fbpx

Athletic Director

Don Middleton – Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary

Don Middleton - Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary
About Don Middleton

Don Middleton (@DonMiddleton1) is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an Athletic Director, Learning Leader, and System Learning Specialist in Off-campus and Dual Credit.

Don believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create those conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official and volunteers as a Vice-Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre.

Connect with Don: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lester B. Pearson High School

Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre

Masters of Education – MEd, Curriculum & Instruction Trauma and Resilience at Concordia University, Nebraska

Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), Physical Education Teaching and Coaching at the University of Alberta

Mount Royal University

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)

Ironworking at SAIT

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 (00:56):

Hey, it’s Sam. Welcome back to the podcast. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Don Middleton. Don is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an athletic director, learning leader, and a system learning specialist in off campus and dual credit. He believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create the conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official, and he volunteers as a Vice Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Center. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don, and I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Don Middleton (01:44):

Hi, I’m Don Middleton. I’m an Assistant principal at Lester b Pearson High School in Calgary.

Sam Demma (01:50):

Why, tell me a little bit about how you got into education.

Don Middleton (01:54):

Oh, how I got into education. Well the reality is that when I finished high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do university. And after six months of working night crew at Safeway, my manager said, I’m only coming off of night crew from working midnight till 8:00 AM if I was in school. So I applied for University of Alberta. And there’s only two faculties that were accepting students at that time, and it was education and arts and nothing against arts degrees, I think they can be very valuable. But at that time, my dad said, Friends, don’t let friends take Arts <laugh>. So I, I applied for education, but my brother was in physiotherapy and my plan was to take one semester of education and then transfer into the faculty of kinesiology, get an athletic therapist degree. And we were gonna open up a clinic together, him the physio, and meet the athletic therapist.

Don Middleton (02:49):

 my first month in education, they put me into a a student teaching role. It was supposed to be an observation, and my cooperating teacher handed me some tests and said, I’ll be back in an hour. And I was supposed to go over these tests with the kids and there was a young man that was it was a grade six class, and there was a young man that was quite upset with his test score. I sat down with him, tried to go over it with him, turned out that he got a zero and the reason he got a zero was cuz he didn’t show any work. So I started making up some math questions and he was answering everything out of his head just like that. And I realized that this kid was brilliant and the zero wasn’t indicative of what he really was capable of.

Don Middleton (03:32):

And so when the teacher came back to the classroom, I asked if, you know, we could adjust as mark. And he said, Well what’s your professional judgment? And I said, I’m 18, I don’t have any professional judgment <laugh>. And he said, What’s your gut tell you? And he said, My gut tells me that this kid understands he needs to show process going forward, but penalizing him by giving him a zero isn’t going to have a positive impact on him. And the teacher said, That sounds like a great professional judgment. He said, You tell him he got a hundred percent, but next time if he doesn’t show his work, he gets a zero. And the kid lit up like a Christmas tree when I told him the outcome. And I went home that night and I told my parents, I’m gonna be a teacher.

Sam Demma (04:13):

That’s such a cool story. What a, what a unique intro to education. I’ve asked over 200 educators about what got them into education. This is a very unique first answer, so I appreciate you sharing that backstory. you mentioned you had no interest in post-secondary education as a student yourself when you initially finished high school. I get direct messages all the time from students who, and it’s not a majority, but there’s a portion who reach out and say, Sam, I hate, like, I hate school. I I don’t, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t think it’s right for me, and I’m not sure what I wanna do after high school. When you have students who walk into your office and say things like that or express that being that, you know, you might have had a similar experience growing up as a student, what advice do you share or what do you tell them to help them along that journey?

Don Middleton (05:07):

You know, I think that’s a really great question. And I would say that my answer to that has evolved throughout my career. I used to say early on in my career, if you don’t know what you want to do, go to university. Go to college, take some general studies, find out what your interests are, and then check out what career pathways align with those courses that you enjoy and take it from there. now that’s become cost-prohibitive. It’s not, it’s not economical for a student to go to university if they know, don’t know that that’s what they want to do. And my my advice now is, do you like to work hands on? if you’re a problem solver, if you’re creative, get into a trade, go pick up a trade, go become a mechanic, go become a, a an, a carpenter, a cook, a plumber, pipe fitter iron worker, doesn’t matter.

Don Middleton (05:59):

 but go and get a trade. It takes you four years to get a journey person ticket in Alberta and a four year journey, person ticket in Alberta will earn you more money than a four year bachelor degree as an average income. And you will be paid from day one. And you’re not shelling out money towards courses that you may not ever use or need. And in Alberta, the average age of a first year apprentice is 26. And a lot of those people have university degrees and a, a pile of student debt. So go out, pick up a trade and, and get certified. And it makes you more valuable as a student later on if that’s what you wanna do. Plus students are always looking for summer jobs, and if you’ve got four months off to work in a trade and you’ve got a journey person ticket, you’re going to be paid far more than those people that are working in the service industry or in retail.

Sam Demma (06:53):

Not to mention, I like to go over in my head, best case scenario, worst case scenario when I’m making a decision. Worst case scenario, if you go down this path of becoming an apprenticeship, you get paid from day one. If you decide two years later, you know what, I don’t wanna do this. You’ve built some amazing skills. You might know how to fix your own car now because you went down the mechanic path and you wanna adjust at least the entire time you were being compensated. And you can now, you know, try something else if it’s still not the right fit. my my com I come from a family filled with trades. My dad’s a licensed plumber, my uncle Sal’s hvac, my uncle Peter’s electrician, like my cousin Joseph Mechanic, like the list. I don’t need to go outside of my family to fix anything <laugh>. and they love their jobs. So I think that’s such a great piece of advice. You mentioned, you know, are you hands on, try something in the trades. You also mentioned maybe even a cook and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it dawns upon me that your cooking program at school at Pearson is phenomenal. Tell me a little bit about it and why it’s so special.

Don Middleton (07:55):

So we’re very fortunate that in our school we have a culinary and a personal foods program. So both of those instructors or teachers in those programs are Red seal chefs. So the students are getting a first class experience being trained by people that have worked in industry and are experts in their, in their field. personal foods is learning how to cook for yourself. and then culinary is cooking for a large group. But in addition to our two Red Seal teachers in those trades, we also have a Red Seal baker and then a Red Seal instructor. So we’ve got people that have a huge wealth of experience in those fields, and it gives students an opportunity to really find out if that’s what they want. And the great thing is, is that not only would do they get the high school credits, but our students, because our, our our teachers are Red Seal chefs already, they can also start getting them the apprentice credits while they’re still in high school. So they’re basically double dipping, getting high school credits, and they can get post-secondary credits if that’s a field that they wanna pursue.

Sam Demma (09:01):

And it keeps staff’s, bellies full

Don Middleton (09:04):

<laugh>. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we have some incredible, incredible meals here. And as I said, our our our FACAs bread that our baker makes is second to none. Her habanero cheddar PCA bread. I’ve got a standing order that every time it makes, I get a nice fresh loaf on my desk.

Sam Demma (09:24):

<laugh>. That’s awesome, man. Let’s go back for a second. You said the day you came back from school in the student teacher position that you told your parents, I’m becoming a teacher, obviously because of the emotional experience you had with that young man who was brilliant and you change his mark to a hundred on the test. what did the journey look like after that decision that brought you to where you are now? Have you worked in different schools? Tell me a little bit about the process.

Don Middleton (09:50):

Sure. I’ve worked in a number of different schools. I’ve been, this is actually my 30th year teaching. I I started in a small rural community in southern Alberta. it was a K to 12 school that had 84 students in it. Wow. So we had a graduating class, I think of oh, was it 12 students that year? And it was the biggest graduating class they had had in a, in a while. yeah, 12 students. That was a big <laugh>. But I realized that that day when I had had that experience in student teaching, that making a difference for kids and seeing them succeed, that’s what, that’s what turned my crank. That was something that I found so rewarding and it was something that I was, I felt I can make a career out of this and make a life out of this.

Don Middleton (10:36):

And and so that’s what I did. and I spent about 20 years teaching PhysEd coaching various sports. I I coached them all predominantly football and volleyball. And then I transitioned into what’s called off campus and Dual Credit world. And so students were getting work experience or registered apprenticeship program. I would supervise them. I had a great deal of success in one of the schools that I was working with. And I was asked to take a position with the with the board downtown overseeing rap and, and work experience for all of the Calgary high schools. I turned it down three times, and then the fourth time they said, Come downtown, meet with us, see what it’s like. And so I interviewed for it, fully intending to turn them down a fourth time. And then the the gentleman who became one of the most influential mentors in my life said to me, You’re going to have an impact on about 2000 students at your school. If you come downtown, you’re going to have an impact on 25,000 students. And that he sold me right then and there because that’s my goal is to have a positive impact on students. And if I can broaden that, then, then that’s a huge part of, you know, why I do what I do. my apologies,

Sam Demma (11:57):

<laugh>. That’s okay.

Don Middleton (11:59):

So in terms of different schools, I, I try to change up about every three to five years. I find that I never want to become stagnant. And so my goal is to change schools, like I said, about every three to five. and I’ve spent time as a phys ed teacher, as a phys ed learning leader, off campus coordinator, off campus, dual credit specialist. And then the past four years as an assistant principal.

Sam Demma (12:25):

I believe one of the most important things to measure when we start a new pursuit is our attendance. You know, are we just showing up and putting our foot forward? And I think once you get over that hurdle and you continuously show up, one of the shortcuts or fast tracks is finding a mentor. And it sounds like you found one in that individual who convinced you on coming to the board wide position to have an impact on more students. Who is that individual and how has he or she or them been instrumental in your own personal development in the education world?

Don Middleton (12:58):

Sure. so I’d actually like to mention two mentors. One was when I was a phed learning leader at Forest Lawn High School in Calgary. And the mentor was a gentleman by the name of Tim Maine. And Tim Maine was my principal at the time. And Tim had been a former phys ed teacher and university varsity volleyball athlete. And Tim and I had a lot of discussions about what’s best for kids. And, and I remember sitting in his office and asking him, Should I do this? Shouldn’t I do this? And he said, Well, what’s your filter? And I said, What do you mean? He said, What’s your filter? And I said, Still don’t know what you mean, <laugh>. And he said, Is it good for kids? And I said, Yes. And he said, Is it illegal, immoral? No, of course not. And he said, If it’s good for kids, it’s not illegal and it’s not immoral.

Don Middleton (13:43):

He said, Then we’ll make it happen. Mm. And I said, What about the funding? He said, We’ll find the funding. And that was, that has shaped the way that I look at anything that I do, You know, is it good for kids? Is it going to help them? And if so, we’ll find a way to make it happen. And quite honestly, that was one of the reasons why we brought Sam Dema in to talk to our kids. It was good for our kids. we needed to find the money to make it happen. And you have had a lasting influence on our kids here, because I still hear them talking about it. And it’s been several weeks after the fact. Thanks. The second mentor I had was Jerry Fiddle, and he was the education director for for me, when I went downtown. And Jerry was the role that I stepped into, I was the first person in that role.

Don Middleton (14:31):

 there had been nobody else that had done that before. So I got to define what that role looked like. And, and that’s quite an intimidating thing when I’d been in education for over 20 years and now all of a sudden I’m the first person doing something. So I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m actually inventing it. And there was nobody else that I could draw upon. And, and so I, I went to Jerry and he said, You’re doubting yourself. And so he encouraged me to take risks, which in education, usually the vanilla plane, you know, stay the course, stay between the lines, That’s the advice that you get. And Jerry was like, No, go outside the lines. Let’s expand this. Let’s grow and let’s do what we can. And we grew a program that saw students earning high school credits and university credits at the same time.

Don Middleton (15:19):

We had students going to UFC and Mount Royal, and we had multiple programs with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for now state polytechnic it’s called. And to see students be able to start seeing themselves in a post-secondary setting after high school was amazing. And then on top of that, we set up a number of trades training programs where students would go out of school to, to learn a particular trade. And that was, again, we saw students’ lives changed because they were learning in an out of school setting. And not every kid is wired to be sitting in a chair for seven hours a day getting lectured at sometimes learning. And the best learning happens outside of a school setting. And, and Jerry taught me that, and Jar Jerry encouraged me to go down that path.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Thanks for sharing those two names. I appreciate it. And hopefully we can send this to them as a o of appreciation after this is aired and released. You mentioned the importance of students seeing themselves in post-secondary. I think that you and the entire staff and the entire community at LB Pearson does a phenomenal job of enabling that your students feel welcomed and included and at home at your school. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have over 70 languages. Is it 70 languages spoken at the school?

Don Middleton (16:41):

61 61 is is the last count. Yeah. 61 languages for the students. In, in our school, we have an incredible amount of diversity. 77% of the students in our school, their first language is something other than English. And that’s what makes our school so special is, is that diversity and the way that everybody comes together. we have these these days where, where students get to celebrate their heritage and students will, will dress in traditional wear and they will bring traditional food. And it’s absolutely amazing to see the different things that are going on in the building at that time when those things happen.

Sam Demma (17:18):

One of the things that you shared with me when I came to the school was that sometimes the area in which the school is positioned gets a little bit of a, a bad rep, but I’ll be completely transparent, my experience with the school was, to be completely honest, one of the best schools that I visited in the past while and had the most, some of the most respectful and kind students that I’ve come across. how do you think as a school community, we work towards changing the narrative that’s been placed on us when it’s not one that we any longer deserve? <laugh>,

Don Middleton (17:49):

Thank you for the, those really kind comments, Sam, because that means a lot to me. I grew up in Northeast Calgary, and Northeast Calgary does get a bad rap. And the reality is, is that if you look at the newspapers you know, if there’s been a violent event or something that’s happened, it’s usually happened in northeast Calgary, and we get labeled with that because our school is in that, in that setting. Are we a perfect school? No, but the reality is, is that it doesn’t matter what highest school you go to, if your intent is to do something bad, you’re going to find like-minded people that are going to encourage or participate in those bad things. It doesn’t matter what school you attend or what area it’s, but unfortunately, when once a reputation is earned, whether it’s deserved or not, it sticks with you.

Don Middleton (18:37):

And I like to think of us as being a diamond in the rough. the people that come into the building, the people that experience Lester b Pearson, they know what it has to offer. Those people that prefer to, you know, be arm’s length and just point fingers and say, That’s not a good school. I would encourage them to come in, experience it for themselves, and then then pass judgment. I know that in the past, you know, we’ve had fewer violent incidents in our school than many, but we get the the notoriety. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Sam Demma (19:10):

The phone ringing is a good thing. It means that things are happening within the school building and it makes it more real <laugh>. So I, I appreciate the humor. you’ve been in education for such a long period of time. You shared some of the mentors that have helped you along the way. If you could travel back in time and speak to Don in his first day of teaching, but maintain the experiences and knowledge you have now due to all of your different unique experiences, what advice would you give your younger self or that to other educators who are just starting this profession?

Don Middleton (19:47):

I think the, for me intuitively I’ve always known that relationship is a key to a student’s success. And building those relationships I’ve always had them happen organically because again, being involved in PhysEd and having multiple coaching seasons, you develop those relationships outside of a classroom setting. I would tell myself or any beginning teacher, be intentional. You know, don’t wait for them to happen organically. Seek out those kids and, and ask them, Hey, what are the things that you like to do? Oh, do you have any siblings? Hey, do you have a dog? I see, you know, whatever. make that connection because I, I finished a master’s of count, or not a masters of counseling, a master’s of education with a focus on trauma-informed learning. And really, it solidified that a relationship between adult and students is an absolute critical part of that student success, especially if they’re coming from a traumatic background and having one positive relationship for that student coming from a traumatic background can change their entire trajectory.

Don Middleton (20:50):

And I got to see that several times throughout my career, but it became more prominent when I would help students connect with trades and seeing kids that were not traditionally successful in a school setting all of a sudden thrive outside of a school setting. And the way that then that would carry over and they would, you know, went from having poor attendance to having over 90% attendance. They went from not being on track to graduating, to graduating in with their classmates in, in a two and a half, three year program. pursue those relationships, make them happen and, and be authentic and be yourself. kids have a great BS meter and I respect that, you know, those kids that call you on it. And if they do, and that’s what I love about Pearson is that if they think you’re, you’re giving them a pile of bs, they’ll tell you and if they do, you gotta look in the mirror and say, Hmm, are they being honest? Or, or, you know, Am I, am I doing the best that I can?

Sam Demma (21:52):

It sounds like genuine curiosity is the key to building relationships. Like is it all about kind of getting to know the student and being genuinely curious about them and their life?

Don Middleton (22:04):

Oh, without a doubt. When you, you have to show interest in who they are as a person. No kid wants to just be, Oh, okay, this is your ID number. And, you know, you sit in that back corner mm-hmm. <affirmative> getting to know that kid’s name and going down the hall and being able to say, Hey, you know, Antoine or Mohammed or whomever, right? When you know their name, then, then you’ve already started down the road to a relationship. And so that’s a critical part, is getting to know who they are, getting to know what their interests are, what is it that makes them tick. And then you try to, to work on those and build on those things to help them to be successful.

Sam Demma (22:43):

 such a good piece of advice. Thanks for sharing that. I think that’s how you also build relationships with anybody, whether it’s a student or a staff member, a colleague, whoever it might be. have you found any resources throughout your journey to be extremely helpful? That could be people, that could be books, that could be courses, that could be your peers, it could also be resources like other humans. I’m just curious if there’s anything that you’ve returned to a few times because you thought it really informed your beliefs around education or some of your ideas

Don Middleton (23:17):

I’ve had. Yeah, there’s several resources. I, I, I believe that learning is an ongoing process and, and the more you learn, the less you know, or the less the you, more you realize, the less you know. Yep. And, and so there’s various things that I’ve done throughout my career. As I said, I’ve, I just recently finished in the last few years, a masters of education. I did a, I never completed it, but I started a master’s of counseling because I thought if I did that I could have a better impact on my students. I, I always am searching out different types of professional reading I’m looking up here cuz I’ve got a list of books in front of me that that I try to work with. And it, it really is also having those mentors and somebody that has been down the road and can offer you that advice and, and going to your peers and saying, what’s worked for you?

Don Middleton (24:12):

 we don’t know it all and we’re better collaboratively and more effective as a group than we ever are individually. And, and schools should never be silos, You know, yes, you’ve got your science department, your math department, phyt, et cetera, but all of those people that are in there are expert teachers and they know how to work with kids. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re having success in phys ed, that success can be duplicated or replicated somewhere else. But if teachers don’t talk and they don’t collaborate and they don’t have the time to do that, then they’re not going to be successful or you’re going to be more challenging to reach the, the success that they want.

Sam Demma (24:50):

You mentioned that you did a master’s in trauma informed learning and started the one in counseling. I would assume that both of those would help you in some degree navigate difficult conversations with kids. and I’m, I’m sure that there’s moments where students, even with their parents sometimes might walk through the doors of your office, sit down, and you have to prepare for what could be a very difficult conversation about something that happened or about certain performance. How do you navigate and approach those really challenging conversations?

Don Middleton (25:23):

Number one is, is being authentic. I, I truly care about every single student that I work with and I wanna see them succeed. So if I approach my conversation from that perspective, then that gives me a sense of legitimacy and integrity in that conversation with a student and with the parent. And so that’s the number one thing. Number two is that I don’t beat around the bush. I’m very straightforward. This is what I want. This is what I would like to see for your child. This is what’s happening and this is what’s the barrier is how do we get from here to here and overcome those barriers. And sometimes there are things that are external, often they’re internal, usually they’re their issues within that student that is keeping them from being successful. I see my job as trying to help students be most successful and remove barriers for their success.

Don Middleton (26:18):

I also see my job as helping teachers jobs be easier. So if I can do those things, then I feel like I’m being effective as an administrator. And again, when it comes back to those conversations, it’s being truthful. And sometimes those conversations are hard and making the students understand that your choices are yours. You know, if I, and and I use this as a, as a common example, if I point out to you that you, that there’s a rake on the ground and you proceed to step on that rake and it hits you in the face, is it my fault? Is it the rake’s fault? No, you stepped on that rake. So the natural consequence is that it’s going to hit you in the face.

Sam Demma (26:56):

I love that analogy. <laugh>,

Don Middleton (26:58):

That’s,

Sam Demma (26:58):

I I might steal that one. Thanks for sharing. Absolutely. One of the reasons I believe most people get into education is they, like you mentioned, wanna have a positive impact on young people. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids. do you have any stories that come to mind when you think about a student who came across your desk and was really struggling and within a certain timeframe really switched around their situation, blossomed, if we use the gardening analogy and had a really big transformation. and the reason I ask is because I think other educators who might be listening will be reminded of their personal why when they hear stories of students making positive life changes.

Don Middleton (27:43):

You know, it’s, it’s funny because there are times when you’re in education and you don’t feel like you’re making a difference and you think, you know, is this it? Is it, is it time to pack it in? have I stopped being effective? And then you, you all of a sudden get an email or a note or you know, somebody reaches out on social media and they say, You know, I haven’t seen you in X number long, you know, number of years coach, but I want you to know that you made a difference in my life. And it, it’s funny, the universe, it seems to happen when you’re feeling at your lowest. having been in education for so long, I’m very fortunate to, to have a number of stories that where students have completely changed and, and have had very, very positive outcomes from maybe some pretty humble beginnings.

Don Middleton (28:34):

And, and if I have the time, I’ll share one with you. a young man came to me and he was in grade 10 and it was just before Christmas and he was 15 years old in, in Alberta. You can legally drop out of school at 16. And this young man hated school, absolutely hated school. And his mom was a young mom and she brought the, the student to see me. And he said, As soon as I turned 16, I’m done. You’re not gonna see me in the school again. And we talked about why and he just said, I cannot stand being in a desk for six hours a day. And so we, we talked about registered apprenticeship program and what that would mean. And I said, We can set up your timetable so that you have academic courses in the morning.

Don Middleton (29:18):

You’d have two academic courses in the morning. You can leave at lunchtime, you can go work all afternoon. the mom had a connection in a particular trade and for second semester the deal was that he was going to do that. And I said, I will support this and we will make this happen as long as you’re attending your classes in the morning. So fast forward kids doing great part way through grade 11, I’m going to visit him at the summer job. So we’re already about a year in and pardon me, it was only a few months in cuz it was grade 10. And he was working constructing a music conservatory on the university campus and he wanted to know who the trades were that put up the big iron girders and stuff. And I said, Well, that’s iron work. And he said, I’m doing this.

Don Middleton (30:04):

And he was kinda doing some, it’s called Interior Systems Mechanic, which is drywall type work and dealing with non combustible carpentry materials, so metal studs, et cetera. And he said, I would like to do iron working. And I said, I tell you what, you finish off this summer next year, I can get you into an iron working program because we had set one up with the with the Iron Workers Union here in Calgary. So the next year we put him into the Iron Working Program, he continued having his half day academic mornings working in the afternoon. He was thriving, he was doing great in his academics, he was attending classes very well. He went out, did the iron working program, got hired between grade 11 and 12 as an iron worker. The kid made $20,000 between grade 11 and 12 because he was p picking up a ton of overtime.

Don Middleton (30:51):

He, he made way more money than I did. And then part way into his grade 12 year, his mom called me and she said that her son was going to finish school at Christmas. And I said, What do you mean? She said, Well, he, he said that he’s, you know, not coming back in January. And she said, Is that okay? And, and so then after some further conversation, I realized that what she meant is that he was going to take one class on his own in the evening online, have his full academic course load first semester so that he can finish high school early and then go back to work full time as an iron worker come February. And so mom wanted to know, is this a good thing? And I said, You realize that two years ago, almost to the day your son was sitting in this chair saying he was dropping out of school and now he’s going to finish his high school diploma a full semester early. I said, That’s a huge win. And the young man is now in his early twenties, he’s a journey person, iron worker, he owns his own house. He’s actually come out to talk to students in school about his experience and why getting into a trade was the best thing that he could have done for himself.

Sam Demma (32:03):

What an amazing story. And I think it’s so important that when we have students in situations like that, that cross our, our desk, we begin with questions, Why is it, why is it that you wanna drop outta school? Because if you didn’t probe and ask questions, you wouldn’t have discovered that he didn’t enjoy sitting in class all day. And it would’ve been a lot more difficult to find a proper solution. Maybe the end result would’ve been totally different, right?

Don Middleton (32:32):

Oh, absolutely. And, and I think that that’s, again, getting to know the kids that are in front of you. if your goals and aspirations are going to university, then I think that’s very different than if your goals and aspirations are to go and work in the family’s restaurant or to take up a trade. and that’s not to say that university is a bad thing. I mean, clearly, you know, it’s done well for me. but the reality is, is that less than 50% of all students ever attend a university and even those that do the attrition rate is extremely high. So we need to do a better job as an education system and as teachers to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the students that are in front of us, find out what it is that makes them tick, find out what they want to do, and not every kid is going to figure that out in high school. But then let’s open up doors and expose ’em to as many different opportunities as we can so that they are developing those skills and they’re not afraid to step outside the, the norm and take risks and do different things.

