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Sam Demma

Darryl Tinney – Principal at Sioux North High School

Darryl Tinney - Principal at Sioux North High School
About Darryl Tinney

Darryl Tinney (@DTinney17) is an Indigenous educator and has been in education for 23 years, starting his career as an unqualified supply teacher while working towards his Ba/Bed at Lakehead University.  Darryl’s first qualified position was with Pelican Falls First Nations High School in Sioux Lookout, ON. 

He did a variety of positions there including classroom teacher, athletic director, vice-principal and principal.  Darryl has since joined the dynamic team at Keewatin Patricia District School Board and has been the principal in three communities:  Pickle Lake, Red Lake and Sioux Lookout.  He can now be found as the proud principal of Sioux North High School in Sioux Lookout. 

Darryl focuses on the power of positive relationships and utilizes a team approach in his position.  These skills were acquired through years of competitive hockey at the junior A and University levels.  When Darryl isn’t busy fostering student success he can be found outdoors in beautiful North Western Ontario. 

He is a proud dad to Cesar and Roman and husband to Jennifer, all of whom have helped support him during his educational journey!  As a lifelong Toronto Maple Leaf fan, no one can question Darryl’s commitment to the things he is passionate about! 

Connect with Darryl: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Keewatin Patricia District School Board

Sioux North High School

SHSM – Specialist High Skills Major

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):
Darryl, welcome to the high performing educator. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Darryl Tinney (00:09):
Hi, good morning. My name is Darryl Tinney and I’m the principal at Sioux North High School. And we’re part of the Keewatin-Patricia district school board in Northwestern, Ontario.


Sam Demma (00:20):
When did you figure out education was the career that you wanted to get into and how did it happen?


Darryl Tinney (00:27):
Well, my, my journey’s been an interesting one. I think I first had the seeds planted when I was in high school. And you, you get to grade 12 and back when I was in it grade 13, oh, a C and, and you’re kind of thinking, where am I gonna go from here? And it just so had happened. I was in OAC and I, the way my courses lined up, I never did get an opportunity to take a co-op. And I had a spare and my teacher, one of my teachers had to step in and become an acting vice-principal for a short period of time because the vice principal had become sick with something and they couldn’t get coverages for her art class, her grade nine art class. So art is definitely not my strength or anything, but I, I just watched them kind of struggle for a couple of days.


Darryl Tinney (01:12):
And I just said, Hey, you know, I’ve got a spare this period. And I’d like to just jump in there and see, see what happens. So I I’ve shot, they allowed me to do it. It was a great experience. And I got that was my first dabble in working with students and youth. I was in grade 13 working with grade nine kids, and they kind of planted that seed for me that this might be something I want to do. And then like, you know, when I reflect back too, I had a lot of impactful teachers and even administrators that impacted my, my way in, in career when I was younger. I know in hindsight, a couple of my teachers slash principals, like one of, one of them being Terry Elwood in grade seven and eight and another one being Jack McMaster in high school, they were my principals. They took extra time to like coach and do you know, extended math with plus things like that that were interesting. And both of those principles that I had went on to become like directors of education in multiple boards. So it, it kinda planted that seed for me that, you know, this is something I might be able to do. Yeah. As a teacher, that the administration thing was a totally different avenue, but we, we can get into that if you want.


Sam Demma (02:28):
Yeah, absolutely. So they planted the seed. What was the first school you started at and what was the position and then, yeah, let’s, let’s go through the journey. Tell me how, you know, how it started and what brought you to administration.


Darryl Tinney (03:39):
So when I first began I’m not even gonna exaggerate, but that first year was so overwhelming because what you kinda learn in teachers college is all like the theory and the practical. And sometimes the real learning happens when you’re doing it on the ground. And, and I remember it was Thanksgiving and I was like, wow, is this what I signed up for? And I was really lucky. I had some really strong mentors working with me, one, Darren Lance, he’s now a principal at the Lakehead district school board. I see. And then Wendy, who’s actually one of the teachers I work with now at my current school. And they really helped teach me time management and just the BBDO flows of the job. And you can’t do everything every day and just that the pacing that’s required to be successful in teaching.


Darryl Tinney (02:44):
All right. So when, when I first started teaching, I, I, I did it unqualified for five years. Mm. I I was going through university. I, I would do the Northwestern Ontario thing work at the sawmill in the summer. And then I would supply teach in the Springs and in our region sometimes there’s a shortage of qualified teachers, which allows opportunities for unqualified people, but it was, it was a win-win for me because from my first year university, right through the fifth year, I was able to supply teach at been qualified rate mm. Which gave me some extra experience. And then once I graduated university in 2004, my, my first teaching position was with Pelican falls, first nation high school, which is a federal school in S code here. And, and I spent 10 years there in, in a variety of roles.


Darryl Tinney (04:27):
And then, so I, I did that. I, I did a number of different courses over, over the years. I got into, even though I never took PHED in university in a small school, sometimes opportunities present themselves. And before long I was teaching Fyed in, in an athletic director. So I, I got a lot of experience very early in my career. And I remember I was in my fourth year of teaching. And in that particular school, I had four different principals in four different vice principals in four years. Wow. So it was, it was really challenging for the whole staff. It was like every year you’d have a new person leading the ship, new visions, new things you had to navigate. And then at the end of the year, you started all again. Right. So I, I remember I was at a meeting where the board kinda brought all the staff together from our school and just kinda brainstormed what what’s up.


Darryl Tinney (05:23):
And again, I was a fourth year teacher, but what I didn’t realize at the time was when, when it was my turn to speak, I, I kind of identified what some of the challenges were, but I also provided some solutions, some suggestions, some out the box ideas. And I remember after that meeting, I got called into the directors office. I’m like, oh man, what did I say? And as it turns out, they just said, Hey, look everybody had a chance to speak. And you’re the only person that provided solutions and suggestions, and didn’t just complain. So we really want you to consider the bacon vice principal position and apply for it. Nice. And as a fourth year teacher, that was overwhelming. It’s like, ah, I don’t know about that. Right. Yeah. But I, you know, I, I, I really put some thought into it and I said, I’ll give it a shot. And that’s kind of where my administration career took off.


Sam Demma (06:13):
That’s awesome. You have four letter is on your shirt, SHSM for the Ontario principles tuning in and for the ones outside of Ontario who aren’t familiar with, what SHS< is, are you involved in it personally and tell, tell us a little bit about SHSM.


Darryl Tinney (06:31):
Sure. Yeah. So SHSM is a program we have in Ontario that kind of opens the, the door to some red seals and different apprenticeship opportunities for students as they work through their high school career. So in our particular school, we have four SCHs we have construction auto health and wellness and business. And then as you get into grade 11 and 12, you kind of have of complimentary courses to your core courses that are the, the SHSM courses. And, and they when you graduate, you get like the red seal, it helps you to get into those fields. And it’s great experience. So yeah, I figured today I would wear like, you know, some promotional things for the, for the school, the board in the province. Yeah. Awesome. All people weren’t here.


Sam Demma (07:20):
No, it’s amazing. I I’ve done some work in SHSM with other schools before, and I think the program is phenomenal and is an amazing way for students to explore different career paths and opportunities before they even leave high school. So it’s cool to hear that your school has a couple of those programs in place. You, you mentioned at the beginning of the interview that you had teachers and educators that played a big role in your own life, who are some of those people and what impact did they have on you or, you know, when you were a student, how did they influence you and have an impact on you?


Darryl Tinney (07:58):
When, when I was in high school, I played hockey as well. So I, I jumped schools a little bit, so I got to see a wide range of teachers. I played triple a hockey Kenora. So I went to beaver bay, high school there, but then part of the year, I, I remained in my home community here, Sula coat, which at the time was queen Elizabeth district high school. We we’re now in a brand new school called to north high school. But when I, when I think back to some of the teachers I’ve had in both of those schools, to me, it was always the, the ones that took a, a vested interest in not just me, but all kids and, and found ways to get through to them, motivate them just bring out the best in them. And, and to me, that always resonated with me cuz it’s all about helping people in, in the importance of relationships.


Darryl Tinney (08:44):
Right. And but also challenging people to do the best that they can. I remember I had one teacher in particular where I had transferred from Kenora at the midterm mark and I had like a 92 and finite math or something and I’m thinking, oh yeah, I’m just gonna cruise control right into a 90. Right. And then I came into his class halfway through and we were doing stuff I had already done, but it was like next level stuff. It wasn’t just a basics. He was trying to like really build on what we already knew and challenge us to do to do more with that math. And at the time I was like, oh, what, what are you doing? I just wanna get this 90 and, and call it a day. But like in, in hindsight, he, he was, he saw more potential in, in some of the students and wanted to help us get to that next level. Right. For whether it be university or life or whatever.


Sam Demma (09:32):
That’s awesome. I even think back to teachers I had, who made a big difference. I often quote Mike loud foot is one educator who really got to know each and every one of the students, like you’re saying, had a vested interest in us as individuals and would take his content and curriculum, teach it and then figure out a way to tie it into our interests. So he would teach a lesson and then say for, for Sam, for you, this means X. And for John, for you, this means X. And for Olivia, for you, this would mean X. And that really made all of us as students bought into the lessons he was teaching. Right now I would argue that things are a little different. They look a little different in education. What are some of the ch challenges that your school community is currently faced with?


Darryl Tinney (10:21):
Yeah, I, I would say some of the challenges most recently are definitely some of the the COVID challenges. And then I would even throw in some of the, the buzzword that, that come with COVID like pivoting and empowering and, and things like that. Right. Like it it’s really like for our school board, the last two years we’ve been doing something called quadmesters where instead of taking the traditional four courses over half a year, you’re taking two for half a day for a quarter of the year. And, and it’s worked out fairly well for our students in success and retention. But it’s interesting as we were debating going back to semesters right before hit, some of the students were like, what’s a semester. Like we, we’ve never done that. So then like, to me, I look at the challenges, but also what could come from those challenges.


Darryl Tinney (11:13):
And, and we’re really given an opportunity here with COVID to look at education, the whole thing, and hit the reset button and look at some best practices that might be able to shift how we’ve traditionally done things, including the timing of the year and, and whatnot. I’ve seen some interesting things with collaboration, innovation, like even most recently when we started January for I’m a distance in, in continuing with remote learning. I, I saw teachers through different social media platforms and different boards, Toronto peel, Durham, our board sharing resources with the whole province like, Hey, this is tough. Here’s some templates, here’s some best practices, feel free to try it, feel free to add to it. And, and I, I’ve never seen that in education. Like I see the past couple years. And, and I, I think in, in the past it might have been more of a guarded thing. Like these are my resources. I worked hard for them. I don’t really want to just share them. And, and you know, there used to be that concept of teachers paid teachers, those kind of resources, but this is all just people sharing their best practices to try to make it easier for someone else who might be having a hard time. And to me, that really resonates with me that that gives me a lot of hope for, for how we can tackle challenges in the future.


Sam Demma (12:34):
So collaboration, teamwork are two things that give you hope. What else keeps you motivated every day to show up despite the challenges and try and do the best work possible for your school community?


Darryl Tinney (12:51):
For me personally, like I’m competitive in nature. Like I, I played some, you know, competitive sports when I was younger junior hockey, university hockey and nice with that too. It helped shape who I am today with the whole concept of the importance of a team. Right. And, and working together to a common goal. So for me I’ve had the privilege of working in five schools now as, as a principal and each of those schools was D for different challenges, different staff with their strengths and, and whatnot. And, and my job isn’t to be someone that sits above, but someone that sits within with a different role, I’ve, I’ve always viewed myself as like a coach GM when, when I’m the principal of a schooler, right? Like not like as a authority figure, right. I’m part of the team.


Darryl Tinney (13:39):
I just have a different role. And part of my role is to try to bring out the best in the team and, and to do that, you, you have to know your team. And, and for me, it’s the importance of relationships. I, I really value that. And so some of the, like, I, you know, following other educators on, on Twitter and social media, attending some conferences and stuff, you, you pick up little nuggets and quotes over the years, but like most recently for me, I would say, I, I read a quote re I think it was last week a gentleman by the name of dot Brad Johnson. And he was talking about school culture. And that minutes, after walking into a school, you, you can see the school culture by the demeanor and interactions of staff and students, and everyone impacts culture, but the leader is the thermostat. And to me, that that’s true. Like we, we do have that responsibility of setting a positive tone for everybody. And I, I, I don’t take that lightly with my role.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Yeah. I think it’s a really important role as well. And it definitely trickles down very quickly. What, what resources, and you just gave us one, which is awesome, what resources or different learning have you been through throughout your entire career that you think was really valuable for your own personal development that may also be beneficial for other educators or teachers, and it could be absolutely anything or it could also be a, a mindset shift or maybe the importance of mentorship, whatever you feel is valuable, feel free to share.


Darryl Tinney (15:22):
Yeah. I mean, I, I think whether you’re a teacher, a principal, anybody in the education field you’re, you’re in there partially because you’re a lifelong learner. Mm. And I, I think we have an obligation to continue to learn ourselves. Right. So for me, I I’ve I I’ve done that a number of ways reading books authors who have like currently, you know, in leadership, I, I read, you know, some Simon Sonic and some different authors that promote leadership and best strategy is I I’ve gone to some conferences earlier in my career. Like, I know there’s an organization called solution tree. They have a, a wide library of different topics that are education relevant. And top-notch speakers. I I’ve actually met, met a couple of those speakers over the years, and I do consider them like professional colleagues, not like, like, you know, hang out and, and have coffee together.


Darryl Tinney (16:15):
But like, we stay connected, right? Like, there’s one, one guy in, in BC, Tom, her, he, he, some of his work on relationships and Ken Williams, they, they just, those lessons, they stick with you and then they, they help you reflect and form your own practice and, and whatnot, but also you know, just AQ courses as well. Like a number of universities have some really top-notch courses that can expand your learning. I I’ve taken a number of them, like based on interest, but also sometimes based on things I need here, here’s what I would say, like the, the P Q P courses, like if anybody’s interested in school level leadership, even if it’s not to be a vice vice principal or a principal, it’s, it’s a great course to just learn kind of why maybe sometimes decisions are made and, and then you have that context. Right. And like currently right now, I I’m taking the so Q P modules. Not that I want to be an so Q P tomorrow or an so, but it, it just, it helps you to understand why sometimes at that 30,000 foot level things are, are happening the way they are and how they connect with the bigger picture with the ministry and things like that just helps you to understand your context and apply it in your local context.


Sam Demma (17:31):
Got it. For educators outside of Ontario who may have slightly different abbreviations, what is a SO and a PQP?


Darryl Tinney (17:40):
Yes. Yes. So supervisory officer qualification program. Cool. And then the PQP is the principal qualification program.


Sam Demma (17:47):
Got it. Awesome. And if, if you could go back into your first year class with the advice, the first year class that you taught with the advice and experience that you have now, if you tapped yourself on the shoulder, what advice would you have given your younger self? Or what if wish you would’ve heard?


Darryl Tinney (18:07):
Well, yeah, I, here, here’s some advice, I would say, say whether I was beginning teaching or whether I was beginning into administration, you don’t know everything. And, and once you can say that and say it with confidence and not as like a demeaning quality, but actually a liberating quality, it makes your job a lot easier. I I’ve had colleagues before, or, or I just, you see them with someone asks the question that they don’t know the answer to. They take it personal, like they’re out to get me, they pulled out the hand grenade and pulled the pin out and dropped it in my lap kind of thing. Right. And that’s not, you can’t look at it like that way. Like sometimes those are legitimate questions and that’s their problem and practice for the day. And if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say that. And again a quote I, I saw here is one second here.


Sam Demma (19:02):
Oh, no worries.


Darryl Tinney (19:03):
If this is a Simon Sinek quote, when we admit we don’t know the answer, it increases the chances that someone will offer to help. Mm. And then you know, leadership is not boasting about what, you know, it’s about having the confidence to admit what you don’t know, but committed to finding the solutions. Mm. So for me, I think when, when I started my education journey, if a student asked me a question and I didn’t know, like re reality, you you’re teaching sometimes you’re a, a week ahead of where they are. Right. You’re, you’re learning a new course and how to flow it. And things like that, just be, be honest, be, be authentic. And I think people, they, they gravitate to that. And it, it helps with the other things I’ve been talking about, like the importance of relationships. Like for me, I I’m a secondary educator.


Darryl Tinney (19:54):
I’m a secondary principal, but a couple years ago, I, I was asked to do an assignment, which was a elementary principal at the time was the biggest elementary school in our board. And it had a number of number of challenges with with students and, and a high special ed population, things like that. And if I went in there, if they, I knew it all, I, I wouldn’t have lasted the year. Mm. But you, you have a strong team, you have to trust the team. And to me, that was a really a growth opportunity for me. It was outta my comfort zone. I, I do think we had success for the two years. I was there, but not, not because of me, just because I was able to tap in with the the team that we had and, and find the common areas we wanted to work towards and trust them. And they trusted me. And it, it worked.


Sam Demma (20:45):
Teamwork feels like a main theme of this interview, which I really love. I think it’s important now more than ever, especially because things are changing left right center every single day. So being connected is super important. Final question here to wrap up the interview. Tell me about a time where a program that you brought into your school, or you and your team brought into the school made an impact, maybe on the school culture, on the students, on the staff feel free to choose whatever type of impact you wanna share.


Darryl Tinney (21:24):
Sure. I, I, I have a couple different programs I can kinda highlight, but I guess one that our board is pretty proud about and, and I can’t take any credit in developing it. It was developed at Dryden high school, but I’ve now worked in two schools that have benefited from that. And we have the position as well. And that’s the the grad coach program, the indigenous grad coach. Mm. So in, in in our region, there there’s a high indigenous population in a number of our, our schools, including ours, which is like 78%. And, and there’s lots of research and data over the years where there’s like, I hate to use the term like a gap, right. But in success rates. So Dr. High school at the time, they, they recognized that. And they came up with this idea of an indigenous grad coach who would assist the students to try to remove the barriers to their success, whether it be sitting in a class and, you know, the, the students just aren’t learning the way you’re teaching them or whether it’s, they, they need supplies, they need food, they need to get a taxi to get to school and try to remove the barriers and support them.


Darryl Tinney (22:37):
So for, for us in our school board that’s been a program that’s had huge impacts on student success for a number of students in a number of communities. The grad coach program grew to four of our schools now. So north high school, beaver bra, and red lake school. Wow. And it’s been the template for other boards in the province now to also have those programs. And we were kind of like the champion pilot at the beginning, working with the ministry, it is ministry funded. So I, I think that is something we’re, we’re pretty proud about in our board our work around reconciliation. We, you know, you always have more work you can do around it, but it’s something we’ve, we pride ourselves in working with our indigenous partners to try to move that work forward. And then like on, on a lower scale, like, just like I talked about earlier, looking at out of the box innovation, we, when I was in red lake the vice principal myself there, Sean de Norac, we had a partnership with the M and R where they would provide the S SP 100 course for the outdoor ed students.


Darryl Tinney (23:40):
And they, they did that free pro bono as hoping to be a recruitment tool that maybe they would recruit some of our high school students into force firefighting in the summer. Right. So I remember my second year there, they kind of said, Hey, look, you know, we’ve been doing this. It hasn’t really been giving us what we needed and in getting some people back, is there something we can do to kind revisit isn’t that and see if we can enhance our, what we can get out of it. So we, we looked at it and we kind of did this little pilot project where we, we did it so that it was like a paid co-op in the spring when firefighting season started, we switched around their schedules and stuff. And all of a sudden we had like, I think six kids go right from school into firefighting.


Darryl Tinney (24:26):
And just by shifting how we did business and supporting kids it, it was a win-win for them and our, and for our students to the point where like the following year, we randomly got a call from another school board. I think it was superior Greenstone saying, Hey, we were talking with our M and R locally. And they mentioned you, you did something to try to promote this. How, how did you do that? What did it look like? And, and to me, that’s what education’s all about, right. Looking at trying to be innovative and then sharing out your best practices and if it benefits somebody else. Great.


Sam Demma (24:57):
I love it. Dar, thank you so much for sharing a piece of your experience today on the podcast. Some cool ideas and resources. If someone, one wants to reach out, ask you a question or talk about anything that was mentioned, what would be the best way to get in touch and reach out to you?


Darryl Tinney (25:14):
Well, I’m, I’m very active on the Twitter community. So my handles at (twitter) So and again, a lot of the people I mentioned that I follow and you, some of their coach today, I also see on Twitter. Some of them I’ve never met before, but their, their tweets definitely resonate with me and, and give me some suggestions. Alternatively, you can look me up on the KP website, under Sue north high school, and my contact information can be found there.


Sam Demma (25:44):
Awesome. Dar, thank you so much again, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Darryl Tinney (25:48):
Awesome. Thanks so much.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Darryl Tinney

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Valerie Dumoulin – Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School

Valerie Dumoulin - Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School
About Valerie Dumoulin

Valerie (@Val_Dumoulin) is a proud member of Taykwa Tagamou First Nation and a wife and mother to two amazing children. She is approaching her 30-year mark in education having taught in Attawapiskat, Moosonee and Cochrane.

She is currently the proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School and has been in this role for 4 years. Previous to that, she was the Vice-Principal at Cochrane Public School for 3 years. Valerie enjoys walking at 5 a.m., spending time with my family and doing Indigenous beadwork in her spare time. She is a Board member at the Ininew Friendship Centre and is passionate about the importance of relationships, mental health and resiliency.

Connect with Valerie: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school

Taykwa Tagamou First Nation

Dr. Robin Hanley Dafoe (Resiliency Expert)

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):
Valerie welcome to the high-performing educator show. Huge pleasure to have you this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Valerie Dumoulin (00:09):
Well, I’m Valerie Dumoulin and I am the principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school in Cochran, Ontario. I’m a proud member of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation. I have been a high school principal now for four years previous to that, I was a vice-principal at our sister elementary school, and I’ve been a teacher I’m actually approaching my, 30-year mark. I’ve taught it in a variety of grade levels all the way from kindergarten to adults. And, I really am fortunate to be in the role that I am right now. And I really enjoy working with, teenagers and the staff that I have.


