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Cooperative Education

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.

Laura Briscoe – Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board

Laura Briscoe - Learning Coordinator of Innovation at the Thames Valley District School Board
About Laura Briscoe

Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward-thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the Coordinator of Innovation for Thames Valley District School Board.

Previously, Laura was a Global Competencies Facilitator for the board, and Visual Arts Department Head of Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ontario.  Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. 

Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships.

Connect with Laura: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thames Valley District School Board

Oakridge Secondary School

Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award

Ontario Business Educators’ Association

XR Studios

Art of Math Education by Laura Briscoe and Jeni Van Kesteren

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


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Laura Briscoe. Innovation, experiential learning, and global citizenship are at the heart of Laura Briscoe’s teaching philosophy. Laura is a forward thinking educator who collaborates with teachers and community to build learning environments that exude energy, ignite critical thinking, and embrace risk taking to create spaces that are inclusive, relevant, and innovative. Laura is currently the coordinator of innovation for Thanes Valley District School Board. Previously, Laura was a global competencies facilitator for the board and visual arts department head for Oak Ridge secondary school in London, Ontario. Laura has been recognized as a leader in education locally, provincially, and nationally. In 2015 Briscoe was awarded the Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award, 2016 the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Government Award, the national Classroom of the Future Spirit Award, 2014 the Innovative Teacher of the Year Award by the Ontario Business Educators’ Association, and 2016 Bishop Townshend Thames Valley Award. Laura Briscoe stimulates imagination and empowers people to make relevant connections through building relationships, interdisciplinary approaches, and community partnerships. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Laura, and I will see you on the other side. Laura, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Laura Briscoe (02:25):
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation. Yes, so I’m Laura Briscoe. I’m currently working in Thames Valley District School Board as a innovation coordinator; Kindergarten-Grade 12. So it’s a big loaded title to me what innovation is, but yes, that is kind of who I am and the role I’m currently in.


Sam Demma (02:45):
What the heck is innovation?


Laura Briscoe (02:49):
So I’m, I’m starting to feel like it’s an incubator, cause I’m, I’m finding lots of connections with all different portfolios for innovation, but specifically interdisciplinary connections. So all subjects, all grades partnerships with community to encourage student engagement and, and make learning relevant and with big connections as the world that we’re living in to technology. And so there’s lots of those aspects of how we can support personalized learning with technology and experiences. So that’s kind of a description of, of what it is, but it changes to me every day, depending on the initiative I’m working with,


Sam Demma (03:25):
growing up in school were always asked, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did, would you write down innovation coordinator or like when did you realize that working in education was for you and how did you also from that point forward end up in this role?


Laura Briscoe (03:43):
So my, my answer to the innovation question was, no, I wouldn’t know that I feel like we’re always creating in these roles opportunities for students to be prepared parent for jobs that don’t exist yet. And I, I don’t know if this job existed when I was in school. But I did know that I love, I love change and I love ex experimentation and new ideas. So I could see myself going in that direction. But when I was younger my mom was a teacher. And so I, I appreciated how she really connected with interest students. I like, I, I looked up to her as a role model. But for my own personal experience as a teacher, I was in high school and I was teaching gymnastics and I had a student who was deaf and, and trying to find ways to create an equitable approach in, in the gymnastics experience was so rewarding with where that relationship went.


Laura Briscoe (04:38):
And it, it really touched my heart and inspired me to wanna go into education. But then as many youth will say, you never really know what you wanna do when you grow up. I feel like that that’s a question that’s always changing because when I went to university, I did not go in for education. I was interested in experiential marketing and, and that had to do with creating memorable experiences. And, and that kind of led me into, if we can do this for marketing, what does this look like for school? And so it kind of, I went through this roller coaster of pathways before I got here, but I I’m so excited to be in the role that I am.


Sam Demma (05:17):
What does a, what does a project in experiential marketing look like? that sounds so cool.


Laura Briscoe (05:23):
Well, well, you know, when we think of our traditional, like marketing old I don’t wanna traditional marketing would be like a commercial or an ad, and it’s kind of like a sit and get experience where as, when you look at experiential you’re, you’re, you’re involved and you’re an active participant in engaging with something. And, and that experience triggers something that becomes memorable, that you associate it with maybe a product mm-hmm . And so if we look at something like that for education instead of our students sitting in classes and, and just being like offloaded information from their teacher is how do we get them to learn and, and retain that information because of the experience they associate with it. So that that’s kind of what, what it would be for marketing or in this role for education.


