a geographical size of the country of France that we have to, to negotiate. So, you know, like when I go up to pick a lake in a couple weeks, I’m gonna be driving my, you know, seven plus hours up north and, and that’s how I’m gonna reach that school. Right. But it’s also brought us closer together. So now we’re seeing not just like cross like between class collaboration or in interschool, but we’re seeing Intercommunity within our board and beyond. Right. So connected north actually has been a really great partner for us for bringing in yes, speakers and people we may not normally have access to or programming that we may not normally have access to.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Nice. And tell me more about connect, connect to north. Is that the name


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (14:48):
Connect to connect to north? Yeah. So they provide programming we, where we work with it, we’re a Northern board. Right. So, but they can bring in speakers from all over the place. So for instance, one of the call for proposals was looking this fall, one of the classes was looking at special. So, but not just special effects like technology, but also like makeup.


Sam Demma (15:14):
Ah,


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (15:15):
Right. So they brought in they had a guest who was actually based outta Saskatoon, was their kind of teacher for the day for this work. So they’re sitting there getting a makeup lesson on how to do like theatrical makeup. Wow. from Saskatoon in a class in air falls, Ontario. And so the opportunities that come up because of that, right. They wouldn’t get that out of their small town.


Sam Demma (15:40):
That’s awesome. I love that. You know, you mentioned, and, and shed light a little bit on the, the DEI issues that came to light as well. What are some of the thing that you individually have done and also that you see the school board starting to pay attention to, or change that you think is a positive step in the right direction.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (16:01):
Yeah. so that March, 2020 when we first started thinking, oh my goodness, you know, like we’re gonna have to do this virtually, how do we do this? Brought a lot of things to light that maybe, maybe we were weren’t maybe we knew maybe we, we probably knew all along. Like we knew kids that weren’t that were reliant on school food. We knew about these things. We knew kids who didn’t you know, have internet at home. We knew about those things, but it wasn’t a focus and it, all of a sudden we brought it to light. Yeah. and, and I’ve been really privileged to work with a lot of great people, but also some really smart people. And one of the principles that I’ve worked with always says, if you not, you’re not sure where to start, start with yourself.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (16:45):
Hmm. And so I, I really took that to heart. And so that spring, I really started diving into, I attended every workshop. I could, I read every book that I, I could about equity. I started thinking critically about my own actions, what I did in the classroom reflecting on those pieces. And our, our board was as well. It wasn’t just me as an individual. I had lots of colleagues that were thinking along the same lines. And if you look at board improvement plans now almost two years later, you will you that there is one of the main, main roots or goals is based around equity.


Sam Demma (17:21):
That’s awesome. Very cool.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (17:23):
So we have we have several, we have an equity committee at the board level. We also have a culturally, a C R P culture relevant and excuse me, responsive practices group. And we try to embed that work into all of our schools. So there’s just, and at times it feels like, yeah, I made some growth in this area. And then I realized that end line is still far, further and further away. And not because I’m not trying, but it’s an everyday thing. And like you mentioned earlier, like it’s about those small changes, right. Because several small changes can add up to that big one. And that’s the work that we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to make like a wholesale massive change because it won’t stick, it won’t be embedded into the culture. It won’t be embedded into the practice.


Sam Demma (18:16):
And sometimes a, you know, small action is a little less overwhelming which encourages you to continue taking them. So yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Well, what have you found helpful in terms like resources or things that you have went through or read through yourself? Not just for DEI, but just in general for your, your career in education.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (18:39):
Oh man, that’s a tough one. That’s a big one. Yeah, so I, I think you just need to get started. So find someone who who’s you know, willing to maybe walk this path through with you. Cuz they’re, I’m a hundred percent sure there are good people within, within the circle within the network you already have, but I have to say, and I, and I, this isn’t gonna work for everyone, but I’ve made my Twitter account is only professional. It is focused on, on education is focused on learning. I’m very critical about who I follow, what I share, who I post that holy man what I’ve taken away for, for personal learning from those networks and those brilliant people that I’ve added has challenged. My thinking has, you know, hopefully shaped me into, you know, the right, the right person that I wanna be as an educator, as a parent, as just a community member. Yeah. But also, you know, keeps challenging me to think, and that’s the big thing. As soon as you stop doing that stuff, that’s when you’re gonna get stagnant. And that’s actually, one of my biggest fears in education is getting interrupt mm. Staying the same and not being willing to, to change.


Sam Demma (19:49):
Awesome. I love that. I, I think that’s a fear for a lot of people. You get so comfortable doing one thing and you know, maybe you teach the, you know, when you’re in a classroom, you teach the same subject sometimes for 15 years and it’s the same lecture and it’s the same discussion. And being willing to challenge yourself every single day is I think so important. A quote from a book I read or actually the title was what got you here, won’t get you there. And it’s just this idea of always having a beginner mindset, an open mind and understanding that there’s different ways to climb the mountain. And there’s also other mountains that you could climb. And I think it’s just super, super important to remember that. So I appreciate you sharing. If you could take your experiences all throughout education, bundle it up, travel back in time to the first class you taught in, you know, tap younger, Sarah, cuz you’re not, you’re not old, but tap younger Sarah on the shoulder and say, you know, Sarah, this is what I wish you heard when you were just starting.


Sam Demma (20:50):
What advice would you have given yourself?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (20:55):
That’s a tough question.


Sam Demma (20:56):
Oh, that’s a big one.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (20:57):
I’ve actually had, I’ve actually had quite a bit of reflective moments this year because in addition to my L L role I’ve taken on three NTIP teach years we call ’em. So the new teacher induction program. Oh nice. And so I have been thinking about my first year of teaching more and more and more and more than I ever have in any other year. And so, so this is a good question. I don’t know if I have a brilliant answer for you, but I would go back. I would definitely go back in time and share the importance. I knew my kids. I, I did. I knew my kids. I, I, and I was doing some good work. There are some moments that I wish I could delete from memory, obviously because you’re a new teacher and you’re fumbling a little bit, you’re trying to survive to the next day or the next week.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (21:44):
But one thing that I would go back and I would really highlight is the importance to families. And although, although that might not you know, seem directly connected to curriculum or anything like that, but the importance of getting to know your families, their, their parents, their situations and their context, because I, I can tell you, I was not thinking about equity then the way I’m thinking about I wasn’t thinking about home dynamics, then the way I’m thinking about home dynamics now, and that influence that it has on the day to day action and possibilities for kids. And, and also, I, I can’t remember if I said this to you before, but my, my that idea of connection to community is big to me. Those fan family members are part of the community and you have no idea what they could offer you for your learning, for your context and how that’s gonna make it kid feel or another kid feel how that validates what they’re doing for and with their communities. So they really are. They’re a big part of your team. They’re not just someone who you report to three times a year on report card it’s for elementary or, or, or to pay me on quads or semesters for high school, you know they’re a part of your team and, and fuse that relationship as tightly and strongly as you can.


Sam Demma (23:02):
I love that. That’s such a good reminder that yeah, a parent is not just the caretaker of their child. They’re a part of the community that can have something to add in terms of value and yeah. Heightening the experience for everyone involved. If someone is listening to this conversation, Sarah, and liked something that was shared or, or wants to reach out and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (23:27):
Sure. So they can email me, (email). Or you can find me on Twitter @(twitter)


Sam Demma (23:41):
Awesome. Sarah, this has been such a fun conversation. It’s already been over 30 minutes. I appreciate you taking the time to chat here. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (23:51):
Thanks for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Caldwell-Bennett

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 Ryan – Mayor of the City of Pickering (Fifth term)

Dave Ryan - Mayor of the City of Pickering (Fifth term)
About Mayor Dave Ryan

Mayor Dave Ryan (@mayordaveryan) and his wife Anne have lived in Pickering since 1985, where they raised their two daughters and welcomed three granddaughters. Mayor Ryan was first elected to Pickering City Council in 1994. He retired from a 33- year career in general business and management at IBM when he was elected Mayor of Pickering in 2003. 

Already the longest-serving Mayor in Pickering’s history, he was re-elected for a fifth consecutive term in 2018. Pickering is on the cusp of greatness and invested in several transformational
projects, including the new community of Seaton; Durham Live – a 200-acre entertainment and tourism district; and Pickering’s bold new vision for an urban, accessible, connected, walkable, and vibrant downtown.

Mayor Ryan has embedded sustainability and environmental stewardship into the culture and operations of his municipal corporation, and as such, Pickering has won national awards for its demonstrated leadership in conservation, sustainability, and engagement. In addition, he was previously recognized as ‘One of Canada’s Greenest Mayors’ by Alive Magazine.

Connect with Mayor Dave Ryan: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

News & Announcements – City of Pickering

Durham Live – City of Pickering

St Monica’s Elementary School

St Mary Catholic Secondary School (DCDSB)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Mayor Dave Ryan, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show in a very full circle moment. Please start by introducing yourself.

Mayor Dave Ryan (00:11):
Well, Sam, thank you very much. It’s great for you to have me here today. And I am Dave, Ryan and I am the mayor of Pickering and looking very much forward to our conversation.

Sam Demma (00:21):
How did you get here? Did you grow up dreaming about being the mayor of a city and what was your path that, that brought you to where you are today?

Mayor Dave Ryan (00:30):
It was the furthest thing from my mind. I never, I, I, I’ve always been interested in politics as, as a citizen and, and our family. We were all raised to understand that we have, have a responsibility to pay attention to our governments, the various levels, and to participate as, as a as a voter. And that was pretty much my involvement. We moved to Pickering in 1985 to a brand new subdivision, as many of the people watching this I’m sure have had experience. And you know, there’s the usual growing pains that occur in a new new area. And we created a community association. I was asked to sit on the executive and eventually became the, the chair of the association. And it was through that involvement, not only in our community, but I got to know the, of the day and got involved from the community association in various other issues that were occurring around the city.

Mayor Dave Ryan (01:31):
And my community eventually came to me and asked me to the Stanford Stanford office. I was resistant again. I wasn’t anything that I had ever, ever contemplated. Wasn’t certainly part of my life plan in any way. And the upshot of all of that was I, I, I said, yes and I was first elected in 94. And back then we had three year terms. I served three terms as the local counselor here in ward one in 2003, the then mayor Wayne Arthurs who had been mayor for quite a number of years decided that he would like to take a shot at provincial politics. And he asked me if I would put my name forward for the Mari, if he were successful. And based on the experience that I had had as the counselor I thought that there was a job that I could do and would enjoy and could bring something to the office. So in 2003, I ran successfully and I am now in my fifth term as as the mayor Pickering.

Sam Demma (02:41):
Congratulations.

Mayor Dave Ryan (02:43):
Thank you.

Sam Demma (02:44):
And did your interest and involvement in politics begin while you were still at IBM? Tell me a little bit about that journey as well.

Mayor Dave Ryan (02:53):
Well, to say, I, you know, you’re right as the as the local counselor for the first three terms of, of my elected life I was working fulltime at IBM. This city councilors in Pickering are considered part-time nice. And so I had this full-time job and, and the, and the council job as well. So they ran in parallel and I, I think, you know, where they come together is I brought that corporate experience and, and that corporate lens to a lot of what were, was going on within the municipality and, and how to get things done corporate the corporate world and the political world are, are very different in many aspects. But there are similarities and I was able to bring that to bear. So the there, it was a happy marriage you will, of, of life experience.

Sam Demma (03:42):
Was IBM in the plans. Tell me a little bit about your experience working there. I know you had a, a long career at IBM as well.

Mayor Dave Ryan (03:48):
Well, I, I went into IBM very early. I was there for thirties three years and I had a you know, the old joke about IBM is that it stands for I’ve been moved. So we had an, I had a number of roles. So with, within that 33 year timeframe, I spent most of my my career within what is today known as logistics back then, it was known as the distribution function, in fact, managed an import operation for IBM for a number of years. I’ve had an office out at the Toronto international airport now Pearson. And so I mean, I spent time in, in procurement. I spent time in computer operations. I spent time in some system development not in the technical sense, but from the user side of the, of the equation bringing and doing testing. So a lot of project management was involved from there. I had to my career in in the, the HR or organization. So it was a long career with a lot of different experiences. It’s a wonderful place to work and a great, great place to learn and grow.

Sam Demma (04:56):
When you think back to the transition fully into, to politics as well. Do you have any mentors or people that tap you on the shoulder that helped you and supported you and what did they do for you that made a big, a big difference or impact?

Mayor Dave Ryan (05:15):
Well, I, I think I would have to give the, in terms of mentorship, I I’d have to certainly acknowledge of the previous mayor Wayne Arthurs, who was a, a terrific help to me as I entered in politics and, and helped me learn the ropes if you will. And he and I had actually worked together as when I was on the community association before I ran, as I said, you get involved in a number of issues. I mentioned that I had been in procurement at IBM and the, you know, my conversations with him, he was having an issue with back then when the city of Pickering, then the town of Pickering managed own waste management waste collection. And so on before it became a regional responsibility was having some difficulty with some contracts at the time. And he asked me if I could get involved from a community perspective.

Mayor Dave Ryan (06:06):
And we worked together on that. And so things kind of came together and it was nice to have someone who was experienced and, and committed as he was to work with. And when I went into the mayor’s office, I was very fortunate to have a, another strong, friendly relationship with the then regional chair of Roger Anderson, who unfortunately has since passed away. But again, a gentleman who is very dedicated to his job, to his role as, as the regional chair and a very as student politician. So I was able to learn a lot working with him as well and appreciative very much both of their support and, you know Wayne Arthurs is now retired. But I still pick up the phone and called him from time to time and and ask him for a little advice.