Sam Demma (01:09):
Did, you know, growing up that education was the career and vocation for you?


Valerie Dumoulin (01:18):
Probably in some sort of sense. I actually wanted to be a social worker nice when I would younger. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to be in a field that was in service of others somehow. I always was very empathetic almost to a fault and I wanted and I knew I wanted to help people. And I grew up in Moosonee Ontario, which is a pretty remote place. Only accessible by train. It’s a, mostly an indigenous community. And you know, there was a lot of inequities that were there and a lot of systemic barriers and I always felt like I wanted to, you know, help people. So when I was in grade 11, we moved to Cochran is where I live now. Nice and finished high school here and then went off to university and you know, somewhere along that, that, that line, I, I changed my mind and decided to apply to teachers college instead. So here I am.


Sam Demma (02:22):
And did you have teachers that really inspired you back when you were a student that you can recall or remember anyone that stood out or maybe even the opposite and that’s why you wanted to change and, and get involved?


Valerie Dumoulin (02:37):
Absolutely. I think when I think about where I grew up and, you know, just a lot of, like I said, the inequities of the area, I mean, my parents had, had their family quite young and they certainly didn’t go off to post secondary school. And a lot of my classmates that I, that I grew up, a lot of my good friends that I grew up, you know, as a child in, in, they also like have kind of beaten the odds and their teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses and, and it, and I always wonder, like how did we, you know, kind of break through that cycle. And I, and I do think it was probably a common, the nation of things, I think like when I think about our parents, even though they were young they had high hopes for us and they always instilled in to us that we, you know, that they wanted better for us and that we could invoke change.


Valerie Dumoulin (03:31):
And I think it was, it was teachers too, because the school did play a lot of a big, big role in making us believe that we can do better and do anything that we put our minds to. So I think that and certainly lots of different teachers who stood out, you know I think about you know I had a, my grade three teacher was named Carol Bernie. She became our, she was the principal of, of the public school that I went to. She had a, she had a huge impact on me because she was female, she was indigenous. And she, she kind of made me feel like I could do something like this.


Sam Demma (04:34):
Inequities in education definitely have started really bubbling to the surface over the past. I would say, you know, two years in total, roughly what are the inequities that still exist? And maybe you can even think back to when you were a student, cuz you talked about those inequities, which are the ones that are still around and, and, and are you passionate about changing and working on?


Valerie Dumoulin (05:01):
Yeah yeah, there, there, there are still lots of barriers that we’re, we’re continuing to work on. It’s hard to believe it’s still 20, 21. And, and a lot of the, the things that I faced as, as a student in growing up in or still exist for, for some families, you know, I think about our indigenous population, for example, and at, Eole Secondaire Cochran high school, we do have about 40% of our student body that is indigenous. And there still is a lot of mistrust of the education system and we’re, we’re breaking it down slowly, but it’s, it’s slow. Yeah. You know, just because of all of the history with residential schools and all of the experiences that perhaps their families have or perception of teachers and schools and buildings you know, we’re slowly chipping away at that. So I, I, I feel like that still exists on some level.


Valerie Dumoulin (06:03):
And it’s gonna be a constant process. You know, I, I, I often think it’s gonna take, you know, more years to actually break that generational kind of cycle, but you know, it it’s, it really is inspiring to know, know that we have a lot of supports in place for, for students like that. And it’s not just the indigenous students, it’s also educating the non-indigenous students because they also didn’t get the true history because their parents just weren’t simply taught it. So it’s not their fault either. You know? So we really are, you know, together in this, in this path to reconciliation.


Sam Demma (06:42):
I agree. Absolutely. And along with equity being something that bubbled to the surface, COVID brought so many other challenges. What are some of the things that have been challenging over the past year to years? And how’s the school community, have you strive to sort of overcome these things?


Valerie Dumoulin (07:03):
So I I’m finding lately the biggest challenge is keeping our spirits up. Yeah. Cause it’s been 22 months now that we’ve been dealing with COVID. And so it’s almost been two years. And as we speak today, it’s January 30 we’re approaching it’s January 14th today. And, and we’re going back to, you know, there’s so many changes that are happening. So it’s, it’s dealing with this constant change and this stress of living in the pandemic and, and we’re basically COVID weary. So I feel like it’s my job to help staff feel calm, supported, and as happy to, as I can so that they can in turn, make their students feel safe and happy and calm. Yeah. So how I deal with this challenge is I, I, I listen, I, I try to make, think of ways to make things better for people. And, and I’m here to remind them constantly that they can do hard things and they can do more than they thought that they were capable of.


Valerie Dumoulin (08:03):
And they can also do that them well, you know, so yeah, when I think about it, COVID has really changed the face of education. There have been really a lot of positive things that have come out of having to deal with COVID. So something like, like paper, for example. Yeah. You know, you wouldn’t believe like the amount of school budget that we spent on photocopy paper before the pandemic, and now we’ve become paperless pretty much, you know, we still use a bit of paper, but using asynchronous platforms and using the cloud and ditching hand outs more, I think that’s been a positive change. Nice. also I think teachers have really shifted into the 21st century rather quickly and they’ve done, done so really well. You know, they they’re using digital platforms, they’re managing break rooms, they’re using collaborative apps. I would’ve said probably before the pandemic that students probably had the edge on, on teaching staff and, and teachers on, you know, being digital. But now I, I, I could, I bet that a lot of our teachers could probably show the kids a few things. Yeah. You know, and that change has happened super, super fast. So it’s been pretty amazing.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Oh, go ahead. Keep going.


Valerie Dumoulin (09:27):
Was just gonna say the, the last thing that I, that I kind of have been really impressed with is, is the focus on mental health. Mm. And I think that’s been a positive of impact of COVID too, because you know, now people are prioritizing, what’s important, you know, self care and as taking like a front role and people are, are starting to take care of their minds and bodies more and, and, and organizations and systems are feel like that is that’s something that they wanna, they wanna promote as well.


Sam Demma (10:01):
And prioritize sometimes in front of the curriculum or the KPIs or the outcomes of the organizations, which are, which is super awesome. What does exactly, what does self-care look like for youth, for how do you fill up your cup? So you can ensure that you’re pouring into your staff, like you said, and, you know, listening to them and making them feel happy.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:26):
Yeah. I, I definitely have started taking, you know, time off, like trying to ditch the email a little bit more, you know for myself, I I’m a Walker, so I have, I’ve always had dogs and I have two Huskies that depend on me to get up every morning and walk them for, for an hour. Nice. So I find that’s a really good time for me. It’s, it’s my thinking time. It’s very peaceful. I, I walk at 5:00 AM.


Sam Demma (10:52):
Nice.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:52):
Streets are quiet. You know, I get to think about like, reflect on things. Think about the day prioritize things that I wanna get done. It, it’s just a good time and I it’s me time. I also beat, I, I do some I make earrings and oh, cool. Do some indigenous type beat work. So I think that’s, that’s really helped me in the evenings kind of just you know, keep busy you, but also like focus on something else other than school, because I would say too, like, it’s, it’s been a learning curve for me to kind of let things go. I’m usually on like 24 hours, somebody would email me at nine o’clock. I’d probably email the back within five minutes, but I’ve been kind of stopping myself and saying, okay, no, that can wait till tomorrow and feeling okay to do that, which is pretty amazing. So I think that’s helped tremendously.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Boundaries. I struggle with them too. Sometimes I don’t ever turn off and people talk about burnout and you always think to yourself, oh no, I’m, I can work like this. And one day it just hits you and you go, holy crap. Like this is a real thing. And I need to set up some proper boundaries for myself. And I think a lot of people hit that threshold at some point in the last two years. So I couldn’t agree more and that’s awesome that you’re up so early walking, very that’s a cool practice. What, what do you think are some of the opportunities? I know there’s a lot of challenges right now, but what do you think some of the opportunities in education are?


Valerie Dumoulin (12:24):
Well, the, some of the opportunities that I think well, the students, like, I, I, I feel like another benefit of COVID is that families have been kind of forced to spend more time with each other. And I see that as, as, as being hopeful for, for, you know, the future because you know, I, I do, I did see kind of an alarming trend of, you know, families being really disconnected from each other. And they, you know, being tied to their phones, for example, and, and not listening or talking with their kids. And I think that’s really negatively affected kids. And as a result, we’re seeing like anxieties and behavior issues and things like that. So I’m hoping that COVID has kind of forced families kind of do things together. I have been seeing positive things. I’ve mentioned Taykwa Tagamou for example that first nation I’ve I’ve, you know, I belong to like their Facebook page and I, and I see things where programs that they have in the community are putting out really neat challenges, for example like a immune kit, like something simple like that, they’re saying, you know, we’re distributing pizza kits and we challenge families to make pizza together and then post it on the page and, you know, and, and people get to see these fam families doing things together.


Valerie Dumoulin (13:48):
So that makes me hopeful that families are, are connecting and, and talking and doing more with each other because kids have been craving that I think, and it, it will, it will help the future. So that, that gives me kind of hope for, you know, the future and, and what’s in store. And certainly with my own family too, you know, like we, you’re kind of isolated. I’ve been like, oh, let’s play a board game. We haven’t played a board game many years, you know, those kinds of things. So it has brought families closer together. I think. So I think that’s been a positive.


Sam Demma (14:23):
Me and my entire family got COVID actually over the holidays. And whenever someone asked me that question, oh, how is your holidays? I feel so bad giving them the response because they’re gonna be like, oh my God, I’m so sorry. And we, we ended up being okay. The symptoms were, were mild, thankfully, but the positive of it was like you said, we spent an unusually large amount of time together, dinner, breakfast, lunch walks, board games, movie marathons. And it was awesome. It was really cool. So I think with every challenge, there is an opportunity. Sometimes it’s just hard to find them or, or see them, especially when you’re going through a storm. And yeah, I, I agree. I think connection is a big one. That’s come out of this and a desire for more connection. We realize how important face to face communication, not over the phone, but actually in person really was. And I think that will, that will hopefully remind us after this all passes, that we need to continue doing those things and continue prioritizing mental health and continue prioritizing relationships. Over your, the course of your career, what resources have you found helpful? Whether it’s mentorship, whether it’s actually things that you’ve read watched, or been a part of that informed, you know, the way that you lead?


Valerie Dumoulin (15:56):
Through this board, like I’ve been fortunate that our board has really prioritized mental health for, for all of our staff. So they’ve brought in some great speakers. Nice. You know, so Dr. Robin Hanley defo on resiliency, like she I’m listening to her audiobook. Again, having listened to some of her, her her talks that she’s had nice Jesse Wente he’s a, an author participated in his online kind of talk that he had for, for staff and students of DSB one. So lots of different influences, but definitely restorative practices that has been really that that’s something that’s really influenced me as, as an administrator. You know, I, I view mistakes as learning opportunities, so it’s really, it’s, it’s really good to talk to kids and I know kids are gonna mess up, you know, and, and do silly, stupid things and things that they regret.


Valerie Dumoulin (17:01):
But I mean, if, if you bring the people that they’ve harmed together and have a restorative conversation, it changes into a learning opportunity. So sometimes being firm is the way to go, but I’m finding more and more that having those restorative conversations and giving chances to kids is paying off. Kids are learning how to you know, restore mistakes and talk to people that they’ve harmed make future decisions based on learning from, from their actions. And the biggest thing is taking responsibility for what they do, you know, and, and owning up to it. And, and admitting that, you know, they’ve done something wrong and that they are committing to, to rectifying kind of their mistakes.


Sam Demma (17:54):
That’s awesome. Restorative practices are so important. I even think back to when I was in elementary school I did some silly things and got a suspension. It’s just something I don’t really talk about often to be honest. And my principal was at the time his name’s Mike was big into restorative practice and he brought me the other students into his office. We cried, we were so upset with ourselves and what we did, but at the end of it, it was a serious learning opportunity. And, you know, seeing it from the student’s perspective, I found it really helpful. And I think it’s a really important thing to continue doing.


Valerie Dumoulin (18:31):
Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:33):
If you could take your experience in education, bundle it up into a ball, walk into the first classroom you taught in and tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Valerie, this is what you needed to hear. Like, what would you have told or what advice would you have given your younger self?


Valerie Dumoulin (18:55):
That’s a good question.


Sam Demma (18:56):
Yeah,


Valerie Dumoulin (18:58):
I think back actually, my very first year teaching, I was I was teaching aa a grade two teacher. So what would I have told myself? I probably would’ve said, you know, take it easy on yourself. Like you don’t have to do, you don’t have to know everything. Cuz I remember feeling, you know, as a first year teacher really confused, like, can I do this like really doubting myself and you know, maybe trying to do too much. And I remember being so exhausted just like even after a day’s work, I’d go home and have a two hour nap and then I get up and plan for the next day, you know, but you, you have to really like just take it easy on yourself, rely on your colleagues and really get to know the community that you’re in for myself.


Valerie Dumoulin (19:47):
It was a first nation community. I, I was used to living in small Northern communities, but it was still quite a different at world just because when I was up there, there, you know, a lot of the, the, the nurses and the teachers had running water, nobody else had running water. Wow. So they used to have to go to like a community area to, you know, fill their jugs, to take home, to do washing and cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things. So it was, it was quite a different world. And so I had to really, you know, understand where my students were coming from. And and, and maybe that’s how I, you know, became really interested in and understanding like how important relationship is and understanding and being empathetic towards other people’s situations. So I think that probably kind of helped me as I move forward in my career.


Sam Demma (20:41):
Love that. Awesome. Valerie, thank you so much for taking some time to come onto the podcast, share your experiences, your philosophies around education. If someone listens and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Valerie Dumoulin (20:58):
Well, on social media, of course, I am on Twitter (@Val_Dumoulin) and I am on Facebook and Instagram. Email works as well: Valerie.Dumoulin@dsb1.ca. Anyway, you know, I, I’m more than willing to, to talk with people and invite people to, to connect with me for sure.


Sam Demma (21:15):
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Valerie Dumoulin (21:21):
Okay. Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Valerie Dumoulin

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.

Annibale Iarossi – Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School

Annibale Larossi - Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School
About Annibale Iarossi

Annibale Iarossi (@Princ_Iarossi), is the Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School in Mississauga.  Annibale’s passion has always been working with diverse learners and seeking opportunities for them to experience success.  He began his career in 2002 at St. Augustine Secondary School in Brampton as a Special Education Resource Teacher. 

In this role, Annibale sought to provide his students with the necessary tools they needed to achieve their best results.  In 2005, Annibale accepted a job as Student Success Teacher at the newly built St. Joan of Arc Secondary School.  In this role, he was able to work collaboratively with students, teachers, admin and support staff in planning for the success of all students. 

This role also motivated Annibale in moving forward with his personal goal of being a Secondary School Administrator.  In 2013, entered into administration as a Vice Principal until 2019 when we was appointed Principal of St. Marcellinus Secondary School.

Some of Annibale’s favourite moments as both an educator and a student have been outside the traditional classroom.  As a teacher, he has enjoyed coaching football, soccer, basketball,  and cross country. 

He continues to firmly believe that significant learning occurs outside the classroom when collaborating with other individuals in a team environment.  In his spare time, Annibale enjoys watching his children play basketball and working out at the gym.

Connect with Annibale: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Marcellinus Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario

Peel Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association

The Transcript

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

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


Annibale Iarossi (00:10):
I’m my name Annibale Larossi. I am the principal at St. Marcina secondary school in Mississauga with the din peel Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:21):
When did you realize in your own career journey that education is what you wanted to pursue?


Annibale Iarossi (00:28):
I think that was rather early. When I was a student, I, think what motivated me to get into teaching was having great teachers and great teachers allowed me to fall line myself and allowed to me to realize the leader that I was, and so that translated into me getting involved in, in things in high school. And then that moving, moving into volunteering while I was in university and working with learners of all types. And I realized, yeah, this is, this is for me. I want to, I wanna be a leader in my classroom, my school, and now ultimately you know, I’m leading the school as a principal.


Sam Demma (01:12):
Take me back to yourself as a student, you mentioned that you had some great teachers. Do you remember two things, one who they were, and secondly, what you do for you that had a big impact?


Annibale Iarossi (01:26):
For sure. And, and when, when I looked at you know, who these teachers I was talking about they influenced me in different ways. Some of them influenced me by actually teaching me in class. So I had to teacher I, I recall Mrs. Roberts and who who taught, who was a history teacher and, and that’s, that’s my teachable area. That was the area I went into, got my degree. And, and she really motivated me through her lessons. And you know, you never knew what was gonna happen in the class. She was very enthusiastic, very creative and which allowed me to then in, in turn grow in my creativity. Other teachers that I had that were fantastic for me were some of my coaches in, in high school whether that be my football coaches or soccer coaches you know Mr. Barco, miss Dayton, Mr. Dayton Mr. Hollowell, Mr. Desna, all these, all these guys that motivated me to be a leader on the field then, and and all played a part in building who I am as a person.


Sam Demma (02:45):
Were athletics, a big part of your upbringing as well?


Annibale Iarossi (02:50):
Yeah. You know what I was, I was always involved in, in sport. I guess not to the same degree as, as kids are nowadays, when you stay involved in sport. And I look at my kids were involved in both are involved in basketball and I was never involved that, that much into sport, but it, it kept me engaged in school and it kept me to be affiliated with something that had purpose. So it in school, especially, I love being involved in sports and that’s why when I moved to become a teacher, I, I coached and I, I coached cross country. I CRO coached soccer. I coached football all of these sports. And it, it, it allowed me to give back to what those educators did for me.


Annibale Iarossi (03:54):
Yeah. So, so when I started when I started teaching, so I started teaching back in 2002, 2003, I was at St. Augustine secondary school. And I was I was in the special education, the academic resource department. So I was working with some of our diverse learners and, and that’s where my passion started in terms of with diverse learners and helping them achieve success. I was mentored by my department head Joce, Neves, who has now passed away. And he cared so much for students. He cared so much for not only them getting their credit, but their wellbeing, where they were going to be after high school, what they were doing outside of school, were they okay. And that resonated with me and it wanted me to work to the same standard as he did.


Sam Demma (03:39):
Absolutely. And when you think about your journey through education, where did it start and what brought you to where you are now? And I don’t mean you as a student, but you as an educator.


Annibale Iarossi (04:56):
So as a special education teacher, I was, I was at San Augustine for three years and really loved that, but I felt, I felt I needed a challenge and then a new school was opening up and St Joan a and the principal at the time CLA pit Tosha. Another one of my mentors brought me on staff as a student success teacher and student success at that point was a new a new role. And I remember going into it not even knowing what I had to do. And ironically we started out in this building at St. Mar Salinas. We were housed in this building. And basically I was, I was ensuring students experience success, worked to the best, to their ability and ensure that they graduated and got to their post-secondary destination where wherever that would be.


Sam Demma (05:50):
And is that student success position, does it serve the same purpose today, or for someone who has never worked in student success, what does it look like and, and what are you doing day to day?


Annibale Iarossi (06:01):
Yeah, so student success it, it, it really, and the student success teacher, it really is defined by the, the, the person who is in the role. Cool. because everybody does interpret it in a different way, but the essence of it is how can I get my students to graduate experience success, go to the post-secondary destination that they need to get to, whether that be university college work apprenticeship what tools can I provide my students what support can I provide my students to get them where they need to go? So I think that’s how I always approached it. And, and it’s, it’s been those were, those were some of the best years of my life in term in education because the students I worked worked with in those eight or nine years, I still, I still keep in contact with them today. Whether I run into them in the neighborhood or they’re coaching my kids or, or whatever. They’re, they’re there. And, and it’s, every time I see it, I, I feel like, you know, I it’s, I, I, I live my purpose. I live my purpose through being able to support them.


Sam Demma (07:19):
Right now student success is very important. Student wellbeing is very important. Staff wellbeing is very important. Staff success is very important. All those things are kind of at the forefront because of what’s happening in the world. What are some of the challenges that are facing your school community and potentially other school communities right now that you and the staff and students are striving to overcome?


Annibale Iarossi (07:48):
Absolutely. I think you hit it right there with you know, being in a pandemic. It is highlighted a lot of challenges. Some of the challenges though have turned into opportunities and those opportunities to, for instance, a challenge at the beginning of the pandemic was technology and, and being able to navigate technology and, and staff and students being able to navigate technology well, that, that that’s turned into an opportunity to, to, as, as professional teachers, they’ve turned that into an opportunity to be better teachers and to offer their students more. And and as students you know, digesting that, that new, this new technology and these new apps and, and all kinds of things, it’s given them a different skillset. Now, if we, you look back to the wellness piece, I, think that’s high.


Annibale Larossi (08:46):
I think that’s something that remains a challenge. I think moving in and out of school buildings has provided students with some, some mental health cha challenges, some wellness challenges, and as staff, what we’ve tried to do is keep the lines of communication open through our guidance department, our student services support services such as child and youth worker, social workers but, but the people who are on the ground first, our, our teachers are the ones that, that bring it to our attention so we can deal with it. And, you know, I have a wonderful administrative team who, who you know, shout out to all three of my VPs, Maria Laurie and Sheena, who who do a fair, fantastic job every day promoting student success and wellbeing for all our students.


Sam Demma (09:41):
And how do you personally fill your own cup? I know it’s sometimes a challenge. I, I struggle setting boundaries between work and life. And sometimes when things get overwhelming, you might be spending every minute of every day thinking about work, how do you, you know, set up the boundary for yourself and also fill up your own cup?


Annibale Iarossi (10:05):
Yeah, I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve transitioned from vice principal to principal. I know starting as a vice principal, I thought, I, you know, I was a single vice principal, so I had, it was me and the principal. And I thought I had to be everything to everyone. And I thought I had to be on call all the time. And you know, you let you let yourself slip you, you, you get into a rut. And and then you question whether you’re, what you’re doing is the right thing for, for everyone. And but as, as I’ve moved on with experience in this role and in having mentors in this role I’ve realized that the balance is important. So I, you know, I, do things like take care of myself, take care of my diet, take care of myself at the gym workouts get involved with, with of within the community as well.