Sam Demma (06:13):
Is innovation coordinator your first role in education or


Laura Briscoe (06:18):
No. Okay. What did the


Sam Demma (06:19):
Journey


Laura Briscoe (06:19):
Look like? Oh my gosh, my journey, I was some teachers might call it a backpack teacher because when you, when I first started jobs were not necessarily readily available, so I was willing to teach anything. I’ve taught in seven different subject areas running from one class to the next and then moved into visual arts department head specifically with connections again, to technology and business as well. And then from that, I was a global competency facilitator. So I was teaching part-time and then going to different schools, supporting educators on how do we integrate the core global competencies? So these are like the skills we want kids to have in the real world beyond just curriculum specifics like critical thinking and problem solving and, and global awareness and creativity, all of those other skills. So I had that role prior to innovation as well.


Laura Briscoe (07:18):
And then the last piece that I just add to that my classroom teaching experience was in high school. So grade nine through 12 in art, as I mentioned, but I was noticing a lot of students with anxiety and struggling in math. And so the, I got to be part of this pilot project where we partnered art and math together. So, so team teaching and students were getting math credits and art to be responsive to that the need for us to kind of de silo and make connections to the real world and different subjects. So that kind of a as, from that own experience, it’s like, how can, we’re doing this at one school and how can we do this bigger and how can we connect more educators? And so this was kind of a system initiative and I’m very passionate about supporting that and the educators who are involved in, in that type of thinking,


Sam Demma (08:11):
When you talk about system level programs or board wide programs, I’m sure how many years have, well help. Let me ask, how many years have you worked in the innovation role?


Laura Briscoe (08:21):
So this is my third year in the innovation role. But it’s been very different because I transitioned into it during COVID in full remote. I had previously just been on Matt leave when the role first started. And then it’s been interesting to, to look at how we create these experiences and collaborative opportunities when many of us are in full remote situations and, and going back between school and it’s been, I know we hear all of the, the challenges and hardships that so many educators have overcome. It was, it’s been really exciting to be in this portfolio during that time for change in ways that we could bring in industry and community experts at the push of a button and everyone has access. So it, it was interesting to be in this role at the timing that I have been in opening, even more opportunities.


Sam Demma (09:16):
What are some of those opportunities? what are some of those programs that you are passionate about that you’ve worked on over the past three years?


Laura Briscoe (09:23):
So I can give you they’re, they’re very, there’s there there’s a lot of different ranges of experiences. One that I’m super pumped about where it’s going right now is aviation school. So students throughout our board can go for a semester and we have an air hanger where they’re getting five credits instead of four, the teachers are team teaching. So interdisciplinary learning, supported by our industry leaders in aviation. And so the, the subject areas have a focus on aviation and it’s out near the airport. So that’s one example of kind of like rethinking how we have a, how we’re doing education. So it’s like a bundled program with industry. And then there’s the ones where the students can’t just leave their homeschool and go to these types of experiences. So, most recently we’ve brought about 22 classes together in a virtual conversation with a panel of community partners.


Laura Briscoe (10:19):
And we talked about how can we form human connections and how do students wanna see themselves represented in the community directly sharing this? And, and we had grades seven to 12 from all different subjects, because what it looks like in construction class versus what it looks like in English or drama might be different. But the idea is that this community project is like the vehicle for connecting everyone together with different entry points. So my job would be to kind of connect with community, facilitate those conversations, and then the edge educators take it with whatever entry points that they each have. So that’s a, like two different examples. One we’re going to an actual changed environment. And the other is where we’re bringing people together towards a common goal. And often it’s a community impact project that I’m doing that with.


Sam Demma (11:14):
Very cool. The team. Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. That program sounds amazing. Aviation one. when you think about the programs you’ve run, I know you mentioned the first two years, it looked a little different because things were, you know, COVID and pandemic times what did you try and pull together, or what was the focus during the first two years when leaving the classroom or even doing things together in public? Was it, was it challenge?


Laura Briscoe (11:42):
So the one that I just ex shared was an ex a recent example. But it was similar to what we were doing in full remote, because we could bring everybody together. We had classes that were talking about, you know, what is community when we’re all isolated. And we were working with professional artists, for example, and students wanted to have a more inclusive representation of themselves in, in a smaller town. And they weren’t seeing that diversity represented. So we talked about with several different classes, what a mural could look like, and because we couldn’t get together in person, the artists could go and create that mural. But the students from different subject areas were able to contribute and research and give ideas about what that could be. So there’s an example of, we can physically see it in action, but at that time, because we were virtual, we were able to do like digital collaborative boards and planning all online.