Sam Demma (06:52):
That’s amazing. You’ve been surrounded by what sounds like some amazing leaders, and you’ve been in leadership positions yourself. What do you think makes for a strong leader and what is some advice you could provide to other leaders looking to lead as best as they possibly can?

Mayor Dave Ryan (07:12):
Well, I think the first thing you have to acknowledge is you don’t know it all. Yeah. And you know, you have to be willing to to ask questions, to admit that, that you don’t know and, and to seek advice build a base of people around you that, that you can trust that have varied experiences and opinions. You know, if there there’s a quote that goes if everybody here is thinking the same thing, then one of us isn’t thinking. And and I, I, I, I adhere to that very, very strongly. So I’ve always strived to have people around me that as I say, I feel I can trust and have those life experiences and, and, and a knowledge base that, that you can draw on. I think the next thing you need to do is once you have satisfied yourself that you you’re making the right decision and going in the right direction you, you do your best to coalesce that, that thinking around, around that idea and then to move forward and to, to move forward with a degree of confidence and at the same time continue to listen and be willing to adjust.

Mayor Dave Ryan (08:17):
And I guess the bottom line is be honest and, and be willing to make a mistake and admit the mistake, learn from the mistake and move on.

Sam Demma (08:32):
That’s some great advice. You, you mentioned a quote, which was awesome as well. What resources have been helpful for you and your journey in politics, but generally in life as well, you’re sitting in front of a wall of what looks like a beautiful library.

Mayor Dave Ryan (08:51):
Well, I, I guess you’d call it eclectic. I, I read a lot of history. I enjoy, I enjoy history and, and I, I learn from it or try to learn from it. As I say you know, make mistakes and be willing to learn from them. Well, you can also learn from other people’s mistakes. So I, I find reading history both, both enjoyable and, and very much a learning experience. There’s a number of resource books up here, but you know, again, it’s that, it’s that willingness to learn and, and to seek out learning opportunities. And it’s not necessarily all from a textbook, although they’re very, very important, and I encourage you know, everyone to, to advance their education to their fullest ability. But you, you need, you need to have a broader scope. And so you, you learn from, you learn from life, you learn from others experience and, and you learn from the resource materials that are available to you.

Sam Demma (09:45):
When you think about your career in politics, what are some changes or some creations that have come to life in the city of pick that make you extremely proud? Not only because of yourself, but also the counselors and the staff who all help bring these ideas to life.

Mayor Dave Ryan (10:05):
I think the first thing I wanna acknowledge them is that, you know, everything that happens in the municipality happens not because of one person, but because of, you know, a, a broad base of people, it, it takes, it takes politicians. Yes, it takes a strong staff that’s supportive and, and, and working in the same direction. And it takes a community as a whole to get behind ideas and, and understand that not everybody in the community thinks that a particular ideas is a good one. There’s always controversy. The first thing you learn in politics is you’re not gonna make everybody happy. And that’s a given the but you need to do is, is to find that that middle ground, if you will, that, that will make people ultimately happy that people can eventually see the benefit of the direction that, that you’re moving in.

Mayor Dave Ryan (10:55):
And that, that that’s often very difficult. And one of the things you, first things you learn in politics is that you have to have a thick skin. You have to be willing, you have to be willing to take the hits. Yeah. And you know, and I I’ve, I’ve often said as well that you know, using the mayors, the example and, and specifically to your question, what are the things that your proud of, but, well, you know, as the mayor you share all the good things and you take responsibility for the bad things. Ah, and so, you know, what are the things that are happening in the city that I, I think the way the city has, has grown it’s, it’s evolved. I mean, it’s not that long ago in reality may seem like a long time to some of your listeners, but you know, 50 years is not all that long.

Mayor Dave Ryan (11:43):
And if you go back 50 years ago in, in the now city of Pickering, the township of Pickering was a population, almost 16,000 people. Today we’re a hundred thousand people, you know, in the next 25 years, we are gonna be well over 200,000 people. And that mirrors the growth that is occurring here right across Durham region. So which today is a population of about 650,000. That’s gonna more than double in the same timeframe. So we’re in a huge growth period. We’ve experienced some significant growth already and, and seeing how the city has, has embraced that growth coalesced around it. And some of the improvements that we’ve seen with it. And, and the one that stands out, I guess, as a if you will, it’s, it’s kind of iconic to, to that to that growth is the pedestrian bridge across the 4 0 1 that connects the go station to what is emerging as our downtown core. And you know, that’s, it’s symbolic. And, and I said iconic and, and, you know, the fact that it is the longest enclosed pedestrian bridge in the world, and it’s actually made the, the Guinness book of records, I think, wow, it really is a thing that stands out. And that’s just kind of a fun fact. But I think a, again, it’s symbolic of the of what is happening in our municipality has happened. And the future that that is in front of us,

Sam Demma (13:06):
You mentioned as the mayor, you share the good stuff, take responsibility for the bad stuff. And I would argue that it’s very similar in education with the role of a principal who shares the good news and takes responsibility for the bad stuff in your experience. How have you dealt with those difficult situations when you can’t please, everybody, something happens and there might be a little bit of a challenge. How do you personally deal with it so that, you know, even though everyone’s not happy, you’re mentally at peace with it all.

Mayor Dave Ryan (13:42):
Well, I’d love to sit here and tell you that you know, I just smile and carry on it’s, it’s not the reality. Yeah. It, it, it gets tough. It, it, it, it really does. I mean, you know as I said earlier, you, you have to have some confidence in the decisions that you’re making. Do your research, make the best decision you can and implement it in the best way that you can. But at the same time the, the cognizant of, of the comment be cognizant of what is on full holding and make adjustments if necessary. So all of that, but, you know, at the ultimately what you need to do, what is help other people understand tho those people that are particularly unhappy, if you will, with with what is going on to help them to the best of your ability, understand, and the reasons why and they still may not agree, but I think when people understand reason that it, it makes the discussion less confrontational and, and helps people move forward with, with the decision even though they may not be fully supportive of it.

Sam Demma (14:57):
Understood. You’ve always also been a huge supporter, especially in Pickering of education. Why do you think education is so important.

Mayor Dave Ryan (15:11):
As, as we’ve been discussing? I mean, you know, you can’t make decisions with a never mind vision without, without a basis of knowledge with without experience. So it’s extremely important that we find ways to not only gather information, but new ways to process it ways, ways to understand it, and then ultimately apply it. So it’s not just about gaining knowledge, it’s about gaining a, a thought process and the ability to, to analyze information and, and apply it in specific situations and, and, you know, to if you will N through that with, with your own life experience and, and, and values.

Sam Demma (15:57):
Awesome. And I, I asked you this before we started recording, but what is one thing you’re looking most forward to this coming year in 2022?

Mayor Dave Ryan (16:06):
Well, I think this year we are, we are going to see the final piece put in place to allow the city centered development to, to proceed with, with some surety. So the city of Pickering has never had a downtown. I mean, we, we grew up, as I said from essentially a, a rural farming community became a cottage community. And here we are today, the city of Pickering and we, and we’re right next door to a mega metropolis. I mean, you’ve, you’ve got three and a half million people in Toronto, which is the cultural and economic center of Ontario, if not Canada. So you, you know, that growth is, is going to occur almost organically and, and not to have had our own city center, our, our focus of development, a focus of our own cultural identity has been a huge vacuum, I think.

Mayor Dave Ryan (16:57):
And so we are now at the point, we we have the space, we have the partners we have the vision we have the basis with the new super seniors and, and and new center a new state of the art 40,000 square foot library and a a performing arts center that is going to form the basis and the, and the center of an emerging downtown. And of course with that, we’ll come commercial, retail, and significant residential in various forms rental condo, et cetera. So all all built and around a European style Piazza is, is the vision and which will provide for a vibrant, a meeting space within our community and, and need all of the, the aspects of a whole community from residential to employment to culture and entertainment, all all in one downtown setting. So very, very excited for that actually coming to fruition. And we’ll start to see shovels in the ground hopefully, well, hopefully we will see shovels in the ground this spring and we should see structures above ground sometime later next year.

Sam Demma (18:13):
Awesome. And for an educator tuning in right now who may be considering getting into politics and wanting to make a difference, not only in their school community, but also in their city, what advice do you have? What would you recommend their first step be?

Mayor Dave Ryan (18:33):
The first step is always community it’s, it’s get involved, understand your community, be, be invested in your community. What, what are the issues in the community, what what’s going on. And, and what are your thoughts? How can you contribute to that? When I got started, we, we were, were actually fighting at something. We were fighting a dump that existed here in Japan. And then Sam, you’ll probably remember this when the, when the Toronto dump was up the on third concession, just just west of Brock road there. It’s still there, it’s not opera anymore, but we were fighting to have that that particular facility closed and to stop bringing all of that waste into, into Pickering. And so there was an example of a community issue that needed to be addressed that you needed to get involved in.

Mayor Dave Ryan (19:23):
In, in terms of as educators, I, I don’t know that educators that are gonna be any different than anyone else in terms of how to get involved and, and et cetera. But I would like to say this to the educators that are, that are listening and, and this is just, again my perspective, but something I believe very strongly about we have lost somewhat the focus within the education systems on civics, on government. I think it’s improving I now have grandchildren that that are in the the education system here in, in Durham right here in bickering. And they’re coming home and they’re talking more about current events and, and social geography and, and but it’s late. We, we have to build an understanding of the importance of government, the role of government, and most importantly, the role of you as a citizen in government.

Mayor Dave Ryan (20:25):
And I know we do that you know, because I go into the schools, that’s one of the things that I do is I make myself available, frankly, I’ll, I’ll say that I’m a little disappointed that there hasn’t been more take up on the software, but every year I send a letter to all of the school principals in in Pickering both high school and elementary school. And they say, you know, I, and my council, every member of council are more than willing to come and speak to your classes. And talk about civics, talk about how municipal government works, talk about the city itself. And you know, I, maybe once a year I get someone who actually reaches out a place of unlucky and I’d like to see much more of that. Cause I, I think that there’s a real opportunity here for us to share as we are today sharing experiences, having a discussion.

Mayor Dave Ryan (21:21):
And quite frankly, I just, I just love getting into the schools and, and speaking with students cause they bring very, very fresh and unique perspectives sometimes and sometimes it’s just honest curiosity, you know, they, they, they just don’t know and they want to know. And so I, I would like to put that that offer out there again today. Now I will say that as we speak, I’ve just accepted in with, to Dunbarton high school. Nice. And, and to St. Mary’s. So sometime through the month of February, I’m not sure of the date yet. I will, as back be having a a forum like this, where there’ll be a, an opportunity for Q and a, in those two schools. And I think I’ve also had an, an invitation to St. Monica’s the elementary. Nice. Yeah. So, I mean, it’s, it’s starting to pick up, but again, I’m gonna put that out there for, for your audience. If, if anybody wants, please get in touch with my office and would’ve be more than happy to set something out with myself or with one of the other counselors.

Sam Demma (22:25):
Thank you. It’s highly likely that even if an educator is outside of Pickering, that hopefully their mayor would also be willing to stop in their school. So if you’re in Pickering, please contact Dave, Ryan, you heard it here. If you’re outside of Pickering and you still think this is an issue that is also current in your city and raising awareness about civics is so important, please reach out to yours as well. If they tell you, no, you can email me personally and I’ll go to bat for you. But Mayor Dave Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the show here today. It’s been a pleasure. If someone in the city wants to reach out to the office and get in touch, ask a question or a comment, what would be the best way for them to reach out.

Mayor Dave Ryan (23:08):
Through email mayor@pickering.ca or my office phone (905) 420-4600.

Sam Demma (23:19):
Awesome. Thank you again, Mayor Dave, Ryan, keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Mayor Dave Ryan (23:23):
Thank you. And you do the same.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mayor Dave Ryan

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.

Craig Zimmer – TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB

Craig Zimmer - TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB
About Craig Zimmer

Craig Zimmer (@dropthedott) has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering. He is a TED-Ed Innovated educator, TEDx Organizer and has mentored numerous student and adult speakers in their TED talks. His co-authored book, Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada. In 2021, he was named the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Educator of the Year. He has presented at conferences and continues to finds new ways to bring history to life in his classroom.  

Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration to improve the educational system and create a better school environment. By working together, we can improve education and foster educator’s well-being. He also feels that the educator’s role is to recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers they had, to teach those lessons those in front of you and to leave a foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the idea that learning, and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook.  

In his free time Craig enjoys spending time with his wife Andrea, their 3 kids and Juno the Dog and Oliver “The History Cat.”   

Connect with Craig: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

TED-ED: Lessons Worth Sharing

TEDx St. Mary Catholic Secondary School

Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties

St Mary Catholic Secondary School (DCDSB)

Write your story, change history – Brad Meltzer

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED

Raised By Dragons | Jim Zub | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

An Indigenous Journey to Leadership | Eddy Robinson | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

Chasing dreams and beginning again | Kate Drummond | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

The danger of silence | Clint Smith

Meaghan Ramsey: Porque pensar que eres feo es dañino. – TED – 2014

Being an Introvert is a Good Thing. | Crystal Robello | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

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 (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Craig Zimmer has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. The exact high school that I went to as a student myself, I, I didn’t have the pleasure of being in Craig’s class, but heard so many amazing things about him from friends and students that were in his period two and three classes. He is a Ted ed, innovative educator TEDx organizer, and has mentored numerous students and adult speakers in their Ted talks. He coauthored book Canada, a people’s history. Emerging loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada in 2021. He was Durham Catholic district school. Board’s educator of the year at the Durham Catholic virtual secondary school has presented at conferences and finds new ways to bring history to life. In his classroom. Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration as a way of improving the educational system and creating a better school environment.