Annibale Iarossi (10:58):
So it, it’s very important that that we do strive the balance. And, and I, I, I do now you know, I have more time to spend with my, my kids more time to spend with my wife being able to coach my son in basketball has been has been another great thing. So you know what, busyness, isn’t always bad. It’s just where you allocate the, the busy time that if you allocate it all one spot, it’s not always healthy, but if you break it up, busyness is pretty good.


Sam Demma (11:29):
It keeps you moving forward.


Annibale Iarossi (11:30):
Yeah. Yeah. Keeps you young.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Yeah. A hundred percent. And throughout your educational journey, what resource is experiences, programs, or things that you have been a part of, which of which of those things have been helpful to your personal and professional development? Did any, did anything come to mind?


Annibale Iarossi (11:51):
Yeah, I think I think first and foremost, I am a big proponent of mentorship. I, I think I’ve, I’ve served as a mentor through our administrative team through our principal vice principal association and through our board. And I’ve been a mentee I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had the opportunity to work some with some great principal within our board to be able to rely on for for assistance when I need it, because I don’t have all the answers. And you know, I, I think I’d be fooling people if I, if I had the answer to every question. I think relying on some PD through our association Catholic principals, council, Ontario and our board is, is, is, has been very beneficial to, to myself. And I, I would say most most administrators and, and that I’ve worked with.


Sam Demma (12:46):
Love that. And what did that mentorship look like? I’m also a huge fan of mentorship and there might be some new teachers wondering how do I find myself a mentor and might be a little overwhelmed with the idea of it?


Annibale Iarossi (12:59):
Yeah. Like I think so first I being, I remember being appointed a mentor and I was like, I’ve only been in this role for like three years. How am I mentor? Like, I, you know, I, I barely know anything. But then, you know, it, I think the cornerstone of a cornerstone of mentorship is listening and, and, and listening to what your mentees need listening to what they’re asking and listening to what they’re not asking. I think it, it’s, it’s, it’s very important. I’ve had some really great mentors as as principal, too as a principal as well. You know some former principles of mine Dan Kaun, Michael Grady guys, I’ve relied on to ask questions where I didn’t have the answer. And you know, what it allowed me to then pay it forward with other principles or vice principals that call me, or email me and say, Hey, do you have the answer to this? Or do you know, can you lead me in a certain way? And it it’s, I think it’s a great cycle to be a part of.


Sam Demma (14:07):
You mentioned earlier that in those moments of potential burnout or over pursuing work and not by balancing it with, with life and other important activities, sometimes you question not you specifically, but in general, as an educator, you question is this the right thing for me and everyone else. I’ve asked educators that similar questions a few times, and they’ve told me that during those days they have this little folder on their desk and it’s filled with all the notes that students would’ve sent over the years. And they’ll peek into this little this little notebook and remind themselves that the work makes a massive change. Yeah. Is that a true, is that a true thing that educators, do?


Annibale Iarossi (14:48):
You, you know what, so for a lot of people who really know me, they, they, they know that I am probably one of the least sentimental guys who are gushy or, or you know, that kind of guy, but I I’ll be honest. I, I do keep, I, I do keep, like, thank you cards. Like I’m looking right across from my desk right now to the table in front of me. I have about, you know, 12 thank you cards that are, that are there. And you know, I, I do keep those then in my desk just to, if I do need to rely on it you know, letters that I’ve gotten from students. Absolutely. I think those are the ones that really resonate and, and, and keep you are going on, on on days where you’re like, am I still making a difference emails from parents? You know, you always remember that you are make, you might not be making a difference for everyone, but you’re, you are making a difference for someone.


Sam Demma (15:46):
Mm it’s so true. If you could take the and knowledge you gained from your entire teaching career, kind of bundle it up into some advice and then travel back in time, walk into your own classroom of the first year you started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, an evil, you know, this is what I wish you heard when you just started. What would you have said to yourself?


Annibale Iarossi (16:15):
Yeah, I, I think maybe one of the first things, that’s a good question. One of the first things I, I would probably say is don’t take yourself too seriously. Mm. I know when I started when I started teaching, I, I was, I, at the time I, I, I, I was overwhelmed. I had a number of students in my, in my classes with a number of needs that I didn’t think I could I could help them with. And I, I even reached the point that I was like, is this teaching for me? And I, I, I think gaining perspective is important. Listening is always important in, in this profession. You need to be able to listen, you need to be able to process the information and then you need to be able to act. So I would say a first year teacher don’t take yourself seriously. Don’t stress out, get self balanced, and you’ll be okay.


Sam Demma (17:17):
Awesome. That’s a great advice. Thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show, share a little bit about your experiences, some ideas that have been helpful for you. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get a hold of you.


Annibale Iarossi (17:33):
Sure. Email is always good. I don’t know if you want me to, I can give you my email address. It’s annibale.iarossi@dpcdsb.org, or you know I’m on Twitter. So you can look me up on Twitter and or LinkedIn, and feel free to contact me.


Sam Demma (17:59):
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show and keep up with the great work.


Annibale Iarossi (18:03):
Thanks, Sam. All right. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Annibale Iarossi

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.

Coral Klein – Principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LDSB)

Coral Klein - Principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute (LDSB)
About Coral Klein

With 28 years of experience in secondary education, Coral Klein is the current principal of Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Born and raised in northern Ontario, Coral attended Lakehead University’s concurrent education program and started her career with the Lakehead District School Board in 1994.

In the years since, Coral expanded her professional qualifications to include two Specialist degrees, a Master’s degree and her principal’s papers. In 2008, she transitioned from a special education management role into an administrative one. Coral believes very strongly in the power of education and the important role educators play in equipping students with the competencies, knowledge and attitudes necessary for lifelong success.

At present, her key areas of professional focus are “indigenous education” and the creation and maintenance of “safe, equitable and inclusive school cultures.”  

Connect with Coral: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Westgate CVI – Lakehead District School Board

Kevin Lamoureux TEDx Talk on Reconsiliation

Dr. Christopher Mushquash, Ph.D., C.Psych

Niigaan Sinclair – Winnipeg Free Press

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):
Coral, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Coral Klein (00:09):
Well, thanks for having me! My name is Coral Klein. I am a principal at Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I’m super thrilled to spend a few minutes with you today.


Sam Demma (00:20):
Yeah, me too. And thank you so much for, you know, saying yes to this opportunity. How did you end up deciding that education was the career or vocation that you wanted to pursue?


Coral Klein (00:35):
Hmm, I mean, that’s a pretty loaded question. I, I’m not sure that there was a light bulb moment ever in my life where I, I kind of woke up and, and recall thinking that education was for me. I grew up in a small town in, in Northern Ontario and it was, it was a unique town in that it had one school and it had kindergarten, a grade 12 all under one roof. Oh, wow. So it was pretty unique. And I can recall from a very, very young age having a lot of admiration and respect for teachers and, and probably if I’m being honest probably even could use the word revered them. I, I remember being very excited as a child. Anytime I saw a teacher out in public doing regular person and regular person clothes. And I also have a lot of vivid memories of, of taking my younger brother and, and forcing him to be one of my students.


Coral Klein (01:32):
So I, I think the path to education probably was a foreseeable one, but I, I just don’t remember the exact moment where it kind of clicked that that was going to, to be my pathway, but it was, and that small town led me to a move to a city that was not too far from where I grew up, which is where I am now. Thunder bay. I moved to thunder bay in 1990 to attend, excuse me, to attend lake university in the con current education program majoring in English. Nice. And at that point in time, I was, I, I guess I was a little unsure at that point, whether I wanted to land in elementary or whether I wanted to land in secondary. So I selected a junior intermediate level of specialization because that was almost like a middle ground compromise between the two.


Coral Klein (02:25):
And I was just trying to figure it out through teaching placements and other experiences. Didn’t take me very long to, to figure out that the older kids were the ones that I wanted to work with in the secondary setting was the, was the path that I wanted to take. So shortly after I had graduated, the very first additional qualification I took was my senior lab. And then, you know, from there, I, I think I was very, very fortunate, actually. I don’t think I, I know I was very fortunate because I graduated in 1994 and I was one of the very lucky people that ended up getting a full-time job in education at a time that jobs were very, very scarce. Mm. So I, I was hired by Lakehead public here in hunter bay. I worked for them obviously, ever since my first job was within the realm of adult education. And I was working with a group of, of adults who had recently lost their jobs and were in the process of being retrained and needed to acquire high school diploma. So that was an amazing experience for a young teacher. And yeah. So, so from there, I guess it was a couple years of doing that. And in 96 I made the transition into the high schools and I’ve been working in the high schools pretty much ever since, so, yeah.


Sam Demma (03:49):
That’s awesome. Well, that’s a cool journey. And along like, along the path, what have you found helpful in terms of resources, people did you have mentors that have tapped you on the shoulder and helped you? And if so, who are those people and what did they teach you?


Coral Klein (04:08):
Yeah, I mean, I guess it depends on, on what step in the journey you’re looking at, right? Yeah. Like as a youngster I mean, I grew up playing hockey, so my hockey coaches were always very important to me as were, as were some of the teachers I had in elementary school, my grade six teacher was also my gymnastics coach. So there was a connection there. I mean, early on in my career, I always, I sort of looked up to colleagues that had the level of experience that I now possess, you know, 25 years, 30 years into their career. And, and they guided me along with their expertise and they shared their resources when I moved into administration. It was, it, it was a huge change as you can expect. And there is, there is a person, her name is Jenny lamb.


Coral Klein (05:01):
She, she is a retired principal in Lakehead public schools. And I would say she probably was one of my biggest mentors. I, my first job in administration was a vice principal at a, at a high school in thunder bay called Hamal. And Jenny at that time was my vice principal partner in my first year. And she laid theater, became the principal of that school. And I worked with her another five years as her vice while she was principal. And, and a, if it wasn’t for her, I probably might not have stayed in administration. It is so overwhelming and so challenging. But it’s also because of her that, that I think I, I did a, you know, a lot of really good habits and, and, and picked up the right skill sets to do the job and do the job effectively. So I give, I give her a lot of credit. She’s an incredible person.


Sam Demma (05:55):
You mentioned the different skill sets required for the role. I’m curious to know what are some of the challenges you’re faced with as a principal? How does it differ from teaching in a classroom and how, what are also the similarities, because I’m sure there’s both differences and also some similarities.


Coral Klein (06:14):
Okay. So, well, that’s a multi-part question. So the challenges, I mean, I guess right now, it’s, it’s kind of like stating the obvious to say that COVID is clearly the most immediate challenge that that’s facing all educators at the current time. I mean, it, it it’s adversely impact our schools. It it’s, it’s impacted the type and the quality of the education that we deliver. It impacted the physical and the mental health of our staff and our students. So it, it’s crazy. It’s crazy to be an educator, regardless of what employee group you’re a part of and, and be in the midst of this, this battle that we’ve never fought before and, and trying to do it on shifting sands, which, which has been very, very frustrating. So, but then of course, like if we’re talking about challenges, I mean, the reality is that all the challenges that we dealt with pre COVID rising, mental health issues, substance abuse race relations, poverty, all those sorts of challenges, they all still exist schools, and now they’ve been amplified.


Coral Klein (07:22):
Yeah. So it, it, it makes being an educator very, very, very tough right now. And I, I hate to say this because it does sound very negative, but I, I really do strongly believe that it’s gonna take years for us to recover from the damage that, that the pandemic has done. And, and that can be a little bit of an overwhelming thought if, if you allow it to be right. So, I mean, in terms of kind of coping, it’s tough. I don’t think there’s a, there’s a magic answer that you can sort of narrow in on, but there’s definitely things that we’ve done that have helped us to manage and are definitely things that we’re gonna have to continue to do into the future. So like right outta the gates, I can say that technology has been a savior. It’s been a savior to everybody through the pandemic.


Coral Klein (08:23):
It it’s enabled us to continue to connect with students who are trying to learn virtually from home. It’s enabled us beyond the teaching part of it to provide mental health support and things like that to kids who are, who are struggling right now, it, if you consider the things like social work services being delivered, virtually tutoring supports being delivered, virtually conflict resolution programs being delivered virtually. So, so that’s been, that’s been really, really, really, really critical in terms of like, like through the lens of a principle, I think with respect to what I think is important and what that skillset is particularly now in the midst of a crisis. I think there’s, there’s probably a few things that I could narrow in on that, that I would, I guess, not recommend, but I guess just share that, that have kind of worked for me.


Coral Klein (09:27):
Yeah. Number one would be probably maintaining really strong in open lines of communication with your staff and your students and your parents and your stakeholders. So I’m not sure we’ve ever lived through an era of more uncertainty. And I think that can be very upsetting and it can be very unsettling. So I try every single day to make sure that my school community has the most updated and the most detailed information possible, and that all, all the expectations and all the instructions are always very clear and very concise. I’m also very conscious, I think about trying to make sure that when I’m communicating with my school community, I’m doing so in a constructive way, in a positive way, and with an optimistic tone and I’m trying to be supportive. I think that’s very important because I, I believe that that principals do set the tone of a school. And I, and I think that if the leader falls apart, the team falls apart. Yeah. So I think that’s always kind of in the back of my mind.


Coral Klein (10:35):
The other thing that is, is critically important while we kind of navigate through the pandemic is, is the fact that we all need to be prioritizing wellness above everything else. And that includes the curriculum. So there really is nothing that’s more important right than the health and safety of, of your students and your staff. And, and as educators that think we have to be more in tune with wellness needs than we’ve ever had to be before. I mean, from the outset of this pandemic emotional wellness has had to be at the forefront of everything that, that people have done because kids are struggling right now are kids are confused and they’re, and they’re frightened. And they’re trying to make sense of this crazy world that’s going on around them. A lot of kids are coming to us from homes that are barely holding on whether that’s financially or emotionally, and they’re really kind of looking at schools to be that place of comfort and stability for them. So I think that I’m not sure if I can say for the first time ever, but certainly for the first time in my career to tell an entire staff of teachers that you have the permission to sort of ease off curriculum expectations, modify assessment and evaluation in any way that you need to, and just put health and wellness before all else. That’s been, that’s been really critical in, in, in terms of keeping the, the ship afloat during these crazy, these crazy times.


Sam Demma (12:13):
Yeah, those are all phenomenal reflections and I’m sure other principal listening right now can benefit. And from, from just hearing your experiences and maybe even implementing similar things in their schools, if, if they haven’t already what does wellness look like for you personally? How do you yourself afloat? You mentioned that if the leader kind of falls apart, you think the team does how do you attend to your own wellness? What does self-care look like for you?


Coral Klein (12:43):
I’m glad you asked that question, Sam, because it’s, it’s really something that I used to be terrible at. Yeah, I think earlier in my career you’re very driven kind of the pursuit of your goals and, and, and that type a need to be successful type personality. Yeah. That comes out in a lot of educators. It’s, it’s always there. So, I mean, I think as, as you age, I think you’re, you’re kind of driven by or motivated by less by sort of possessions and more by passions. And I think that in my case, anything that makes me smile and anything that helps me walk away feeling proud of something is something that motivates me and is something that keeps me going. So I love spending time with family spending time with friends. I have all kinds of hobbies.


Coral Klein (13:40):
I’ve walked away from passions like hockey in recent years, just because, you know, I’m getting older and, and that sometimes tends to be a young person’s sport, but certainly all those things are, are very important. I think one of the things we’ve all learned during the pandemic is the healing power of nature. So I think that getting out into the environment, into the fresh air, into the NA natural surroundings is, is a very healing thing. It’s very good for the soul and, and unfortunate because I live in thunder bay and thunder bay is amazing city with respect to access to natural surroundings and, and the beauty of nature. So it’s very easy, easy to do stuff like that.


Sam Demma (14:27):
That’s awesome. And balancing that with the professional development of, you know, your, your career sometimes challenges challenging because especially when a crisis happens and it seems like every moment of your life is spent during and focused on work. But when things are a little bit more in balance and have been for the previous years of your career, what are some of the resources, whether it be books, courses videos you watched, or other people that have inspired you, what are some of the resources that have been helpful in your own professional development? Working in the school.


Coral Klein (15:06):
Okay. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna back up a little bit on the question so that I, so you understand why these resources are important to me. So in thunder bay, we have a rising population with respect to indigenous students. So just to give you an example, I started as principal at the school about eight years ago, and our indigenous population, we, we currently have about 1100 kids or 1000 in fifth, our indigenous population was around 12, 13%. And it’s, it’s more than doubled now. Wow. And, and same within our community. So we have a rising population of indigenous learners. The challenge for us with respect to indigenous learners has been bridging the gap between them and no on indigenous peers. So what I mean by that is for whatever reason our indigenous students, their credit accumulation rates, their achievement levels to graduation rates, they lag behind their non-indigenous peers.


Coral Klein (16:05):
So it’s been a very big focus of mine personally, in my school, as well as our board in thunder bay to try and do a better, a job of meeting the needs of indigenous learners and trying to figure out where we’ve kind of dropped the ball or where we’re dropping the ball and what we can do better in order to meet their needs. And like I said, sort of lessen that gap that currently exists. Yeah. So with that in mind, I would say that with respect to a lot of the, the training that I’ve had recently, or the focus that we have in our school, a lot of it, it stems from there. So there have been a few people that I would strongly recommend that really made an impact on me. When I listen to them, speak, one is a, a guy named Kevin Lamaoreux, he’s amazing.


Coral Klein (16:54):
And, and he speaks a lot about the history of indigenous peoples in Canada and, and what educators frankly need to do and can do to help in the process of reconciliation. So he was amazing. Dr. Chris Mushquash is a child psychology who works here in thunder bay. He’s he’s of indigenous dissent himself. And he does a lot of work around kids with traumatic backgrounds, and he works with educators to help them understand trauma and, and what we can do to help kids that are coming from backgrounds of trauma to be successful. And I just thought he was, he was amazing. And then there was a third, there’s a third speaker that I heard. He too is also indigenous, but like the previous two you, you hear them speak and you just walk away feeling very inspired and you walk away with a lot of like really practical strategies to really help you get started and, and kickstart whatever action research or whatever may be going on in your school.


Coral Klein (18:06):
And, and his name is Niigaan Sinclair, and he’s, he’s just amazing. And, and I’m sure you’ve heard these names before. They’re all quite famous, but like, if I’m speaking to other educators out there in the world that want my opinion of, of a speaker that could come in and, and really be a game changer for you or your staff those are definitely, definitely three of them. There’s also a book that I read and I thought it was fantastic. And it’s a book called in insulting, hang on, I’ve got it. I don’t wanna mess it up, insulting our in insulting our schools. And again, it’s the same thing. It’s, it’s it a book about reconciliation and wellbeing and diversity and how, how you can promote and celebrate diversity in your school. And I, I think that resource is absolutely fantastic.


Sam Demma (19:04):
Amazing. And if you using your own experience as a resource as well, if you could bundle up all the years, you’ve worked in education and walk back into the first class you ever taught or worked in and like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, coral, this is what you need to hear right now. What would you tell your younger self, or what are some pieces of advice that you would you’d give to your younger self or potentially an another new educator who’s just getting into this work?


Coral Klein (19:41):
There’s probably a couple things I think people need to know who are going into education. I mean, right over the gates. I think it’s really important for principals and, and your principals and future teachers to know that to be effective in your roles, you, you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Your, your cognitive intelligence is, is not gonna be the thing that makes the difference between a highly effective teacher or highly effective principal. And, and not, I think I’ve learned over the years, the importance of emotional intelligence, emotional IQ to this job. I mean, let, let’s be honest, Sam, we are in the business of people and in my mind the number one characteristic or skillset that someone needs to possess, if you’re working in education is strong interpersonal skills, you have to be able to build relationships with people.


Coral Klein (20:35):
You have to be able to make those connections and, and people have to feel safe with you. If you cannot connect with a student, if you cannot establish a relationship with a student, you’re never gonna be able to teach them. And through the lens of a principal, it’s the same with your staff. If you cannot connect with your staff and form positive relationships, you’re never gonna be able to effectively lead them. So, I mean, I think the power and the importance of interpersonal skills and emotional and IQ, I can’t overstate that enough with respect to being a leader and, and being a principal. I, I think that there’s probably a couple other little things that I, I think are, are pretty important. Emotional regulation being one of ’em. You certainly can’t be a person who can’t remain calm in the midst of a storm for lack of a better analogy. I mean, you, you have to consciously control your emotions. I heard a, a strange quote, something along the lines of the fish rots from the head…


Coral Klein (21:49):
And, you know, like I said earlier, if the leader falls apart, the team falls apart. Well, if the leader isn’t managing very well in emotionally charged situations or crisis situations, then, then the team is gonna emulate that as well. So I think that’s also important. And I think that’s important to be said to people who are going into classrooms as well. I mean, the, the teachers need to be role modeling how to handle those sorts of situations and managing their emotions in a positive way. And then the kids will, the kids will emulate that. And then, I mean, I, I think I hinted at it a little bit earlier when I was talking about the importance of opening or, or maintaining strong lines of communication. I think you have to be a very strong communicator if you’re going to be effective in education. There’s, there’s really no getting around that.


Coral Klein (22:39):
Right. So as a leader or principal you, you establish the vision vision, you set the goals, you kind of set the parameters for what people are gonna do and the expectation and, and, and you create the conditions, I guess, that are necessary for other people to be successful and to thrive. So communication is a huge part of that. And I, like I said, I already kind of talked about that a little bit earlier, so yeah. So I guess my younger self thought, oh, well, if I have high IQ and I know my stuff, I’m good to go. And I, I, I think it’s a lot more than that.


Sam Demma (23:20):
That’s amazing. I interviewed another principal named Mike Anderson and he described running a school like organizing and being the CEO of a text art up. And he was like, yeah, he was like, you know, there’s a lot of different roles you have to fill. And it’s a very family-like environment, close knit. You have to build relationships and there’s always problems to overcome and situational challenges. Absolutely. So, yeah, your, your definition or description reminding me of that, but this has been a phenomenal conversation, coral, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and share your experiences amidst a storm right now. If someone was listening and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Coral Klein (24:08):
Probably over email. So it’s: coral_klein@lakeheadschools.ca. I also am a Facebook person, so I’m on Facebook. So there’s always the option of private message as well through via that means, but yeah. Email or, or Facebook is great.


