fbpx

Sam Demma

Maren Abuzukar and Bryanna Rentz – Two Student Leaders from Buffalo Trail Public Schools

Maren Abuzukar and Bryanna Rentz – Two Student Leaders from Buffalo Trail Public Schools
About Maren Abuzukar

Maren is a high school senior at J.R. Robson Highschool, in rural Vermilion, Alberta. She is super passionate about helping others, and within the last few years, she has been taking initiative within her community through volunteering at long-term and representing youth in my local FCSS committee. Being a senior has been really stressful at times and it’s been really important to have activities to help her de-stress. After a long day, she loves reading a book, baking, knitting, or working out whether that’s on the school’s volleyball courts, the cross country trails, the soccer fields, or my bedroom. Contact maren by email: mabuzukar@gmail.com

About Bryanna Rentz

Bryanna Rentz is a grade 11 student attending Wainwright High School. She participates in volleyball and curling in school and Girl Guides and archery outside of school. She is passionate about archery, and helping others! Contact Bryanna on email by: Bryanna.Rentz@btps.ca

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (book)

The Believe Leadership Program – Sarah Wells

Buffalo Trail Public Schools (BTPS)

The Duke of Edinburgh Award

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 (01:50):
Maren, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Maren Abuzukar (01:59):
Well, hi, thank you for having me, Sam. That’s the first thing I wanna say. Like you said, my name’s Maren I’m currently in grade 12 and I’m from a small little town in Canada called Vermilion. Some things about myself, some things I enjoy. I love to volunteer giving back to my community. I love just taking walks or running outside. I also love reading books. I think that’s just, yeah, it’s tiny little excerpt about myself.


Sam Demma (02:26):
Before this interview, you mentioned tomorrow, you’ll be doing work with four H you’ve also done volunteer work with the believe initiative. Where in your journey did volunteerism start for you or become such a important part of your life?


Maren Abuzukar (02:43):
I think that was something when I was in the fifth grade, I believe so I played soccer in our town and one of the things they wanted you to do was they’d like ask you to go and volunteer during games or something. And it was just mandatory for every team. So my parents were really busy people. So I would take up their shifts for like my age and we’d go help out in the shack, like giving out treats, we’d pick up garbage, we’d help out wherever we could in games. And then what I specifically decided to do was I was the assistant coach for my sister’s team. And that was kind of where it all started because there’s like something to push me. So I started there and I took a little break because for the longest time I thought I couldn’t be a volunteer cause I was too young.


Maren Abuzukar (03:26):
And that was one of the things I regretted the most because it doesn’t come in an age so you can do it whenever. And from there as I got older, it just kind of naturally started failing I in my school, I did like a program or I wanted to teach people about vaping and the harms about it, which was a huge thing to me. So I was, again, I was like, I, I don’t care about my age at this point. I really wanna do it. And then from there just more opportunities came out. I joined the BLC, I volunteered in my hospital and it’s so rewarding. Like you, you feel like you’re giving back. And I just, like I said, one of the biggest are starting late.


Sam Demma (04:02):
In your journey throughout school. Did you have any teachers that encouraged you to volunteer or also made a big impact on you as a student? And if so, who were they and what did they do that made an impact on you?


Maren Abuzukar (04:16):
I think I’m very grateful and I’m like very happy to say that with my school, I’ve had such amazing teachers. They’re all very different and they all help encourage me in different ways. I think sometimes the easiest thing is when they just, they applaud you for what you’re doing or they recognize what you’re doing or, you know, they’re goofy. They’re fun. I think once, like one teacher I’m thinking of specifically this year too. So like, don’t think you have to learn when you’re younger, I’m still learning to, and he was my math teacher and I remember there was one test. I had like a volleyball game. Like I was busy. I wasn’t feeling the greatest and I didn’t do all too well in that exam. And I feel like it, it broke me at some point, I thought like I had such high expectations and it was a grade that I didn’t normally get.


Maren Abuzukar (05:02):
So I got it set. And I remember going up to him and talking to him and he told me, he was like, you have to understand that sometimes you don’t get the outcome you want, but it’s your job to keep going to persevere, to not let that hold you back. Because if I let you retake that test right now, I’m not teaching you that lesson. I’m not, I’m, I’m almost brushing it by and I’m, it was tough love. And I really, really appreciated that. Cause it’s true. You know, you don’t always get to redo things in life. And he taught it to me the hard way, but sometimes that’s just how things have to come. So that was one lesson I’ll never forget.


Sam Demma (05:37):
Will Smith recently released a book titled will. And it’s all about his journey through life. One of the chapters, he mentioned a quote that in school you get taught the lesson and then you take the test and in life you get taught, you get the test and then it’s your job to try and figure out the lesson. One of the amazing things about education is you have teachers who are helping you learn the lessons, which is really awesome. And it sounds like this teacher did that for you.


Maren Abuzukar (06:13):
I was, I was really grateful because I think up until this point, I’d never had test result like that. And it did break me, but like he said, if I had just retaken it, I wouldn’t have learned that lesson. So I can say I was a little mad initially. But after like afterwards I worked harder brought my grade up. I was super happy. He really saw that. I tried and it just, it helped me so much. So I’m really grateful.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Volunteerism was one aspect of your high school and elementary school experience. At what point did you start getting interested and involved in student leadership and why?


Maren Abuzukar (06:51):
I think like when I was just from a young age, I’ve always been very outspoken. I’ve always liked to just say what’s on my mind. I’ve always like to just, you know, know, represent the kids who didn’t really wanna talk. Like if somebody told me their concerns and I knew they just felt shy in class to say, oh, but like teacher, you haven’t taught us this. You haven’t said this. Like, when’s this gonna happen? I would be the first to put up my hand and be like, well, I’m just wondering, like, I’d say in, like I was wondering, but it was really dumb. So I’ve always been outspoken. And I think that almost it becomes contagious. People start realizing it. People start relying on you for certain things. And I remember one thing, grade seven, maybe grade seven or grade six, I came up with an idea up, but the worst ideas are the one that you don’t follow through with.


Maren Abuzukar (07:39):
So this one, I was like, we gotta follow through with it. It’s a new thing. And it was to have a Christmas party where it would be a potluck. Everybody bring something in, it’d be fun. And I remember how hard it was to convince everybody to bring something, to come in and to do something or to get involved, especially the guys in my class. For some reason, they just wouldn’t budge at the very beginning. And I just kept going, kept going. I had a lot of people helping me on my end, but I was really like the speaker of the group. And it was a success and it became like an annual thing. I remember two years ago when we could still kinda have these events in our school, I was like, everybody bring $2. We’re gonna get pizza. Plus everybody bring everything. And it was it so successful.


Maren Abuzukar (08:22):
And from there, it’s just, it’s been, I think here’s what I’m gonna say. With leadership, a lot of the traits that come with leadership are they’re like muscles. So the more you practice them, the bigger they get and the better they become or the more prevalent they are in you. So with that just first situation, it made me more confident. It made me break outta my, and from there it was like, like I said, I did that. Vaping presentation broke me outta my shell more. And then I had just people coming up to me instead of me going out to them and being like, can you do this for me? Do you wanna be part of this? And it’s just, yeah. It’s like a snowball effect here.


Sam Demma (08:58):
Sounds like small, consistent actions.


Maren Abuzukar (09:02):
Right.


Sam Demma (09:03):
So do you think there are specific characteristics that make a well rounded leader? Or how would you describe a strong leader?


Maren Abuzukar (09:14):
I think one misconception is a lot of people. Like, especially when you’re younger, you envision a leader, some big CEO sitting at an office, he’s got like hundreds of people. He’s got a lead, he’s taking action. He knows everything. He’s super smart and just, he’s got everything going for him. And I think that’s something that a lot of times scares people away. I think that is, that is an example of a leader. But just because that is a leader, doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t be a leader, there is no cookie cut leader, their cookie cut shape of a leader or anything. I think some well rounded leaders would be confident. They’d be resilient when something doesn’t go their way, they keep going. They they’re very outspoken. I’d like to think they’re also very, they like to take initiative. They see a problem. They wanna be the first one there.


Maren Abuzukar (10:02):
They wanna take that start. They wanna do something about it. And of course, when you’re a leader, you’re not singular. You’ve got a group. So you gotta know how to lead a group. Now, with that being said, I also wanna say that just because you don’t maybe possess a, all these characteristics, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader. I think like Sam said small, consistent actions. So one of the big things for me, I think with leadership is like I said, taking that initiative, maybe it’s in class, maybe you’re the first one to put your hands up. And all of a sudden there’s a wave of other kids who feel more confident. They’re like you broke the ice. I’m gonna join in, in a project. You wanna take that lead. You wanna tell people in a friendly way, like what to do, and maybe you’re not seeing anybody take that charge and you wanna be that person.


Maren Abuzukar (10:48):
And like I mentioned before, it’s a muscle over time. You’re gonna get better and better at it. You’re gonna get that. You’re gonna be able to speak well in front of crowds, you’re gonna be able to look for the crew group and want the best for the group. You’re gonna have that skill of confidence. You’re gonna be resilient. You’re gonna have that discipline. So I think those are definitely traits. But remember everybody has to start somewhere. And just because you don’t have an abundance of one of them right now, doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. So I wanna end that question by thing. You can be a leader too.


Sam Demma (11:20):
Resilience is a trait that’s being much needed right now with COVID 19 with the transition to virtual school. How has your experience been with online school? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?


Maren Abuzukar (11:40):
I, yeah, so I was one of those special cases that completely got my high school taken away from me. Like my high school experience. I remember we had like, we’d go for volleyball. We’d go to out like a away tournaments. We’d sleep over. We’d do what? Not completely gone. I didn’t know what that felt like until this year. So that was weird there. Like it obviously came all at once. I know one of the big things, of course the school aspects that like electronic learning for a lot of people. It wasn’t interesting. I know sometimes I get up, it gives like, it just seemed so slow and you’d lose motivation and you wouldn’t know what to do and you just didn’t wanna go to class. And that was always hard. And of course there’s like a social aspect to it. Like you wouldn’t be seeing your friends like that.


Maren Abuzukar (12:24):
Got you lonely. Of course that’s never good for your mood. And for me, one of the best things to do was take it one day at a time. I would wake in the morning and have that mindset of being like, okay, I’ve got this class from this to this, I’m gonna pay attention. I’m gonna take an active role. Like I had to do Rome and Juliet online, fun time. And I was like, I put my hand, I put my hand up and I was like to my teacher, I was like, can I be Romeo? So I took that like, you know, first step to that made me that helped me accountable. I had to get up. I had to go to class. I had to take part in that class. Cause Romeo has a lot of lines and that made it better for me. But I think still, even with taking part, it was hard because once we came back to school, it just felt way more fast.


Maren Abuzukar (13:15):
And I remembered like now you had to put back all that sports that you hadn’t done for two years, like the classes or like the extracurriculars. And you’d go into a class that maybe you did in person before the lockdown. Cause we had a smaller school. So we didn’t lock down as frequently as the bigger school. But then a lot of some kids in your class, weren’t on the same page as you cuz they had done it online. And of course that was slower. A lot of things were taken away. So I think the best, the best thing to do in that case was just, don’t be scared to ask, go to your teacher, ask them what you’re gonna do. Cause there’s nothing better than sitting or nothing worse, sorry than sitting in a class, not knowing what to do, going home, still not knowing what to do. And you’re just gonna continue a cycle and you’re never gonna know what to do. So that was another thing that we had to follow through as the year went like as the year kinda opened up.


Sam Demma (14:10):
There will be many educators listening to this podcast who hopefully will share it with their classroom of students. You know, I’m hoping lots of them will listen to it and wanna share it with the kids in their class. Some of which will be in grade nine. If you could give advice to grade nines right now what advice would you share?


Maren Abuzukar (14:34):
I think the first thing I would say is believe in else. And with that kind of take those steps to break outta your shell. I know with me, I said before I found like I fell in love with volunteering. You just feel so good after you’re doing it. And you find something so rewarding. But I had placed limitation on myself saying that I was too young. What would it have hurt if I had went to somebody and asked, Hey, can I volunteer? The worst thing they could have said is no you’re too young, but by not even trying, I didn’t even have that outcome. I didn’t have that opportunity. So I’d say believe in yourself, break outta your shelf. Take those opportunities that you want. A lot of times there’s no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there’s always gonna be people that are gonna have something negative to say about you.


Maren Abuzukar (15:22):
And if you believe in yourself, if you don’t necessarily take what they have to say to heart, or maybe you take it in a critiquing way, maybe they say, say like, you’re you have bored some or something. Maybe you have to ask yourself, Hey, what did I do? What can I fix? What can I improve? But don’t ever have that negative mindset on yourself because that’s never gonna help you. I think something else I would say is you’re in grade nine, you’re young. Like I’m in grade 12, I’m still young, but you’re even younger. And I would say, don’t place limitations on yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do this or you don’t wanna do this or this doesn’t interest. You I’d say try things out. I know in grade nine, some kids knew exactly what they wanted to be, what universities they wanted to go to, what programs they wanted to be or come out of and like that.


Maren Abuzukar (16:13):
But they’d never experienced it or experienced other things that they might have liked even more. So they placed that limitation on themselves. And I think you’re too young for that. Try things out. See maybe you had a picture perfect with that idea in your head about what being a lawyer would be. But one day you go and shadow someone and you’re like, well, I don’t like this aspect of it. I love of it. Maybe take something out of it and see what other careers come out. I think the thing I’d wanna end off is discipline. It’s hard. I know you think you’re young. I say you’re just you, but it’s to discipline the, I take time outta your schedule, lock things out, organize things in your day so that you hold yourself accountable. Whether that’s for practice. If you have an extracurricular that you love, whether that’s for school, maybe it’s so you get better characteristics and work. I discipline is a huge, huge thing that I’m still working on. So yeah, those are some things that I’d probably say I wish I knew grade nine, definitely would wanna know and hopefully it benefits someone.


Sam Demma (17:19):
Awesome. Aaron, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing some of your experiences. I know it’ll be helpful for educators to share this with their students and their classrooms. If someone wants to ask you a question or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Maren Abuzukar (17:36):
I’d probably say my email. That’s probably the easiest way I do check that occasionally. And my email, like just saying it out loud is M Abukar gmail.com. I think I do have to give you a file. So is it okay if I write that down in there? Just so it’s a little easier for them to see.


Sam Demma (17:52):
Absolutely. I’ll put it in the show notes of the episode where everyone can grab it. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. You were awesome. Keep up with the great work and I look forward to speaking to you soon.


Maren Abuzukar (18:04):
Thank you. I had a lot of fun. I am now officially a podcaster, I guess. So that’s something new.


Sam Demma (18:11):
And there was the full conversation with Maren. We will now start the conversation with Brianna Rentz. Brianna, welcome to the high performing student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself who you are and tell us a little bit about your journey to where you are today as a student.


Bryanna Rentz (18:32):
So my name is Bryanna Rentz and I’m a grade 11 student from Wainright Alberta. I got involved in student leadership in the third grade. I had an incredible teacher. She taught us about the seven habits of happy kids. Oh cool. Since then, my grade has always been looked to as leaders within our schools, the seven habit. They encourage me to get the skills to become a strong leader. Yes. Since then I’ve been heavily involved in leadership in many different ways. I’ve been a part of the girl guides in my community, my leadership class mentors, grade seven kids. And I was able to volunteer with the four H club in my community and teach them what I’m passionate about.


Sam Demma (19:09):
That is so awesome. And seven habits. Those sound awesome. Do you still remember any of the seven or like any of them that stick out to you?


Bryanna Rentz (19:23):
One of them, I don’t remember which number it is, but one is first to understand and to be understood.


Sam Demma (19:29):
Hmm.


Bryanna Rentz (19:30):
That one really with me.


Sam Demma (19:32):
Yeah. That’s super important. That’s such, I, I think those those lessons come from Steven Covey. He has a, yeah. So when I was like your age, I read a book called the seven habits for highly effective teens. And I think this is like the very, I think it might be the same book or something very similar.


Bryanna Rentz (19:51):
Yeah. our teacher, we didn’t have very much of that in our school before, but she was really into it and she brought leadership to our entire elementary school.


Sam Demma (20:01):
Damn. What, what was her, sorry, what was her name again? And also tell me a little bit about what she did specifically for you that you think made a massive impact on you as a student.


Bryanna Rentz (20:11):
Her name was Marion and she had us teach other classrooms in the school about the seven habits. Oh wow. And how we’d do them every day. And we’d watch videos on leadership. And I remember in grade three, we, we were all obsessed with rainbow looms and making those bracelets.


Sam Demma (20:28):
Yep.


Bryanna Rentz (20:28):
And one day our class, just the entire day we made bracelet and then we had a sale at the school and we donated all of the money we made to charities. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And do you stay in touch with her to this day or not so much anymore?


Bryanna Rentz (20:42):
Not a whole lot. Now that I’m at a different school, but I remember her all the time.


Sam Demma (20:47):
That is so cool. And aside from her as your teacher, were there any other educators that made a significant impact on you? Like, it, it, it sounds very obvious that she made a massive impact. And it continues to this day. Are there other teachers that you’ve looked up to and have inspired you a lot?


Bryanna Rentz (21:07):
I actually really, really struggle to answer this question cuz so many of my teachers have really made an impact on my life. Yeah. So many different ways. They like, from my schooling to athletics, I’ve learned so many skills from them and they really just make school a better place. They always cheer me up and I can trust them with anything. Yeah. My teachers, Mr. Martin, Mrs. Guy and Han Mrs. Woodell, Mrs. Chesky. And even Mrs. Steele, they were just such a positive impact on our high school.


Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool.


Bryanna Rentz (21:39):
Sorry.


Sam Demma (21:40):
Continue. Yeah.


Bryanna Rentz (21:41):
When teacher, I just have to tell you about him. He wasn’t really a high school teacher. I only had him in junior high for Jim and art.


Sam Demma (21:49):
Okay.


Bryanna Rentz (21:50):
His name was Mr. Seretsky and every day he’d just greet everyone say good morning. Sometimes he’d forget after turn past 12 and three o’clock when we’re leaving. Hey, good morning everyone. And he just had a super big impact on my high school life. He’d get us all involved and having fun. I remember the day we were told that he was transferring to another school. My heart just sunk and I cried all day.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Wow. It sounds like he made a massive impact because he cared about you guys. Like, like how, what do you think that was? You think it’s him caring about the student? Like if you had to explain what he did. So I, I understand he, he sounds like he was very charismatic and like if you had to boil it down to like one characteristic, what do you think the characteristic was that he embodied that made such an impact on all of you?


Bryanna Rentz (22:45):
He really cared about the students. He gave everything to that school.


Sam Demma (22:51):
Very cool.


Bryanna Rentz (22:52):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:52):
Awesome. And when it comes to leadership, obviously you’ve had some great leaders in your life. Yeah. Shout out to your mom too. She’s pretty awesome. You’ve had some great leaders. What do you think the characteristics or the character traits of a great leader are?


Bryanna Rentz (23:11):
In, I think the most important ones are kindness, ambition, authenticity, fairness, and the ability to get people up off their feet, whether like participating in activity or anything else, a leader should really be able to get people involved.


Sam Demma (23:25):
Hmm. I love that. And you mentioned as well a little bit of involvement in the girl guides and four H can you tell me some stories in relation to those initiatives and how you were involved and what you kind of learned or gained from them?


Bryanna Rentz (23:41):
Well, when I turned, I think it was 14 or 15. I was able to apply for the duke of Edinburg award.


Sam Demma (23:48):
What is that? Tell me more, there’s.


Bryanna Rentz (23:49):
Bronze, silver and gold levels. You can unlock the next one as you go. But I have the app on my phone that tells me all about it, but you have to do a certain number of weeks of community service or volunteerism, recreation, an activity and learning a new skill. Yep. And for a volunteer, I chose to teach the four H kids and then another elementary kid in my community, how to do archery. I’m really passionate about that. And then within the girl guides, we meet up with the younger groups and we help them. We plan activities for them and just work with them.


Sam Demma (24:27):
Very cool. That’s awesome. And would you encourage other young people to get involved? Like what do you think the benefit of getting involved and volunteering?


Bryanna Rentz (24:39):
It’s lots of fun and you never know how much you can affect someone’s life with that, sharing your passions with others or help them learn new skills can really like maybe they wanna get involved with it too.


Sam Demma (24:51):
Yeah. So true. So true. And what do you think was your biggest and maybe will continue to be a big challenge when it comes to doing school online and how have you, as a student tried to overcome that and still make the most of the situation.


Bryanna Rentz (25:05):
It was done. Definitely the social part. It was so used to seeing my friends and my teachers every day that it really took a hit when it was all taken away.


Sam Demma (25:14):
Yeah.


Bryanna Rentz (25:16):
Me and my friends got past that issue. We we’d FaceTime every day before class and after class and any other time we could and we’d just play games on our phones and talk how doing, how it’s going at home. And sometimes we’d make zoom calls with some of our favorite teachers just to see how they were doing without us and how the school was.


Sam Demma (25:36):
Cool. That’s awesome. And if you could give other aspiring leaders some advice, like what, what would you share? And this could also be advice for your own younger self?


Bryanna Rentz (25:47):
Get involved in anything you can, leadership can take you amazing places. It can really just make you a better person.


Sam Demma (25:55):
Love that. That’s awesome. And don’t forget to be someone’s taco, right? Yeah. That’s so cool. Well, look, Brandon, thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your experiences. Some of the teachers had a major impact on you. Do you have any parting words or final things you’d like to say to anybody who’s tuning in or would you like to share a way someone could reach out to you, maybe a social platform or an email address? If a student had a question how should they get in touch with you and any, any parting words?


Bryanna Rentz (26:27):
I just wanna thank you for letting me come and talk with you. I wanted you to thank, or I wanted to thank you for letting me voice how I feel. And I do have Instagram. It’s just @Bryanna_Rentz if anybody needs to reach me.


Sam Demma (26:40):
Awesome. All right, Bryanna. Well, we’ll talk soon. Keep up with the great work and yeah. Enjoy the holiday season.


Bryanna Rentz (26:47):
Thank you. You as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Maren and Bryanna

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.

Eleanor McIntosh – Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School

Eleanor McIntosh - Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School
About Eleanor McIntosh

Eleanor (@Eleanor27332035) is a secondary Principal within the Durham District School Board. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration and undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Kinesiology. She is an advocate for youth and the community.

Eleanor is one of the founding members of the Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN) since its inception in 2005. She has held executive positions of Treasurer, Vice-Chair and two terms as Chair. Eleanor is a founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE), where she lends her skills and experience to inform policy and programming for educators across the province.

Eleanor has been a panellist and presenter at 30 different speaking engagements and conferences since 2012. She has appeared on CTV, Rogers TV, and a variety of Metroland Media local newspapers. An avid global traveller, Eleanor has visited over 25 different countries around the world and is happy to call the Durham region home.

Connect with Eleanor: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN)

Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE)

Durham educators call for more inclusivity in wake of George Floyd’s death (Global News)

Ajax High School – Durham 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):
Eleanor welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Eleanor McIntosh (00:08):
Yeah, for sure. So good day, everyone. Eleanor McIntosh here, my pronouns are she her and hers. I am excited motivated, inspired to be here today for this podcast. I’m a principal in the Durham district school board at Ajax high school where I’ve been for the last five, almost five years doing, doing the good work, getting into some good trouble.


Sam Demma (00:37):
Why education? What drew you to teaching and education as a whole?


Eleanor McIntosh (00:42):
So interesting story. My pathway to education was not direct by any means. I, I always tell people that I kind of fell into it because I never really saw myself as an educator education found me. So after my post my undergraduate post-secondary adventures, which are more, mostly geared in the sciences, actually, that’s my undergraduate degree. I decided to put a pause in my life to try and sort things out, I guess you could say. And I traveled, I took I took a job teaching English, a overseas through the a program called the jet program, the Japan exchange and teaching program. So I applied got shortlisted and then got accepted to the program. And off, I went on my adventure to Asia. So I spent two years in Japan where I had never been that far away before, but, you know went along with many other educators from Canada and around the world and found myself in a small little town kind of like Pickering or Ajax in the Durham region.


Eleanor McIntosh (01:59):
And I taught English in a large academic high school cuz they do, they, they stream there in Japan. And in that experience I found my calling. I loved teaching. I loved connecting with kids. I loved being in a classroom and English is not my background, but I had to figure it out. And it wasn’t about the English, right? The English was just a part of it. It wasn’t about the English, it was about the connection and, and being in community and all, lots of other different things. And so it’s because of that experience that I applied to teachers college here in Ontario, came back and became an educator.


Sam Demma (02:42):
That is so awesome. Would you other educators who are teaching now or thinking about teaching to travel international and if so, why?


Eleanor McIntosh (02:53):
So again, a really good question because it was because of this experience that I really often encourage students and educators to travel and to use international travel or education as a gateway to learning and building, building our personal selves and verse building character because I really, we found that that experience, it, it was for me life changing. I will say that I say that all it was life changing for me. I grew as an individual. I grew as a professional at the time I didn’t really see myself at the professional, but I really grew into my professional self. And, and, and so, you know, I often talk about my international education experience as a stepping stone to to whatever you want to learning to growing. And I talk a lot about that, especially with students who are unsure, you know, take a year go and see, because you can gain so much from traveling around the world and connecting with people, which is what I found.


Sam Demma (04:06):
That’s so amazing. I found similar experiences traveling not to teach, but to play soccer. Yep. At the age of 13. So I think travel opens your mind and eyes to many things you might not hear or see, and it changes your perspectives. It gives you more tools to see the world through.


Eleanor McIntosh (04:27):
It does. It does. And it’s, it’s amazing. I think probably there was lots of aha moments in that, in that traveling. I was there for two years. Like I was overseas for two years. Didn’t come back to the Western world for two years. Because why I could come back, I’m gonna be back here eventually. Yeah. But you know, I really, I really saw the value of perspective because the world views the west their differently than the west views, the rest of the world. So that was eyeopening for me.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Tell me more about that. How does the rest of the world view the west versus us?


Eleanor McIntosh (05:15):
So we are very, as a Western society, we’re very, we’re new compared to the west of rest of the world, right. Because our, our civilization started much later than, than other countries. And I think we’re a little bit arrogant in the way that we believe the rest of the world operates or a ESP for the rest of the world to operate. And so it’s very Western centric. So, you know, it’s like the west is the center of the world and everybody else operates based on what the west does, but oh no. You know, you know, the west has its own ways of functioning and, and operating. And, and I found in particular I often got confused for being American. And so I was interrupting notions of discrimination and, and viewpoints of Americans or black Americans, even when I was traveling overseas.


Eleanor McIntosh (06:13):
But the minute I said that I was Canadian boy, the, at the viewpoint change. So the world welcomes and sees Canada as a very big partner for it around for its, for its citizens and a global participant positive global participant. Whereas it doesn’t view the Americans in the same way. Exactly. And so there was a lot of hate coming, you know, I, I heard a lot of hate for the west and we, you had to kind of separate Canada and America a little bit because really that hate was about America a lot. Right. Wow. So it was, it was really I opening yeah. Really eye opening.


Sam Demma (06:59):
Speaking of perspectives and the importance of gaining more, I’m grateful that lots of perspectives that have been very underrepresented are starting to, you know, hopefully bubble to the service and have over the past two years especially in the communities of a diversity equity. And you’ve been a champion of pushing that message forward as much as you can. What do you think are some of the challenges that have existed and to this day still exist, that you’re really passionate about speaking up and, and trying to make a change in that you think are underrepresented perspectives.