Laura Briscoe (12:42):
And then we had a community person that could bring it to life. And so that’s one example. We, we have some exciting events coming up may where schools that we’re doing things virtually were finally starting to open things up, which is amazing. So some stuff with augmented reality where the kids were working with industry virtually again, but now all of the city of London will be able to go to the coven garden market and see what these kids had created with, with our XR studios, industry partner, for example to create the augmented reality experiences. So a lot of it was virtual and we are trying to find ways to make it come to life. And oftentimes that was with community partnerships.


Sam Demma (13:26):
That’s awesome. Very cool. Throughout your journey in education, have you had mentors people who kind of tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Laura, you should explore X or consider looking at this slightly differently. And if so, who are some of those individuals, if they come to mind and what are some of the things you kind of take away from them or learn from them?


Laura Briscoe (13:51):
Yes. So absolutely. I have mentors. I feel like every time you make a new connection, you learn something and take away from it. Like right now, I feel like I’m, I’m just so inspired by what you’re doing. And, and so I, I could speak about so many people because none of this work can happen on your own. Yeah. A first person that comes to mind was my principal, Tracy Langland when I was an art teacher, because she was somebody who was willing to challenge traditional structures in order to allow some exploration opportunities and risk taking to happen. And I feel like sometimes when we hear no, especially in education because of bureaucracy and, and, and just like the, the world that we’re trying to work within and be innovative, can be very challenging. And so when you find people who are willing to take that journey and, and challenge your thinking and help you break down some of the barriers to make it possible that is so that would be what makes me think of when I think of Tracy.


Laura Briscoe (15:04):
And also when I’m thinking of students students are often the ones that are bringing new ideas of what they’d like to see happen. And then all the educators who are wanting to be responsive to those ideas, that’s kind of who I try to align myself with, because I, I feel like when you work together on some of those the students bring the heart and the motivation to make something happen. And, and then the educators who are working with them can make it possible. So, yeah, I have, I have a lot of people I could list. I don’t know how much time we have or how specific you want me to get with name, name dropping, but one more person I’m gonna have to mention sure. Is cause I mentioned team teaching art of math, and that was as an educator when you’re used to kind of running your classroom and you know, how you, how you work basically to team teach was a very eye opening experience for me, especially as an art person teaching with math. And so when I started team teaching with Jenny van Kerin we didn’t really even know each other that well. And I feel like she’s become such a mentor and almost best friend to me for, through the journeys that we’ve taken and our abilities to challenge each other and learn from each other through that whole experience. So that’s another person. Yeah.


Sam Demma (16:31):
That’s amazing. You, you mentioned art a few times. You mentioned that you love change. No one can see this, but there’s like a picture of the globe behind you. are you someone that travels a lot or do you have an itch for travel?


Laura Briscoe (16:45):
I do have an itch for travel and, and you know, when I think of travel of education too, I I used to always take students on March break to, to different trips. So I’ve, I’ve done a bunch of those like Italy and Greece and England and and myself like backpacking type of travel and adventure is definitely my personality to immerse myself in different cultures in a different way. So yes, I would say travel is definitely a passion of mine.


Sam Demma (17:15):
The reason I bring it up is because like travel and even art or artistic expressions, whether it’s making music, art, all these things, some part of society still views it as a hobby and like not a, a, a field or a thing you can pursue. And I totally, this disagree strongly , I think there’s so many benefits to art and also travel and like exposing yourself to new perspectives and ideas. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on the importance of artistic expression and travel when it comes to like educating a human being.


Laura Briscoe (17:54):
Wow. That’s a big question. OK. So I think, you know what, I, I, I, there’s so many, you’re gonna have to, like, if I miss anything in my answer here, you have to re repeat the question for me. But one thing I do know about like travel and experiences and the arts is there’s not one right answer mm-hmm . And when we look at things like we can go to the world economic forum of what do students need to be successful in the future. And we look at those skill and we think about how do you develop those skill? I would go back, okay. We have math that could have one right answer that you’re working toward. Yeah. Whereas art it’s, it’s very arts in general exploratory and, and, and you develop that innovative creative mindset and, and where we need those types of thinkers.