Sam Demma (24:32):
Sounds good. All right. Well, thank you so much again for coming on the show and keep up the great work.


Coral Klein (24:37):
Thanks so much, Sam, take care, have a good day and stay safe. You as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Coral

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.

Rob Gilmour – Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education

Rob Gilmour - Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education
About Rob Gilmour

Rob has been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board and involved in computer-managed and online course delivery for most of his career. Rob started his career at Loyola teaching through the Pathfinder Learning Systems computer-managed program before initiating the online course program for the Board.

He co-founded the Ontario eLearning Consortium where he served as Executive Director before being seconded to the Ontario Ministry of Education as Education Officer for eLearning. Rob returned to the ALCDSB where he was elementary vice-principal and principal before returning to Loyola as Principal and taking on the additional role of eLearning Principal and Principal of International Education.

Connect with Rob: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario eLearning Consortium

Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

Michigan Virtual | Demand more from online learning

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):
Rob welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Rob Gilmour (00:10):
Sure. so my name’s Rob Gilmour and I’ve been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, kind of in the Kingston Pickton area of the province. So like I said, I started my career at Loyola, a school of adult and continuing education. I said 30 years ago, I looked after it was called Pathfinder learning systems. So it was computer-managed learning. So what would happen is the student would do a, kind it, of a pretest, a diagnostic test based on that score, they would be referred to a, a physical library of books. And so I’d say, go to this book and do this question, go to that book, do that question. Then they’d come back and they’d do a post test and based on those results, that would kind of guide them in terms of what to do next through the course.


Rob Gilmour (01:06):
So like I said, I went from that into kind of computer programming you know, Cisco networking courses. I then moved to the school board as a special assignment teacher to look after creating a an e-learning program for the board. Excuse me. From there, I, I met some other people from other boards in the province and kind of co-founded the Ontario e-learning consortium. Cool. and I was kind of the first executive director of that group. So helped lead that group for the first couple of years to I then was succonded to the Ontario ministry of education where I was an education officer for e-learning Ontario.


Sam Demma (01:53):
Nice.


Rob Gilmour (01:55):
So did that for a couple years. And then I got to a point where I, you know, I kind of had to make the decision, am I going to continue with the ministry or do I want to go back to the board? And I kind of missed working with students. Yeah. That’s the one thing with the ministry job. You’re kind of a long ways away from direct contact with students. And I missed that. That’s kind of why I went into teaching. So I returned to the board as elementary vice principal, the elementary principal, and eventually made my way back kind of full circle. So I’m back at Loyola, but as the prince, as the principal of Loyola. So yeah, as I’m principal here at Loyola, I also had duties as the e-learning e-learning principle for the board. I’m currently a, also the international education principal. So that’s for students coming overseas to Canada to study. So I kind of managed like after that program as well.


Sam Demma (02:57):
That’s awesome. Very diverse experiences. Take me back to your initial decision to get involved in education in your own career journey. Did you always know that you wanted to work with students in a school setting, or how did that decision come together for you as a professional?


Rob Gilmour (03:14):
Yeah, no, I didn’t. So I, I like and was involved with coaching early on in elementary school and high school coaching, younger students. So I knew I loved coaching, loved working with younger people, but I didn’t know if teaching was what, you know, the career path I wanted to go, Dale. My, my father was you know, involved with coaching. So I saw him he was a, not a teacher, but, you know, I had other friends that were so actually when I graduated from university, I became an educational assistant. Mm. So I was worked as an EA at local high school here in town and being in the classroom, being in the school you know, working with some students with special needs. I really, you know, after that experience, I knew that, okay, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life is, is working with kids and, and working in the school. So at that point I applied and went to teachers college and kind of the rest is history, as they say. Yeah.


Sam Demma (04:18):
You also mentioned the interest in engagement, starting the organization in e-learning. Where did, where did that passion for e-learning come from and tell, tell me a little more about that venture.


Rob Gilmour (04:32):
Yeah, so, like I said, it’s, it’s one of those things where, you know, as I started with the in Pathfinder learning system, so it was kind of computer managed learning, so it kind of very, so this is back in the early nineties. Yep. Very early nineties, so very kind of tiptoeing into kind of computer managed, computer online, learning in a sense. And so I kind of really started there. I mean, I didn’t have a background in computers. You know, I came outta teachers kind with, you know, geography, social sciences, and, you know, there was a job opening, so I took it and it was this computer managed learning. And from there they thought I knew something about computers which I really didn’t. And so, you know, but learned as I went along, so, you know, got into, I said, did got my Cisco certification and you know, to other courses in terms of software courses.


Rob Gilmour (05:27):
So there, I got kind of my love, I guess, for technology and working with computers. And and then, you know, e-learning was just kind of starting up right, as, as kind of the late nineties you know, they’re looking hot, you know, universities and postsecondary are starting into kind of the online learning. And so I think because I got into it very early on and it was new and, and I guess that’s something I’ve always liked in my career. I mean, I’ve always liked new challenges, new things, you know, maybe cutting edge or what have you, you know, so that’s always been attracted to me. And, and so, yeah, yeah, I kind of got involved with it, you know, met some great people along the way. You know, other educators had great support from my school board. So had great principals had great, you know, superintendents and director of education who really supported me along the way and kind of allowed me to go off and kind of develop and try to grow a program.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Very awesome. When you think back to your journey, what resources courses or other people, like what resources, whether it’s books, courses, or people did you did, did came across your path and you found really helpful that you might wanna shed some light on?


Rob Gilmour (07:00):
Yeah, I mean, at that time, the, the United States, the us were a little bit further ahead in can than Canadians in terms of online learning. So there was the Florida virtual school. There was also the Mitch Michigan virtual school. And so I, you know, the, luckily I was allowed to go to some conferences down in the United States where I, I got to hear speakers you know, people kind of leading these programs. And, and so, you know, kind of hearing what they’re doing, kind of the innovative things that they were doing and how they’re approaching not just kind of the delivery of the courses, but you know, how courses were created kind of the whole student engagement part, you know, trying to create, you know, those relationships online you know, all the challenges that, you know, typically online courses have, and, and talking kind of brainstorming with these other leaders kind of in, in the, in the area about how to overcome those challenges really kind of, you know, helped support me.


Rob Gilmour (08:07):
So, I mean, I don’t know if there was necessarily one person there was a, there was a book on a digital game-based learning, and certainly that had a real kind of interest. There was actually a gentleman at university in Kingston at that time who was doing a master’s program and, and looking at creating kind of a, a grade nine math curriculum. That would be basically almost like a digital game. Oh, wow. So, so, you know, you’d kind of go into it and, you know, based on question and should answer and guide you kind of through, you know, different doors and different options. So it is fairly basic, but just the whole concept and idea, because, you know, as you know, I mean, teenagers and you get them online and playing these video games, what, whatever game it might be, you know, Minecraft or whoever it might be. They’re certainly engaged. And so we are kind of thinking if we could create online courses similar to that you, you know, you and have to worry about telling students to go to school, they’d be engaged in it all the time. So that that’s kind of certainly the vision and the hope you know, that, that we get there at some point.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Would you buy any chance, remember to the name of the book or the, the professor?


Rob Gilmour (09:34):
I sort, I don’t, I mean, I think, I think the book was digital. Game-Based learning. Cool. I think is the name of the book. Okay. I can’t remember the gentleman, but


Sam Demma (09:44):
No, that’s okay. No worries. You mentioned that you, your career is come full circle and now you’re back at Layola, which is awesome. What does what does your role look like to day in this school?


Rob Gilmour (09:57):
So just to get background about what Loyola is, so Loyola’s kind of adult and continuing education. So we serve students 18 and over nice that are either coming back to get their high school diploma, or they’re looking to upgrade to go to college, or they need it for work. Also we offer English as a second language courses. So for newcomers to Canada. Yep. We have a personal support worker program. We have literacy and basic skills. So my, my role here is kind of supporting the teachers and the department heads but very fortunate to have kind of great department heads, great teachers. You know, a lot of times they say my role is to get outta the way of them because they do such a fantastic job and, and it’s kind of support them, look at, you know, I guess my role is to look at funding you know, kind of the financial side of things you know, making sure that programs are viable making sure that we have the right staff and the right positions.


Rob Gilmour (11:09):
And you know, I, I try as much as I can to, to talk with students because I mean, again, that’s, that’s kind of the, the love and the passion, right? Why you kind of go into education to begin with is you know, to, to make a difference in students lives to kind of help them in terms of where they wanna go in terms of their goals and their next steps. And we just try to help support students best we can to so that they can reach those goals and achieve whatever dreams that it is that they have education.


Sam Demma (11:40):
I’ve said this many times is like a gardener, or is like gardening, you, you plant seeds and the hope that they grow. And sometimes you see them grow right in front of your eyes. And other times, 20 years later, they flourish. And, you know, you’re lucky if the student comes back and finds you and says, Hey, Rob, you know what you said, had a massive impact. I’m curious to know when you think of stories like that, of transformations that you have seen, whether it’s a student or someone in the school that you heard about do any of those stories kind of jump to mind that that you’d like to share? And the reason I ask is because I, I think hearing those sort of transformations reminds teachers why this an educator is why this work is so important.


Rob Gilmour (12:28):
Yeah. I mean, certainly, I mean, you do hear some of those stories. Yeah. You do have some students that will come back to you and they’ll write you an email or they’ll send you a note or, or they’ll come up to you, especially during graduations. Yep. That, that they’ll come up and they’ll say, you know, thank you, you know, this program changed my life. You know, this teacher really helped me and, you know, helped me stay on track. You know, when I was ready to give up their, you know, they had the encouraging words or, you know, gave me a second chance. That’s, you know, you know, our sure. We’ve got it in the classroom here. You know, the big thing here is we, we talked about instilling hope. Mm. So kind of our role here is type to instill hope in our students, that they achieve success, that they can be successful.


Rob Gilmour (13:18):
And so, you know, yeah, you hear those stories, like I say, at graduations, now you will hear other things from other people. I, I, you know, a few years ago, I, I had a student when I was vice principal in elementary school. You know, I had a student who’s had ’em for a couple year. He is a little more challenging perhaps than kind of the other, other students. And we spent a lot of time together. And I think I was only with him for grade one and two, but in grade eight, he had to you know, write, write a paragraph on who had the greatest impact in his elementary career. Mm. And I heard that he, he put me down, which I was, you know? Yeah. I mean, kind of chokes you up a little bit. Yeah. The, you know, to know that you had that impact and, you know, like I say, I think most teachers will say, we don’t realize we have that impact.


Rob Gilmour (14:12):
Right. And that’s actually something that, you know, oftentimes you tell, you know, new teachers or young teachers to be aware of that you may not realize that impact, you know, the words that you say to students, you may not realize kind of the, the impact that you’re having on them. And, and, you know, you can quite literally change people’s lives and change people’s perspectives and, you know, mental health and everything else. So, so taking that responsibility seriously and, and making sure that, you know, you’re, you’re always being positive and you know, putting students first is, is always really critical.


Sam Demma (14:50):
That’s awesome. And so you explained you did a really great job explaining what Loyola stand Loyola stands for and the purpose of the school. What drew you to this school as opposed. And I know you’ve worked in elementary schools and others, but this is definitely unique a school. And I think it’s a really important, a really important school. What, what drew you to it?


Rob Gilmour (15:14):
Yeah. So I mean, the reason why I wanted to come back to, to Layola is you know, you’re dealing, you’re dealing with people here that you know, they’re not forced to come to school. There there’s no requirement that they must come to school. They’re coming back here because they, they want to come back. Yeah. and, and not that, that makes it any easier. But you know, you’re coming back with people that, you know, have a dream that they down deep inside, they really want to come back. They really want to try to improve their lives for themselves and for their families. And, but they have a lot of obstacles, whether or not it’s substance abuse, whether or not it’s you know, poverty, whether or not it’s mental health you know, there’s a lot of obstacles and, and so that makes them not in a necessarily the easiest students all the time to deal with.


Rob Gilmour (16:16):
But, you know, and oftentimes that makes it, you know, it can’t make it the most rewarding students to deal with. Yeah. Because, you know, when you do, you know, help somebody, you really are helping them. And, and, and they are very appreciative of it. Certainly, and yeah, so, so it’s, you know, it’s just a different student that you may find in, in a, in an elementary school or a regular high school, kind of that adult learner is you know, they’re, they’re motivated, they’re, they’re dedicated, but, you know, oftentimes they’d have families, they have work, they have all these other commitments right. On top of them. And, and so anything you can do to kind of help them and support them is is tremendously rewarding. And so that’s kind of, you know, in terms of ending my career, that’s certainly kind of the, the place I wanted to be to, to, to, to go out For, for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:19):
And if you could, if you could take all of the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in education over the past, I think you said 30 years you’ve been working in education. Yep. Yeah. If you could bundle it all up, walk into the first that you ever taught in and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rob, here’s what I wish you knew. What advice would you have given yourself?


Rob Gilmour (17:48):
Well, I mean, you’re always told, right. You know, going through teachers college anywhere else, or any PD that, you know, professional learning just about the whole relationships piece. Right. Yeah. You know, it’s a, you know, as a young teacher, perhaps you’re so focused on curriculum. Okay. So, you know, my lessons that, you know, know sometimes you, you forget about the relationship piece. And so I would think that, you know, that’s the kind of the most important thing to, you know, and think that needs to really guide you is, is having those relationships with students, having those relationships with staff, with parents you know, you’ll cut, you’ll get the, for the curriculum, you know, that, you know, don’t, don’t worry and panic about, well, I, I need to cover, you know, fractions next week because if I don’t cover fractions next week, I’m gonna be behind.


Rob Gilmour (18:40):
And, you know, and, and there’s that, you know, that little bit of panic sets in, you know, as, as a young teacher, because you wanna do a good job and you wanna make sure you’re preparing your students for, you know, the next grade and the next step that they need to do. And you know, so you’re trying to make sure they have all the knowledge and things, all those pieces, but, you know, like I said, that relationship piece and, and, you know, the building, the whole child, they talk about, you know, making sure that, you know, that, you know, the, the they’re respectful that they get along well with their peers and that, you know, you’re helping them with those pieces too. Because they’re, you know, as equally important in terms of, you know, their future and where they help to go having those pieces. So yeah, I guess that would be my, my main message that would tell myself.


Sam Demma (19:30):
That’s awesome. And if someone is listening to this conversation wants to reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Rob Gilmour (19:41):
Yeah. So they could you know, through Loyola. So certainly they could talk, contact me at Loyola either by phone. They’re welcome to email me (email). I have a LinkedIn you can, you know, search me through, through LinkedIn account. You know, so there’s few different ways and I, I’m more than open to, to talking to, to people. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s the one great thing in terms of education is you know, I kind of learned through my, my career is there’s a lot of great people that know way more than me, or others do. And oftentimes they’re very keen and eager to share that knowledge and experience with you.


Rob Gilmour (20:37):
You know, you just need to ask sometimes people a little bit shy cuz they feel that they don’t have much to offer, but once you kind of ask the question, you find it they’re full of great information and knowledge and can really help you out. And you know, be, and because of the, kind of the work that I’ve done, you know, kind of doing things that are somewhat new, like I said, with e-learning in, in the province you know, you’re always discovering something new and a new way of doing things, a new approach. You know, the biggest challenge the last little while that, you know, everyone’s had in education is, you know, with the pandemic. Yeah. you know, you’ve been forced to find new ways of doing things. And, and it’s, you know, it’s not all bad either.


Rob Gilmour (21:28):
And some of those new ways new approaches to, you know, deliver programming, you know, you know, bringing in a part, you know, hybrid type of delivery of courses is, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been a big advocate of it. We did action research project a couple years ago that that proved in terms of adult education anyway, a that kind of the hybrid approach. Some in class, some online provides the flexibility for students, but also provides that, you know, relationship piece, that accountability piece, you know, look in the person eye to eye you know, really helps to lead to, to success. So yeah, but like I said, by all means people are more than welcome to, to reach out to me. I’m happy to, to talk and to share anything that I can offer. Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Awesome. Well, again, this has been an amazing conversation, Rob, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and come on the show. I keep up the great work. Can I look forward to connecting again soon?


Rob Gilmour (22:31):
Great. Thanks very much, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rob

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.

Al Mclean – Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School

Al Mclean - Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School
About Al Mclean

Al Mclean has been an educator for 25 years and is currently the Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School (TH & VS). Al taught in a small community high school for 6 years, in K-6 school for two years and a Grade 7/8 school for four years. Before becoming Principal, Al was the Vice Principal at two high schools in Timmins for 11 years. Outside of the classroom Al enjoys hiking, backpacking, squash, hockey and hunting.

Al has been married for 17 years with two children. His favourite quote is: “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts.” – Murray Sinclair (former Senator and chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

Connect with Al: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

District School Board Ontario North East

Timmins High & Vocational School

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Canada.ca

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):
Al welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do?


Al Mclean (00:11):
Okay. So first off I’m Al I work with district school board Ontario Northeast. I am currently located in Tim’s Ontario. We’re about eight hours north of Toronto. So I’ve been working with the school board for 25 years now six as a teacher, 19 as an administrator principal at all levels, of the system from K to 12. I’ve also been VP at this school, particularly for seven years. And this is my third go-round at this school. And I’m back for my first time as principal for the last two. But I think what kind of gets me very excited is that it’s, it’s always changing and you get to see the best in kids. You get them as they come in in grade nine and you get to see them leave in grade 12. And the changes that they exhibit in four years is amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the elementary levels as well just to see the changes there, but it’s just so exciting to be with the kids and the energy that they often provide is fantastic for guys like me as I get a little older in my career.


Sam Demma (01:26):
That’s awesome. Would your school be located close to O Gorman? I know it’s different boards, but is that in the same area in Tim’s are very far away.


Al Mclean (01:35):
Yeah, we’re, we’re actually fairly close. So we’re in like a little educational hub. So not only do we have at other high school from Urman from our, our English Catholic, but right. We’re actually right beside a French Catholic high school as well. Nice. And across the road from us is our grade seven, eight feeder school. And around the corner is the French Catholic school, seven, eight feeder school. So it’s always a busy place. And my colleagues at all those buildings, I know very well and you’re fantastic people and but that’s basically where we are.


Sam Demma (02:08):
That’s awesome. And what, what got you into education when you think back to your own career journey and search, did you know you wanted to be in education and how did you land here?


Al Mclean (02:20):
Well, mine actually, I was that typical when I was in school at, we had the OAC year, the grade 13 year. Yep. So I was wandering around and basically my guidance counselor said, look, you have two days to decide what you’re doing and where you’re applying to. And, and so I was fortunate. I had two teachers and and I’ll start with probably the second greatest influence in my teaching career is a guy named Bob. And he was came to me. I came to my stool in my grade 12 year and was a PHY ed teacher. And and so I remember two particular incidents with him, but one that really stood out and why I wanted to be a teacher is that he, he came to watch a basketball game. So he had taught me in PHY ed.


Al Mclean (03:06):
He knew we were playing basketball and he came to watch a switch was surprising, cuz we weren’t a good team at all. I grew up in, in bury Ontario and there were much better high schools at basketball than us. And so Bob was in the stands. We lost by I think, 48 points. And I remember going in a class the next day and Bob pulled me aside and we said, you know, good game last night. And I kind of chuckled and said, well, Hey, we lost. Right. And he said, but, but your effort didn’t change. Right? Your effort from start to finish down by two, down by 48, never changed. And he said, that’s gonna serve you well in your future life. And at this time he didn’t know kind of what I was thinking of doing. So I really appreciated that.


Al Mclean (03:51):
And then I went the next day to another gentleman by the name of Brian and Brian was my English teacher for a couple years. And Brian was ahead of the curve. So back in 1992, when I graduated, you know, there’s no computers there’s no internet. There’s nothing like that. Right? Yeah. So Brian just had this creative way of teaching us and letting us do stuff. So for example, he said I want you to Chronicle you every year from zero to 18 and you decide how you want to present it to me. So you can imagine kids are doing all sorts of different things. So I, I met with him and I said, look, I’m going into teaching. And you’re a big reason why, like the last two years with you seeing what you do with kids. And, and he really helped me come outta my shell in terms of taking risks, taking chances.


Al Mclean (04:44):
Right. And, and he gave me that confidence. So I said, I’m going in because of you primarily. And I, something he always said to me and I can’t credit him for, for actually coming up with this. Cause I don’t know. But he said to me, he said, look, when you get into a teaching career, he says, I, I’m very thankful you’re going in. I think you’re gonna do a great job, but always remember this, just try and seek to change the life of one kid per semester or change the course of a life. And he said over 30 year career, two semesters that 60 kids, what other profession, other than medical or emergency services can say that if, if you use that as your guide, you’ll do very well in life. And I’ve always taken that to heart. And, and I’ve tried to tell other teachers that along my way because it’s been very true for me.


Al Mclean (05:34):
Right? And, and one of the good things sadly Brian passed away years a few years after his retirement, but I’ve did get the chance to tell him his impact and everything. And so a couple years ago, about six, seven years ago, I get this random email from a secretary that says this, this girl’s trying to reach out to our school. She remembers this teacher and I’m not sure, but you were here at the time. You might remember. So I said, well, it’s me give her my email. And I remember the student, I had taught her and she she had a, a serious incident mentally and needed some guidance. And I was just there, you know, just listening. Yeah. And, and she wrote this email to me, that basically said, because you listened because you did this you know, I now had the confidence to seek out mental health.


Al Mclean (06:29):
And I am now working for Canadian mental health. I’m an advocate. And I use you as an example all the time. Wow. And you know, those are, are some of the things that it obviously brings a huge smile to my face and that’s why we do, and I do what I do. But it’s just nice to hear that. And you don’t always hear it, you know, a year later or two years later. So it’s, it’s gratifying. It it’s, it obviously makes us feel very good when we do get those things. But even just little things when you see a kid change in four years, and whether you had a little hand in that as an administrator or teacher, it just feels good. And, and I think that’s why we all do what we do in this profession.