Eleanor McIntosh (07:38):
Really great question. So a couple of things come to mind I think for a long time education, public education was allowed to be ignorant yeah. To the realities of what was happening in its communities, where it was centered. You know, it was always seen as the powerhouse and there was a very clear, defined way of operating and still it’s still there. It’s absolutely still there. And so you know, George Floyd, the, the incidents and George Floyd a couple of years ago, I think served as a real catalyst for the world to wake up and for education to now participate in interrupting biased practices, discriminatory practices that have been going on forever and still continue. So it really allowed us to will no longer be silent. So those who were on the margins who were working in education, it gave them voice mm, gave them a space it gave and not them cuz I’m included in that.


Eleanor McIntosh (08:52):
It allowed us to advocate for the change that we knew we wanted to see for so long, but really we were silenced for for years. And I will say that specifically about my work in education. I never really saw a, an avenue where I could participate in challenge notions of, of racism, discrimination, oppression in the system. I felt that I really had to maintain the status quo because if I chose to speak up, then there, I would be for lack of a better word blacklisted, I would be I would limit my career possibilities, right. There would be, there would be impact to me personal impact and professional impact to me. But as the doors have widened more and more examples come to the forefront that have allowed the conversations of equity and diversity and more specifically anti-oppression to find its way into learning spaces.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:09):
And that was nothing that we ever wanted to participate in before you might have seen pockets, but they were quiet pockets. Yeah. They were people that would close their doors and do their thing quietly. But now people have opened their doors and let that freedom out into the entire school community. And that is bringing students joy because we’re not, we’re no longer harming, we’re not harming kids anymore. That harm. You’re giving students voice. You’re giving them the opportunity to say, no, I don’t want my education to be like this. I wanna make sure that it’s going to resonate with me fully and, and allow me to be my full self.


Sam Demma (10:54):
And represent the whole truth.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:58):
100%. Cause we were speaking partial truths for a long time.


Sam Demma (11:01):
There’s a book by Martin Luther king Jr. With the title. Why we can’t wait, it’s something, I might be butchering it a little bit, but it’s something along those lines. And the whole book is amazing and it talks about a lot of the movements he engaged in and why now was the time for change and why? Like we can’t be patient anymore. And I’m curious to know why you believe the reform that’s happening currently in education and, and hopefully continues to happen throughout north America and all over the west. Why is now the time and why can’t we be patient with this stuff anymore?


Eleanor McIntosh (11:36):
We can’t be patient because all kids are not succeeding. Mm.


Eleanor McIntosh (11:43):
All, all students, that’s what publication is grounded in. Yeah. Right. The success of all students, Nelson Mandela talks about that education is the powerful equalizer. Right. But it hasn’t been yeah. For so long. And so we can’t wait for more and more students to be harmed for black students, particularly black males to be pushed out of the system to end up into this pipeline into activity because they don’t feel a sense of belonging that no one is there advocating for them. So you’re right. We can’t wait. And sadly for those who hold privilege and those who have, have garnered that privilege through just by who they are, we can no longer allow those loud voices to control the outcomes of students cannot. Right. It’s time now for those who have been silenced underrepresented or marginalized to bring those perspectives back to the forefront so that we are there to, to advocate, that’s what public educators are for. They’re there to advocate for all students, not just some and the ones on the margins need us the most. And so we need to stand up for them. Now, the data’s clear, kids are not succeeding and we can’t do it anymore.


Sam Demma (13:11):
It seems like the motivation and motivation is very fleeting because it might last for a minute. It might last for a month. It might last for two months, six months. Yep. But the motivation and excitement of something happening in the world and our initial reaction seems to fade very fast. Yes. How do we sustain this change? How do we move away from motivation and decide to commit and discipline ourselves to follow through with these things? Even when it’s hard, even when the doors are open and the conversations are extremely uncomfortable, I’m not asking you for the key of this whole solution here, I’m putting on the spot, but how do we bring this back to the forefront of the conversation and continue it?


Eleanor McIntosh (13:59):
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a number of different ways that that can happen. From a, from a professional standpoint, I think it’s, it’s twofold, right? So from a professional standpoint we have a responsibility in schools, right. And so for this question leans more towards what is our responsibility and, and not just, not just in the way that we believe that this should be, but what is the legal responsibility? Because there is a legality, right? What is the legal responsibility that we have to make sure that this that we’re not closing these doors, that we’re keeping that at the forefront, right. So that’s the first thing. And there’s been a couple of really strong moves made by the government in order to make sure that, that that, that responsibility is clear for educators. And I’ll give you an example.


Eleanor McIntosh (14:55):
So one example is, is that the Ontario college of teachers has now advised it has now become as part of the education act that discriminatory practices are now an act misconduct for educators. That’s a bold move. That was a necessary move to legitimize the work and keep that responsibility very ever present for educators. Right. they’ve also put out an advisory relating to anti-black racism, right? Again, another bold step that allows for that high level of accountability for educators. Right. So no longer. So now as a system, we have some, some very clear lines to lean on, right? Should people decide that they no do not want to participate, that they want to give up their responsibilities to the students that we serve. Right. but I also think it goes deeper than that because we have to also lean on ed administrators, like leaders in the right leaders, leaders have to participate in, in making the space for this change to happen.


Eleanor McIntosh (16:07):
Right. We are part of that responsibility because we are also we’re educator at heart. And so from, from middle to upper management and the executive level, how are we making sure that the policies, procedures and frontline work of leaders make sure that we are advocating, educating, building awareness, right. With our staff so that it doesn’t fall to the wayside so that our, our educators feel not just empowered, but confident to entertain and engage in conversation of injustice in the classroom. Right. Because it’s not just about teaching you know, literacy and numeracy, that’s important, but we want to make sure that we are creating a world that we, that is not reflective of the current day. We wanna create a world that is reflective of what we want to see in the future. We do that through opening up these conversations in the classroom.


Eleanor McIntosh (17:21):
Right. And so that, I think it’s so it’s, it’s multiple things. And then on a personal level for people, people have to also feel as though that they are not comp that they’re not complicit in racist practice or discriminatory practices. Right. So, you know, you know, they have to choose to educate themselves, right. So how do they, how do they, why, why would I, as an educator, as a human being choose to participate in, in learning more, right. People don’t want to feel as though that they are creating barriers for people or upholding white supremacy. They don’t wanna feel that way. And so it’s also playing into people’s compassion and right. We wanna make sure that people understand that justice is for everyone, from every location, from every identity. And so by putting that and making that as a priority, right. Going, leaning on the moral compass, if you will, the compassion that everybody holds, I think it’s how you also get to educators or people to buy in right into these circum, into these conversations, even when it’s hard. Right? Yeah. Even it’s hard.


Sam Demma (18:40):
It sounds like we really can’t afford spectation or spectators anymore.


Eleanor McIntosh (18:46):
You can’t, you can’t afford to be a bystander anymore. Yeah. If you’re a by, in, or someone’s gonna call you out, like this is the thing now, right. People aren’t gonna stay silent, somebody’s going to call you out. And I have had to on many occasions, you know, engage in conversations, sometimes difficult conversations with staff about something they may have said or whatever. And again, not ill intention. I would never think that anybody is doing something maliciously. We are gonna make these mistakes, but it’s up to me and, and everybody else in the building to make sure that we are all moving this forward together, nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:26):
Hmm.


Eleanor McIntosh (19:26):
Nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:28):
What have you found helpful in terms of educational resources? So there’s an educator listening right now who is mentally deciding, not because they’re just motivated due to your passion for this topic. Yep. But they’re mentally deciding right now. Okay. I don’t wanna bystand I don’t wanna spectate. I wanna join this conversation and participate. Where should they start with their own self education or what have you heard, or even read yourself or heard other educators reading, going through, watching to learn more about the situation to inform themselves?


Eleanor McIntosh (20:07):
So reading is a lot of what I’ve been doing over the past little while, and also, you know, encouraging my staff to read as well. Right. Yeah. And presenting them with choices and options to help build their awareness cuz you’re right. We can’t do it all right. As I so a couple of, so in terms of titles, you know me and white supremacy by Lelas Asad white fragility, lot of, so I read white fragility by Delo. So a lot of DeAngelo’s work. A lot of Kent’s work you know, anti-racist education. Anything by Kent DLO Leila, sod is all very important readings to participate in because it allows us to connect with that personal side of us and push a little in terms of our thinking around what it means to be just a human being, not even just for educators, just a human being. So those are some of the things that we’ve engaged in here. And then of course there’s any number of videos and media pieces that are all put together by again, people who are doing this work that allows us to build more awareness about the issues that are at the, the forefront of this. Right.


Sam Demma (21:25):
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for sure. What personally on all fronts of life and education, not only with this topic, but what keeps you personally motivated and hopeful to show up every day with your energy and continue doing this work?


Eleanor McIntosh (21:40):
Yeah, so a few things, when I, I decided to become an educator, I came back to Durham where I part when I, where I went to school and, and was raised, I came back to Durham because I wanted to make sure that other students who were in our system didn’t have to experience some of the injustices that I experienced as a, as a young woman. Mm. The young black woman growing up in, in the Durham region. So it was really important for me to be active as an active advocate, right. To interrupt those, those injustices, that was really important. You know, I wanna make sure that I’m actively participating in state in change and not being complicit. And that, that, that, those aha moments, those, that feedback I get from teachers, from students that what we are doing is working definitely keeps, keeps the fire lit for me.


Eleanor McIntosh (22:41):
Mm. You know, when I hear that positivity, when I hear, you know, student voice coming to the forefront, definitely that that warms my heart. It really does to know that I’m, that I’m making those connections really strongly for, for our students. When I, when I see a student turn the corner that’s huge, huge for me because I I do this work for students. I do this for that next generation who is going to do amazing things very much like yourself, Sam, right, who are doing these amazing things that you know, 10, 15 years ago, we couldn’t even imagine, right. It is students that are going to create change for the future, right. We, it is, it is, it is this generation, your generat that, that are going to make that change. And so it’s really important that we empower them to do so. And the last piece in particular is at some point in my career, I became a parent and I have a young daughter a young queen. And you know, I definitely, I’m a young queen. And you know, I wanna make sure that the path is very clear for her coming in, into a system where I know there is injustice. So she is my light every day. And the one who helps to make sure that I am staying focused on the work that needs to be done, because I don’t wanna ever ha have my daughter to come home and tell me that she wants to have blonde hair and blue eyes again.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Amen. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.


Eleanor McIntosh (24:28):
Yeah, no problem.


Sam Demma (24:30):
If you could if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up, walk back to when you first started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, this is what you need to hear right now. What, what advice would you have given your younger self?


Eleanor McIntosh (24:54):
Yeah, that’s another good question. I always, I always ask myself, I have learned, I, you know, when you, when you know better, you do better. And I, and I definitely have done better. So I was gonna go back to myself. I would definitely say, make room for, to connect with students, build community it’s community that signals belonging and value for kids. When you have that belonging and value, you get engagement. When you have engagement in the classroom, learning happens when learning happens, success happens. So I would make sure that I would tell my younger self to put aside. There are times when you need to put aside your plan and you need to make sure that you are bringing conversations that matter into the classroom.


Sam Demma (25:48):
Mm.

Eleanor McIntosh (25:49):
I really wanna encourage, I would really spend that time. I was a math and science teacher. So sometimes it can be very linear right in the way that we think. But I think, you know, sometimes we have to take risks, right? I I’ve, I’ve become a risk taker as I’ve, as I’ve matured in the profession. And I would, I would try to take more risks a little bit. I would try to make sure that I’m also using my voice, cuz I didn’t use my voice in those early years. I was too worried. I would use my voice as a vehicle and a platform to advocate even when it was difficult. Even when I fell, felt scared, even when I was fearful.


Sam Demma (26:32):
That’s awesome. Right.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:34):
I would do that.


Sam Demma (26:35):
Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, talk about your beliefs and philosophies and share some important follow up on all the things that have happened over the past year or two years. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, collaborate with you, ask a question, brainstorm some things. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:59):
Best way is to reach out to I’m not see super huge on social media to be truthful. So I’m on LinkedIn. That’s the one platform that I’m on. So you can look me up on LinkedIn for sure. And then look me up at Ajax high school for now or through the DDSB email’s always great. I’m always open to doing the good work and getting into good trouble with anybody who wants to do that.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Cool. Oh no. It’s thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Eleanor McIntosh (27:26):
Sam, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Eleanor McIntosh

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.

Andrea Taylor – Principal at Gary Allan Learning Centres for Adult, Alternative & Continuing Education

Andrea Taylor - Principal at Gary Allan Learning Centres for Adult, Alternative & Continuing Education
About Andrea Taylor

Andrea Taylor (@GaryAllanSchool) is a Secondary Principal with the Halton District School Board and she is presently responsible for the Gary Allan Learning Centres that offer Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education at 5 different locations across the region. Andrea began her career 32 years ago as an elementary school teacher before moving to the secondary level as a biology teacher and department head.

In 2003, Andrea was promoted to the role of Secondary Vice-Principal and in 2012, she became the Principal of M.M. Robinson High School in Burlington where in 2017 she was recognized as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals. As an outdoor enthusiast, Andrea believes that experiential learning can lead to some of the best educational moments for any learner at any age.

Taking learning outside, or even out of a classroom, can allow a student to think more broadly and creatively about the world around them.

Connect with Andrea: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Gary Allan Learning Centres

Halton District School Board

Bridges to Success Programs (BTS)

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

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):
Andrea welcome to the high-performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Andrea Taylor (00:10):
Well, hello, I’m Andrea Taylor. I’m the principal of Gary Allen learning centers within the Halton district school board. So I oversee four campuses, five campuses across the region that deal with adult alternative and continuing education for the school board.


Sam Demma (00:24):
How did you get into adult education? Tell me a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are now.


Andrea Taylor (00:31):
Well, it’s not my first principalship. My first principalship was at a regular high school M.M. Robinson from 2012 to 2017. And this is my 32nd year in education. So I guess after my five years there, I wanted something a little different. And so this was one of my career profile choices. And so I came here in 2017, so I’m in my fifth year of it. So I’m not really sure that I had any vision for adult education. However, it has been a really nice experience for this time in my career. So I’m, I’m really enjoying seeing how adults who may not have enjoyed their high school experience, know that there’s a way in which they can come back and get their diploma. It’s a, a very very inspirational job when you give them a diploma and they’re 45, 55, 65 years old. And you’re never too old to, to get the diploma.


Sam Demma (01:33):
So that’s awesome. I think it’s such a unique school to be working in filled with inspiration. It sounds like it’s a very rewarding position. What it’s tell me a little bit more about the position itself and what you do in the school and why, why, why it’s been inspirational for you?


Andrea Taylor (01:52):
Well, I think it’s been inspirational because alternative education is what we run in our day school, plus adult credit programming. So alternative education for those students who are completely disengaged with the high school career for many different reasons. And they need to be, you know, they benefit from being out of that sort of trigger environment, quote unquote. So we have a step program which is secondary teen engagement program here in Halton, across four campuses, one in Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Georgetown. We probably have a hundred and about 150 you know, spread out throughout the region who do face to face instruction. We also run an alternative program called bridges to success for the over 18 year olds who may start to be a little older than wanting to be in high school. And, but they’re close to graduating. So it’s completely online.


Andrea Taylor (02:48):
So between those two programs, we really work to help students get their diploma. And we’re very well supported. The school board is very supportive of the alternative education and students who may have been lost and, and not return know that they have a safe place to come and and, and, and learn skills, learn coping skills and develop some positive confidence to then, you know, face the world. And a lot of these students, not all of them, but some of them, you know, live on their own and we assist them in navigating those social organizations and community supports and keep that diploma as a focus for them. And then they also know that if they age out because one under the age of 21 has a right to an education in a, in a school, but they know if they age out and they’re over 21, they can stay with Gary Allen learning centers and become one of our adults to get their credits and finish off so many, many success stories in many different ways.


Andrea Taylor (03:55):
Some say, you know, that’s, that’s it Ms. Taylor? I’m 18. I gotta go work. I’m like, okay, well you go work, but then you come back to us because they know they get equivalency credits for their life experiences too. So there’s inspiration everywhere and the way the teachers work with the students. So stories of adults who come back, they may have developed a career. You know, they left school early, but they now have their own children and they don’t wanna be a hypocrite and say, you go get your diploma. You need to get your diploma. And they turn around and say, well, mom, you haven’t gotten yours. And I’ve had parents and children graduate together. And I sh you know, to shake their hands at commencement. So yeah, a lot of different things that happened. And then the new program that we brought into our learning center is for newcomers. It’s the language acquisition programs link ESL FSL for newcomers. And within a year and half, we already have over a thousand learners. And that’s non-credit, but allows them to, to gain language proficiency, which then would allow them to move into our adult credit program. So newcomers can then get their Ontario diploma. So we have a number of different vehicles and avenues within the school board to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners.


Sam Demma (05:12):
What is the step or steps program? Tell me a little bit more about that as well.


Andrea Taylor (05:16):
So the step program is the secondary team engagement program. It’s been with the board for an number of decades now. It has been fine tuned over the last couple of years. It’s it has about two or three classrooms, two classrooms at each site, smaller setting it’s supported with child, youth counselors and social workers. And EA our staff are very well trained in trauma informed classroom instruction restorative practice. And we welcome students. It’s it’s continual intake. So we run it as a positive parallel program to your traditional high school, so that our colleagues, when they know that they have a student who is not engaging, has high absenteeism has sometimes high social anxieties can’t handle the big craziness of the high schools. They’ll do a referral to our program and the first year that we have them, the step, the E and step really stands for engagement.


Andrea Taylor (06:20):
We try to engage them, build trust relationships. A lot of times the students don’t trust the educational system. It hasn’t helped them. It’s been more of a burden. And so we really work on that people to people skills. The next step is to in sort of expand them and into experiential learning. We have a TRX program, which is for trades. It’s a, it’s a woodworking shop here at the main campus in Burlington. And so the students become very creative, build everything from paddles to desks, to whatever they want. And some have gone on to the trades of that, that encouragement. And then the final step to it is when we’ve had them for a few years, we expand them into experiential co-op community co-op they may go into the bridges program to do digital learning. So they see what it’s gonna be like at college and university.


Andrea Taylor (07:15):
And many of our students will have post-secondary plans, but we really have to unpack, I guess, the harm or the, the reason for being disengaged from high school any distress or anxieties, we try to, to work with the student and the families to, to make it better for them. And and, and then, so we do get a, a number of really good success stories. Yeah, I could, I, I could spend all day telling you a number of the stories, so that’s step and, and some students do come to, to us and they feel better and they have those skills to go back into their homeschool. So they may reengage. So that’s why we’re a parallel program for the high schools, but other students stay with us and graduate from, from here as well, or they go onto the BTS or they, they may become our adult credit students as well. So we never really say goodbye to them. We really help them until they, until they graduat. And even when they’ve graduated, they’ve come back and been speakers sometimes for our kids. Just say, there’s hope don’t give up.


Sam Demma (08:23):
That’s awesome. Is BTS the bridges program. And how does that differ from the step program?


Andrea Taylor (08:28):
So bridges to success is really for the 18 to 2021 year olds it’s completely online so that you need to be of a more independent student. And self-directed, it is continual intake as well. So our teachers have a combination of step classes and a bridge class completely working online. And and so some of those students may have already graduated high school. They may be an an OSS D grad already, but they’ve found that they don’t like the pathway they’re on. So they, they come back and they change their pathway, change their courses, do their upgrading. Maybe they’ve taken a year off before post-secondary and wanna get their marks to be higher. And so those students are older and, but they’re still under the age of 21. And and so again, it’s a nice piece for us. If we’ve had a student for a number of years and they’ve developed independence and reliability and they can get their work done, then we move them on to a bridges program because that’s kind of what they’re going to see. And we didn’t know when we devised that, that the world would be at one point a hundred percent online. Yeah. So we were kind of positioned well for that, but our teachers and our students have really done well by that program.


Sam Demma (09:48):
At what point in your own career journey did you realize education is what you wanted to do with your life and how did you come to that realization?


Andrea Taylor (10:00):
Oh, I don’t know. I was a competitive athlete when I was younger and did all the sports in school and I’ve coached and I’ve always coached when I was younger, you know, I’ve, I’ve just been helping others and instructing since I was probably 14. And when I was at university, I I really wanted to go into med school because I had some really good doctors, sports medicine, doctors help me. So that’s what I really wanted to do. But in third year university, I realized I couldn’t afford med school. So I went my other love of sports and PhysEd and health biology. So I went on to teachers college with no regrets and have a, you know, my specialty, my specialists are in phys ed and biology. And that’s what I became. I actually started in elementary school.


Andrea Taylor (10:48):
So you know, sometimes things work out for you and you don’t even know why until you look back. And so I don’t regret going into education. You know, I started in, in elementary, so I I’ve taught every grade from grade five to OAC or to 12 U biology. Nice. before going into administration. So it’s it’s been a nice journey. And as I said, you don’t always know. So you know, I got into education kind of by default, and then I’ve been blessed along the way that opportunity has just come up. And, and I’m a person that doesn’t wanna say what if down the road. So, you know, you give it your best shot and you do in my mantra is to live, do well by the people I’m responsible for. So, you know, as a teacher, you’re responsible for the kids. And as, as an administrator, you’re responsible for staff and kids and parents. So you just, if you continue to do well by the P people you’re responsible for, then I find it’s worked out well.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Steve jobs has this quote in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, where he says, you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect and what you just shared made me think of that. And it makes total sense. When you think back on your career in education and all the different roles you’ve worked in, what are some of the experiences you went through courses, mentors, you came across, anything that’s been, you think helpful over the yeah. That’s, you know, putting you on the spot here and that’s a, a long career to pull from, but I


Andrea Taylor (12:22):
Wasn’t one of your questions that were, you gave me.


Sam Demma (12:25):
I know


Andrea Taylor (12:27):
But that’s okay. I still have a good memory. I was just, just speaking to one of my, I mentors this morning, you know people that I I have known throughout my 30 plus years here at the board. And you just learn, you, you learn who it is that are your critical friends and people that you can rely on and, you know, our role of, of maintaining pro professionalism, but we also are still human. So there’s times where you need those critical friends and, and safe places to just be you because you have to, to let it out. But I guess, I guess the, the, I would say, and I said this to some people, but I think back the most pivotal year I had was my fifth year of teaching at the end of my fifth year a teacher, I was surplus.


Andrea Taylor (13:21):
And I was told I had, you know, I got picked up at another elementary school and I was teaching grade five and, oh my goodness. So I had to go and get my junior qualifications. And I thought after my first day of teaching grade five, I was about to quit. And I was like, oh my gosh, a little old, I don’t, I don’t know what to do with these 10 year olds. And they ended up being the best class that I had. I have had former students from that class contact me and they’re doing well, but what I learned from that and surviving that year with these grade fives and then moving on into secondary, and then moving on to adult tell you, is that everybody’s a 10 year old, they’re just in bigger bodies. So, you know, they all need purpose and, and belonging.


Andrea Taylor (14:06):
And you know, I had to take a special ed course because I had so many identified students and I had a couple students with cerebral palsy. And in that class, you know, we just lowered the net to play volleyball. One person was in a wheelchair. Just learned so many things from that class and that experience and that’s taking special ed one is why I was able to move into secondary, to, to teach a course for students, with autism in science. And so things happen along the way. And, and as I said, you just do well by the students you’re responsible for, but I, I still think of that sometimes I’m the 10 year old and I’m like, I need, I need to talk to someone. So, you know, we’re all we’re all 10 year olds just in bigger bodies. And we just need to remember to listen to each other and, and not judge. And they taught me so much. I, I did not know that 10 year olds could be so responsible.


Sam Demma (14:58):
Yeah. They’re


Andrea Taylor (14:59):
Just amazing, amazing age.


Sam Demma (15:01):
I love that. And right now education looks a lot different, maybe not so much for the online learners that you’ve already had in the past, but for the in person with the challenges of the pandemic and the rise of so many important conversations education looks different. What do you think some of the opportunities are maybe to change or to improve over the next couple of years?


Andrea Taylor (15:29):
Well, anytime you’re, you’re given challenges you know, it’s kind of almost like a, not a correction factor, but when you’re given challenges, you really have to back up and, and, and take a look at the big picture. And a number of my colleagues will laugh, cuz I always have sayings for things, but sometimes when you have challenges, you hang on too tight, you’re hugging the tree too close. You’re looking at the bark and you can see the ants, you know, mark through the Bart and, and it’s really cuz you feel like you have to hang onto something where sometimes, you know what this is maybe out of our control. So I’m gonna back up completely and go and see the whole forest. I’m gonna get to higher ground. And I’m gonna look at the whole forest and say, you know what, I, I need to take a different path.


Andrea Taylor (16:07):
I need to go this way now. And so I’m hoping that with education, we’re not hanging on all so tight. And we, we look at it and say, okay, what have we learned? What are the good and, and the good thing is that, you know, when I taught three or four U biology and I had a student with mono, they might lose the whole semester because they couldn’t, they were in the hospital and they didn’t have the energy and, and they had to come back and have to drop out for a bit and come back the next semester, we didn’t have a way to just move and maneuver things online and keep the work going to them. Right. so the hybrid approach to, to education is important. But I, I also think when you back up, you start to look at what are the priorities and what is education.


Andrea Taylor (16:50):
What’s the difference between teaching and transferring knowledge to educating the mind and education doesn’t have to come out of a book education, doesn’t have to come out of a digital screen education, you know, looking at how you best learn and wanna be a lifelong learner. And we need to take the opportunity right now to say, okay, what has worked really well? What can we change? And, and what can we continue to do that the students really need to learn about themselves and others to be contributing citizens to a society once they graduate. So I think the opportunity is, is to step back and just go, okay, like, you know, we’re gonna, it’s a virus, we’re gonna have to live with it. We’re gonna have to learn to manage it. But in that, how do we continue to, to help the child’s mind develop the youth’s mind, develop stay positive. Things will get better. They may be different, but will be okay and people need to, to know that. And and we will get through it. And, and so education has the opportunity to, to open its mind and go, how do we deliver this information? Are we doing it in the best possible way?


Sam Demma (18:02):
You mentioned near the beginning of the interview, sometimes you would have former students alone come in and share their stories with the current students. And it would generate some hope. I think hearing about success stories during challenging times is a great way to generate hope. And I’m sure there’s so many success stories that have come out of your, you know, school at the adult learning education center. But when you think of some of the students who have made significant changes and improvements are there any specific stories that stand out and you, if it’s a serious story, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if there’s any specific story that sticks out in your mind about a student who had a serious change, and positive change.


Andrea Taylor (18:52):
Oh yeah. There’s, there’s there’s many, but I have to be very mindful. I, I do wanna protect privacy. Yeah. but what I will say I think because of the way our, our step program is with continual intake and itself pace, so students go at their own, right. And so some of them that come to us that are completely credit deficit as we call it we’ve had there’s one in particular. I won’t go into details cuz I don’t want anyone to be a BA because it’s quite unique coming out of the, you know, the GTA, the Toronto scene. Yeah. you know, know getting towards 18 and having very minimal credits. And I don’t even know if they were double digit credits, but once we were able to get through that step one of relationships and you can trust us and we’re here for you and we’re not gonna give up on you.


Andrea Taylor (19:50):
And we’re, you know, we’re working with your family as well. And they be, wow, these people are not just bail on me. They’re not just saying, you know he was able to get 10 credits in a year. He was able to do some equivalencies. He was with us for about two years and came to us with no, no sense of purpose or where he wanted to be. And when last year in the middle of COVID, of course we had couldn’t have commencement of how all was virtual, but we did have some students who were able to come back and, and get their diploma and I would have my mask on and I would meet them outside and I would give them their diploma and F them. And it was very rewarding to go from a young man that you worried would’ve ended up maybe incarcerated or, you know, there’s sometimes I worry about if my students are going even make it to their 20th birthday or 21st birthday, but because of our staff and, and, and our support staff, social workers, everybody who works around these, these very you know, challenging students are, but they’re just products of their, of their their environment in sense.