Sam Demma (02:02):
It is by working together that we can improve education and foster educators wellbeing. He also feels that the role of the educator is to and recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers. They had to teach those lessons, those in tho to those in front of you and to leave at foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the, the idea that learning and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook in his free time. Craig enjoys spending time with his wife, Andrea, there are three kids and Juno, the dog and Oliver, the history cat. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Zimmer as I would’ve called him. When I was in high school, I will see you on the other side, Craig, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Craig Zimmer (02:57):
My name is Craig Zimmer. I teach at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. I’ve been a teacher for 24 years and, and I love every minute of it. It’s, it’s an amazing adventure to be on.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I’m baffled that you and I have not crossed paths when I was going through high school and up until even right now, Monday morning, you know, of January 31st, 2022, but I’m glad that technology has made this possible.


Craig Zimmer (03:24):
Yeah, me too, for sure.


Sam Demma (03:26):
How did you figure out and discover that education was the thing you wanted to pursue throughout your own career journey?


Craig Zimmer (03:33):
You know, it, it, it really was because of a couple of factors. One, I was terrible at math and my whole life as a little kid, I had two passions. I had a passion for history and a passion for space. And I wanted to be an astronomer and I, I went down to my guidance counselor in grade 10 and she said to me, what do you want? I said, I wanna be an astronomer. She picked up my transcripts cuz I’m that old that they didn’t have computers. And she looked at it. She’s like, not with these marks, you gotta rethink what you’re doing. And I was pretty bummed. So I went back to my history class and my history teacher, great guy by the name of Joe Stafford was teaching. And he took me right out of that, took me out of that depression of, I don’t know what I want to do to this place where it’s like, I wanna do what he’s doing. He’s having fun. You know, and this guy had fun. He was passionate. He made the, the, the subject matter come alive. And from that moment, that day where I should have been like, I’m lost, you know, the, the path was opened up to me. It’s almost like that that obstacle needed to be clear. And from grade 10 on, I was working towards becoming an educator.


Sam Demma (04:50):
Wow. That is such an amazing story. Do you stay in touch with that teacher now? Is Joe still around?


Craig Zimmer (04:57):
Yeah, I I’ve seen him a few times. He, he moved out to king a couple years ago, so I haven’t really talked to him. I mean, he’s awesome. He won the governor, General’s awards for excellence in teaching history a few years back. Wow. you know, he’s, he’s a published author, but besides that, he’s just a passionate teacher. And he’s one of the two teachers that I really try to model myself after who inspired me to, to be where I am, because they showed me learning should be fun. You know, teaching should be fun. And that there’s so many possibilities with what you can do in a classroom and, and in how you can inspire students. So I, I haven’t spoken to ’em. I, I got really lucky though. A few years ago, my, my, my high school had a little 25th anniversary and he was there and, and, you know, we went out in the evening of a bunch of the teachers and some of the alumni went out and he didn’t have a ride home.


Craig Zimmer (05:53):
So I said, I’ll drive you home. Joan, I, I had a chance to kind of say to him, you know, thanks I’m, I’m here because of you. And it was really kind of a cool moment. Cause you know, he’s a really humble guy and he’s like, ah, come on. Don’t, you know, you’re there because of you. And I’m like, no man, you, you, you saved my life. You, you showed me the path, you know? And you, you got me to where I am, you gave me so something to love more than what I thought my dream was, you, you opened my eyes to where I needed to be. And so I I’m grateful to, to him for, for that. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Sometimes educators do things, not even realizing the impact it’s gonna have on their students, but I think it takes a, an awareness and, and you know, an intentional action from your practice as an educator to create those experiences for students. Oh,


Craig Zimmer (06:46):
For


Sam Demma (06:46):
Sure. You mentioned, you know, he was one of the educators who really inspired you and that you, you kind of modeled yourself after who are some of the other educators as well. And what did you learn from each of those people that informed them way you teach today?


Craig Zimmer (06:58):
Well, I mean, in terms of high school there, Beth Hawkins, who was my, my drama teacher she was just a ball of energy, you know? And she gave me confidence. I was a really awkward kid. I had body issues, you know, growing up, I had low self-esteem, low confidence and I took drama and she showed me the, the possibilities of being who you want to be through, through being a character. Mm. And just opening up and letting it go and not worrying what others think about you. And, you know, again, it’s that, that idea of having fun. And I think a big part of what I’ve taken from that is, you know, as a teacher, I’ve always just gone for it, you know, really early on in my career. One of the things that I realized that as an educator, you’ve gotta create a character.


Craig Zimmer (07:47):
So I use that drama background to create the character of Mr. Zimmer he’s he’s me, but he’s me outside of my shell. Mm. He, he is, you know, the, this, this creation that I need to be for my kids, you know, who I am when I go home is a lot different than who I am. You know, when I’m standing in front of a classroom and I need to do that because the one thing I know from, from, from Beth and, and from Joe and, and I’ve been so lucky to, to call these people now, my friends was that no matter what’s going on outside your classroom and your life, you owe it to your students to come in and be everything. They need you to be that day. Even if you, you feel like you can’t do it, you gotta give ’em a hundred percent of everything you got that day because they’re worth it.


Craig Zimmer (08:36):
I mean, they, you, you have an off day and, you know, you don’t know what it could do for those kids learning and how, you know, it might turn them off from learning or how many of them just need you to be the energy that they are they’re lacking. So without a doubt those were two of my high school teachers when I got into education. One of the, the smartest things that I did was I realized, first of all, I didn’t know everything. Teachers, colleges often make this mistake of telling their teacher candidates, you know, forget what those old grizzled, cynical teachers are telling you. You know, they’re, they’re, they’re all old. They don’t know what’s going on, you’re on the cutting edge of education. And I never took that approach. I came into to St. Mary and right away, I recognized who I thought the master teachers were, the teachers that I looked at and said either a I’d want them to be my teacher or be, you know, when I have kids, that’s who I want to teach my kids, you know, without a doubt.


Craig Zimmer (09:41):
One of your former guests, Mike loud foot, you know, who, who I know inspired you and, and sent you on the path you’re on. He is one guy that I looked at who just put things into, to a perspective for me, you know, he he’s, he’s the kind of guy that he’s, he’s very calm and centered and very Zen, and you need that in education, you know? And, and he taught me, you know, so many valuable lessons. He taught me, you know, don’t get into a fight unless, you know, you can win. It’s not worth it. You know, you know, he, he said in this, this job do everything you can for, for kids, but recognize there’s only so far that you can go, they need to meet you. And he was just one of those guys that treated me like an equal, you know, I was a 24 year old kid walking in, not having any teaching experience and right away, I felt like I’d been on the team for years.


Craig Zimmer (10:36):
And I other teacher here for sure, Jack Lon, who you know, he’s a, he’s a history teacher here. He was actually a teacher at my high school. You know, my, my final year, my OAC year was his first year as a teacher and himself and Joe, you know, were really great with teenage me. I’d stay after school and talk history with those guys. Cool. And they, they treated me like a peer. You know, and I, I talked to Jack about that. I’m like, you guys must have got sick of an 18 year old kid wanting to sit around for like an hour after school. And he is like, no, we knew you were one of us. And we, we wanted to, to have that there for you and Jack, you know, Jack was the, the kind of teacher that I walked in and he opened up his filing cabinet and his binders and said, you take what you need.


Craig Zimmer (11:29):
He was, was great. So instead of me having to recreate the wheel, there was a lot of stuff there. And that’s, that started a 24 year collaboration between two of us, cuz he’s still here at St. Mary and we bounce ideas off each other and I create things and pass it on to him and he’ll come back and be like, Hey, let’s make it better this way. And I’m like, yeah, that sounds so much better. You know? And collaboration is such a huge part of, of teaching. You know, I, I ran into some teachers when I came in, who were like, I’m giving you nothing, learn, learn on your own. And they were, were not teachers in my opinion, cuz teachers helped teachers, not just students. You know, I collaborate really well with John stanza who teaches here. Yeah. You know, and although John and I have a comparable number of years that as a teacher, you know, he is, he’s really compassionate. You know, there, there are times where he reminds me just by watching him and how he interacts with students, you know, how important compassion is, cuz this is a job or you can get really frustrated.


Craig Zimmer (12:36):
And it’s hard to remind yourself, you know, these are kids who are dealing with things at home. These are kids who have things going on outside. These are kids who feel justified that they might not be getting their stuff in for whatever reason. And you’re like, you get frustrated because you’re like I and everything. And John’s the kind of guy that I watch him with them. And I remember, you know, you’ve gotta have an open heart and you know, I I’ve tried to take from, you know, those, those people you know, besides that my other favorite teacher at St Mary’s Mrs Zimmer, but I, I married her after meeting her here. So she’s my favorite to teacher at the school. I have to say that, but you know, she, she’s also really awesome in the sense that she, outside of the whole marriage thing, the educational side of things, she teaches history and art.


Craig Zimmer (13:26):
She opened me up to a whole other side of history that I kind of pushed aside. Cause I’m like art’s not interesting. And she’s like, what do you mean? Art’s not interesting. So she took me to museums and taught me and I’ve integrated that, you know, and, and I try to get what I can from everybody. I work with something valuable from each of them. So I can continue to build this character of Mr. Zimmer, who can be the best teacher for his students and, you know, by character. I mean, I’m also, I try to be really authentic with them, but have to save me for outside for my kids, for my wife. I couldn’t stand in front of the classroom and be just me. I have to be, you know, Mr Zimmer, does that make sense?


Sam Demma (14:08):
It’s like Spiderman. It’s like bat, you know, like a modern day superhero there’s an amazing book called the alter ego by Ted Herman. And he talks about this idea of building an alter ego for yourself for different situations in your life, even references a scenario or someone from the army, a general would come home and bring the same traits and actions and habits that he had as a general into his health. And it wasn’t working. And Todd coached him and helped him realize you need to have a different personality slightly, still your be your authentic self, but show up in a way that serves the people who live in your house versus the people that live in your army base.


Craig Zimmer (14:52):
Like I can’t be teacher Mr. Zimmer to my kids. Yeah, it does. It doesn’t work. You know, the stakes are different, you know, you got your students in front of you. There’s marks, you got your kids in front of you. And they’re not, they’re not there for marks. They’re there for life and you’ve gotta approach life differently as a parent, you know? So you’re, you, you have to be different.


Sam Demma (15:12):
You mentioned the importance of creation and collaboration. And as a student, that’s something that teachers always share with their students, you know, get involved, you know, do new things, create things, make friends, get, get yourself out there. Sure. What is inspire you to do that? You’ve done so many different projects. You’ve read, you’ve run TEDx events and you sit on the Ted ed council for innovation. Like tell me more about what inspired you to start getting involved in different activities.


Craig Zimmer (15:45):
You know, the, the one thing that I learned really on early on was working with others and, and to kind taking the strengths of others and balancing them out with the weaknesses of others creates better stuff. You know, there’s, I know what my strengths are. And I like to work with a team that basically says, okay, we know what you can bring to the table. Here’s what I can bring to the table. And that’s great. Like, I, you can’t do everything on your own. Mm I’m I’m only so, so good at one thing. And I’m, I’m a believer that we’re all lifelong learners. You know, I’m not one of those educators who stands up here and says, I know it all, you know, I, and I mean, I’ve got 24 years of experience in, and I’m fairly confident in my job, but you know, to quote Socrates, the one thing I know is that I know nothing I’m trying to continue to learn.


Craig Zimmer (16:39):
And I think that the best way to learn is by experience, by working with others and seeing what they bring to the table. It’s like, like I said, with Jack Selan, you know, he brought so much to me, he brought his experience to me, but the one thing he’s always said that I brought to him at that period of time was that, that energy to, you know, to see a young teacher who’s like fired up and ready to go, it reignited him. So, you know, I’ve always liked working with groups of people and knowing when to step up and take a leadership role, knowing when to sit back and to allow others to take that, that role, because I could learn something from them that that’s why working with Ted ed has been amazing for me. You know, I was really fortunate to be chosen, to be part of their first cohort for innovative educators.


Craig Zimmer (17:29):
So they worked with over 250,000 educators around the world and they chose their, of us that they work with to start this program about five years back. Wow. And you know, I got this email just out of the blue and I’d been working with Ted ed and I I’d gotten to know them because I ran the Ted ed club here at St. Mary. And you know, I was running the TEDx events and I went to Ted global in 2014. So I got to see the Ted people there. And I, you know, they, they, I was the only educator at this Ted conference, so, wow. You know, I’m sitting there at, at a table with all these, you know, CEOs of these companies and I’m like, I’m just a high school teacher. Like, that’s awesome. What is it like, you know, the, because it was so far removed from their experience.


Craig Zimmer (18:16):
So the Ted ed people picked my brains and I got to know them and, and they invited me to be part of this. And I was, it blew my mind because I’m like me, come on. I’m just, I’m just some guy who teaches. I Pickering I’m, I’m not, I’m not one of these super teachers who’s like published, but they didn’t want that. They recognized they wanted grassroots people like real authentic educators. And that was probably one of the best collaborations that I’ve had. I’m, you know, as a group of, of educators we got together, we talked, we created Ted lessons. We, you know, worked towards making the program at Ted ed stronger. You know, we, we sent them ideas. I mean, God bless them. They, they got get sick of me because I will just send emails. Like here’s like 20 ideas I came up with and, you know, there’s, there’s so wonderful there they’re, they’re like, yeah, I don’t know if this is something we can do, but Hey, keep the ideas coming.