Sam Demma (07:11):
I loved what you mentioned about the goal or the intention of changing the course of one student’s life per semester of, of our 30 year career Tupac Shakur, who is a poet he’s passed away now, but he would always say, I might not inspire the kid or change the life of the kid, change the life of a kid, but I will spark the mind of somebody who will, and I think in education, it, it creates such a ripple effect. You have a positive impact on, or change the course of the life of one student. They might change the course of the life of another 10. And it just can, it continually ripples, which is really awesome. And like you mentioned, sometimes you don’t hear the stories. Sometimes you plant the seed and it gets watered 20 years later. I but it doesn’t lessen the impact in any way, shape or form. No. So your journey, so, so tell me a little bit more about that journey itself. So you made the decision, you were gonna get into it because of these two teachers. And then what did that journey look like?


Al Mclean (08:14):
So it after university I applied to a job in a small north remote community, about 45 minutes north of here called Erica falls. And I had a, like I said, I grew up in Sudbury. I went to school in thunder bay, Ontario at Lakehead university. Nice. So the north was always something that attracted me and, and I love the lifestyle of it. So I got this job in this small remote community. And then it was about 5,000 people that lived there. So as a new teacher, when I walked in there, it was, everybody knew you like, you were the new kid, you were the new person in town. I stuck out like a sore thumb, right? Like you’d walk into a place and people would be like, you didn’t grow up here, you know, type of thing. So it, it really taught me teaching in there.


Al Mclean (09:02):
It, it was great. I met some wonderful students that have now actually are teachers in my school. Cool. And, and just some other wonderful kids that have become friends along the way through a variety of different means. But it was really interesting because when you teach in a small community and you know, our small, Northern remote communities, even up the coast that would, would do this too. It’s. Everybody has like, feels like it’s, it’s a piece of you, right? Like they just feel like they see you at school. They see you in the community know, they might see me at the gym and, and it’s this expectation that you’re available to them. And, and I really appreciated that because when I grew up in Subbury sometimes in some classes you feel my high school was 1200 kids. You feel like a number going through.


Al Mclean (09:50):
Right. But the kid that sees me at the gym in Erica falls that comes back and says, Hey, you know, I saw you at the gym. What were you working on? Arms legs, back chest. Like, what were you doing? You know, it’s, it took on a different idea for them. And it just this idea that they could relate to you, but at the same time, you know, keep that professional student distance. But I just found, it was a way in and a way for me to get to know them. So when I teach them, it doesn’t become like some of the teachers I had where you’re in there for an hour and 20 minutes. And you leave. Yeah. You know, some kids really appreciated that, you know, we knew them, I knew their parents. Let’s say I got to know some of their parents. So it’s just that small community feel.


Al Mclean (10:33):
And it, it really impacted me in terms of ING every day to, to really reach out to kids. Right. So in the role I play as an administrator whether it’s vice principal or principal here, you know, there’s 620 kids here right now. And, you know, the pandemic is one thing because of mass. But when I was here as a VP, I really tried to reach out to the kids that I see in the office. So that a kid walking through this building could say, you know, what, the principal or the vice principal talked to me today, you know? And, and, and to me, that’s what the small community brought that, that was part of my biggest learning of the journey. Was that always remember that, you know, whether Al McClain was doing well in school or not, he needed somebody to say, Hey, how’s your day today? Mm. You know, how was that basketball game last night? And, and there’s always those kids that may not get that. And we forget that sometimes that, you know, that there are kids that we think go along okay. In schools, but always reach out to them because they need that.


Sam Demma (11:37):
A hundred percent. And back to the good game comment that one of your mentors, men, you know, said to you staying motivated and showing up, despite the fact that you’re down 48 points yeah. Is a quality that’s important for all human beings. I would argue that that situation is replicated in education right now with all educators. Absolutely. It feels like we’re down 48 points.


Al Mclean (12:05):
Absolutely.


Sam Demma (12:07):
How do you, or how do we still do our best to show up positive? We, during times like this?


Al Mclean (12:14):
Well, I think for me and the staff I work with and I’ve worked with some of these staff members on and off for 15 years now. Wow. And, and I would think, and, and the one thing that keeps me motivated, and I like to think keeps them motivated is they’re invested in these kids. Mm. Like this is whether they’re family, friends, or kids of family, friends, whether they, they know the parents, the grandparents just the fact that teachers are invested in kids and, and know that they can make the difference. Like when I look back you know, one of the comments I made to my staff about Brian and Bob was, you know, 30 years ago, 25, you know, 30 years ago, they didn’t call, ’em a caring adult, but we do now. Right. They didn’t talk about teaching resiliency to kids, but that’s what they were doing.


Al Mclean (13:05):
You know? So these practices have always been there. And I’d like to think that our staff is well aware and staff across the board are well aware of these ideals and, and what motivates us and, and me, and a lot of the ones I work with and have worked with is that idea that they do have that impact regardless of what’s going on. So, you know, whether we’re in a pandemic and over a computer screen, they’re trying to reach out to make sure your experience is the same as in a classroom. When you walk through the door, they’re trying to make sure that, Hey, Sam, you know, how was your night you know, did you have hockey last night? Did you play, you know, did you have your music lesson? How’d that go? So they’re invested. And I think that’s what motivates us all is that we know on some level we make a difference and what we do day to day, whether it all, whether it’s a large impact, but we recognize that we wanna make sure we replicate that day after day. And like you said, with Tupac provide that spark.


Sam Demma (14:04):
Absolutely. And as an educator, curiosity is something that you have to have. I, I think back to the teachers that made the biggest impact on me and his, my teacher that changed my life was named Mike loud foot world issues, teacher. And he’s retired now. And he started the semester by walking into the middle of the class and saying, I don’t want you to believe anything. I’m gonna tell you. But if it makes you curious, I want you to go home and explore more yourself. And it instantly hooked me. And he, he spent the whole semester with this thick binder like this Al and it was all his own personal notes on history, on different aspects of history and different aspects of world issues. And he was so curious about learning himself, that his curiosity just naturally rubbed off on all of us. I’m, I’m curious throughout your journey throughout education, have there been any resources or books or programs that you’d went through as a teacher and an administrator that you thought was meaningful and helpful for my own in like personal development and curiosity. And if there is anything that comes to mind, maybe not an actual physical resource, but even a mindset shift please feel free to share.


Al Mclean (15:20):
Well, I, would think one of the things that O over my, my career and, and when I started my career, like I said computers, weren’t a big thing in the inner Annette, wasn’t a big thing. So, you know, you talk about that binder. When I, I was remember in E falls, I was teaching a law class and I would have a subscription of McLeans and I would photocopy articles that I could bring into my classes. Mm. And, and talk about in my psychology classes. And it, it’s interesting in, when you talk about a program, I would say the tire equity, inclusivity change. That’s been happening in education. Yeah. It’s been coming for a while. It’s been term that now. But I would think, I look back to when I was in high school and in no way did the students, I went to school with resemble the students I see in high school now.


Al Mclean (16:09):
Yeah. So when I think, you know, whether it’s, you know, I, I made the, I’ll make this comment later probably, but black lives matter. Every child matters our LGBTQ two plus community. When I really look back at it. And I say, those people have come to the forefront of education and their needs have been put forth more than Al McClain’s needs. And I think that’s a good thing because the Al Blains of the world might just, by the way I look get through, but not everybody. And I, I really have to say that you know, I know you interviewed our director as well. And and she has the indigenous portfolio. I’m very fortunate to work with some amazing indigenous you know, student advisors and an indigenous vice principal. And one of the things, and, and they’re able to provide to me is a perspective that I can’t get through a history book.


Al Mclean (17:05):
Yep. Right. And, and so I really appreciate that. And I say, that’s the biggest change on, on me and my journey. And my learning is that now these textbooks that didn’t tell us everything, I now work with professionals that have that knowledge and are willing to share it. And it’s, it’s fantastic, you know, and, and I, I’d be remiss to say that, you know, I’ll talk about a student later, but the students too, they’re the student voice. And, and I that’s been the offshoot of everything is that we have allowed the student to have a greater voice, and they’re taking advantage of it to be able to tell us a lot of different things.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Tell me more about that student voice aspect. What have you seen slowly start to come to life by giving students more of an opportunity to speak up and share?


Al Mclean (17:55):
So I’ll, I’ll refer to one of the things that happened to us on September 30th. I apologize if there’s a, a sound in the, in the background.


Sam Demma (18:03):
No worries. You’re a busy guy.


Al Mclean (18:06):
But one, one things that happened on September 30th and the national day of truth and reconciliation is we, we had wonderful community partners that came and they set up a TP the night before. And we had a couple of students who spent hours here helping them set it up. The next day, when we came to school, we had two who students practice traditional teachings out of the TP. And we invited teachers to bring their classes down and to sit in and afterwards I was talking with one of the students and I said, you know, how was today? And, and he said to me, he goes, you know, it was excellent. He goes, I can’t believe I’ve had an opportunity to teach what has been taught to me through my elders in a school setting. Wow. And as a, as a I’m English history qualified.


Al Mclean (18:57):
So as a history teacher, it, it really hit me to say, you know, here I am in my 25th year, we’re 2021. You only now are students feeling comfortable to, to do this. Yeah. Right. You know, and, and so that really hit me and, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the teachings that they had. And I think it’s one of the things that we wanna hold close is that, you know, we want students to be able to feel comfortable because when I started here in 2007, I made this comment to the staff in my first year and a half here, when I started here in 2007 you know, we have an indigenous population. That’s almost a quarter to a one fifth of our school. And I remember talking with some students who were fearful to walk through the building, whether you were indigenous or non-indigenous, you just didn’t feel like part of the building, you know? And when students say that they don’t feel like part of your building part of your workplace, that, I mean, that hits home. Right. So now to see the change in the last 15 years, it’s been and I’m not claiming responsibility for some wonderful administrative teams before me that have done a lot of groundwork. But it’s just great to see. And I think that’s, that’s the thing I noticed most about student voice is that that transition from this is a building I walk into versus this is a building I haven’t impacted.


Sam Demma (20:23):
Mm that’s amazing. And as you go through education, work in different roles and positions, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot personally. If, if you could wrap up your experience and you could walk into the first classroom that you ever taught and like, watch your younger self teach and kinda like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Al, here’s one piece of advice for you. Yeah. What would you say to your younger self and also to other educators who are just getting into this vocation?


Al Mclean (20:57):
I, would think, and, and I thought I thought about this question and, and I always go back to nine 11 you know, what happened in 2001 and nine 11 in the us. And I remember I was in class and it’s my fourth, fourth year of teaching. And I remember a guidance counselor coming in and, and saying, you know, the world, like there’s planes hitting, you know, towers. And all of a sudden all the internet went down and people were crashing the internet trying to get information. And I remember afterwards what came out of that was, you know, these are the people that did it. And, and again, no fault of the people I worked with, but it almost came, if you look like this, you’re not a good person. Mm. Right. And, and when you watched a lot of the media, and I think I’d go back and I’d, I’d really talk to my, my younger self about, about, explain more about media to, to students and, and the interpretation.


Al Mclean (21:54):
Right. And, and we see it now, we’re lucky that kids are socially aware and the internet provides a lot of things. But I think back then, you know, I didn’t realize it until a couple years later when I got into an administrative role that, you know, you look at the kid, you know, you don’t look at oftentimes, you know, where they’re coming from, or, or who, they’re a part of. Sometimes you look at the kid, you look at their situation because I think for a good year afterwards, it was like, you know, if you’re from this country, you’re bad. Mm you’re. You are the country that terrors. And I don’t think it, it still happens today. Yeah. Right. We still have that. But I think, you know one of the things I’d say is try and do a much better job when you’re younger of changing that narrative.


Al Mclean (22:42):
And I think that’s my, that’s my, my one thing to young teachers coming in right now is regardless of what’s happening in the world starts to change the narrative. If there is a, a report on, on the news, or, you know, we always like to joke here with one of our, our history teachers. We’re big, obviously big history guys, you know, the change in politics, let’s say in the us, from Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, to Joe Biden, you, you look at those things and you don’t want that narrative coming out without some context. So yeah. Don’t let things just go by right. Talk about it you know, engage students in it because they will engage in these conversations and they want to, so that would be my biggest advice is, is just to engage in the conversation and, you know, frame the narrative, let students talk about the narrative frame it, because the other thing I find is, and this was you know, going back to my, my very first year I had a student come back or sorry, my second year I had a student come back from university saying like, sir, I came from a town of 5,000.


Al Mclean (23:48):
I went to Ottawa, which was, you know, 850,000 people. And sir, like, there’s things going on that you’d never realize, like things that happen at night. And, you know, and I, I sat there and I said, well, that’s, that’s life, that’s life in a big city. And she’s like, I was never exposed to it. We never talked about this. Right. So I think that’s the thing is, is engaging people. And it’s hard to do. I think we’ve seen with certainly the events of all the, the mass graves that we’ve that, you know, Canada has exposed over the last year. Those come conversations can’t be avoided and, and they’re good conversations to have framed correctly. That would be my, my biggest thing to get to young teachers is don’t shy away from that because there’s opportunities in there if done correctly.


Sam Demma (24:40):
So important. I interviewed a lady named Pella who runs a media literacy company, and she is hyper focused on media. And, you know, she explains that media is anything that communicates a message, like absolutely everything that communicates a message is a form of media. And yeah, there are so many things to worry about or, or not to worry about, but to think about and reflect on when consuming media first being who’s the publish. Sure. And what is the publisher’s point of view and understanding those two things first kind of changes the way that you interact with it and engage with it. And I think having those discussions in classes about media is so important. So that’s a phenomenal piece of advice. If, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you Al and just shoot you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Al Mclean (25:30):
I would say there’s a couple of different ways. So Timmis, vocational school does have a website. You could easily search it off our dsb1.ca. You’ll get to it. We do have th HBS Instagram accounts, but if somebody wants to reach out, my email is Al.Mclean@dsb1.ca. I’ll welcome any conversation.


Sam Demma (25:59):
I’ll keep up the great work and thank you so much for coming on the show.


Al Mclean (26:02):
All right, Sam, thank you very much for inviting me. I, certainly appreciate the work you do too. And, and your messaging around last year as well. I, I watched your messaging and the work that you’re doing is, is awesome. And it’s great to see. And again, a, another example of a teacher lighting, a spark, as you said, and, and, and look what’s happening, right. And I think you’re doing awesome things, and I’m just, I was glad to be a part of this.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Al

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 Holwegner – CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc “The Chocoholic Nutritionist TM”

Andrea Holwegner - CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc "The Chocoholic Nutritionist TM"
About Andrea Holwegner

Andrea Holwegner (@ChocoholicRD) is the founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. established in 2000. Her mission is to empower people to create a healthy and joyous relationship with food and their body.

She leads a team of experienced dietitians that help busy families with meal planning success, weight concerns, eating disorders, digestive issues, sports nutrition, heart health, diabetes and more. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education.

In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, mountain biking and sipping wine with her husband over a delicious meal. Most of all, she loves being a mom and playing in the dirt in the vegetable garden she grows with her son. Join Andrea’s free nutrition newsletter that goes out to thousands of people each week for her latest TV segments, articles and healthy recipes from her award-winning blog at www.HealthStandNutrition.com/newsletter

Connect with Andrea: Email | Twitter | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

National Eating Disorder Information Centre

Health Stand Nutrition Blog

Russ and Jay Shetty Podcast Interview

Dan Siegel: Name it to Tame it

Andrea’s website

Andrea’s free weekly newsletter 

Nutrition for mental health (article and video)

9 things everyone should know about eating disorders

Dispelling the top 4 myths about eating disorders (article and video)

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):
Andrea, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are?


Andrea Holwegner (00:12):
Well, thanks for having me, Sam, of course. People mostly call me the Chocaholic Nutritionist because of my passion for balanced, not clean living. But of course, my name’s Andrea Holwegner. I’m a registered dietician, a busy mom and owner of Health Stand Nutrition in Calgary and lead a team of about 10 dieticians and growing as we speak specializing in really helping people with overall health and wellness and, you know, topics like how to get enough veggies to wanna, you know, take care of your health, but still save room for our favourites, like chocolate and potato chips and all the good stuff too.


Sam Demma (00:52):
If I was choosing to work with a dietician, they would have to have a giant picture with chocolate-covered strawberries in their office, or they would not be an option.


Andrea Holwegner (01:03):
Oh. And that might just be what I’m staring at right behind me here.


Sam Demma (01:09):
Yeah. That’s, it’s so awesome. Where did your passion for, you know, health and nutrition come from? Where, where did that stem from?


Andrea Holwegner (01:19):
You know, I was raised by a mom that like baked bread and we had family dinner together each night and just a family of, of food, loving people. My grandparents were farmers and grew all sorts of good stuff in the garden. So I just had a really rich upbringing with the love of, of good food and good culture. And then along the way, my dad in his forties became quite sick with cardiovascular disease. He became one of the youngest guys that were being followed by a local cardiologist here for very complex heart disease. And so he had some bad genetics both of his parents really complicated health histories and, you know, my dad, wasn’t the healthiest guy. There was probably a little bit too much you know, baked goods and all sorts of good stuff that he liked to to get into.


Andrea Holwegner (02:12):
He was a chewing tobacco guy. He was a banker, but he was a chewing tobacco guy, which was an interesting thing. So that also increased his risk. And so I watched him go through complicated, you know, health, recovery quadruple bypass surgery carotid artery surgery. And, you know, as a, a kid in high school going into post secondary, I was really starting to look at the connection between nutrition and health. And so the rest is history, sort of a, a food loving dietician, married with a total nerdy science brain that wanted to know more about how food connected to our overall health. And that’s how I ended up here.


Sam Demma (02:56):
When you’re going through school you get bombarded with so many different ideas. Atkin’s diet, this diet that diet eat these food groups, don’t eat these food groups. How do you approach nutrition from a Al approach? And maybe this is like what you get when you consult with you, but in a nutshell, what is your approach to nutrition and how could someone listening start to embody the same approach?


Andrea Holwegner (03:28):
Well, I love this question because of course the word diet when you even you ask people how that’s perceived or even the word dietician, and of course the word dietician has the word diet in it, and it also has the word diet it. And so most people think they’re going to be deprived and it’s gonna be awful. And that they’ll, you know, never be able to enjoy their favorite, fast foods or chocolates or ice creams or taco chips, whatever your favorites might be. But really when we look at our brand at health stand nutrition and our overall philosophy, it’s always about coming back to the big picture. So I always say to people, there are no bad foods, there’s only bad overall diets. And so if you love McDonald’s French fries, or if you love chocolate like me what we want to think about is, well, how do we make sure that stays in your diet? And then we wrap healthy eating around it. And this is a way more vulnerable, enjoyable, fun way to live than thinking about taking out all of the joy and being known as a fun sucking dietician. I have no interest in that. I have a total interest in teaching people how to keep all the good stuff in and finding the joy.


Sam Demma (04:38):
Do you think it’s obvious that there’s a, between nutrition and physical health, even explain through your situation, watching your father go through his situations? Do you also believe there is a connection mentally based on the foods that we choose to consume and eat?


Andrea Holwegner (04:57):
Absolutely a hundred percent. What we know about nutrition is if you think about it, there’s nothing more immediate that has an impact on your energy, your mental health, and how you focus, concentrate at school or work and how you feel than what you’re eating. And that can happen in the matter of minutes to, you know, an hour. If you think about how you feel, if you haven’t eaten in a long time, it could be state of hangriness that starts to, to emerge where we get hunger mixed with anger in our practice, we’ve also coined the term anxiety, and that means you’re, you know, anxious. Some people get really anxious when they haven’t fueled themselves properly and maybe it’s cuz they didn’t plan ahead, they forgot, or maybe they’re following some crazy cleany eating plan or low carb plan or whatever plan might be trending on Instagram or TikTok trying to, you know, make them a, a different version of themselves. And the more we restrict fuel, particularly carbohydrates for our brain, usually the hanger and the more anxious people get and nutrition has an absolute direct correlation to how we feel. And so when, what we’ve seen through COVID is a massive spike in mental health issues across the globe. Our business has grown as a result of so many emotional eating issues and working from home issues for parents, for kids and massive increases in eating disorders very much directly a mental health illness connected to food.


Sam Demma (06:33):
What does that look like? What is typically, what does the K that you typically get presented? It’s obviously not a good thing that more of these cases are happening and I mean, it’s a good thing. Your business is growing, but it’s unfortunate that it’s because of the health challenges of more and more people. What, when someone comes to you with this sort of a challenge, what does, what does it typically look like? And I, I would assume every situation is different, but give us a little bit of an idea,


Andrea Holwegner (07:01):
You know, maybe the best way to, to share this might be just to go through a couple of examples of, you know, some of the situations that we’re seeing, that’s really common. So we’ve seen you know, whether it’s teachers or, or, you know, individuals that are working from home, the whole changing dynamic of work has really shifted how people eat when they eat, what they eat and when your refrigerator is right next to you and you’re bored or you’re stressed, it becomes a source of comfort, right? And we all eat for emotional eatings or emotional reasons. Dieticians included, you know, the beginning of the pandemic, I pretty much wanted to just sit down with a box, a chocolate and call it a day. I mean, it was overwhelming for all of us.


Andrea Holwegner (07:41):
So because of that shift in the working environment, we’ve seen a huge shift in in people’s mental health. And then as a result of that, we’ve seen some people, for example, put on 50 pounds in developed diabetes or heart issues struggles with their body image and their confidence as a result of, you know, even being on a screen and through video conferencing has shifted people’s ability to really, you know, feel self confident. When you’re staring at yourself on video each day, it, it’s not healthy. It’s like walking around with a mirror attached to you and that’s not good for anybody. So one of the first things we do with our clients working on zoom is we teach them how to turn off their self view so that they’re not having to see themselves, cuz it’s really exhausting people, self-check themselves a lot and we just want them to be present and focused on why we’re here and what we’re doing.