Andrea Taylor (21:09):
Anyway, it was just so heartwarming to give this young man his diploma. And I asked, what do you wanna do now? And he says, I think I wanna be a plumber and I’m absolutely go and do it. The people are so needed. Everybody has


Sam Demma (21:24):
Well, its


Andrea Taylor (21:24):
It’s awesome. And, and so, you know, that, that gives our staff hope because some of our students are so fragile and, and they’re human and you, you, you just wanna wrap around them. And that’s, our focus is to do wrap around learning and support and, and get them to that graduation where they can then stay and articulate to you. This is what I wanna do. This is what I wanna be, where when they first come here, they’re like, I don’t know. I don’t know. Right. I don’t know. And that’s, that’s the beauty of education is, is helping a young person know where they may wanna go. Now it might change that journey might PA you know, like mine, I thought I might be going into med school, but I went into education, but they need that first encouragement, nudge, and support to do that. They don’t have all the answers right now. And that’s what as role models as adults, as educators, we need to do that for them.


Sam Demma (22:20):
That’s such a heartwarming story. Thanks so much for sharing that.


Andrea Taylor (22:24):
Yeah. Yeah. There’s been other ones where I’ve run across a student and you know, heard, they had been in, had done some time. And, but I was just so pleased to see that they were alive at sometimes you have students that go through and you’re like, I’m just happy. You’re here with me right now. So it’s, it’s, it’s all good. And and that’s, you know, education is around out the people and that’s the important part of it.


Sam Demma (22:52):
Hmm. When you think about your experience throughout education, you’ve already shared some great learnings and feedback, but if you could take all of your experience, go back in time to your first and second year, third year teaching, you know, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, and this is what you needed to hear. What advice would you have given your younger self or also someone who’s just starting to get into this profession?


Andrea Taylor (23:26):
I think that kind of goes with one of the questions you gave me about, you know, mistakes that you made and what I’ve learned from the, I think I would tell myself more and more, listen, listen more. Sometimes the things we think in our head, people aren’t always ready to hear it and you have to listen to the people, whether they’re peers or your, your superiors or your students, wherever you fit within the educational system, but really listen without judgment and don’t jump to conclusions. And but then know if you have something that that’s important to say, you plan out and pick the proper time to say it and in, in what manner to say it. So I have had mentors and people along the way who you know, jokingly, I can come out like a bulldog sometimes and because I become passionate about some things.


Andrea Taylor (24:21):
And I think if I’m so passionate about it, I’m gonna make you so passionate about it, but they are not ready to hear it in a way. And so I’ve, I’ve learned to, to slow down my conversation. So if I could go back to, oh my God, when I was turning to, I was 24 turning 25 when I started, oh Lord. I would be just saying, slow it down, Andrew, just slow it down and listen. And, and you know, not wanna qua the passion cuz that’s just who I am. But yeah, we sometimes in education always have answers for things and sometimes we don’t have the answers and we need to give ourselves permission not to have the answers and listen for it. Someone else may have it. Right. And that’s what I would say. It’s just slow it down and and, and listen for sure.


Sam Demma (25:08):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for digging back. That was also for anyone wondering a non-planned question.


Andrea Taylor (25:17):
You like, you just put me on, you put me on the spot, which is kinda like my job, you know, there’s you come thinking you have your day planned or nothing planned or whatever, and all of a sudden it, it takes own path. Right. And you just gotta go with it.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Okay. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing and taking the time today to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, a little, a little bit about the school you work at and some of your philosophies around teaching and education. If someone is listening has a question for you or wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Andrea Taylor (25:47):
Best to email me (taylora@hdsb.ca)


Sam Demma (25:49):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to include your email in the show notes of the episode as well, or the article that we put together and they can, they can find the email there when it does get released. Thank you so much again for doing this. Keep up to great work.


Andrea Taylor (26:02):
And thank you. It’s been a pleasure. It’s made my morning. I think it’s made my day. So I thank you, Sam.


Sam Demma (26:07):
You’re welcome!

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andrea Taylor

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.

Nicholas Varricchio – Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)

Nicholas Varricchio - Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)
About Nicholas Varricchio

Nicholas Varricchio (@MMrPrincipal)  is the current Principal of M.M. Robinson High School of the Halton District School Board located in Burlington Ontario. Nick’s career in education has spanned 24 years – 12 of which as a Principal. Nick has taught in 3 different school boards across Ontario both in the Catholic and Public systems, with experience in both the elementary and secondary panels.

Nick has earned a Master’s of Education from York University, a BEd. from the University of Windsor and his Honors BA. from the University of Waterloo.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

M.M. Robinson High School

Dr. Frank J Hayden High School

Solution Tree – K12 Professional Development

Halton 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):
Nick welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Nicholas Varricchio (00:11):
Well, my name isNicholas Varricchio. I am a secondary school principal with the Halton district school board, and my current work location or school is M.M. Robinson high school. And thank you Sam, for allowing me to participate in my very, very first podcast. So if I stumble and hum and hall a little bit, please excuse that, but I’m excited about this opportunity and thank you for hearing my story.


Sam Demma (00:38):
Thank you for saying yes to this opportunity. I appreciate you may the time to come on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about what brought you into education and maybe even explain how you came to realize that education was the career that you wanted to get into?


Nicholas Varricchio (00:58):
Well to be quite honest, I stumbled into education. It wasn’t something that I had planned as a, as a, as a kid or as a teenager, I, I stumbled into it. And you know, the reason why I, I like doing what I do is not because I’m crazy because a lot of people do think being a teacher or a principal today is to, especially during the pandemic, we ought to be crazy. Yeah, but I’m not, I can assure you. I feel that there’s no better place to stay young, energetic, and in tune with the world and the direction of the world, other than being in a school, you learn a lot from kids. They are, are the future. And if you enjoy working in a very fast paced environment with complex situations and you enjoy inspiring others to help evolve the world to be a better place, then absolutely.


Nicholas Varricchio (02:02):
There’s no better place to work than being in a school. What, whether it’s a teacher or a principal secretary, or even custodian, the kids of today will definitely keep you hoping and young and who doesn’t wanna stay young nowadays. Right. But I stumbled into this particular job, you know, as a, as a kid, I, wanted to be a rock star. I’m a musician and a drummer and still have music as part of my life. And although on the surface people might think that, you know, being a principal and a drummer and a, and a rock band are totally different you know, practices or careers, but, you know, I’ve thought about this for many years. You and I come to realize that, you know, I, came into schooling or education because of music, really, even though I’m not a mu I wasn’t a music teacher you know, musicians have a story to tell they like making connections through their music, which is a language and, and teachers and educators have a story to tell both musicians, both educators feel that their stories can inspire and make the world a better place.


Nicholas Varricchio (03:18):
So I think it, it, for me, it’s a, a very good metaphor to help explain how I stumbled into education.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I appreciate you sharing and think it’s so awesome that you still pursue your passion of music. Do you actively continue to play in bands today?


Nicholas Varricchio (03:38):
I do not as my much as I used to when, you know I, I was a young teacher or even a vice principal, but as a principal, I still do. Of course, the, the music industry is somewhat shut down today and has been for the last 18 months or so. So obviously no currently, but it’s definitely a something I continue to to do in my own house on my downtime gives me a definite a definite outlet. My wife is also a singer professionally, although she, she works for a, a big bank as well. She tends to be more active in music today, despite the pandemic challenges than, than myself. But you, yes, to answer your question, I, I still have music on, on, on the radar and hoping to sort of get back into that a little bit more formally once we’re behind once the pandemic is behind us,


Sam Demma (04:32):
You mentioned stumbling into education. You know, your first dream was to get into music, but you stumbled into education. Can you explain a little bit behind that stumbling journey or at what point you realized education is something I would like to do? And then what did the path look like from that moment?


Nicholas Varricchio (04:51):
So you know, I, believe that kids fall into two camps when they’re you know, pursuing their education or the school system one camp is that kids know exactly what they wanna do, or, or at least they think they know what they want to do post secondary, you know and they pursue it. And then there’s the other camp where, you know, kids have no idea what they wanna do post Canary and both camps are okay. I was in the latter camp. I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. I did like music and wanted to dabble into that a little bit knowing full well that, you know, to make a real good go as a, as a career to let live off that most certainly would be a challenge for many people. And so I decided to, you know, continue with schooling after high school while I still played music.


Nicholas Varricchio (05:58):
And while, you know, I had my part-time job in the retail sector. And you know, when I entered university, I dabbled into all subject areas because I didn’t really know you know, what I wanted to do. And I wanted to see if I could keep as many doors open as possible, should the music not play out the way I thought and hoped it would. So that was in around the time where it was very difficult to get a teaching job. There was a surplus of teachers. And so I decided to take some time off after my four year degree, just to kind of play music, supplement my income with the retail sector and go from there and see what happens. And then after about a year and a half doing that, I kind of got tired of being around a bunch of Grammy guys, playing music in some bars.


Nicholas Varricchio (06:53):
And so I thought, okay, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, apply to teachers college. And just the, to see where that goes. And it was very competitive to get into teachers college, but I made a commitment to myself that should I get, go get into a, a, a program, I’ll give it a shot. I got nothing to lose. And so I did you know after I completed my four year degree at the university of Waterloo you know, I, I eventually got into the university of Windsor for teachers college and during my first practice teaching assignment at WD low in Windsor, Ontario, I loved it. It was, it was the kids. The kids kept me hopping. I shared with them, you know, some of my, my, some of my journey with music and made a connection through them. And, and and that helped me, you know you know, get through the curriculum with the kids and keep them engaged, you know, developing those personal relationships.


Nicholas Varricchio (07:44):
So being able to, you know, share some personal stories with kids to, to engage them and using those stories to you know, work through the curriculum, I think was is key and was key for me. And so that’s how I kind of stumbled into it. Once, once I finished teachers college, again, there was still that shortage of of teaching opportunities. So again, went back into music into retail and did that for a few months. And then I thought, okay, I, I think I’m ready to at least apply. I think I have the maturity now to apply and let’s see where it goes. And so I applied to, you know, pretty much all the GTA boards and the Halton Catholic board was the first board to give me a chance. And you know, I supply taught and then quickly got out, got, got an LTO that evolved into, and to an, a, a, a position in an elementary school.


Nicholas Varricchio (08:45):
And I, I took it, you know, even though my passion was more of secondary and my experience in teachers college was secondary. I took the opportunity and, and it was a great opportunity that is for sure, but strange enough you know, a few months later I got a call from the principal at St. Francis Xavier, which is in Mississauga for a full-time geography position at their high school. And I never applied to that school. I applied to the Catholic board for a supply teaching gig, you know, several months before, but you know, the principal called me and I thought, man, that was pretty strange. And it was an odd time of year. It was like, you know, the third week of February and, you know, the teachers across the province were just coming off the major strike during the Harris days.


Nicholas Varricchio (09:37):
And so I went for the interview and, you know got the job. And I was in din field for quite a few years. And it was strange because that opportunity presented itself because the the permanent teacher, I guess, decided to marry some guy overseas and didn’t return to the teaching job. So, you know, the, the, I got that opportunity and I, because of somebody else’s best luck in a marriage. And it was a strange time. And I was with din peel for six, seven years. And you know, I was I taught at C I was just gonna zag another big, big high school in Mississauga. And then from there, I came to the Halton ditches school board, which which is actually home for me, I’m a product of the Halton district school board. My K through 12 experience was through the Halton ditches school board. And ironically very ironically the high school at, I graduated from 25 years later. I became the principal of that school at a time when many of my teachers were still there. And I, I wasn’t the best student. And most certainly, if you had asked those teachers if they thought that I would become a teacher or a principal at the school where they worked at, they would look at you like you’re crazy, but the world is a crazy place and a funny place. And that’s my stumbling into education journey.


Sam Demma (11:10):
You mentioned your belief about this idea that students fall into two categories, those that are so certain and, and know what they wanna do with their future and those that are not so certain and like yourself, I feel like I fell into the latter category of not a hundred percent being sure. How do you think we help those students that are unsure, you know, as a principal and as a teacher, how do we also support those students who are unsure, think about maybe what you would’ve needed when you were a student.


Nicholas Varricchio (11:45):
So, you know, and I know there’s gonna be some people who hear this podcast, who, who will adamantly disagree with me, but I, believe that it’s perfectly fine not to know exactly what you want to do as a young person. Mm. And I also believe that to help those young people who are not certain, what they wanna do is to highlight for them that it’s perfectly okay, because that will help take the edge off in some of the anxiety that they might be experience experiencing on not knowing exactly what they want to do. I always say to the kids, Hey, look at it this way. If you’re not sure what you want to do, and you spend an extra year at school, that means one less year that you’re, you’re having to work for a living. So, you know, I, say to kids, don’t worry about it.


Nicholas Varricchio (12:38):
Just, you know, if you’re not sure, just try a little bit of everything, something will, something will spark your interest and, you know, and once that spark happens, continue to spend more time and energy in that area. And it, it, something will emerge for you most certainly. So I, I think, you know, to help kids understand that it’s perfectly fine, you know, say that to them, be transparent with them. And again, you know, some people will disagree with that. Because you know, there’s so much pressure on kids nowadays in selecting the right courses is early on in their career to leave the doors open, which, you know, you wanna leave doors open for sure. But I think it’s perfectly fine and normal not to have a concrete plan for your next step in university, but I think if you, if you prepare kids and, you know, take that layer of pressure off of them I think they will appreciate that and understand that that’s just a normal process of growing and learning and moving on in life.


Sam Demma (13:45):
I personally agree with you and relate, because again, I was the student who wasn’t sure who maybe got three years of no work because I, I took a great third a gap year and a year off before deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally. So it’s really refreshing to hear that perspective coming from a principal as well. What do you find most rewarding about your work in education?


Nicholas Varricchio (14:18):
I, think, and often the reward is not an immediate reward. It could come days, weeks, months, and maybe even years after it’s, it’s seeing hearing or understanding that some of the work that you’ve done, whether it was directly with a student or a specific class or some of the work that you’ve done with the staff in your building or some of the work that you’ve done collaborating with central board staff, the reward for me is that I see that some of the energy input and voice has been acted upon and, and influenced others, processes, products or paths for kids or for staff that evolves schools systems and helps kids grow to be better people. Hmm. So I, that is, to me, the most rewarding bit is seeing that, yes, my work, my voice had a positive change for the better in education for kids.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And along your journey as an educator, I’m sure there’s been teachers, mentors, people that have poured into you and, and helped you, who are some of those people that come to mind and what did they teach you or share with you that you think was impactful in your journey of, you know, becoming the best educator and role model or, or principal that you possibly can be.


Nicholas Varricchio (16:07):
So, you know, I two things I’ve always had connections with teachers who am evolve themselves outside the classroom like through extracurricular, for sure. But also those teachers who had incredible stories and a gift to tell a story, to engage kids, to keep them captivated and listening and learning and class. I also, I also think that you know, my parents and I think this is probably, this will probably echo for a lot of people too. My parents were probably my best teachers throughout my life, and my mom Conti continues to be my best teacher in my life and together between, you know, my parents and my parents and my teachers throughout my school journey have always encouraged and, and foster this sense of, to ask some real crew critical questions. And don’t be shy from asking real critical questions.


Nicholas Varricchio (17:24):
That’s what I’ve learned. And, you know the power of partnerships are very important. And I I’ll give you two, two examples of, of partnerships with team parents and teachers that as, as a, as a kid, you know, if something happened in the school and I was directly involved in this incident, I tell ya I would go home. And of course, I’m not gonna say anything to, to my parents. And my mom would say, well, anything happened at school today? And I’d be like, Nope, Nope, no. And then she would throw it in my face. Right. And I would always wonder, how did she know? You know? And you know, she all always used to say, and I remember never lie to your mother. Your mother will know everything. The fact is my mother used to work for Loblaws and she was a cashier and the teachers would deliberately go through her line to share some of the things that were occurring in the class.


Nicholas Varricchio (18:25):
Now, whether they op, whether they deliberately shared to throw me under the, a bus or my mom would ask them, you know, keep the pulse of of of what was happening in schools, either way the partnership was there. And you know, funny enough, you know, again, when I came back to be a principal at the school we had a good chuckle with some, some, some of that, you know, cuz you know, here’s me being the principal and of the school and knowing that office space quite well from 25 years earlier. So very interesting. That is for sure. So the power of partnerships is definitely important. And in fact, my mom also volunteered in, when I was a, a high school kid, volunteered with the auto shop teacher. Now she claims she just volunteered because my dad was useless and didn’t know how to change a tire. But I have a feeling that I have a, I have a feeling, she did that to kind of keep an eye on what was happening in the school. So, you know you know, those teachers who had good connection or I felt I had a good connection with were those who actively got involved with my life, both inside and outside the classroom and through building partnerships with my parents.


Sam Demma (19:37):
That’s awesome. I totally relate to having parents as mentors, I’m even inspired deeply by my grandparents as well. Both who I think like yourself, are, are you a Italian? Is that your background?


Nicholas Varricchio (19:53):
Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. My mom and dad were both born in Italy. My, my grand, my grandparents of course were born in Italy. My, my grandfather was a world war II vet. Oh. They immigrated in the, in the fifties and you know, my grandpa other worked in the mines in Northern Ontario and the subways in in in Toronto and then actually later on in life, he, he worked for the the Toronto school board and he was a, he was a custodian for the for the for the Toronto school board. And for any Toronto district board central staff, one of his grievances was, you know, staff members leaving half coffee cups in the garbage cans. And at the time they weren’t using garbage bags and all that used to bother him. So if there’s any central staff listening, they won’t leave your half, your cup, half full in the garbage can for the custodians.


Sam Demma (20:49):
I love it. Leave it there. That’s a, that’s a very good point, but yeah. You know,


Nicholas Varricchio (20:53):
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that. So, but anyway, that little, little funny story, but a true story.


Sam Demma (20:59):
Yeah. And my grandparents are both from Italy as well. My parents are born a year, but my grandparents are born there and grandfather’s name Salvato. And he, yeah, he passed when I was 12, but yeah, he was a big, you know, mentor, not even through his words because I was so young and you know, didn’t really, you know, understand a lot of the meaning of mentorship back then, but through his actions and his hard work really taught me a lot. So I think partnership is really important. And having people in your life who you can bounce ideas off of, or who you can share, the honest, authentic truth, no matter how bad it sounds and, and know that the person you’re sharing it with is gonna be giving you advice from their heart with your best interest in mind. So, yeah, I think what you’re mentioning with your mom and just with, with partnership in general is so important throughout your career in education have you come across any resources, any programs anything you’ve attended or things you’ve brought into your school that you think were really valuable for the community that another educator listening could also benefit from?


Nicholas Varricchio (22:10):
So, you know, some, some of the, some of the PD that I’ve participated in both through my board, the Hal and ditch school board, and, you know, other PD that I participated in outside our board through solution tree, I, I have the opportunity to, to hear a fellow, his, his name is Anthony Mohamed and he’s, he’s well known in education circles and a lot of his work centers on the importance of culture and really understanding culture of a school to, to, to navigate the culture and how to evolve culture in a way that best serves every single kid. And, you know, some of the messages and the, and the thoughts through his research and, and and work really resonates with me because, you know, understanding culture is understanding people and you know, and, and trying to inspire them to get them side and doing that takes time doing that, you know requires you to build trust lead with empathy. But also, and as my dad would say is, you know, approach relationships by being fair firm and friendly. Mm. So, you know, very simple. But I think it, it, you know, if you keep that in mind being fair firm and friendly you know, I think it, you’re in the right, you’re taking the right steps to, to, to build trust to get people to buy in, to feel supported and see the bigger picture on, on what you’re trying to do.


Sam Demma (23:56):
Got it. That’s awesome. Do you know, what’s a solution tree, like a organization that has some speakers or what, what is solution tree?


Nicholas Varricchio (24:07):
Yeah, so it, it, it’s a network of professional speakers that that, you know, they have, they put on conferences throughout the world really. And and I’ve attended a few conferences in the United States that one here too, as well in the past. And, you know, school will, boards will often tap into solution three to bring speakers to the, to their boards of education. And, and, and quite a few colleagues. I’m not the only one who will, you know you know, participate in these conferences with solution three. And of course, you know, they, they promote the, the the speakers and their books. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s well known in the education world for sure. And the speakers that are engaged in solution tree are, are well known as well and experienced in school systems. They’re not just, you know they have experiences in schools. Let’s put it that way before they, before they became on the speaking circuit. So, yep.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely make sure to include a link to their stuff in the show notes of the episode. If you could take your knowledge and experience, and maybe this will be reiterating something you’ve already shared, but if you could take your knowledge and experience, wrap it all up and travel back in time, walk into the first couple of years of teaching that you did as a young educator. Not that you’re old now, but when you were fresh into your career if you had all the advice and wisdom now could give it to your younger self, what would you have told young Nick?


Nicholas Varricchio (26:00):
I would say that do recognize that everyone has a different starting point. Mm don’t don’t don’t assume that, so I don’t that as a, as a teacher that just because a student had graduated or moved on to the next level, they will, they, they do most, certainly have the same skill, knowledge experience, even though they formally have moved on, on to the next grade or the next course. So rec recognizing that, despite what it says on a transcript, know that when you are in the classroom with the kids, that despite what is said on their previous report card, for the course, they are coming with a diff or they both are starting your class with a different starting point. And I think also as well is you know, when they, when a student starts, starts a course with you as a teacher you know, you you’ll hear, you’ll hear things.


Nicholas Varricchio (27:16):
And if you review the OSR, which, you know, teachers are teachers, do, you know, just have that as a background, but, you know understand that it is a, it is a, a blank canvas and you have an opportunity to to work with that student from the beginning. Mm. So, you know, and we are approaching a new beginning, you know, February 4th is the start of semester two. And so every student and every teacher has a fresh start here in the next week or so. So I think, I think as a young Nick remembering and highlighting that, that every student that’s sitting in your class, despite what it said on a report card is starting from a different point in, in, in their, in their learning.


Sam Demma (28:11):
Hmm. That is a very good piece of advice. Thank you so much for, for sharing that if someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we talked about during the podcast, maybe even inquire about hearing some of your music so they could find it online. What would be the best way for somebody to reach out and get in contact with you?


Nicholas Varricchio (28:34):
So I am on Twitter, (@MMrPrincipal). So that’s a good way to kind of remember, MMR principal. I am on Twitter and actually some of the, some you’ll see some music video clips on, on Twitter too where you’ll see me playing with some of the kids at my previous school and some good classic hard rock, a little bit of Metallica, Black Sabbath Motley Crew, which is not usual picks for your principles nowadays, but nonetheless, you’ll see it on my Twitter and those videos. Actually they, they came about in a very interesting way at my previous school before, before before, mm Robinson, I was a school, I was at a school called Dr. Frank J. Hayden. And it had a a common lunch and often kids would go into the music room at Hayden and just jam.


Nicholas Varricchio (29:27):
And so, you know, when I first got there, I, I kind of made a point just to kind of go in there, listen to what the kids were jamming with. And of course they’re jamming some hard rock songs and, you know, I just tap the drummer on the shoulder and say, Hey, do you mind if I kind of try a little bit? And they’re like, sure. And I’m like, what’s on, you know and, you know, just, you know, they started playing some stuff and I just played along. And all of a sudden, you know, kids started coming in and taking some videos and, you know, thought, Hey, look at this. This is really neat. And so I had them share the videos with me and, you know, just at the time I thought, you know, a good little memory of my experience at this school when I eventually move on.


Nicholas Varricchio (30:03):
But then when the pandemic hit you know, one, the first lockdown, you know, there was a lot of concern around about kids and staff becoming disconnected with the school. And so, you know, as an admin team, we would think about ways of somehow keeping the staff and students engaged with us or engaged together. And so, you know, at the time I thought, you know what, I, I, I’m gonna try, you know, some learning, some editing software that were free on the Google play store, downloaded them video editing software. And I decided to, you know, upload those videos that some of the kids took and shared with me. And, and and I started editing them a little bit and I thought, you know, how can I use this to engage the community? And so, and then I started tweeting them out and created a music trivia challenge and saying, okay, if anyone can guess what song I’m playing here with these students, you know, hit me back first, first, correct.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:00):
Answer. You pick up your hard prize when the school reopens, and I would do this on a weekly basis and sure enough, you know, kids were keeping engaged. And the whole point of that was ensuring that our school community remained connected. So another kind of innovative way to weave in music, to, you know, to share a story and, and work in partnership with kids. So, yeah, I share all that because some of my music’s on my Twitter handle and you can see how music can be weaved in as an educator and not just a music teacher.


Sam Demma (31:31):
Absolutely. that sounds awesome. I’ll, I’ll be following you after this as well, and digging for some of those videos. So I appreciate you sharing. Yeah.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:39):
Yeah, no problem. They’re buried in the Twitter. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (31:42):
Awesome. Well, Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show here. I look forward to staying in touch with all the amazing things you do. Keep up with the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:53):
Sam, nice meeting you. Nice talking with you and best of luck and stay safe. My friend.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicholas Varricchio

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

Ryan Fahey – CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author

Ryan Fahey - CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author
About Ryan Fahey

Ryan Fahey (@wellnessrf) is a 3-time author, speaker, and edupreneur who is passionate about personal growth and well-being. He is the Owner of FaheyConsulting which aims to help people and organizations move from good to great.

His latest book, “How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments”, which supports the well-being of remote workers globally recently hit #1 on Amazon in Canada and cracked the top 40 books on entrepreneurship. Originally from Eastern Canada, Ryan has dedicated his life to pursuing wellness and is widely considered a thought leader in the wellness & education sectors. 

Three fun facts about Ryan:

  1. Early in his career, Ryan ran a mobile personal training business out of his Hyundai hatchback.
  1. Ryan has worked in various education delivery roles in a provincial capital, state capital, and national capital.

Ryan owns a small digital publication called, The Canadian Way”.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ryan’s Website – Fahey Consulting

How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments (book)

Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE)

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):
Ryan welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Ryan Fahey (00:08):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me and for everybody tuning in. I hope you’re having a good day. Yeah. My name is Ryan Fahey. I’m a bit of an entrepreneur educator by trade and also a lead for special projects and resources for an organization called physical and health education Canada. So I’m excited to, to get rolling here, Sam, and to share some stuff with your audience today.


Sam Demma (00:32):
Tell me a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do with educators and also with schools.


Ryan Fahey (00:39):
Yeah. You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed. So I, when I, when I was in university, I went, I was training to become a physical and health education teacher. And movement has always been a big part of my life growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed the subject area of physical education, health education. And when I got into this field both as an educator now working nationally supporting physical education across the country. You know, when I look back at this, there’s just been so many people that have invested in me. You know, I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way that have supported my journey. And so one of the, one of the pieces, I guess, that drives the work I do is just willing to give back to the community and wanting to give back to this C because they’ve just given me so much, like every step of the way, and I’ll share a little bit more later, but every step of the way, you know, I’ve had people investing in me, people encouraging me, calling me lifting me up when I needed it. And and really, you know, passionate individuals when they get, when they get out there and they get into their gymnasium. So, you know, working at the national office is credible being able to support schools and, and educators, cuz it’s, it is an opportunity to give back that community that really has put me here. So so yeah, that’s a little bit about, I guess, why I do what I do and why I get up in the mornings to support the, the folks that have invested in me.


Sam Demma (02:04):
And how did you get into this work? What did the journey look like for Ryan as a young career aspiring man to Ryan now?