Craig Zimmer (19:15):
And you know, the, the Ted ed club, you know, I, I helped go through the booklet there and they sent it off and said, do you think this works? And I tried it with my Ted ed clubs. And that collaboration has made me a better teacher. And if I have an issue in my classroom, they’re, they’re a peer group that I can go to and they’re all over the world. And I can say, this is what I’m dealing with. And, and I get that support. And, you know, the other day I had something I was working on. I’m not very good at Excel. So I’m like, does anyone know anything about L and right away, I got videos and links and like, oh, FaceTime me. We’ll, we’ll, I’ll walk you through it. And, and that makes us better. Educators need to educate each other.


Craig Zimmer (20:02):
Educators need to realize that we can’t do it on our own. And until I got into the, the, the process of being part of this Ted ed group, I was, I was at a place in my life where I was doing that. You know, I, I had had 10 years of teaching in when I started Ted ed and, or 12 years, something like that. And I was kind of at a place where I can do it all. I was very confident that I was already there. And I quickly realized that I needed that collaboration, cuz I was running out of ideas and I was running out of inspiration. So, you know, it, it definitely saved my, my career in many ways cuz it, they keep me fresh. They challenge me, you know? And it’s a safe place to, to share and collaborate. Whereas, you know, often when you’re, you’re in a school system, you know, very much so there’s, there’s a vision that comes forward from a ministry or a school board. And you have to conform to this vision where this is a think tank where the sky’s the limit, you know, let’s, let’s throw it all out there and see what people have, have to say.


Sam Demma (21:09):
It’s so cool that you are a part of this Ted ed group. And it sounds like an amazing network for another educator who loves the idea of like a think take and a mastermind who might not be able to just tap into the Ted ed community. What would you recommend? They do like hit, like call upon some of peers form almost like a little bit of a network or a mastermind or what other groups have you leveraged as well that may be accessible for, for all?


Craig Zimmer (21:37):
Well, you know, I think what’s really important is one, thanks to social media. You can start group pages. Yeah. You know, easily and start to, to use those, to, to build network for yourself. You know, I’m, I’m part of a lot of different educator pages on Facebook, for instance, where I may, I might not be active on them, but I’m seeing posts and I’m seeing things. And I know that I can access someone who might have something that I need. You know, I, I want to increase for example the amount of indigenous history it teach. It’s not an area that I’m an expert in and I’m trying to get there. So I can go on some of these networks and say, Hey, I want to teach my kids more about this indigenous experience, which is removed from my own, but I wanna make it something that is accessible to them.


Craig Zimmer (22:24):
What resources can I use? You know, is there a great YouTube video and somebody will get to you because you know, great teachers have these things at their fingertip. I, if somebody said, do you have a great Ted talk on body image, I’m like, boom, right away, I’ve got one. I can send you the link or, you know, the importance of history. You know, I, I’ve got one. And, and I think that’s one thing that, that you need to do. I think you start first at the school, you know, you collaborate with your coworkers, you education is something that you need to put ego aside and recognize that you are only better if, if you you’re working with others. So start that network, you know, first of all, in your school, grow it out to your school board because the, then you have the idea what their vision is that you’re working towards and you can conform to that and then go to the bigger level.


Craig Zimmer (23:18):
Then on the other side of it is get involved in things outside of education. You know, it’s, it’s amazing the people who you will come into contact with who aren’t part of this field, you know, who have different life experiences and have a different point of view than you. And, and you can bring that into your classroom. You know, experience is, is the best teacher. You know, it’s, it’s not about necessarily the content that you’re, you’re teaching it’s about the experiences that, that you can show students. This is what makes education valuable. Your, your experiences in life will be the things that you can use, you know, to grow. You know, as a history teacher, I always tell the kids, you know, remember every day you’re making history, your own history and that’s the most important one. So yeah, getting involved with different groups, just, you know, the planning, the, the TEDx conferences, and I know you’ve spoken at a few TEDxs so, you know, what they, the involvement of that is I have met hundreds of amazing people from outside of education who have given their time and, and I’ve just chatted with in helping them build their talks.


Craig Zimmer (24:30):
And it’s blown my mind, you know, the stuff that I realized I didn’t know about. And in putting those conferences together, you know, I didn’t bring history people in, you know, I tried to bring in diverse speakers. I’ve had everything from like parallel universes to sustainable cities of the future to you know, a former teacher who became an actress who left teaching to follow her dreams. Kate Drummond, her talk is amazing. Eddie Robinson, who’s an indigenous leader. You know, he, he and I had some amazing talks, Jim ZBB, who writes the Avengers from marble, you know, just to name a few every single one of those speakers, the conversations I had with them opened my mind in a new way. And that, that’s why I did the Ted conferences too, because I wanted students to experience something that they’re not gonna necessarily get in the classroom.


Craig Zimmer (25:23):
You know, we have prescribed curriculums and as teachers, you know, we also have timelines. And so often these ideas, which are on the fringes of what we’re teaching, don’t get a chance to get into the class. Mm. So that, that’s, that’s why I thought let’s expose students to something new, something that they’re gonna see when they get to post secondary. You know, let’s give ’em a little preview of what’s at, out there. And hopefully that, that opens their eyes to, you know, get involved in their community. I know you, you know, you got involved in your community and you started cleaning up you know, along the lake Ontario. And that made a difference cuz you, you inspired others to open their eyes, to see, you know, we have to be caretakers of this planet and you know, you can’t just sit back and say, someone else will do it cuz somebody won’t, you eventually have to say, you know, who’s gonna do this me, you know, and, and see, you know, you’re a perfect example of a person who through the teachers exposing you to new ideas and you know, and I’m, I’m assuming it’s Mr.


Craig Zimmer (26:26):
Loud foot. It is teaching you that, you know, it’s not just about learning from a book it’s about getting out there and learning from life and doing something to make a difference. You know, you became who you are now and you’re continuing to grow and go on that journey and it’s gonna take you somewhere. So yeah. Experience is the best thing. Cause I know my experience got me to where I am right now.


Sam Demma (26:46):
That’s awesome. There’s a, a, a book as well titled what got you here? Won’t get you there. And it’s a reminder to myself. I look at it as a reminder every day that be a student, you know, be a student, be a student. And that’s why I think these collaborate, the collaborations, these group chats, these think tanks with other educators and other people who have different perspectives is so important because a new perspective is like a new sun, a new pair of glasses that allows you to see the world in a different way. And for sure, that’s why I love Ted X and Ted events as well. I’ll have to ask you to send over some of your favorite. It talks and I’ll put them in the resource section of this article and the episode goes alive.


Craig Zimmer (27:27):
Yeah, no for sure. You know, and I try to watch, you know, new talks all the time, but nice. I go back to the old favorites cuz they they’re ones that, that constantly remind me what brought me to where I am. And sometimes that message changes as you get a older too. Mm you know, I know I’m a different teacher than I was five years ago, 10 years ago, 24 years ago. Yeah. And it’s, it’s okay to go back and revisit the old stuff. Because you can learn from it. It’s it’s I have fresh eyes now that 26 year old me didn’t have, but 48 year old me does. Hmm. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s revisiting again, your own history that I think is important.


Sam Demma (28:11):
I, I love that idea of writing your own history every day. That’s a cool reminder. When, when you think about all the experience you’ve had, and maybe this will be echoing, some of the things you’ve already shared, when you think of about all the experience you’ve had, if you could bundle it up, walk back into the first classroom you ever taught 24 years ago, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Mr. Zimmer, or back then maybe you didn’t have the alter ego. So you would’ve said Craig here’s what you needed to know. Or here’s what I wish you would’ve heard when you just started. What would you have shared


Craig Zimmer (28:45):
Breathe?


Sam Demma (28:47):
Mm


Craig Zimmer (28:47):
Breathe. You know, the, the first years as a teacher, you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel that, you know, somebody is going to come in at any moment and say, you know what? We made a mistake. You shouldn’t be here. Mm. You can’t change everybody. You can’t do it all. You, you can’t be that teacher. Who’s got 20 years of experience in, you know, so many young teachers and I was there too spend all day and all night just working and it takes the joy out of it, you know, enjoy those moments and breathe. Just take it in, you know, because everything comes once that class in front of you, they will never all be in front of you again. So enjoy that moment to have those kids. You know, some of them, you will get lucky and, and you might teach ’em two, three times, but some of them that’ll be your only chance to, to get to them.


Craig Zimmer (29:53):
So just take it in, enjoy each moment for what it is. Don’t take it all so seriously. It doesn’t all have to get done and, and don’t worry, don’t worry so much, you know new teachers spent a lot of time worry, am I hitting the curriculum? Am I contacting parents enough? Am I doing all the paperwork? Am I, you know, doting the eyes and crossing the Ts am and they end up missing these great moments. And I, I, I, I’ve missed so many great moments because I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy them. And maybe that’s a little bit of retrospective now because you know, in eight years I get to retire. And you know, the other side of where I am now is I’m like, you know, I’m teaching these courses and it’s like, this might be the last time I teach about Vimy Ridge or this might, you know, I might only have get, get the course where I teach modern history.


Craig Zimmer (30:54):
I might only do the Renaissance lecture five more times and, and, you know, just be in that moment and enjoy it because despite the politics, despite, you know, the negativity that sometimes goes out there for educators in the public, this is the greatest job in the world. Mm. This is a job where I get to interact with so many different people every day. You know, over the years, I’ve taught thousands of kids. And it blows my mind to think about that. That I I’ve, I’ve had thousands of people in front of me and I get the privilege and the opportunity of meeting these people and hopefully inspiring them in some way to look at history differently. I’m so privileged that I, I get to come up here, tell the stories I love, and you know, what other job is gonna pay me to share the history that I love to share the stories that make our country, what it is to see the, the look on, on kids’ faces when they, they hear these stories and be like, that is, oh, cool.


Craig Zimmer (32:06):
Or I didn’t know that there’s no other job that gives me that opportunity, you know? And there’s no other job that allows you to, to kind of pass that passion on to so many. We, we ha other jobs. I know they have a reach where they can do it, but, you know, I, I, I get to say to them, have you ever heard of this, or, oh, let me tell you this story. And it’s, it’s just so cool. Like, I, I have try to have so much fun up here because it is a fun job. You know, Jack Selo told me right at the beginning, he’s like the one thing you gotta remember this with this job is there’s all that noise outside the negativity, the government, you know, the, the, the haters, it’s like, you close your door and that’s your world. And you, you get to play in your playground and he’s so right.


Craig Zimmer (33:11):
You know, and I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to do this and, you know, and the people I’ve met, you know, I, I’m friends with a lot of former students on social media and you know, unsolicited, they, they send messages saying, you know, Hey, thanks to you. I’m in law school. I’m like, nah, it’s all you, you, you did it. I just, I’m just the guy up there at the front. Who’s telling his goofy stories. You know, but it’s nice to hear that. And it’s, it’s nice to, to see what’s become of them. And, you know, it was, it was talking to one of my former teachers, well, Beth Hawkins, who I mentioned, you know, I, she retired a couple years ago and I sent her a note and I’m like, thank you. And I, I like much like I did with Joe.


Craig Zimmer (33:57):
You know, I told her what she gave to me. And it really kind of dawned on me that, you know, another part of the responsibility I have as a teacher is I have to keep her legacy going and Joe’s legacy going. You know, I am part of their legacy and the job they did, I need to pass on. You know, we as educators, we’re part of have this bigger story of the educators who came before us, and we have a responsibility to shape and mold the educators who come after us, you know that responsibility is, is so important. So I have to try to get kids to love a subject that a lot of them in great, 10 they’re forced to take. So yeah, I’d, I’d go back and, and tell, ’em just breathe. Don’t take everything so seriously, just enjoy these moments more because they will be gone. You will only be a new teacher for so long. And, and that’s that, I think it’s a lesson for life, you know, just, we should all take a moment and just soak it in. You know, don’t, don’t just live, be alive in the which


Sam Demma (35:04):
Mm that’s such good advice. I appreciate you expanding on it and sharing why and how it’s affected, you know, your teaching and the way you approach your work. This has been such a awesome conversation. Time has flown by. It’s almost been 50 minutes.


Craig Zimmer (35:17):
Wow. Already,


Sam Demma (35:19):
If, if someone is wanting to reach out, ask you a question, a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Craig Zimmer (35:27):
I’m I’m on Twitter, that that’s probably the, the best way to be in touch. You can find me at @dropthedott. So it’s it’s cuz that that’s kind of a reference to my Ted stuff. Cause you always stand on that dot on Twitter. That’s, that’s really the quickest way to, to get me. That’s kind of the educational side of things that count there.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. All right, Craig or Mr. Zimmer depending on what mindset you in right now,


Craig Zimmer (35:54):
You know what I’ve wanted to call you Sam’s for so long too, because that’s when you were here, that’s what everyone calls you, you know? Yeah. But I’m like, no, he’s a grownup now you gotta call him Sam. You know,


Sam Demma (36:04):
That’s so funny. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks for


Craig Zimmer (36:08):
Having, you know, and I just wanna say before I go you know, we here at St Mary’s so proud of who you’ve become, you know, I I’ve followed along when you, you kind of started off here getting active in the community and, and doing your cleanup and, and stuff. And you know, I, I, I was just amazed to see, see you doing that. And the fact that you were able to motivate so many other kids to join you and you know, you, you’re becoming a, a positive act of change in this world world, you know, you’re, you’re somebody who’s trying to make a difference. And, and you know, that’s the best gift you can give to guys like Mike, Mike, loud foot, you know, being that, that change being that message, the living message that he’s tried to instill in you. So keep it up, man. You’re, you know, you, you’re sending a positive message out there be be that and inspire others to be that message. So we’re all very proud of you here.