Andrea Holwegner (08:34):
The next sort of piece, you know, if we were to sort of dive a little deeper into what we’re seeing with eating disorders you know, it depends on the source that you’re looking at, but there’s probably been a 30% rise in eating disorders, particularly amongst young adolescents going to school and that’s for a variety of reasons, you know, no surprise, everything changed school, changed their social community, changed you know, dance and music and sports, all of that community. And that way that adolescence really connect and alleviate stress. All of that became, it was just gone. And then households were experiencing a lot of family dynamics and family stress as a result of that as well. And so we see this huge increase in in eating disorders and knowing that in Canada alone, we’ve got a million people diagnosed with an eating disorder right now on top and that was pre COVID. So I don’t know what these numbers are gonna look like towards the end of this year, but it’s super concerning what we’re seeing in the collaborative work we’re doing with physicians and and therapists throughout the country,


Sam Demma (09:41):
Seeing yourself on conferencing is one challenge. I think for young people, it’s also challenging when they’re on TikTok, Instagram, seeing what is being presented as the perfect person, the perfect body image, the perfect diet, the perfect exercises it goes on and on. How do we address this? Or when someone comes with you comes to you with a case of emotional eating or an eating disorder, what are some of the initial steps that you know, that you can take or they can take to start working on it and, and hoping to soon resume back to a positive, more holistic diet approach?


Andrea Holwegner (10:26):
Yeah. So if we, if we were to look at first off, you know, like why do eating disorders even happen in the first place? I think a lot of times people see it as you know, it’s purely image focused or body weight focused, and really that’s actually quite a myth. What we know about eating disorders is there’s some genetic predisposing factors for example, being highly perfectionistic and achievement oriented. So we see if I think of our client load that we see often in our practice, these are like the top of the class. These are the kids that are the troublemakers. These are the adolescents that are, you know, on the social committees. They are like leading the charge in their peers. But with that drive and that high achieving mentality sometimes comes a lot of anxiety and a lot of feeling the need to perform or be perfect in so many of ways from school and in their extracurricular activities.


Andrea Holwegner (11:21):
The other thing too we know about eating disorders is there’s a lot of cultural factors, there’s mental health factors. There’s a lot of family dynamic factors. So for example, how your family communicates and how sort of emotionally connected they are, has a really big impact on our ability to be emotionally sound as well. And so oftentimes we see when we inherit an eating disorder, adolescent or teenager or someone in their twenties or thirties, oftentimes we probably inherit their family in the work that we need to do. So sometimes you know, parents might not be great at emotion coaching and helping their kids through stress and anxiety and what to say. And, and and so therapists that we collaborate with will spend a lot of time digging into the family dynamics. Sometimes it’s you know, when, when we look at who also is at risk for eating disorders, absolutely.


Andrea Holwegner (12:16):
The LGBTQ plus community is highly at risk for eating disorders just based on so much of a journey and being true to who they truly are at the end of the day. So if that is you, I, I, and you’re listening to this podcast. I just want you to know you are absolutely not alone. There’s help eating disorders that are affecting all different ages, all different genders all different socioeconomic patterns. You know, we’ve had lots of LGBT members as clients. We’ve had young boys that are 13 with anorexia. We’ve had women in their sixties that have never sought help for their eating disorder women that are pregnant and the list goes on, so it really can affect anybody. And it’s a lot of complex factors on how we get here.


Andrea Holwegner (13:06):
Along the way. And then Sam, you, you asked me about like, well, what do we do? Like what we know it’s affecting a lot of people, but what are the steps in kind of reaching out for help? And so when we’re kind of looking at overcoming and eating disorder, there’s three pieces or probably four pieces of, of help. The first is actually, you know, somebody in your trusted friend in family community that can be a support person is going to be someone that’s in your corner can be so helpful. Well, just that is more connected to you. Second is going to be working with your family physician, cuz sometimes there’s assessments or medical treatments and sometimes medical monitoring to make sure your, for example, your heart is healthy. All of these types of things need to be monitored, your mental health.


Andrea Holwegner (13:52):
The third piece is actually the field of psychology. So we were work with a lot of psychologists. The heart of the treatment, any needing disorder is absolutely through therapy and through really digging into how did we end up here and what are the ways that we can you know, get ourselves back on track to feeling more comfortable in our skin. And then of course working with a registered to dietician that specializes in eating disorders and it’s super important to find somebody that really gets it. Otherwise you’ll just be frustrated. It’s kind of like going to see a kidney doctor when you’ve actually got heart health issues. You need to find to all doctors are not created equally. And so all dieticians are not created equally in terms of their areas of specialty. So someone that really stands mental health and eating disorder behaviors is really who you wanna be seeing so that when you’re talking to them about your fears and worries and it’s, it’s something that we’ve heard before and people have gone before you, and we know what to do with that to help you kind of overcome some of these challenges.


Sam Demma (14:54):
There may be someone listening who is going through this right now and you’re giving them some great information for them to think about and start their steps on a healing journey. If there’s someone listening who, when you’re explaining the situ can identify someone else in their life, who they think is struggling with this, who they’d like to help, how would you advise that person reach out to that individual? Like how can you be there for somebody if I, if you had a friend in high school or a colleague who might be going through this, how can you make sure that you’re not crossing a bad and making them feel uncomfortable, but you can also be there for them through this tough time.


Andrea Holwegner (15:34):
This is such a great, great thing to to be talking about Sam, cuz I can promise you, there’s probably somebody, you know, that is struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidality, self-harming behaviors, eating disorder behaviors. And the best thing that you you can do is, is really just reach out with compassion and care. You know, you might say something like, Hey, I’ve noticed that you don’t really seem yourself these days is everything okay? That’s a better question than saying, Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve dropped some weight. So somebody with a needing disorder, this is highly triggering. And sometimes actually will we in the nature of what we know about the distortion in body image and mental health might actually be perceived as a compliment that Hey, people are noticing that my weight is down. So that is the worst thing that you could say.


Andrea Holwegner (16:25):
That’s a do not say, do not comment on people’s weight, their body size, make it all about, I’ve noticed the it you’re different. I’m seeing maybe some of the life in your eyes has gone down. You know, I’m noticing that you’re, you know, not as engaged or you’ve kind of lost a little bit of, of some of your pozas in your spark that I kind of know you for oftentimes adolescence, we see them socially isolating more and that’s been tricky to sort of suss out through co with. But for teachers and parents really taking a pulse on sort of that social isolation piece is really, really key to notice on.


Sam Demma (17:04):
That makes a lot of sense. And I asked because in high school there was some people like that in my life and it was always a, it was always a challenge to figure out how to approach it. So I think it’ll be helpful for teachers and also for students to have that context. So thank you for sharing.


Andrea Holwegner (17:21):
I think all of us, when we’re going through a tough time, don’t want somebody to come and, you know, attempt to fix it for us cuz you know, that probably just makes us angry if anything. Yeah. But what we know is really helpful is if people can see that we’re struggling and people can sort of hear and express compassion and just give us some space to even talk about it without any need to fix it as a parent or a teacher or a friend that is the best thing that we can do is just give people that forum and that space instead of tip toing around it and pretending it’s not there and ignoring the elephant in the room is name it. In emotion focus therapy that therapists use, we talk about, you know, validating or seeing the, or, or naming the emotion first.


Andrea Holwegner (18:08):
So we call that name it to tame it. When you say to somebody, Hey, I can see that you’re looking sad or Hey, I can see that you’re looking angry. This actually calms emotion because you’ve named the emotion in our brain. It just sort of feels like, wow, validating that somebody can see that I might be struggling. The next thing that you can do is then, you know, either add to the validation that it’s like, it makes total sense why you would be feeling sad or I can imagine it feels really scary or that you’re really angry about X, Y, and Z. So that naming it and validating it and then just allow some space for them to tell you what’s going on or not share. And if they don’t share the first time, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean it has, hasn’t been successful. They just know you’re someone that’s not going to judge them or try and fix the problem for you and give you all of the, you know, 10 strategies on what you should do to get better at this. You know, you can keep kind of having those conversations and in time that person will talk to you. This is what we know. They just need to know that they’re safe with you and that you’re not judgemental.


Sam Demma (19:12):
I was listening to an amazing podcast with Jay she and a rapper named Russ sounds unrelated, but this’ll make sense. In a second, Russ was explaining how he always wanted to feel understood and when he was going through tough situ people in his life would tell him, I know exactly what it feels like. And Russ knew that they had no idea because they had never been through it. And he said them saying that actually made him feel more alone. So, you know, there is understanding in accepting that you don’t understand what someone’s going through, but just deciding that you’re gonna be there to support however they need it. And I thought it was a really beautiful phrase or mindset and it sounds very similar to what you’ve just explained. So I thought I would bring it up.


Andrea Holwegner (20:04):
I love it. That’s so great. I mean I think if we can really just say, I can’t imagine what you might be going through, but what I do know is that you got people in your corner like me, if you choose to kind of, you know, open up to me that have got your back, that’ll help you figure out the next steps. And I certainly don’t know the exact answers as to what we need to do next, but Hey, we could do it together. And that type of support is so much more you know, wrapping people with a warm, cozy blanket which is really what we need through this COVID period, more than ever.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And some chocolate covered strawberries. Yeah.


Andrea Holwegner (20:41):
You know, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered raises. All of them are good for me.


Sam Demma (20:48):
That’s awesome. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone would like to get in touch with you, reach out with a question, excuse me, or check out some of your resources, what would be the best way for them to absorb everything that is you in the company?


Andrea Holwegner (21:08):
Oh, okay. Well you can go over to our website first off its www.healthstandnutrition.com. And if you go into the search area of our website and just search the topic, eating disorders, we’ve got a ton of videos and articles and supporting resources that might be a useful place for you to to start to inquire. We’ve also got a free weekly newsletter. It comes, you know, goes out to thousands of people each week where we give people really balanced living tips and recipes and information that is in alignment with the topics that we’re talking about today for physical health, as well as mental health. And the other resource I would suggest is you can go over to the national eating disorder formation center. They’re known as www.NEDIC.ca. And they’ve got a ton of supporting resources for teachers, parents, students and the general public on all things, eating disorders. If you need a little bit more support there.


Sam Demma (22:03):
Awesome. Andrea, thank you again. Keep up the awesome work and I look forward to talking again.

Andrea Holwegner (22:09):
Thanks so much, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andrea

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.

Phebe Lam – Associate Vice-President, Student Experience UWindsor (Acting) 

Phebe Lam - Associate Vice-President, Student Experience at UWindsor
About Phebe Lam

UWindsor alumna Phebe Lam (@Phebe_Lam) (BSc 1995, BA 1997) began a two-year appointment as acting associate vice-president, student experience, on March 22. Dr. Lam earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Wayne State University and has been teaching at the University of Windsor since 2015.

In addition to teaching the “Mentorship and Learning” course, she has helped to expand the reach of mentorship programs across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and developed new student advising and support programs, including online projects such as the Pathway to Academic and Student Success peer mentor program and the Reach Virtual Online Peer Mentor Support. Lam has also served several roles in support of the Student Mental Health Strategy and as chair of the Senate Student Caucus.

Connect with Phebe: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

BIDE Institute UWindsor

Drew Dudley Leadership Speaker

Wangari Maathai (Environmental Activist)

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):
Phebe, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do today.


Phebe Lam (00:13):
Well, thank you. Sam, it is, you know, a pleasure to, to be here with you in this moment. And you know, I’m very, very, very grateful for this opportunity to share some of my, my experiences. So my name is Phebe Lam. I by trade I’m a psychologist actually starting off as a educational psychologist. But you know, let’s maybe take a, a few steps back. My undergraduate degree was in, in science and, you know, pre-med, I, you know, thought I wanted to become a doctor. But things didn’t end up that way. I think pretty much within the first week of school, I knew that, you know, there was something else for me and that road you know, was, was something that I might have to, to put aside. And so when I finished my general science degree I switched over and and completed my psychology degree and really felt that that was, you know, you know, my, my true love you know, ever since my first memories as, as a child is, you know, always wondering, you know, why, why did that person say that?


Phebe Lam (01:32):
Or why did that person do that? And we know, you know, psychology is a science of, of human behavior. Right. And so that always fascinating me. And so I was, I was truly in, in the right place in psychology. And so I went on to do my master’s degree in marriage and family psychology at Wayne state university in Detroit, Michigan. And then went on to do my PhD in educational psychology. And so I’m a licensed psychologist in the state of Michigan and practiced there and worked at Wayne state university in the school of medicine for about 15 years in mostly health psychology and also doing in working in a immunology clinic working the specifically, specifically with children, adolescents, and young adults and their families infected and affected with HIV.


Phebe Lam (02:32):
And so that really, you know was the kickstart of many of the things that I’m I’m doing today was from the, those early the experiences working with some amazing clients, amazing families that, that really inspired me to, to, to who I am today. So, and then 2015 I I started working for university of Windsor going right back home, full circle, and working in the faculty of arts, humanities, and social sciences teaching doing administrative work, but working in student support creating initiatives for students for engagement for, for retention. And then also I taught a mentorship and learning course, which also was another moment that sort of redirected my journey in education and really sparked again, a lot of the things that I I’m doing today.


Phebe Lam (03:39):
And so where I’m at now I am in a acting associate vice president role of student experience. And I started that this year actually in March and it’s been quite the journey. So, you know, when you’re least expecting things to happen, they always happen. And I’m very grateful that I had the courage to, to take this on because there’s no looking back and I’m here today and I’m excited and really looking forward to them, many things that I can still do for, for the university community as well as beyond that. So that’s sort of in a nutshell.


Sam Demma (04:28):
That was an awesome response. Let’s backtrack to the transition from medicine to education. How did that transition happen? What prompted you to get into working more so into schools?


Phebe Lam (04:42):
Okay. So you know, I, I’m gonna give a, a little example and I might be dating myself by, by doing this, but that’s okay. I, I own it and I’m proud of it. So back in the sort mid eighties and late eighties, early nineties Kodak, the company had commercials and they were, you know, this Kodak moment, right? And the whole commercial was, you know your true colors, your true colors, you know, let your true colors shine through and, you know take those opportunities. And so throughout my life, I looking back, I had all these sort of codes, exact moments where they, you know, really changed, you know, my direction in, in life. And so so going from, from thinking about a career in medicine to, to education and psychology the turning point if I had to pinpoint was when I almost blew up our science lab because my partner and I, we didn’t know that our buns and burner was on and it was on, and suddenly the the GA at the time said, you know, I think we smell some, some gas and everybody’s looking at each other.


Phebe Lam (06:02):
And I looked at my little buns and burner, and I, I saw that it was indeed on, but with no flame. And so at that moment, we, you know, I kicked into action. I, you know, we turned it off. But inside, there was a moment where I thought, you know what there’s something more, and me sitting in this lab full of anxiety, full of stress, because I didn’t know it was my first year, first lab. I didn’t know where, what I was doing was unsure, but at that moment, because of that, I don’t know if it was the stress. It was that moment where some light turned on and I said, okay, Phoebe you know, hang tight. There’s something out there. And so from there on, I was always looking, always listening, always, you know, trying to you know, maybe you can sum it up as being just curious, curious as to what my journey should be.


Phebe Lam (06:59):
And so, as I was curious, talking to more and more people you know, learning and seeking out mentors it led me to, to hone in on, you know, how I love and I thrive to be in the environment where there is that learner teacher or mentee mentor relationships and, you know, supporting people in their darkest moments really, really touched me. And so then I knew that, you know, psychology and education was something that I wanted to head into. And at that moment, I still didn’t know what, you know, what, where that was going to lead. Right. But I was very open to those opportunities. And and here I am.


Sam Demma (07:48):
Steve jobs has this quote, and I’m gonna read it off of my phone because I shared it on Twitter recently. He said, okay, your work is gonna fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly five is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle. And based on what you just told me, it sounds like that little quote that Steve shared, it was at a 20, a 2005 Stanford commencement address sums up what sounds like your journey in education. It sounds like you were curious to find the thing you loved and that curiosity just kept pulling you forward. Where do you think absolutely. Where do you think that curiosity kind of comes from where you always, some, one that was interested in things growing up or was it cultivated?


Phebe Lam (08:46):
You know, a part of it was always interested, you know, and always curious of the things that I didn’t know. Mm. And very early on my especially my father really instilled in, you know in, in myself the, the desire and that passion to always be curious, you know, always ask questions. And as I’m speaking now, I can’t even think back to my grandparents who, who you know, had also very close relationship with. They would always, you know, we would always talk about or they would share their stories with, with me. And I was always very curious and very good listener. I think I mostly did a lot of listening more than asking questions. I don’t believe that I was that kid that asked a lot of questions. Right. I was always the, the, the observer, the, the listener and, and taking everything in and then, and then reflecting in the processing on that.


Phebe Lam (09:54):
But I, we really enjoyed stories, you know, listening to stories. I mean, that’s how I learn, learn the best. And that’s, you know, part of my teaching is through telling stories and listening to people’s lived experience. Wouldn’t it be great, Sam, if, you know, everybody could write their own story, you know, and we could tap into someone’s journey. And I think about that when I teach, I think about that when I mentoring students and working with students is, you know, taking that time to say, Hey, you know, what is your story? You know, what were your experiences? Because it’s not until I understand and hear those stories that I can be, be here to help support and, and truly understand, and, and, and listen and appreciate where they are in that moment when I’m with them. Yeah. Oh, I hope I answered that question.


Sam Demma (10:50):
You did, you did the importance of stories is connected to this idea of, of the importance of mentorship. I’ve had many mentors in my life who thinking about it now taught me so many things through the sharing of experiences and stories that they went through, which is why I think it’s so important to have somebody in your life who can mentor you, who can have your best interests at, and also be willing to invest some time into sharing some of their own experiences and learnings with you. You are a big fan of mentorship, helped turn it into even like a curriculum. And course, can you talk a little bit about that?


Phebe Lam (11:32):
Absolutely. and, you know before I start talking about it, you know, I use a lot of word interchangeably and I, and, and words are so incredibly important because, you know, I used to think about, you know, the, the education as the learner and the teacher, and now I’m finding because of, you know, that Kodak moment or that opportunity to, to head down you know, teaching this course mentorship and learning has led me to think about, you know, re or unlearning and relearning what education and what teaching really is. And for me teaching is actually mentoring because it’s not, there’s no boundaries. You know, when the class is done where you’re done taking my course, that relationship continues on. And I tell this to my students all the time, even my, anybody who I I’ve ever worked with. And a past teacher or professor you know, Dr.


Phebe Lam (12:35):
Clark Johnson back in my grad school days, he said this to all our students, you know, your tuition with me is good for a lifetime. Hmm. As long as you can find me, I’m here for you. And I offer that to all my students. I mean, you find me, I I’m here to support you. And through the, you know, 20, some odd year as of post-secondary teaching I’ve had students come back to me. I may not remember them you know, but I, you know, I I’m there. And so, okay. So leading into the mentorship. So in 2016 I was given the opportunity to teach a course called mentorship and learning. And it’s a fourth year level class that that teaches third and fourth year students to become mentors in a first year course in the faculty of arts, human to use in, or social sciences.


Phebe Lam (13:36):
And these mentors are in a majors only. So if you’re a psychology major, you would mentor in the first year psychology course. Okay. And so this class actually began in 2005 co-founders Tina Dr. Tina pules and professor Tson bacon. And so they gave me the opportunity to teach this class. I did not know what I was getting myself into. I mean, I did some work with mentoring in HIV where we would have doctors and nurses and staff at the hospital be mentors for, for, for, for children in, in our clinic. But this, you know, teaching mentorship, like I know about mentoring, but, you know, so I kind of just dove to it and said, you know what? I trust that they chose me. And you know, I’m gonna trust this process and I can tell you Sam it has changed my life, you know being a mentor and a mentee.


Phebe Lam (14:41):
It, you know, first year students that come to university is a transition period, and we know that they’re at risk, right. And so having these mentors who are their peers is incredibly important, right. We’ve seen the, the statistics in retention, but more importantly, this class is for these, you know, 25 to 50. Now we have about a hundred students mentors to foster and to to help them to grow in, you know, leadership and becoming mentors for the rest of their lives to seek out mentors to be mentees, but to also be mentors themselves. So, yeah. And and many of the students that I’ve taught over the years you know, they’re working alongside me in the office of student experience even right now. So these are relationships that have continued on. Yeah. And will continue on,


Sam Demma (15:41):
Did the BIDE Institute come to life with students in that class? Or tell me a little bit about the origins of the Biden Institute as well.


Phebe Lam (15:50):
Okay. yes. So the by Institute B I D E stands for belonging, inclusivity, diversity, and equity. And this is a student led student run initiative that focuses on those four pillars, belonging, inclusivity, diversity and equity, and the co-founders of these, this Institute are two two of my students who went through the mentorship and learning program. Cool. And I knew, you know, you know, when you see you know, the potential in, in, in, in students you know, my first, my first, you know, thing to do is to, to grab a hold of them and say, Hey, listen, you, you, you know, this is, this is a great opportunity. And actually they came up with this opportunity or this initiative I said to them, you know, back in may, I said, listen, you know, I wanna do something for the students.


Phebe Lam (16:50):
And, you know, it’s not me, it’s gonna be students working with students, students coming up with these initiatives. And within two months the Biden Institute came up and and we’re very excited to kickstart this very unique Institute for students. Basically it’s a platform where students can come to together share their experiences, share what they know, share their passion through conversation, through activities and providing a safer and brave place for them to be able to see their, their creativity, see their thoughts come in to to, to life and to be able to to, to, to build their legacy every day.


Sam Demma (17:44):
Hmm. It’s amazing. If someone is interested in learning more about the Institute, does it have a web URL or a, a page that someone can search to read about it?


Phebe Lam (17:54):
Yes. Yes they do. Yes, they do. Sorry. Yes, we do. So if I can share that link with you you know, after yeah.