Sam Demma (33:30):

Don, this has been a super refreshing conversation. The half hour flew by. If an educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, ask a question, have a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Don Middleton (33:44):

My email address is dtmiddleton@cbe.ab.ca. I can’t promise I’ll get back to you right away, but I will respond at some point.

Sam Demma (33:54):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for your time, your expertise, your ideas. I appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Don Middleton (34:02):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate it. Take care.

Sam Demma (34:05):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Don Middleton

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

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director
About Dave Levy

Dave Levy (@DavidAsherLevy) is a passionate Athletic Director and Educator. Throughout his career Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first Athletic Director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches as well as athletes, and fostered positive school community relationships which embody the values of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fair play. Over 80% of the student body participated in after school athletics. Now, the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field and baseball – and he has coached three state Long Jump Champions!

Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a Middle School Language Arts teacher. Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions and motivates his students to be able to communicate their ideas both orally and in writing. Dave has also served as the founding Student Government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard.

He is also a passionate volunteer for the Washington, D.C. chapter of HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership) a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBY since 2001 as Treasurer, Leadership Seminar Chair and the President of the Corporate Board.

Connect with Dave: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lowell School

Green Acres School

HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership)

HOBY Canada

University of Guelph

University of Western Ontario

What is a Writer’s Workshop?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest crossed paths with me at a conference in Washington, DC and I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to bring him on the show today. David Levy is a passionate athletic director and educator. Throughout his career, Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first athletic director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches, as well as athletes, and fostered a positive school community filled with relationships which embody the value of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fairplay. Over 80% of the student body participated in afterschool athletics. Now the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field, and baseball, and he has coached three state long jump champions. Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a middle school language arts teacher.

Sam Demma (01:59):

Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions, and motivates the students to be able to communicate their ideas, both orally and in writing. Dave is also served as the founding student government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard. He’s also a passionate volunteer for the Washington DC chapter of HOBI, Hugo Bryan Youth Leadership, a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBI since 2001 as treasurer, leadership seminar chair, and the president of the corporate board. I hope you enjoy this fun-filled conversation with Dave, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. I met him at a conference in Washington DC called The HOBI. He was wearing an orange hat, really caught my attention. <laugh>. David, such a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dave Levi (03:03):

Well, thank you. It is, it’s a real honour. Sam blew us away when, when coming to the conference, we said, qell, we can’t pay you. He said, No problem, I’m gonna come, I’m gonna light it up.

Sam Demma (03:12):

We don’t do that for everyone, just so you all know when you hear it. This is

Dave Levi (03:16):

A youth youth volunteer program. Okay. So it’s a little bit, we don’t pay anybody. It’s a little bit, It’s just getting his brand out there, which as you can see, you know, there’s like a book, there’s like awesome speaking gigs, so it’s going pretty well. but anyway, I’ve been volunteering for this youth leadership organization called Hobi, or he O’Brien, Youth Leadership for a long time. And we run leadership programs for high school sophomores all throughout the United States, but also in 40 other countries around the world. I know we have a, a big Canadian audience and I got to do the program at University of Guelph. Nice. A couple years ago. That was great. with some really epic Western Ontario friends. Nice. And Hopi was kind of my, my intro to education. I feel like. I started volunteering when I was 15.

Dave Levi (04:00):

I’ve not gone away and I had a great opportunity, I think to work with small groups of high school students, but also to realize that, as you say, small, consistent actions matter when you’re do behind the scenes before you get to climb the ladder, you know, and you’re getting, you know, drinks for speakers, you’re setting up chairs, you’re running around making sure everything is, is ready to go. And those things make the program special for the student ambassadors, whether they know it or not. so I think that was a really great intro to education that and sleepaway Camp. I worked at a camp called Independent Lake for many years, which has a circus so you can do flying trap PEs and juggling. and I got to be a counselor there and work with a lot of students and I knew after that that’s, that’s what I wanted to do. And I was very lucky because I have a, my middle school librarian became the head of a school and she saw me when I was in college and said, If you wanna be a middle school teacher, call me in four years. And I did. And then I got to work with her. So, very lucky opportunity

Sam Demma (05:01):

For those educators who know absolutely nothing about Hobi. Do you wanna give them a little rundown what it is, why it’s so special and important to you, and why they should look into it for maybe even their own kids?

Dave Levi (05:12):

Yeah. First of all, you should all look into it. Hobi is a youth leadership program for high school sophomores. And we run programs for students from public charter and private schools. And it is a three day weekend in which we focus on individual group and leadership for society. So we bring in speakers who are experts in a variety of areas like Sam and the kids get to learn from those speakers and sort of ask questions and make connections with both the speakers, but also with their peers about ways that they can make a difference right now. They don’t have to wait until they’re an adult. A society sees them to be a leader. They can, they can sort of get going in their communities right away. We do a lot of community service projects. so this year the group worked to Clean Horse Tack and all kinds of other materials for a nearby barn.

Dave Levi (06:02):

It was quite a hefty project. That stuff gets real muddy. we’ve also gone to soup kitchens. We have gone to retirement homes. We have been very busy and we do service projects throughout the year afterward. and the connections that the kids make through these panel opportunities, through games and simulations, through service projects is very, very powerful. And I think they really walk away a change person. It’s only three days. but they come back as alumni. We do service projects together throughout the year. we have an international program called the World Leadership Congress that has 400 kids from 20 different countries. It’s like a mind blowing, you know, leadership on steroids. It’s just, it’s magical. so I love Hobie and I was very privileged to be a student ambassador as a 10th grader and I just have not gone away cause it’s great.

Sam Demma (06:52):

The experience for me, even not as a high school student, was phenomenal. And the activities, the tunnel of love, which we can talk about in a second to clarify <laugh>. but some of the, some of the things that really, I guess one of the specific things that really made an impact on me was the handwritten notes that you would write for students and that you wrote for myself and pretty much every single delegate and and person that was a part of the event. can you talk a little bit about where your habit of writing handwritten letters came from and why you think it is it matters and makes a difference?

Dave Levi (07:29):

Yeah. well I’ll think, I’ll start with my mom who’s the, the real expert behind handwritten notes, Thank you notes, birthday cards get well cards, everything. She’s got everything organized. And so I developed this habit where I, I have a stack of envelopes with everyone’s birthday, all of my connections for the whole year. And when their day approaches, I wanna make sure that I send them a handwritten birthday card. Cuz I think the message is totally different In our media era receiving mail, it’s very exciting. So I always ask my students what kind of mail they get and they’re like, I don’t get mail. I mean, occasionally there’s a magazine or there’s like a note from grandma but generally speaking they don’t get mail. And so I do a letter of correspondence with each one of them. It’s a true labor of love.

Dave Levi (08:11):

 and I ask them questions about the characters in the books we’re reading, but eventually I also ask them, you know, Hey, you did really well in the soccer game. Can you tell me more about that? Oh, I understand you’re really into robotics. Like what you know, and they can sort of take it whatever direction they want. They ask me questions too. And then I learn a lot of things about them that I would not learn if we were having an allowed conversation. There’s usually a little bit of pushback before the first letter. So they think seriously, like, I have to get out my notebook. I’ve, you’re standing right there, I forgot you. A letter like <inaudible> <laugh>. but usually after I have written them back once and they realize that the letter is very specific to them that is a, a real game changer for them. And you know, they get to talk about their favorite subject, which is them and language arts. Language arts is also their favorite subject, but <laugh>, so, and then at, at the hobi at the youth leadership program, I started leaving the notes outside of the student’s doors. So when there are dorm rooms and you know, you wake up and you’ve got, it’s like Christmas, you wake up, you got a letter, boom, how cool is that? What a way to start your day, right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (09:13):

Yeah. It was memorable and I enjoyed reading it and I keep a journal so I stay footed in there and 10 years from now I’ll look back and be like, Whoa, this guy David wrote me a letter back then. I remember that <laugh>.

Dave Levi (09:24):

Yeah, I mean I think the relationship building is probably the key to having good classroom management, having good successful educational practices. And so that’s one of several ways to do that. But I do think that kids have a real buy in. They’re like, Wow, he spent a lot of time on this. and he must really care otherwise why I do that.

Sam Demma (09:45):

How else do you build relationships with the students in your classroom? like when you think about students and the relationships you’ve built, what do you think you’ve done that’s helped facilitate those relationships?

Dave Levi (09:57):

 well it’s really important to me that I find out what their passions are. In some cases I’m helping them find their passions in other cases they already know and I just ask them a lot of questions and then I sit there and listen. there’s a lot of like, tell me more about that. Oh, that’s interesting. You know. and so I think those things are really important. And then, you know, being in their world as much as possible. They’re in the play, they’re in the basketball game, they’re in the whatever. I’m gonna go and I wanna see them in action and then I wanna be able to ask them very specific questions about what I saw the next day. And I think those things make a huge difference in terms of building relationships. I also try to build some, a lot of routines in our classroom, but also, like I tell them every day that they’re my 32 favorites, you know that I cry one tear for each one of them <laugh> that we’re apart on the sad days where we don’t have language arts. I tell them just how miserable that’s making me. I’ll recover, but it’s rough. and I think that they, they appreciate my like horrible sense of humor. <laugh> on some level. You know,

Sam Demma (10:58):

Something that also made an impact on me at Hobi was the compliments in that exercise, the tunnel of love. I’m hoping you can explain what it is. I’m not sure if it’s illegal, if you’re legally allowed to do it outside of hobie events, but maybe an educator could steal this at like the end of the year and maybe do it with their classroom as a cool little activity.

Dave Levi (11:17):

Yeah. Every educator should steal it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So we set the tone by saying this is gonna be a, a very sort of low-key, almost somber experience. And so every kid, we get them to form a human tunnel. So there are people on both sides and then someone will go through the tunnel and they’re blindfolded. And so you can sort of pull them to the side and whisper something positive that you’ve learned about them or that in a way that they impacted you. And in Hopi it only comes from three days. So it’s like really magical. The things that the people say and the things people say are surprisingly very specific. You know, it really impacted me when you said this to me when you led this activity, you know, I learned this from you and so on. And some of those relationships are, are many years deep with kid people who’ve come back to volunteer on a number of occasions.

Dave Levi (12:06):

And so as a result those connections are really deep. And so you walk through the tunnel, people are pulling you aside to say special things to you about all the things that you’ve, you’ve done. You don’t necessarily know who they are cuz you’re blindfolded and you just met, but you know that you like what they’re saying cuz it’s very nice and thoughtful. And then you get to the end and like, if you’re not crying, I mean, I, I mean impressive, but I could never get through it without crying. And then you get to get back in the tunnel. Like the tunnel just keeps growing and you get to share the same messages with, with other folks who are coming through. And it has never done anything like it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So I do, I recommend it to all educators.

Sam Demma (12:44):

Yeah, it’s a cool activity. I, that definitely stuck in my mind throughout the entire three days along with everything else about the conference. But that exercise was, I thought really cool and something that could be replicated and used in different situations to make a positive impact on youth and the people surrounding them. so tell me more about your journey through education. You’ve done a lot of volunteer work on the side. How did your career start in education And tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in and what, what brought you to where you are today?

Dave Levi (13:13):

 well I had the privilege of of starting with my middle school librarian as my boss and I got to jump right in and teach seventh grade humanities right off the bat. So it was history and English and one big party of fun. Nice. That’s how I advertised it to them. And I learned a lot in that year. I got to run the student government, which was a real experience and teach writer’s workshop, which is where the letter writing correspondence started. Nice. and I was at that school for three years, I think the most memorable student government experience. And working with student government has taught me a lot about the issues that are important to students and how I can support them. Nice. And taking that. And they were concerned about the amount of time that they had for lunch. So they made this very unique a PowerPoint presentation about all of the reasons that lunchtime should be extended.

Dave Levi (13:58):

You know what, if you wanna meet with a teacher during that time, like is it really healthy to be eating that quickly? You know, what if you’re studying for, And they had like a lot of data, it was very impressive. And so the principal was not thrilled about this presentation cuz you know, the schedule was set. And so they went on a hunger strike where they refused to eat lunch for like a week march around school with signs. And lo and behold we added 10 minutes to lunchtime and what a victory it was for those kids <laugh> to have that opportunity. other student government experiences have included with, I recently helped some kids rewrite the dress code Nice. To make sure that the dress code was focused on sort of a gender neutral language before that it was basically just written for girls.

Dave Levi (14:43):

Yeah. And the girls took issue with that as they should. And I said, we’ll rewrite it. And they did. And then they came to a faculty meeting and they presented their, their new, their new language and we went with it and that was the new dress code. And I think it’s been really powerful for those kids to know that they have a voice and they can make those things happen. And then a few years into my teaching career, I was already coaching cross country and basketball and track, which are my, my sport loves. And I had an amazing experience coaching cross country where we started with just a few kids. by the time I left that school after three years we were up to 30 kids. I had coached a state long jump champion who went on to run a university. and so when I got to the new school I thought, gosh, like this has gotta come.

Dave Levi (15:29):

 so at that time there was no sports program to speak of at that school at all. And so I thought, well, cross country is a very accessible sport for everybody. You don’t need any equipment. You just like go out in the woods or the neighborhood, whatever you can go running. And the best part to me is the ability to improve and how easily measurable it is. You know, I can say, well this time you ran this and this time you ran this and so you’re better. Like, you can’t argue with me whether you have like you made a number of passes in a basketball game that’s like a little harder to measure, although it can be. but cross country and track are just so very simple. And so we got up to the point where we had 70 kids, we won many championships.

Dave Levi (16:04):

But I think the best part was that the kids improved dramatically. They made a little tunnel as the runners came through at the end to support their teammates. and I think the culture of cross country is really special in that every runner is competing with themselves, has an opportunity to improve and their teammates really care about the success of each other. Even though it is a somewhat individual event. There’s definitely a team aspect. It’s you’re scored as a team but also people are really supporting you in those regards. And so once I had done cross country and I got together one of the first basketball teams and then I had, you know, six or seven track kids who we took to meets and they got pounded and it was an experience for everybody. you know, then I went to the head of school and said, Hey, I think our school needs an athletics program and I wanna run it and this is what I think it should look like.

Dave Levi (16:54):

And she thought that was a good idea. So it started as something that was very small. and you know, we were sort of the homecoming opponent at the beginning. but we grew to be a very competitive program with lots of participation. about 90% of the kids were participating. Wow. 170 kids were participating in track and field, which was really special. and it’s starting as early as as kindergarten. So I had five year olds out there like long jumping over the sandbox and shot putting with wiffle balls and like really learning the language. And then, you know, they’d get to middle school and I could ask them about their lead leg and trail leg and hurdles and they knew what I was talking about, which was pretty technical stuff for a 11 year old. so that was really a very neat experience to be able to build that.

Dave Levi (17:40):

 we grew to have lots of teams. You know, originally there was only one girl that wanted to play basketball. Now there’s four basketball girls basketball teams. Wow. So and she came back recently to speak to them, which was a really neat experience. So I think having kids get excited about this program and have passion for it and be proud of it was really important. And then all the leadership skills that they learned very valuable. And then their voice too. They kids wanted to start a baseball team and I said, If you can find 15 kids and an adult to, to coach you, I will do everything else. I didn’t actually think that they would, but they did. And so then lo and behold there was a baseball team and the same thing happened with girls lacrosse. And so that’s been really exciting to be able to build a program into something I’m really passionate about to help schools kind of get that off the ground.

Dave Levi (18:29):

And I think it increased the brand dramatically. You know, we’re all over the place competing against schools double our size and to make the kids know that I took and bring it back to the letter writing thing, I wrote an email after every game highlighting the accomplishments of every kid with a line that was specific to each person. Damn. and so the kids, you know, I was like reading about themselves in the New York Times and I think they felt really special and I know parents forwarded onto their grandparents and aunts and uncles and there were like hundreds of them cuz I would do them after every game. So it was really, I thought I enjoyed being able to retell the story. Yeah. And I think the kids then knew that it was really important. Whether they made the buzzer beating jump shot or they, you know, just were in a good defensive stance that day, I was gonna find something to highlight them. and I think that stuff is, that’s been a really special part of my experience is being able to combine athletics and teaching so that kids know I see them in in multiple places and understand them.

Sam Demma (19:31):

What a powerful, another powerful example of just compassion and showing how much you care. and just making people feel seen and heard and how much of a difference that makes. I’m surprised you didn’t say baseball was one of your favorite sports, knowing that your parents own a mini, a little stadium <laugh> and run a team. You better careful think they listen, listen to this

Dave Levi (19:52):

<laugh>. but yeah, no baseball all super fun. and the Orioles had a winning record this year. So we can, we can be excited about that at

Sam Demma (20:01):

The start. It’s all the same. Can’t say the same about the Blue Jays, but yeah, that’s a, it’s for another time. <laugh>.

Dave Levi (20:06):

Yeah. I had a, I had a really powerful moment when I played basketball, which is that we had, there was like 30 seconds left and one of my teammates said, Listen, give me the ball and then after I score, no one’s gonna celebrate. We’re just gonna pretend that we don’t care. That it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna be excellent sports by just shaking hands and walking out here we can celebrate on the bus. And that moment really, really impacted me. So now if we’re ever in a a close game, I will tell the kids, you know, regardless of the outcome we’re just gonna be like, cool. We came, we played, we had fun. Yeah. And we can, we can debrief later, but we’re gonna make sure that people leave having a good experience from the opportunity to play us.

Sam Demma (20:45):

Mm. I love that. I, I’m curious, sometimes people struggle with getting students to buy into any programs they’re running. The fact that you were able to, and you know, you and other staff and the entire school culture, you were able to create this environment where from one student starting four, you know, girls basketball teams, that’s like pretty significant. H how do you start engaging the population of a school to get involved and engaged in programs, sports or other programs?

Dave Levi (21:16):

Well, I think part of it is if you have a passion for a sport or a club or a team that you wanna start the first thing is to just go around and tell people that it’s your passion. Say I’m doing this, you wanna come do it with me. there is not one kid that I have not spoken to about running cross country. Mm.

Sam Demma (21:34):

At the whole school

Dave Levi (21:35):

In the whole school. And a lot of those kids have heard it from me over and over again. And they’re, they could, they could deal with a different conversation topic if I, if I granted that to them. But just try it one time. Just come one time, you’ll have a great time then I won’t bother you anymore. That isn’t true. But <laugh>, no, I think that show showing people that it’s important to you and, and bringing really positive energy no matter what the activity is, people are gonna gravitate towards that. and then no matter how many people you have, like just start, just say, okay, well we’re gonna meet at this time and we’re gonna do this. and create an agenda whether you’re like building a robot or you’re going for a run or you’re creating a constitution for student government, which is how we started with one kid.

Dave Levi (22:19):

 you know, I think those things are, that’s the energy that you need to bring is, you know, this is happening. And then I think the more you talk about it, the more you post flyers and you’re telling everyone about it in the hallway, people will gravitate towards that kind of energy. And, you know, being the first follower is, is a really big deal too. So I think having, having people come out and get excited about it and then over time you can build, build a history. I was told my, my class, you know, once you’re in the, once you’re in the group, you’re always in the group. and I meant it, you know, whether I’m not, I was still working at, at whatever school, you know, they’re, if I see them around the city, you know, they’re all, we’re always in the group. And I think that builds a culture of, you know, these are the records, this is the history, you know, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. but it, it oftentimes just starts with one idea.

Sam Demma (23:08):

What keeps you personally motivated and excited to show up every day and pour your energy and heart into programs and try and make a difference?

Dave Levi (23:17):

Well I think the kids are just the best. That is the, you know, the kids are really, truly never the problem. And it’s interesting because during Covid I had a lot of people tell me that their teaching experience was highly unpleasant. and you know, working on Zoom is, I mean some people work from home all the time and they’re Zoom experts, but I think most teachers were like, What is this? What is this platform? I can’t see any of the time. They don’t have their camera on what’s the deal. but for me it was like, why miss you? So I’m gonna come and show up and I wanna learn more about these kids and try to make the experience as best as possible. And if it’s a good experience for them, it’s usually gonna be a good experience for me too. So in the covid time I studied as much as I could.

Dave Levi (23:58):

I watched as many videos and reached out to as many tech experts. But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing was the kids just knew that I was still me and they were still them. And even though we were behind a screen, we were still gonna have class discussions that were the same. We even, I did cross country where we like virtually over zoom, like warmed up and did our butt kicks and hi knees in the kitchen. And I was like, this is your workout. Like go do it. you know, we had virtual dances and virtual spirit week and virtual talent show and I just think trying to find a way to make things special is important. And for me, knowing that I get to wake up every morning and go hang out with middle school kids, cuz they say to me, Why are you always so happy? And I was like, well you, you know I get to hang out with middle schoolers every day and middle schoolers are great. They’re just becoming people. It’s very exciting. They’re learning those passions that we talked about earlier, but they haven’t fully developed their views on the world, which is awesome. And so they’re willing to engage in really intense debate and they’re also willing to be sophisticated and silly. When I wear a cape and dress up is super similarly <laugh>. Like they’re into it. and they learn all kinds of comparisons. So.

Sam Demma (25:03):

Cool. Well what resources have you found helpful in your own journey as an educator and a teacher? And that could be other people, that could be podcasts, that could be books, that could be things you’ve watched that could be movies, that could be like absolutely anything. Where do you draw your learning from?

Dave Levi (25:21):

Yeah, I mean I think that people is probably the best resource and I had a really awesome opportunity early in my career where I was paired with an expert teacher, Natalie, who is just extraordinary and shout out Natalie was, yeah, shout out Natalie, she’s a rock star. And so I got to observe her in action and then she observed me in action and we compared notes. and that was really powerful in part cuz she wasn’t my boss, she was just a peer who wanted her classroom experience to be better. And I wanted my experience class, classroom experience to be better. We learned a lot from each other and I think that’s true in general, if you go to observe other master teachers doing their craft and talk to them about what makes them tick. My all time favorite teacher, Mr. Chaman from 11th grade US history, he runs a newsletter called Class Wise.

Dave Levi (26:11):

And when I told him that I was gonna be a teacher, he said, Well you know, you gotta subscribe to this. And that has taught me a lot of nice great best practices too. in terms of books, I really enjoyed the power of thinking neutral at something like that. I see. but the idea was that when you’re in a car you can put yourself in drive or you can put yourself in reverse or you can be neutral. And so while I am an enthusiast and I believe in being positive, I also think there’s a point where one needs to be realistic. So if you’re facing struggle you can just say, Okay, well today I’m gonna go to school and I have first period and we’re gonna do this lesson and I don’t know if it’s gonna go well or if it’s gonna go poorly.

Dave Levi (26:53):

I assume it will cuz I’m really good but I don’t know that. but I do know this. And so I think sharing that mentality with kids, you know, is very valuable a lot of times when they have doubt about what they can and cannot do helping them to sort of solve that puzzle is best from a neutral perspective where they’re not thinking about themselves in a, in a negative way. So I think that’s been really positive. And then also I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of the high functioning educator and seriously, I have learned, I have learned a lot, I’ve been very impressed with all of the best practices of many people you’ve interviewed. So thanks to those who came before me.

Sam Demma (27:32):

Yeah. And thanks for sharing those. I love those ideas. If you could take your experiences in education, bundle ’em all up, hop in a time traveling car, go back not to the future, back to the past and you know, walk into the first day you started teaching in a classroom setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey David, this is what you’re, you need to hear right now. What advice would you give yourself? Not because you wanna change what unfolded or your pathway, but because you thought it would be helpful to hear it at the start of your teaching journey?

Dave Levi (28:08):

Yeah, I mean I think the first thing is not to take it so seriously. Hmm. I think we have a lot of, well a lot of teachers were star students and so they are sort of perfectionists and so, you know, people spend hours planning their lessons in the same way that they plan them in university, which really has very little application to the actual experience in the classroom. And then if kids are talking out of turn or they don’t seem a hundred percent engaged or they say something to you that you wish you didn’t hear I think those things can really throw you off course and they just don’t really matter that much. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I also think there’s a lot of pressure from administrators whether it’s from observations or turning in your lesson plans or whatever that feels really important in the moment, but actually is just like a blip on the radar.