Sam Demma (37:02):
Ah, thank you, man. It means the world to me. And yeah, I, I reflect back on my experience at high school all the time. And I’m so grateful that I was able to go through St. Mary. I think it really shaped me into the person I am today. Not only Mike, but all my teachers and even the teachers I didn’t have because you would’ve told Mike things that informed the way he taught. So everyone has an impact on each other. Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoy that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Craig Zimmer

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Jason Pratt – Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Jason Pratt - Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School
About Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt (@jasonpratt) is the Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He is in his 22nd year in education, and working in his fifth school in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

An English and Special Education Teacher for 10 years, he spent 8 amazing and exciting years at two different schools as a vice-principal before being promoted to Principal at St. Martin, where he oversees a highly successful and exciting Regional Sports Program, which is run in conjunction with the mainstream neighbourhood school. He is passionate about all students and is involved in the community as a coach and volunteer. His experiences growing up and being involved in various community sports make him a great fit for the school.

Growing up the oldest of five boys and being a father to four active and energetic sons allows him the perspective of a parent and caregiver in his decisions running a school, and is something that informs his practice daily. Jason believes it takes a diverse and balanced set of opportunities, staff and experiences to support student success, and with a loving approach, students can grow and develop to their full potential.

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Regional Sports Program DPCDSB

Naval Ravikant – The podcast and book

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

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 (00:01):
Jason welcome to the high performing educator. A pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Jason Pratt (00:08):
Thanks, Sam. It’s a great honor to be part of this really interesting podcast. My name’s Jason Pratt. I am the principal at St. Martin Catholic secondary school in Mississauga Ontario. And this is my fourth year as a school principal. This is my first school that I’ve been a principal at. I was a vice-principal for eight years previous at two really fantastic schools as well. And before that I was a teacher for just about 10 years with a background, mostly I, I taught in English and special education before I got into administration. So it’s my 22nd year now in education.


Sam Demma (00:49):
Did you know since you were a child that you wanted to work in a school or what was the yeah. Journey to where you are now?


Jason Pratt (00:56):
Yeah, so like I was telling you before I, I had actually listened to a few of your podcasts and I had to stop because I didn’t wanna get too modeled. And you know what I reflected on that because I’d listened to some of your previous podcasts and it’s not something you’ll hear sometimes where people who wanna get education when they were really young. I knew all along for me, it was, it was a little bit more of a, a lengthy journey. I’m the oldest of five boys. And I ironically I have four sons, so I grew up with four younger brothers and now I have four younger sons. And we moved into a, a neighborhood in Mississauga, both neighborhoods I lived in, I was one of the older kids in the area because, you know it was the suburbs and we were moving in there and my parents were, were pretty early and moving into miss to, so, and I remember, you know playing right around where square one is now, and it wasn’t there.


Jason Pratt (01:49):
Then when I, when I was a kid and, you know, it was a lot of really cool experiences, but everywhere around me was all younger kids. And so I just naturally took on this leadership role of kind of organizing activities and games and, and we we would spend a lot of time in the outdoors and, and whether, you know, going to the park or going to like undeveloped areas, there was a lot of force in that area, if you can believe it back then. And we had tree houses and, and really cool things like that. And then when we moved our second time and I was, you know, in my, you know, early teens on, you know, I had these four younger brothers and we moved once again to a new development area, but we backed onto a park.


Jason Pratt (02:32):
We had tennis courts and, and, you know, baseball diamonds. And so I grew up with you know, a really good you know, an accessible space in which I could kind of organize and, and, and run these games. And my mom would often say to me, she was a teacher. She would say to me in the summer break, get these, you know, get your brothers out of the house, keep them outta the house for six hours. And I was the oldest one. So I’d organize, you know, tag or we’d play, you know, capture the flag or just different games. And a lot of kids in the area kind of you know jumped on, on board, right? So I would, I’d be kind of that organizing, you know, the organizer and I would get involved with a lot of these these activities with the kids.


Jason Pratt (03:57):
So I wasn’t a qualified teacher, but I got to, to spend some of time in a school. These were elementary schools at the time and got to be around kids. And I, and I said, you know what? This is actually pretty cool. So I, I finished my undergrad went to teachers college, and then I was lucky enough at the time the, the climate in the late nineties was such that you know, they were, they were offering permanent jobs right away. So it’s very different than it is now, where there’s a much more lengthy process of getting in, you know, on the supply teacher pool. And then you become an LTO. So I was actually fortunate enough to get hired permanently, right at a teacher’s college at a great school St. Francis, Xavier and Mississauga, that one of the bigger schools on the board with, you know, two housing plus kids at the time, and worked there for seven years and, and really enjoyed it.


Jason Pratt (03:13):
And then I think as I grew up, I, I didn’t necessarily, wasn’t drawn to toward teaching as much as I was coaching. So even at a young age, maybe 18, 19 years old, I started coaching my younger brothers, hockey teams and, and, and getting involved with being in that role. And I think it lent itself naturally to the position of teacher. And as I had mentioned, my mom was a teacher and my godmother, she was a teacher and the two of them were, were influential as going through my undergrad saying, you know, do some supply teaching. My godmother was actually a principal and she got me in as, as one of those emergency supply teachers. So actually before I finished university, I went in and it was like in a, you know, an emergency volunteer. And then I became an emergency instructor.


Jason Pratt (04:47):
And then while I was there, I got in with I wouldn’t say the wrong crowd, but the right crowd, a bunch of guys who were in and girls who were interested in getting into administration. And, and it kind of took me that way. So it was never something that I, I was, you know, you, people will say, I want to become a, a principal. I want to be everything just kind of happened with, with a certain natural flow. So I’ve really enjoyed the ride. It’s been great. And that’s kind of how I’ve ended up here.


Sam Demma (05:17):
Because this podcast is solely audio. No one can see the off, some metals hanging over your right shoulder there. How has sports impacted your journey in education and also your background?


Jason Pratt (05:32):
Well, as I had mentioned, I, I, before I wanted to become a teacher, I was a coach. And and I think the, one of the first things I did when I was a teacher is I signed up to coach hockey and we never had a strong team at St. Francis sea, but we were competitive, but we were never the elite hockey and Mississauga and hockey in particular, in the defer, in the, in the, in the robs league is, is, is pretty much just a handful of teams. It was back then, but I I, I truly enjoyed coaching. And, and, and one of the things I, I really enjoyed was organizing a lot of intramurals in the school. I thought that was almost as reward as, as coaching the school teams, because when you’re coaching the school team, I know if it was the same when you were playing same, but there was a lot of competing interests with the kids playing with club teams.


Jason Pratt (06:28):
So it was almost as if you were begging these kids to play on the school teams. Yeah. It’s very much different than the us model where the, at the, the high school teams, especially with hockey in Minnesota, they don’t even have club teams. It’s just, it’s, everything is high school, but I felt you know, with, with sports, it was a natural, it was a natural for me. I, I loved coaching. And so I coached all the way up until I became a vice principal. And even my first year as vice principal, I tried to help coach, but it was offer because, you know, the practices were right after school and you were busy dealing with stuff. So it was it was, it was, it was tough to, to have those competing interests. So, you know, I’ve gravitated more towards my role right now, as, as a school principal here at, St.


Jason Pratt (07:14):
Martin is, is really providing opportunities for these kids to to train in a, in a good safe environment. One that is financially available to a greater section of students. And that, that also comes from my experience as being a parent of my, of my kids. Two of them played at the triple a level, and I coached them both as a head coach, one with the Masaga rebels and one with the Masaga senators, both AAA organizations. And, and I took on that role as a head coach and loved it as well. But I also saw some of the, the, the pitfalls that parents can get into getting into that, that culture with with the sports and the training. So one of the thing, things we do here at this school is provide a really good opportunity for students to train and to earn credit phys ed credits, and some leadership pH ed credits, and some other elective credits while still training for their primary sport.


Jason Pratt (08:16):
Cool. And, and, and, and balancing them, playing on club teams versus is versus training. So it’s, it’s, it’s allowed us to win a lot of medals here, but that the championship medals and, and, and the, and the, the high school leagues per se, are almost a, a, a secondary now compared to these kids in their club teams. A lot of these kids go on to, to, to get a lot of success in sport because they they’re playing on club teams, whether it’s hockey, soccer, as you mentioned, like, you know, like the FC academies now, there’s, there’s a lot of different soccer academies, a lot of our basketball kids that are here our they play club basketball as well. In addition, high school is probably one of those last high school. Basketball is one of those last environments where it still is pretty competitive.


Jason Pratt (09:05):
And then now we have kids who are baseball, but we have kids that from our school have scholarships for tennis, golf swimming gymnastics, lots things. So we, we, we tend to bring a lot of kids in here. And, and so the relationship between sport and and schooling is, is so important to me. I, I did one of my master’s thesis proposals was on the relationship of sports and, and performance in school. And, and I, I it’s always been a passion of mine. So, like I had said, I’m, it’s a dream, you being at this school being surrounded by so many student athletes and, and their families and, and, and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride so far. Well, but COVID is yeah. Yeah. That’s the other real part of it. I know. That’s, yeah. It’s kind of put everything on pause for a couple years.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Yeah. Athletes are being forced to get very creative, unfortunately, high school sports isn’t happening as much as it would have in the past, but, you know, I think as an athlete, you live, eat, and breathe or sport, you gotta figure out a way to continue training and stay sharp. And even if you gotta do it in your home basement for the time being, but you mentioned your school is one of the only re regional athletic schools. Can, can you explain a little bit about that?


Jason Pratt (10:21):
Yeah. So we are the only school in din peel that has a regional sports program. There is one offered in our determinist board, which is the PO district school board. So din peel. We are the only one and we’re located pretty far south we’re in the year on park valley, which is Mavis and, and Dunas which is really far south in considering our board goes all the way up to Dran county, which is right on the, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty, pretty far up there. Like when you’re, when you’re looking at the board, it’s, it’s a very large geographical board. And so the way it, cuz the students apply out of grade eight, they apply to our program it’s regional. So we accept students from all around the region. They don’t have to live in our neighborhood area. Transportation is not provided so the students have to come here.


Jason Pratt (11:10):
So it’s a big commitment on, on the students and the parents to come to the school. They, they get references from their teachers of coaches and they, they themselves go through a discernment process. They apply just before the the winter break. And then when we get back, we, we have a selection committee that goes through all the applications and we take roughly 110 to 120 students each year. And those student in are in the regional sport program for two years. And in the regional sports program, the difference is, is that they do full year training in their sport of choice or if they don’t have a sport of choice, we do have a non-sport specific class. And they do that for the entire year from September to June and they get a PHY-ed credit and a leadership PHY-ed credit.


Jason Pratt (12:02):
So they get those two credits. And then in grade 10, we continue the, the program for the entire year, but those teachers are infusing the religion credit in with their PHY-ed credit. So the students will come to the school. They’ll, let’s say they select soccer, they’ll be in the soccer a focus course, which is large group activity course, but it focuses on soccer training. They’ll be with other kids of that same mindset. So the other kids who are in soccer and they’ll train for the entire year from September to June, but it’s not every day because they’ll intersperse the training with leadership activities and in class. And then in grade 10, they train once again for the whole year, but it’s interspersed with religion. So they may be the first two, three weeks. They be doing a lot of the religion work, then they’ll go on the ice or, and on the field.


Jason Pratt (12:50):
And then they’ll kind of do so it’s a real mix match. And like I had said before it back balances out all the training these kids do at night. So a lot of these kids are training 4, 5, 6 days a week with their clubs. Yeah. But we supplement a lot of that training. So I, I, you know, a lot of times when, when you’re playing, let’s say soccer or hockey at a high level, a lot of these clubs and teams that do a lot of systems and tactics they’re, they’re working on, let’s say, you know, their free kicks or their corn kicks. There’s a lot of stop. You know, let’s, let’s work this out a lot of Xs and O’s work, right. Especially at the high school level, these kids now are not doing dribbling activities or kicking. They’re expected to know that. So what we do is we supplement a lot of what these kids will be doing in their on their hockey teams and their soccer teams on their basketball teams with skills.


Jason Pratt (13:37):
So we don’t, we don’t, we don’t do the X’s and O’s here. We do a lot of skills development, but you can’t do that every day. The kids get, you know, burnt out. So we, we try to do it maybe two to three days a week, what then they’re doing their in class work. A lot of times we do yoga with them. We do nutrition with them. So they’re getting a lot of that training. They would get at a, you know, a secondary facility. And we do it for a fraction of the cost because the teachers that are teaching these programs are, are teachers and they’re getting excited. So the students don’t have to pay for it. The only thing they do have to pay for is a facility whether we’re renting ice or we’re going to an indoor bubble for soccer. This year we started a baseball pathways.