Sam Demma (18:05):
Awesome. Amazing. And what the does the day in the life look like in your current role and position you’ve done, you know, various different things. What, what does the day in the life look like now?


Phebe Lam (18:20):
Oh, wow.


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s a tough one.


Phebe Lam (18:22):
Oh, no, it’s it, yes. It, it’s a, it’s a tough one, but it’s also really exciting just, you know, it is every day of you know, how can I even sum it up? It’s it’s leadership in a in a, in a way that I didn’t see leadership as it is the way that I see it today. And so, you know, just a few points, you know I’ve really learned that, you know, I don’t have to have the right answers and just the thought of that gives me freedom, right. Gives me freedom to, to be curious, because that’s also freedom. And, you know, understand that the power in leadership comes when we share it and we support it in others. And a large part of what I do is is, is fostering our future leaders and having students working in my office.


Phebe Lam (19:30):
Now I have, you know, this office has, you know five directors that are are, are so wonderful. And, you know, when I look at the work that they do it’s the commitment, you know, it’s their it’s, I see the inspiration that they have in them and the passion that they have in them to really serve the students, because they want to make, you know, this community this world a truly, a better place. And, and again, you know, that leaving that legacy be, be behind, right. As, as we move forward you know, in the day in the life, you know, every day is about being vulnerable keeping in check with who I am being aware and constantly reflecting and and assessing where I am where others are and to meet others where they are not expect to, to come to me and be at my place, but for me to put forth, authentic and genuine effort to go to where they are and to meet them where they are and see what our student needs are and what what needs are for those who work alongside me and to nurture that.


Sam Demma (20:54):
Awesome, something that I believe is important is being a lifelong learner. And you strike me as someone with curiosity, who is always looking for new ways to grow and learn new things over the course of your career, have you found any books or resources or courses or things that you had went through that were extremely valuable that you think if other educators had the chance to read, watch, or experience would also be helpful for their personal development?


Phebe Lam (21:29):
Absolutely. So I have a, a few a few a few videos or a few individuals that, that again have really impacted my view in perspective in not just, you know, education or teaching and learning and not just in mentoring and leadership, but for every day. Mm. So you don’t have to be a teacher or you can be a child or anyone, you know, I mean, there’s seven point what 8 billion people in this, in this world. And we’re all unique living beings, right. Each with our own lived experiences. So so yes, there are, there are the first one is Drew Dudley. He is a, you know, leadership speaker and he speaks to everyday leadership and the lollipop moment, how we should be creating impact every day through not just the big stuff, because most of us are not doing those big grand things, but those everyday leadership opportunities by, you know, as simple as acknowledging what somebody’s done for you, and those are those lollipop moments, and I’ve really done a lot, made an effort to do that more and more.


Phebe Lam (22:49):
And week I, I, I look back and reflect on my life and think, oh, you know what, at this moment, this person made a huge difference in my life. And it could have been easy as a, a, a, a constant smile that this person always had. And I, I went back and I acknowledged that, and, you know and that’s been really great. So ju du lead the everyday leadership, his Ted talk really really impacted me. The other person that’s really impacted myself is Dra woman’s right. A, she won the she received the 2004 Nobel peace prize for her work. And she speaks to the story of a hummingbird and where, you know, a hummingbird is in this huge Flos and this Floris is consumed with fire, and all the animals have, you know, come together and are, is looking with, at this floors burning and feeling, you know, very overwhelmed and powerless, and, you know, not knowing what to do, except for this little hummingbird and this little hummingbird, you know, said to itself, well, I’m gonna do something about this fire.


Phebe Lam (24:04):
So it flies back and forth to the stream and brings with this little beak, a tiny droplets of water and sprinkling onto this huge forest fire. And all the animals are, you know, animals bigger than the hummingbird, you know, said to this hummingbird, you know, what are you doing? You know, you’re so small, this fire is so big and your wings are so little, you know, you only carry a drop of water at the time. Like, what are, you know, what’s that gonna do? And, you know, this little hummingbird was not at all discouraged. And it turned to these, these animals and said, you know, I’m doing the best I can. Mm. And, you know, I, I carry that with me. And I shared, you know, this story with, with my students all the time, as I, you know, we can just do the best we can, you know, and and that’s enough.


Phebe Lam (24:52):
Right. And, you know, and it’s okay to be that hummingbird because there are other hummingbirds around who are doing this exact same thing. And, you know, we, we, we can, you know, we see each other and together, you know, is better. And you know, as, as small as you think that you are, or maybe you may feel insignificant, you really are not you know, you just need to do the best you can and to, to be able to reach out for support when you can. So those are, you know, the two you know, two little videos, short videos that that really has, you know, impacted my journey and has really, you know, given me some clear direction. I always go back to, to those two things. You know, especially when times are challenging and when times are difficult.


Sam Demma (25:43):
That’s amazing. Those are both two awesome resources. I’ll make sure to link them in the show notes and on the article. So you can watch those if you’d like as well, Phoebe, this has been a really enjoyable conversation packed with so many experiences and ideas. If someone wants to reach out, send you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Phebe Lam (26:07):
My email at the university of Windsor I’m also on LinkedIn. I have to do better with that. Not as I don’t keep up with that as, as much, but that’s one of my goals for 2022. But yes, my email is, you know, Phebe.Lam@uwindsor.ca


Sam Demma (26:28):
Awesome. Phoebe, thank you so much. Keep up the amazing work. Keep being a hummingbird and making everyday impact. And I’ll talk to you soon.


Phebe Lam (26:37):
Thank you, Sam. Thank you again for this opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Phebe Lam

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.

Alana Principe – Grade One Teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board

Alana Principe - Grade One Teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board
About Alana Principe

Alana Principe (@MissPrincipe) is a grade one teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board. Before teaching Grade One, she taught Grade 2/3 and Kindergarten. She’s always had a love (and so much energy) for the primary grades! Her passion for teaching and working with students started at a very young age.

Growing up in a big family helped shape her into the leader, helper, and nurturer she is today. Before becoming a permanent teacher, she spent time working at a daycare, babysitting and volunteering at schools.  Now, she loves spending her days teaching, tutoring, going on walks and being with family. She feels so grateful to be living out my childhood dream!

Connect with Alana: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Alana, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to, where you are in education now.


Alana Principe (00:13):
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you for having me. I am definitely excited to just have a little platform where I can share some of the joy in love for teaching which is great. I think what brought me to this point is a long little mini history story, but I was born into a family with six kids and my mom ran a home daycare. So I think always from a very young age I knew that teaching and working with kids would be where I want it to be in the future. And so throughout my years in high school, I would join P peer tutoring. I would try and do different volunteer opportunities just to work with other students. And then I got into working at daycare before leading into university where I started pursuing actual teaching.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Nice.


Alana Principe (01:09):
Yeah, which has been exciting. It’s been everything I’ve hoped for and dreamt for. But I think it’s, it’s good. I’ve been one of the lucky ones that kind of always knew what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted to work with students, but all those volunteer opportunities kind of just solidified that and reminded me that, yeah, this is where you wanna be. This is where you need to be before actually paying for university.


Sam Demma (01:36):
Do you remember any stories that stuck out from the daycare of you helping your mom or caring for other kids that you think influenced your decision to get into teaching and working with youth?


Alana Principe (01:49):
Yeah, there’s, there’s been a couple, there’s been some, I honestly, the biggest one I know just from like my own childhood is whenever my mom had kids in our house at our home daycare, I was always the one fighting to be the teacher role when we play school.


Sam Demma (02:04):
Cool.


Alana Principe (02:05):
So my mom always reminds me that, yeah, this is, this is what you want it to do since you were five years old, you know, you needed that role. And then when I actually worked in, in daycare and Ajax, I I just remember working with the school age kids and sitting down to read Harry Potter with them or helping them with their schoolwork after school. Always just felt exciting and fun. And I felt like I was making a difference for those kids, just reading the book for them and making it enjoyable, which was nice. That’s awesome.


Sam Demma (02:41):
That’s awesome. And then you started taking the educational classic path once you got into university. What did that look like? Tell me more about that experience.


Alana Principe (02:52):
Yeah, so that was that was good. It was fun. It was really fun. I, I did my undergrad at Queens university and I took drama and English. Nice. I felt those were two two majors that really complimented each other. You know, you’re performing all day. You’re getting used to speaking in public creating skits that you’re going to, you know, do with friends, you’re working with so many different people in creating shows I felt would be huge a huge benefit when working in the classroom.


Sam Demma (03:25):
Nice.


Alana Principe (03:26):
And then of course, English, I always just think when I’m writing report cards or writing emails to parents, I’m like, oh, you know, here are my little tips and tricks from English English courses in university, which have been very beneficial. And then I did my four years of undergrad before going to do my B bachelor of education at U O I T in OWA. Nice. Now they call Ontario tech. Yep. Also showed out to them great school and just, they were obviously very tech based early on. Yeah. So, so we got to work with coding. We got to create online websites and, and virtual PowerPoints and classrooms that then when COVID hit and I got to teach online, it was basically like, pick me, take me, I can do it


Sam Demma (04:15):
Scrolling through your Twitter. You know, it’s not gonna find videos of you doing like virtual and dances and stuff, which is so awesome. How do you personally, every day fill up your cup. So when you go to school, you show up as this like bright super optimistic teacher that has such a positive impact on your students.


Alana Principe (04:38):
You know what I think I’ve been to doing this for four years now, which, which has been really exciting. And I do truly remind myself every morning when I’m standing up in front of the classroom or I’m standing up online to teach those kids. This was your dream. You are literally living it. Mm. So every morning, even from like the first day, I started four years ago, when I would up and write that morning message or the date, I would just kind of turn, reflect at my class before the students got there. And just think that you’re, you’re aware you need it to be you, you got here. Mm. And that’s the biggest thing just for me to remind myself that this is what you want it to do and you’re doing it right. I think a we spend most of our time working in our life all day, every day. So it’s so important to enjoy what you do. And I just feel so grateful to be one of those people.


Sam Demma (05:33):
Yeah.


Alana Principe (05:34):
And honestly just my students, the families, like, you know, obviously you have your hard challenging days, but to listen to their stories about what they did the night before, or to get a peek and they get to like, ask me what they’re eating or take, you know, share their share their stories or their artwork. It makes such a, such a difference. And I really enjoy just being with them.


Sam Demma (06:00):
That’s awesome. And did you ever have any doubts or you were going through university and it was like, yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m doing this.


Alana Principe (06:12):
Yeah. It was pretty much like, yes, we’re doing it. You’re here. Keep going. Obviously. I mean, some of the courses were hard writing English essays studying all night. That was difficult. Yeah. But I knew it would lead me to being in a classroom. Which I loved even just the experience, like, because I didn’t take ConEd, I just took an undergraduate degree. I made sure to volunteer at schools. I was always going into a school after my courses to just help and be with other kids again, to make sure like, this is what you actually want to do. Which I think made a big difference.


Sam Demma (06:51):
I wanna focus on that for a second because I think volunteering is so important. I talk about it a lot with students, you know, we started pick waste and, you know, encourage kids to come pick up the garbage, but from a practical career lens, it’s just as important. You can reach out to somebody who’s living and working in a career. You’re interested in ask to shadow them for free. And most of the time, if you try enough and ask enough people you’ll get the opportunity to do so. So what was that experience like for you? And would you recommend other educators who are considering this profession do the same and why?


Alana Principe (07:30):
Yeah, so I would say volunteering always so beneficial, right? It’s just a way to give back. I think, especially people who might not be able to financial donate into things. If you can spend an hour here or there with your time, it’s, it’s just as beneficial, right. It’s gonna help those people. When I was at school in Kingston, I would work at some schools that just were more challenging behavior wise. So as a university student, it was, you know, fresh eyes of fresh body that would come in and work with kids. It made a difference for them because they just had more one-on-one time, which sometimes is impossible in the classroom. And then it also just made a difference for me because I got that experience. So although it was unpaid work, I knew what the classroom looked a like early on, before even starting teaching.


Alana Principe (08:23):
I knew all the different bodies that would be in a classroom and you know, how teachers can navigate. So even though I wasn’t getting paid to be there, it helped me. It helped shape who I am today, helped shape, who I teach. And then I think it’s so beneficial for are other teachers going into teaching, trying, because you’re getting the experience. You know, you’re opening doors up that when a principal asks you in an interview, how did you deal with a problem? You have solid experience to back up your proof. And then you feel confident. You feel good, you feel confident. You’ve been doing it for years. You, you know, what’s up, you know how to do it. But I think it opens so many more doors. You know, teaching’s competitive, teaching’s hard to get in. They only have to so many positions where I pretty much was able to walk into a permanent role because I had a lot of experience and volunteer experience to back up what I was doing.


Alana Principe (09:29):
Principals knew me. Other teachers knew me. They recognized me at school because I’ve been there. I’ve been in volunteering. I’ve been spending my time. I think if it’s for teaching, when principals see you in a school, volunteering, unpaid, they know you care. They know you wanna be there and it’s gonna reflect once you do get paid for your job. So, you know, they, they trust me to be the person that’s gonna do an extracurricular activity. They trust me to be that person to coach after school. Yeah. because I’ve done it and they see it. Right.


Sam Demma (10:03):
Cool. And you had this experience, you finished your degree, did the bachelor’s and then how was that first year like for you? I think what’s really unique about this conversation is you’ve been teaching for four years, which can feel like a long time, but you probably gonna be teaching for so much longer. See, but you have a very fresh perspective of what it’s like teaching right now. And probably a unique perspective versus some of the other educators I’ve spoken to. So what was year one? Like, and how’s it going year one?


Alana Principe (10:34):
I reflect back on that a lot because I really, as I did not know what I was doing in year one, I’m like who lesson planned for me who wrote those report cards?


Alana Principe (10:47):
Honestly looking back, like my kids were safe, the classroom was smooth. We had fun. I did the job. Hmm. Did I know how to properly lesson plan? Probably not. Did I know how to professionally write the best report cards? I don’t think so, but I guess I did. Right. Just because I look back now four years later and I have so much more experience in practice that it, it, honestly, it feels was, it was a couple years ago and, and so much has changed in these past few years. Right. I think in year one, I was more alone. I would say I didn’t reach out as much to other teachers. I didn’t wanna work with grade partners. I just kind of wanted to be in my room and, and plan and work. And I just shut the door, which isn’t always the best thing when you’re a young new teacher, because take the resources, take the support. Like now I’m knocking on everyone’s door being like, gimme your resources. What are you doing in math today? And FaceTiming colleagues, if we can’t meet up in person to make sure we’re, you know I work with a colleague in grade one. We both make sure we’re on the same plan for math and we’re working together and it looking now it feels so good to work with someone and have that adult connection, which I don’t think I really had in my first year,


Sam Demma (12:12):
What it shifted. Why did you decide in your second year? I need to start asking for help. Was, did someone come and tap you on the shoulder and kind of say, Hey, you have the opportunity to reach out to other teachers or did you start to realize there is this awesome network and I should start leveraging it and building cool relationships with colleagues.


Alana Principe (12:32):
Yeah. I, you know what I think the school I was at, it was a smaller school. Once I went in there in sec, in my second year, smaller school, all the teachers knew each other and worked together and I was this fresh young meet coming through. Yeah. And they took me under their wing. They were so supportive. They would reach out with old binders and worksheets and storybooks to fill my classroom I’m with. And they would check up on me. I would be in the staff room. They would come and check up on me, ask me how I’m doing photo. I remember a few of the teachers would photocopy a poem or a prayer and slide it under my door and say, like do this with your kids today. And it, it was kind of that little push to be like, Hey, we’re here for you. We, we wanna support you. And it’s where I saw, like, you know, this is a community we’re all working together to better the lives of these students in our school.


Sam Demma (13:23):
That’s amazing. And that first year a little stressful, but you said something that stuck out to me, the first thing you said was the students in my class were safe. Whether you realize it or not, that’s such a foundational need for young people. Why do you think that’s the first thing you said? And how do you build a classroom? That’s a safe space or where students feel safe.


Alana Principe (13:50):
Yeah. That’s that’s a challenging one for sure. It’s when I focus on all the time, that first week of school, it’s I tell parents right away, you know, we’re putting academics aside and we’re focusing on your kids’ safetyness happiness and mental health really. It’s something definitely in the past two years, we’ve been focusing on a lot more than usual little check-ins how they’re doing, how they’re feeling because we’re going through a pandemic, right? So sometimes academics will take a little bit of a, a slip, but I have to make sure those kids are happy and safe. I always think of it as do students need to feel comfortable in your classroom before they learn anything. Hmm. Right. If they’re not happy and they’re not feeling good, they’re, they’re gonna zone out they’re they don’t wanna be there. So I really make a point in that first couple weeks of school to let them know, I care for them.


Alana Principe (14:43):
I’m there for them. And this is a community. It’s a safe space. We can talk about how we feel or we need a break. You can take a break, right. You can go to a little calm down center and, and have your time. If you need alone time, maybe you don’t have that at home. Hmm. And so I think, especially like now with, with students, I want them to know that we care about them as, as people, right. Or are going through challenging times in that first couple weeks to kind of solidify the safetyness or even just getting students comfortable. I always make a point to tell them that they can make mistakes. They can mess up. They can say something silly. Right. And no, one’s gonna laugh at you. No, one’s gonna question you. And every day I’m always telling kids, take a risk, you know, ask that question or answer that question.


Alana Principe (15:36):
Even if you mess up, who cares? I mess up every day and it just makes the students, I think, feel normal and human, and it’s good. Cuz it opens up so many conversations. They ask the best questions and they answer any math question. You give them, they will answer and it could be totally off or totally wrong. And they’ll throw out an answer and I’m like, yeah, you did it. Tell me how you got there and they’ll explain me their steps. And then I can really get into their brain. And they’re like, all right, this is what they were thinking. As opposed to them being quiet it and silent. And then I don’t know if they really knew anything.


Sam Demma (16:17):
Yeah.


Alana Principe (16:18):
So I think just giving them that safe platform where they know they can use their voice. Right. Mess up as much as you want. Even when I mess up in the classroom, I’m like, look, I just messed up. Now you can do. And they, they feel like they’re just normal ha you know, having having a connection with their, their friends and it’s becoming a community. And I think even going off of that, especially online that just getting them comfortable, we dance, we act, we sing, we do everything. And I tell them, you know, they’re all singers, they’re all dancers and we could be falling over It’s okay. They’re having fun. I watch all their little smiles. I’m like we had a good day. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:07):
That’s so awesome. I was gonna ask you, how have you leveraged the school experience and drama, but basically just answered the question. Does every day feel like you’re on stage?


Alana Principe (17:20):
Yeah. You know what more so now, because I still teach virtually. And so parents are watching you, grandparents are watching you, siblings are watching you. And you know, I just go in there and I’m like, we’re singing, we’re dancing. I’m messing up playing guitar times. And you know, it’s my drama degree coming in handy. Cuz if you mess up, you just keep going with the flow.


Sam Demma (17:43):
That’s awesome.


Alana Principe (17:44):
Don’t stop.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You, you mentioned the importance of mentors leaning on other colleagues knocking on their doors. Have you found any other resources helpful, whether it’s tools, books, technology, programs, courses, anything else along your own journey that you’ve leaned on as a resource or things that you use in your class that you think another educator could benefit from learning about or going through?


Alana Principe (18:09):
Yeah. There are so many I think Twitter’s like a more recent one I’ve gone into, which I just love because for those teachers that do use it, obviously we’re posting our highlights on there. Yeah. But it’s a great one to connect. I go look at other primary teachers, specifically ones who teach kindergarten or grade one and I can kind of pull from their ideas and see what they’re doing and what worked and then how I wanna bring it into my own classroom. So that one, I really like, it’s good because you can kind of gear it based on your searches yeah. To what you’re teaching.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Cool.


Alana Principe (18:43):
Yeah. So I really like that. And I think other resources, I feel like there’s so many, but there’s a lot like YouTube videos that you can kind of watch if other teachers post their videos of how they’re teaching. I like watching those or skimming through them and then pulling from their ideas. For example, in math or teaching how to add to my little grade ones. And so I look online, you know, how many different ways can I teach them this? Right? Like I have my one or two ways, but what are other teachers doing that students might have learned from? And then that way, when I go to teach it, I’m teaching them five different ways that they can pull from one way that they enjoy the most.


Sam Demma (19:28):
Two great resources. And not to mention you’re also on Twitter, where can people connect with you if they wanna reach out?


Alana Principe (19:36):
Yeah. My Twitter is Ms. Principe.


Sam Demma (19:39):
Cool. Very cool. Yeah. And what do you think are some of the challenges that education has been faced with over the past two years? And how have you, or have you seen other people try to overcome those challenges?


Alana Principe (19:55):
I think education, I mean the biggest one, obviously we’ve gone online. Yeah. And it’s, it’s working for some unfortunately it’s not working for all. I’m really proud of my board actually Hal and Catholic. We’ve created our own virtual school. They’ve created their own identity. It has a, a name. And it’s just felt like a very equitable, safe space. So it’s been two it’s on its second year now. But the principles to kind of overcome some of the challenges with which I think would be, you know, all these kids are thrown into one classroom. Yeah. And you don’t know what they have at home. Right. We assume they have some sort of laptop or device that they can be online. But then when I do math, do they have the manipulatives? When I do a craft, do they have construction, paper and scissors? Where this year our principals actually created these bags full of manipulatives and, and tools, school supplies.


Sam Demma (20:55):
Oh wow.


Alana Principe (20:55):
For free. And if parents wanted their student, their children to have it, they just had to sign up to a, for a meeting time drive to the closest school and pick up these bag of goodies. Which I thought was absolutely so amazing because it gave a chance for every student to have the same materials in the classroom. So now when I do my math lesson, pretty much all of my kids have these bags. So when I do a math lesson, I’ll say like, grab your green cubes or grab or blue ones. And they all can take it out and have it. Our school supplies, right. They all have now scissors, they have glue, they have paper, they have notebooks. Yeah. And it’s so amazing because no one’s standing out anymore that they don’t have something. Right. It, it feels like we’re back in that school atmosphere where we try to give all the students the same resources and the same opportunities.