Dave Levi (29:03):

It’s just one day out of 180. And so I think knowing some of those things is great. I also think that having routines in the classroom is absolutely essential and I did not, I didn’t really know that when I started teaching and I didn’t have great routines and the kids, well it’s sort of their job as, as you know, first year teacher, seventh grader just gonna give you a hard time. That’s like they, and they, they nailed that job. I have discussed that with lots of them since then who are now adults and they’re like, Yeah, you were young and you were new and we were just gonna, we were gonna give it to you. and they did. They, I mean we had fun. We learned a lot. Yeah. but they did not make it easy. And so I think having routines in terms of we’re gonna do this for the warmup, we’re gonna get out our planner and we’re gonna do this. And letting the kids know what what’s coming is really valuable because they really benefit I think from being able to plan ahead and then you can do all kinds of fun activities within that framework once you have sort of a structure planned out.

Sam Demma (30:04):

Gotcha.

Dave Levi (30:05):

I would add, if you say you’re gonna do something, you gotta really do it. so kids remember everything and even if it’s a small thing, if you tell them that you’re gonna do something, then you need to deliver.

Sam Demma (30:17):

I always tell students when you tell someone you’re gonna do something, you put your reputation on the line and if you don’t do it, your reputation in the other person’s mind who you promise something to slightly decreases. Like when I tell my dad every Wednesday, I’m gonna take out the recycling. If I don’t do it <laugh>, I know my dad’s gonna be thinking about me <laugh>. And I think it’s the same for everybody, but probably especially young people because they are looking up to you as that, you know, as their role model. and you don’t wanna let them down. Right?

Dave Levi (30:50):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I want them to, I mean, it is okay for them to see me make mistakes cause I make mistakes all the time. And we work through that together. Actually, it’s funny, I give them, I call them grammar dinosaurs, I give them a sticker when I make a grammatical mistake on like a handout or nice whatever. And so usually they put those on their binder or their water bottle, but this year they have taken to putting them on the wall so they can document all of the mistakes that I’ve made. And we’re got, we got a whole menagerie up there of dinosaurs at the moment, so I got up my game I guess. But I appreciate that they’re taking this with a grain of salt and they’re holding me accountable too, which is important. Yeah. Cause it goes in place.

Sam Demma (31:29):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Well if someone’s listening to this and has been at all inspired or intrigued by some of the things you’ve shared or the stories you’ve talked about, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you and ask a question?

Dave Levi (31:41):

Well they can, they can email me at davidasherlevy@gmail.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter with all the same handles, and I would love to hear from other high functioning educators and compare notes ’cause as I said earlier, I think that’s the key to, to success in the classroom and on the court and on the field.

Sam Demma (32:08):

Awesome. David, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Appreciate it big time my friend. Keep up the great work and we will talk very soon.

Dave Levi (32:15):

Looking forward to it, Sam, thanks so much. It’s real honor.

Sam Demma (32:19):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Levy

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.

Char Andrew – Health & Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

Char Andrew - Health & Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools
About Char Andrew

Char’s first job is being a mother and wife. She married Chris for 30 years and has 3 amazing children. Her second job is working as the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.

Her role with the division is to create healthy school communities for staff and students. Her school division is passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship between physical health and mental health.

Her 3rd job is as a fitness instructor with Studio Pilates in Red Deer. She has been in the fitness industry for over 32 years. Her fitness journey has been one of learning, passion and fun. 

Connect with Char: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Studio Pilates

Char Andrew Youtube Channel

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Char Andrew. Char is the Health and Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Schools. Char’s first job is being a mother and wife. She married Chris for 30 years and has three amazing children. Her second job is working as the Health and Wellness coordinator for the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division. Her role with the division is to create healthy school communities for staff and students. Her school division is passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship of physical health, and mental health. Her third job is as a fitness instructor with Studio Pilates and Red Deer. She has been in the fitness industry for over 32 years. Her fitness journey has been one of learning, passion, and fun. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Char Andrew, and I will see you on the other side. Char, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Char Andrew (01:56):

Hey. Hi Sam. Thanks for having me. My name is Char Andrew, and I am the health and Wellness coordinator for Red Deer Catholic Regional schools.

Sam Demma (02:06):

When did you become passionate about your own personal wellness and have that personal passion pour into helping others?

Char Andrew (02:15):

You know what, I think it was about 20 when I needed to take control of my health and wellness. It was kind of those late teens, early 20 years that I’m like, eh, I need to make, make a change. So I started going to a local fitness center and I literally fell in love with my aerobics teacher. She was like the high energy, high kicker type instructor. And she came up to me and she said, You know what? Have you ever thought about becoming an instructor? And that’s all it took. I had a background in figure skating growing up, and I, I had a little bit of rhythm going on. So I became an instructor and I’ve been teaching fitness for over 32 years now.

Sam Demma (02:58):

And you live it running triathlons and marathons, <laugh>.

Char Andrew (03:04):

I try to make sure it is part of my lifestyle. Absolutely. Yep.

Sam Demma (03:09):

What took you down an educational journey? Like when did you have the realization that you might want to help staff and students with their wellness and what actually brought you to where you are today?

Char Andrew (03:22):

Well, when I finished high school, I, I wanted to work in the education sector. I wasn’t really confident about going to school. So I, I started off my journey at, in early childhood development and I took a diploma program here in my, actually where I’m living currently in Red Deer. And I just knew I wanted to help students along with their education and their wellness. And then I ended up marrying my husband, who is a teacher and sort of immersed myself in that education world. I love watching him coach basketball. I love going to conferences with him. And then the opportunity came up for my, my role that I’m in right now. So it was kind of a good marriage of both where I was working in the school’s division and I was able to share my passion about wellness and how important it is for overall wellness, whether it’s your mental wellness, physical wellness, all of it.

Sam Demma (04:19):

That’s such a unique journey or introduction to Ed, you know, education. It sounds like you were able to bring two passions that you had together, which I think is a really meaningful way to pursue a, a pathway or a future. What does your role look like day to day in the school board for someone who might not be familiar with, you know, what you do?

Char Andrew (04:42):

Yeah, for sure. You know what? I think I have to give a shout out to our division first and foremost because they came up with this concept of a wellness coordinator. Knowing that what can we do to help our staff become healthier? Yeah. So that they take less sick days, right? So that it’s more consistent for kids in the classroom and ultimately it will save the division money if they’re paying for less sick time. So when they came up with this concept it was mostly to focus on, on staff wellness. And when I saw the job posting, I was like, Whoa, this is, this is a dream job for me because of the bringing the two of them together. So I think, you know, the focus of wraparound supports of wellness for students and teachers and all staff, bus drivers, whoever it might be, when people are physically well and there’s sleeping well and they’re drinking water and they’re out in the sunshine, have positive social relationships that makes us mentally well.

Char Andrew (05:48):

So I think my scope is definitely not mental wellness. I’m not a mental health practitioner. It’s not, that isn’t my, my skillset. My skillset is that that fitness and not part of the wellness, but we know that those are all the things that will support kids in their mental wellness. And when we, not even kids, staff, everybody in the group. Yeah. So when everybody’s well that way, it just makes us better teachers, It makes us better students, it makes us better bus drivers or s or cafeteria workers, whoever we are in the school division. So, okay, I’m gonna get really excited because I’m really passionate about it.

Sam Demma (06:25):

I love it. I can feel it. You can tell that this is work that you’re excited about doing every single day. And I think that in education it’s so important that every person in every role is excited about what they’re doing because that passion pours through and results and, and impact and, and actually making sure the job they’re supposed to do is getting ju getting done as best as it possibly can. I know that what you’ve done and what the division has done in the wellness sector is now sort of an example for other school boards as well. What are some of the initiatives or projects that you have worked on with your team and with the school division that you’re personally really proud of, but also excited about?

Char Andrew (07:11):

Yeah, I think the thing that we started about 10 years ago is we created this comprehensive school health model, which lots of divisions are very familiar with. But one of the things that we did in every one of our schools is we asked someone to be a wellness champion. It could have been an ea, it could have been a teacher. We, so now we actually have one or two, some schools have six cuz they’re pretty excited about it. But we are wellness champions in every school. And then they will take, I’ll do PD with them. I’ll bring them in the division office, you know, three or four times a year and we’ll talk about, Hey, what are some of the wellness initiatives that you wanna do in your school? How can I support you? And so that’s sort of where they build an action plan for the school year.

Char Andrew (07:57):

Now, in turn, those wellness champions will bring student wellness action teams together. So those, they bring students who are passionate about wellness and, and how can we support everybody in our school when it comes to anything from healthy eating bingo when you’re in elementary school to maybe bringing in someone in the high school to talk about, you know, mental wellness, those types of things. The one thing I love about our little action teams is that student Wellness Action teams, which the acronym is swapped, so they call ’em their SWAT teams, <laugh>, We have our little SWAT teams in the school helping the, the adults with their, with their wellness initiatives. So I think other divisions have really looked at that model of going, Hey, that’s a great idea. Let’s bring, bring in someone that will take that role and that leadership role in the school and then create these, these student action teams.

Char Andrew (08:49):

So I talk a lot about that with other school divisions. The other thing we did was we created a staff wellness assurance plan so that our division will follow through this over the next three years of what are an actual assurance plan that our HR team and myself will follow through with over the next three years. So it kind of gives us a path, the goal the strategic plan of what we’re gonna do over the next three years. So we talk about our, our assurance plan. There’s so many things that we’ve done. I really do get excited. I got to speak to the Zone four committee last year of all superintendent. Actually it was not even zone four, it was all a superintendents in the province about what we’re doing as far as wellness. So, ah, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve built here.

Sam Demma (09:37):

That’s so amazing. It, it sounds phenomenal. Outside of your, your role with the school division, how do you keep your wellness in check so that when you show up to work, you’re filled with energy, super excited and ready to go <laugh>?

Char Andrew (09:54):

So that’s a good question. I I actually teach fitness classes. Like I said, I’ve been in the fitness industry for 32 years. So I work my, my fun, my other fun job is working at a place called Studio Pilates where I teach everything from spin to TRX to Pilates. And I think one of the secrets for me is just doing different things. One day I, I’m gonna teach spin, but the next day I’m gonna go for a walk and then I’ll teach a TRX class and then I’m gonna go for a swim. So I think to keep me motivated, it is mixing things up. But other other piece of it for me is I know how good I feel mentally. Yeah. When I’ve done something physical that works for me. That’s my, my self care and, and self care and wellness means something different to other people. But that’s definitely the piece that motivates me is I have, I have to be moving.

Sam Demma (10:51):

It sounds like moving is the constant, but the way you move or why you’re moving in terms of the game you’re playing, the sport you’re engaged in changes that mixing things up is a part of your philosophy. Things got really mixed up over the past two years with Covid <laugh>. Yeah. When it comes to that mix up what was your focus or the school division’s focus on wellness during that time and maybe what are some of the initiatives or things that went on over the past two years to try and support the wellbeing of staff and students?

Char Andrew (11:26):

Well, you know, it was really challenging because part of what I love about my job was being able to go into the schools and work with the students and work with the teachers. So like everybody else, we had to figure out ways that we can make this work. So of course I did lots of virtual things and that’s, that was a big learning curve for me because yeah, not really technically savvy, but we managed to do a lot of sort of guest presentations for whether it’s PHED classes or the com classes in the high school. And then the teacher wellness piece, I started YouTube called Wellness Wednesdays, <laugh> Nice.

Char Andrew (12:09):

We would focus on, I would try and alternate, you know, one week would be something physical, whether it’s a five minute energy break at your desk because a lot of us were sitting at home at our desks or the next week would be nutrition. And then the following week I would do something that would help support our mental wellness. So my wellness Wednesday <laugh> little YouTuber videos became pretty popular. So, you know, we did what we could to make sure people knew we were still here and we cared about them and we cared about their wellness within the division.

Sam Demma (12:42):

That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to check out some of your YouTube videos. Are they still up there, <laugh>?

Char Andrew (12:48):

Yes, they are. In fact, I did a presentation for the bus drivers last week just to kick off the school year and a couple people put up their hands and said, Hey, are you still doing your Wellness Wednesday videos <laugh>? So, hey,

Sam Demma (13:01):

That’s awesome. We gotta

Char Andrew (13:01):

Continue with them now.

Sam Demma (13:03):

So aside from supporting the divisions as a whole, do you ever get emails or phone calls from individual staff members saying, Sure, I’m super burnt out right now, like I just need some support. Like, is that something that also happens and if so what is kind of your focus when someone reaches out like that who might be a little bit burnt out?

Char Andrew (13:26):

Yeah, that’s, that’s really great question. In fact, during the pandemic, one of the things I thought I wanted to do was how do I work with people a little bit more on an individual basis? Mm. So I took a wellness coaching course to the Spencer Institute in California and it was an online course and it now gave me the opportunity to, in the skill set to really meet with people individually, not, not really prescribing to them, You need to do this, you need to do that. It was more like, what are some of the barriers? You know, I know this is what you wanna accomplish, how can we talk you through it? And it’s really giving them strategies that it’s really them figuring out the strategies that work best for them when it comes to wellness. So I am now through the division, they said, Yeah, let’s, let’s, let’s use this as one of the supports for our staff when it comes to their benefits. So I now meet with people individually. I have about 13 staff right now that I meet with on an ongoing basis. And hopefully that’ll grow this year. But I do, I’m really enjoying that one-on-one meeting with people cuz it’s, wellness can be a really personal and private thing. Yeah.

Sam Demma (14:37):

But

Char Andrew (14:37):

It’s so important. They want, they wanna continue to be the best teachers or eaas or whatever cafeteria workers that they can be. So how can I support them on that one-on-one journey?

Sam Demma (14:48):

That’s really helpful because I feel like so many people in education over the past two years have needed a support like that. And maybe not had access to it. Prior to meeting you at the middle years’, you know council conference. I didn’t, I didn’t ever speak to a wellness coordinator before. So I think it’s really cool to see you doing the work you’re doing and that you’ve been doing it for a while now, which is exciting for education as a whole. What, like what personally keeps you motivated to do this sort of work?

Char Andrew (15:27):

Well, you know, I, I do it because I know how it makes me feel. But the other things that motivate me are just little, little comments or an email that I get, even if it’s my Wellness Wednesday video. If I get one email a week for someone saying, Hey Char, I really needed to hear that today. That really helped me get through my day. Or I went out to visit a school last week and one of the ladies had taped to her desk. The little five minute desk workout goes, I still do this every day, char. So those, that type of feedback does kind of fill my bucket and feed my soul. And I, I do know, I truly, truly, truly believe that when we incorporate wellness into our everyday life, how, how much better our life, the quality of our life can be. And I just wanna teach people that I want them to experience that same feeling that, that I get when I’m really taking care of my wellness. So I, I think that that passion that I have keeps me motivated cuz I know it’s, I know it’s making a difference even if it’s one person a week.

Sam Demma (16:34):

I was just having a phone call with a coach of mine and a mentor, his name’s Chris. And he told me that two weekends ago he was sitting on dock at a cottage. First time he had ever taken a few minutes to meditate in complete silence, where you literally sit and he crossed his legs and just focused on his breathing. And he noticed far in the distance a boat going by and could barely hear it. But the engine was loud enough that, you know, he, he understood that there was a boat somewhere, but it was at nighttime, so it was complete darkness. And within 10 minutes of this boat passing behind in the distance, he started hearing waves hitting the shore of his cottage. And at first he was thinking like, Why are there waves hitting my cottage? Just makes no sense. It’s, it’s dark outside, it’s nighttime, everything’s calm and silent.

Sam Demma (17:28):

And then he thought, oh yeah, it was from the boat. And what it made me think of just now while you were talking was the work we do in wellness, like you don’t know it or sometimes people don’t realize it, but you’re like, that boat that’s making a ripple. And it might not affect somebody instantly, but 10 years from now they’ll think back and go, Damn, I’m so glad that I did the five minute desk workout every single day. And I really took a lot from those, you know, Wellness Wednesday YouTube videos. Speaking of what is the five minute desk workout, if you don’t mind me asking <laugh> this sounds awesome.

Char Andrew (18:10):

Well, it’s things like pushing yourself away from your desk and doing a few squats and then putting your hands on the desk and doing some desk pushups. Just little things that you can incorporate onto your desk or in your chair. And now you’ve got me stumped. I’m gonna have to send you the video.

Sam Demma (18:27):

No, that’s okay. I’m gonna link it in the podcast show notes. So if anyone wants to check out Sure. Not only your YouTube channel, but the specific five minute workout, I’m gonna make it available to all the listeners. Okay. But yeah, the the work you do is, is so important. Tell me about a story of an educator or a student who reached out to you and shared with you the impact that wellness had on on them. Maybe they were going through a difficult time and five months later found themselves in a bit of a better place cuz they decide to finally focus on their wellness. I’m curious if you have any stories like that or people who have sent emails along those lines.

Char Andrew (19:09):

Yeah, you know, I, there’s always the, the little ones that you know, really have an impact on me. But it was funny, I was at a, the pool this weekend. I was swimming and I was talking to a teacher who had been part of my triathlon training cuz nice three pandemic. I would organize a group of teachers doing triathlons. She wasn’t a really strong athletic person, she didn’t love swimming. And we just had a little conversation in the change room and I’m walking out and she stopped me in the parking lot and said, Char, I just wanna tell you what a huge difference you made on my life when it comes to my, my overall fitness journey. She said, If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have tried that triathlon. And that was probably nine years ago. And to this day she continues to doing triathlon. So I’m walking to my vehicle going, You just don’t know the impact that you have on people. And when you hear them nine years later telling me that, yeah, he made a difference, that’s, you know, pumps up my drove home with my chest pumped up and I was very happy and then phone my husband to say, You won’t believe this

Sam Demma (20:23):

<Laugh>. It gives you purpose knowing that you made a difference. Totally.

Char Andrew (20:26):

Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:28):

So bus drivers in the board find your wellness Wednesday video is super helpful. I’m curious to know if there are any resources that you listen to or watch or have experienced or been exposed to that have been really helpful in your own personal development journey and wellness journey?

Char Andrew (20:48):

Oh yes. There’s been lots of people. I’m kind of a little fitness groupie. I follow <laugh>, I follow all these you know, I go to lots of fitness conferences and I’ve been really fortunate. The division has supported me in going to conferences. But there’s a few presenters that have really sparked my flame when it comes to fitness. And one’s Helen Vandenberg and she’s from Calgary. Todd Durkin is one out of San Diego who he’s got a podcast. It, it’s all about get Mind, right. He’s always like, get your mind right

Sam Demma (21:24):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Nice.

Char Andrew (21:26):

In fact, and I wear his t-shirt proudly and nice. And another one is Peter Twist and he’s out of Vancouver who went on quite the journey of himself huge trainer for the Connects the Vancouver Connects and then ended up getting a brain tumor. And, you know, he feels truly, truly deep down that his health and wellness and being as strong as he was, helped him get through that. Wow. so following his journey is really inspiring. But yeah, I, there are people that I consistently go to or talk to or email or follow that keep me inspired. Right.

Sam Demma (22:05):

Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to check out Twist and these other two people. Yeah. Get your mind. Right. <laugh>

Char Andrew (22:14):

Such a groupie with Todd Derkin. <Laugh>,

Sam Demma (22:16):

Hey, we all have our idols. You know, people we look up to and people that we learn from as well. Yeah. what are you looking forward to about this fresh new school year?

Char Andrew (22:30):

Yeah, you know what I, we just got some word that we have some funding for some mental wellness initiatives within our, within every school division within the province. So even though mental wellness is not my, my skillset or my lane, I know that that funding will help our, our students. So it’s all about student wellness which of course you are definitely passionate about. And, and part of, and I think I’m excited that they are starting to see that wellness should be at the forefront of, of the education system. I mean, we’ve got funding. Yes, I agree. The grades and, and statistics, all of those things. The data is really important, but I think that we’re finally starting to see that if people aren’t well, how will everything else be in place? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I think we need to have healthy students, healthy staff, everybody wrap around supports like I talked about before. Cuz if we, because if we don’t have those, we’re not gonna have good grades. Right. You have to have the other things in place because kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, kids can’t learn if they’re not sleeping well, kids can’t. Right. There’s all of those things, those messages that we have to get out and I think people are really starting to believe and, and our education system’s starting to believe that you’re right, those things are really important.

Sam Demma (23:50):

What an exciting time for a very positive change, <laugh> and development in education, which I think is so exciting. If you could, you know, travel back in time to the first year you were working in this position in education and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Char, this is what you don’t need. This is what you don’t think you need to hear, but you really need to hear. What would you have like told you younger self as advice or as encouragement when you were just getting started?

Char Andrew (24:27):

Hmm. You know, I I I think probably don’t give up because I felt like I was beating my head against the wall a little bit when it came to wellness and, and having people realize how important it is. So there are many days that I had administrators say, <laugh>, this isn’t really important.

Sam Demma (24:48):

Mm.

Char Andrew (24:48):

Right. It’s all about the marks and it’s all about scores and, and that type of thing. And some of those administrators that I was like, I think I’m afraid of you. No <laugh>. Yeah. Those people are now on board with me. There are in Char and they’re like, Okay, I get it now. Like, this is super important. I understand what you’re saying, but don’t give up and I have a little bit of fight to me so I I didn’t give up and finally got true to some of those people. Yeah. Probably not give up.

Sam Demma (25:24):

And what’s so awesome about not giving up is that because you decide to keep going, it’s having a positive impact on so many people. If, you know, if you gave up, you not only would’ve let your own passion down, but you would’ve let all the people down who are now on board who totally see how important it is. So thank you for persisting. If another educator is listening to this and is fueling your palpable energy through their earphones and wants to connect with you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch?

Char Andrew (25:58):

Yeah, you can certainly send me an email. It’s char.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (26:14):

And if they wanna subscribe to your YouTube channel, Wellness Wednesdays?

Char Andrew (26:19):

Yeah. Char Andrew Wellness Wednesday. Let’s, let’s make a YouTube sensation.

Sam Demma (26:27):

I love it. Awesome. Char, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your journey, your passion for wellness. I really appreciated the conversation.

Char Andrew (26:38):

Well, I appreciate you, Sam, and everything that you’re doing for mental wellness, for kids and your message is so important. So thanks for all the work that you’re doing and thanks for having me on.

Sam Demma (26:48):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Char Andrew

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

Peter Bowman – Principal of Orillia Secondary School

Peter Bowman - Principal of Orillia Secondary School
About Peter Bowman

Peter Bowman is the Principal of Orillia Secondary School in Orillia, Ontario. He began his career working with young people as a soccer coach at the age of 12. It wasn’t until 1991 that he began getting paid to work with teens as a computer science and mathematics teacher at Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School in Vaughan, Ontario.

He then moved north to Barrie where he taught science and math at Barrie Central Collegiate and Barrie North Collegiate. In 2007, he had the co-privilege of launching the North Barrie Alternative School program. From there he moved into administration as a Vice Principal of both Bear Creek S.S. and Barrie North Collegiate before being placed as Principal in Orillia. Over the course of his thirty-plus years, he has remained active in the sports community. He has served as Honorary President of the GBSSA, member association of OFSAA.

He has championed the development of Ultimate as a sanctioned school sport since he started playing and coaching it in 1995. He is thrilled that he is still able to help coach the school team today. Additionally he has been active backcountry camping, cycling, coaching soccer and playing drums whenever and wherever.

He is driven to see others reach their potential by providing leadership opportunities as much as possible. He is energized by others but also likes quiet times away – and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Connect with Peter: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Orillia Secondary School

Simcoe County District School Board

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations

Georgian Bay Secondary Association (GBSSA)

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


Peter Bowman (00:09):
Well, thanks for having me. My name’s Peter Bowman, principal at Orillia Secondary School currently and in my 30 year career as an educator, I’ve been in a couple of different school boards. Started in York region and then moved to Simcoe county and have been a classroom teacher, a variety of things. I’ve done some computer science, some math, chemistry. At one point I was in alternative education. So for five years, I was tasked with opening the Barrie North Alternative school program. Nice. And that was an awesome adventure. And then shortly after that got into administration and I’ve been vice principal at Bear Creek secondary school in Barrie and Barrie north collegiate and presently find myself principal in Orillia.


Sam Demma (00:55):
When did you realize growing up that education was the career you wanted to pursue?


Peter Bowman (01:00):
Well, I’m not actually convinced that it is yet. I’ll wait and see how things go. fascinatingly, when I graduated high school and I had a great high school career but I walked outta that high school and I said, I’m done with high school forever. And I have been there ever since it seems.


Peter Bowman (01:21):
So, so I, I was graduating from university almost on a whim or a dare from my roommate at the time I applied to teacher’s college. I’m thoroughly convinced that I was part of what was communicated as a glitch in the acceptance software and got in to teachers college at Lakehead. I was intrigued at the prospect of going to thunder bay for a year. I loved the outdoors. And so that was an interesting prospect. So I took off did teachers college wasn’t convinced I knew what I was gonna do, whether I would teach or not. But then landed a job at one secondary school sort of north end Toronto, and initially said, I’d stay for as long as I thought it was good. And I’m still, still going.