Jason Pratt (14:15):
So we have students now who are elite baseball players. So we, now we have the soccer, the hockey, the baseball, the basketball, and the non-sport specific pathways. Mm. So it, like I said, it’s a great program. We have kids from all around the region, as far up as Brampton. We have kids who come from the east and the west and they make it work. The parents make it work because a parent, myself, of, of high performing children, you’re willing to do what it takes to give your kid a good environment and a good opportunity for him to train or her to train and be successful. And then once again, when you have the culture is built around that the, the teachers here at the building are very supportive of these students. Yeah. A student may be gone for a week because they went to Florida to go to tennis tournament.


Jason Pratt (15:01):
And our, our teachers will work with that student and, and give ’em the work that, that he or she needs and, and welcome them when they’re back and not say, well, you missed the whole week of school. Now here’s a, a load of work for you to catch up on. So the culture here it’s, it’s wrapped around that, that mindset. Now, while we are a regional program, we all are still a neighborhood school. Yeah. But we do have kids that, that live in our area that come to our school. And that’s been, obviously not a challenge, but something we look forward, like, you know, something that we are looking for, of managing is managing our neighborhood school identity with our regional sport identity, because it’s, we’re not just a regional sports school. We’re about 50, 50 half of our kids are regional sports.


Jason Pratt (15:43):
And half of our kids are neighborhood kids. Yeah. A lot of them are new immigrants, new Canadians. And you know, they’re not interested in hyper a form sports. They’re just interested in, in learning what they need to do to be successful Canadians. And so it’s really managing all those intangibles and, and, and, and making it all work. And it, and it does. It’s a really good environment. The kids here are fantastic. We have very, very few behavioral issues because the kids are busy and they’re doing stuff they love to do. And then even if those kids are not in regional sports, they’re around those kids and those kids for the most part, as you know, of being a high performing athlete, when you’re in high school, they’re focused, they’re focused on their sport and being successful and not getting into trouble. Yeah. And eating relatively healthy and you know, and, and just, and they have parents or for family who backed them up and pushed them. So it’s great. It really is. It’s been good, but COVID has been like a real drawback on all this, but


Sam Demma (16:41):
You’re making me wish. I went to a regional sports program growing up, man.


Jason Pratt (16:46):
I’m the biggest ambassador for this school. I mean you know, it’s having son, like my oldest line is now in grade 11 and he’s actually in the us playing hockey with with, with a team around Pittsburgh. And he’s kind of in the same type of program, but the school and the, and the training are not related like we are. Yeah. and he would’ve loved to have come here. He really did. But at the time it was one of those things about having your son come to the school. But my other son now is, is a 2008 he’s he’s in grade eight and he’s very interested. And a lot of his friends are because they hear good things about the school. And like I said, it’s, it’s a fun place to be. It’s, it’s pretty exciting. It’s, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride, but like I said of it has really put a damper on things, but we’ve managed to still make it work, because like I said, it’s about training. And even though we haven’t had any teams to be able to compete, because this is part of their curriculum, the kids are still coming here and training and that’s, that’s important.


Sam Demma (17:49):
That’s super important. I was gonna ask how it’s continued, but you just answered it. Yeah,


Jason Pratt (17:54):
Yeah, yeah. So we, we don’t have a league, like our teams don’t compete, but like I said, these kids are all part of club teams anyway. So the parents aren’t coming here because they wanna win an off the championship or win robs is soccer. That’s a secondary thing. And that’s great if they do, but they’re coming here because of the training and because of the environment. And because, like I said, the culture here supports a student athlete, and I think that’s a huge part of its success.


Sam Demma (18:18):
You mentioned doing your masters in the connection between high performing athletics and education. What inspired you to do your masters in that and what was the learning, or what did you take away from that experience?


Jason Pratt (18:32):
Well, when I, I did my masters thesis in 2006 and at the time it was just an educational masters, but what I looked at was the connection at the time between student participation in sports and their academic performance, and essentially what all the, the studies had shown was that there was no difference. So a student who performed who was competing or participating in sports, their marks were not affected. So they did this cross-sectional study. And what that tells me is that, well, then that’s a good thing, because if these kids are, are able to keep their marks up and participate in, in sports then they that, I mean, the benefits are, are, are there, like we all know about the benefits of physical fitness in terms of, of mental fitness in terms of just being part of a social dynamic, being part of a team, you know, the, you can’t speak enough about how that’s so important for kids as they go through their high school years to be part of a team to be physically fit the connection between, you know, facing adversity, how to deal with loss, all that stuff.


Jason Pratt (19:41):
It’s, you know, team sports, individual sports, whatever it may be, the benefits way outweigh the the drawbacks of them competing. Since I’ve come to this school, I’ve actually started a second master’s degree in physical education. Nice. Because I thought it would be important for me to learn as much as I can about the phys ed side of it. So it’s, it’s, it’s a second master’s degree I’m working towards, but it’s a lot, it’s a lot harder this time around. It’s just, I can only tell, take one course at a time and it, it, it’s a lot of work and it’s gonna take me a couple more years and, and I think it’s gonna make me a better principle just having that background, but I think it’s important to kind of continue to learn. And it’s interesting being a student. I haven’t been a student, I started about two years ago, this second master’s degree. And, and it’s, it’s interesting how it’s tough being a student when you haven’t been a student in a while, but, but it’s fun and it’s good. And it’s good for me to, to, to stay grounded and, and to, you know, be that lifelong learner that a lot of us talk about being.


Sam Demma (20:44):
It’s rewarding. I was listening to a podcast with a tech investor, an entrepreneur named Naval, and he gave this analogy of climbing mountains and explained that every undertaking we embark upon, you know, think of it like climbing up a mountain. And when we reach the top, it’s, we’ve accomplished what the goal or that the desired outcome was. And he said, a lot of people climb a mountain, reach some form of success and get curious that, and wanna learn something else, but in order to do so, you have to climb down this mountain and start at the base of a new one yeah. And climb up it. And it’s so true that it could be overwhelming, but I think it’s such a rewarding experience. And it awesome that you’re also through your actions, not even by telling students or others, but just through your actions, proving that, you know, education happens at all ages and being a lifelong learner is extremely important. Yeah. So that’s, that’s awesome. What do you think some of the opportunities that exist today in education, there’s a lot of challenges and discussion about the cha like the, the negatives and things that are difficult right now. I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are.


Jason Pratt (21:55):
Yeah. I mean, we all know about COVID and all those challenges, but you know, I, I think, I think the way that, that our, our planet is moving in, in be, you know, you can talk about globalization and, and, and that being obviously a huge factor in, in, in where students want to go. I, I think the fact that students have access to so much information and, and so much at their fingertips, it’s beneficial for them because they can look into whatever they want to, and they can research whatever they want to and, and have that, that kind of learning. But I I’m thinking the opportunities for students. I mean, we gotta think of where the world’s headed over the next couple years, next few years, and where these students are gonna, you know, where are they gonna graduate to?


Jason Pratt (22:49):
And I think a lot of it just comes down to the social piece, like how well do they work in, in team environments? How well do they work? You know, with, with their colleagues how can they manage to create a skillset that’s gonna be marketable when they, when they, when they graduate from wherever they do. And, and, and I think it’s, it’s so important right now, I’m, I’m seeing a lot of our students truly engaged. And I did mention the sports thing, but if I can put on the, the non regional sports hat principal for a second, and just talk about our specialist, high schools majors program, which is another big we pushed, which is the hospitality. A lot of our Stu you know, it’s, it’s at the last school I was at St. Marc Salinas. They had a highly successful baking program.


Jason Pratt (23:43):
And you would’ve never thought in a million years, like when I was going to school, like home EC was something you had to do and, and no one wanted to do it. I couldn’t believe it at the school, they had six full sections of baking. This is in hospitality. Hospitality is the cooking class where they learn a lot of those basics. This was a baking class. So when I got to this school, I said, let’s start a baking program. And now we had this year, we had two sections of baking. Now we’re a much smaller school than Marlins. But we had two full sections of baking. And I remember coming home one day and my kids were watching what was it, nailed it, the one where they have to bake cakes all the time. Yeah. It was reality show. And it’s just, it’s funny how kids will change.


Jason Pratt (24:24):
And, and so these are taking baking, and a lot of them will have this in their back pocket, you know, this skill. So it’s, you know, education, I, I think is, is about providing all these kind of student, you know, different kinds of students with opportunities to learn so many different skills in your traditional pen and paper textbook information. You know, there’s lots of great tech programs. We have a lot of kids who are successful in our, we have an electrical program, a lot of kids go into apprenticeship programs for electrical. We have an amazing construction class wood shop where the students are building, you know, excellent cabinetry. And, and they’re, they’re learning about you know, using the, the AutoCAD machine to kind of personalize wood. And they’re learning a lot of these principles and, and some of these kids are going on to university, but they’re keeping all these, these, these, these skills on the side.


Jason Pratt (25:16):
And I remember when I went to school, I didn’t do any of this, this hands on techy. I, I was more of a PhysEd guy and more of a pen and paper type kid, but I think we’re, we’re doing a good job at, in education by being, by diversifying the programs that are out there and giving students the opportunities to learn where, you know, what does success mean for you as you graduate? And, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to university and get a degree, but it, it’s just doing things you’re interested in being happy doing. And I think those opportunities and, and allow, want students to see those opportunities in a safe environment where they can experiment with it. Another big, real, another big program we have here. One of the more successful programs on our board is our co-op program.


Jason Pratt (25:57):
And I think one of the reasons is our, our co-op teachers are amazing at going out and getting really interesting co-op placements, whether it’s working at a veterinarian clinic, or one of our students is working at a co cosmetic surgery clinic. And, and just learning about that industry. We have a lot of students who work in other schools as elementary teachers, a lot of them work at you know, your traditional like mechanics things like that. And they get to experiment these jobs and kind of get a little snippet of what it’s like to work in that in industry. And then come back to school and say, you know what? I hated it, or I loved it. And I think that’s what high school is becoming for. A lot of these kids is, is experimentation finding out what works for you.


Jason Pratt (26:40):
And, and it’s about us working with these students. We’ve de-streamed the math for grade nine. And, and I it’s coming that we’re gonna DStream a lot more. A lot more of high school subjects will be D streamed. And I think that’s a good thing because it gives students more of an opportunity to experi, you know, experience challenges and learn and mature in an environment where they can kind of go back, make mistakes, change their pathway. But it’s, it’s, it’s definitely changing a lot from when I went to school. It was, you know, you go to school and you either, you’re gonna go to university and get a degree, or you’re gonna go and start working. And there’s really like, we’re seeing it now with colleges and, and providing students with so many more opportunities. I think it’s, it’s, it’s a huge, huge thing. So I think it’s just about providing a whole range of opportunities, allowing students to feel comfortable, choosing what they think is, is what’s best for them and, and engaging those families in that discussion. It’s all, it’s a very organic process now where I think it wasn’t so much when I went to school, it was very much, you picked the lane and stayed in that lane and that’s where you went. And that was it.


Sam Demma (27:44):
Yeah. Now students got the signals and they’re changing their lanes like crazy. Oh yeah.


Jason Pratt (27:50):
One eighties going back. Yeah. Know, I know it’s great. And it’s great to see that. And when you’ve empowered students and give them some say in what they’re doing, I think it changes them as, as learners. They don’t feel like they’re being forced one way or the other. They don’t have that pressure. They, I think they feel that they’re they’re in charge and that’s a, that’s an important thing for kids to feel like they have some say and some voice that’s.


Sam Demma (28:13):
A big, I, as a student who took a fifth year, a gap year, went to school, took a different path after school. I, I can’t stress the importance of all that enough. Yeah.


Jason Pratt (28:25):
Well, I’ll tell you something when I, so, I mean, my first year of university was not good. I was playing junior hockey and that was, you know, late games till 11, 12 o’clock at night. Yeah. And I was a languages major in my first year, so I had Spanish, French. And then, and then I took English as a, like secondary. And you had labs at 8:00 AM, and you know what, after a, a junior hockey game and, you know, you’re 19 years old, you’re going out. Sometimes you go out afterwards after the game, you weren’t getting home. And, and by the time I, I was not serious about it. So that first year was a disaster. I took a year off worked two full-time job, but well, one full-time job and a part-time job that was full time hours. And went back after that, you know, that third year, and then did well after that had kind of my focus on what I wanted to do.


Jason Pratt (29:16):
But interestingly enough, one of the side things I did as I was a student was I was worked in the service industry. And I did that for many years after I became a teacher. And what, what I saw in the service industry was a lot of my ex students who had graduated and these were the students. So I traditionally taught a lot of the college level Englishes and, and, you know, not necessarily the kids who were the best, most successful students, but what I got to see was I got to see them almost like a longitudinal study. I got to see them five, 10 years after they graduated. And what became of them. Cause, you know, you’re always like, oh my God, good luck to this kid. When he, when he, when he gets in school, what’s he gonna do? And they were all successful.


Jason Pratt (30:00):
They were happy. They were successful. They had families, they had businesses. They, they were really nice people. And these were the kids that traditionally didn’t do well in school. They were the guys who were in trouble, or they were the guys who were skipping or the girls that were, you know, you know, you know, whatever that may be like, they weren’t serious students. You would’ve thought, but no one sees them after they go. We don’t follow up on these kids after they graduate. But because I worked in the service industry and I worked for good 10 years after I saw some of the, the early kids that I had taught go on to become amazing adults. Like they were great kids and they just had to get through school to, to, but now I think we’ve, we’ve come to realize that there’s, it’s not like that anymore.