Alana Principe (21:55):
So I like that because I mean, it’s challenging when you, I try to be so equitable, right. When we’re doing a craft, if you don’t have this material, you know, pull, pull from here, here, you’re, you’re giving them five different ideas to pull from where now our principals have really helped support us in a way that here your students have this bag, let like you’re let them use it. So that’s that’s really helped. And then I think, I mean, another thing I find challenging, I think the parents just need support because I mean, I feel for them, them they’re working behind me right. All day. I hear their voices when I’m on video with their families. And you know, they’re sometimes there helping their kid cut and paste or helping their kid count. They’re that extra support that I have loved working with for the past two. I think I really make a point with my families to connect with them, to help just to show them I’m thankful for them. But also we work as a team because they’re at home now being very hands on with their kids. Yeah. So I think it’s been challenging for them in the education world because they’re having to work four or five jobs now.


Sam Demma (23:12):
Not to imagine you have to have like two or three kids in the same, in the same grade.


Alana Principe (23:16):
Some of them do, we’ll be having dance parties. I’m like just bring your other kids in, have them going.


Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s so awesome. Yeah. And you kinda, yeah. You touched on some good points and you kind of already answered this question, but if you could give year one self advice, you know, based off what you’ve learned and experienced now over the past four, what would you tell your younger self or another educator who’s just getting into education.


Alana Principe (23:43):
I think I would tell myself that you cannot keep enough notes marking for the report card.


Sam Demma (23:52):
Yeah. Nice.


Alana Principe (23:53):
Write down all the observations, write down all the feedback. And then honestly just reach out, like knock on people’s doors, you know, be comfortable talk to your colleagues, get your resources and do it early on because you’re new. You have an excuse. Yeah. So ask those questions and take those resources. And honestly, like if people wanna give you resources, just accept them and keep them. Because I mean, I was given a resource about two years ago and I pulled it out this year for the first time, but it’s, you know, I think back and I say like, thank you know, thank goodness I took that, that duing of, of work as it’s helped.


Sam Demma (24:38):
It’s so funny. You never catch a student saying that. Thank you so grateful. I took this DOE of work home. Yeah. But this has been awesome. You mentioned your Twitter hand already. If someone wanted to reach out and send you an email is there an email you could also share where people could reach you?


Alana Principe (24:54):
Yeah. You could use my, my board email: alanaprincipe@hotmail.com


Sam Demma (25:04):
Awesome. Well, yeah, Alana, thanks again so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and keep singing baby shark to your classes and keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Alana Principe (25:16):
Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for giving me a platform to to speak a little bit.


Sam Demma (25:21):
Of course.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alana Principe

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.

Greg McLean – Principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Bruce Grey County

Greg McLean - Principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Bruce Grey County
About Greg McLean

Greg McLean (@WalkertonGreg) has been in the educational field for the past 28 years as a teacher, school administrator and instructor for Niagara University and Catholic Principals Council of Ontario. Greg has worked in 9 schools and in 3 different school boards and is currently the principal of Sacred Heart, Mildmay after a year of being the principal of St Isidore Virtual School, the first-ever virtual school in Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board!

Greg graduated from Laurier with a Certificate in Positive Psychology this past year and also obtained a certification as a Life and Wellness Coach. He is also a musician (drummer, vocals and guitar) and has performed live over 300 times in a variety of venues over the past 20 years. Greg is also a community-minded individual who embraces volunteerism- being a member of the local Optimist Club and a volunteer at the food bank, Victoria Jubilee Hall and Special Olympics. Greg also advocates for individuals with Down Syndrome- helping others to see their abilities.

Greg has been married to his wonderful partner Jayne for 26 years and has three children, Abby, Lucas and Dashiel. The family resides in beautiful Walkerton, ON.

Connect with Greg: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario

Laurier Certificate in Positive Psychology

A Slice of Brockton (Greg’s Podcast)

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):
Greg, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today from Brockton start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are?


Greg McLean (00:10):
Well, my name is well, first of all, thank you for introducing me as a high performing educator. That’s awesome. My, my name is Greg McLean and I work as a principal in the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. I reside in the town of Walkerton that sits in Brockton. So Brockton’s municipality and Walkerton’s a town in there. The same Walkerton that endured that water crisis back in 2000 best water in Ontario, right? This is what we say. And I’ve been in education. This is, is my 29th year and I’ve been a principal for the past 15. So we’re looking at about a 50 50 split and I’ve got a family. My wife Jane is a guidance counselor at sacred heart high school. I have three children, well adult children now. My oldest is 24 and resides in, in Guelph and is working time. Yay. And my middle child, my son is 22 residing at Toco. And my youngest boy is 16 years old and he’s in grade 11 at the local high school at sacred heart where my wife works.


Sam Demma (01:14):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And as educators, we always preach the importance of lifelong learning. There’s never a day you stop learning. And I understand that you’re someone who, when the COVID initially hit, took it upon yourself to actually obtain more education. Can you please explain how that process unfolded and what you set out to learn and achieve?


Greg McLean (01:36):
Well, sure. First of all, yeah, like lifelong learning. I think if you’re in the education world, you’re forced with lifelong learning, but I don’t wanna use the word force because I’m thinking that the vast majority of people who get into education are, are lifelong learning by choice. And whether it’s a course an AQ course so that you can teach a different course or it’s something that’s just something you’re really interested in. We, we, we kind of attract those, those people. It it’s actually a character, character strength to have a love of learning. And it’s actually a Catholic graduate expectation, lifelong learner. So yeah. Putting all those together. Yeah. Like during the pandemic, I mean, it was really, really easy for people to get down and to get you know, that sense of being you know, I don’t, I’m gonna say hopeless, but cabin fever.


Greg McLean (02:25):
But just knowing like what, what do you do to, to feel good in this and, and mentally well, and I think one of those things that you can do and that I’ve learned is that, you know, obviously part of self-care is, is, you know, having hobbies and things that you can do. And so part of the spirit of my lifelong learning as I kind of went back to school and I got a certificate Laia university in positive psychology which is kinda the study of all the stuff I just talked about. Yeah. And spent the year learning about how to live your best life knowing that your best life isn’t avoiding stress and avoiding problems. It’s actually how to deal with them in a really healthy way, because that’s the price of admission, right? Discomfort’s the price of admission. You just have to learn how to, to, to manage it and, and to, to thrive as opposed to, you know, just languishing. So, and then just this past year, I worked on getting my life and wellness certification coach. So I’m gonna try to at all those things together and you know, kind of push that forward and, and hopefully serve serve my community and the people around me.


Sam Demma (03:26):
That’s amazing. When you say positive psychology how do you explain that to somebody or like when, when you use that term, what does it mean?


Greg McLean (03:37):
Well, I guess there is a catch phrase. I, I kind of used it before. It’s like the study of use of living your best life, like how to live your best life. So that’s how you kind of boil it down. I think there’s psych, when you think about psychology, you might think about what’s wrong with you. Right. But cause of psychology is the study of what’s right with you. Ah, and it’s so much right with us and it’s also about mindset. So the good news is that in the education world, I was able to bring that perspective in the course at all times to say, you know what, I’m really affirmed right now because some of this stuff that I’m learning about, we’re actually doing like the Mo the positive you know, mindset work by Carol Dweck. Right. How important that mindset is in, in resilience and overcoming adversity.


Greg McLean (04:21):
I mean, we’re talking about that right now. Right. We’re back into another adverse moment. So you know what, where’s your mindset. And I mean, let’s not be Pollyannaish here, right? Like pandemic’s a pandemic and job loss and job loss and, and, and, and sickness and illness and death. Aren’t, aren’t positive things, but it’s like a acknowledging that, and it’s okay to not be okay, but what can you do to get out of being not okay? And you can, and we are all, we’re all skilled and we’re all gifted that way. We just sometimes just don’t know it.


Sam Demma (04:52):
And it’s obvious you have a passion for learning, teaching, sharing, which makes you a phenomenal person to get into the vocation of education. How did you, how did you determine you wanted to become a teacher when you were a kid and someone asked you, Greg, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did you always say a teacher, a principal, someone in education, or how did you discover this path?


Greg McLean (05:14):
Say, I don’t know anybody who starts by saying they wanna be a principal. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. Well, you know, it’s funny because my, I feel like my life has been very serendipitous in the sense that I don’t, I don’t think like some other people, they just have a life track and they’ve got this vision about what they want to do. And, and although as a kid, I do remember getting satisfaction from teaching someone, something, whether it’s a, a skill or something like, you know, you’re working together of the group of kids and you’re one of the kids and those kids get it cuz of something you did or said, and there’s, there’s immense joy and satisfaction in that. And, and certainly obviously that resides in me somewhere because I wouldn’t have gone the root of, of, of, of being a teacher. I disappointed my mom. You know, I think for about three weeks when I was in grade three, I did declare I was thinking about being a priest being in the priesthood. But as I said, that was a three week three week dream and, and with a broken dream for my mom she wanted grandkids.

Greg McLean (06:11):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s what I said. The good news is you got grandkids out of it. Right. and so yeah, like, I mean, going through high school, same, the same thing, right? It’s this niggling thing at the back of your head? I don’t think I was necessarily convinced that that that’s what my, my pathway was. I certainly liked music. I’ve always liked music. And my life, my, my career journey basically is a mesh of, of, of music and, and of, of like leadership and of teaching. Like it all kind of, kind of coalesced and, and again, it evolves and, and, and sometimes it’s, you’re taking specific steps towards it. And other times, again, as I said, it’s serendipitous things just appear before you, but if you were talking to my wife, she’s, she wouldn’t say things don’t just appear, you manifest them with your thinking. So I give her a huge shout out Jane, because certainly from my, the lifelong learning thing, I mean, yep. I can take certain courses, but, but she’s got a real pension for this mind, body spirit avenue that I’m kind of going in towards knowing that it’s of such a benefit to, to everybody.


Sam Demma (07:11):
That’s amazing. I couldn’t agree more. So explain the path that you did take and how you did end up where you are today.


Greg McLean (07:23):
Well I love to say that, oh, I mean, I have heritage a hundred percent heritage in Newfoundland. I’m a, I’m a, a Newfoundlander by heart, but I wasn’t born there. Yeah. I, I basically from my beginnings of being schooled and living in, in Georgetown, not too, not too far away from Pickering you know what, I always have been a believer in. I’ve always gone to Catholic school. I’ve always been a believer of, of the Catholic schools. My parents have been people have always promoted cause I have to pay actually tuition in high school to continue to go to a, to a Catholic school. But, but basically my, my journey into high school where I loved music and I, I loved, I guess I had, again, I set that pension somewhere in there for teaching all came together because eventually as I applied to teachers college, I got accepted and moved to Bruce Gray, moved to Walkerton.


Greg McLean (08:20):
It was a call I got from a superintendent in the middle of, of August looking for a music teacher. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I love music, but I don’t, I don’t have a music background in terms of a degree. I played the drums. I played the drums in the school band, Cardinale school band in the, in the mid to, to late eighties. And and I guess that, that superintendent happened to be my vice principal at the time said, oh, band equals music teacher, which it, it doesn’t really, I mean, it opened the door, but I mean, the first, first little bit was a struggle. And I, I never actually saw myself as a music teacher until probably about four or five years after the fact where I’m going. I, I had that realization that moment where I’m going, I am right, because before I was either thinking I’m gonna get out of this, or I don’t know enough about this, but somehow through self-teaching and absorption.


Greg McLean (09:10):
And the fact that the kids were so excited to learn an instrument, like kind of pushed me to learn it. And then, you know, we had bands and we were going to music festivals and we were doing quite well, and I’m going, you know what, I teach grade seven, eight, but I am a music teacher. And I was really proud of that because that’s unlike math or science or, or, you know art or, well, art, I’m gonna keep art of that. But these are, those are passions of, I think the mind and music is of the heart and, and to be able to have that it’s a real gift to see kids get that gift and to be excited about teaching music. So somehow that ended up me getting a job teaching at Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And you know, what about halfway through the career? About 15 years later, it became a principal and, and in leadership and that’s a different story.


Sam Demma (09:55):
Of course. So your journey was slightly unexpected. When you were thinking about, you know, getting into jobs in the workforce what was the other options on your mind? Like what the other things you were thinking about?


Greg McLean (10:13):
That’s a good question. We won’t count the grade three example. What we, I actually thought about music production. So I actually was accepted at haw college for music production. Wow. I also thought fleetingly about being a pilot. Oh, wow. And but those two are the kind of the areas coming out of grade 11 and grade 12 that I kind of thought of. And you know, it’s like a lesson to, to people maybe listening if they’re in high schools, like I avoided physics because I thought it would be too hard and I didn’t really give myself a chance. And and because I didn’t take the physics meant I didn’t take other courses. And therefore kind of that pilot thing kind of was chosen out for me. Right. And that’s too bad because I mean, we don’t live in, we don’t live in regret, but I’m thinking that that was a, a pathway that was shut down because I shut myself down and, and I, I would’ve been able to do it.


Greg McLean (11:09):
Right. I think about my, my head self now is like, no, Greg, you would’ve been able to do that. Like, don’t sell yourself short. Right. So those are some of the other areas I, I would was I was certainly thinking about, and of course, and, and teaching, and, you know, back to a conversation earlier, before the recording started Sam, like you talked about, you know, even now, like no one I think gets into the business, wanting to be a principal when you start in an education, maybe some people, but, but it’s, as you go along, it’s, it’s the, the higher level view of what you want for kids that are around you in the school, around you. Whereas a classroom teacher, you are, you are responsible for those 25 or 30 kids in that, you know when you begin to look at the higher view of all the kids and the building and the, the you know, how well people are and how much fun people and how, how people are learning is when you start going, okay, well maybe that’s where maybe that’s my, in my sphere of influence needs to be beyond 25 people, but 300 or 400 people.


Sam Demma (12:07):
Yeah. And, you know, you mentioned not shutting yourself down for potential opportunities. It’s not only relevant to people in high school, closing yourself off. I think it’s relevant to all human beings, whether you’ve been teaching for 50 years or not, there might be something you wanna do. And if your mind talks you out of it, there’s 0% chance it’s gonna happen. So I think it’s, it’s an important lesson for all on the topic of you know, things that are helpful, pieces of advice, mindset shifts. What have you found beneficial in helping you show up as your best self in your day to day job at school? Are there any books, resources, programs you’ve went through that helped you as an educator or someone that worked in schools?


Greg McLean (12:56):
I don’t know if there’s been one resource. And as I had mentioned, like there were some of the things that we were doing in schools for a long, for a little while now, at least for 10 or 12 years, if not longer, that help with that kind of positive psychology, we were calling it positive psychology with the kids, like the fact that we do guided meditations with, with kids. Yeah. And we do mindfulness with kids and, you know you know, we talk about mindset and those sorts of things. That’s been helpful for me as well, because not only am I learning about as an adult to help the kids, but I’m learning about it as an adult to help myself. Yeah. So that work all the way through. Now we’re, we’re a little bit more fortunate than say 20 years ago where we didn’t have the same mental health support 20 years ago.


Greg McLean (13:38):
I don’t know if we needed, had the same mental health need. I don’t, I don’t have the data on that, but the fact that I work with professionals who are in the, in the you know, the know about these things is also incredible. I’ve learned a little, like a lot about that. And certainly just a speaking with my wife today about a, a new book that I’d really like to read that Torene brown has just released. And she talks about emotions. I think it’s something about Atlas of emotions or something like that. Don’t quote me on that. I’m gonna look it up, but it’s really fascinating cuz she talks about 87 emotions and I’m thinking and she says that, you know, most adults can only name that they’ve experienced three or four emotions. And to know that there are 87 and what do you do with that information?


Greg McLean (14:17):
The fact that you know yourself that way, and you’ve got that language and then how does that, how does that benefit you? Right. So there’s always things there’s always things to learn and kind of the pathway kinda opens up as you go, right? Like it’s like, you’ve got this flashlight and you’re seeing as far as the flashlight can go, but that the outer edge of the flashlight it’s still opening up for you. Right. So it’s, it’s good stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to be in education because I can’t imagine how much less I would know if I wasn’t in education.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Yeah. So true education is a, a seed planting career, a seed planting vocation sometimes, you know, your actions plant a seed in somebody else who you may never realize the growth of you. They may be far gone out of the school building when you see the growth happen, but sometimes the seeds you plant and a student and a staff member and we that we plant in each other, you have the opportunity to see it grow and flourish in front of, and it’s really spectacular and cool. And it’s a very fulfilling feeling when you think of the students who you’ve seen grow and transform over the past 29 years and all different schools you’ve been in. Are there any stories that come to mind of a student who first came and wasn’t their best set or striving to live their best life and, and somehow had a transformation. And if you do, would you be willing to share this story?


Greg McLean (15:39):
Yeah. I might speak in some generalities as opposed to like naming anyone, but of course from, from an elementary school standpoint, I, I mean, that’s a really great stance to have is to know that you’re potentially planting a seed. And you’re not gonna, you may not see that. And that’s the, that’s the faith piece because you, you, you, you are doing what you can in grade one. Like people might remember the grade one teacher, but they’re not gonna remember the content. They’re not gonna remember all the songs that they sang. They’re gonna remember that. So, and so was a love, loving, caring person. That’s a pretty good seed to plant love care. The virtues, you know, like those things are super important and the importance of relationship, but, but when you run into students and you see them three or four, like, okay, so for me, we’re in a small area kind of a rural area.


Greg McLean (16:31):
And we recycle a lot of, of our grads back into education, which I think I, I take as like a real feather in the cap for what we’re doing because we, a lot of our young teachers and EAs and support people are people that were students. And now I’ve been in it long enough that they’re coming back as students and they’re coming back as employees. So I have a co you know, I have people on staff who’ve, I’ve, I’ve worked with or worked with their parents. Oh. Or I’ve known their parents. And, and thinking back to what that student, when, and I’ve been primarily a grade seven, eight teacher when I was teaching to think about the kids that struggled and then finding out that a couple of ’em own their own businesses. A couple of them you know, work at Bruce power here locally, which is, you know, a great, a great career to have.


Greg McLean (17:13):
And, and thinking that, you know, at the time, maybe in the back of your mind, you were thinking, wow, what’s this guy, what’s this person gonna do. Right. Like, I, you know, you don’t see that, but that’s a back of your mind thing. And if you keep in the front of your mind at all times that, you know, it’s a work in progress. And what you’re seeing now is like a brushstroke and the painting’s not done. Yeah. That has to keep, and you have to keep reminding yourself of that because there are times you’re going to come up against some challenging, challenging behaviors and, and, and, you know, and people, who’ve got some life circumstances working against them, but that’s what education’s all about. You know, Catholic education, that moral purpose, right? Like we’re here to kind of, even up the playing field. Right.


Greg McLean (17:50):
You’re I always say we’re here for all the kids, but we’re, we’re there for some, a little bit more than everyone. It’s like, kinda like an analogy of going to the doctor. Does everyone go to the doctor? No. and some people need a doctor more often than other people. Right. So you think of yourself in teaching an education as you go to the people that you need to bringing the faith piece back into, it was, you know, who did Jesus minister to like, wasn’t the rich and famous wasn’t the people who were doing well. It was people that weren’t so like, let’s, let’s emulate what we’re doing there in, in education. And, you know, I mean, it’s worked for me.


Sam Demma (18:21):
Yeah. I love the philosophies. Thanks for sharing. When you think of 29 years all the experiences you’ve gained, the people you’ve met, the people who have poured into you and helped you become the school leader you are today. If you could wrap it all up, it’s a hard question. Go back, walk into your first year of teaching, walk into that classroom, look at your younger, as he was doing his job. What advice would you give knowing what you know now and what the experience you have?


Greg McLean (18:59):
Wow. You’re right. That’s a good question. That’s hard. That’s a tough one. That’s, that’s a question I’m gonna include on my podcast, by the way that I’m gonna, if you could go back to your younger self yeah. You know what, that’s, that’s, that’s a great reflective, I think number one is to tell myself, you, you can do it, have faith in yourself. You’re resourceful. You’re whole, you’re talented. You’re you, you’re perfect as you are. And just embrace that and that lets you go, cuz I didn’t think so when I was first starting, right. I’m thinking, you know, you’re a confident which is again, maybe the, not a natural, but to know that, you know, you’re doing the best, you’re bringing the best. And if all your, if you’re bringing your best at every single moment, like, you know who you can be, then you have to take, you have to be happy with that and have be satisfied with that and be kind to yourself about it.


Greg McLean (19:48):
I think the other piece is, is, is the, is the kindness for other or love for others? And I certainly have come from evolve you know, evolved in my depth of understanding of what that looks like. And, and not just an education standpoint, but just in, in a relationship standpoint is, is, is knowing that if you’re, I always thought I was empathetic, but I think I I’ve grown my empathy. Knowing that you can’t always account for what people are bringing in behind them. And what you’re seeing is just face value and there’s so much more behind them that you don’t know about. And, and so don’t make assumptions and just, just, you know, love one and love them for who they are. And, and you don’t try not, you know, try to be like, not judgemental, I guess, or, or you don’t shut anyone down. Right. That’s I think that would be it like those open, maybe some like an open kind of vision towards all people.


Sam Demma (20:40):
Love it. Cool. And if someone is listening to this right now and was inspired, intrigued, curious to learn more, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch? And by the time this comes out, you might even have your own podcast. So maybe they’re gonna reach out about that show also. So please share some contact information.


Greg McLean (21:00):
Okay, well contact information let’s start with email: gregmcle@icloud.com. You could also find me on Twitter at @WalkertonGreg and also I have a Facebook presence, just look up Gregory, J McClean. And I’d love to hear from people who’ve heard this and have a question or wanna talk to me about being a priest when they’re in grade three.


Sam Demma (21:29):
Sounds good, Greg. Thank you again for coming on the show. This was awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Greg McLean (21:35):
Thanks very much for featuring this. And it was great to talk to you as well.

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