Sam Demma (02:08):
Did, did you have any educators in your life think and encourage you to think you were gonna get into this work and encourage you to do so or more so founded?


Peter Bowman (02:20):
I mean, my high school days were great. I was in a, a relatively new high school and a lot of the teachers were young-ish and a lot of opportunities, a lot of clubs and teams and activities and stuff. It’s interesting. I was talking with a colleague the other day and, and a name popped in Mar Ross was my grade nine fied teacher. Hmm. A very unique individual and he just had this way of lighting a fire under everybody. And for whatever reason, he, he maybe noticed something in me, but he kind of took me under his wing a bit, I guess got me doing some time keeping for the football team and involved in some other things. And, and, and in time gave me those opportunities for leadership, but also facilitated sending me to bark lake leadership camp. Mm. And so as a youngster, I think I would’ve been 14 or 15, went to bark lake and they taught you explicit leadership concepts mm.


Peter Bowman (03:21):
And gave you opportunities to demonstrate leading. And from that, I then got a job working in summer camps. I spent a number of years working at the Ontario camp for the death. Nice. And learned all kinds of things there and, and had opportunities to to lead, but also to, to struggle through challenges and, and work with teams of young people, as well as campers and, and other other staff. So I, I think it was not explicitly Mar Ross kind of lighting that fire under my butt to do more than just B. But I certainly identify him as one of the players. That was pretty key. And, and what I really like is in our school district, there’s, there’s a Mar Mar Ross Memorial award. Oh, wow. Given to excellent coaches. Mm. And through every year we have, you know, three really, really cool honors that are given out in athletics. And, and it’s really important for me to be in attendance at that annual meeting to, to just see who’s receiving the award and hear the awesome things that they’re doing. And, and I draw that connection to Mar and the impact that he had.


Sam Demma (04:35):
You mentioned Mar had this way of lighting a fire under people. What did that, obviously, not literally, but what did


Peter Bowman (04:46):
That, but I bet you, he would, he’s the kind of guy that I bet you, he would. So the, the one story I tell he, he was a, a unique character. So like literally if there were three guys walking down the hall and you looked up, your eyes would naturally go to him. Hmm. For no really solid reason. I mean, yes. He had really bushy eyebrows and that might have been it, but so one day back in that day, they had what was called level six. It was like an enriched fied class. And so this was all of the top athletes from all the feeder schools. All the elementary schools came in and they chose this level six fied in grade nine. So he had us, and I don’t know what we were doing. We were probably supposed to be lined up in our squads, ready to start the day.


Peter Bowman (05:32):
Obviously we were not performing to standards that he said, and he came in for whatever reason. He had a set of Kodiak boots on what PHED teacher has, Kodiak boots. He was probably outlining, lining the field. And, and so we had these boots on and he was not pleased. And he launched the, the boot across the, the gym. like, I can still tell you from what entrance to what corner that boot the blue. And he immediately had her attention for the rest of the day. Cuz you just, you, you loved what he wanted you to do because you loved him as a, as a leader. He was comfortable with who he was and and was open to, to banter with kids and stuff. So it was just, it was really an authentic, good vibe in that classroom, but he, again, just unique. Right? So he, that character draws you in


Sam Demma (06:26):
A hundred percent. How do you think that those experiences, as well as the other teachers and educators and coaches you’ve had, has informed the way that, you know, you lead today or you try to leave that same impact on other students?


Peter Bowman (06:42):
I don’t think it’s explicitly Mar that did, did this kind of teaching. There’s a lot of influence that I’ve had. But certainly servant leadership is one of the things that I, I cling to. So it’s not a lording over somebody else, an authority position. That’s, that’s gonna backfire way more than it’s gonna work in your favor. And I don’t care if you’re talking, working with adults or kids. Yep. So that servant leadership. So if I’m the classroom teacher trying to teach you how to, you know, expand, binomials I’m there to help you. I’m not there to dictate what your life is gonna look like. So that’s, that’s a big part. And then the other part is authenticity. Mm-Hmm . If I run into a kid at the grocery store, I’m the same guy that was in the math class.


Peter Bowman (07:30):
I’m not, I’m not different in, in one position or place than another, I don’t think. And I’d like to, you know, assume that that’s the way others will perceive me as well. Cuz I think if you try to be somebody you’re not most people see through that very quickly. And, and I mean, it’s not easy to say, but if, if you have insecurities and you try to cover that that’s a formula for disaster. So I think it’s, it’s valid to have your insecurities and, and to be open about where that may play out in your relationship with kids in a classroom or wherever. And so it’s, I dunno, that authenticity is, is so critical because that, that gives people the opportunity to see you wart and all.


Sam Demma (08:19):
I couldn’t agree more. Take me back to for a minute bark lake. Why, why do you think it’s so important? Students have opportunities like that to be exposed to different ideas, perspectives and leadership. I leadership concepts.


Peter Bowman (08:36):
So it’s not even just that bark lake had that program. That was so critical. Mm-Hmm it was also the age. They, they were very uniform that you were, and I can’t remember if it was 14 or 15, you had to be that age. I think it was 15. Yeah. So there was nobody that was 14. There was nobody that was 16. You had to be 15. And that that’s, I think more impactful than people realized, cuz was timing is critical. Mm-Hmm I don’t have my driver’s license yet. I, I may not have had much in the way of part-time job experience. So you’re at a critical agent stage. And so I look at grade nine and 10 in my school and I’m like, you kids have got to jump into something. I don’t care if you end up being a regular attendee at our Dungeons and dragons club or, or if you’re the, you know, the point guard for our basketball team, I want you to be doing something.


Peter Bowman (09:31):
I walked into a drama class the other day and we’re putting on a musical this year. And so it was amazing. I walk in the teachers, the it’s a team teach scenario are kind of at opposite corners in the, in the theater. There’s a student front front row center, you know, elbows on the stage in charge of choreography. Obviously there’s a student that’s sort of center of the audience location. Flipping through pages. That’s kids are reading their lines. Obviously the student director, I, I couldn’t be happier. Like I don’t wanna walk into a class and see that the teacher has to do everything. So in that moment, those kids are being given those leadership opportunities. It, it ties into personal confidence. I, I don’t care if that choreographer student ends up being a choreographer. Mm you’re. You’re comfortable with who you are.


Peter Bowman (10:27):
You’re confident to speak out when, when someone’s not where they need to be. You learn to collaborate cuz you’re not yelling it out. You are, you are trying to coax them into being in the right spot at the right times so that it ends up being a great product. So those, those things I, I value so much. I, I remember when I got the outdoors club going at Vaughn secondary and I was a young pimple faced teacher with a ponytail . And I would wear a dress shirt just so that kids knew that I was a staff member right. Like it was one of those early days. And, and I thought at first I needed to get the canoe trip information and get all the material ready and do all the teaching and instructing and very quickly realized that’s so not what I should be doing.


Peter Bowman (11:14):
Mm. So I, I identified kids that had a little bit of experience or had a little bit of time and, and passion. And we would meet for hours before our, our canoe trip club meeting so that they were prepared to lead them through the sessions on how to pack, how to prep a menu. And what I loved is I, I hear from those kids now, you know, decades later telling me about the canoe trips that they’ve been on. And I want that for my own children. Right. I want them to have done enough on our family to do trips that, you know, they’re now at a age and stage where they’re going off on their own. And I’m not quite at a point where I trust my son to read a map on Georgia bay, but on smaller inland lakes, he’s good to go.


Sam Demma (11:58):
That’s awesome. That’s amazing. It sounds like community is a through line theme through all of this. Like you, you know, students helping each other, everyone getting involved in playing a role. It sounds like the, the school you were at and probably the one you’re at right now, like one of the emphasis is building strong community. What are some of the things you focus on in the school culture?


Peter Bowman (12:23):
So right now I’m trying to push we’re we’re appropriate project based learning and, and again, where possible. Multidisciplines so nice. I met with, with a colleague the other day. We’ve got this beautiful blank brick wall on our third floor that has sunshine almost all day. So I’m talking with, with Philly and I’m saying, is there a way that we can maybe get a living while going?


Sam Demma (12:51):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (12:52):
And so she’s jumped right on board, and that’s the thing like, she, like, we’ve got great people. So she jumps right on board, and she’s already talked to the environ person at the board office. But I love that she and I are on the same page and that we’re thinking, well, we’ve got a Makerspace club and a guy who loves computer programs. So maybe we can get in our Arduino or a raspberry pie to, to program the, the cycling of water for, for hydration. And, and we’ve got a fantastic machine shop here, right? So guys can, can weld up frames and brackets and and build the structure. So that’s where I want to go with that. I’ve got a I’ll call it an art installation in the main entrance way of our school. Hmm. That’s got six old random computer monitors.


Peter Bowman (13:40):
Again, the, the tech guys built the frame to, to Mount all these monitors. And then the computer guys programmed these little raspberry pies to take a kid’s image from our digital media art class and break it up into six quadrants of, of the, of the screen. Yeah. Cool. So that you now have these funky little, so your, your image that you created is then exploded into these six pieces. And that’s three different disciplines that have a project, right. When you walk in the front door. Cool. so that kind of thinking it doesn’t always pan out. Like I have more failures than I have successes, but I like that because then that’s a student that says I did that.


Sam Demma (14:25):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (14:26):
What is, or new kids coming in that can say, I can do that.


Sam Demma (14:31):
Hmm. What is your perspective on failure? Like, I I’ve listened to some people that I respect and they say things like failures or stepping stones to future learnings, you know, and as much as that’s a positive thing, obviously in the moment, it kind of sucks. but how do you perceive failure and, and approach the those actions?


Peter Bowman (14:54):
I’m certainly not, I’m not gonna drop a t-shirt phrase, but yeah, it’s critical. Yeah. I, my alternative school days as you can imagine, these are kids that struggled and maybe didn’t have a lot of encouragement. Maybe didn’t have a lot of success in their time, in and around school. We often referred to ourselves as the land and misfit toys, which I thought was kind of appropriate. But in that we banded together and, and had a lot of fun. But again, it’s the math teacher. You’re almost the, the worst guy in the planet, right? Yeah. Cause I’m taking kids that have very likely had horrific math experiences. And the big thing I always said is if, if you know, we, we look at homework or 15 minutes after class work time if I went around and I saw that the page was blank. And if a student said, well, I tried, I said, no, if you tried, there’d be all over that page.


Sam Demma (15:51):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (15:53):
And so we got into this sort of mindset that you know, and this was before the modern version of the vertical classroom, which is all the rage, but it was every kid at a marker. And every kid who’s up with a whiteboard and you throw something out there and I don’t care if it’s right or wrong, you are going to write something. And, and eventually, cuz it certainly doesn’t happen right away. Eventually every kid is, is willing to take a shot. Hmm. And I think that’s that to me is victory. Again, most of those kids that I, that I taught how to graph a linear relationship are probably not doing that for a living right now. Yeah. but the boldness to make that first step to try and come up with a table of values that I think is something that they’re probably tapping into as a as a skill set or as a, as a willingness to trust themselves to try.


Sam Demma (16:54):
Mm yeah. It’s like a character trait you build through different activities, which is why, when you mentioned earlier saying leadership camp, wasn’t only about learning a leadership concept. It was about being a part of something. It was about getting involved, building confidence in an activity. I think school as a whole does that in so many different subjects. And if we find something that we love doing as well, while we’re there, it’s like added bonus. But the, yeah, I think the skills last a lifetime well,


Peter Bowman (17:26):
And, and the shared experiences. Yeah. Right. Like it is, it’s one of the things I absolutely love is when I, when I chat with former students. And, and sometimes like I’ll still run into kids in Barry cause that’s where I live. And I’ve taught in a couple of schools in Barry. And so you’ll run into kids periodically. And they vividly remember scenarios and situations as, as do educators. But the problem is, yeah, you, you end up with so many kids and so many experiences you, yeah. That those moments may not make your top 10 for, but for that particular student, it, it was and like with the old school man, we did some stuff that was crazy. Awesome. And again, it wasn’t that they’re gonna learn how to parse out the subject and predicate in a sentence. It’s it’s that they know that if you relax and try and enjoy life or we bit sometimes good things can happen.


Peter Bowman (18:24):
We, I think it was at it wasn’t all school. It was at a regular school. We had a field trip. This math class had done way beyond what I’d ever imagined. Hmm. They were just so willing to go on the journey of trying stuff. So I, I asked if we could go on a field trip and the vice principal at the time said help me understand, do you wanna take a math class on a field trip? Where are you gonna go? That is math . So I was able to document it, letting us go to Toronto. So from Barry to Toronto, and this is back in the day when you were allowed to rent passenger van. So we rented the passenger van cause it was a very small class. We drove to Toronto and we were gonna go down to the lake shore and we were gonna figure out how far away center island was from lake Ontario using trigonometry.


Peter Bowman (19:10):
And we were gonna measure certain Heights of buildings using trigonometry trigonometry. So we did a bit of that. Oh. And by the way, it was around Christmas and we were gonna stop at Yorkdale and, you know, wander around a little bit. And that was okay too. So for whatever crazy reason, wherever we parked in Yorkdale, again, we’re all traveling together like who in the right mind wants to hang out with a math teacher, but we all walk in, whatever door happened to be open from where we parked and we follow this long corridor and then we go up these stairs and not this, we ended up on the roof of Yorkdale, you know.

Peter Bowman (19:44):
Well, I’m standing on the roof with, and, and as we, as we come out and we’re realizing we’re on the roof, you know, the, the immediate don’t let that door close. So, you know, we laughed about it and, and then left. I don’t remember what else we did on the trip, but I’m sure those guys remember that experience. Right.


Sam Demma (20:01):
Yeah.


Peter Bowman (20:02):
So I don’t know. I really think those opportunities are so vital. And that’s why when I walk around the school as principal and I see coaches here to the wee hours working on stuff and, you know, teachers lining up trips to Europe and stuff like that. That’s, that’s awesome. I absolutely love that extra effort that goes into things.


Sam Demma (20:23):
Hmm. Shared experiences is a big one. I was, I was listening to a podcast recently and they were talking about building relationships with other people and shared experiences is one of the top ways to do that because you have this memory and moment in time, that’s linked with that other individual. And they were talking about it in a, you know, a relationship like an intimate relationship way and you know, like going on dates and why it’s important to spend with your significant other. But yeah, just as much applies, I think, to just building friendships and lifelong friends. Speaking of like lifelong friends and friendships the educators that had a big impact on you, do you still stay in touch with some of those, those individuals and also do you have any mentors that helped you along the journey that you wanna give a quick shout out to besides Mar?


Peter Bowman (21:15):
That’s a good question. I don’t off the top of my head. I don’t think I have any that I, I seek out. It’s kind of funny because right now as principal there are some supply teachers that are retired, teachers that come in that used to work in the school I was in. So it is kind of funny to run into some of those folks. Mentorship’s an interesting thing, cuz we, we love to formalize everything. Yeah, right. We love to turn everything into a numbered memo and a, and a program and a structured something or other. And I, I don’t see, I don’t see that happening very well as a formalized process in education. Mm. My, my mentorship is, is all over the map. You know, getting into administration is a really significant shift from, from classroom teaching. And so to find people, I, I mean, we always use the phrase, phone, a friend to find people who you resonate with as a, as an approach, cuz not everyone’s the same.


Peter Bowman (22:23):
There are certainly colleagues that I have great deal of respect for, but if the two of us had to run a school together, I think it would be a disaster. Because our, our approach is just so different. There’d be conflict and style and, and, and in some case decision making, mm. So the mentors are, are those phone of friends. That I guess if I checked my phone to see, you know, frequency of text messaging there’s lots. And I think it’s important also to recognize that the formalized mentorship, they always talk about find somebody that is in the position you want to be in and, and aspire to. And then, and then work there. I actually have some mentors that, that are not in that sort of next step mm-hmm they’re, they’re either at the same step or they’re maybe a step behind or two steps behind. And it’s really just somebody that, that similar passion and in a lot of cases that similar lens. And so if your, if your lens is, how can I best help kids? You got a good shot at being on my mentor list.


Sam Demma (23:33):
I love it. I think you, you just got me thinking about a thought I’ve had for a while and couldn’t, couldn’t bring to words and it’s this idea that yeah, mentors don’t always have to be someone in the exact position you wanna be in in the future. It could also be somebody who I think it could also be someone who’s in a totally different field who can bring a unique perspective into the thing you’re hoping to do.


Peter Bowman (24:01):
And I’ve, I’ve read various books on, on mentoring, like iron sharp iron and all these other, there’s a lot of writing that goes into it. And they, they do say sometimes it’s not within your industry. But I, like, I also say in some respects, the kids that I’ve worked with yeah. Have mentored me as well. Like I think of my early days as a vice principal, that’s a, that’s a really tricky role to play at school. Yep. And, and there are some kids that I would say you might call high flyers regular yeah. Interactions and those kids as a new vice principal certainly helped me figure out what would and wouldn’t work. Mm. And so in that case, the iron sharpening iron yeah. That happened.


Sam Demma (24:48):
Mm. Yeah. I love that.


Peter Bowman (24:49):
But only because you’re authentic. Yeah. Right. If I, if I tried to have that, that, you know, rock solid authority position, I don’t think you would ever get to that mentoring sort of relationship with somebody. Or, and again, it, I don’t know if I’m doing proper justice to that concept. I’m sure there are folks out there that have studied mentoring that are freaking out when I say this, but mentoring is really about learning. Yeah. And, and where do you find that learning opportunity? And I, I don’t think we should ever limit where that learning can come from.


Sam Demma (25:19):
Great perspective. Speaking of learning, you mentioned iron sharpens, iron, any other resources that you have read or courses you’ve been through or yeah, just resources in general, they’ve been helpful for you throughout your, your career. I’m just curious. And yeah. If another educators listening, maybe they could look into it.


Peter Bowman (25:39):
So like honestly, the, the biggest resource I have are my ears.


Sam Demma (25:45):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (25:46):
They’re not particularly large. They’re getting a little hairier, but it’s, it’s listening and, and allowing yourself to listen more. The recently the one book I read was white fragility challenging read as a, as a white male and coming from that place of privilege again, I didn’t necessarily follow everything that was being described in the book, but it really forced me to, to not pay lip service, to trying to understand white privilege. Yeah. And, and that, that hit me last year. And I shared with my staff actually, I, I shot a little video and I know you’re not supposed to operate your cell phone when driving a car, but I did shoot a little video while driving. I was, I was going to pick up my, my one kid and I was a little bit late. So I might have been going a little beyond what the speed limit was telling me I was supposed to do. And I actually had this, this thought in my head, ah, what’s the worst that could happen. I’ll get a ticket. And then it hit me that’s cuz I’m, I’m white. Mm. That is not the worst that can happen for a lot of people.


Peter Bowman (27:05):
And, and I was, I was messed up. Like, I was even late because I had to pull over. And even now actually saying this Sam, like it, it Wells me up a little bit because that’s, that’s a horrible thing to have thought. But thankfully as I’m trying to read and trying to understand and try and do better, I’m, I’m getting caught in some of that stuff. Right. And I recognize that other other experiences are, are very complex and, and I need to try and do a little better. So weight privilege was a tough read. It it, it got through to me in, in ways that a lot of other PD and workshops and stuff hadn’t, and again, it, it may not be the, the magic ticket for others, but I, I certainly found it a very challenging read as a white male.


Sam Demma (27:53):
I appreciate you sharing that and I’m sure other people will be encouraged to check it out after hearing this. If someone, you know, listens to this conversation wants to ask you a question, connect or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Peter Bowman (28:08):
I’m happy to chat. Like I, I very much wear my heart on my sleeve and and I’m certainly open to things. Welcome to send an email to me or call the school Orillia Secondary School and askto speak to the principal. We’re crazy busy with all that is school, but I’m, I’m certainly open to, to phone calls and whatever. I do social media, but increasingly I find there’s so much negativity and so much challenge with that, that I’m, I’m trying to back off. I never did get into Facebook. I created an account one year and, and friended my wife. That was what I gave her for her birthday or something. Because she knew how anti-Facebook I was and, and Twitter and, and Instagram I do. But it just, I find that people are just looking for opportunity to make that a, a negative space and that frustrates me because I can’t control it as well. And I, I also feel I do a bad enough job with the friends. I actually see, I don’t need to feel like I’m doing a bad job with the people I don’t necessarily run into.


Sam Demma (29:17):
Yeah, no, I agree. I, I took a year off social media about a year and a half ago now and it changed my perspective a lot.


Peter Bowman (29:27):
Is tricky because there’s, but there’s so much good that can come up. And, and if, if you could be part of a social media platform that forbid darkness and evil and then I’m in cuz there are a lot of great kitten photos and there’s a lot of great sayings and there’s a lot of deep insights that can occur. And these are wonderful platforms to, to challenge your brain and challenge your heart. But man, there’s so much poison it’s it’s really just worth it at times.


Sam Demma (30:02):
I appreciate Peter you taking the time to come on here and chat share some of your own insights and journeys and funny stories. and I, I hope to stay in touch in the future and continue to watch the great things that happen once the living wall comes to life. You’re gonna have to send me a picture of it.


Peter Bowman (30:20):
Knowing, knowing school board protocols and procedures, this could be years.


Sam Demma (30:24):
Yeah. but anyway, keep up the great work.


Peter Bowman (30:29):
I appreciate you doing this and highlighting some of the good things that are going on, because they’re certainly way more good than bad.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Bowman

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.

Katrin Heim – Innovation Coach with Buffalo Trail Public Schools

Katrin Heim - Innovation Coach with Buffalo Trail Public Schools
About Katrin Heim

Katrin Heim (@HeimKatrin) is an Innovation Coach with Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Her rural roots and years of teaching, primarily in division one have shaped her approach to teaching and leadership. Katrin believes that people (students, families, and communities), are at the heart of our work as educators.   

Connect with Katrin: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Buffalo Trail Public Schools Website

What is an Innovation Coach?

Leadership and Mentorship

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest on this show is working in a position that we’ve never had the opportunity to interview before. Her name is Katrin, she is the innovation coach with the Buffalo Trail Public schools. Her rural roots and years in teaching, primarily in division one have shaped her approach to teaching and leadership.


Sam Demma (01:01):
Katrin believes that people, students, families, and communities are at the heart of our work as educators or those people who work in schools and in education. She is someone I have the awesome privilege and opportunity to work with for an event in September. I’m super excited about it, and I’m super excited about you listening to this interview with her. Enjoy this, I will see you on the other side. Talk soon. Kat, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you into education?


Katrin Heim (01:40):
All right. Good morning. Thank you for having me, Sam. It’s wonderful to be here. As you said, my name is Katrin. I am an educator. I’ve taught for 11 years. This is my 11th year. I’ve worked primarily as a grade one and two teacher in a small rural school in Alberta where I also live and call home. And recently transitioned to our central office in the role of an innovation coach, and so that’s a fancy term for instructional coach support teacher brainstorm partner problem solver. And so my work partner and I work closely with the, the rest of our learning services department to support the teachers in Buffalo Trail Public Schools with anything teaching and learning related.


Sam Demma (02:40):
Now, how did you transition from kindergarten teacher to innovation coach? This sounds such a, this is so cool.


Katrin Heim (02:50):
Well, you know, I’ve, I’ve always loved working with other people. Okay. And so in my role as a grade one and two teacher in this small little school I was the only grade one and two teacher. And so I would often reach out to the other innovation coaches in our division as brainstorm partners or, Hey, this looks really cool. I’d like to try this, but I just don’t know how to get started. And so I just, I, as a classroom teacher, I started forming relationships with the innovation coaches we already had in Buffalo trail and loved it. I felt that I grew as a, as a professional. I felt that with their support, I became a better teacher. My lessons were more engaging and my students were impacted in a positive way. And so I just continued to develop those relationships and when the position became available, I just thought, yeah, you know what? I I’d like to do this and, and applied and here I am. So that’s awesome. Yeah.


Sam Demma (04:16):
And so at what point in your own career search, if we went back in time, 12 years, 13 years, like at what point in your own career journey and education, did you know that you wanted to become a teacher or an educator or at least work in education?