Ryan Fahey (02:16):
Well, so it’s funny. I was actually talking to a guy earlier today about this. We were having a conversation, so it was my last practicum. My teaching practicum at St. Xavier university. I I got approval to go on this trip down to shape America conference, which is the national kind of PhysEd conference in the us. And I was gonna get a job. I was determined, you know, I’m gonna get a job down there. So I went down, I printed off all these resumes, brought my binder. I went to this huge convention center and just started literally handing out, resonates to people. I knew that when I was graduating that I really wanted to travel and I wanted to, you know, I wanted to see the world. I was curious and growing up in small town, Nova Scotia, spending most of my life in Nova Scotia, I wanted to kind of, you know, branch out and, and explore a little bit more.


Ryan Fahey (03:07):
And really from there I got a bite. I ended up getting a job with with an organization called be active kids out of North Carolina and, and, and started there, you know, started my work was supporting early childhood physical literacy through a, a train, the trainer model. And I got to drive. I literally drove across the state in a, in this van, this B active van and would just like hand curriculums and do trainings. And so it’s kind of funny, you know, like, there’d be days I’d have to pinch myself off and be like, I can’t believe I went to school for this and I get to do this work cuz it was just, it was really cool. You know, I guess to kind of fast track from there, I came back to Canada still really was curious about traveling and seeing different parts of Canada at that point.


Ryan Fahey (03:55):
And I was very fortunate to have, get a position with an organization called ever active schools as a school health facilitator, basically going into schools and supporting them through a mentorship model and through a comprehensive school health approach. So whether you’re looking at DPA in schools, daily physical activity, whether you’re looking at being more intentional with comprehensive school health or potentially school, little sport, those were kind of the areas that I would go in across Alberta and support schools in. And you know, when I left, when I left there, I, I was really getting the itch to go international. I was really like, okay, I worked in north America, I worked in Western Canada, Eastern Canada. I grew up there, but you know, what about maybe going abroad? And so this incredible opportunity came forward to teach physical education abroad at a school in Abu Dhabi.


Ryan Fahey (04:51):
And and I jumped on it and it was a, it was pretty much a master’s in education. You know, I don’t have a master’s, but I say I have a real life. Yeah. Experience masters. But the amount I grew, the amount I was challenged and, and, and how I really had to overcome a lot of personal adversity professional adversity at, at that point was, was tremendous. And that’s really where you know, those experiences then combined have kind of led me back to Canada and let me back to, to work here nationally now, to support schools. And again, you know, just having so many unique experiences along the way, it’s, it’s kind of nice to, to be at the national office to be able to share those experiences with others.


Sam Demma (05:37):
You hopped in a van that said be active on it and drove across the country. True. Can you elaborate on that a little bit where that came from and what that initiative was and some of the stories along the way.


Ryan Fahey (05:51):
Yeah. I’ll tell you one, I’ll tell you one day this, you know, I was, I was very passionate. I mean, I’m still very passionate, but I would say I was very passionate at that point, but a little more careless. So there was one day north Carolina’s a very large state, so there’s 101 counties from west tip to, you know, the odor banks. And my role was get, get this curriculum in all 101 counties with this van. And so there was, was one day there was a tornado warning in the central part of the state. And I had a workshop planned in person in Greensboro, which is kind of in the heart of the state. And I remember driving and like my phone going off at the time, like tornado warning, you know, seek shelter and I’m driving. And I remember just like in this van by myself, just like, yeah, but not like in an aggressive way, just in like a prove it prove you wrong way.


Ryan Fahey (06:42):
I was like, you know, physical literacy, doesn’t take a day off education, doesn’t take a day off. Like people need to learn this this curriculum needs to get out there. I’m going like all in, like if this tornado takes me off. So be it. And I just went ever thinking about that. I’m like, I’m a little crazy, like, this is, this is probably not the safest thing, but yeah, I just literally drove around the state in a van and everywhere I went just kind of had some amazing people that would either build me or put me up or show me where to go within the community. And it was a fascinating experience right. At university, for sure.


Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned a lot of people poured into you along this journey. Talk a little bit about the mentors you’ve had and the impact they’ve made in your own life.


Ryan Fahey (07:29):
Yeah. I’d say, you know, there’s so many, I, unfortunately I lost one a few when I was actually in North Carolina. Oh, wow. And that was really tough. He a, he was a longstanding mentor of mine. But of the mentors that I currently have in my life or have had, you know, I’d say my dad is my biggest for sure. He’s, he’s the, he’s kind of that like he’s got that Sage wisdom to him, you know, it’s like, he’s got this sixth sense about everything that I just can’t seem to figure out how he does it. Yeah. He’s not on social media. You have to like go into the woods to find him. But when he is in there and when you see him, it’s like this Miyagi karate kid experience. And so he’s definitely my, my number one. And then I have a really good friend who is kind of been this pseudo friend mentor for years named Matt McDonald.


Ryan Fahey (08:19):
And we were actually just chatting the other day and he’s, you know, he is so different than me. And when we were younger, we would sometimes have our differences. And, and now like at the older I get and the older he gets, even though our lives kind of have went in multiple directions. I just appreciate that so much more. I appreciate questioning thought. I appreciate diversity of thinking. I just appreciate these multiple perspectives. And he always will be the one to ask the questions that no one else will ask. And, and I think that’s, that’s been huge for me in my life and, and it’s allowed me to sometimes walk away frustrated, but also walk away being like, okay, like I really need to think this through because Matt really asked me some great questions. So those would definitely be my top two.


Sam Demma (09:04):
That’s awesome. And for an educator who doesn’t know much about PhD Canada, and what they have to offer schools, go ahead and give a little breakdown of what pH does and how school could get involved in a partnership, a collaboration with pH or what you guys have to offer.


Ryan Fahey (09:25):
Yeah. So the organization, physical health education Canada has been around for almost a hundred years actually. Which is which crazy when you think about it. But yeah, it, you know, the organization basically seeks to support healthy, healthy, active kids through physical and health education and quality physical and health education experiences. Over the years, the work obviously has changed a lot. You know, I think, you know, a few years ago was there, there was a lot of support specifically around curriculum many years ago. And obviously there’s a big need there to support advocacy and, and, and curriculum development, curriculum improvement, things like that. And we still do a bit of that, but I would say the, the biggest piece that I carry and and for the listeners listening in that, that might be of value is the amount of projects, programs, and resources that we have.


Ryan Fahey (10:21):
So we, we, we’re very grateful in that we have a lot of great funders, including, you know, the CFL is one MBA obviously the government and, and other corporate funders as well. And, and one of the pieces I just actually developed was a K to three physical literacy resource that is focused on football. So it’s in partnership with the CFO, it’s an earlier introduction to football and it’s kind of this two pronged approach and that kids are gonna learn about football, but they’re also gonna develop the, their fundamental movement skills, like hop in and, and jumping and kicking and throwing, which are all the skills that we see in the super bowl. Right? So it’s kind of this fun project that, that we were able to work on together with them and, and to support and to get the next generation of Canadians excited about the sport of football I think is huge. And so any of the listeners tuning in there’s, there’s tons of free resources across the website, go check it out. And whatever you’re teaching, we, we probably have something to support your needs. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:28):
That’s amazing. That sounds like a great program. What’s happened during COVID with the pivot, if I’m a, had to use that word with physical education, have you guys worked on some virtual resources as well for gym teachers wondering like, what the heck do I even do with my students right now?


Ryan Fahey (11:50):
Yeah, absolutely. So when, when COVID first hit, we, we kind of went into startup mode where we’re like, okay, we need to be equally as disruptive in terms of how we operate, what we do and, and how we deliver, right? Because everything just changed so quick for everyone. And, and, you know, again, peach, Canada being so old, we’re, we’re often looked to as that, that, that lead voice. And so it was important for us to do that and to meet the needs of the teachers. So when COVID first hit, we were doing a lot of advocacy for the at-home learning mandates writing letters to many of the provinces territories in partnership with partners there to say, Hey, look, you know, in your at-home learning mandates, you need to have some form of physical education. Because that’s, that’s, you can’t just drop that.


Ryan Fahey (12:39):
Like you can’t just go away. Yeah. So that was some of the initial work. And, and then as folks began to return back to school, we created these return to school guidelines just to really help physical health education teachers on navigating policy, navigating some of decisions that they need to make navigating gym gym sizes, or how many students can be in a gym, those types of things that we’re really looking for clarity. And so we, we try to just support and guide them you know, with, with compiling resources like that. I would say we we’ve completely moved a digitally right with conferences. We’re, we’re fully digital. We have a conference coming up here in February, that’s fully virtual.


Sam Demma (13:17):
Nice.


Ryan Fahey (13:18):
And, you know, I, a big credit to the team, you know, there there’s a mix of educators on the team. There’s business folks, there’s kind of multiple backgrounds, but everybody’s just come together and said, we need to support this community. And we need to continue to listen. Because there’s, there’s a lot being thrown at teachers right now. And we need to sift through that and find clarity and develop high quality resources and supports for them.


Sam Demma (13:42):
Physical education changed my life, growing up as an athlete. I, I don’t know if I would be the same person I am today without it. So the work is extremely important and something that can’t be dismissed no matter what the world it is going through, we don’t move our bodies. We lose our mental health. And I think they’re very interconnected. There’s probably dozens of studies that link the, the mind to physical movement. Yeah, it’s just such important work. Tell me about a, a situation or a story where you heard positive feedback from a program making an impact in a, or an educator reaching out and letting you guys know.


Ryan Fahey (14:19):
Yeah. So we ran this grant campaign for a couple years, my first few years at PhD Canada. And it was incredible. It was called share to care, and it was a mental health campaign to support schools with their mental health needs. And so what we would do is we would grant funding to those schools. I think we had like maybe five or 10 schools across the country each year. And then we would highlight those school profiles as promising practices as well, and publish them on our, on our website. So that was incredible because teachers would come in and they’d be like, I didn’t know, other schools were doing this. This is amazing. So we were able to surface some of that knowledge that was happening locally so that other schools across the country could take it and run with it.


Ryan Fahey (15:05):
But it was really neat being a part of that, that campaign as the, as kind of the lead person on it. Because like, I remember one school, I went to a school in Brampton. They were a recipient and they were just so overjoyed to have us in there. Like we would come in with this jumbo check and the kids were so excited. There’s a guest in there and he’s got a big check and, you know, and I’m like excited to be in a school cause I love schools. And, and so that was a lot of fun, like to get up in the gym, they would have an assembly. We present the check and have the funder there, do a few words and whatnot. I mean, this is all stuff, I’m sure you, you know, you you’ve been in some schools, you, you know what I’m talking about, but just to see the look on these kids’ faces and the teachers as well being like, there’s hope you there, there’s, there’s groups out, out there that are gonna support us in our, you know, cause a lot of them are just doing this from the deep Wells of their heart and they’re not getting paid for these extra things and these extra initiatives and you know, all of these, these things that they’re assets that they’re bringing to their, to their work.


Ryan Fahey (16:08):
And when you get these beautiful initiatives that pop up, it’s so awesome to be able to celebrate them. So that was one just being at that school in Branford was, was one one really neat way to see the impact of the work that we do and how important it is. And I mean, sometimes it’s like a school just needs to know that that there’s hope right. And it’s so challenging right now. But but how having grant programs like that, I think that I think provides that hope.


Sam Demma (16:36):
A hundred percent on the topic of hope. What do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now? I think whenever there’s a challenge, you don’t have to find the silver lining in that specific individual challenge, but somewhere within the industry as a whole, that become some opportunities. Do you think any of these opportunities are starting to pop up because of the shift in education that has happened over the past two years?


Ryan Fahey (17:03):
Yeah. I’ll give you a great example. So when I was with ever active schools out in Alberta, we were piloting this new resource at the time called don’t walk in the hallways and essentially they were different colored sticky tiles that you would put through the hallways and it would create this kind of makeshift hop scotch. So as opposed to the kids, you know, hand on the hip finger on the lip or something like that, you know, like be quiet walking down the hallway, this was a culture shift for many schools to say, maybe the kids can hop or Gallop or skip. They go, you know, from point a to point B and have a little bit more play within their day and the amount of pushback that we got at the time, not from every school. I mean, we had early adopters for sure.


Ryan Fahey (17:46):
But, you know, there were some schools that were like, oh, it’s not gonna work. You know, the, the floors it’s too, they’re too sticky. They leave a residue and it’s not clean. And now think about this, Sam. Now you go anywhere and there’s like stickers on the floor. Like stand here, don’t stand here. Here’s another arrow. So I’m like, I think we were just too early with that. But you know, now it’s like this, this would be so much easier because schools are already used to having to have things marked on the floor right now. Now the, the leap is less large because they they’ve already been doing this with, with COVID. So I think in that sense, like the disruption has allowed space for a quicker conversation, right. To say, you know what? Yeah, we don’t need to worry about all these things anymore because they’re really not that important.


Ryan Fahey (18:37):
Like we know that these things are important, so let’s just go and make this decision. So I think that’s one thing. I think it, second thing that that’s really important and this kind of goes with that is I think teacher voices have never been louder. And I think it’s amazing. I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re on social media as well as, as, as myself and seeing educators being able to stand up and say, you know, what they feel, what they want, what they need. I think we need more of that. We need more teachers coming forward saying, look, this is just like this policy to doesn’t make sense. Or this policy doesn’t make sense or this look at this best practice and like, you know, call me and you know, we’ll talk about how to, you know, replicate this. Yeah. I think that that collective voices are huge right now. And I, I, you know, go going through the remainder of this pandemic. I hope that teachers don’t remain silent. I hope that they continue to provide a ground for all wise practices and what’s working. What’s not working and really advocate for what they need, because I think that’s really important.


Sam Demma (19:40):
I tell educators all the time that I think if they choose to share their experiences, it helps everyone else in the field because it may be a situation that someone else is experiencing right now that they’ve already figured out or solved and their sharing will open a door for somebody else who’s tuning in, whether it’s listening or reading. At the beginning of this interview, you introduce yourself as an ed entrepreneur, someone who works in education and is also an entrepreneur. One of the ways that a lot of educators, at some point in their life consider using their voice is by writing a book. And I know you’ve published. Self-Published a few of them. Can you tell me a little bit about your impetus or an inspiration to writing books and what it’s like being both an educator and an author?


Ryan Fahey (20:34):
Yeah, this is it’s very interesting. So I started out with a blog. I, I was in university and I wrote this blog. It was terrible. So if anybody Googles it, it was called wellness network blog. It was terrible. The visuals were awful. But the content was okay. So, you know, I remember I fast forward a few years from that I shut down the blog. I was kind of, you know, starting my career, doing things in education, but I was driving to a school in Northern Alberta and, you know, inspiration just hit. And I being like, I need to write these, I need to write this down. This is gonna be my book. And so I pulled over the side of the highway and I literally wrote down every chapter of the book that I was gonna write. And and that’s, that’s really where it started.


Ryan Fahey (21:21):
You know, I ended up actually finishing the book and really doing the, the groundwork of the book when I was in a Abu Dhabi. So I would come home from school. And literally just, I was in a hotel and I would just put my feet up and just write for hours and hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what time it was. And just put myself in this space, cuz I knew that that was the time in my life to do that. I, you know, we had, didn’t have kids at that point. Weren’t married at that point or I wasn’t married at that point. So I just knew that this is the time to do it. And so that was, that was where my, my first and second book were, were created. The third one was very interesting because I knew I always was going to write a third one Sam, but it was March of 20, 20, everything had happened and I was looking around and I, I wasn’t seeing much for or many, many kind of resources and books out there to support the wellbeing of remote workers.


Ryan Fahey (22:16):
Mm. There was a few and remote workers already in, in our, our way of life. I think, you know, there were a lot of businesses that were offering that, but not to this extent that COVID put us in. And so it was actually last the last Christmas season where I wrote it, I, I sat down, I said, I need to write a book to support the wellbeing of remote workers and I need to get another resource out there. And so I literally locked myself in quarantine for 14 days. And I was staying at my sister’s place in, this is kind of funny cuz she has a couple of cats and I felt like mark Twain, you know, like he was out in a cabin and Maine the cat and the wood stove. Like that was literally me like except no wood stove, but two cats.


Ryan Fahey (23:00):
And yeah. So anyway, I ended up cranking this thing out, but you know, to your, to your second point on what’s it like being an author it’s it’s and an educator? It’s kind of interesting when I published a second one, I had a lot of people think I was, or, you know, kind of mentioned that I was too young to be an author. Mm. And, and that really played with me, you know, play with my psyche play with the imposter syndrome. And I remember, you know, really having to, to struggle with and work through that. And then I just got to a point where it’s like anything when you’re changing an identity and you’re deconstructing one and reconstructing another, that you’ve just, there’s a shift at some point that happens. And that shift for me, I would say happened probably last year where where I said, okay, I’m gonna fully step into this identity, no matter what age I am, no matter how you know, how gray my hair is or how many letters are behind my name, I, you know, I’ve written multiple books. So that one was definitely a learning learning moment for me. And, and you really, you really open yourself up. I mean, it’s a vulnerable experience and you know, any, any day now somebody could just rip, rip my books apart on Amazon and, and I just have to be okay with that. So it’s it’s definitely an interesting journey for sure.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Putting out your own stuff is always an interesting journey. You can work for somebody else and sell their products and have someone turn you down a thousand times and wake up the next day. Totally excited to try again, but you push your own stuff out. And one day someone rips it apart. It’s like what? And it has this totally different effect on your brain. What’s interesting to me is a thousand people could tell you it’s amazing and one person rip it part. And sometimes we focus on that one negative comment rather than the thousand people that loved it and that it helped regardless of the feedback at all, putting out things that you truly believe will be valuable to others is such an interesting experience. And I’m sure writing a book helped you clarify your thought and sharpen your ideas and keeps that fire lit within you to continually learn and be curious, which is invaluable as well. What is your best advice for an author who, or an educator who wants to write a book and journey into becoming an author as well?


Ryan Fahey (25:26):
Yeah, when I was back, you know, if we go back to the van, North Carolina days I, this family that I was living with at the time the, the father was an author and that book was called taking on Goliath. And it’s actually very fascinating read for anyone who’s interested, but we were running together one day and he said to, I asked him similar question, like what, like what kind of led you to writing a book? Like how did this happen? And he said, you know, Ryan, I got to a point where I realized I’m not an author, but I have a story to tell. And I think that’s so important for an educator out there. You have a unique story. You have your unique individual, you have unique value that you can add to the world and you need to add it.


Ryan Fahey (26:08):
You know, we live in this time that it’s so easy, like to write a book or to get, you know, get your resources on teachers, pay teachers or whatever, you know, platform is out there to share your talent, share your insight and value with the world. And I find it, it’s so interesting because as educators, we time inspiring the next generation and telling kids to live their dreams. But sometimes we, we, you know, through life and challenges and whatnot, they get snuffed out in their own lives. Yeah. And I think it’s important that we, you know, we just start something small, start something simple. And, and like you said about adding the value to adding value through your gifts and talents to the world, like putting yourself out there. I think it’s a super rewarding experience and, and it just makes the world a better place.


Sam Demma (26:56):
I couldn’t agree more. And if someone wants to ask you a question about anything we discussed or during this interview wants to pick up some of your books purchase, some of them wants to learn more about the process of becoming an author. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you? Or send you an email?


Ryan Fahey (27:16):
Yeah. Great question. So they can come to my website just https://www.faheyconsulting.org/. I’m also on LinkedIn (ryanbfahey/) with Twitter as well at (@wellnessrf). I love Twitter. I think we’re now following each other Sam. So you might get some tweets from me about how exciting this conversation was. But yeah, I’m always open to chat, you know, I even put it in both of my books, I think like, or one of my, of books I put in temperature check, you know, you halfway through the book, you send me an email and I put my email in there, like, let’s talk, like what, how are you feeling? What have you taken away? What, you know, what more could I have done cuz I think, you know, keeping those conversations and lines open is huge.


Sam Demma (28:00):
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much again, Ryan, for doing this. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your next book and I, yeah, I look forward to staying connected and seeing all the great work you’re up to keep it up and we’ll talk soon.


Ryan Fahey (28:13):
Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Fahey

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.

Patrick Schultz – Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America

Patrick Schultz - Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America
About Patrick Schultz

Prior to joining the National BPA staff, Patrick Schultz had a very successful teaching career in Career and Technical Education with a focus on Computer Science and Cybersecurity.  Under his current role as Director of Technology Integration, Patrick is responsible for technology infrastructure development, multiple education initiatives, and establishing/growing partnerships around technology.  

With over 15 years of combined teaching, industry, non-profit, and student organizational knowledge, he brings a unique perspective to building opportunities for those looking to enter the fields of finance, business, and/or informational technology.

Connect with Patrick: Email | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Nicholas Sparks (author)

MICE – Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education.

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):
Patrick welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Patrick Shultz (00:09):
Hi, my name is Patrick Schultz and thank you Sam, for having me here today. Currently I am the director of technology integration and director of education for Business professionals of America, a premier career tech student organiz located primarily in the United States, but also reaching into Guam, Haiti, Puerto Rico China, and a few other countries on the side of being those two director roles which we’re gonna dive into. I’m sure here talking about what we do on a day to day basis. I am also the CEO of a 501 nonprofit that focuses on cyber security and it education training for both students and teachers throughout the us.


Sam Demma (00:55):
How did you get involved in BPA and what are your responsibilities today?


Patrick Shultz (01:02):
Yeah, great question. So I got involved with BPA originally as a classroom educator, I taught in bay city, Michigan computer science, software engineering, website design, and pretty much anything else in the it media arts platform. As part of that, one of our responsibilities was to become a local chapter advisor that involves getting students prepared for competitions. It involves getting students built in and learning their own leadership potential and tracking a lot of community service work not just in local community, but also in ways that they could engage both nationally and internationally through virtual opportunities as well. My journey through BPA has been a very interesting one over the course of almost 17 years now after being in the classroom or while I was in the classroom, I did teach in that program for approximately 14 years.


Patrick Shultz (02:03):
While I was in that program, I had an to travel to regional competitions, state competitions in Michigan, and then also through multiple large scale cities throughout the United States. And essentially what we have in those cities at the national level is called the national leadership conference. As students work in impeding through nationals and working through that, I got the opportunity to meet some of the national staff the current director of education at the time. This goes all the way back to 2009. We were talking about competitions and I didn’t realize who they were, but we were talking about some of the challenges and ways that we could improve some of the competitive event in little to be known. She was the actual national director. So we were able to work through some, some different things via email.


Patrick Shultz (02:56):
And then I was invited out to do some work alongside some key educators throughout the nation. And, and each state gets to send one to three individuals to a group that’s called C a C or the classroom educator advisory council. So in the work there that I was able to do, I helped take a look at for multiple years in an unofficial role into the it events that we looked at in our platform. And then an opportunity opened up where I could become the official Michigan representative on the group. I was there for six years doing that and then turned from that opportunity after those years of, of working on so many different events and being a competition author, I was able to work my way through and I applied for the board of trustees at the national level my first year I was just a general member at large.


Patrick Shultz (03:51):
I was able to look at our strategic long range plan that hadn’t been updated in multiple years. So we put together a 1, 3, 5 year model for where we wanted to take the organization. And then my second year of the board, I was the vice chair elected by my peers. And then my third year I was elected as the chair of the board. Really opened my eyes to multiple different positions. What the national staff really endures throughout a year. It always seemed like they put on this big conference, but what else happened throughout the years? So I was able to really gain, you know, crucial insight to that perspective from staff, taking a look at governments and everything that went into all of the decisions that a board would make it an national nonprofit. And then combining with my teacher experience as a local advisor, it was sort of, I hadn’t really not experienced every angle.


Patrick Shultz (04:51):
So with all of that experience, there was an opportunity to work on the national staff after I was the board chair and there was a job opening into a job posting. So I applied for that, and that was for the director of technology integration. And then after a year of doing that, then I’ve moved into now the director of education. So that’s a long story for sure and my journey to get where I’m at. But right now my current roles of director of ed and director of technology, the integration, I oversee all of our technology solutions, our platforms also oversee all of our education partner competitions, our competitive event platform across six different assessment areas and career pathways, as well as taking a look at building out standards, certification and really just trying to grow and make sure that we’re staying at the forefront with new competitions and staying on par, if not ahead, of where the industry’s headed,


Sam Demma (05:55):
It’s such a fascinating organization that’s doing such important work. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working with BPA?


Patrick Shultz (06:06):
Definitely it’s, it’s getting to know and working with students and, and educators around the world. So it’s this past couple of years, you know, has been very tough for many people. Definitely through the coronavirus, the pandemic a lot of education was really flipped on its head in terms of delivery models. So utilizing my tech background as well as my education knowledge, we were able to go forward and still provide the same opportunities for students. We were still. And in many cases, we actually opened the door to new opportunities that rural students or others who may not have been able to attend all of a sudden have this platform that they could connect with. In the past two years, I was able to connect with more advisors and students than I think I ever did as a classroom educator, just because I had open platform to 45,000 members within our organization.


Patrick Shultz (07:06):
We successfully assisted at the national level over 85 regional and state leadership conferences across 30 different states. So that was just something really, you know, unique. It was really rewarding to get to know everybody. And, and ultimately there there’s a ton of work that goes into what we do, but it’s always about hearing the stories about how we’ve impacted individuals lives, how BPA as a whole has been able to show a students that they can have a career pathway in business or it marketing communications, health admin and in the end, it, it really shows them what they’re capable of. It builds that self confidence platform through our leadership development and, and in some cases too, something that is just as rewarding as showing someone their path of where they want to be is also showing them where they don’t want to be. You know, and, and it’s really cool to see students say, you know what, I did this competition. I don’t ever want to do this again. And that’s awesome because we help them find their path. And then they take in and move down a totally or plan that we know they’ll be successful in with the, the life skills and the basic core knowledge that they get from the organization.


Sam Demma (08:28):
And at what point through your own educational journey and career, did you found mice? And maybe you can explain the acronym and why you’re passionate about that work as well.


Patrick Shultz (08:41):
Yeah, absolutely. So mice is the Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education. About six years ago, I had the opportunity to work at the federal government level in a, a project called nice, the national initiative for cybersecurity education. I was their K12 co-chair of a, a federal working group identifying resources and, and best practice trends in cybersecurity and it education for a three year term. And when that term was over we brought everything by back into Michigan that we have found, but what we noticed was that there was a lot of ideas, but there wasn’t a one stop solution to try to bring everything together. It’s, it’s always easy to say, yes, let’s start this program and then you have to think, well, okay, who’s gonna teach it. Who’s gonna implement it. Are they trained? Plus in Michigan at the time, we did not have a certified career tech ed program for cybersecurity.


Patrick Shultz (09:43):
So there was a group of individuals who are my co-founders in mice. What we took a look at doing was writing a state standard program. So we modified it or, or implemented it as a carbon clone of what was done at the national standards, but then we threw in the auto automotive industry. And some of the other areas that are highly unique in, in Michigan is our core of manufacturing. And we built out the statewide program. And then we pitched it to the state department of education. And what’s always interesting when he’s start talking to higher education or department of ed, is that it typically takes a year to get the process rolling. And then another year for planning and then a third year for implementation. They were all on board with this within three months from start to finish.


Patrick Shultz (10:32):
We had a full program integrated. We had the standard there and then we also immediately had the thought process of, okay, now it’s there. What do we do? So we had already predesigned out quarterly trainings for teachers that were interested in cybersecurity and it we’ve specialized so far now in converting educators who may not have anything to do with it. So we we’ve got a lot of English teachers or business teachers that we converted into it teachers. So far we’ve worked with over 70 different school districts in Michigan. Wow. And that was just within the first year. Mice has been officially an organization for five years. And over the past two, we’ve also expanded into Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio Illinois, Indiana California, and a couple other states throughout the us. But ultimately there there’s three main pillars of mice.