Jason Pratt (30:46):
It it’s changed. And so I’ve, I’ve, I, I was fortunate enough to have that experience and I think it opened my eyes a lot to what a school could become. And that’s part of the reason why I became a, an administrator is I loved the culture in my classrooms. I thought the only way for me to influence the culture in a school is to become a principal. And then when you become a principal, you can influence that culture. You really can. And you actually could as a vice principal, because I remember one of my first schools I started at the, there was, there was a lot of not conflict between the student and the teachers. They didn’t know how to handle. The kids were sent down a lot to the office. And as a vice principal, I role played a lot with the kids.


Jason Pratt (31:31):
I’d be like, okay, let’s, let’s go through how this happened. So I’m, I’m the teacher, you’re the student. So tell me what happened. And we would workshop almost how to, how to, you know, manage this, this conflict. And then I would go back to the teacher and say, Hey, listen, I worked with them, give ’em a chance. And, and it worked. And I think when the teacher saw that you had the kid’s best interest at heart and you were advocating for them, and the kids believed that it worked well. And I mean, I loved, I loved being a vice principal. That was an amazing role in a school when you’re a, a vice principal and you’re suspending dozens and dozens and dozens of kids, but never, they’re never angry at you. You’re doing a good job because those kids know that you like, you care for them and you’re being supportive.


Jason Pratt (32:20):
But at the same time, they made a mistake. And that was a, that was a fantastic job. I loved being a vice principal. Principal was more of an adjustment because you weren’t working so closely with kids anymore. And I felt as a vice principal, you have these really tight relationships with families and kids, and you’re working for them and you’re working with them. You’re like, come on, you can do it. I just don’t want you getting in trouble anymore. And you can get through this and, and you kind of work through them. Whereas with a principal, you’re more, it’s, it’s more of a broad picture of a school and you’re dealing with budget and staffing and scheduling and, and you’re dealing more with the adults in the building than you are dealing with the kids in the building. And that’s a change, right? So it’s like climbing another, I, I’ve not got to the peak yet of that mountain.


Jason Pratt (33:02):
I think I was at the peak as a vice principal, and now I’ve gone down and had to climb this next mountain, which I don’t know, maybe I’m getting older and it’s, it’s whatever it may be, but both roles are great. But that, that was really good. And then being a parent, being a parent gives you perspective too, on how your kids and I have, like I said, four boys who are good, good kids in that, but you get to see the parent side of it and the frustrations with my wife. And, and, and the teachers that they may have just in terms of, you know, how do we get these guys to be motivated with school and why the teachers, you know, sending this work, they don’t understand. So it’s really interest giving you all these perspectives. And I think it really influences you as a leader in a school.


Jason Pratt (33:45):
So, you know, I’m very much with, with my staff here, I’m always keep the parents informed, be very transparent, be very forgiving and understanding and, and, you know, just work with, if, if parents know you care about their son or daughter are in the classroom, that makes all the difference. When, when the parents have the impression that you don’t, that their kid is just a number or, you know, it’s, it’s not it, it, it’s just, well, the, you know, the mark is the mark and that’s what they got. You’re, you’re, you’re gonna have issues. And I said, you know, I say to them all the time, just work with parents, talk to parents, give them a call that makes all the difference in the world. And, and it has in this school, like I said, it’s, it’s a great school. We don’t really have any issues. And if we do, we resolve them quick and the parents are happy and the teachers are happy and the kids are happy, which is the most important.


Sam Demma (34:35):
Yeah, that’s awesome. It really sounds like the culture is something you focused on you, your staff, the teachers. Yeah. Even the students cuz they participated it as well. If someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question about the programs, the sports program, the way you try and embed school culture into the school, or just, you know, tell you about something they heard on this podcast, they enjoyed what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Jason Pratt (35:01):
Well, if they wanna know more about the programs we do have a pretty good website with, with has some videos because we’ve had to be online the last couple years with our open houses, we actually saved a lot of our videos. Nice. So if people wanna find out more about the program, that’s where they would go and there’s excellent speakers and they talk about our program. But my email address is (email). They’re welcome to send me an email and that’s the best way for me to get ahold of anyone who needs to reach out. And if they have questions about the program specifically, or what not, I can direct them to whoever that may be. I’m always, I’m always advocating for this program because I believe in it, I would never, if your son, daughter is an excellent athlete and they live and you know, you can make it work logistically. We do have kids who come here all the way from Toronto, north York. Like it’s, it’s, it’s pretty amazing what people will do to be part of a good program. And you do it for your kids because you know, that’s so important to them, but no, it’s I’m always willing to talk more and and, and, and, and this was really great.


Sam Demma (36:12):
Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to come on here, share a little bit about your school. You, it is obvious that you’re passionate about your work and we need lots of passionate educators, so keep it up. And I look forward to seeing what your school and yourself and your staff bring to life post COVID. Yeah. With the sport programs, keep it up.


Jason Pratt (36:33):
Thanks a lot, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Pratt

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.

Tina Noel – Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB

Tina Noel - Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB
About Tina Noel

Tina Noel (@tlnoel) is the Experiential Learning Coordinator at the Renfrew County Catholic DSB. She is responsible for providing the students on her board with learning opportunities and hands-on experiences that will help them develop the skills they need to create the futures they desire.

She is also the board lead for the OYAP program – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program – and spent many years working in the co-op department. Throughout her career, Tina developed three guiding principles that she believes are the cornerstones to a successful Career / Coop Placement.

One – Integrity

  • In simplest terms – Integrity means doing the right thing even if nobody is watching.
  • Do what you say and say what you do – your integrity and reputation are at stake!!!

Two – Own It!

  • What went wrong, how can you fix it and what will you do to not let it happen again.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Do not cover up repetitive, bad behaviours with excuses. Understand the difference between excuses and reasons.
  • Remember – mistakes are a part of life and are necessary for us to improve and change behaviours. If you keep making the same mistake – it is no longer a mistake rather it becomes a habit.
  • Try to understand that parents, friends, teachers, supervisors and co-workers see through excuses!

Three – Choices

  • Every choice has a consequence – can be good, bad or even ugly!
  • Remember – only you know whether or not you can live with your choices. Some choices are very, very small but others can be life-altering. Take the time to make choices that you can live with.
  • Begin to back away from peer pressure in making some choices that might negatively affect your success in your job or career.

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM)

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP)

Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC)

12 steps of rehabilitation

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 (00:01):
Tina welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Tina Noel (00:10):
Hi and thank you for having me. I’m Tina Noel, the experiential learning coordinator, OYAP and SHSM lead with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board in the beautiful Ottawa valley situated between North Bay and Ottawa.


Sam Demma (00:25):
What got you into education at what point in your career did you realize this was the vocation and calling for you?


Tina Noel (00:34):
Interesting enough. The fact that my career ended up bringing me into guidance. I, in while I was in a high school, I had a guidance counselor as they did back then tell me that I, well, I did well in math and I did well in business course as well clearly means that I should become an accountant. Well, I never put anything any thought into it. And so I thought I pursued that and clearly recognized that I did not wanna sit behind a desk with numbers and started looking at where I, where my strengths were. And it started leading towards working with youth, not necessarily children, but so that I worked my way towards high school. And yeah, that’s kind of, it


Sam Demma (01:24):
Was guidance the first position you worked in a school building and what was that experience like?


Tina Noel (01:31):
No guidance guidance tends to be that old idea that you have to have worked in schools then you kind of work your way up into guidance, but no, my, my actual first job that I graduated 1993 from teachers college. Lakehead and I, it was very difficult to get into teachers college back then. And it was the year of the social contract which means I was hired by Duff appeal, Catholic board, but they basically released the bottom, like 10% of their staff and put them on supply teaching and then I couldn’t move to Toronto. So I moved back home and started looking for work. And I was given a half position at an all school to start the alternative program. And we had nothing of that. So now I’m a young teacher and I built it from the ground up and it became, it’s still a viable program now.


Tina Noel (02:30):
And I did a lot of outreach with Ontario, which is now currently Ontario works, probation, drug, rehab, incarceration. I worked with a OCDC, and I basically reintegrated a whole bunch of students back in to regular school. And it was the most rewarding job and highly, highly recommend that for any teacher in that you, before you, you think about subject matter, you think about relationships with students and there’s always a pushback and most at risk youth have a huge guard up and you struggle to break down that wall. And the only way that you ever break it down is with trust and teenagers. See through people that, that are not sincere very, very quickly. And it was, it gave me the ability to then become a student success teacher and then moving into guidance. And I did co-op. And so all of that takes that extra, really getting to understand your student.


Sam Demma (03:39):
And somewhere along the line, you also shook the hand of Oprah. Oh, is, is this a true story? And can you please explain why, where that tweet came from?


Tina Noel (03:52):
Well, somebody posted who was the most famous person yeah, I’m a, I, I follow politics quite a bit and I was a, a huge follower of Oprah. And then she was talking about this young Chicago politician by the name of Barack Obama. And so I was kind of intend on just completely following it. And she was having him on as his political career was going. I thought, oh, I need tickets. If I ever get tickets to Oprah, maybe I will be able to, to hear him speak and whatnot. But anyway so it was 2001 and my girlfriends and I we just, I was homesick one day and I kept going and phoning and I sure enough got through for tickets. And they said, we’re putting on a special show on a Monday. And that would’ve been a travel day for me to go to a conference that it needs to be at for the ministry on the Tuesday in Toronto. So my, my superintendent said, you know, like whatever, then you can just travel from there into Toronto. And it’s exact you what I did. And we went down there and where she comes out on her previous show she comes out behind the doors. Our seats were right there at the top, right by the doors she came through and I shook her hand and we were able to, so it was pretty, pretty neat.


Sam Demma (05:18):
That’s awesome. I had to ask you that question, but yeah, right before I did, you mentioned the importance of building trust with students as someone who has worked with so many students over the years, what do you think is the best way to build trust with a young person?


Tina Noel (05:42):
Sorry about the announcements. Listening to students they, they really, truly want to be heard. And from that, and I’m not saying that we all should just stop what we’re doing to listen to them, but like don’t offer, like, don’t try to fix it without listening to them. Mm. And once you do that and you can, you can pick out what they’re trying to say, and then you kind of break down all of the, the kind of rhetoric, and then you kind of get to the core and you, you pick up things that resonate with them, or you pick up things that are interest to them, and then you try to make a shared conversation. And and don’t, don’t forget about yourself being vulnerable. They often think that, you know, as children in elementary school will look at their teachers as having everything together. And, oh my God, they know, you know, we can’t, we can’t be that for everybody. And we have to make sure that students see us as humans first and that we care and then we’re able to educate.


Sam Demma (06:57):
Hmm. That’s just a good philosophy. It’s like coaching, you would learn in coaching that the most powerful tool you have is the questions you ask, which is not giving advice. It’s asking questions to listen more. And I think it’s the same in, in teaching and guidance. At some point in your career, you also transition to experiential learning. How did that occur? And for someone who has never worked as a experiential experiential lead learner, can you explain a little bit about the role?


Tina Noel (07:29):
Well, I co-op is your basic experiential learning activity. That’s been in high school. So I, I was asked to move into co-op very quickly one year, and then I started assuming the role of the OYAP lead, but our board is so small. So I was both I was a systems person being OYAP, but still a classroom teacher doing the OYAP sorry, the co-op portfolio. And co-op so you to have a little bit more flexi flexibility that you’re not in the school every day and set times and running the BES. So you basically have am PM call for full day. And a lot of the OYAP students obviously are in co-op. So I started doing that. And then the SHSM program came about in the province month. And so I was working with our then student success principal, and they started expanding my portfolio to take on SHSM.


Tina Noel (08:31):
And so I I’ve been in SHSM from the very, very beginning meeting. So I’ve been with the program and understand how it’s grown in and the importance of it. And so now I had OYAP now I had SHSM and I was still trying to do then student success and overseeing guidance. I was a guidance department at, and it just got to be a lot. So the board then created a systems program with all of those portfolios at, at the exact same time that the ministry brought out an El position. So our board truly did create that umbrella system where all exponential learning and all support programs for in school. We were under one umbrella.


Sam Demma (09:17):
That’s awesome. For someone who doesn’t know too much about SHSM, can you explain a little bit behind its program and purpose?


Tina Noel (09:27):
Yes. SHSM program, the specialist high skills major basically was born out of other boards doing these meat programs. And so, oh, look what they do. And I remember one of the Kingston boards did guitar building, and then they would and then they kind of moved it into the music program. So it was kind of a whole follow through, but the ministry knew the, the importance of that, but they needed to create curriculum around it and, and a system, so it fit into for funding. And so then they started looking at, so the Kingston board, limestone board used to have what was called focus programs and around an idea. So then the ministry came up with specialist high skills majors. And from that it’s grown and they started looking at general program names specific. And then what courses would be the majors and the minors and, and setting up kind of the funding parameter in the scale of the funding.


Tina Noel (10:34):
And we’ve had great ministry people. And the neat thing with the SHSM program is the people at the ministry who are, are the contacts for all the SHSM leads are as passionate about SHSM as the, the people at the grassroots. And that includes our classroom teachers because our programs each have a program lead. And if it wasn’t for them, our programs wouldn’t work. We can do all what we want at the, the board level. And the ministry can all do what they want. But I’ve often said if it’s not the grassroots, if the teachers are not there and passionate about it, the programs are not viable.


Sam Demma (11:16):
Chisholm specialists, high skills major was an option in my high school as well. And one of my biggest regrets was being so focused on sports that I didn’t get involved.


Tina Noel (11:28):
Yeah. And they do have they do have health and wellness with a sports focus. So yeah, but you might not be sitting here if you did that, cuz you might have gone into some medical.