Katrin Heim (04:33):
it’s something that I’ve always known. Okay. From a very young age and it’s not like I can’t when I reflect back on even my childhood or my teenage years or deciding to go into education. I can’t recall a specific time in my life where I felt like this is what I needed to do or wanted to do with my life. It’s just always been what I wanted to do. My I’m a fourth generation teacher. There are, you know, great grandparents, grandparents, my dad, my sister is also an educator. And so it’s, I feel like it’s just in my DNA. But beyond that, I think going to university and coming home. So I went away to university in the city and then came back to this small rural, you know, Alberta community and decided to teach here. And the reason for that was that I wanted to make an impact in the lives of kids that I was closest to. Mm. I wanted to create opportunities for my own children, for my nieces, my nephews, my friends’ kids, the people who I love in my community. And that was really what what drove my decision to, to teach and to live here and still, what, what drives my, my work in central office, you know, these are, these are the people that I care about. And this is, these are the people, these are, people are the reason I do what I do. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:32):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. And, you know, you mentioned the four generations of educators, which is phenomenal. did you also have teachers that taught you as a, when you were a student that had a huge impact on your decision to get into teaching? And do you remember who any of those people were?


Katrin Heim (06:51):
Yes. In fact there are. And I, I had the privilege to work with those people as a young teacher also.


Sam Demma (07:04):
Oh, cool.


Katrin Heim (07:05):
because I came back to the school that I graduated from in high school, I had the opportunity to learn and grow from those mentors as a teacher myself. And so, you know a couple of teachers that I can recall in particular really supported me as a new teacher when I was teaching my students to read, for example as a grade one and two teacher, that’s the biggest stressor perhaps even challenge in those years. And I never felt adequately prepared to teach children to read. Mm. Because it’s so complex. And and yes, and so I had one wonderful teacher who I would swing that, you know, swing into their classroom in the morning. And I would say, you know, I tried this yesterday and it’s just not working or this is what my kids are doing right now. How am I doing what do I need to know? Where do I go next? And having relationships with these, these individuals and having an opportunity to work alongside them and to be mentored by them on a daily basis was such a privilege and and really shaped how I taught. And yeah.


Sam Demma (08:55):
That’s awesome. Yeah. I was gonna ask you like those teachers that you had, even when you, do you remember even when you were a student, so like even before, when you were a young teacher, when you were, you know, grade seven grade eight high school, do you remember any of those educators, although I guess those are the same ones actually, that, that taught you as a teacher, when you were a student, what did they do that had an impact on you?


Katrin Heim (09:19):
Hmm. I think the greatest thing that I I can recall is that they created space for myself, my peers, my classmates, to be heard in their classrooms for each of us to be valued for who we were. We each of us had an identity and we, those teachers created the space for us to discover our identities and to to really shine in our own ways. I would say primarily, that’s what I remember from the teachers who had an impact. I mean, of course there were high expectations and there were beliefs that we, we could be successful and we would be successful and we were supported in those ways. But I really think that the teachers that I remember having the greatest impact created this space for each of us to shine and to be heard in their classrooms and believed in us.


Sam Demma (10:41):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. And, you know, your problem solving skill set must have been highly effective and used a lot this past year because I’m assuming there was a lot of challenges. How have things, how have things been different this year teaching or working in education versus, you know, last year, in the years prior, because of COVID like, what are some of the challenges that you had to face and how did you try and overcome them?


Katrin Heim (11:11):
Yeah, there, there were many challenges. I mean, in my role as innovation coach my partner and I, my work partner, and I support all the teachers in Buffalo trail with, you know technology supports learning supports, like there’s a lot of different things that we help teachers work through. And prior to COVID, we spent a lot of time on the road and traveling between schools and meeting with teachers face to face. And that stopped very abruptly. And, you know, back in March, when we first transitioned to online learning, we we had to adapt very quickly to support our teachers in learning the skills that they needed to teach in an online environment. And so it meant you know, meeting with teachers using an online platform like Google meets or Google Hangouts to solve technology related problems so that they could get kids and families connected.


Katrin Heim (12:29):
That was the very quick sort of sudden shift back in March. And then it was just providing opportunities for teachers to learn these skills very rapidly because they needed them. And once the dust sort of settled there with that initial transition, it became a lot more our check-ins with teachers, there were, there were different levels to those check-ins I guess we could say because as innovation coaches, we were, we are supports to teachers so that they can, they can shine as teachers and they can create opportunities for learning with their students. And as we know, as teachers, as people, sometimes we need that social emotional check in. And so oftentimes when teachers would reach out with a question or a problem, or, Hey, could you help me with this? We’d set up a Google meet to solve, you know, a pretty straightforward question or problem, and we’d end up chatting for 15 or 20 minutes just about how’s life, like what’s going on.


Katrin Heim (13:55):
And so that was, I would say, also a change because people more than ever needed to feel connected. And so whenever we had an opportunity to connect with someone on a professional level to, to work through a problem or a challenge, that personal connection aspect almost became the priority, just very organically, like it wasn’t forced, it would just happen to be what people needed. So that was also, I would say, a change and the digital the way of connecting digitally with people saved us so much time traveling. Yeah. That we actually had amazing opportunities to connect with more people and perhaps people who we may not have connected with prior to COVID simply because there, the online learning aspect created the need for support, and then therefore we were able to connect. So I think, you know, in that sense, there’s a lot of good that has come from from COVID and online learning and for us in our work, the ability to connect with people online, you know?


Sam Demma (15:35):
Yeah, yeah. It changed a lot of gas too. Right. well, yeah.


Katrin Heim (15:40):
And, and time, and, and in so many ways it’s just as effective for someone to screen share or to talk through something and to bring people together.


Sam Demma (15:54):
Yeah. I agree. I mean, I would agree with the meetings, like the, the check-ins you can meet with so many people, I’m sure you find value in the, in person when you’re talking to a large group. Right. That’s where I think it makes a


Katrin Heim (16:07):
Absolutely


Sam Demma (16:08):
Absolutely makes a difference, but you’re right. Like, I, I mean, even myself, I was telling you earlier, like, this’ll be episode 120 something. Imagine I had to drive to every person’s school. Like , this should be impossible. Like I would have to fly to Alberta, you know? So there’s so many benefits that come with the technology, you know, and, and using it effectively, what are you forecasting for the next year? , it’s a hard question to ask, but I’m sure innovation, you know, I’m sure innovation focuses a little bit on the future, but do you think that the schools in Buffalo trail will be in person or a blend or a hybrid? Like we can’t, no one can really rub the magic ball and guess, but yeah. Curious what your thoughts are.


Katrin Heim (16:51):
I don’t know. I think honestly, it’s a it’s anyone’s guess at this point I don’t expect there will be a lot different from last year in terms of how we start in September, but again I don’t have a crystal ball, so it’s, I really hope that we can we can get back out into schools because spending time in classrooms, you know, anything online just doesn’t replace what it feels like to be in a classroom. So, yeah. I really hope that that’s in our future.


Sam Demma (17:36):
Love that. And in terms of your role, so I think you do a lot of supporting the schools, a lot of supporting the teachers. Does your role also include, like coming up with innovative ideas to build on, you know, programs that are already in schools? Like, what does the whole portfolio look like if someone’s listening to this thinking, this sounds pretty interesting innovation coach, and they wanna learn more, like, how would you break it down to a person that knows nothing about it?


Katrin Heim (18:01):
so I’ll just be starting my third year now as innovation coach. And there’s no


Sam Demma (18:11):
Set definition.


Katrin Heim (18:12):
I’ve never done the same thing twice. Let’s just put it that way. So when I started the focus of my role was a lot more around technology and innovative ways to weave technology into learning particularly with the lens of engagement student engagement. And as the role kind of shifted and progressed, we began to work more with the school based coaches. So we’ve got optimal learning coaches, inclusive learning coaches in our schools, in each of our schools. And of course our admin teams in our schools, our principals and assistant principals. And so as the role evolved, we, we shifted a little bit away from the technology side of things to the instructional aspect. And so a lot of our work and I say our, because I’m part of a team and we all sort of have that same focus.


Katrin Heim (19:30):
Nice. Although our portfolios are slightly different. And so we, we sort of shifted our focus to leading professional learning for our, our groups of teacher leaders in schools. Cool. And so we looked at pedagogy. So with our optimal learning coaches, the focus was on how do we create opportunities for student learning in our classrooms that are engaging rigorous and allow our kids to connect their learning so that they they have deeper understanding of the content and how it’s connected to all of the other content that they’re learning cool. So that they’re making connections and, and gaining that deep understanding and, and creating learning that allows students to transfer that understanding from, you know, between and amongst situations. And so back to your point, you know, so we’re leading this learning with optimal learning coaches in terms of our inclusive learning coaches, we’re supporting professional development for that group of teachers as well, looking doing some coaching with both of those cohorts in terms of supporting their work in schools, leading professional learning in their schools, but also supporting them with the work that they do with their teachers in their own schools.


Katrin Heim (21:19):
So nice sort of more about supporting the teacher leaders and the leaders in each of the schools so that they can then support their, their teachers instead of us like working individually you know, with teachers. So looking to have a bit of a, a larger impact by supporting those, those leaders and teacher leaders in, in schools. So that would be sort of the biggest shift that I’ve seen in my role. And I, yeah, I mean, I look forward to continuing to build relationships with those, those groups of teachers with our principals. Nice, because we find that those relationships that we build and we initiate and we nurture, and we support the work that is happening in schools. It allows leaders and, and teachers to do what they do best. And it creates again, just like, you know, the teacher that I reflected on having an impact on me in as a student in high school. Now we create the space for others to shine. We create the space for people to feel connected, to feel supported, to ask for help if they need to, or just simply to bounce an idea off. Because as we know, the more we talk through an idea and refine it the better it becomes. And so we really do our best work when we’re connected to others. And so that’s, that’s been a little bit of how my role has taken shape.


Sam Demma (23:20):
Yeah. It sounds like it involves a lot of people, teams of people. You never do the same task twice. You’re always solving problems and traveling a lot. Usually when there isn’t COVID that’s cool. Yeah, no, I, I, I just thought it’d be awesome to highlight what the role looks like in case someone wasn’t too sure about it or, or what it included. Now, if you could go back 11 years and give younger cat advice, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self in your first year of working in education?


Katrin Heim (23:55):
Education is really about people.


Sam Demma (23:57):
Hmm. What does that mean? Tell me more


Katrin Heim (24:04):
It’s about kids. It’s about family, it’s about community. And I think I always had this sense, but I don’t know that I knew it or could have articulated its value the same way, you know, 11 years ago, as I, as I can now, you know, I’ve my first my first group of grade one and twos have now graduated.


Sam Demma (24:36):
Stop aging yourself.


Katrin Heim (24:39):
Know. I know. But


Sam Demma (24:41):
That’s


Katrin Heim (24:43):
Awesome. And to see, and to still to see these kids graduate. Yeah. And to be, you know, grow into the people that they are. And to know that not just myself, but all of their teachers through their school careers have impacted who they are as people who they are as learners. We’ve, you know, the relationships that I, as a grade one teacher established with my families sets the tone for their school careers. Yeah. You know, and, and these are the same families and the same students who are part of our community. And so I just, I just think education is really about people. It’s, it’s about kids. It’s about families, it’s about community and, and, and learning of course. But those relationships and those connections need to be front and center for that learning to take place.


Sam Demma (26:01):
Mm. I love that. Mm-Hmm, , that’s awesome. And I couldn’t agree more. I have a, a mentor who always tells me people buy people. Like at the end of the day, people buy people, you know, and relationships are extremely important. And I think it’s not only true in education, but in life in general, it’s like, it’s, it’s all about community and families and, and other people. If someone wants to reach out and talk to you, another person because it’s all about people, what would be the best email address to share, or what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out to you if they have any questions or just want to connect after listening?


Katrin Heim (26:38):
Sure. people can email me at katrin.heim@btps.ca.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Awesome. Katrin, thank you so much for coming on the show again. It’s been a pleasure having you on and keep up the awesome work innovating, and we’ll talk soon.


Katrin Heim (27:01):
Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (27:03):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Katrin Heim

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.

Mark Cossarin – Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Mark Cossarin - Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute
About Mark Cossarin

Mark did his undergraduate degree with a major in physical education and a minor in sociology at York University. He grew up ten minutes away, so it was nice to save money and live at home. He was a starting power hitter on the men’s varsity volleyball team for four years, and he was also an assistant coach with the women’s program for one year. He moved on to Western University for grad school to complete a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology. He taught undergraduate practicum courses in volleyball, badminton and physiology. He was also the teaching assistant for his thesis advisor’s Canadian Sport History course, which all first year kinesiology students took. During my second year there, he became the head coach of the women’s varsity volleyball team. The Centre for Olympic Studies at Western was just opening as well, and he had an opportunity to work very closely with the founder who was a member of his thesis committee. After graduating, he moved back home and attended UofT to earn his B.Ed. 

Mark Cossarin was very fortunate during his post-secondary education to be involved in many programs that allowed him to interact with a variety of leaders. Whether a professor, coach, teaching assistant or administrator, he always valued his experiences under their tutelage. It made him understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others, has a tremendous impact on the development of meaningful programs. In the area of volleyball, we held numerous skills camps for younger athletes as well as the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), where coaches, many of whom were teachers, attained their volleyball certification. During this time he became a certified NCCP instructor for indoor and beach volleyball, the Spikes Program, which introduced volleyball to younger kids and the provincial officials’ certification program.

Mark’s teaching career began with an LTO at LCVI two weeks before he completed my B.Ed. in April of 1994  They needed a phys. ed. qualified individual to replace a teacher on medical leave. After 2 LTOs and supply work, he was the second permanent hire at the Adult Ed. Centre in Lindsay when it opened in March of 1995. As the low person on the seniority list, he was bumped to FFSS and then back to LCVI.  From 1998 until 2000, during Mike Harris’ common sense revolution, his wife Mary (teacher at LCVI) and himself taught at the George Washington School in Cartagena, Colombia. Students earned an American and Colombian diploma and many continued their post-secondary education in the United States. Since Italian was his first language, learning Spanish was quite enjoyable. Mary and Mark took Spanish lessons two nights a week during our first year there. He was the head of physical education and the athletic director. He taught every single student from grade 1-12 (approximately 500 students). 

Similar to his post-secondary experiences, Mark had worked with a variety of people in different educational institutions.  He saw firsthand how administrators work and he was able to determine which characteristics are most effective.  

He visited LCVI when they returned to Lindsay after their first year of teaching in Cartagena. Mark chatted with Mike Trusz who was one of the VPs. He was describing our experiences and future plans. At that point, he said Mark should consider getting his PQP qualifications. He had already worked with him and he seemed to think that Mark would be a good fit as an administrator. It is amazing how a short conversation like that can have such a big impact. Mark was flattered because he was a very effective administrator and he had a lot of respect for how he did his job.  

Mark signed up for his junior qualification, which was the first time the Queen’s Faculty of Education offered an on-line course. He was fortunate because he had to do it from Colombia since their second year had just begun in mid-August. When Mark and his wife completed their two-year contract, they came back to Ontario and he did his PQP Part 1 that summer through Brock University and his PQP Part 2 during the evenings through the Durham Board once the school year began.

Mark became a VP at IEW in the fall of 2002. After 4 years there, he moved to FFSS as principal. At the end of 2 years, he went back to IEW, and was principal for 11 years. He am now in my third year as principal at LCVI. Mark would never want to leave the secondary school environment. He loves welcoming kids in grade 9 and seeing them develop over their four years in our school. Mark has worked with wonderful people – fellow administrators, teaching staff, EAs, secretaries, custodians and the great folks who work out of the board offices. Not to mention, he has enjoyed connecting with students and families in all three school communities.

Mark’s immigrant parents always told him, “Mark, we are lucky to be in Canada. Please make sure you listen to your teacher/advisor/boss and respect them. You can learn from everyone no matter how old you are.” He has never forgotten that. 

Connect with Mark Cossarin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Trillium Lakelands District School Board – Better Together

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® – FranklinCovey

Four Must-Do’s for Empowered Principals

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Mark, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Start by introducing yourself.

Mark Cossarin (03:05):
My name is mark Cossarin. I’m a principal with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. And I’ve been here with the board since gosh, 1995. And I’ve been a principal since two and gosh, when was it? 2000 and two, I became a vice principal and I’ve been a principal since 2006. I’ve had a chance to be a principal at FFSS. I spent a tremendous amount of time over at LE Weldon in Lindsey. And now I’m the principal at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute, Lindsay Ontario.

Sam Demma (03:41):
At what point in your own journey as a, as a young student, did you realize I want to get into education?

Mark Cossarin (03:51):
Gosh, I would say probably during my undergraduate time at York I, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the men’s varsity volleyball team and I was a starting power hitter for four years. And it was during that time, I had a chance to work with a lot of good leaders in their areas. So whether it was a professor or a coach or a teaching assistant, an administrator, I always valued those experiences on their, their tutelage, I think. And I think it made me understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others has a pretty big impact on individuals and by extension programs. So the volleyball program at York, we did a lot of things in the community as well. So we ran a lot of kids programs.

Mark Cossarin (04:36):
We did a lot of national coaching certification program work where even during the summer, we’d run a lot of camps where the ever coaches or people who wanted to become coaches and get certified would come in. And the vast majority of those folks were actually teachers. So it was pretty neat at such a young age to be able to start doing those things. And I realized, you know what, this is something I’m pretty passionate about. I, I like it. I’m pretty good at it. And that really sort of planted the seed for me. I think,

Sam Demma (05:05):
How did volleyball and being in athletics at a high level shape, the way you approach education or your desire to teach and be a part of a team in a school?

Mark Cossarin (05:17):
Right. Well, I would say, I mean, obviously I had a, I was pretty passionate about athletics and sports and things like that. And I thought, you know what? That is an area where I think there is room for everybody regardless of what your area of interest might be. Mm. And, and that’s what I keep telling kids. I said, you know, even though I haven’t played volleyball in a long time, you know, what, you can get involved in so many ways if you’ve become educated in the sport. So you can become a coach, a referee, a, an administrator, and you can still stay involved and get to a pretty high level. If you do sort of, you know, have a passion for it and, and share that with others.

Sam Demma (05:56):
So you went to school to get the educational degree and the, the learning what did the journey look like from that moment to where you are today?

Mark Cossarin (06:08):
Sure. So I, I did my undergraduate degree at York went to grad school at Western. And then I had an opportunity to teach there as well as a TA. So I had a chance to, to get a sense of what that would be like. And then I went to teacher’s college at the university of Toronto, and my wife actually got a job here in Lindsay the year before I finished and I followed her up here. And we’ve never left ever since.

Sam Demma (06:35):
Oh, that’s awesome. A along the journey, did you have other educators, people who had an impact or made a difference in your life mentor you? And if so, like who were those people and what did they do that had a significant impact?

Mark Cossarin (06:52):
Right. again, I, I, I was fortunate enough that when I first got up here, I, I, I did an LTO for contract for someone. And actually even before I finished teachers college, I came up here. And again, I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of different administrators, whether they’re principals of vice principals, department heads fellow teachers within certain departments. And I think everybody, I think everybody has an impact on you. I think my parents always said, you know what regardless of where you are, you you’ll always be able to learn from everybody. You may not necessarily love what you see, but that’s part of the learning where you go, oh, that’s good. That doesn’t work so well. And I just think having had an opportunity to be, you know, here at L C B I, and then at, at, at the adult ed center, and then at, at the other high schools in the area, I always had a chance to interact with a lot of individuals. So there were so many, I think I, I can’t even mention all of them because I think it it’s been a good experience. And, and it’s been very lovely working up in this part of Ontario.

Sam Demma (07:52):
You worked as well in adult education. What was that experience like for you and paint us a picture of the difference between the school you were in now and that experience?

Mark Cossarin (08:01):
Sure. So it was, I was actually fortunate because I think I was the second one hired there. It was opened in 1995 and it was actually underneath LC B’s umbrella. So the board had never had an adult ed center. And these were truly adults, every single person who started with us there was over 20 years and some of them were in their sixties and seventies. Wow. And it was amazing cuz there, I was looking for transcripts from people who went to high school in a, really in 19, in the 1950s sixties. It, it was great because these folks had been away for so long and they were given an opportunity to earn a secondary school diploma. It was just such a meaningful experience to have that opportunity to work with, with folks who had had a tremendous amount of experience in a variety of areas come back and actually finish that chapter, which is something a lot of them never had an opportunity to do.

Sam Demma (08:58):
I have to imagine that’s a pretty inspiring environment. You know, it, it sounds like every single one of those learners is coming back to reach for something. Instead of just not complete that aspect of their life. What would, what was your experience did, did you find it that the learners were, or the people that were in that situation really wanted to improve, grow and continue on? Or was it an inspiring situation?

Mark Cossarin (09:25):
I think it varied depending on who the individual was, but I would say the vast majority, they already had jobs. Right. And they had worked for a long period of time, but they really just symbolically if not thing else, the opportunity to truly finish something, they never had had chance to finish when they were in their teens. Now some of them were younger and needed an Ontario secondary school diploma yeah. To apply for some jobs. So there was quite a range, but literally there was a woman who was 77 years old who was in that, you know, and she ended up going, I’ll never forget. She ended up applying for position. I think it was at a library in COBA Concor just north of us here. And she ended up working there before she passed away. Wow. So it, yeah, it was pretty cool.

Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. And what is, tell us a little bit about your school, the school you’re working in right now. What is the culture like here?

Mark Cossarin (10:13):
Right. So I’m, I’m at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute. It’s actually a fairly old school. It, it was found in 1889 here. So it’s been here for a very long time. The school, it it’s, it’s a composite high school in rural Ontario. We’ve got about 500 students now. The numbers aren’t nearly as large as they used to be. And I mean, there’s a variety of things that we offer. So I, this is something we always tell parents at our grade eight info night that regardless of who your child is, regardless of their background, regardless of what their future goals might be, we have something for everyone here. There is a pathway for every single individual in our school, but we try and impress upon in the importance of please show up, please show up every single day, show up, please listen to your instructor, the EA in your class, whoever’s around and try. If you can do those things, we promise you will get your diploma. You will develop skills and you’ll be able to move on and do something else in an area of interest.

Sam Demma (11:18):
Hmm. It’s a really awesome personal philosophy. Is there any mindset shifts, beliefs that you’ve carried throughout your professional career and even also as an athlete that informed the way that you showed up every day? And if so, what are some of those beliefs?

Mark Cossarin (11:35):
Yeah, I, I, I know it sounds simple, but, and I’ll go back to it. Sure. Show up you really, you have to show up and you have to try, you know, you can’t be perfect at everything you do and you can’t necessarily be great at everything you do, but if you want to improve, you have to do repetition. there has to be repetition. You have to do things over and over to get better at it. So even if it’s something as simple as a skill in a sport, I can’t get better at something if I don’t do it over and over. And I would say the same thing in any subject area that you, you just gotta show up and you gotta try and just be, be positive. I mean, I think at the end of the day, you know, know what, when kids come into this building, I mean, this is a bricks and mortar school and it’s a traditional school, but we say, look, you know what?

Mark Cossarin (12:17):
We have a roof over your head. We will feed you and we will make sure you will be safe and we will listen to you, but we need you to be here. Please just come every single day if you can. Cuz I think that’s how kids connect. Right. And I just think, unfortunately, during the last two years, it’s had an impact on a lot of, well, all students, irrespective of age, right where we’re learning at home now we’re here now. We’re not, so it’s been challenging and I’d say moving forward, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we will have now moving back to some kind of normalcy with students where guess what? We have a four period day again, you know, and we hope that you’re gonna show now it’s a little bit different. It’s not an OK master. It’s not a quad, you know, it’s not a hybrid.

Mark Cossarin (12:59):
Yeah. You’re, you’re back here now. So I think from a curricular perspective, that’s probably the most challenging thing moving forward, but it’s also great because now guess what, hopefully with normalcy, we have extracurriculars again and kids get to be part of clubs and they get to connect with others in areas of interest, you know, and we get to have dances and a prom and field trips and all of those things that, you know, over the last two years for the kids in grade, you know, in grade 10 or even the kids in grade 11, you know, they’ve never really had a chance to experience that very long or at all.

Sam Demma (13:32):
Yeah. So true. I’m sure you’re also itching to get back on the volleyball court with some of the kids.

Mark Cossarin (13:37):
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s just a great way to connect right. With kids who have an opportunity to do something they like. And, but again, they put in the time and it’s after school and yeah. So I, I mean, whether it’s a sport, whether it’s a club, just anything where people get a chance to connect with other stakeholders and, and, and just connect with their schools and, you know, and buy swag and wear school colors and, and, and all of those kinds of things that I think have, has been challenging over the last couple of years. But I think with everything that’s happened, I think our, our board has done a really, really good job supporting our staff and our students to get to where we could get. I mean, we never knew what it was gonna look like and on a weekly basis it would change. And even though we’re not necessarily at the end yet I think our board really has done a very good job chatting with all stakeholders to get a sense of what they wanted. And by and large, you know, what all things consider knock on wood. It’s been pretty good, all things considered.