Patrick Shultz (11:33):
One is to develop teacher training models that can be replicated across other states. The second one is to build a learning management system that has customized courseware that is open for all career pathways in it, whether it’s cyber, computer PRI computer programming networking hardware. And then our third pillar is taking a look at consulting and designing programs. Michigan is what’s known as a local control state, meaning that every local district gets to make the choice, as long as they meet the statewide standards, how they’ll implement what text they use, what curriculum materials to implement with that comes a challenge that everybody is absolutely unique and there is nothing that is done the same way between two different districts. So we take a look at our consulting side as identifying what they currently have, where we can fit in additional and information, how we can modify it with the ultimate goal of building a pipeline from preschool, kindergarten, primary grade, all the way through the 12th grade system. Hmm. So it’s, it’s interesting to see how each one works but ultimately we’ve impacted on average about 6,000 students, a across those districts that are specializing just in it throughout Michigan, over the PA or on average per year,


Sam Demma (13:01):
That’s amazing. You, it seems like you hold different roles of governance in different organizations your journey as a leader, along the path, what resources have you found helpful? Who have you looked up to and learned from, and what do you think makes a, a strong leader?


Patrick Shultz (13:22):
Well, I I’ll start that and come back to the strong leader aspect in a minute. For me individually my parents were definitely a huge influence on me. My, my dad was in, in computer science, he worked for general motors and recently retired working for autonomous vehicles. So that’s where I get my tech background from nice my educator side. My mom was a preschool teacher for many, many years. And then when I got into high school, she backed off from just to be able to, you know, work through all of the schedules between my sister and I from the multiple sports that we played and working through, you know, getting us to where, and luckily we were, she was able to do that to be with us at all times, but it really instilled in me to always take the risk, jump to the next step and just keep pushing as much as possible.


Patrick Shultz (14:16):
My journey is, is really an interesting one. I, teaching and education was never my first choice. Mm. I, I really wanted to be a brain surgeon or an astrophysicist. And that’s where I started school. I that’s where I was headed towards. And I can expand on that later in terms of, you know, how I ended up in education. But when it comes full circle, you know, there was a lot of individuals who were very influential in my life. I had an English teacher Carol Young, who always just taught you to think outside of the box. She, she believed in you, no matter what, I mean, even if you were being the absolute troublemaker I mean, I remember seeing friends and, and even myself sometimes, you know, we didn’t behave well. We were young and, and working through the process, but she always just saw this vision in us that we never saw in ourselves.


Patrick Shultz (15:13):
So people like that really make the difference. And when you really take a look and think back at it, and for me, reflecting on your question about what does it take to be a leader is, is it’s a few things, one it’s initial drive. It’s just the want to make a difference. I think that’s so huge in it because I don’t know if there’s one cookie cutter shell to, to define a leader because you can, obviously you can have leaders that are global. You can have leaders that are in a community, and they’re just happy with where they are. They don’t need to have that, you know, worldly acknow of where they’re going. The second thing with leadership in me is that you just have to be authentic as long as you are doing it for the right reason, whatever that reason you might believe in, and you don’t lose sight of that, then I think you end up leading down that path and you’re going to make a difference in people’s lives.


Patrick Shultz (16:12):
And, and the third one is just listening to your environment. You know, there’s so many times where you can get caught up in everything. That’s just going on, you know, whether it’s politics or you listen to, you know, if you’re leading a group of 10 people, there might be, well, there is 10 different voices there. You might have many different opinions. You might have many agreements, but ultimately you have to listen and you have to keep your ear to the ground. And, and you have to make decisions eventually where you may not know all the facts, but you know, what is right based on your own feeling, your gut, your vision, and that that’s where you want to take things you know, to move in it. And that sort of goes back to me and how I ended up in education is it just felt right. You know, it, I always wanted to make a difference in, you know, helping others and looking external. And I try to start every single decision that I do was with, with how will this impact someone else if it costs me 50 hours, but it saves someone else one hour of time, I’ll do that all day long. That’s, that’s just the way that I’ve always believed it.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I love that. I I’m intrigued by your explanation of gut feelings, because a lot of the big decisions that I made in my life, I believe came from my gut and the way that I felt about it. And sometimes those decisions don’t make the most logical sense to others, but it, you know, it feels right for you when you’re Teeter tottering on making one of those decisions or in front of a big decision, what do you find helpful to help you pull the trigger?


Patrick Shultz (17:58):
Well, I live by the motto in the, the quote where mantra of sir Richard Branson, someone offers you an opportunity, take it. You can figure out how to do it lay. And even if they don’t offer you the opportunity, you can offer yourself the opportunity at any time. And, and if you live by that, then you won’t ever look backwards and say, I should have coulda would’ve, you know, and if you’re, if you fail, you didn’t fail. You went forward. And, and in very, you know, I, I know there’s circumstances, obviously you can take a huge financial risk. You can lose a lot of money. You can go through that part, but in the end you might get set back, but you’re also gonna have a knowledge base to expand that even further and to grow faster through that entire process. So I think, you know, for me, it’s taking a risk.


Patrick Shultz (18:52):
It it’s risk is how you look at it. If you look at risk as being negative or, Ooh, I shouldn’t do that because of this situation, it’s hard for you to move forward. But if you look at risk as an opportunity, and you say, Hey, I might do this, but I not making. And that’s okay. You know, it’s traditional marketing, you make 10 phone calls, you probably get one lead that one lead could be the difference maker. And it also goes to, you know, a perspective of never being afraid to, to just fail. It, it, there’s so many different aspects of failure in, in weakness as what is perceived as weakness. So it’s, you know, if you look at a traditional SWAT analysis, you’ve got strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats which, what SWAT stands for, you know, anytime that you realize that your weakness and your threat are really your opportunity to and move forward, then you’ve, you’ve, you’ve really changed your mindset in, in part of it, cuz otherwise any company or any individual entrepreneur, if they looked at a market analysis and it’s oversaturated, we’d never come up with a new, the new product or we’d never come up with that new you know, transition to where we’re gonna head next.


Sam Demma (20:16):
What a good way to position that whole idea of failure and looking at risk as a positive thing. One of my inspirations as an American rapper named Russ who at the age of 15, decided he wanted to be one of the biggest artists in the world spent 10 years in the basement, a clothing store on a couch, making music made 94 songs, 11 studio albums build no fan base. And in the 11th year became one of the biggest independent artists on the face of the planet. And when asked in an interview, the best piece of advice he’d ever received, he said, what if it could turn out better than you ever imagined? And that sentence really reminded me of what you were saying about risk and it being an opportunity. It really just depends on the frame of mind that you’re in. When you look at the situation, I’m really curious to know where you see yourself within BPA within mice in the next five or 10 years. And this is obviously a big question, but what are some of your big goals that you hope to see come to life?


Patrick Shultz (21:27):
Yeah, well, I, I can start it by saying that it doesn’t matter what the title or what you know, what the position I’m in is as long as it’s making the difference. That’s where I want to be, you know, eight to 10 years for, from the mice perspective, I want mice in all 50 states. I wanna be in Canada, Mexico, Japan, China. I want it to just explode because I want the message and the opportunity to explode for students. It it’s not necessarily, but I, I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I’d love to be making millions and own a small island. And that’s where I wanna be in 10 years. But ultimately it it’s really the difference. For BPA within three years, I want to be in five new countries, I want to have BPA have double or triple the membership. And I wanna be able to have a system that has self support to be able to help identify and build out new instructors, because one of the biggest challenges that we’re gonna face globally, isn’t economical.


Patrick Shultz (22:34):
It it’s going to be an education or educator shortage that’s going to happen and occur. Cuz we have a number of individuals who have done their time. They have put in multiple years, multiple decades and they’re frankly burn out and it’s time and, and there’s going to be a very large shortage in terms of educators coming in. So that’s a big part of it. You know, it’s interesting too, when you bring up Russ and in, you know, the presence in, in how everything is cuz opportunity present itself, when you least expect it, if you go through life constantly waiting for that next moment, instead of making that moment or letting it happen you’re gonna live a little bit of, of doubt in yourself sometime, you know, or fear or anxiety because you’re always gonna be waiting and looking at it from a of, well, it’s not happening for me yet.


Patrick Shultz (23:33):
Well, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It just hasn’t come to fruition. So it’s, it’s in work, it’s in progress. So you know, when I look at BPA in my career at BPA, did I ever think that I would move from a classroom educator all the way up to working for the national staff? I can’t say that I did. I’ve, I’ve loved the journey. I’ve loved the adventure. I’ve been able to work with so many dedicated educators and, and business professionals. I I’ve met CEOs, I’ve met custodians, I’ve met everybody throughout the process and they all have equal and important roles as you look at the full journey. I, myself, I would, I would love to be in a position that’s able to continue to make this decisions and move the organization to be really a model for global development and student success.


Patrick Shultz (24:36):
And, and honestly, I don’t, I don’t know that I need a title or that you need the title to be able to do that. Cuz you can make often you can make such a difference from the side and it doesn’t have to be from the top. Or even behind the scenes in certain things. There’s often many projects that I work on that I get called in for a quick solution or that, and, and it’s just that you do the solution, you give it back to ’em and then they’re able to move on and nobody ever knows where it came from and it’s perfect. It’s, it’s okay to happen in that way. It happens all the time. But yeah, you know, I’d love to be a philanthropic leader, you know, and build a a massive wealth that, that combines itself with other communities in, in really targets at risk youth in, in some really underprivileged areas, areas that we currently work with too.


Sam Demma (25:32):
So awesome to just hear some of the ideas, I appreciate you sharing, you have a quote on your Seren for everyone listening, who doesn’t actually see us and it reads, if it comes, let it come, if it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go. What does is the significance of that quote and what does it mean to you by Nicholas Sparks?


Patrick Shultz (25:51):
Yeah. You know, the quote really means that change happens. You know, when it comes, allow it to come, it, it could teach you some, some really positive life lessons, you know, change brings with it challenges, but it does bring solutions. If, if what you’re going through the, the second line, if it stays, let it stay is it’s okay to not force change. You know? So if you’re looking at something and it works, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel just to make it a different way or fit. It might just work. So the platform may be in my mind a solution that could, could be better, but there’s bigger fish to fry or bigger things to take a look at. And if it goes, let it go, you know, it’s one of those things. It, you can take that in a lot of ways.


Patrick Shultz (26:41):
When nobody likes loss nobody likes seeing people walk away or rolls be reduced. But when I look at that in my, what it really means is, is go with the flow. You know, there’s many times where the change that comes is going to come no matter what, and you can’t control it, you have to just let it sort of go and let it play its course out in certain times you have to be there to support everybody on your team so that they’re able to do their jobs and be able to, you know, help others and work through it. And everybody does take it a little bit differently too. So you have to let it roll off your shoulders. Sometimes you, you know, someone might be upset. That’s okay. They might walk away. That’s okay. You will get through it no matter what that’s, that’s the big part, but it may look different and that’s okay. You know, for it to take a look at that way, but that’s really, you know, it’s deep, but there’s really those, those three different parts of it. And Nicholas Sparks is one of my wife’s favorite authors. So he he’s written some excellent books over the years. But just go with the flow.


Sam Demma (27:54):
I like it. A good friend of mine used to say Kura, if it’ll be, it will be. And I think that really sums up that, that quote, which is why it’s stuck out to me. If you could take the experience, you’ve had the knowledge and the wisdom over the past, however many years you’ve been working in education, travel back in time, tap young, younger, pat, not that you’re old, but tap younger pat on your shoulder and say, this is the advice I wish you heard when you were just getting started in this field in vocation. What would you have told you young yourself?


Patrick Shultz (28:29):
I definitely would’ve. It, it would’ve been my third, you know, option of leadership is listen more. I think that when I was younger, I would, I was definitely a go-getter I’m still a go-getter. But I didn’t, I impactfully listen to those or my environment all the time. I think that that would be something to definitely go back and tell myself to just sort of live in the moment and again, ears to the ground experience, what you’re experiencing. You don’t have to rush through it to get to the next phase or the next step in your career. And the other thing that I would definitely go back and do and tell myself, and I wish everybody could always tell themselves this. When they look back is you have to trust in your own ability. You know, there are many, many times where you are correct or your ability is good enough, but the human psyche takes over so often and tries to cast doubt in yourself or in the project you’re working on or even in a team.


Patrick Shultz (29:35):
You know, there’s, there was times too where, you know, you may be the strongest link on the team and there’s times where you may realize you’re not the strongest, but what you have to realize is how to share the responsibility or to pick up the others who are on your team you know, and help them along in the process. But at the same time, you do have to have discussions that are tough. And you have to have you know, a lot of faith in those around you to be able to move forward with a lot of the projects in, in the way that, you know, they need to be done. And it might not be your way, you know, that’s the other thing too, is I, if I could go back 20 years, I would tell myself that your way is not the only way, you know, it, it takes everybody, I think, quite a bit or a lot of time in life to realize that other solutions are, are awesome and that you know, they open your eyes to a different perspective to help you improve and grow to it.


Patrick Shultz (30:38):
I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I mean, I can’t get enough. I’m a knowledge hound where I sit on Wikipedia, I’ll sit and read you know, books, not it, it’s more like sitting and reading a dictionary almost. So just work, looking up word of the day and going through all those things. Yeah. I can’t get enough of, of that education piece, but I would tell myself to slow down and just enjoy the right two.


Sam Demma (31:03):
I love it. Thank you so much for taking some time here to share your experiences a little bit about yourself, some of your philosophies, if someone wants to reach out, ask a question or help you expand to Japan, China, or any of the other countries you mentioned, if they’re in the position to do so, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Patrick Shultz (31:23):
Yeah, the best way to get in touch would be to reach out, to support@bpa.org. That’ll come right to me and we can work through any challenges, structure, ideas even people, if they don’t want to talk BPA, they can talk mice, they can talk general knowledge, you know, just pick the brain. That’s, that’s where I think the collaboration amongst everybody always comes in. And you know, I’d like to just leave this with my favorite quote of all time. When my when I started teaching there was a track coach that I coached girls track with. And he always used to say this, and I never really believed it until four or five years into teaching, but the quote is still unknown to this day. I don’t know who created it other than him. But the quote is good. Better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best. And if you live by that motto in every single situation that you look at, no matter what the project, no matter what the assignment even if it’s just getting up out of bed out a day, when you’re having a bad day, take the good, make it better. And eventually the better will become the best that you could be. So that’s where I’d like to leave it with you for today.


Sam Demma (32:36):
Thank you so much, pat. Thank you so much, Patrick. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Patrick Shultz (32:42):
All right. Thanks a lot, sir.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Shultz

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.

Ron LeClair – Trustee at the Greater Essex District School Board

Ron LeClair - Trustee at the Greater Essex District School Board
About Ron LeClair

Born and Raised in LaSalle Ontario, Ron (@ron_leclair) attend the University of Windsor where he obtained a BA in Political Science and a certificate in Public Administration. Ron joined the Windsor Police Service in 1991, where he served for 30.5 years. In 2021, Ron retired as an Inspector and then joined the Solicitor Generals’ office as a Police Service Advisor.

In 2014, Ron was elected to the Greater Essex District School Board as Trustee. He continues to serve in that capacity. Ron has worked to improve educational opportunities for students including marginalized populations. Ron also serves as a Director of the Windsor Symphony Board, where he sits as chair of the Education committee. Ron is a candidate in the upcoming Provincial election for the Ontario New Democrats in the Riding of Essex.

Connect with Ron: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Windsor

Greater Essex District School Board

Windsor Symphony

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):
Ron welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Ron LeClair (00:09):
Happy to be here, Sam. My name’s Ron LeClair. I’m the trustee for Greater Essex County District School Board. I represent the town of Lasalle and Amherstburg I’m a retired police officer born and raised in the Lasalle area.


Sam Demma (00:25):
Awesome. And how did you get to the role you’re in today and why?


Ron LeClair (00:33):
Okay, so I attended the university of Windsor nice to be a political science and public administration. From there I joined the wind with them, like I said, for 30 years. At some point in my career I decided that I wanted to get involved in the community in an aspect other than from a policing perspective. And one of my strengths is governance. And so that coupled with the fact that I’m aware of the importance of education and reducing youth criminal activity and recidivism. So I, I decided that I would seek a position on the board and was successful. I’m in my second term I’ve served as a chair and vice chair on several occasions. So that’s, that’s really how I got to where I am.


Sam Demma (01:33):
You said you realized the importance of education to reduce criminal activity in youth. How did you come to that realization and why do you believe education is so important?


Ron LeClair (01:46):
Well, so at one point in my career, I was a a youth criminal investigator. That was my, my sole role with the service. And a lot of the young men, young women that I was seeing, coming into the service that were in trouble were, were struggling in school. They weren’t completing their school. And I mean, there’s lots of, you know, justice studies that kind of indicate that’s the case that education is is the foundation to keep young people out of trouble. But I was able to see it firsthand and I was able to work with some student or some, some of the clientele that you were coming in for various criminal activity and try to assist them in their school setting. So that, that’s where I made that correlation. And then when the opportunity came for me to run for school board, I just thought was a there’s a lot of synchronicity there. Right?


Sam Demma (02:49):
Yeah, absolutely. And what does your role look like today? What are you doing? What are the different projects that are going on behind the scenes?


Ron LeClair (02:57):
Well, so I mean, in my own, my own jurisdiction or my own writing, if you wanna call it that lasal, and Amburg lasal has a brand new school that we constructed that just opened in September. Nice. The legacy trails. It’s a dual tracks, so French immersion in English. It, it, the nice thing about that school is it replaced the school that we closed is prince Andrew. So it’s probably good that we don’t have a school named prince Andrew at this point. You know, given some of the revelations around him. But one of the nice things about the school is it we built it a hundreds seats larger than the current school. Nevertheless, we seem to, to overfill it and there’s a lot of growth here. So we’ll be looking at putting an addition on that school.


Ron LeClair (03:49):
But also in Amburg in the process of, of getting a new high school constructed, it’ll be open in the fall. Went through some challenges in the naming process there. We’re bringing two schools together, Western and general Amherst. They’re both high schools in that area at the moment, but we’re bringing those two schools together and really didn’t wanna see general Amherst name on a building because some of his history in terms of how he handled indigenous people when he was here. So we ended up coming up with the name north star, north star has a lot of very positive symbolism, not only for indigenous people but for the underground railroad, which connected to Amburg the use the north star to guide themself, to Amburg to Canada. But also that, that symbolism of your north star, your guiding, guiding internal compass, right?


Ron LeClair (04:55):
So I’m pretty proud of the fact that the school’s gonna be called north star. So that’s one thing one of the other cool projects two other cool projects, I guess that I’d say I was involved in was I successfully got defibrillators for all of our schools. You know, our schools are used off after hours, a lot of time for gym training and, you know, for you know, various clubs, sport activities. And I mean, from that perspective, there’s adults in those buildings, but it’s not UN uncommon for children to have respiratory issue or sorry cardiac issues. So I was happy to be successful in getting those into our school. And the last thing is in Las Sal, we have a a track, which I was able to get resurface and rebuilt to Olympic standards and actually Melissa Bishop famous Olympian was I used that track for training prior to the last Olympics. So I think I’ve been pretty successful in, in my efforts to you know advocate for my area. But you know, those are bigger projects, but I also advocate on a very micro level on individual issues as they, as they come about.


Sam Demma (06:16):
For an educate or listener who knows absolutely nothing about the process of naming a school. Can you walk us through what that looks like? Even growing up when I was a student, I never thought too deeply about the names of buildings and how complex of a process it would be to choose one. And you being someone who’s went through it, I would love for you to show there some insight.


Ron LeClair (06:39):
Well, sometimes the processes go quite easy legacy Oak trail, which is the school that in lasal, which replaced prince Andrew it really fell in the place quite quickly. Whereas am general Amherst was a little bit more difficult because there’s some people, I mean, there’s a tie into the name of the town, but the processes is laid out in a policy that our board has. So this is our policy. I don’t know how other boards would go about it, but we bring together a, a committee of students from the schools that are involved. Teachers, educators involve parents pub the parent engagement community committees and trustees and members of men. And we follow through a process of what we would think. We get a report from somebody from our admin that provides information on geographical you know circumstances around the area, people from the area et cetera.


Ron LeClair (07:41):
And then the committee just works through the process. What I’ve learned and what my own perspective is is that naming a school after a person is not appropriate, that’s my opinion. Because there are circumstances where you know, hundreds of years later, we find out that somebody’s not necessarily who we thought they were. And that’s the example of Jeffrey Amherst, right. And that it didn’t take a hundred years for us to discover the issues with him, but the school was named and the school was around for a hundred years. Mm that’s. How long this school’s been around you know, there’s circumstances here in ES county where a school was named, not in our board but within two years that name had to be removed because some information came forward. So in my opinion, much better to pick a geographical or symbolic name than naming as school after somebody. I mean, obviously it’s an honor, if somebody gets a, a school or a bridge or a building named after them, I just Don know how appropriate it is for schools.


Sam Demma (08:53):
Absolutely. You mentioned the naming of schools, the building, and bringing to life a new high school in your community are two of the things that you are working on. You also mentioned there are other projects that come on a case by case basis. What are some of those other things that have come up and you and your team have worked on?


Ron LeClair (09:14):
Well, they could be as, as micro as you know, a busing issue. You know, I live so ma you know, the, the geographical requirements is 1.8 kilometers, and they live 1.8, five kilometers, and they’re not denied busing. Sometimes there’s not busing decisions are made for, from a map without understanding the, you know, the traffic and, and the, you know, again, geographical barriers that might impact somebody trying to walk instead of riding on a bus. Simple things like that. Just the other day I had somebody contact me, who’s looking at moving into this area and they wanted to know what school their child would go to if they moved to a specific address. You know, so it’s a wide range. I mean, a lot of our time right now is really spent addressing COVID issues. Like every other person in Canada right now is faced with COVID in some capacity. COVID has been a real challenge because every decision there’s a real divide, you know, some people think kids should be in class. Some people think they shouldn’t be, some people think they should be wearing masks, something people think they should. It’s, it’s just like the vaccine issue. Right. So it’s been a, that’s been real challenging. There’s no real you know, there’s, there’s a real divide in the community as to what is the appropriate steps.


Sam Demma (10:44):
Got it. And do you have any connection to conversations with educators themselves or not so much?


Ron LeClair (10:55):
So not, not so much directly. I mean, I use my social media, so I do hear from people that are, you know, front, front frontward facing, excuse me, frontward facing in the front lines, on the ground, in the schools, hearing those issues. I do communicate with the union a lot or the unions because teachers and support staff have multiple unions. I just recently assisted prior to Christmas, I brought forth the motion that allowed teachers staff to purchase at their own expense and 95 masks. If they felt that’s what they required, because there was there some talk in the community that, you know, we’re moving away from surgical mass to N 90 fives, but the province was very slow in acknowledging that. So in working with the union, I was at successful in bringing that forward.


Ron LeClair (11:54):
And it alleviated some concerns. If, if a teacher really felt that they wanted to wear an N 95 mask and they were prepared to pay for it, why shouldn’t we be allowed or let permit them to do that? Mm. So I was successful in bringing that forward. And I think that that alleviated a lot of concerns. I also think it was pretty it was a very progressive step because we now know that the province is finally supplying at 90 fives to staff and teachers. And so maybe a little progressive cutting edge ahead of the yeah. Proactive. Yep. And I think that’s, that’s been an issue in the province is the lack of being proactive in dealing with the pandemic. We’ve really seen what I call the neglect panic cycle where we don’t hear much bless you. And then suddenly you know, we’re kind of in panic mode and that, I think that’s part of why the people get up so upset is because they’re not provided the appropriate information in advance to say, Hey, this, this is coming right. So


Sam Demma (13:10):
Makes absolute sense. What are you hearing from your on Twitter about what educators are going through right now, or what are some common themes you see coming up online or in conversations?


Ron LeClair (13:25):
Well, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of worry and stress. There’s a lot of unknowns, right? Like, yeah. You know, how, how does, how does which is the predominant variant right now? How does it work? What’s the long term effects? How can I avoid it? You know, I know of circumstances where people who have been pretty isolated somehow managed to, to contract it. You know, you’re, you’re in an environment as a teacher support staff and you’re working with little children, some, you know, some as young as four years old, who, you know, don’t necessarily know how to wear a mask you know, their attention spans are very limited. They’re very hands on. You know, so I give them credit for, for doing the work that they’re doing. They, you know, they’ve done a great job and they’re doing the best they can in the circumstances.


Ron LeClair (14:23):
You know, when we’re in a non and when we’re in an online component that’s a real struggle because I mean, like quite frankly, our teachers weren’t trained or educated to teach in anything, but brick and mortar or environment. And quite frankly, my opinion is online education belongs to, should belong to adults only you know the parent that needs to finish their undergrad degree or whatever. I, I don’t, I don’t understand how there could be an expectation that children in our public school system or even in the Catholic school system are capable of getting a proper education online.


Sam Demma (15:05):
Yeah. It’s definitely a tough barrier one. That’s the forefront of the conversation right now as well. Absolutely. And I appreciate your perspectives. You know, you said, you mentioned at the beginning, one of your interests is in governance. Explain that a little bit more. What about governance is very interesting to you and why do you think governance is important?


Ron LeClair (15:28):
Well, governance governance is absolutely important. It provides the bedrock of, of a solid organization. The governance should be proactive, progressive, and you know, anticipating issues in advance to the best of their ability. Obviously, I, you know, a pandemic ever changing pandemic is not something that any of us ever, ever expected to be trying to govern through. So how did my interest in governance come about? So I was, I was chair of the Windsor police association chair of some political organizations prior to I’m a police officer. I’m I’m a member of the executive for the Windsor symphony orchestra. So I don’t know what really hits one of those things. I don’t know what really attracts me to it, but it’s, it’s really understanding how Robert’s rules work. What, what, what you’re defining role is as, as a member of a board not to slip into operational decisions you know because you have staff that’s responsible for the day to day operations you’re just surpri supposed to provide that overarching support and insurance that, you know, your staff is conducting their work in accordance to what your mandate mission and vision is.


Ron LeClair (17:03):
Right.


Sam Demma (17:05):
Absolutely. For an educator who is interested in governance, maybe joining a local education association, maybe one for province or school board, and does not understand what a, what Robert’s rules are. Can you share what that means and what those are?


Ron LeClair (17:24):
Yeah. So Robert’s rules are a set of very complicated set of rules that outline how to on a meeting. Cool. So you know how to set it an agenda. What emotion is, how emotion hits the floor, what D what’s allowed in debate. Generally you, you know, an organization has a set of bylaws and, and is governed by Robert’s rules. So certain motions need two thirds to be successful. Certain motions only need a simple majority you know, how to handle amendments to a motion how to handle amendments to the amendment when they motion. So, and that happens. So yeah, it’s like what, when is a point of order? What happens when the chair is challenged? You know, there’s a lot to learn. I think most people just learn it, you know, after they decide to of delve into some kind of organization, they don’t necessarily, so they generally sit back and watch and learn. Right. for me, it came as part of my education when I was in university and public administration. I just, I just learned that as part of, of my ongoing in terms of specific education organizations that somebody could join. Most of ’em are tied into either employment or union activity or you know the trustees have an association at the Ontario level, right.


Sam Demma (19:08):
And for someone who wanted to get involved, you just simply reach out how did you get involved in the three organizations you’re a part of on the executive side?