Sam Demma (11:39):
Yeah, you’re totally correct. One thing I really enjoyed chatting with you about were your three, three principles towards having a successful co-op placement that you share with all the students you help place in co-ops over the years. Can you share a little bit about those three principles and why you think they’re so important.


Tina Noel (12:01):
As I, as I have come coming near the end of my career, I go back to this lesson and this lesson is my favorite because it holds so much of what I feel has resonated with me in my career in working with youth that I can pass on for the students themselves to take on. So the three guiding principles, number one is integrity. Number two is own it. And number three is choices. So number one, integrity in simplest terms, integrity means doing the right thing. Even if nobody is watching do what you say you are going to do, your integrity and reputation are at stake. And we often say in the OWA valley, because it’s such a small town and, and we have a lot of small towns instead of one major center. Yeah. And there’s not one degree of separation. Mm. And people know in high school, if you do something, you, you often get labeled with it and we can break down labels, but you don’t want it to be at your own doing.


Tina Noel (13:07):
And you, you, you try to mitigate risk through integrity and, and setting up, not often said to the students, nobody ever came to their co-op interview or a job interview and said, okay, I’m gonna start to be late. I’m gonna not really care. And and then I’m gonna just be absent. So can I still get the job? And I often said, everybody comes in there on their best behavior. We’ll stay at that best behavior. That’s integrity number or two is my, my favorite and the students kind of I’ve used it so often. And I always hold up. My two fingers like own it. Number two. And in the yearbook one year they often put quotes beside what the teachers often said. And of course, right beside my picture and the yearbook is own it. And so it basic take responsibility for your actions do not cover up repetitive, bad behaviors with lame excuses, understand the difference between excuses and reasons.


Tina Noel (14:04):
Remember mistakes are part of life and are necessary for us to improve and change behaviors. If you keep making the same mistake, it is no longer a mistake rather becomes a habit. Try that, understand that parents, friends, teacher, supervisors, and coworkers see through excuses. And I often said, I have to give the, the respect to one of my colleagues. He met the students at the door and always greeted his students fantastic math teacher. And when the students came in, he would mention, Hey, you haven’t handed in this assignment or whatnot. They would begin with these great big long as they often do. They go rambling on as if they’re writing a novel and he would just look at them and goes, oh, that sounds like an excuse, not a reason.


Sam Demma (14:49):
Mm.


Tina Noel (14:50):
And it just, and so then for me, I often held up my hands and said own it. And then we kind of, we got to it. And number three is choices. And this is the science based kind of understanding. And I often say, and as every choice has a consequence, it can be good, bad, even ugly, just like inside every action has a counter reaction and only we can control what that is. In most cases, when it comes to our own behavior, remember only, you know, whether you can live with your choices. Some choices are very, very small, but others can be life altering, take the time to make choices that you can live with begin and to back away from pre peer pressure in making some choices that might negatively affect your success in your job or career. And it’s the choices can change the trajectory of some child’s life instantly.


Tina Noel (15:48):
And we often sit back and read the very difficult stories. And over my 30 years in education, sadly, I’ve, we’ve gone to too many of those. And I’ve often said to the students, let’s, let’s control what that is. And it’s not about bubble wrapping them. That’s not where I’m at, but cuz I’m totally about living and the students. And we often say about success comes with risk, but risk doesn’t have to be dangerous risk. Doesn’t have to be behavior altering or reputation altering risk. You can, you can mitigate risk, instant making good choices anyway. It’s. Yeah. And I, I often said, and there’s one really neat example of the choices a student showed up at my door for coop and I turned around and looked at him. I go, what are you doing here? And he goes, I, because he should have been at co-op and his co-op was at a manufacturing place and it was a far piece wait.


Tina Noel (16:55):
And he goes, well, I’m here. I need to go to the JP. I go, what for? And he goes, well, I might need a letter from you to say that I need my license to drive to co-op. And he goes, I got another speeding ticket. I went, what you should have only ever gotten one. Mm. He said, what do you mean? I said, if you, you can afford to pay the one or you can afford, then you change your behavior. We’ve talked about this. And he goes, well, it’s my third one. And I think I’m gonna lose my license. I said, well, I can’t do anything about that. And I get up and I, he handed me his ticket at that time and I get up and he goes, well, where are you going? I go, well, I’m gonna go to the photocopier goes, what are you doing with that for I, cuz I’m gonna photocopy and I’m gonna do you a favor. I’m gonna laminate it and I’m gonna attach it to your visor. And every time that you wanna put your foot on the gas, over the speed limit, you’re gonna look up and you’re gonna see that. And you’re gonna realize, can I afford that? And Kim, do I need my license? And that’s, what’s gonna alter your behavior.


Tina Noel (17:57):
I can’t afford a ticket or I don’t wanna spend my money in ticket. So I don’t. Yes. Have I gone over the speed limit? Yes. But I’m not going to go that far over the speed limit. Yeah. Or whatever. Yeah. So


Sam Demma (18:10):
These are awesome principles. I really resonated with all three of them. When you think about the own it phrase do you have any examples or stories you can remember of students who have done a great job owning it? Meaning they walked in, knew that they didn’t really meet a recommend didn’t really meet a requirement and they said, miss I’m gonna own it. Here’s the truth.


Tina Noel (18:38):
Well, they, there was one student. I, I was dealing with one student in my classroom and then he had come down, sorry. I met him outside my office in the hallway and I’m talking to him and he was going on and on. And there was a doorway just to my left. And two students were coming through and as he was going on and I just lifted the two fingers up and I just went rule number two. And he goes, what’s that? And I, you couldn’t have time to perfectly a, a student that had just finished quote with me. And the first semester was walking by and I, I did the two fingers up and he goes, well, what’s rule number two. And the student turned around and he goes own it. And, and the student other looked at ’em and the two of them start to laugh because it’s just, and the student turns around.


Tina Noel (19:28):
He goes and he goes, just own it now. And it was just, and he just looks at me and I go, the only way we’re gonna get your problem solved is what did you do wrong? How can you fix it? And how is it never gonna happen again? And in the own, it, those are the three questions that allow that gives students the kind of the framework to help own it and, and owning it is something we need to teach. And because as students develop their well, their, their life experiences, they need to try to categorize them. And we just don’t, they just don’t wake up and own it by giving them the framework. They have to tell me what went wrong. So by, by admitting it, and it’s the first thing in the 12 step of any rehabilitation for, for for drugs or alcohol that the, any, any of the 12 step programs go with.


Tina Noel (20:33):
So we need to own it. And by stating what the problem was, and by seeing what we can do to fix it helps us say, we’re sorry, and realizing how it can never happen again. That changes behaviors. Mm. So the framework in the own, it gives teachers an explanation, sorry, the framework to help that, that line of communication. So it’s not me always fixing it for them. They have to fix it themselves. Mm. So, so it’s that gradual release of responsibility. And they always, they always want, they’re always a big, tough grade, 11 and 12 students until they’ve done something wrong. Yeah. And then they ask for help, but my help always came with helping them, not the situation. Yeah. I always said, I wanna help you fix it. And that helped create trust.


Sam Demma (21:34):
It reminds me of the phrase, teach a person to fish, not give them a fish. You know, not that you’re teaching people fishing, but the general principle is the same. You’re giving them a skill and that they could use long after they leave your classroom.


Tina Noel (21:53):
Or, yeah, exactly. And I had one student who came in and often students get released from co-op and the balance of a co-op teacher is providing credits and graduation opportunities and skills with protecting the employers and future opportunities for other students. So if the employers then get tired of the co-op students. So I often say to the students, before you get another co-op placement, we’re gonna do the own. It we’re gonna go through the framework because I can’t give away these co-op. And of course the students started saying, well, I was late. And then they often said, it’s surprising. It’s such, well, they don’t like me. I’m like, what? Mm, no, no, no. Let’s no, no, let’s back this up. And even kids that, that have problems with classroom teachers when they, they’re not handing in assignments or they’re not doing well on tests or whatnot. Well, they don’t like me. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And so I used the own it when I was student success teacher as well.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Ah,


Tina Noel (22:59):
And it worked in there as well because that emotional guard, it’s always easy to blame everybody else. So how do we take our actions back? And I’m not sitting here talking as if I’ve done that completely in my life because I have not. So I often do it to myself and my poor child, my own. I only have one child, my son, and it’s hard as a parent and you’re taken off multiple hats and I’ve used the own it with him. And he goes, and he would remind, I’m not one of your co-op students, mom.


Sam Demma (23:36):
Well, one of the things I was gonna say was these three principles, one beautiful thing about them is they apply to any situation in everyone. Not only co-op students, although definitely you’d have some challenges trying to share with your kids, but I appreciate you sharing.


Tina Noel (23:53):
And it interesting enough in, in, in the whole narrative of what’s happening in society today with these bipolar things and in, and rule number two, kind of goes for that as well. And, and, and by doing it, it actually will help the divide in society.


Sam Demma (24:13):
Yeah.


Tina Noel (24:14):
Anyway,


Sam Demma (24:15):
I agree. And rule touch on rule number one quickly as well. Integrity is so important. I also look at integrity as a way to build self-esteem because integrity is not only, you know, committing and promising to doing what other people, what you promise to others, but it’s also committing and, and following through on doing what you promise to yourself, the promises you make that no one else knows about. For example, if I tell myself I’m gonna exercise or I’m going to do my home work tonight at 4:00 PM and I follow through, I slowly start building self-esteem and confidence. So I think your rule, your, your first rule here of integrity is one important for your reputation and future careers. And secondly, and arguably even more importantly for your own self-confidence and self theme. So I think these three rules are extremely helpful, and I appreciate you bringing them together to share them today on the show. If you could kind of take your experience throughout education over the past 30 years, go back in time, tap Tina on the shoulder, in her first or second year of education and say, Tina, this is the advice that I wish you heard when you were just getting started. What would you have told your younger self?


Tina Noel (25:37):
Balance, the focus of your job to understand first and foremost, students come first? Mm. And nothing has at greater than the current pandemic we’re in.


Tina Noel (25:54):
I I’ve had a very difficult time with, with integrity of, of some teachers when their statements during a pandemic start with the pronoun. I, and I, I have a hard time understanding that because I spent 30 years making sure that students were number one and people often said, you know, you you’ve worked nights, you’ve worked weekends. And people said, well, how did you become a, a coordinator? And I, I often said, I just, every time they gave me a job to do, I, I kind of went there and beyond, because it was always the nice thing about all these programs that I’ve worked with. They’re, they’re completely student focused. I brought in the new curriculum in 99 to 2003. And I, I was on the sit team and then I worked for the board and then I came out and so they knew that I had integrity. They knew that I would work hard and do that, but in all of it in especially assessment inal, which is my favorite part of the new curriculum.


Tina Noel (27:21):
I, yes. So with these teachers, with the, starting with the eye, not having students as their focus has been really upsetting because in all the jobs that I’ve done, the students were, oh yeah, the assessment in the valve, part of it, the new curriculum allowed us to make sure that there was room for success. Mm. And that a, a mark given or attendance that, that the teachers had to work. And yes, they have, please. I, I have so much respect for teachers that teachers have worked so hard to try to figure out where the marks are coming from. And there’s been huge debates over, you know, the, the watering down of assessment eval, but ultimately the teachers that really, really care and have that integrity to the profession underneath see the value of students being successful. Mm. And no, a 60 for one student doesn’t mean the same as a 60 for another, but it might have altered their life or might have given them that, that glimmer of hope.


Tina Noel (28:30):
And that’s where we’ve done it. So we’re starting to teach the whole child, not just the brain of the child. And that’s all what integrity is about. And sadly, the pandemic in peeling back the onion has, has made me recognize that I, I don’t like seeing teachers that don’t put the student first and it’s been difficult because people have struggled with the pandemic and I have as well. And my whole, I never wanted to come outta my career with a dip. I, that I wanted to come out straight on working hard, wanted to be around the province, bringing back all these need ideas to my board and working really hard. And of course this has slowed everything, but in it all, I still, we still are getting students in level ones. I’m still working hard for my board. I’m gonna work hard right. To the end.


Tina Noel (29:27):
And, and that’s an integrity and the integrity to always put students first. And that’s what I would say to my younger self don’t ever, ever lose focus of that on your most difficult day, when you’re trying to plan that lesson on Sunday night, when your young children are sick, or you’re doing all of that, just imagine what it’s like for a child who’s trying to learn and what you mean for them as a teacher and that, that relationship and that integrity of you tell, saying that you were going to be there to change these lives of these children will let stay focused on that. And, and the respect that you have for your employer. And they’re not, there’s not a they, and oftentimes in any organization, people will say, well, they, they, they, well, there isn’t a, they like we’re in this collectively together. They have to make choices. What’s best for an organization. And, and, but ultimately as a classroom teacher and as a teacher, your, the integrity that you have to your profession is student focus.


Sam Demma (30:36):
Hmm. I love it. Tina, thank you so much for again, coming on the show, you could feel your care and passion for this work, and it really shines through, I appreciate you coming on here to talk and share if an educator is listening and, and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Tina Noel (30:55):
They can they can reach me through my email and then we’ll take it from there to see a, their lines of communication. And my email is tina.noel@rccdsb.ca, Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (31:19):
I will make sure to include it on the article as well. Just so there’s some easy access. Thank you again for doing this. Keep up the amazing work. And I look forward to working with you and talking soon.


Tina Noel (31:31):
Thank you so much, Sam.

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