Sam Demma (14:36):
I love it. And I mean, it sounds like you focus on the positives as well. I think it’s very easy to also focus on the things that are extremely negative and your whole life becomes those things. right. So it’s cool. Even amongst the storm, you can find some sliver of sunshine yeah. And, you know, focus on that until it passes. What resources have you found helpful in the, over your career in education? It could even be people resources, but if you found any courses or books or podcasts you listen to, or anything of that nature helpful feel, feel free to share.

Mark Cossarin (15:13):
Sure. I, I would say I’ve worked with wonderful people. So whether it’s fellow administrators or teaching staff, EA secretaries, custodians, people who work outta the board office, if you ever have a question, there is somebody who can help you and can answer that question for you for sure. No question in my mind. And anytime we have a question, somebody will help you. It’s just important that you ask and you know who to ask. I’d say you gotta keep learning your respective of how long you’ve been at something. I mean, I think it’s important that, you know, if you are an administrator, you should be a member of a S C, D or PD PDK international, where, you know, there are excellent resources for administrators that keep you on top of things moving forward, because things change. I mean, even from a technological perspective, things have changed so quickly. And now that we’re teaching generation Z, for those of us who have been at it for a very long period of time, it gets even more challengingSam Demma (16:08):
I, I had a, a past guest on and I, his name is slipping, slipping my mind right now, but he was basically telling me he would tell his students, I will never get mad at you for asking a question. No matter how silly you think the question is, I promise you I’ll never get mad at you for asking a question. So please ask as many questions as you’d like. And he said that that outcome, once kids got comfortable with it would lead him to walk around his classroom for like an hour and a half after saying it because kids had so many questions and he said, you know, I’ll get mad at you if you do something foolish, but not for asking questions. And I think you know, you’re right, asking questions is so important and you don’t always have to have the answer, but someone else who you work with might definitely have the answer. And that’s why I think it goes back to what you said earlier about, well, you have to show up, you have to try. And the third is you have to listen. That’s what you said. And yeah, I think listening is so important. Yeah. Why do you think listening is so important?

Mark Cossarin (17:09):
Why, oh gosh. But I think we’re all so different. And I think sometimes we, we make assumptions until we find out who the person is. Mm. And it’s funny, just you mentioning that teacher answering questions and you, you basically just shared probably the most important thing a teacher can do is use proximity. Mm. You know, don’t just stand at the front, don’t sit at your desk, walk around, communicate with the kids, get, get an idea of what’s going on. Cuz the moment you can get closer to a kid, you get an idea of what they’re writing down, what’s on their tablet. You know what they’re looking at, what they’re wearing, you know, all of those things give you greater insight and allows you to connect with the individual. Right. And I think that’s the important thing because at the end of it, every single class is gonna be different.

Mark Cossarin (17:49):
Right. We’re back to you know, a four, a four period day. So every one of our full-time teachers now has three, three classes. Okay. So you’re gonna have different numbers. You’re gonna have a different course. And even though, you know, the curriculum in theory should be the same, it’s gonna be different because you’re gonna have different kids sitting in front of you. And I think it’s our collective responsive bit, those first three or four days to get an idea of who’s who’s sitting in front of me, who are these folks? Where are they from? How do they feel? You know, what, what are they interested in? You know, what, what are the things that they hope to do? What don’t they like? You know? So I think good teachers do a great job those first couple of days to get a sense of, you know, know what who are they?

Mark Cossarin (18:30):
You know, what, what do they want? And even reaching out to parents, you know, literally just something as simple as hi I’m so, and so just wanna introduce myself if there’s any questions or concerns. And it’s funny, cuz I just did an evaluation for one of our teachers and she shared with me some of the emails that she got from back from parents and they were just so beautiful. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I really appreciate it. And then even ones that came after the fact, because I knew that, you know what I’m allowed to communicate with this teacher directly.

Sam Demma (18:57):
So cool. Yeah. That’s so it’s just a simple way of opening the line of communication. Like, Hey, I’m for sure. I’m here for you if you need me, you know, and exactly. Yeah, once you open it, it stays open. It sounds like. So yeah.

Sam Demma (19:09):
That’s awesome. And I, I totally agree. I think listening enables us to wipe free of the assumptions we make, because as much as we say, you know, you don’t judge your book by its cover. We still make assumptions about people and about situations before you know anything about it and it’s just normal. It’s a human tendency. I’m curious to know though on the topic of like a ideas to improve as an educator improve your practice. If you could take the experience you’ve had in education, almost travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just starting in the classroom, knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you’re old now, but you know what I mean? right.

Mark Cossarin (19:51):
Yeah. Yeah. I probably, would’ve tried a little bit harder academically in all of my classes. Mm. You know, if I really had an opportunity, I probably would’ve tried in all the courses I was taking all the way, even throughout my undergraduate degree, cuz really, I really didn’t start working incredibly as hard as I should have until probably my third or fourth year. And I think looking back when I think about some of the teachers I would’ve had in some of the subject areas, or even some of the pros I had, I thought, man, I should have showed up and focused a little bit better. But again, as a young person, that’s part of learning. Right. When you realize, I mean, there are a lot of kids that crash and burn a post secondary because they don’t show up cuz they don’t have an interest. Right. And that’s just part of growing up and, and I think statistically, that happens to a lot of kids that we don’t realize that that’s just part of it. But I think, yeah, looking back now, I think I probably should have tried a little bit harder you know, grade, grade 11, 12 and grade 13 back in the day and then yeah. You know, first or second year university.

Sam Demma (20:53):
And I, I would say the same about my student experience. I also took the OAC the, the fifth year grade 13. Right. What about from the perspective of educator, mark? Like when you, when you first got into the, into the classroom, like if you could speak to your younger self and say, Hey mark you don’t know this yet, but this is what you need to hear. when you were just starting and teaching.

Mark Cossarin (21:15):
Right. let’s see, what would I say?

Sam Demma (21:21):
And keep in mind that there might be an educator listening. Who’s just about to get into this profession. right. Who is excited, but at the same time, very nervous

Mark Cossarin (21:31):
Right, right. I would say prepare as best you can and it’s not gonna work out exactly the way you think it’s going to Hmm so you know what, you you’re gonna have a toolbox and that toolbox will get bigger and bigger as you go along and if it doesn’t work per it’s okay. As long as you try and you get the feedback from the individuals you are around, whether it’s the students, whether it’s your department head, whether it’s you know fellow instructors who are teaching the same classes. I think that’s the key where it doesn’t make you a lesser person. If you end up having to change things or improve things or, you know, get greater insights from others who have done that before.

Sam Demma (22:12):
That’s a great piece of advice. Not only for educators, flies to all fields. Mark, thank you so much for taking this time to come on the podcast, share some of your journey, experiences, insights. If someone is listening, wants to reach out, ask a question or bounce of my ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.

Mark Cossarin (22:32):
Sure. email again, I get it all the time and I would answer pretty quickly. So it’s mark.cossarin@tldsb.on.ca

Sam Demma (22:48):
Awesome. Mark. Keep up the great work. Thanks again for coming on the show and we’ll talk soon.

Mark Cossarin (22:53):
Thanks for having me Sam. Appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Cossarin

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.

Bluefield Leadership Class **Student Interview**

Ryan Laughlin – Leadership Teacher at Bluefield High School
About Ryan Laughlin

Ryan Laughlin (@stickr10) is a proud Bluefield Bobcat from Prince Edward Island. Ryan is a veteran Physical Education and Leadership educator at Bluefield High School.

Ryan prides himself on physical fitness, servant leadership, and teaching engaging lessons that serve to develop leadership skills.

Today we are joined by the students in his two leadership classes. We ask them all the questions you’d be interested in hearing as an educator.  

Connect with Ryan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bluefield High School

PEI Teachers’ Federation

Physical Education Association of PEI

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, and I’m super excited to be joined again by Ryan. Ryan and I already did an interview. You haven’t heard it yet because it’s not live, but it’s coming out very soon, but today I won’t be actually interviewing him. I’m gonna be interviewing two of his leadership classes and the students inside those classes. And the reason I’m so excited about this conversation is that you’re gonna get the opportunity to hear from students, you know, from a different part of the world what their experience has been like going through school during this time. Ryan, why don’t you kick us off by just kind of explaining where this idea came from, and why you wanted to, why you wanted to do this?


Ryan Laughlin (01:15):
Sure. So like a lot of places in Canada, there’s been a lot of restrictions in what we’ve been able to do, especially with our leadership classes. So I was talking to a colleague, Melanie Headley, and we were brainstorming ideas where we could engage students with something creative and give ’em an experience that I have not been able to because of restrictions. So we were talking about podcasts, she mentioned your name and I reached out and we connected and here we are.


Sam Demma (01:39):
Yeah. And I’m excited; I’m super excited so thank you for taking this on. I mean, we could just jump right in. We’ve we’ve outlined some questions and you have some students selected so why don’t we just call Jordan up to get started? You know, Jordan, the first thing I’m curious to know is your experience, as a student, how has it been affected during COVID 19?


Jordan (02:01):
I feel that at the start of the year, it was the most challenging to try to get used to all the protocols and wearing the masks and stuff, but in the whole run of things, I guess it was really minor because they’re really adaptable and once you got in the routine of doing them you know, it’d feel very unnormal not to do them right now. But I feel I of the big thing that has been most challenging is the uncertainty that it’s brought to the school year. Like I found that not knowing whether or not the materials that were cut outta some of the classes this year will affect or make challenges next year, going into University.


Sam Demma (02:45):
Mm, yeah. Such a good point, and do you already know what you wanna study or what you wanna get into?


Jordan (02:50):
Yeah, I’m going into business next year.


Sam Demma (02:52):
Oh, nice. Very cool, thanks so much for sharing. I totally agree. The uncertainty, this situation has brought is not only thrown off school, but like literally everything. My heart also goes out to the athletes who spent years training for something and now it’s falling apart. Jayden, I’m curious to know your perspective, you know, how has COVID 19 affected you personally? And I see you’re all wearing masks, so I’ll virtually put mine on as well, but go ahead.


Jayden (03:19):
Well for like sports and stuff, it’s kind of taken away from some of the time that we could like spend doing that. Like the rugby season last year got taken away from like all the students so that was, that kind of sucked. And also like the normal prom and graduation, that’s also another thing that’s kind of taken away from a lot of the students. And also what Jordan said, the uncertainty of like, whether it’s gonna affect next year, or even if we’re gonna go into like another lockdown again, the first one was pretty rough for a lot of people. So, couldn’t imagine going into like another big one.


Sam Demma (04:00):
Yeah. I hear you, man. The mental toll that we all went through going through a lockdown is super real, and I don’t think it gets talked about a lot, but we’re not supposed to live inside our individual homes and never see other human beings. , you know, I, I think if we go through another lockdown, we’re all gonna become these socially awkward humans that don’t know how to interact and talk other people. But yeah, that’s so right. And, and thank you for sharing. We’ll move on, we’ll move on. Let’s go right to Grace or actually let’s, let’s go right to Grace Conley. What are some things Grace that you think your teacher or other teachers in your school have done that you think have been helpful during this time?


Grace Angel (04:40):
Well I’m Grace Angel. Grace Conley’s not here yet, so I’ll just, I’ll just go first.


Sam Demma (04:46):
Oh, perfect.


Grace Angel (04:48):
So I found it really helpful that teachers were, I thought of as kind to remind they’re very patient and they reminded us to sanitize and put our masks up like distance and they don’t tend to flip out over it. They know from the most part that we didn’t need to forget and they know how scary, stressful the situation is for us and adults, because they tend to have kids of their own. And they’ve given us like leeway on assignments and stuff. And they’re just, there’s overall very understanding of how hard this is for everyone.


Sam Demma (05:23):
And what does patients look like in your perspective? Like when you say they’ve been patient, what do you mean by that?


Grace Angel (05:30):
Well, they’ve like, okay. So every day, like they constantly tell us to pull up our masks cause we keep putting them down and nice. They’re not like send us to the office. They’re just like, they keep remind us over and over. And they’re not like getting frustrated with it right away. They there’s


Sam Demma (05:51):
No punishment


Grace Angel (05:52):
Learning curve.


Sam Demma (05:53):
Yeah. There’s no punishment. It’s almost like I remember when I was in high school, you show up to class late and then if you show up to class late a second time, it’s like go to the office. like, you know, I feel like in this time you’re right. Like that has been reversed. We’re a lot more understanding and empathetic of the situation because everyone’s going through this, this new learning. So I totally agree. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing. We’ll move on right to you Cassie Casie. I’m really curious to know what do you want more of right now? Like what do you think would make your school experience more impactful or a little better?


Jordan (06:32):
Okay. I’m Charlie. I think this one was my question. Okay.


Jordan (06:36):
So right now, like kind of just want normalcy, especially since it is our graduation year. And we are really lucky here in P because we’re able to be in school and we’re able to do things that a lot of other students in, around the world in, in the, in the country aren’t able to do. And I do wanna of COVID-19 and like why there are certain measures in place, but honestly it just kinda sucks. Like not being able to graduate with the people that we’ve been in school with for the past 12 years and not being able have school activities that make school enjoyable, just kind of make it less than ideal.


Sam Demma (07:17):
Yeah, I agree. And I made a mistake, so everyone listening, I apologized I asked their own question to the wrong people. But yeah. Charlie, thank you so much for sharing Cora, what’s your perspective on this?


Jordan (07:31):
Okay, so what was the question again?


Sam Demma (07:35):
like, what do you want more of right now? What do you think would make your school experience better?


Jordan (07:40):
Okay. So for what I wrote is I kinda just thought that we’ve done what, like 12 years of school with the exact same people. And I just think that in our last, probably like month even, it’s just been a lot of actual school work and I really just wanna be here with the people. Well, like doing activities like we, our grad week, we barely basically have like, like the activities that some of the other students gone to do, like seniors in the past years, we didn’t get to do anything nearly as fun. But like I, Charlie said, it’s not really anything you can do because of COVID, but yeah. Yeah. I just wish that we got to be here with the people and not do as much school even while we’re in the school.


Jordan (08:34):
And you


Jordan (08:34):
Can do that.


Sam Demma (08:35):
That sounds like what I would’ve wanted if I was in grade 12 again.


Jordan (08:39):
Yeah, exactly.


Sam Demma (08:41):
All right. Thanks for sharing both of you. I appreciate that. Well now move on to Cassie for real Cassie, if, if you had to give me an idea, like, what do you think makes a, a strong student leader or a good student leader? Nice glasses, by the way.


Cassie (08:56):
Thank you very much. I think that a great student leader is someone who’s selfless and kind. It’s someone who genuinely cares about other people and shows dedication and all that they do. It’s someone who contributes and is very involved in their school and community, and when they see opportunity to help or make a change that they take it,


Sam Demma (09:19):
Love it. And do you think student leaders are individuals that wear like clout goggles and glasses?


Cassie (09:25):
Yes. Specifically clout goggles.


Sam Demma (09:27):
love it. All right. Thank you so much for sharing. Sam, you have the, you know, one of the most beautiful names in the world. Can you tell me your perspective?


Sam (09:37):
Well, I agree with everything that Cassie said, but also someone who isn’t afraid to go outside their comfort zone, maybe like wear clout passes to school and someone that looks at things in different ways and tries to make other people fit in. So like having a spirit day that maybe includes the athletes and another one that includes like a different group of people, not just into like one group of people in the school, having a chance for everyone to be included.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Love it, man. Love it. What does your hat say?


Sam (10:01):
My hat says PEI rugby.


Sam Demma (10:03):
Ah, you play rugby. Yeah. Nice man. Love that. Love that. That’s awesome. Thank you both for sharing. Appreciate it. We will move on to Olivia. Olivia, what is one thing you’ve learned from this class ALA, you know, Ryan’s not listening that has had the biggest impact on you.


Jordan (10:20):
So one of the things I learned in this class that had a big impact on me was the meaning of servant leadership and what a servant leader is. It wasn’t really a philosophy I was very aware of before and knew much about, but we really dived into it here. And I really liked the project we did with it in class, where we like interviewed a servant of leader from a provincial organization, a provincial nonprofit, and we got to really meet them and connect them and share who they are to our class.


Sam Demma (10:45):
So if you had to, in your own words, describe what a servant leader is like from what you’ve learned. Like, how would you kinda, how would you explain it?


Jordan (10:53):
For me, a servant leader is someone who recognizes a problem in their community and takes charge by helping those people that are not as privileged or not, as, I don’t know, profitable in the community, like they’re taking charge and helping people that need it the most. Nice. And they’re serving by doing the work that they recognize that has to be done. They’re leading, they’re trying to build other leaders in the community. They’re not focused on having as much of the authority position as just trying to take charge and help others.


Sam Demma (11:22):
Yeah. They’re not focused on the CLO goggles. They’re focused on the work. love it. I’m just, that’s totally joking. thank you so much for sharing. That was a great answer. That another Sam, oh wow. We got lots of Sam. Sam, what do you think has been the most impactful thing you’ve learned from this class


Sam (11:39):
In this class? Definitely communication. Like throughout the semester, we’ve had like so many activities to focus on communication and working with others. Like we do nonverbal communication, like just like a month ago, we did one where we’d put in groups and like we’d have to put together shape without actually communicating like one person’s outta shape. Another person didn’t see shape. But anyways, the point is Mr. Locklin, I feel like, definitely focuses a lot on communicating, whether it be non-verbal or, you know, just like learning how to communicate as a leader. You know, like being polite and being respectful and like, you know, taking consideration, like reading the room or whatever, he taught us a lot, how to do that. Nice. which obviously is quite important in a leisure class. And of course, quite useful to assume the years in general,


Sam Demma (12:26):
Love that. Thanks for sharing. I think communication’s so important, like reading other people’s body language and also being able to express your idea is in a, in a succinct way, super, super valuable, especially in any future jobs you get into or any leadership position. So thank you both for sharing. Let’s move on to the next question. So if you could give your younger self, your younger high school self advice what would you say? Is Will here yet by the way? By the way, okay, so we’ll start with Will, ’cause I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask and see if he’s here and then we’ll move on.


Will (13:00):
I find everything kind of comes into your life for a reason whether you make mistakes, like you have to make mistakes and fail to like actually learn something. And I find that’s like one of the main things, if I like told like knew that whenever I was younger, like making mistakes is fine and like failing’s fine, but that’s like definitely the biggest one


Sam Demma (13:21):
For me. Yeah. I find that sometimes we attach our self worth to our school and our grades and our accomplishments. And if we don’t, you know, succeed, we feel like we’re worthless or like we, we failed when in reality failing to just you learn , you know, you’re realizing what you did wrong. So thank you so much for sharing. Is it Nalia?


Jordan (13:42):
Yeah. It’s Nalia


Sam Demma (13:43):
Perfect. What, what about, what’s your perspective? What’s something you’d share with your younger high school self?


Jordan (13:47):
If I could tell my younger high school self anything, it would be kind of just to enjoy the small thing. So like looking back as the class of 2021, we have one normal year of high school. So it was our grade 10 year. And I definitely took things for granted in my grade til year, if that was sports or social activities or just really the environment around the school. I do anything right now to go back to the way that was two years ago. So I think I just would really tell him not to take anything for granted and to every opportunity, but to make sure that you are making smart choices and you’re making the right choices because though we really think it’s not often the right time we learned this year that maybe you only have one time. So this world is so packed unknowns. I really just think you have to take advantage of every opportunity in front of you.


Sam Demma (14:33):
Yeah. I love that. It’s funny. Cause I read this post on online the other day was talking about when you talk about, you know, way back when, you know, when our parents are 40 years old and they say, oh, I remember back in high school, like these moments will still, we’ll still have those conversations, you know, so we should live it to the fullest of its potential regardless. And I, I agree. Totally. Thank you so much for sharing that and love the bucket hat by the way. super, super swaggy. All right. Last question. And we’ll start off with Matt, Matt mills, any final pieces of advice for another student who’s listening right now,


Will (15:08):
Some final pieces of advice would be don’t get too caught up in we’re about your future. Cause the people around you will be around you for a limited amount of time, cuz people go other high school or universities and go away for hockey. You know, you never know, right? So you gotta spend as much time with them as you can. And you don’t wanna be looking back thinking you could spend more time with them when you’re too busy, worry about your future.


Sam Demma (15:34):
Agreed. And I also think it’s important to stay like, you know, don’t let our egos get in between our friendships. Sometimes we hesitate or stop ourselves from reaching out to people that we haven’t talked to in a long time, because maybe there was something that happened five years ago and it’s like, yo, push that aside. You know that person and you could have a beautiful relief, you know, be the bigger person and reach out. I love that advice. And I’m giving you this advice as well and also sharing it to anyone watching, because I also need it at certain points. So thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. And Grace, what about yourself?


Grace (16:08):
The most important advice I’d give to myself, I’d probably just to be more in high school. Like I found that if you’re more involved in your school and doing activities and spirit days and stuff like that, then it makes it a way better environment to grow up in. Yeah. And also like what said to not take your high school years for granted, like it’s some of the best years of your life. And I remember like when I was in grade 10, I was like, oh, be in grade 12. Like I just wanna graduate and stuff like that. But I think that the grade tens need to take this time and like actually experience high school and not just wish it away.


Sam Demma (16:45):
Yeah. Love that. Thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate it. Great job everyone. If everyone on three could yell. Thank you. Appreciate it. Are you ready? 1, 2, 3.


Ryan Laughlin (16:57):
Thank you


Sam Demma (16:58):
So great to hear from you guys from leadership class with Ryan at Bluefield, this, this has been a phenomenal podcast. Ryan, we wanna pop back in for one quick second, just to wrap this up. Thank you so much for organizing this for setting up the idea. We have another class coming on the afternoon and will be slapping these two episodes together as like a long masterclass from the students, any final words you wanna share or things you wanna express or, or say


Ryan Laughlin (17:23):
No, I think this was great. The new experience for the students and you could tell they were a little nervous yesterday leading into it, and I think they did a great job and it’s interesting to hear the different perspectives from different people and connected them together and giving them a new experience, which I think is valuable.


Sam Demma (17:38):
I agree. I agree. And if anyone, if anyone’s listening and was inspired by something your student said and wanted to reach out to one of them to ask them a follow up question what would be an email that they could send you to relay it to a student?


Ryan Laughlin (17:52):
Sure. Yeah. So my email is rjlaughlin@cloud.edu.pe.ca. So they wanted to fire me a message. I could forward it to the students for the next month to five weeks here and then they’re on their way into their new adventures.


Sam Demma (18:06):
Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for organizing this really appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure and let’s stay in touch. It’ll talk soon.


Ryan Laughlin (18:12):
Awesome. Thanks.


Sam Demma (18:13):
And we’re back with Ryan’s second class, Ryan. Thank you again for being here and bringing your students. It’s super exciting.


Ryan Laughlin (18:20):
Yeah. It’s great to be here. I’m excited to see these students have a conversation with you.


Sam Demma (18:24):
All right. We’ll jump right in. We’ll start off with Amber, Amber, I’m curious to know has been the most challenging aspect of COVID 19 for yourself as a student.


Jordan (18:34):
Well, especially being a part of the graduating class of 2021, it is evident that COVID has faced off with like several challenges from wearing masks on a daily to not being able to see your friends as often. I mainly think that the most challenging part of like having COVID would have to be just planning all of our grad events and not being able to have the, the like expected graduation and prom and just all those fun events that we always looked up to. I definitely think though that this is something, even though we hated at the moment, it’ll be something that we look back on in the future and we’re gonna be grateful for eventually


Sam Demma (19:13):
adversity builds strength. Right. I, I totally agree. Emily, what about you? What’s your perspective on this?


Jordan (19:19):
So I kinda said the same thing, the most challenging part would be missing out on a lot of the things that we got to do without COVID. So this year we didn’t have a winter formal at our school and going on field trips was harder and our pro graduation is a lot different than it typically would be, but I’m glad that we got to do in person learning.


Sam Demma (19:38):
Nice love that. Thank you so much for sharing. And I totally agree. I know you got some, a virtual background of a beach. I really miss just traveling as well, right. yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing. Perfect. Moving on. We will go right to Devon. I’m curious to know what is something your teacher or the teachers in your school have done this year that you think has been really helpful? Despite the situation


Will (20:01):
I would say they definitely helped a lot with the safety protocols because the start of the year, we were really good with sanitizing and everyone wearing their masks. And as the year just progressed, a lot of people on started lacking off with it. But for me, most of my teachers remind everyone when they come into class and since they’ve done that, everyone’s just kind of kept on track with it. So I’d say the teachers have definitely helped the most with that.


Sam Demma (20:24):
I love that. Love that. And I you’re all wearing your masks, so good job. Ellie, what about yourself?