Ron LeClair (19:18):
So the school board was obviously a, a, an election held at the same time as the municipal elections. The wind police association was by election by the membership of the Windsor police and the Windsor symphony orchestra. I just indicated that I had some interest in that because they have an education component. And you know, I get, it’s funny, policing led me to education education. I understand the importance of music as a part of your Folsom education, right? So the Windsor symphony orchestra needed somebody to be involved in their education committee.


Sam Demma (20:03):
That’s awesome. Very cool. I think joining an association organization that you’re interested in, whether it’s a voluntary position or something that’s actually paid, whether it’s by interest or by vote and election is a rewarding experience. I, I sit on the board of the Canadian association of professional speakers and are familiar with motions and amendments, and I’m not an expert in it by any means, but like you mentioned, I’m sitting back learning and, and watching, and I’m a are bring as much as I can. And it’s been a very awesome learning experience. And it sounds like it’s also been a cool learning experience for you.


Ron LeClair (20:41):
Yeah, no, I love it. It’s challenging. So, interesting thing is it has led to an opportunity. When I retired from the Windsor police, I joined the inspector of police bank and my role there is as a police advisor. And what I do is I provide governance advice to police services board. So I have a zone in the province of Ontario. And so yesterday, a chair from one of the boards calls me in says, Hey, I’m dealing with this issue. You know, I want to pick your brain. I want your thoughts. And we, we talked through the different scenarios and she was able to come to a solution or a conclusion of how she was gonna handle it in advance. So that’s the kind of things I do. And it, you know, I think one of the things that helped me land that position is all the experience I’ve collected over the course of my, my lifetime.


Sam Demma (21:29):
Absolutely. That’s awesome. I, really enjoy this conversation on governance and learning about the different roles and your experiences going through different organizations and associations. If someone else is listening, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we discussed what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Ron LeClair (21:47):
So, my email is ronleclair@me.com. I’m happy to talk to anybody.


Sam Demma (22:00):
Ron. Thank you so much for coming on the show, taking some time to chat about your interests and experiences. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Ron LeClair (22:08):
Great.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ron LeClair

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.

Peter LeBlanc – Author and Retired Ontario and International principal

Peter LeBlanc - Author and Retired Ontario and International principal
About Peter LeBlanc

Peter LeBlanc (@LeBlancPeter) is a retired Ontario and International principal. His most recent work was as principal of the Canadian Section of the SHAPE International School for the Canadian Armed Forces in Casteau, Belgium. This was his fourth and final school as principal and was certainly his most unique. Peter has also served as a system-level principal and spent 11 years teaching at the elementary level. Peter currently works as a Provincial Trainer for Behaviour Management Systems / Systèmes de Gestion du comportement.

Peter is currently writing his first book on visible educational leadership to be published sometime in 2022 via CodeBreakerEdu! He is involved in the leadership branch of The Mentoree. He is an occasional podcast guest both in Canada and internationally. He delivered a TEDx Talk in 2016 about a teacher’s role as the master of relationship, relevancy and pedagogy and was a recipient of The Learning Partnership’s Outstanding Principal Award in 2015.

He is now an ‘extreme snowbird’, spending the winter months in Australia and the rest of his time in southern Ontario. He is the proud father of two adult children and is also an avid amateur musician, currently vying for the title of either Synthesizer Master or Acoustic Rock King and has more musical toys than he knows what to do with! 

You can learn more about Peter and follow along as he reflects on his most recent work overseas at www.peterjleblanc.com

Connect with Peter: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Education: moving at the speed of…? | Peter LeBlanc | TEDxKitchenerED

SHAPE International School

CodeBreakerEdu

Principal Learning Blog

Rita Pearson TED Talk – Every kid needs a champion

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):
Peter welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from Australia. Please introduce yourself.


Peter LeBlanc (00:11):
Okay. Thanks Sam. So my name is Peter LeBlanc, and I’m a retired principal, although I I’m trying to figure out almost a better title cause I mean, it, it’s what I was and not necessarily what I am, but I’m struggling with that. So I’ll stick with the retired principal for now. I spent 28 years in education, you know, like a lot of people I started out as a classroom teacher, I, I taught extended French, French immersion, special education, core French mostly in the elementary area. So grades three to, to eight seven and eight was my absolute passion while teaching. And then I moved into a I moved boards and then moved into a vice principal role and, and spent the last 17 years doing that. And again, you know, varied positions, small schools, large schools system level principal for two years.


Peter LeBlanc (01:02):
And then my last, but I always think was, you know, my my most unique, I was on loan with the Canadian military and was the principal of their overseas school in Belgium. So that’s a school that actually sits on NATO’s headquarter base and services, the children of Canadian military, who are either working directly for NATO or serving in some kind of capacity as well as other international students who kind of applied to come to the Canadian section. So it, it was a really unique experience. It’s, it’s actually all, almost all Ontario educators that are on loan from their school boards, from Catholic boards, public awards, French boards. And, and yeah, that’s, I finished my last two years off there and then moved back to Ontario in July. And I know, you know, you said from Australia I’m, I do live in Ontario, but my wife is Australian. So I do the, what I call extreme snowbirding. And we’re now committed for me in retirement while you know, work is, is looking a little bit differently spending two or three months of the Australian summer here. So anyways, that’s, that’s kind of that’s me in a nutshell. So thank you for asking


Sam Demma (02:16):
Before our interview started. Just so you know, Peter showed me the view outside his window, freaking beautiful place, no snow, no bus cancellations because of the snow. It’s, it’s really awesome. And I’m glad that technology can make this possible. What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of your career in education or some of the most rewarding aspects of your career in education?


Peter LeBlanc (02:44):
Wow. So, so, so for me, and, and, you know, having, you know, just retired eight months ago, I, I reflected a lot on, well, you know, what, what is it that, you know, brought me joy and, and I’d have to say it, it is probably the individual connections with students and, and with teachers and, and even sometimes those, those experiences where you find out that a small action of yours, you know, made, made a difference. So, you know, I always think if it’s a, if it’s a staff member, you know, it might be, you know, mentoring them into, you know, something different, whether it’s a practice inside their classroom, whether it’s an actual position change and then hearing afterwards and saying, you know, Peter, I just wanted to let you know that, you know, the permission you gave me to do X, Y, and Z really had an impact on the direction of my career or a student.


Peter LeBlanc (03:34):
And, and, and if I can, you know, just a, a kind of a brief story, I got a, I got a, an X student who, you know, fell into my DM on, on, on Instagram and just said, you know, and look, it was a student. I was at the school for a year, and this was a student who I, you know, provided support for, but more in the way of, you know, just making the office a safe space for them to come when, when they needed it. I didn’t think that I had done to anything of any great significance. You know, other than like I said, you know, being, being an ear and, and a space, and I got a lovely message that, that said, you know, I just wanted to let you know this was, you know, a few years after I had been at the school, I just wanted to let you know Mr.


Peter LeBlanc (04:17):
LeBlanc, I have just been made the valedictorian of my school. And I wanted to thank you for your support. I, I, I knew exactly who the student was, but the the sentiment that came from them, it was both genuine and unexpected. I, I was like, I had them reflect, oh my goodness. Well, well, what did I do? And then when I thought about it you know, it, it really did. It brought me way. So it’s those kinds of things. It’s students that I connect with on, you know, on Facebook and on Instagram. And my son tells me I should go on TikTok, not there, you know, yet, but on, on, in, in spaces who, who talk about the impact of the work that we would have done together and, and, you know, with teaching staff, the same thing, and, and now people who are going into to more leadership roles, you know, that same thing.


Peter LeBlanc (05:05):
So it it’s to be able to provide that, that sort of support, even mentorship, you know, that, that I get to reflect on and, and, and may have changed either the course, you know, the path of their careers, or, you know, it, it, to, to not, it almost sounds arrogant when you say it that the path of lives, but, you know, like really to have to have kind of guided them in particular direction and, and to be able to have been a positive impact on that. I, I think that’s probably brought me the biggest joy, you know, of all the positions I’ve done, whether it’s, you know, classroom teacher, classroom support, whether vice principal, principal system level, like whatever it happens to be,


Sam Demma (05:41):
You’re a huge relationship advocate. You talk about it in your TEDx talk as well. Why do you think building relationships should be the heart of this work? And what do you think the impact of building a relationship is on a student or staff?


Peter LeBlanc (05:56):
Well, yeah, I, I think it’s critical. I always, I kind of go back to, you know, thank you for mentioning my TEDx talk. I always laugh, cuz I say, you know, my goal would be to have a million views. And I always say, you know, right now I’m 999,000 away from that goal.


Peter LeBlanc (06:14):
It, it, but yeah, I, I think relat ships are, are critical. And I go back to a, a Ted talk by by an American teacher who has now passed R Pearson who, who has the line kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. And, and, and I think that idea of like, you know, we kind of think of that from an adult perspective, right. Well, you know, do they like me? Do they know? And I think for a student, I think that like is broader than that. It’s, it may be, it, it encompasses respect, but I think it encompasses a place where students feel safe and secure perhaps to be themselves. And I think it’s incumbent on a teacher to be able to establish that through the relationship that they have with a student. And then I think, you know, as, as, as a teacher moves into perhaps a more formal role of leadership, whether it’s a vice principal or a principal or a superintendent or director that they, they still have that responsibility to foster those relationships.


Peter LeBlanc (07:12):
And, and, and that’s, that’s hard work, but I think it’s absolutely critical to learning in a school environment. You know, you, I was listening to, to, to some of your past podcasts and you were talking to, I think it was Mr. O’neil, who is now a superintendent with the Durham board and, you know, was, was your principal. And you described him as you know, and, and you were very respectful. And I, you know, I appreciate that, but you said, you know, he was probably the most fun principal you had. And, and, and I think, you know, that’s, that’s a word that a student might use to describe somebody who’s like, Hey, you know, we might say, well, that’s approachable or it’s accessible, or it’s visible. And, you know, you wouldn’t have known fun or not. If the principal had been sitting in their office doing their job from there, it, it sounds like this would’ve been a person who would’ve been inside the building, fostering relationships, knowing a little bit about you, you know, he talk about your love of the soccer ball and how would he have known that if he had have been sitting in his office kind of leading the school.


Peter LeBlanc (08:12):
Yeah. So, you know, and same right. Teachers are the same thing when, when they’re inside the classroom, when, when they’re fostering a relat should with their students. I think the students know that they know that the teacher, you know, that they, they care about them as a person. And when they know that, then I think there’s an openness to be able to learn whatever learning happens to be. Right. So, you know, and if I just, one more thing, like you talk about my Ted talks, I always think, you know, one of the other premises to that is although we have to master the relationship, we have to master pedagogy too. In the end, we are experts in learning. So we have to figure out how students learn best. And we have to sharpen that skill. We gotta make sure that, you know, that, that we are at our best in that regard, but, but we do that so much better when, when it’s based on when it’s based on the relationships that we have with our students and then with our staff and then our communities and the, you know, students, caregivers, and their, their families, whatever that looks like that, that is absolutely critical


Sam Demma (09:07):
As an educator. It’s almost like you have two jobs, one to teach and build a relationship with a student, but secondly, to be on a lifelong journey of education yourself, or consistently learning, how did you balance the pursuit of knowledge yourself with, you know, teaching every day?


Peter LeBlanc (09:30):
Yeah. I, my kids would probably say, I, you know, it cost me my, my home life balance for, for the longest time. I, I just I, I don’t, how did I manage, I, I don’t know. I made time and space to, to try and continue, you know, my own learning both formally. So, you know, I would say I don’t have a master’s degree, but I think I have 16 or 17 master’s degree credits in five different programs. So, you know, it’s like at one point, I’d say, all right, I’m gonna start formal education. Ah, it’s not quite for me. And then I go, I’m gonna try it again. Nah, not quite for me. But you know, I, I try and find resources or people to just always, you know, dig into different kinds of learning. Sometimes it was hard. You know like being a teacher, you know, in whatever could, whether it’s teacher in a classroom, whether it’s no teacher in, in a principal’s office is a, is a hard job.


Peter LeBlanc (10:22):
So there are times when the job itself is all encompassing. I would think now, you know, with teachers sort of leading in, in a very uncertain time trying to, you know, go back and forth, I won’t use the word pivot, cuz it’s not pivot it’s, you know, teaching an online model, all teaching an in-person model, which are two different things. That’s a huge amount of work. So I would imagine that the kind of learning that happens outside of, you know outside of your classroom hours is probably, you know, maybe happening a lot less or not at all for people. Cause they’re focused on their own wellbeing of their job. Would’ve been the same for me. There would’ve been times where it’s like, I can’t do the learning, but I think I’ve always been, I’ve always enjoyed learning it, it, you know, like right now I’m, I’m not working.


Peter LeBlanc (11:06):
There’s no, I have no work obligation. I’m I’m, I’m not an active principal. I don’t work for a particular school board. I do some, you know, kind of, you know, work whether it’s, you know volunteering and advising on the side or, you know, whether it’s paid work, but I’m still, I’m still involved in learning. I, I enjoyed, you know, this, this particular experience cuz I’ll learn from you and our interaction. I, you know, I’m picking up books all the time. I I’m just trying to continuously make my own mindset as an educator better even though my kind of practice as an educator has changed. I, I don’t know if that Sam don’t know if that answered your question or if, you know, I went in a different direction or if not, you’ll, you’ll pull me back in and ask me to follow up and


Sam Demma (11:45):
Yeah, you did answer it. It sounds like your life is your life and all the pieces are always fluctuating, right? There’s certain times where learning is very high and there’s certain times where learning is a little lesser and you’re focused on teaching. And I feel like that will change throughout your entire career. And it sounds like it, it did for you too.


Peter LeBlanc (12:08):
Yeah. And doesn’t it change throughout everyone’s, you know, almost life. And I think, you know, to go back to the idea of a relationship, right? So if I’m, if I’m in a school working with staff or I’m in a school working with students and if I know them and I know a piece of their life, then I’m going to be attuned to those kind of needs as well. Sometimes the students that are in front of us in our classrooms are not at their best when it comes to learning. So, you know, maybe they have an awful lot on their plate and maybe right now is not the time for them to dig into of learning. And, and other times it is you know, a good time for them to learn. So I think we all have those sort of learning cycles. So, you know, I just, I, I think for me, I just, I did what I could when I could you know, to try and, and, and, and hone, you know, my own skill.


Peter LeBlanc (12:49):
And, and then I would surround myself with people who knew an awful lot. Like I’ve been lucky through social media to, you know, connect with some incredible, you know, incredible people that are exceptionally knowledgeable about their craft, whether you know, it’s math education or, you know, whether it’s you know, decolonizing the curriculum. I think of somebody like a client in Ontario, who’s just doing some incredible work around making, you know, around awareness and action, you know, the inequities in, in, in education, you know? It is just, yeah. So, I mean, I think I could go on because I am passionate about learning it. I think that’s probably why I went into education. Yeah. you know, so I’m still passionate about it.


Sam Demma (13:32):
You, you quoted an to start this interview, you also just mentioned the importance of people who are some of the educators whose work has really inspired you. And why.


Peter LeBlanc (13:48):
Okay. Well, that’s a, that’s a good question. So it’s probably changed over the course of my over the course of my career. Right now I, I look at, so there’d be a few people Sunil sing whose work on, on sort of really thinking outside the box in mathematical education has been a huge impact on, on me. Yeah. And then some of the work that, you know, I, I, that I’m involved in, but also learning from, in, in the mentoree, which is, you know sort of a, a mentorship environment that connects different kinds of, of people. I don’t know, like I are there, there people out there, there probably are. And when we’re done talking, I probably have a list of about 20. But I, I don’t know. So, and, and sometimes it, you know, you, you, you, you, you sort of find someone, you know, I talk about the rabbit hole on online, right?


Peter LeBlanc (14:50):
You, you find somebody online and you’re like, oh, I’m gonna go and take a look. I might download a sample of their book. I’m gonna go and take a look at their, their website. And then sometimes the learning doesn’t stick. Sometimes it sticks for a little bit, and then sometimes it has a significant impact, you know, on, on career. You know, so I, like, I know for me in the early stages of leadership development, I, I, would’ve taken a lot a look at a lot of the work of Steven Covey, for example. So, you know, the idea of the you know, seven sort of steps to effective leadership, the idea of, you know, everything from sharpening the saw to begin with the end in mind that would’ve had a big impact on the early stages of, of, you know, my own leadership development, but then I would’ve looked at it less and less and, you know, found, you know, a kind of other, you know, other things as well. Robin Jackson, who is an American principal, and probably now superintendent whatnot had some work around, you know, moving people from a, to B inside of a school. And, you know, the idea of you know, of, of, of leadership and coaching. But, but again, right. You know, tho those kind of influence they, they come and go depending on, on the need to stare though.


Sam Demma (15:54):
Yeah. I think if your influence stayed the same, your whole life too, you wouldn’t be exercising that muscle of curiosity, you know, and being curious about new things that you aren’t already learning about. Yeah. You also have a blog at what stage in your educational journey. Did you start writing that blog? Oh, and what was the purpose for starting it?


Peter LeBlanc (16:17):
Well, I, I think the purpose for starting it, and this would’ve been another one of these, you know, kind of names that would’ve had an influence on my career. George Kuro, who at the time, you know, was I think the principle of it was, might have been innovation in technology G for, I think the Parkland school you know, in Alberta, I know he shifted now he’s written, you know, three or four books. He, you know, has all kinds of things that are going on, but he would’ve talked about the idea of a digital portfolio. And, and I thought that was fascinating. The idea that, you know, we can sort of reflect and write about our experiences in it education and that someone might actually be interested, you know, or might be even curious enough to, to read about it. So I’m, I’m not a prolific blogger, but I probably, it’s probably been close to 10 years since I would’ve written my first blog post.


Peter LeBlanc (17:08):
It might even be longer than that. Right now I’m focused on reflecting on the experience of kind of leading a, a very unique school and trying to be as upfront as I can. So, you know, sometimes as well, and, and, you know, we do this on, on whatever social media platform we’re on, or we do it on our blogs. We, we put our best self forward. And what I’m trying to do in this reflection is, is, you know, without going into significant detail is, is talk about both the, the things that went well, and then the things that might not have gone, you know, so well upon reflection and, you know, the, the, those opportunities that, oh, if I could do it over again, you know, I would, and I’m, I’m about halfway through the journey. I, you know, I was thinking I’d be six or seven blog posts, and I sort of wrote an outline and then life gets in the way, and I’ve done three of those six posts.


Peter LeBlanc (18:00):
And, you know, the fourth one is, is, is kind of ready to go soon. But, you know, as you said, I’m, I’m in Australia for a couple of months right now and trying to enjoy of that experience too. So I dunno, I would, I would encourage I know when I was working with staff at one point in time, you know, we had talked about trying to share our experiences with each other and, you know, it, it, it comes to the idea that when we work inside of a school, whether it’s the students or, or, or the staff or, or the greater community, we have experts on all kinds of things. And if we don’t give them an opportunity to be able to express themselves, whether that’s through through a written blog or, you know, I think of the work that you know, cha and pav do on the the staff from podcast.


Peter LeBlanc (18:42):
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them or not, but they’re incredible educators. They just put themselves out there and that they, they genuinely share the work that they do. And by that simple act of putting their work out there, other people are both learning from and inspired by the work that happens. So, you know, why not give students the opportunity to do that? Why not take on that opportunity, you know, ourselves. So the blog kind of came from that. It came from, you know, creation of digital portfolio. It came from trying to model the idea of putting your learning out there, even though, you know, nobody, but my mom and my wife might read it, you know?


Sam Demma (19:17):
Yeah. Well, plus another 3,500 people now!


Peter LeBlanc (19:22):
Oh, there you go.


Sam Demma (19:23):
Then when you first started, there was perfect. But so what has writing done for you personally? I am a big advocate of journaling because I find that one, it sharpens my thoughts and ideas, and two, it gets certain emotions also out of my head. Yeah. I don’t have to deal with them as much. How, what has your experience been with longform writing and posting blog?


Peter LeBlanc (19:49):
Yeah, it probably very similar. It, it, it takes it, you know, if, if, if, and I tend to be somebody who sits in my head a lot you know, it, I guess the negative side of that would be, you know, a Mueller or a Brer, but, you know, I, I think the positive side of that is, you know you know, I won’t say visionary cuz that’s that I think has a different connotation, but you know, somebody who’s always trying to think of, of big ideas and, and I think it allows me at the pace of writing to take my ideas and to put them down. So, so there’s no, there’s no rush to it. I can, I can take my time and I can think about what I’m gonna say. I can kind of, you know, Smith my words a little bit. And, and I like you, I love the written word for, for kind of getting my ideas out there.


Peter LeBlanc (20:35):
You, you talk about journaling and, and you know, almost, it’s almost the way of emptying your head and kind of putting it, putting it on paper and, you know, sometimes I’ll go back over it and all, it’s not quite what I had wanted to say. So it, it, it’s a, it’s a great place to record thoughts and then maybe go back on them and, and reflect on them. You know, I talk about my, my children, my, I have a son who’s probably just a little bit older than you are, but not much. And for Christmas, one of the things I bought him was actually the men’s journal. Cause I said, you know, nobody had talked to me as a young man about the, the idea of trying to put my thoughts down in writing. And I wish they had, because as a, you know, as a less young man that, that idea of being able to put those, those ideas down has been exceptionally, exceptionally helpful.


Peter LeBlanc (21:22):
Exceptionally helpful, cuz I, I think it’s, it’s both a productive practice, you know, and of course I’m, you know, I’m, I’m currently working on on a book on visible educational leadership, which, you know, lets me sort of, you know, work on my, my writing craft, but you know, it’s also going slower than I had anticipated because I wanna make sure that, you know, the words are there in, in a way I anticipate it, but that they’re also, you know, helpful to others who may, you know, who may pick up the book at some point, you know, when it’s done that it that it reflects my passion about, you know, being out there in a community, you know, you use the word fun to describe a principle. I would do the same thing, but I talk about, you know, accessible and visible and supportive and you know, and kind of out there so that, you know, people sort of know who you are.


Peter LeBlanc (22:04):
Yeah. And I wanna make sure that, that, that, that process, you know, that, that writing process supports that. But you know, I also think too, like right now what you are doing, so, you know, the idea of, of any kind of recording of ideas. So, you know, if it’s a podcast or of log, you know, even if it’s reals, if it’s, you know you know, if, if it’s, you know you know, TikTok videos, whatever it happens to be, it allows people able to be able to record, you know what they’re, they’re what they’re thinking. It, it lets ’em kind of put them a little piece of themselves out there and then maybe go back and sort of reflect on it that I think that’s a good thing if we do it cautious, sometimes it’s not necessarily a good thing when we’ve got a record of, you know, everything we’re thinking and everything we’re doing, but, but I think it has the potential to, to be, to be great, no,


Sam Demma (22:50):
Right around the holiday season, I started seeing these sponsored ads for this new book. And it’s a book you buy for your parents and the book every single day has a question that prompts your parents to write about stories throughout their life. And when the book is done, they hand it to you. And the goal is that you have 365 stories that they may have never told you before. So that by the end of their life, when they do pass away every single year, you give them one of these books, you have like a recollection of all of their experiences. And I thought it was such a cool idea. And it reminded me of the fact, you know, when you mentioned that you bought your, your son a journal and my, my question for you is if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, you haven’t potentially written it all down in books every single year, but you could take the experience you have in education transport back in time and walk into your own classroom. One of the first classes that you taught in, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Peter, this is what you needed to know. What advice would you have given your younger self? Wow,


Peter LeBlanc (24:04):
Wow. So to me, I guess that the, the first thing I would probably tell myself would be, you know, one is don’t, don’t doubt yourself. When you think that the relationship with students is critical. Because I think sometimes the, the push for covering curriculum or, you know, and, and I’m not, I’m not saying that isn’t important. I think we have to revise what it is that we, what we talk about is being important. But I tap myself on the shoulder and say, you know, when you are thinking that all students need is, is you to kind of support them that that’s enough that, you know, don’t beat yourself up if you know, X does and get covered in the way that you want it to, because that’s not what the students sitting in front of you needs now. And, and the other thing I, I would tell myself is you’re gonna, you’re gonna make mistakes, that there are some things that you’re gonna do that you’re gonna go, whoa, like O you’re gonna have some cringe worth moments and you’re gonna come out.


Peter LeBlanc (25:11):
Okay. You know, in, in the end, you’re gonna come out. Okay. Those cringeworthy moments will, you know, will, will, will shape you and might push you in different directions, but you’re gonna be all right. So I, I probably do that. I, I I’d let myself know right. At the beginning, the importance of relationship, I think I, it took me a while to develop up that, that understanding. I I’d make sure that I knew that right from the get go that, that, that students want and need really need to feel that that support system from, from you, you know, in, in some ways is one of the primary adults in their lives for 10 months. They need to feel that from you. So don’t, you know, don’t don’t diminish or dismiss the importance of that, of that role. Does that, does that make sense, Sam? Is that,


Sam Demma (26:01):
Yeah. Three key words that keep coming to mind and throwout this entire conversation are visibility, accessibility, and relationships. Yeah. And I’m sure there’s many more, ah, some ideas and topics that will come out in your book for people who are interested in following along your journey. One, where can they find your blog and two, where can they reach out if they have some questions or like to stay up to date about the book?


Peter LeBlanc (26:25):
Okay. So I’ll talk about the reaching out first. So I, I always say I’m more or less physic, well, I was thinking at one point in time, I was probably more visible on social media or more, you know but as always happens, you’ve got innovators and people who push practice forward. So I’m, I’m there but less visible. I would encourage people to reach out as a matter of fact when the school systems in Ontario kind of, you know, shifted and made a, a very quick decision to go, you know, back online, I’d actually put an invitation out there to, to school leaders and said, look, you know, I’m sitting on the sidelines, I’m not connected to any school, or, you know, jumping into my DM on Twitter and message me. I’m happy to help out in any way I can. I’ve got 28 years of experience, 17 of them, you know, at the helm of the school.


Peter LeBlanc (27:11):
So, you know, I don’t work for your school board. So, you know, if you trust me, go ahead and ask those questions. So I’m happy to have people reach out in any capacity, as far as where to reach me from a social media perspective, I’m probably more active professionally on Twitter than anywhere else. My Twitter handle is just my last name. So @LeBlancPeter. So LeBlanc Peter I’m, I’m on Instagram as well. And I would say, you know, those are two sort of open channels. They’re, they’re public, Instagram is sort more a blend of personal and professional life. If you’re gonna feel bad sitting in minus 20 degree weather in Toronto, about me putting pictures up, you know, of Sydney Harbor in January, then don’t, don’t go to @PeterJLAN on Instagram. That’s not the place to go.


Peter LeBlanc (27:59):
And as far as my, my blog goes, my blog and, and, and website, it would just be www.peterjleblanc.com. Right now I’m three parts into sort of that reflection on my work being SED by the Canadian military, which like I said, was an absolutely incredible and unique work experience. There really are only two Ontario prince schools on the planet, you know, who do that job. And, and then I, you know, I, I did it like, I, I, I worked with, you know, staff and with the military community, you know, in the, at the start of, and, you know, all basically through 18 months, the global pandemic. So that presented its kind of leadership challenges. So, you know, I invite people along to, to come and read about that experience. I’m writing about that.


Peter LeBlanc (28:45):
And then the book, I mean the working title is, is visible educational leadership. And interesting. You talk about the idea of, you know, of accessibility and visibility. Because that, that really is the, the, the, the premise of the book itself, it’s it it’s being published by Codebreaker EDU, which is organiz that’s you know kind of run by Brian aspenall and Davene MCNA MC and you know, it has a, a wealth of and a, you know, a large group of, of kind of educational, you know, leaders and thinkers and, and, and, and people including, you know, chain PAB on the, on the staff and podcast and, you know, all just all kinds of all kinds of people all kinds of people to learn from that book should be published at some point in 2022.