Jordan (20:30):
So I my, my teachers have been really helpful as in, they’ve still tried to organize things to get us out of the classroom and just, they’re always smiling and always like understanding that we are going through a lot right now with COVID and it is a totally different experience than we ever would’ve expected. So we’re still going on some different forms of field trips and we’re getting outta the classroom and they’re organizing different events for us which is very helpful along with just them, them being nice in general as well.


Sam Demma (20:57):
Yeah. I hear you. It it’s like, I think teachers right now are working a hundred times harder to just even make school possible. You know what I mean? Yeah. So why don’t we on three? Just yell out loud. Thank you for everyone in your class for Ryan ready? 1, 2, 3. love it. Awesome. All right, moving on. We’ll move to Carla. Carla, I’m curious to know what do you want more of right now? Like what do you think would make your school experience better?


Jordan (21:28):
For me, it would be more gathering. So during COVID we didn’t get to have our winter formal, like Emily said earlier, our graduating like from is different this year. We didn’t like at the cafeteria table, we’re allowed to have four people in my group of friends is like a group of like eight or nine. So we can’t all sit together even just at school either.


Sam Demma (21:50):
Yeah. I hear you. Nice bucket hat by the way. Emma, what about yourself?


Jordan (21:57):
Yeah, so definitely right now is something I want is freedom. Of course, that’s almost physically impossible. We’re all trying to do our part with COVID, but ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamed of a big graduate and a very big prom and going to all the high school parities, but of course, with the protocols we’re we aren’t able to do that, but I live by everything happens for a reason. So I choose to take COVID. And even though there’s a lot of negatives, I choose to take the positives and realize how much I’ve grown and matured from the challenges and adversity. Come


Sam Demma (22:29):
Love it. Love it also, by the way, nice bucket hat. appreciate the answers. It really feels like you’re on a beach, so it’s awesome. I love that. Yeah, that’s great. Cool. All right. Moving on to the next question. Sabrina, what do you think, what do you think makes a great student leader?


Jordan (22:49):
So me a great student leader is somebody who is very involved in school and I’m personally very involved in my school and I love to include as many people as I can. And I think that’s what makes Bluefield really good school for leadership, because we are very inclusive and that’s like my main thing and just be kind to everybody. Nice. Yeah. That’s


Sam Demma (23:15):
By the way, we don’t actually use the video, so don’t stress too much about it. but I would, I would say like, you’re a superhero, like bouncing in and out of the video. , you know, like when I was a kid, I always wanted to be invisible, but no, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate it. And again, don’t worry about it. We don’t, we don’t actually use the video. Jenaya what about yourself? And did I pronounce that correctly?


Jordan (23:38):
Yeah. Jenaya but that was pretty good, actually. So for me, like a great student leader would have to be someone who has like, I really like students interest and they’re like willing to hear everybody out. And recently we just picked like our Val Victorians. So like, I just like chose who I thought best like represented the school, but then also like every other student as well. They’re also the ones who make connections like in the hallway with like a simple, like, Hey, like how you doing? You know? And they just are really good, critical, cool thinkers and show like a lot of commitment and consistency within like the school as well.


Sam Demma (24:09):
Nice. It love it. Love it. Awesome. Thank you so much. I appreciate you both sharing. you ever seen that vine where the guy goes like this and he just disappears? that’s literally what’s happening right now. Thank you both for sure. I appreciate it. All right, next question. Let’s go with Beth. Beth, what do you think is something you’ve learned from this class that has had a big impact on you?


Jordan (24:34):
Well, just from this class, I learned kind of how to express my thoughts and opinions. I’m the type of person who’s more shy until you get to know me. So I don’t really open up to people unless I’m comfortable around them, but in this class we have like a lot of great leaders and a lot of social people. So it just kind of allowed me to open up and share, even if I’m not like comfortable with them necessarily. So it just kind of encouraged me to step outta my comfort zone.


Sam Demma (25:00):
Love it. Love it. Thank you for sharing. Awesome. And Neil, what about yourself?


Neil (25:04):
The biggest thing I learned would be skills of patience. So I play and also coach sports. Nice. So you have to learn how to be patient with cuz I coach little, 10 and 11 year olds. So you have to learn how to be patient with them. Cuz what I think as a 17 year old would be easy, might not be the same as what they find difficult. Like I, I had a little dude who could only make it to half court and that was a big accomplishment. But if I was to look at one of my high school teammates during a drill thinking, they can only do their drill to half court, then that wouldn’t be up to standards. So you just have to learn to be patient and know everyone’s situation to be able to adapt to it.


Sam Demma (25:42):
Love that adaptability sounds like empathy as well. Sounds like it could be put in. They’re empathizing with the skills of different players on your team and their situations. That’s awesome, man. Thanks for sharing. And do you have aspirations to continue coaching?


Neil (25:56):
Yeah, I would like to continue coaching. My dad’s coached me ever since I was a little dude and I would love to have kids someday and coached them. That would be, that’s a big dream of mine.


Sam Demma (26:05):
Nice man. Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing. All right, perfect. Onto the next question. Let’s go with Gracie, if you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?


Jordan (26:18):
Basically just try and be optimistic, optimistic about things and things will like will change through time. I say this because looking back on myself, like in great and everything like I’ve developed more skills and knowledge and experiences throughout my whole high school experience. Also like I’m volunteer with my community. I’m able to keep a part-time job in overcoming struggles along the way through this, I’m able to reflect and change things through like experiences and everything. And back in grade 10, like I don’t think I would ever be able to do all the things I’ve done.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Love it. Great advice. Kaylee, what about yourself?


Jordan (26:56):
Yeah. If I could give my younger high school self advice, it would probably be to just live in the moment. Like you never know, the world’s always changing. You can’t really predict the future and you can’t change the past. You just gotta live in the moment. Focus on what’s right in front of you.


Sam Demma (27:12):
Yeah, love that. I think right now it’s a good reminder too, because we’re all striving to wait for the world to get back to normal. as opposed to live in life right now. So yeah, it’s great. Great advice. Thanks for sharing. All right. Onto the next question. You know, is there any final pieces of advice for students listening right now? Adele, anything you wanna share?


Jordan (27:33):
So I believe the path to enjoying high school is to get involved and not to be afraid to try new things. I always enjoyed musical theater, but I was always scared of what other people would think. But last year I was in a school musical and it was one of the best experiences of my life.


Sam Demma (27:51):
Oh, I love that. What did you act? Were you behind the scenes? Like what was your position?


Jordan (27:55):
Well I had quite a big role in the show, so I was involved in like all the choreography and like a huge part of harmonies and all that stuff, so yeah.


Sam Demma (28:06):
Oh cool. Love that. Awesome. Good stuff. And Jenna, what about yourself?


Jordan (28:10):
Well, mine’s kinda the same as Adele, but I think that high school will be like a treasure time of your life for the rest of your life. You know, you’ve heard from every wise woman, every grandma . So get involved, make friends study hard, but remember that your high school career isn’t soon, it’ll only be a memory that you look back on. So make it a memory that you want to look back on and appreciate.


Sam Demma (28:30):
Love it. Love it. Awesome. All right. Let’s yell. Thank you everyone. On, in on three for this episode, 1, 2, 3.


Ryan Laughlin (28:38):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (28:40):
Bluefield leadership. It was, it was a great chatting with you, Ryan, if you wanna hop back on for one quick second, we’ll wrap things up. Again, thank you so much for pointing to us together. It was awesome. Everyone already has your contact info for so no need to share it again, but I just wanted to say one final. Thank you. And keep up with the awesome work.


Ryan Laughlin (28:56):
I appreciate Sam. I’m glad that you were open to this and it was a really cool experience with the two classes. So I enjoyed it a lot. I wanna thank you for that.


Sam Demma (29:03):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Laughlin

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

Ryan Laughlin – Leadership Teacher at Bluefield High School

Ryan Laughlin – Leadership Teacher at Bluefield High School
About Ryan Laughlin

Ryan Laughlin (@stickr10) is a proud Bluefield Bobcat from Prince Edward Island. Ryan is a veteran Physical Education and Leadership educator at Bluefield High School.

Ryan prides himself on physical fitness, servant leadership, and teaching engaging lessons that serve to develop leadership skills.

This has been a memorable year for Ryan as he received the physical education teaching excellence awarded by the Physical Education Association of PEI. In addition, Ryan is married to his favourite educator, Sam, and is a loving Dad to Huxley & Sloane.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bluefield High School

PEI Teachers’ Federation

Physical Education Association of PEI

Great Cycle Challenge – Riding to Fight Kids’ Cancer

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have on another special guest, he goes by the name of Ryan Laughlin. Ryan is a proud Bluefield Bobcat from Prince Edward Island. He is a veteran physical education and leadership teacher at Bluefield High School and prides himself on physical fitness, servant leadership and teaching engaging lessons that serve to develop student’s leadership skills.


Sam Demma (01:02):
This has been a memorable year for Ryan as he received the physical education teaching excellence award by the physical education association of PEI, and in addition, Ryan is married to his favorite educator, Sam, and is a loving dad to Huxley and Sloan. Ryan is an awesome individual. He also has a huge passion for biking, and his approach to teaching is very student centric, as I’m sure you’ll experience and feel through our conversation here today. Enjoy it and I will see you on the other side. Ryan, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this afternoon. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you got into education?


Ryan Laughlin (01:44):
Sure, so my name’s Ryan Laughlin. I live on prince Edward island. I’m a high school physical educator and a leadership teacher. So my roots to education, I think I kind of started off in junior high for myself. I had a high school or my junior high basketball coach was also my Principal and my girlfriend’s father at the time. So he instilled a lot of confidence in us through fundamentals. Really going through that, and I had a lot of respect for him as a coach and as an educator. And as I kind of navigated through my high school experience, I’m high energy; love sport, basketball; my passion. I had another teacher and coach actually Mike Leslie, who was my leadership teacher and my basketball coach, and we have a relationship to this day and I spent a lot of time and he showed me how he could, you could be personal, professional, and make an impact. And that kind of stuck with me, and that kind of took me to education. And here I am today.


Sam Demma (02:46):
I wanna elaborate on that for a second. When you say personal professional and make an impact, what did that mean to him? And, and what does that mean to you? Like what was that philosophy that he passed down on to you?


Ryan Laughlin (02:56):
I guess for me, what I admired about him was if it was on the basketball court or in the classroom or outside of the building, when we had a relationship after I graduated he was the same personable person. You know, there’s differences when you’re in the classroom and on the court and out there. But with him, you, he was very authentic and a, I respected that and it was something that I wanted to take with me into my teaching practice, where you can build those relationships and have those, those conversations and connect through commonalities with your students or players. And then have those relationships later on. I know we would go, I used to run a minor baseball program in the so, and we’d have the afternoons off cause I would run games in the evening and practice it in the morning. And he had a, he had a inground pool and a beach volleyball court. So my task was to find either teammates of myself or peers and we would go over and we would spend the afternoon there, have a great time. And yeah, so it was, I enjoyed that, having that connection through the similar interests with him. And that was something that I tried to connect with my students every day.


Sam Demma (04:07):
And then, you know, you met him and he mentored you along the way and you drew some inspiration from him. What actually directed you into university into teachers college. Like I’m sure you could have took those passions in multiple directions. Like what directed it towards specifically, you know, being a teacher.


Ryan Laughlin (04:22):
Sure. with me, I love relationships building relationships. I enjoy having those with teachers, myself as a student and getting to know them and having those conversations and having the ability to listen and take that experience and soak it and take it with me. So, and I enjoyed the day to day where every day was a clear slate you came in, you didn’t know what was gonna happen. I, I guess I try to thrive in being flexible, adaptable, and personable throughout my day and making those positive impacts through the hallways and saying hello in the hallways and know students names and what they’re up to and asking them. And I guess with me, that was, I enjoyed that with working with kids, especially at the high school level where they’re making big decisions that are gonna impact their futures and understanding that and helping them where I can help ’em and, and seeing them grow from entering our building in grade 10 and leaving in grade 12 in and seeing the difference and the maturity that they have and the confidence of them going out to whatever they’re gonna do after they leave our building.


Sam Demma (05:31):
Nice love that. Love that. And you know, I’m sure some of your previous years of teaching look a little bit different than this year of teaching. Yeah. What are some of the differences, some of the positive aspects of it and also some of the challenging aspects of the differences this year?


Ryan Laughlin (05:49):
Sure. so, you know, when in previous years things were free flowing and to be honest, I probably took it for granted a little bit and now going through a pandemic and, and seeing like where we have been going through and the different restrictions that are in place. And I know everything was easier. And like I said, I took things for granted now since March. I know when we started our lockdown my wife is a essential worker, so she was still going to work every day. Wow. And I was home with two toddlers the age of four and two, and I’d be going through virtual meetings while they’re running around upstairs. So it was a challenge then and for myself personally, to keep myself grounded to realize that we’re all going through this and trying to be paid with myself and my children at the same time.


Ryan Laughlin (06:40):
But yeah, it’s, you know, there’s been some positives definitely that have come from the pandemic like this podcast and connecting with you and doing some cool things, hopefully in the future that wouldn’t have probably happened. Other than the pandemic and for us too here on prince Edward island, we’re in a very unique position. We’ve been in class 98% of the year. I know the rest of the country is not like that. And I do not take that for granted. And I think with that, I embrace every day that I get to enter the building and have those personal relationships with students.


Sam Demma (07:13):
Yeah. I love that. And I think trying to see the bright side of things is a very important, you know, quality and trait to have not only as an educator, but for every human being. That’s right. I know you had a close friend, you know, who passed away at a young age and you’ve kind of gleaned inspiration off his experiences and it’s led you to cycling and running. And I would love for you to share a little bit about that story very quickly. Cause I find it very inspirational and hope and, and hope driven.


Ryan Laughlin (07:37):
Sure. So when the pandemic had started I had always had the thought that I was gonna get into cycling. I live in an area that’s very friendly for cycling and it’s something I have kind of pushed off. So I had purchased a, a bike during that time. And at the same time I had a player. So I do coach basketball. I’m an assistant coach at Holland college for the men’s basketball program. And we get, we get a lot of players from different walks of life. This individual was from prince Rhode Island which is rare for us. We don’t get a lot of boundaries who play on our team cause we have people from Ontario and Bahamas and so on. So he was a, he was an individual who had a impact on me on the court when he had played for us.


Ryan Laughlin (08:18):
And he had purchased the bike and he was making some big changes in his life. He was inspired through running. He had gone through some injuries, a tough year and his health, he had a couple health scares, so he decided to turn it around and was inspiring people through running. And he was posting on Instagram, a lot of inspirational, his recovery, his rehab his approach. And he had just actually connected with me cuz he had been out of our team for a couple of years at this point. Wow. And he had just purchased the bike as well. He had, he had been running in the calendar club, which we had spoken about there, which is run a mile for every day in the calendar. And he was going through that to the point where he was waking up in the morning and running in snowstorms before work and then running afterwards.


Ryan Laughlin (09:04):
There’s a picture of him with a fair of snow goggles and icing his beard. And anyway, so he had finished that and when he, he had injured himself through it, he got himself a bike and he went out for a leisurely ride on a, a Friday night, Friday evening and tragically, his second ride. He was hit by a drunk driver suddenly and he lost his life. So it was very sudden and it had impacted, I know our coaching staff. I remember getting the call Saturday morning. I was cutting my grass and I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. It was too bad cuz he was just building momentum, making the right choices in his life, inspiring former teammates and a whole bunch of other people. And when I saw that he had a lot of posts that really resonated within myself to push yourself, take advantage of the, the experiences in front of you.


Ryan Laughlin (09:54):
And don’t wait until next time. Cause you don’t know when that’s gonna be. So one thing that I had hum trying to figure out how I could pay homage to or a tribute him. So I decided to do a, a tribute through cycling for him and I, this was my first summer cycling and I decided I was gonna cycle 465 miles for the summer in his memory. And I would go through Strava and post them on Facebook or wherever on social media and to get his name out there and the impact he was having and our one thing, his running community, his basketball C, they all came around it. So I was just doing a small little piece but he was all about making a positive difference and he put a challenge out to fight the good fight, make a difference, something that’s bigger than you. And for me that really hits home. And it really has driven my passion around servant leadership. And I feel like he was a perfect example of that. And I take that close to hire when I approach my leadership classes and I’d actually use examples with him and how he’s made a huge impact on me through cycling and through my approach on a day to day basis as well. So Jake Simmons is his name and I, I think about him literally every bike ride I go on and his memory’s strong here in prince, so


Sam Demma (11:09):
Yeah. Ah, that’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. And what’s the next, what’s the next milestone for Ryan in terms of bike? Do you plan on, you know, yeah. Setting a new higher goal or, you know, has it just become a passion and a hobby now and you just enjoy doing it on your spare time? Like what does it look like?


Ryan Laughlin (11:25):
So I’m hoping this summer, our island is our province I should say is, is quite small compared to the rest of the country. So my goal is actually cycle tip to tip on prince Edward, Rhode Island. We have a trail that goes tip to tip. So it’s about 265 kilometers. So my goal is to do that over a few days with a friend of mine. Nice. And so yeah, I’m starting to train for that now, get myself ready. And I’m also gonna continue my challenge, how I accepted Jake’s challenge actually at the end, after my 4 65 challenge is I cycled for the great cycle challenge, which is in support for the sick kids foundation. So I’m gonna continue on his legacy through the, the great cycle challenge. And I had my goal at 500 kilometers for a month last year and I raised about $1,500. So I’m gonna try, I surpassed that this year. So that’s my, that’s my hope.


Sam Demma (12:16):
Nice man. Very cool. I love that. And I think that, you know, it, it suits you well, like it, it sounds like the characteristics you’ve built very much suit you as a leadership teacher, not to say that you don’t teach other courses, but like I can tell how passionate you are about the soft skills and the learning experiences and the characteristics of building, you know, character in, in us as young people. Like it just, it just it’s obvious. So I think you’re in the right position. If, if school was a team, which it is yes. I’m curious though, when you were growing up, you know, you mentioned some of your teachers that had a huge impact on you. Are there any other ones that you like just stick out in your mind, like a sore thumb, like this person really inspired me and influenced the way that I am. And I’m curious to know what they did specifically that had an impact on you. And if it wasn’t a specific educator, maybe someone in your life like a coach or, you know, a parent or a teacher or a family member.


Ryan Laughlin (13:10):
Okay. You know, as a, as a sport enthusiast, I relate to a lot of my development through sport. I think I’ve got a lot of character of my journey through sport. Yeah. And I think I, with coaching, I think I have done that as well. And there’s a couple instances there. Like with Glen, with the, the strong firm, quiet confidence, instilling that through those actions that he had he had a great way where he was very professional and disciplined and I enjoyed how he was able to take that, but still keep as confident as possible. And Mike being my leadership teacher who was also my high school basketball coach, he I enjoyed his class. He made it fun. He made it engaging. He, he knew how to have conversations. He could ground, he was lighthearted. And he, and he knew the impact he was making in a class like leadership.


Ryan Laughlin (13:59):
And I think I tried to do that as much as I can with my kids. Welcome up the door, ask him how their evening was if they had a rugby game, like in the spring, we’re going through now. And just seeing the personal development, that’s something that he was able to take me from my start of my semester, to the end of my semester. And I really, I really enjoyed it and it really stuck with me. And I wanted to have that same impact on youth and having those conversations and, and helping them along the way with where they’re at, what they’re dealing with. Cause everyone’s different and trying to be that positive role model who can instill confidence and, you know, hear their point of view and help them make big decisions in their life, or at least help them be a little more com comfortable or confident in those. And I think that’s why I enjoy leadership so much is they walk in as an individual. I, I really truly believe they walk out a different individual and that’s my goal is to help them find their, their craft, their confidence. That could be, it could be very upfront or it could be very quiet. Everyone’s a little bit different, but I think it’s very impactful whichever way that is.


Sam Demma (14:59):
Yeah. I agree. And, you know, learning for your school, isn’t too different than normal with, you know, being in the classroom so much, but I’m sure there are some stipulations and differences despite the differences or the challenges. What are some of the things you’ve done with your leadership students this year that you found great success in or that you thought the students really enjoyed? And you also got a lot out of it as an instructor and a teacher.


Ryan Laughlin (15:20):
Sure. So this semester I, I would be lying to you, but I didn’t say I wasn’t nervous going into it with being leadership. I really pride my course and curriculum on giving them as many experiences where they can craft their philosophies and their skills. So I was a little nervous going into it, but I think with every challenge, there’s a way to be creative and find new opportunities and be it, this one podcast, I have really tapped into podcasts, which I found to be as tool that I would never have probably have about until this semester. So I know we had a conversation you know, I find with that discussing experiences and reflecting intentional reflection is really important. So I actually wanna give a show to Alan se who you head out on the show. Nice. I, I mimicked his, this season’s podcast where they unpacked quotes with a group of them and had modeled respectful conversations.


Ryan Laughlin (16:17):
So I kind of took that and ran with it. And I had a Socratic seminar and they had their all their own quotes. And we actually had listened to one of Allen signs to give them an example of the conversation and how they transitioned and keeping it respectful, even though they may have a difference in opinion. And we had a seminar of two classes and I was blown away with the conversation the points that were made so much so that we came back and did it a second day because the, the students founded so powerful and there was so much meaningful conversation between the students, as a teacher, I sat back and you watch and you hear the conversations and the points of view and how it, they really enjoyed and absorbed a lot from each other. Mm. And I think, I think that kind of pays homage to what Socrates was trying to do with those types of seminars.


Ryan Laughlin (17:06):
So that was one thing that I really enjoyed doing. And I feel like I’m gonna continue to do it in the future. And the other thing you know, you can be creative with your experiences for the kids. So just this morning, actually we usually partnered up with a lot of different organizations here, like big brothers, big sisters, where we go into our feeder schools and we had build relationships. We were unable to do that this year, but we were able to find a connection with special Olympics PEI. Nice. And we students from our junior high will be inclusive ed students who are coming to do a transition day to welcome them to the high school they’re gonna come into and get them a little more comfortable. So we took advantage of that situation because it was already in place. And we, we had a unified Bochy event. So through unified sport, through special Olympics, so


Sam Demma (17:51):
Nice.


Ryan Laughlin (17:51):
Our students organized it, planned it, executed it. We rolled that all morning, had a lot of fun, lot of smiles on people’s faces. And I think the students left excited to be Bobcats in the future.


Sam Demma (18:03):
Nice. That’s awesome. Where, where do you get your ideas from?


Ryan Laughlin (18:07):
Well, I, I would


Ryan Laughlin (18:10):
My mind races. I, I would, I’m always thinking, I’m always thinking I do have a, a teacher, Melanie Headley who was on your podcast in the past there, she stops by my room in the morning or I’ll stop by her room in the morning and we chat and we find things on social media that we maybe have seen both. And we discuss and, you know, she’s been a great resource for me and we kind of built ideas off each other. And I think she’s very similar to me, but we’re always thinking, how can we do these things? How can we be creative? How can we make this a more positive experience for our students? And I, you know, I, I enjoy that. That keeps me young and keeps me engaged. And I feel the students can feel that with me, with the ideas. So that’s what I try to bring to the table every day.


Sam Demma (18:52):
It’s true. I get some of my best ideas in the shower. Like you never knows when they’re gonna come. Right. You just gotta make sure you write ’em down so you don’t forget them. Right. That’s awesome. Okay, perfect. And if you could go back in time, speak to year one of education, Ryan, you know, you first started teaching, knowing what you know now, like what did advice would you give your younger self?


Ryan Laughlin (19:12):
You know, I’ve been thinking about that for a lot. So I’ve been on many bike rides listening to your podcasts, and I’ve heard this question. I’m like, what can I say to that question? Cause there’s a lot of them the biggest one for me would be, be kind to yourself. Hmm. A first year educator coming in, nobody puts more pressure on yourself than you. And I think you gotta realize that not everything is going to be perfect. And I think you need to be okay with that. And if you make small positive movements every day, and I don’t know how many times I’ve said this, but I have used small, consistent actions. So many times in my class this year, love it with it. And I, I love it. I love it. And I think that’s the same thing. As a teacher, you don’t overwhelm yourself, small steps, build confidence, build comfort, build relationships with your students and be yourself, build your personality into your classroom and how you deliver your students.


Ryan Laughlin (20:11):
Well, respect it, build those relationships. Don’t try to be somebody you are not. I would say early on, I tried to kind of fit in where I was with the staff. I was a little bit older at the time and I think my approach was a little bit different. So I conformed a little bit. And then as I got more comfortable, I built my own craft and built my personality into it. And I would say, I’ve benefited great from it. I’m more comfortable. I enjoy it. The relationships I have built. And I think as a teacher, you can have those relationships and build your personality and be authentic with your students. You don’t need to put yourself up on a pedestal. You don’t need to know everything. You’re there to facilitate learning, not to be the know and all of every type of topic.