Peter LeBlanc (29:35):
I have to finish writing it first. I but it will be, you know, it, it kind of be the focus of the who, what, where, when, why, and how you know, of, of visible leadership and, and not just the idea of being visible inside your school, but, you know, how do you support teaching staff inside a classroom? How are you there for students? How do you amplify a student’s voice, particularly students who need you as a principal to be the amplifier, you know, of, of, of their voice. How do you do that in your, your community? You know, how can you, you know, take on that truly visible leadership role. Cause I always say, you know, do you really want to be the opposite of a visible leader? Cuz the opposite of a visible leader is an invisible leader and that’s, I, it’s impossible to have that stance as a leader, you cannot lead and be invisible.


Peter LeBlanc (30:18):
That’s that’s impossible. So I just wanna make sure of that. So yeah, Twitter primarily and, and you know, my I mean my email address is on my website, so you can always go there, but if you wanted to jump into my email address by all means, go ahead. It’s principallearning@gmail.com note that, you know, right now my time zone is 16 hours ahead. So there’s pretty good luck likelihood that you know, I’ll be sleeping when you’re awake, but yeah, I’m, even if it’s just a question even just to say, Hey, you know, you know, I, I heard what you had to say, you know, with, with Sam and you know, I enjoy that. Or you know, even, even people questioning and pushing my own learning, I always open to that as well. When we, if, if yeah, we’re not pushing our own learning, then we’re not we learning.


Sam Demma (31:03):
I agree, Peter, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for making the time. I know you could be outside this morning sitting on a beach, but you chose to be here. I appreciate it. And well, I look forward to picking up a copy of your book when it comes out, by the time this episode gets released, your blog series should be done as well. So people will be able to check out the whole thing. So keep it up and stay in touch and we’ll talk to indeed.


Peter LeBlanc (31:30):
All right. So sign copy for you then Sam, when it’s done. All right.


Sam Demma (31:33):
Sounds good.


Peter LeBlanc (31:35):
Thanks.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter LeBlanc

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.

Nicola Whitehouse – Vice-Principal at St. Peter High School (OCSB)

Nicola Whitehouse (@MrsNWhitehouse), is Vice-Principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orleans. The first nine years of her teaching career were in London, UK and combined with her time spent in Canada she has over ten years experience as a school administrator. Nicola has worked in both private and public education systems here in Canada. She has worked as a vice-principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for the last four years.
About Nicola Whitehouse

Nicola Whitehouse (@MrsNWhitehouse), is Vice-Principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orleans. The first nine years of her teaching career were in London, UK and combined with her time spent in Canada she has over ten years experience as a school administrator. Nicola has worked in both private and public education systems here in Canada. She has worked as a vice-principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for the last four years.

Nicola is deeply passionate about championing student voices to lead change. She believes that demonstrating respect for students and their families by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas and genuinely considering their value is key. She is an advocate for student associations that provide opportunities for youth to find places of affinity as well as collaborate on solution-based approaches that are essential to providing mentally healthy and supportive education for all. Nicola is married with two children, aged 8 and 10.

Connect with Nicola: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

St. Peter High School (OCSB)

Ottawa Catholic 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):
Nicola welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Nicola Whitehouse (00:09):
Thanks Sam. I’m really happy to be with you today. Thanks so much for the invite. This is gonna be awesome. My name’s Nicola Whitehouse. I am currently a vice principal with the Ottawa Catholic school board. I am fourth year as a vice principal with St. Peter’s Catholic high school out in Orleans. I have been an educator for over 20 years now, which is pretty crazy. Nice to think about that. And about, yeah, I’m just hitting my 10th year of administration. It’s been a pretty awesome so far. I’m a mom and I have two kids who are 10 and eight. And my husband is also in education, so yeah, lots of, lots of chat about school. And being a teacher, being a principal in our house, for sure.


Sam Demma (00:57):
How did you get into education? Did you know from a young age, this is what you want, wanted to do? Tell us a little bit about the path.


Nicola Whitehouse (01:04):
Yeah. You know, it’s so it’s so funny because I saw that question, you know, and you gave me a heads up that we’re gonna chat about it. And it’s one of those things. I sometimes pause to think, how did this happen? And it, it has always been this way for me. Mm. My mother was in education. She finished out her career as the head of student services. My father was an engineer in math and science was like a big part of his life. I have three younger brothers and they kind of took that path and I just felt this natural affinity for education. I enjoyed school. I loved the community sense, the social aspect of, of what school offered me. I really liked leading and, and working with others. And so it just felt like a natural fit that that was gonna be, you know, where I was gonna go.


Nicola Whitehouse (01:54):
I think when I was young in high school, I was, I really gravitated towards the student leadership programs, the mentorship opportunities to work with younger kids to help them, you know, with their learning. And, and then off I went and I, I did my undergrad at Trent university and I was part of their concurrent education program, which saw my last year at Queens, which was amazing. And Queens was phenomenal in opening up opportunities for international teaching experiences. And, and then, you know, off, I went to the UK to a brand new school. It had been in existence for about a year. And, and then my career started there, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s just sometimes you just know, and I’ve never thought for a second that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do different things in education, but like that is always felt home to me and really natural. So yeah, I don’t have like a, you know, sometimes we finds like, oh, I was doing this and I was doing that. And then I ended up in education. My path has been like pretty straight on that being the, the, the, what, what is it? The, the path I’m meant to be on, essentially, I guess if that a better word.


Sam Demma (03:01):
And, and off you went to the UK. Yeah,


Nicola Whitehouse (03:05):
I know. Right.


Sam Demma (03:07):
That’s a big, that’s a big statement. Can you bring us back to that point in your journey and tell, share a little bit more about what inspired you to move there, what you did in the UK and how it influenced you.


Nicola Whitehouse (03:22):
Cool. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I go, that sounds so simplistic. Right. But I, you know, at 18 I had the amazing opportunity. The school boards in Ontario are pretty phenomenal. I think they run similar type opportunities now, but you were able to go and do a credit, you know, for your final years of high school in, in England was the opportunity. And so I went for the summer and I did a modern Western history course and lived in residence up near Regents park in London. And it was one of those memories that I had stick with me for a really long time. And it was almost always my goal to go back. I think we all maybe feel a connection to our heritage and our ancestry. And I come from an Irish British background and there was something that I wanted to go and connect with, you know, in my future.


Nicola Whitehouse (04:14):
So education offered the opportunity, you know, it was at a time in education where the teaching lists were full. You know, I graduated in 2003. I was ready to start teaching and people were looking for opportunities to kind of take their profession around the world. And so this new school came up and what was really cool too for me was that I wasn’t going to go through the supply to aging agencies. Right. So when you would go over to Europe as a young teacher in your first five years, trying to prove yourself and make connections, you were often picked up by these agencies. And it was day to day as, as, as it would be for supply teacher, but they get kind of complicated and it wasn’t necessarily secure. So there was this new school, it was in the east far east part of London, an area called Beckton.


Nicola Whitehouse (05:03):
So anybody who knows who’s listening, who knows London they run this train aboveground train called the DLR, and we were the final stop, you know, in the east part. And it was in an area that was going through some regrowth and redevelopment. And the school had had a lot of funding put behind it to create this really great opportunity for the kids in the area. And I, Sam, I turned up, I got off the flight. I’m an overp packer. I’m ridiculous. Like I had bags upon bags, pump bags. And my buddy that I was traveling with, looked at me and like, you, you’re not gonna be like, carry all that. Like, I don’t understand where you think this is going. Right. And so I was the safety concern. I had people on the tube, you know, the modern, the, the guys running the tube, kind of on the speaker saying, ma’am do you need somebody to help you?


Nicola Whitehouse (05:53):
Like, it was just like a full, like, depository of all my things, my life, I dragged it into a, a house where I roomed with four or five other educators. And it was, it was crazy Sam, like, it was such a, this is a fun part about when you’re in the beginning of your career and you’re just starting out and you have all these hopes and dreams for what you want it to be. And you’re looking to make these professional connections. And you’re looking to learn to start out with young people in the same situation was phenomenal, you know, and we were put in situations that trusted us, you know, gave us like great amounts of leadership, working with families, working with kids, working on projects that were building this school up from its beginnings to, to what it is a legacy to now, you know, of being a really great institution and you were doing it on the daily with young people who were your age in their, in their twenties.


Nicola Whitehouse (06:45):
And some were a bit older, you know, in their thirties and, and had been in the careers maybe 15, 20 years that you were getting mentorship from, but it created this really unique environment of experiences that I have carried with me, you know because you don’t know what you’re doing when you get in there right away. And you’ve, you’ve been interviewing a lot of educators and a lot of individuals that are in maybe formal education in a, in a high school or in elementary school in other ways doing education. But you don’t know when you start and that’s that you’re learning, you are a learner and that’s, what’s so key to being, I think good and, and high performing and successful as an educator is that when you take that stance as a learner, and you’re constantly seeking out the next opportunity in the next moment to grow, that’s where I think we see the greatest success as a teacher.


Nicola Whitehouse (07:34):
And so a big part of what was going on for me in the U and the experiences I was having there with, you know, limited kind of knowledge of how to do this properly. That’s I think how I became so great, cause I had to learn, I had to figure it out. I had to survive, right. And it was about survival and people listening again that were, are in their first five years of teaching. When you’re growing your resources, you’re growing your skills, behavior management, you’re learning how to develop yourself like pedagogically, but also on how you build relationships with families and with their kids. Those first five years are hard. And they’re some that are like, I’m out. I can’t, this is like too much emotionally it’s too much work long to all that kind of stuff. And then there’s others that really flourish and, and they become incredibly strong. You know, it’s those first five years, we always say, you have to make it through.


Sam Demma (08:28):
Did


Nicola Whitehouse (08:28):
You, I dunno if that’s like what you’re looking for there.


Sam Demma (08:30):
Yeah. That was a phenomenal response. Did you pick up any slang while you were in the UK?


Nicola Whitehouse (08:37):
Not words necessarily. I can use on this podcast right now, but yeah,


Sam Demma (08:42):
That’s awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (08:43):
But yeah, things like, you know, trash was rubbish or you know, the trunk was the boots. You were going going to the Offie, which was the off license you know, to start out your Friday nights, you know, they, there were lot loads of words and the VNA, I never developed the accent. I had some Canadian friends that picked up a LT and maybe I had a little bit of a LT to the way that I would finish off sentences speak in a certain way. But definitely the language when I would, when I moved back to, to Ottawa and was in conversation with friends or with new colleagues, they were like the what? And I’m like, oh yeah, right case. So just put it in the garbage, put it in the trash, you know, that, that was a big one. And so I still carry some of that with me. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:29):
So you picked up some slang. Did you also meet your husband on this trip? Or how did you get in contact? Yeah, yeah.


Nicola Whitehouse (09:36):
Right. Picked up the slave, picked up the husband and then moved myself back, you know, to Canada. Yeah, I did. I absolutely did. I met my husband who’s British teaching. He was part of this new school that was being built in shaped. He had finished his university at Middlesex in London. And we were friends like that was that’s another, like you had this network of young people that were dating that were friends that were support for each other. And so we knew each other for a big chunk of our career and it was about six or seven years into working together that, you know, we realized that it was more and that you know, we, it was a love interest and yeah, we, and we married and we had our son Oliver in in London.


Nicola Whitehouse (10:24):
So I just say his name because yes, it definitely has that Dickens connection and the whole kinda Oliver to thing. Yeah. For his birth, his birth space. Yeah. And we did a year as he was an associate head teacher and I was ahead of year. So we had administrative roles and it was hard cause we didn’t have family. Right. And so this balance that as educators, we try to keep with our family life and what we need to give to ourselves personally on a, on a wellness level, on a capacity level to what then what we give careers, which is very also personal and very emotional and very dedicated. We found it hard to not have a N or a grandpa, you know, around to help us with the load. So we moved back after our first year and started our careers here in Ottawa. Yeah.


Sam Demma (11:12):
That’s amazing. There’s a, there’s a song called Oliver twist and me and my good friend, not my good friend, my cousin, his name’s Daniel. Yeah. Every once in a while will play FIFA. I just love soccer. We’ll play video games. Yeah. And in the loading screen of the game, there’s soft music in the background and I heard this like British rap and was so intrigued by it that I Shaza it. And it was from the UK and some song called Oliver twist. And it was so awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (11:41):
Hilarious. It just


Sam Demma (11:42):
Reminded you when you, when you said that, but


Nicola Whitehouse (11:44):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The connection he’s, he’s the London boy. That’s right. And there’s many references that that’s pretty cool to hear that it got picked up as the name of the track as well. That’s


Sam Demma (11:54):
Oh, cool. And, and you had one rule for your husband when he came to Canada, what was it?


Nicola Whitehouse (11:59):
He had to learn to ski.


Sam Demma (12:03):
That’s awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (12:04):
He had to learn to ski. Yeah, exactly. I said, listen, you know, they, and I was able to do that out there in Europe as well. I got to go and check out the Alps and do Italy and do France. And it was, it was super fun. So he knew that about me. I was snowboarding at that time. I, you know, when I snowboarding, since I was 16, but when you have kids, you gotta get back on the skis to teach them. And I said, I can’t do this alone. You gotta, you gotta be part of this. So he did like a trooper that you and he put himself on skis taught himself because be the supportive wife that I was, I was like, yeah, you just go figure that out over there. We’re gonna go and do some, you know, diamonds, but you go over to that bunny hill and he did. And he is amazing. He’s six, six too. So call guy and it’s, that’s no feat right. To figure out the ski, but that’s a fun comedian family thing to do. It’s a good destressor. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:52):
You mentioned one of, of the traits of a fulfilled, successful high performing educator is this endless curiosity. I would argue forcing yourself to learn a new skill. You know, not that forties is old, but at any age, you know, forcing yourself to learn a new skill, is, is that trait, in example have you remain curious or how have you fed your own curiosity throughout your journey of education?


Nicola Whitehouse (13:20):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, yeah. You know, it’s, how have I fed my curiosity? I think just to, just to recognize that in that stance as learner and constantly seeking out that new information means that you’ve always got the understanding of what does it mean to learn something new. Mm. You know, and it helps you appreciate what you, who, what the individuals you’re trying to support might be going through. Mm. You know, as you try to design learning for them to be successful, you can reflect on what it is that, you know, you need to do, whether it’s, you know, an audio visual piece, whether it is the amount of practice that you need to have to master fill, you’re always keeping that in mind, in order to support the communities that you serve. You know, for me, Sam, it’s interesting, a big curiosity that I’ve had is how are we making education equitable?


Nicola Whitehouse (14:11):
You know? And it was something that I, you have had to spend a lot of time reading and unlearning to be fair, a lot of what I believe to be true and what I thought to be the right way of doing something to really understand how it was DISA, managing, and short changing the people. I was so dedicated to get it right with. So my curiosity is being fed right now by a lot by large communities that are really investing in having this dialogue about, you know, are we getting this right? You know, and who is holding the power and who is benefiting from the systems that we’re saying are the ways that you need to participate in so that you could be successful. And so, and my curiosity is said, because I’m constantly needing new people with new perspectives and we’re challenging, you know, me to make sure that I am being the best as a principal, as an educator, as a mom, who’s raising children, you know, in this world today to ensure that, you know, that curiosity that you’re talking about is actually making a difference. I’m kind of taking this somewhere else right now, Sam, but like, oh, that’s good. You know, that curiosity is good. And it, and it Def taking that stance of a learner, but what are you gonna do with that to, to make a difference to make that change you know, to help others, I think is, is a huge part of that question that you’re asking.


Sam Demma (15:35):
Yeah. It sounds like what you’re explaining is how curiosity is the first step, but then taking action based on the new knowledge you pick up is even more important than just being curious. Do you have any resources that you have read or do these communities, you mentioned that you have pulled from, that you think other educators should know about maybe a book or an article or a group that you followed or learned from that someone else should also check out if they wanna be a little more curious about the equity space right now?


Nicola Whitehouse (16:06):
Yeah. oh my gosh, I have so many, and I thought about that. I started writing things down and I just, you know, one of the kind of fundamental drop-ins for me, you know, as an educator was really the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad. Mm. And, you know, she, if, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she’s written this book and she’s written many books and she’s just phenomenal. She’s one of these, I’m gonna say educators that is constantly planning and constantly designing and sharing with everyone so that they can see how to do it. And I find her work in cultivating genius is it was my starting point to be honest, looking at an equity framework that was going to allow each personalized student, each individual student that was in our care to be able to be seen and to be understood for who they were.


Nicola Whitehouse (16:58):
And I, and I love that when she talks about culturally, who they are, historically, who they are and how do we respond to them in a way that really maximizes the person that you’re serving, not what you’re trying to shape them to be when it comes to the system that we’re working in, but how are you manipulating the system? How are you dismantling even breaking apart the system so that these kids, these students are really coming through as the individuals that they are. And so her work really opened my eyes to assessment and evaluation. You know, what, what grading, you know, what do we need to look at when we’re applying those grades to individuals and the definition of their success? And then it, you know, it introduced me into a community of educators in the us. She’s, she’s an American you know, who is really doing a lot of prolific work in the communities over there, but it, having it come over here into Canada, it’s really created a tidal wave of what we’re trying to look at in education, in regards to the personalization of making sure that what we’re doing for kids, you know, is really seeing them for who they are and meeting them where they’re to make them the best that they can be.


Nicola Whitehouse (18:11):
So I, I will name that one text as being something that’s always been on my mind, connecting me to other pieces. And then, you know, through the pandemic, Sam, what was so amazing was the amount of virtual learning that was going on and conferences and spaces that you could jump into and vibe with people and, and discuss, and plan and commit to action without leaving the comfort of your couch. Yeah. You know, and that was, you know, for some people frustrating, they were missing like their trips off to the, the hotels and all that conference experience. But for me, it was as a mom and, and all the things that you had to manage in the pandemic and knowing I had this learning and curiosity that needed to, we said I had immediate access to so much that was you know, so helpful and Twitter with all of its downfalls, you know, and you have to be careful. Yeah. Because it does have an emotional toll and you have to really check with yourself about what are you reading and, and the reality of it, it for educators, there’s an incredible C global that I have really thrived on in the last two years, which has been really powerful. Yeah.


Sam Demma (19:15):
Awesome. Thanks for sharing those resources. You, yeah. You took us to the UK and then you brought us back. What happened when you got back? You, you handed your son over to N and what did the rest of the career journey look like to bring you to where you are now?


Nicola Whitehouse (19:33):
Yeah, so that’s, that’s interesting. It was really humbling, right? Because to come back to Canada again, hitting a time where we were not at, at a shortage of educators to transfer my experience that I had had in the UK as an administrator back year to the Canadian system, to the Ontario system was a tough journey. You know, it, it was, we are in a system right now where it’s changing. I have to say the last five years, we’ve seen a real shift of honoring the international experience of educators and finding them places equal. It’s not just education too. It’s it’s medicine. It would be it’s any type of system that has a lot of competition in it. So what ended up happen to me is I went back to supply teaching day to day, you know, and I made my application to the auto Catholic school board.


Nicola Whitehouse (20:24):
My husband had been able to make a connection with a private school here that was looking for new leadership. And so he, he got a position as an assistant head teacher there, which was phenomenal. It was a deputy head teacher at the time. And so he had some connections to private schools in the city. And so I started supply teaching day to day, and I was frustrated. I was at the time because you have pride as to how long it took you to work in your career to get to certain stages. And you wanna, you wanna keep going, you wanna keep moving forward. But, and then to come back into supply teaching, though, it was awesome. It was awesome because it was really fun to move out of you know, a high level experience of kind of what I was doing on a system level of management.


Nicola Whitehouse (21:10):
Just get back in there with the kids and, and to be in about four or five different communities every other week was really cool. So I met a lot of teachers that were doing the same thing. I met a lot of teachers in the building and I did that for about two years and then ended up with a permanent position at a private school. And so was there for about a year and a half, two years. My timing is kind of off now from the pandemic. So forgive me on that. And then I went and got myself qualified to become an administrator. I did the principal’s qualification course here in Ontario. Nice. and applied with the Catholic school board. And I was known to them through the work I’d been doing already. And I was successful.


Nicola Whitehouse (21:53):
And so, yeah, my first placement as principal with the board was here at St. Peter’s, which has been amazing. So it took some time and it worked out, you know, as a mom, who’s raising two young kids. I, you know, I had my daughter while I was supply teaching. That also was a good and work life balance. And, you know, Hey, I had, I been given the job that I was looking for straight out of moving from the UK. I don’t know, maybe my daughter wouldn’t have come along so soon. So, you know, there’s blessings in the way that life kind of works out for you. And you have to reflect on that and know that there’s a, there’s a path. There’s a reason why things are happening there.


Sam Demma (22:27):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I, and you’re one of the first people that have moved to the UK and taught there that I’ve had on the podcast. So I appreciate you sharing the entire journey on the show. I think it may even inspire some other young educators or anyone actually to explore teaching in other areas as it means to see more of the world. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of traveling, not only in the UK which is awesome. Yeah. Thinking about, oh, go.


Nicola Whitehouse (22:54):
Ahead. You know what, so just to add to that, right? Because I think that we can get ourselves into a system or a a journey that seems guaranteed, right? There’s a lot of young people that wanna be employed, right. And they wanna make sure that they have that next step locked down. And I think I encourage young educators to take a risk and take a jump, as you’re saying, go and see another part of the world and experience that and gather everything you can from that, whether it’s only for a year, six months, and that’s all you do and bring that back to where you wanna be permanently. I find that I am interviewing now looking for diversity in experience. Yeah. You know, and if I can find a candidate that knows how distant different systems work, not just the one they grew up in that is phenomenal, you know, and obviously again, working in public education, there are ways that we have to go about with our hiring and employment.


Nicola Whitehouse (23:44):
But when I have the capacity to select somebody that may have had that international experience, that is a big win. And, and so forget about the hiring piece, but, but personally, you know, if you truly believe that your career as an educator is a calling and you are passionate about that, you wanna go and collect as many of those experiences possible. So I really, when I, when I’m working with young educators who are still in the program for teaching, and they’re considering, you know, where am I gonna go to apply for gods? I’m always pushing that option. I’m always saying, go and see what’s the offered internationally. Even if it’s just across the board of the us and check out how these differences work. I think it’s super important. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:23):
You mentioned I, that’s an awesome point. I think back to when I was 13 and moved to Italy for six months, not to teach, but just to pursue my dreams and living in a different country was such an eye opening eye opening experience. And at that age, I couldn’t even leave the college by myself. I was so young and my mom was FaceTiming me every night. So I definitely didn’t even get the full survival experience. Didn’t have four or five bags on the train and people yelling at me for my safety.


Sam Demma (24:55):
It was, it was such an eye opening experience just to see a different culture and how life was lived in a, in a different place on the world. Thinking about, you know, you said earlier that one part of education is building relationships, thinking about building relationships with students and also staff. How do you think that happens? Like how do you build a relationship with a student to the point where they trust you and, you know, they, they are excited to be in your class or be your student.


Nicola Whitehouse (25:30):
I, yeah, I think it is really about, and it’s an interesting balance that you have to say, you have to navigate because it is about vulnerability and it is about being open to who is in front of you. Right? So we think about working with young people, you know, being vulnerable, but at the same time, obviously still create keeping your professional boundaries and, and keeping your understanding that you are the adult there of the child, that kind of thing. But you can make yourself vulnerable in the sense of saying, I don’t have the answers and what I’m hearing from you, and what I’m seeing you bring to the table is definitely part of the learning that I would like to as your teacher. It is, I definitely see the capacity for you to be in control of what we’re doing here. And you know, when you’re building relationships, you wanna feel like you have a partner in that relationship. So when you’re, when you’re trying to get to know young people, you’ve got a champion where they’re at, what they know as being true and powerful.


Nicola Whitehouse (26:33):
And you have to give voice and space to that. And I think when young people feel seen and heard, you know, and, and feel empowered by the fact that you’re gonna say to them, you know, in grade 10 that they absolutely can take the lead and we’re gonna hear what they have to say and then make decisions from that. That’s a huge relationship builder, you know, and consistency is a big part of that too, right? When we are exhausted, when we’re overwhelmed, being consistent in your approach with young people, so that they can rely on you for that, that is a huge relationship builder as well, you know, and it, and it’s the same with staff as well is to also see and hear them. You have priorities as a leader or anybody when you’re working, even just as colleagues as to what you wanna achieve, but you’re only going to achieve that as well as you can hear and see the others that you need to work with, you know, and they have to feel that investment in, in whatever the project is or whatever it, the problem that needs to be solved might be.


Nicola Whitehouse (27:28):
And I think what’s so cool about education. Is there a strong bond, like family level bonds between teachers that grow up together? Like I said, in those first five years, and they stay connected in their careers or go through some really like intense kind of projects or things together, and really achieve something big or go through a really tough time, you know, as human beings, you know you are bonded and it’s, and it’s, again, through that vulnerability and through that openness to accept that I need you to be successful. And, and so that I can be successful. And you, you teamwork on that. I think that that’s a huge part of making successful connections and relationships and, and it’s all empowerment, right. When we all feel empowered to make that difference, that you’ve talked a lot about, right. In your journey, that’s where you see, I think true positive relationships and difference making, you know, happening. That makes sense. Yeah.


Sam Demma (28:24):
Yeah. A hundred percent. I think behind every success story is carrying human beings. There’s so many people that, you know, play into all of our paths there’s and sometimes it’s like, it’s a miracle, like God put this person in my path. Like how, how did it happen that we crossed at this exact moment? There’s such a small chance. So yeah, there’s, it’s so true that people play such a massive role behind any difference making if you could walk into the first class you ever taught, or the first couple years of education yeah. With all the advice and knowledge you have now, and top your younger self on the shoulder and say is what you needed to hear. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Nicola Whitehouse (29:12):
I, yeah, this is not personal. Yep. These these kids are carrying a lot and they are some of them in crisis. And what you experienced in that first 50 minutes, which had you close your door and burst into tears from the shock of it. And that was truly my first day on the job to now know, you know, how young people function, you know, in, in a classroom to, to be patient with them and to always keep. And I was, I was doing that, I think at the time, but I don’t think I realized it. Listen, listen, listen, listen, and don’t give up and continue to look at the problem in different ways. And, and consider, there are gonna be many ways to kind of solve and support these kids. But I think the biggest thing Sam was we as educators wanna get it.


Nicola Whitehouse (30:08):
Right, right. We are, we are often in these careers as people pleasers as ones that wanna be known to be handling things and when we’re we can lead. And so we take it personally when it of fails. Right. And I would look back now and say there were a lot of failures, there were a lot of mistakes. There were things said that you look back and go, Ooh. Yeah, that was not the right thing. But, but give yourself grace on that. And as long as you were still committed to learning from that mistake and making the changes and not getting stuck in saying, no, I’m standing on this, like I’m gonna stick with it. This is how it has to be. But being open to that flexibility and vulnerability I think that that is a, a big thing that you need when you’re first starting out. And, you know, that’s what I would be going back to remind myself of, I think, in those early days, yeah.


Sam Demma (30:59):
That’s such a, and


Nicola Whitehouse (31:00):
Get some more sleep guess some more sleep, stop staying up till two in the morning, planning these lessons. They don’t need you to work that hard. You just go in there and listen to them. They don’t already tell you what they need from you. You don’t need to be up till two. O’clock trying to get this unit ready for that. That’s what I’d say.


Sam Demma (31:16):
If I made 15 second promo videos for each of these podcasts, that would be the promo for this one. Yeah.