Sam Demma (20:52):
Yeah. I was listening to a podcast of Russ instead, rapper, I really look up to because he he’s made more music than some of the best rappers in the game. Like he has 500 pieces of music out because he just kept creating and he wouldn’t stop. And there’s a line in it where he says, look, man, I’m just the vessel I don’t create. I just deliver. And, and that really relates to what you’re just saying. Like, you know, yes, you create as a teacher, but you’re there to be a vessel of learning, not to be the source of information. And the, you know, source of all knowing like you, we’re there to be a vessel of information. Yeah. And there’s always more we can learn. Right. And I think it’s all important.


Ryan Laughlin (21:28):
It’s so true. And I, I loved one of your podcasts just previously. I was listening to the, the teach better team. And I loved when the Ted talk about you don’t have to be better than YouTube. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:37):
I


Ryan Laughlin (21:37):
Thought that was so fitting. It’s so true. You need to tap into your resources, be resourceful, be a learning facilitator. You want to create critical thinkers and you don’t need to start everything and reinvent the wheel. So true. I really, I really truly believe that I had one colleague say that to me and it has stuck with me.


Sam Demma (21:54):
I love that. Oh, cool. Perfect. Well, look, this has been phenomenal. I’m jealous that you’re on a beach for no one that can see this, ’cause they’re just listening. Ryan has this beautiful virtual background with the Palm tree blowing in the back. If someone wants to reach out, have a conversation and maybe just bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch.


Ryan Laughlin (22:16):
Sure. So I am on Twitter, I use that all the time. I know educators love it and I can go down a lot of rabbit holes. So my Twitter would be at @stickr10. And my email, which is rjlaughlin@cloud.edu.pe.ca.


Sam Demma (22:37):
Perfect. Perfect Ryan. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Really appreciate you sharing, and I look forward to staying in touch and seeing the future bike rides and cool initiatives in class.


Ryan Laughlin (22:47):
Great, thanks for having me.


Sam Demma (22:48):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Laughlin

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.

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author
About Mark Brown

As a high school administrator, Mark Brown (@heymarkbrown) is passionate about helping educators and students live life as their best selves and challenges everyone to embrace the call of Choose To Be You

Using his experience as a learner, an educator, and as someone who has spent the majority of his life chasing an image of someone and something other than his true, authentic self,  Mark delivers a message of hope and inspiration that is guaranteed to impact your life and your school!

Connect with Mark: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Choose To Be You

Mark’s Personal Website

Oklahoma Christian University

Virtual Pep Rally Ideas to Boost School Spirit

Hardball

Google Forms

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Welcome to season number 2. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We’re continuing to have this year, amazing conversations with educators all around the world and I’m super excited to introduce you to today’s guest. Today we had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Brown. Mark is a high school administrator and he’s passionate about helping educators and students to live their best lives.


Sam Demma (01:03):
And he challenges everyone to embrace the call of choose to be you, which is actually the title of his own book. It’s a mental health book and it’s, it’s a phenomenal read as I’ve heard from a lot of other educators. Using his experience as a learner and educator, and as someone who has spent the majority of his life chasing an image of someone and something other than his true authentic self, mark delivers a message of hope and inspiration that is guaranteed to impact your life and your school. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Mark. Welcome to season 2. I will see you on the other side of today’s conversation. Mark, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Can you start by introducing yourself, and maybe explaining how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Mark Brown (01:47):
Yeah. Hey, thanks for having me. Excited to be here and excited to get to share a little bit with you today and your listeners. So my name’s Mark Brown. I am a high school assistant principal down in Newberg, Oregon. So out in the, on the west coast, in the beautiful Northwest down here. I also coach basketball; have a huge passion around coaching and that’s actually a lot of what got me into education was coaching. But I think the main reason why I do the work that I do is because I believe that being an educator truly is the most important job in the world. And even though I am not actively, you know, every day engaging in life saving research like cancer research or you know, doing crazy big jobs that people, you know, often get a lot of recognition for,


Mark Brown (02:36):
I have the opportunity to mentor and impact young people, and I get to work with students when they are truly in the most important, most formal years of their life, where they’re searching for their identity, where they’re trying to figure out what their truth is, where they’re trying to identify, like what is gonna be my future. And I get, have a part in that. And so I really truly believe that’s the most important job in the world. And it gives me energy and excitement every single day. Like there’s a lot of to-dos with education and there’s a lot of, you know, stuff that we get kind of wrapped up in. But when I stay centered on that fact that I get to work with kids who are truly, you know, preparing to make a difference in this world, like the fact that I gotta be a part of that just, I, I get super excited about that.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Ah, I love that. And tell me more about coaching. How did that all start for you and has it been a big, huge part of education? It sounds like it has been,


Mark Brown (03:31):
Oh yeah. I, I, I think a lot of what I do as an educational leader now as an administrator is rooted in what I’ve learned through coaching and, and I’m in a really special situation, blessed that my my principal, my lead principal has still allowed me to coach a lot of times, you know, when you move from teaching into administration, it’s kinda like, all right, you gotta stop any of that extracurricular co-curricular stuff, but I’ve been blessed to have a supportive principal who lets me still coach. And so, yeah, it started back when in college I I’ve always loved sports. I’ve never been that good at competing in sports. I’m not very athletic, you know, I’m, you can’t tell cuz we’re doing audio here, but I’m a pretty small guy about five, five. But my sported choice is basketball. And you know, I, I think a lot of it for me, it kind of started, I’m a real stubborn person.


Mark Brown (04:18):
My mom has always said I’m were stubborn. And so a lot of people were like, you can’t play basketball. You’re only five, five, but I was like, yeah, right, bring it on. I can do whatever I want to do. And so I think that’s kind of what started me down the path of having basketball as my sport of choice. But I got into it. I started as a student assistant coach at Oklahoma Christian university from there was a able to get on here in, at Newberg high school, right outta college about 10 years ago, 11 years ago, and then worked my way up to being a JV coach. And then now the varsity head coach and you know, they’re just, again what we do on the court. That’s fun, that’s exciting. The strategy, getting to game plan, you know, and compete strategically for basketball.


Mark Brown (05:02):
But every day there’s opportunities to learn life lessons through basketball and through competing and through practice and through the preparation. And so I just love the opportunity to get to not only coach basketball, a game that I love and be involved with that strategically from a sports side of things. But more importantly, like again, I get to work kids, young men who are excited about basketball and I get to help them be excited about life. And one of the missions that I have as a coach is, you know, I want to put a quality product on the court, but more than that, actually in my book, I talk about chasing titles. Yeah. And for me, it used to be about chasing those titles. You know, of the banners that we would hang on the wall of the gym or, you know, chasing those wins that would on the scoreboard.


Mark Brown (05:46):
And I quickly learned that my job is to chase the titles of, for, for my players in the future titles that they are gonna hold. And you know, not many of my players go on to play college basketball. Not many of them are gonna have a future in competing professionally, but they’re all gonna be dads. They’re all gonna be husbands. They’re all gonna be employees. They’re all gonna be leaders within the communities that they establish their selves in. And I gotta be a part of helping to shape and mold and mentor them in, in being prepared for that. So again, I, I love coaching. It’s a great opportunity and I, I just love basketball more than anything.


Sam Demma (06:20):
And at what point in your own career journey, did you know I’m gonna work in education? I know coaching and athletics was a big part of your life, but making the decision to work in a school is a big one. And you have to be a very specific type of person to always want to work with students and young people. And it’s clear that you have that passion, but I’m curious to know when you personally knew that that was your calling or your future career.


Mark Brown (06:45):
So I knew I always wanted to coach. I always, you know, I always had that desire to be a coach. Yep. But I didn’t go into college initially thinking I was gonna be, become an educator. I wanted to initially actually I thought I was gonna do sports medicine. Nice. But I quickly learned if you’re the athletic trainer, if you’re on the sports medicine side of things, your schedule doesn’t really align with being able to coach because you have to be there to support all the sports. And so you really don’t have the freedom to then coach most of the time. And so I quickly realized that and I, I knew I wanted to coach. That was something I, I knew I needed to do. And I had some good mentors in college. My first couple of years who really helped me understand like the best path to being able to coach is through teaching and being an educator.


Mark Brown (07:29):
But more than that, they helped me understand that in order to be a successful coach, I needed to understand teaching. I needed to understand how to educate and how to teach, because I think, you know, one of the things I’ve come to learn is guys who can strategize, who can drop the X and OS of basketball. They’re a dime dozen. Like there, there are a lot of people who are very successful, but the real successful coaches are the ones who understand how to teach and how to connect with kids. And you learn that through becoming an educator. And a lot of us, you know, a lot of educators, we kind to have that innately ingrained into us. It’s kind of part of our DNA. And then we learn some of the strategies, the tips and tricks but really understand teaching and pedagogy and how to connect with kids has really allowed me, I believe to be a much more successful coach.


Sam Demma (08:14):
And you briefly alluded to the fact that there’s so many life lessons that we learned through the sport, and I’m sure you’ve seen so much transformation happen in your own life and your students life due to the game of basketball. I’m curious to know, I’m tempted to call you coach Carter, but we’ll call you coach Bown. I’m curious to know what are some of those life lessons that you drill into your athletes that other educators listening should consider also teaching to their own students, whether they’re on a basketball court or not.


Mark Brown (08:44):
Yeah. So, you know, I think anytime you are competing in sports, you wanna win. Yeah. And I think, you know, I, I, I think that’s a good thing having that competitive drive, that competitive fire and, and wanting to win. I think that’s why we play sports. If that, if, if I didn’t have that drive, I would just go shoot hoops in my, in my backyard by myself, but I want to compete. And so I want to win, but I think if we put all of our value in just the fact that winning is the only way to be successful in sports, I think we limit the opportunity that we have to learn and grow through sports. Mm. And so for me, one of the things I’ve really learned early on in my coaching career, it was all about the wins. And if I lost a game, I, I went home and I didn’t sleep that night.


Mark Brown (09:26):
And I watched film. I watched the game two, three times before my next practice, you know, stayed up all night and drove my wife crazy. You know, but I, I was, so I had to figure out what was wrong and why we weren’t witty and what I’ve come to learn. And I now try to really coach my players on is the fact that it’s okay to wanna win. And we should all have that desire. We should all have that drive, but that’s not the measure of our success. If we, we step on that court and we give our best effort. And if we do everything with the right attitude and doing things the right way, doing things, you know, in a way that people can respect. And if we make sure that we have good sportsmanship, I believe there’s three things in life that we can control, having a great attitude, even our absolute best effort and making, treat other people the right way. If we do those three things, we cannot fail. The scoreboard might not always be in our favor and we might lose some games, but we can step off that court being confident in knowing that we did things the right way, we gave our absolute best effort and people can respect that out of us, regardless of whether, what the score. And so I think that’s a big life lesson that I’ve really learned over the years in coaching and that I really try to pass on to my, my other coaches and my players.


Sam Demma (10:45):
And even if it’s not on the basketball field, every person is technically playing their own game, which is life. You can look at life like its own field or choose your field. Maybe one field is academics, the field as athletics. And I think what you just explained is such a beautiful analogy because you can define success in each of those areas and make sure you’re showing up and the score takes care of itself. There’s a great book about that. And I think it’s, I think it’s really true in your experience, teaching and coaching, have you in some transformations of students and is there any that you think are worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be another educator listening right now, who’s extremely burnt out. Who’s maybe on the edge of even quitting their, this job and this calling. Cause I don’t even wanna call it a job. And a story of transformation might be the thing that, that reminds them, how important the work they’re doing is, and gets them over that hump to, to keep going. And if it’s a yeah, serious one also feel free to change their name for privacy reasons.


Mark Brown (11:46):
Yeah. No, I’ll definitely use other names. So I have, yeah. Oh man. That’s a, that’s a good question. That’s a tough one. Cuz there’s lots of good stories and that’s one thing I think all educators can, can love about this job is every day there’s something new and you know, we could all by the end of our career, write a big long book of all the, the different stories and transformations. But I think the, the, the one that really sticks out to me is I, I had a, it was actually my first year as a head coach and it’s a story of transformation, not just around one student individually, but actually around my team. Hmm. And this, this group of young men, every year of high school, they had had a different coach. Well actually there was one coach. The coach prior to me was there for two years.


Mark Brown (12:36):
But they growing up through the youth programs and everything. I was the, the fifth head coach in six years. So there was no continuity in the program. But this group of young men, even through all the turmoil, E even through all of the changes and the unknowns and the frustrations that came with that for they stuck together. And what happened during their senior year, one of the most, the, the biggest tragedies that I’ve ever experienced in my educational career we, we lost one of our, our students. We lost one of our young men to suicide. Wow. And he was actually a cousin of a couple of the players on my team and best friends with most, all the players on my team. And he was in, in kind of the inner circle, even being on the team himself. And I, it, it AB it, it hits that team incredibly hard, right in the middle of our season.


Mark Brown (13:28):
In fact, we found out about it. We had just had our, our first league game. It was against one of our rivals. It was our first game in a new league. And we had won on the road. We came back and we celebrated, we all went out to pizza. And then later that night we get the call about this student and his, that he had died. And I didn’t know what to do. I was a young coach. I was like 24 years old. I wasn’t sure what my role in all of this was. And what I, I saw in that experience was because this group had already been so close, been so United, stuck together through all of the, the turmoil and all of the, the stuff that they had already been through over the past several years, they were prepared for this.


Mark Brown (14:13):
And I didn’t have to have the right thing to say. And that’s what a lot of educators feel. A lot of pressure we feel is we don’t have the answers. And especially right now with COVID right, we don’t necessarily have the answers. We don’t have to have the answers. We just have to be there. We just have to be there to listen. We just have to be there to hug. ’em When they need a hug, we just have to be there to provide what they need. And they will tell us, even without directly telling us, these are the things I need. They will tell us through their behaviors. They will tell us through their emotions. They will tell us they will show us what they need. And as long as we are there, as long as we show up, and again, we give our best effort and we, we love on them and we support them.


Mark Brown (14:51):
Like there there’s been absolutely nothing better for me in my career than that experience. Although it was absolute tragedy and still to this day impacts me. It was a great reminder to me on the fact that our kids are resilient and I have an opportunity to help support them through whatever they’re going through. And just that transformation of this, you know, maybe that wasn’t the transformation story you were thinking of, but that transformation of this group of kids who had so many things go against them in life, the fact they stuck together, they supported one another, like what a great example to me and what a great lesson for me to learn and has helped me then, and focus that much more on helping my students, helping my players find ways to stay connected and grow together as, as, as a community, because that community is so important.


Sam Demma (15:41):
Wow. What a story that is such a great story. There’s there’s a movie about a baseball team and the coaches piano Reeves, and it’s a very similar story. That’s team comes together and they’re not doing well. And midway through as they start improving, one of the players actually passes away and it’s, it’s funny. Something very similar happens in the movie and all the kids come together and they end up winning. Not that it’s about winning or losing, but you’re the real life story of the movie. So that’s a really, that’s a really touching story. And I hope everyone listening is thinking about how they can help their students also feel more connected to each other, you know, right now is a challenging time, like you mentioned, and I’m curious to know how do you ensure your students and teams and anyone in the school is, is feeling appreciated, valued, heard, and connected despite the, the challenges of the pandemic.


Mark Brown (16:29):
Yeah, I think that’s definitely one of the challenges we’re facing as educators in a school rules right now is how do we connect with kids? How do we reach them? How do we make sure they have what they need? Because it’s kinda, it, it’s easy when, well, it’s, it’s not easy, but it’s easier when we’re in the building and they’re walking the halls and we can, you can tell when they’re having an off day, you can tell when they’re having a bad day and a lot of times when we’ve built those relationships, kids will stop by your room. And just, you know, you can, you just kind of know when they need a little bit of extra time, a little bit of extra love, a little bit of extra attention, but right now we don’t have that opportunity. And so what we’re doing, we’re watching obviously the big things of grades and attendance in the virtual classrooms.


Mark Brown (17:06):
And those are a lot of times our identifiers to us that maybe something’s going on, if grades start dropping or attendance start dropping, but we’re reaching out. We at our school this year, I’m super excited. We several years ago, got rid of, kind of that homeroom advisory where there’s kind of that one, you know, that core group of students that is with an educator all year long, we got rid of that. We brought it back this year because we knew that we needed everyone to kind of have a home, a home base, a spot to check in. And we, we started the year, went through the first couple of months. And then what we started doing a couple weeks ago is during that time, instead of like the group of 15 students meeting with that educator, we actually scheduled one-on-one individual meetings. So all 1400 kids in our high school got a one on one individual meeting with an educator that they already have a relationship built with just to check in. And we had kind of a we used a Google form, a standard set of questions that we asked everyone, cuz we wanted to get some data kind of like how, you know, distance learning going, what can we as a school do to improve of what’s your experience like, but then educated, you know, and I did it with my students. I have a group of students that I gotta meet with. It led into like a long conversation of just checking in with each other. And it was so cool that even in this virtual


Mark Brown (18:22):
Setting, we were still able to find that connection point and still able to build those relationships. And so, you know, one of the things I encourage is whatever you can do you to again, look for ways to build that community. We did that in our homeroom. We call it tiger time cuz we’re the Newberg tigers. So we call it our tiger time and everyone knows that there’s nothing academic there. There’s no great associated with that class. It’s just a time to check in. We do a lot of, you know, character development, social, emotional learning. We do some fun things. We do some like virtual pep rallies. We have ’em coming up on Monday that we do nice. But then we also created those opportunities for that more intimate one-on-one checkin. And so that’s something we’re trying to do is still find ways to have that, that, that more informal check in that we often get in the classroom setting, just kind of by happenstance. We’re looking for ways to create those opportunities.


Sam Demma (19:07):
I love that the Google form is such a simple tool to use. And if any educators listening, if you’re listening, give it a try, maybe try scheduling those one-on-one meetings. I’m curious to know in your own personal experience, you said they led to much longer conversations and lots of dialogue, but overall, how did the students, how do students feel about those one-on-ones with you?


Mark Brown (19:27):
Oh, I think they love it. You know, I, I think they, they, they feel like we care. Yeah. That I think as, especially a lot of the time when we’re in the virtual classroom, it’s easy to get lost. And even though our class numbers are actually smaller, we were able to set it up. So in all of our, you know, classes, we have no more than about 15, 16 students per class, which is a great class size. But it’s really easy to not say anything and to turn your camera off and just kind of get lost in the crowd. Yeah. But when you’re one on one, like you can’t be silent, you gotta talk. Right. And so I think it’s, it’s forcing some of them to come outta their share a little shell a little bit, but more than that, you know, I, I know students, they showed up on time for that meeting.


Mark Brown (20:09):
Like they were eager to get, to have a conversation and know that someone was there to listen. One of my good friends and mentors, Philip Campbell, PC, his big thing is, you know, all students want to, they want to feel seen. They want to be heard and they want to feel loved. Yeah. And you know, I think by us setting up those one-on-one meetings, like students felt seen, they felt like we were listening to them. They felt heard and they felt loved because we just sat there and listened and got to, got to connect. And so I think they loved it.


Sam Demma (20:38):
I love that. And you’ve written a book, you’ve been a coach. You’ve been an assistant. You’ve been a teacher. If you have, you have so much to share with other educators, but I’m curious to know if you could go back to when you first started teaching, what advice knowing what, you know now would you give your younger self?


Mark Brown (20:57):
Be you? And you know, the title of my book is choose to be you. My, I, I have a, I have a battle that I fight against anorexia I’m anorexic and you know, that’s something that even I’ve written a book about it, I share publicly about it. I speak about it. It, it’s still hard to say that. And honestly, you know, as I I’m, I’m getting to see you cuz we’re doing a video here through the screen, that’s still hard to say. Yeah. because the, anytime I make myself vulnerable, it, it sometimes feels embarrassing and it, and it challenging to get to that level. But as a young educator, I ne I didn’t embrace vulnerability and I didn’t embrace my true identity and who I really am. I tried to create this, this, this picture of who I wanted people to see Mark Brown is.


Mark Brown (21:42):
Mm. And I, I became very successful in education. I’m, I’m a very young educator. I was a very young head coach. I climbed the ladder very quickly and I was really proud of that. And really like, I, I put a lot of value in, in those accomplishments. Yeah. And I, I put my value really in the wrong places for a long time. And I put my value in creating this fake identity to kind of try the, try to hide the real me. And what I’ve really learned is it doesn’t matter what Sam, what you see of Mark Brown, what matters is what I see in my reflection in the mirror. And, you know, I can, I can create all these lies. I can create all these, you know, win all these awards that I hang in my office. I can get all these titles added to my resume of things that, that I’ve done.


Mark Brown (22:29):
But at the end of the day, I’ve gotta be able to look in the mirror and be honest and truthful, cuz it’s really, if you’ve ever tried to lie to your reflection of the mirror, it’s hard. Yeah. And you know, there’s a lot of people who I’ve learned through counseling and going through therapy. There’s a lot of people who actually don’t look in the mirror. They don’t, they very unintentionally, they avoid mirrors that in the cost, because if we are not being honest and true to who we are at our core, it’s hard to face that reflection. And so I wish as an early admin, as an early educator, younger educator, I wish I would’ve been able to embrace my reflection. And you know, I still struggle with that even though, you know, I’m a champion for it now, and I’m an advocate for it. And mental health awareness is a big part of my message and who I am. It’s still hard. It’s not like it becomes easy. I’ve just learned tools and strategies with how


Mark Brown (23:23):
And how to make it a part of my, my daily life, my daily routine. But getting to that point where I can look myself in the mirror and say, you know what, mark, you’ve got some challenges. You’ve got some struggles you’re not perfect. And there’s some things you’ve made some mistakes. I’m a failure. Guess what I have failed time and time again. But what’s important is if I can look in that mirror and I can look at my reflection and I can choose that my next action is going to be done with the right intent. And my next action is gonna be done, giving my best effort and doing it with the right attitude and making sure that while I do it, I treat those around me the right way. And I bring people into my life who are gonna be able to support me as long as I can do that. I know I’m gonna be successful. And so that, that’s something I wish I would’ve done. A better job of earlier on in my career is embracing my true reflection rather than trying to create this image of who I really am not, or just who I wanted people to see.


Sam Demma (24:16):
You’re speaking to my soul man. I was, I was trying to be a professional soccer player, my entire life. And at the age of 17, I had three major knee injury, Reese, two surgeries, and a torn labrum in my right hip. And my identity was based on the fact that Sam was the soccer player. My whole family saw me as the soccer player. Sam’s gonna be the prodigy soccer player. I lost a full ride scholarship to a division one school in the states. I had to stop playing sports and it became hard for me to look in the mirror and I’m sure you’re, if you’re listening, you know, you have your own battles and struggles and challenges as well. And it’s so true. You always have to, at the end of the day, look at yourself in the mirror and decide who you are.


Sam Demma (24:56):
And even if you lie to yourself you know, that conversation is gonna come up personally at some point in your future and you’re gonna have to face it. David Goggin’s, who is actually an ultra marathon runner and ex Navy seal talks about this all the time and by the smirk on your face, it sounds like you know who he is. And he says the most, you know, the most important conversation you have is the one you have with yourself. And he has it every night for 15 minutes while he shaves his head so all I wanna say is thank you for being vulnerable and sharing because it’s gonna give everyone else listening the opportunity to do as well, and I really appreciated this. If someone wants to reach out, hear more about yourself, your book, your coaching tactics, or just wants to connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to do so?


Mark Brown (25:40):
Yeah, reach out. I do have a, a website www.heymarkbrown.com where there’s ways you can contact me there. You can learn a little bit more about me. There’s also links on there to my book, it’s available on Amazon; both amazon.com and Amazon Canada. Actually fun fact, my publisher is Canadian; Codebreaker, they’re a Canadian group. And so I love my Canadian friends. But yeah, if you wanna check that out, it’s on Amazon; Choose to be You. And then I’m on social media, and I’ve really learned that social media is a great way to connect. I’ve, I’ve met some of my best friends actually through social media, some educator friends. And so I’m on Twitter @heymarkbrown. I’m on Instagram @heymarkbrown, or you can look me up on Facebook, Mark Brown.


Sam Demma (26:25):
Awesome. Mark, thank you so much, Coach Brown. I really appreciate it and I, I look forward to staying in touch and seeing all the great work you’re doing.


Mark Brown (26:33):
I appreciate what you’re doing and yeah. Thanks. Thanks for the opportunity.


Sam Demma (26:37):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Brown

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.

Jason Pratt – Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

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

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

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

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

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Regional Sports Program DPCDSB

Naval Ravikant – The podcast and book

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Pratt

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