Nicola Whitehouse (31:24):
Pretty much, pretty much. Oh gosh.


Sam Demma (31:27):
Thank you for doing this. This has been such a fun and enjoyable and reflective conversation. If someone is tuning in, wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Nicola Whitehouse (31:41):
I think on, yeah, Twitter, I’m pretty active. I did I take a little bit of a break, I think probably through the holidays, but yeah, I’m @MrsNWhitehouse on Twitter. And you can always reach out to me at my school board email as well, which is nicola.whitehouse@ocsb.ca. And I love meeting new people and I love making connections, super passionate about student voice and the unique and different ways that we’re making sure that’s centered in our school communities. So if there are people listening today that would love to collaborate internationally or even down in Toronto I would love to make those connections. That would be great.


Sam Demma (32:19):
Awesome. Thanks again, Cola for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Nicola Whitehouse (32:24):
Thanks, Sam. It’s awesome.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicola Whitehouse

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.

Glenn Gifford – Principal at Saint Michael Catholic High School

Glenn Gifford - Principal at Saint Michael Catholic High School
About Glenn Gifford

Glenn Gifford has worked for the Niagara Catholic District School Board for over 28 years. Currently, he is the Principal of Saint Michael Catholic High School in Niagara Falls Ontario. Mr. Gifford began his career as a Long Term occasional teacher before settling in at Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Colborne.

While at Lakeshore Catholic Mr. Gifford taught English, History and World Religions. He was also the head football coach of their Junior Football team for 14 years. Eventually, Administration called to him and he decided to finish the second half of his career as a high school administrator.

He has had stops as a Vice Principal or Principal at Denis Morris Catholic High School, Lakeshore Catholic High School and Saint Michael Catholic High School. With enthusiasm Mr. Gifford wants you to be “ALL IN” for both your staff and students!!

Connect with Glenn: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mike Loudfoot – Retired High School Teacher

Saint Michael Catholic High School

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

Glenn Gifford (00:10):
Okay. first off, thanks for having me, Sam. My name’s Glenn Gifford. I am the principal of St. Michael Catholic high school, in Niagara falls, Ontario. And yeah, thrilled to be here. Thanks for asking me. And I’ve been an educator now. It’s my 29th year. So one more year left after this and yeah, things have been going well. It’s different, but good. Yeah. So that’s for sure.

Sam Demma (00:35):
How did you figure out at a young age that you wanted to get into education? Did you know this since you were a kid or how did you stumble into this career?

Glenn Gifford (00:46):
Yeah, I stumbled. That’s a good word. Yeah, no, I didn’t. I mean, I had a good educational experience growing up. My dad was a teacher but when I went to university had had a good time at university and my grades were okay decent, but I, I thought it was gonna be a police officer and was, was ready to apply to the Ontario provincial police and figured that was the way I was gonna go. And I had a, a lab that I was asked to jump in and teach. I was a fourth year student and asked to help out for some first year students. And I went in and taught the lab. I think it was three weeks. I had to teach this lab and I had about well, my class kept growing in size, my lab.

Glenn Gifford (01:37):
And, and so the professor who came to me, remember his name is Dr. Rod priest. He came to me and said what are you doing after graduation? He said, I think I’m gonna be a cop. And he goes that would be a terrible mistake. And that was in fourth year university. And he said, have you given any thought to teaching? I was like, I, I hadn’t really but I liked it. It was fun in the three weeks limited time that I was doing it. And and so I applied to, to teachers college and and, and, and got in, and I hadn’t heard back from the police force. So I was like, I’ll do this. And nice. And the funny part is, is when I started teaching in Niagara cap, like I still remember the day I opened in my first check and I, I looked down at the bottom right hand corner.

Glenn Gifford (02:29):
And even then it wasn’t, it wasn’t a ton, but I mean, I was a student, so I looked at the bottom right hand corner and I thought somebody made a mistake because I had so much fun. I was like, they’re paying me this to do this. Like, this is, this is great. And I literally didn’t spend any of that money, Sam for, oh, probably about four months, because I thought like the, you know, somebody was gonna show up and say it would’ve made a terrible error who overpaid you. And I was waiting for like the Niagara police to come. And so I finally called the board and I said to them like yeah, this is Glen calling. I was at the time I was at Notre Dame Wellon and I said, and I just wanted to ask a question about my check and they’re like, yeah, sorry, Mr.

Glenn Gifford (03:08):
Gifford, we didn’t. And I’m like, oh, here comes like we didn’t we didn’t give you all your credit for your supply dates. We’re sorry. We’ll send you a retro check. And I was, oh my God. Then I realized, I was like, this is great. And that was truly what so thanks to my to my university professor for planning a seed that really got me to education. Then I realized, oh my God, I love doing this. And, and I’m, I’m paid at the time, you know? Yeah. I’m going from a starving student. I was like, oh my God, I get paid this to do this job. And to me, it, it just, it’s never seemed like work since then. So it’s always been just a, just a thrill to do it. And yeah, it, so the, I guess the, the thing to grab from that is you never know where, where it’s gonna come from, you know, somebody planning a seed that’s gonna grow into. So thing that, I mean, look, 15 years teaching and then five years as a vice principal and 10 years as a principal. And yeah. All from a, just a random comment from a, a university professor. So it was, I didn’t wanna start out as a teacher, but no regrets.

Sam Demma (04:16):
And tell us, tell me about what that journey looks looked like of, through the different roles and schools that you’d worked that you’ve worked at.

Glenn Gifford (04:25)
Yeah. When I first started, I was working at a, a program called the ACE program. And so it was really it wasn’t really, it was teaching, but it was with students who were struggling academically struggling with the whole concept of school. So what we did was we had ’em in class for a couple of weeks, and then we would have them at a co-op placement for a couple of weeks. And again, it was a lot of times for students, it wasn’t special education, but it was specialized education. And it was for kids who were struggling. And I think I had the personality where I could, I could kind of reach those kids and try to keep those kids in engaged in getting credits and maybe hopefully finding some type of career that they were interested in. A lot of them had had a lot of difficulty.

Glenn Gifford (05:11):
So that is a great way to start your career with regards to classroom management, with regards to all the, all the different things that come up in a, in a teacher’s career to start there with some pretty difficult kids. And I did that for about a year and a half and that worked out well. I think that laid a good foundation. Then I did some long term teaching for about a year. And then then, then received my full-time contract, where I was a teacher and, and football coach at lake shore Catholic high school in port Colburn. Nice. For, for teen years. And then and then again, just like I, I said with my professor, I had a, a principal who tapped me and a couple other colleagues on the shoulder and said, have you ever thought about administration and much, like when someone said, have you ever thought about teaching?

Glenn Gifford (05:56):
I was like, no, I haven’t thought about administration at all 14 years in in, and he said you should you’re you’re, I think you’ve got the I think you have what it takes you, you, I think people would follow you and I think you could lead. And really, again, just all the, all the planting that needed to happen there. And I looked at my friend and, and I said Brad, do you wanna do this? And he said, yeah, let’s go. And within six months we had all of our, our credits and our additional qualifications and, and and went from there then placed principal for five years, and then morphed back into a principal at league shore Catholic after five years of being a vice principal. So yeah, I’ve kind of, I’m pleased with it. I’m pleased that I spent enough time in the classroom that I wasn’t one of these people who just decided to when they enter teaching have decided that they’re going to be the superintendent of education and really don’t earn their stripes.

Glenn Gifford (06:59):
I guess, if you will, as teachers, I, I would like to think that after my 30 year career that most will remember me as a, as a teacher first and foremost, and then administration was Hey, you get to have your whole school as your classroom which is another, and they’re different jobs. Let’s face it, there completely different jobs. Like you would not believe so, you know, teachers that, you know, that’s rewarding and, and fantastic, and very difficult right now with COVID. But an administration is just wow. I just remember my time as a vice principal. I just, those people, those men and women they’re warriors. Yeah. It is so difficult. And then principal is a whole different ball game, as far as difficulty goes. And so many things come across your, your plate. You wouldn’t even believe things. I didn’t even realize when I was a teacher that were going on in a school, oh my God, that’s happening like it in 14 years, I had no idea this was going on. But as a principal, you see it all so different jobs, a hundred percent but no less rewarding.

Sam Demma (08:04):
I had another, another guest tell me the best principles are those that love teaching and didn’t want to leave their teaching job. And the, you know, if they were asked to teach tomorrow would do it gladly. And the best superintendents are the principles that never will wanted to leave being a principal and would become a principal again tomorrow if fast. And that mindset and mentality really reminded me of what you were just saying. Like, you really gotta love the work you’re doing.

Glenn Gifford (08:34):
A hundred percent. In fact, even now, like we’ll have teachers that are absent and I’ll look back, but my teachables English and social science and some world religions. And, and I’ll be like, oh, what classes, you know do we didn’t get a supply teacher? And they’ll be like, no, what class is it? Oh, it’s Mr. So-And-So an English teacher. Of course, I know what he teaches. And I would be like, well, I’ll do it. And I, and I, I just run in and do it. And because it was fun and I, I loved it and enjoyed it. And it gets the students to see you in a, in a different light, really, you know, some something in class as opposed to well, I, I see kids every day and I probably come up in one of these questions, but like, my things as principal is, I mean, you’ve gotta be invested into what you’re doing.

Glenn Gifford (09:21):
And I always use the analogy with my staff. I was like I look at a bacon and eggs breakfast. Let’s just look at it that way, the chicken participates, because the chicken donates the egg, but the pig, well, the pigs committed, right. Because the pig gives us life for the, for the meal. Right. So I ask my staff, I’m like, I need you all to be pigs for these kids. I need you to give it all. Yeah. And, and, and give me everything we’ve got all in t-shirts that, you know, the staff wear when I, when I first got to St. Michael’s and so I want, I want the level of commitment to kid. So one of the things I do is it sounds so silly, but I do cafeteria do all the time. And a lot of times places you know, teachers do that, or other people do that.

Glenn Gifford (10:08):
I do it, my vice principals do it because I want to get to know, I, I hand out we have a school of over a thousand students. I hand out about 250 to two or 80 diplomas every year, not since COVID, but even, even with COVID, I wanna know every single one of those kids. And I wanna make the effort to get to know those kids by first name, which is hard right now, because they’re wearing masks. But so it is difficult now, but I go back to pre COVID. And my, my goal is to be committed enough to, I’m not gonna be at a school for four years, and there’s gonna be a student that’s walking across my stage. And I have no idea who this person is. Mm. You’re not committed if you’re not doing that. So, and, and there’s a variety of ways that you can do that.

Glenn Gifford (10:49):
I just my personality was such, that is such that I can just get out there and just walk up to a table full of kids and start talking to ’em and chirping ’em and, you know, shooting the breeze with them and having fun and asking ’em questions about, you know, dad texting and all these other things and making fun of their phones or lunches or whatever. And you just get to talk to ’em and then they, they get to know you in a, in a, in a different type of relationship. And and that that’s worth its waiting gold when you’re, when you’re trying to establish an effective school culture that, that has made all the difference. So

Sam Demma (11:21):
How do you build deep relationships with students in the school building? Obviously communication is one of the major ways. And thinking back to your time in the classroom maybe you can pull from some of your beliefs on relationship building. Like how do you think you established that, those relationships with students?

Glenn Gifford (11:39):
Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there, Sam. I, I think a lot of administrators spend too much time. And again, again, not like I have the blueprint here, but yeah, like there’s so much that happens in a day that you can get focused on. You know, and, and maybe this isn’t the greatest thing to say, but, you know you can get focused on curriculum or you can get focused on the OSSLT or EQ AO, or you can get focused on programs. And I just remember this people don’t remember what you say people remember how you made them feel. Mm. And so for me, getting to know kids and meeting them where they are, and maybe that’s where they are at the time is getting to my student council to engage kids on social media to do fun things at school.

Glenn Gifford (12:27):
It sounds so simple, but if school is fun and you do that, engage kids, the rest takes care of itself. And I know people sit there and say, what about the curriculum? The curriculum takes care of itself. Kids will learn, listen, right now, we’re, we’re facing the challenges we’re facing with COVID and learning gaps and all that other stuff is incredible. But if kids have fun and they like coming to school and they respect their teachers and their teachers treat them well, treat them with respect and actually care about their wellbeing so that they feel it, the rest is easy. And so I’ve, I’ve empowered my student council to go and don’t sit on the bench, get up and take a swing. Let’s try this. Let’s try, let’s engage here. We had a program not a program. We came up with something called super locker at my previous school, which was in another one of my colleagues Andrew Boone brought that to Notre Dame and holy cross.

Glenn Gifford (13:29):
And, and I had it at lake shore Catholic, and now it’s St Michael’s and you know, the student of the month that it gets this giant locker, it’s all decorated in doc. And, you know, we just, and we just, our, our social media pages are, are fun and interactive. And and it, it, it, it just is something where you’re trying to create a culture of things like color wars and a lot of different things that you can do to engage students, even during COVID like you, we were doing just silly things. You know, just to keep, try to keep school fun because let’s face it for the last two years. It hasn’t been, it’s been awful. And so to try to do things at distance, to try to keep things fun when, when you have a culture that’s working in a building and you can come up with some creative ideas to do that, all the other stuff. And I’m even talking about student achievement, all of those things will fall in mind.

Sam Demma (14:21):
Mm. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to my own high school experience. And when I was excited to show up to class, I actively participated when I was excited to show up to fourth period world issues with Mr. Loud foot. This is one educator who totally changed my life. I would take notes on everything this guy said, not because we had to, but because I was so I was so invested and engaged in the class because he was invested and engaged in all of us individually and as a, a whole class. He

Glenn Gifford (14:53):
Got, and there’s that where you use Sam, right? You just use that word invested that came through loud and clear with that teacher that you had. And look what you’re doing now. Like you’re running podcasts for educational leadership. Like, I mean, so it clearly had a huge impact. So that’s one I told, you know, my staff and I say my staff, but the staff, cuz they’re not mine. Just like kids, you, you rent ’em, you don’t own ’em right. So the is just be invested and that needs to come across. And all the studies show for all of my left brain, people who want to quote studies and statistics, you know, that all the studies show that it it’s the people that are truly invested and truly care about people with. And I’m talking all people in your building, I’m talking about your teachers, your, your, your students, most importantly your, your cleaners, your caretakers, your EA, your, your cafeteria people when they know, and they all feel that they belong and that they’re going to be listened to.

Glenn Gifford (15:47):
And that the people that are around them care about them. The rest is easy. The literally the rest will take care of itself. So that’s, that’s my main focus as, as an educational leader right now is to, is to, is to try to make people not again, I don’t know if I can motivate anyone, but hopefully inspire people to motivate themselves. Yeah. To be invested as best they can. Everybody’s not a cheerleader. I am. That’s I know that’s, that’s my role at this school. I’m, I’m kind of like at my school is, is I’m the cheerleader, I’m this. And I have some vice principals who are fantastic at logistics, which is great because I’m not. And I have the prudent humility to understand that that’s not my, you know, wheelhouse, but we have some people that can help out. So together at all, pretty smooth, but big ideas and trying great things and, and, and engaging people and kids that that’s.

Glenn Gifford (16:40):
So there’s probably administrators out there. Like, that’s not me. I can’t do that. I’m not on social media. No, but, but somebody is, you know, like I, I always use this one, you know, that the only time I’m the smartest person in the room, Sam is when I’m by myself. Yeah. Otherwise you gotta lean on your people and their skillsets. And there are some people who are like, you know, mathematics, isn’t fun. And I can, yeah. But just, if the kids know you’re invested and you care about them and their wellbeing, the math just teach ’em the math and they’ll, they’ll understand and they’ll get it. So, but they just have to know that from you. We don’t have the little kids, we don’t sit there and criticize kids, you know, and I’m not saying kid gloves, but I’m just saying, let them know you care.

Glenn Gifford (17:21):
And, and the rest will take care of it and then rely on your people that you have around you. Because again, everybody has gifts and talents that I guess the question is, are you, are you using now, are you using people to the, the, the, the peak of their talent? And are you getting the most out of them? And you have to figure out what, like I said, I have some vice principals who are so technically savvy. It’s incredible. I’ll come up with an idea to say, Hey, can we live Simon cast the announcements during COVID so that we can do, you know, hi, it’s Mr. Gifford here. And, and can we set up a link and do this and share this on the Google meet and blah, blah, blah. And they’re just ideas. Yeah. But I can’t do it, Sam. I can’t do it. But, you know, I have VPs who can I have, you know, teachers and tech teachers who are like, yeah, well, you have to do this. And then I lose them because they’re speaking some different language, some technic I don’t understand, but I’ll show up like this and click on a link and, and, you know, and go to town. So, you know, I think people need to really access the resources they have in front of ’em that way.

Sam Demma (18:22):
Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I started thinking about my experience as a soccer player, the first five or six years, my coach put me in centerback. And towards the end of my career, I, he moved me to center mid and it was like a totally different change. And it felt like I was supposed to be in that position for my whole life. But I was always placed in center back.

Glenn Gifford (18:43):
And I think, were you reluctant to go there? Like when he first moved you, were you like.

Sam Demma (18:47):
Yeah, slightly, slightly, because it was, so it was so fresh and new. But afterwards I realized that the skillset that I had and the way the ball passing and certain skills that I had were very suitable for a center, mid position. And I actually ended up loving it even more than I did center back.

Glenn Gifford (19:04):
You know what, that’s, that’s a perfect example. And I, here’s the example. I can give you an education teachers. A lot of times, administrators they get into this, well, that’s my class like I’m the grade 12 law teacher here, or I teach grade 12 university level biology, and this is my class. And I had a lovely teacher one time when I was a program chair who was teaching grade 12 and and, and doing a fine job, no question about it, but I just saw her skillset. And I just, the next year I, I moved her into grade nine courses and I cannot get over. I cannot tell you Sam, how upset she was at me for moving her out of her courses. And I’m like, wow, technically they’re not your courses, but let me tell you why I put you in this course, because I think your skillset is going to be ideal for this and kicking and screaming to the point where, you know, I’m not talking to him.

Glenn Gifford (20:04):
And at the end of the first semester, she came and thanked me because it was the most rewarding change that she had ever had in her career. So, but it’s not just teachers. Most people are very apprehensive to change. Yeah. And because they’re used to things we’re built for comfort, we, nobody likes to take a step outside their comfort zone and, and try something new. Like the I will, or I’ll just, you know, when you’re working on something, anything that requires that kind of discipline we’re, we’re not built, honestly, we’re not built for that. And, and teachers are, and administrators have it. We’re creatures of habit. We do things out of habit. And then when something disrupts that, you know, it’s hard. So when they ask you, when you were asked to do something at first, you know, I didn’t like that.

Glenn Gifford (20:48):
But you say it turned out to be, you know, a great thing. Some of the greatest things you’ve ever accomplished, weren’t easy. Right? And when you look, when you get to my age, you’re gonna be like anything worth anything that you’ve ever accomplished in your life required, some suffering and some discipline and, and, you know, not the easy, you know, unless you won the lottery or something, you know, most of the things you had to work for. And, and so I think that’s, that’s a great example and getting people outta their comfort zone and and, and, and pushing ’em to greater things is, is good. Hopefully you can convince them that it’s, it’s a good idea, especially when you’re, when you’re talking to teachers who may or may not, I’ve been teaching you know, the same course for 14 years. Yeah. And, you know, that becomes hard, but most of the time I I’ve had a lot of success with, with anything like that, that, that people at least are, are ready to move forward.

Sam Demma (21:41):
Education is like gardening, you plant seeds, like you mentioned earlier, your professor planted in, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to see them blossom. Sometimes they don’t pop out of the ground 15 years down the road. And they, you know, sometimes come back and they’ll tell you, you know, how big of a difference or an impact you made. What are, you know, one or two of the stories that come to mind when you think about seeds that have been planted in your school community, maybe by teachers, by yourself that you’ve been lucky enough to see blossom. And if it’s a, a serious story, you can change the, the student’s names, but do any, any stories come to mind?

Glenn Gifford (22:22):
Well, I always look at it as, as something like that as individual students. Right. I, I like, like you said, the flower rarely seeds the seed. So there are times when, you know, and this is, I really wish that kids when I call ’em kids, but young adults now, when, if they have a run back into their teachers, you know, have those conversations, cuz it’s so important. You mentioned the one teacher year that you had Mr. Long, long fellow.

Sam Demma (22:51):
Mr. Loudfoot

Glenn Gifford (22:53):
Loudfoot. Okay. Loud foot. Nice. Even perfect. What a great, what a great handle, what a great handle, but Mr. Loud foot, like what an impact he had on you and, and, and every, every student can remember. Some of those, I I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve had a few a few students that, you know, have, have been, have come back and, and, and said things to me and, and have told me, you know, what an impact that, that, that I’ve had on them. And and I say programs, programs, it would either be as a football coach or, or, but I, you know, going back to what I was saying, initially, Sam not so much programs is people coming back to you and saying, oh, Mr. Gifford, you know, I loved your class, you know? And I think you made me feel you know so, so like your class was funny and you made me feel like I loved learning and, and those type of cor those type of comments.

Glenn Gifford (23:47):
And so that’s the thing I’m going for as an administrator now, too, is to, you want them to feel something, not remember what you say, no, one’s gonna remember, you know, you know, how would you do right now, Sam on a, on a, on a great 11 biology test? Like you, you you’d fail it horribly, right? Yeah. As would I okay. As would, so, because I don’t remember. I have, I don’t, I haven’t taken that for 30 years, 40 years. So you know, the more the story there is, what, what the, the, I guess the edification that I get is, is kids going back and reflecting on their experience in the classroom or on, on the football field? You know, I have former student says to me, one time he calls me up and I don’t mind name dropping it’s Mattie Matheson.

Glenn Gifford (24:30):
He’s a celebrity chef. And he’s got his own TV shows and, and he’s hugely successful. And I’m so proud of him. He’ll you know, text me like on Christmas morning to go get a coffee, like just crazy. But when he says, oh, Mr. Gifford, will you be on my TV show? You know, or when another student says, Hey, Mr. Gifford, will you be on my podcast? You know? And, and it’s all, you know, just because of the relationships that you’ve made, right. Not the, oh my God, that class was great because of all the knowledge, you know, it was the, the relationship that you forged with, with those kids and, and, and had left an impact on them. And I think that’s, that’s, what’s important. And then now, now, as an administrator, you that’s, those were classroom moments, right? As an administrator, it’s harder, you know, you just wanna make sure that your school culture is such, that kids have a good time at school and are having fun and and are enjoying themselves.

Glenn Gifford (25:26):
School is a, you know, things that are important now for kids, school is a safe place. School is a place where you, can you, you address you address any kind of bullying that might happen, or you address some of the things that, you know, what do kids really need. And you look now, and there’s a, there’s a lot of needs now with COVID that kids, you know, they’re, they’re our emotional needs and their, their social needs have not been met for a few years. So, you know, we, we’ve got a, we’ve got a tall task and education ahead of us for the next couple of years, as we hopefully wind down through this pandemic taking care of kids, not only the learning gaps that they have for the last two years. I mean, you know what I mean, by a learning gap, right?

Glenn Gifford (26:06):
There’s kids that left the pandemic in March and we’re taking in a semester at high school, we’re taking mathematics. And then it was all basically online for grade 10 and now grade 11, it’s been in a, and so everybody’s sitting there going these, these kids, like, and it’s not the kids’ fault, and it’s not the teacher’s fault. Just this kid’s been outta school for two years, or he is been dropping in and doing a quad master or not bill Meer or online and synchronous and asynchronous and all these different terms. And at the end of the day, there’s huge gaps, learning gaps. There’s going to be maturity gaps. Oh my God, you know, you got, you got grade twelves. And you’re like, these guys aren’t in grade 12, but but they’re, you know, we have to work at it and we have to get through it. And, and if they feel like they’re, they’re respected and loved and wanted and, and respected in their building, the rest will take care of itself.

Sam Demma (26:56):
If you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up into, you know, a little ball, which is almost impossible. Go with that ball back into your first class you ever taught in and hand it to your younger self and say, Glen, this is what you needed to hear. What pieces of advice would you have shared with your younger self? And I know obviously building relationships and being invested is two of the, that we’ve really touched on this whole interview, which is awesome. What else would you have told you younger yourself that you wish you heard when you first started?

Glenn Gifford (27:30):
I, that you don’t know everything yeah. That you need to have the humility to realize that, that, again, like, I, I, I didn’t start saying things like I you know, I’m the smartest person in the room when I’m by myself. I, when I was 21, you know, or 22, I kind of I’ll do it this way, because this is the way it is, you know, as, as you age. And I know everything just ask me and you know, as you age, you, you realize that, or, or different ways of doing things, or, you know, just because I had a certain personality and certain brain style, right. That, that, you know, I’m, I’m more balanced brain. I can see left and right. You know, I can see both sides and I’d see other people approaching something in a different manner. And I would be like, that’s dumb.

Glenn Gifford (28:15):
And now I look at it and I’m like, Jesus buddy, you really didn’t know much there. You, you were kind of fine by the seat of your pants and you, you probably should have been a little bit more yeah, probably would’ve been a better teacher if you were a better listener. Mm. And, and I think that’s I, I learned that probably about when I was 14 years in the classroom and probably about year seven or eight, where I just kind of really had a couple of colleagues who were, who were special teachers. And I thought to, and, and I thought I was, but then I looked at how these, these guys and girls were doing it. And I was like, man, the, like, it’s not all about me getting up there and entertaining people and making kids laugh. Like, I really gotta leave them with something other than a magical 60 minute experience with Mr.

Glenn Gifford (29:04):
Gifford every day I need, I need to leave them with you. You know, I gotta get to the, the business of education. And even my assignments, like, I mean, are you doing the same thing again? Like, are you really gonna pull this assignment out again? Like, you know, everybody knows that this is coming. And, you know, I had a colleague say to me one time, why don’t you, why don’t you look at it and do this and have the kids do? And I was like, oh my God, brilliant. But, you know, I wasn’t thinking of it because I wasn’t thinking of it. So I needed somebody else to kind of shine the light. So what I would say to younger Glenn Gifford would be listen, buddy, you can, you can even have a bigger impact if you start to listen to people as opposed to just listening to yourself.

Sam Demma (29:49):
Yeah. I love that. That’s a phenomenal piece of advice. And I think it’s, it’s a human thing. It’s not a teacher thing. I think that’s advice that we could all take yeah.

Glenn Gifford (29:59):
A hundred percent. And sometimes it’s an age thing right. Where you just think, ah, you know, everything when you’re young. And, and I remember one time, one of my grad speeches, I said to, it was funny because I just said to graduates, I just said, you know, you know, very little, you think, you know, but, but you don’t, you hear all the parents laughing because they’re like, yes, they know nothing. And they do, they know lots and you should listen to them as well. But you, you really, again, so I, I would say to myself, if I had to go back and visit young Glen, the teacher is you have two ears in one mouth. So you sort listen twice as much as you talk.

Sam Demma (30:36):
Love that. Glenn, if someone’s tuning in, wants to reach out to you, ask a question or just have a convers what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Glenn Gifford (30:46):
They could contact me via email which is glenn.gifford@ncdsb.com, or they can call St. Michael Catholic high school. And and I’m not hard to find so St. Michael Catholic high school and that Niagara falls Ontario, or through the board website through the school website they can reach out and all the messages go to me.

Sam Demma (31:13):
Awesome. Thank you, Glen. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been a pleasure and a really fun time. Keep up the great work and we will talk soon.

Glenn Gifford (31:24):
Yeah, Sam, appreciate it. Thanks very much. I appreciate that you doing this.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Glenn Gifford

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.