Laura Briscoe (18:45):
So I feel like when you’re, when you’re traveling or when you’re creating, you’re ending up in places that you don’t expect. Mm. And that is when true innovation can happen. When you, when you take all of these different experiences and come up with something to enhance them, or a new idea or approach to something. So I feel like that exposure is something that is very powerful and, and really important to education. I also think it, it puts people in like a little bit of discomfort, like to get you out of your comfort zone. It’s interesting because when you’re a personality that needs to work towards the right answer and there really isn’t one, it can create a different type of challenge for you. Yeah. And I, and I really do see that when the more we do things in an interdisciplinary way, specifically with the arts, you start to see that little bit of discomfort of uncertainty, but then the best results afterwards. Hmm. So that’s kind of where I would make those connections to education and how valuable it’s.


Sam Demma (19:52):
I love the perspective and I mean, I also love traveling, so


Laura Briscoe (19:57):
Okay. Well, where, where’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled?


Sam Demma (20:00):
Yeah. Good question. Probably Costa Rica. I have this music a few years ago, me and my family, we went this is before COVID and I fell in love with like BHA and salsa and the Latin culture. So yeah, that was a eye opening trip for me. I, I haven’t traveled too, too much outside of that and also just driving places, but I’m super excited to, to continue traveling once COVID is fully gone. I mean, it’s, we’re pretty much there now, but yeah. Yeah. That’s so cool.


Laura Briscoe (20:35):
My connection. Yes, I have spent some time in backpacking in Costa Rica. I, I did surfing lessons there actually. So I feel like trying to learn something new, but I also think when, like going back to travel experiences, what technology has allowed us to do the, the virtual experiences now an augmented reality. Yeah. So when we can’t physically get to certain places, it’s way better than a textbook to actually go through like a virtual guided tour with a real live person and, and looking at how we can create those travel experiences, obviously going to the place is the ideal. Yeah. But looking at different opportunities wherever they are. I think that, that is interesting too, to explore.


Sam Demma (21:21):
You mentioned that when you lean into arts and go on experiences where you’re not sure where they’ll bring you, it exposes you to new things and it, it, I would argue it like, it makes you curious because you come somewhere or you end up somewhere where you didn’t expect, and maybe now you have a new question or a new perspective. Which makes me wonder, like, is the beginning of innovation, like a question, like what starts an innovation cycle, or like, what, what starts changes in education,


Laura Briscoe (21:57):
Like the two things that really stood out to be in that question that you just asked isuriosity and fostering curiosity, and, and you also mentioned questions and asking questions, and there’s a technique called the question formulation technique. Cool. Where when you’re teaching something, you’re, you’re presenting an idea, a challenge or a problem, and just asking questions about it and where those questions might lead. You will be different for every person that might be introduced that problem or challenge. Hmm. And I think that that is really where you get that intrinsic motivation where you’re doing something because you’re you’re passionate and you’re working towards something that you’re curious about. So for innovation, that’s also why I have a really hard time describing what the portfolio is, because every time there’s a new connection, it’s different for each group of educators and students. Ah but one thing is often like a prompt of a community challenge or looking at the UN sustainable goals or looking at something, and then just asking questions about it and figuring out what, like really strikes you personally to pursue.


Sam Demma (23:13):
Yeah. Got it. Yeah. I love it. Cool. this has been an interesting conversation, travel innovation, art experiential marketing. yeah. If you could, actually, before I ask that over the past three years, you, you mentioned some of the programs you’ve run. I think one of the coolest things about education is you get to, you know, organize programs and facilitate learning for students that has an impact on the end user. And most of the time you can see the impact of a student or you, or at least you hear it. And I’m curious to know if any of the programs you’ve run, if there’s any stories of students. And I know you’re at the system level, so it might be harder to name like a specific individual, but if there is a story of a program that really transformed or changed the student’s life or experience, I would love for you to share it. I, I think an educator listening, considering getting into this field or one who’s already in education and burnt out those sorts of stories really reinforce the idea that this work is important. You know,


Laura Briscoe (24:14):
So this is a great question, and I think it’s so important. And I don’t know how well we are at like, tracking where student impacts have gone. And I personally have now so many former students on LinkedIn because I feel like they have lived experiences to advise us back in, in their own educational journeys and where they are now. So I can give you a story of student who wasn’t actually a student that I taught in my class. It, when we talk about like system initiatives. Yeah. So when I was teaching visual arts, we started a video pilot program where every student had a community client, it turned into a film festival. And then I was part of COFA, a co-founder for the forest city youth film festival that has now gone, is going all Ontario for, to basically empower student voices through film.


Laura Briscoe (25:09):
Wow. And, and that could be connected to any different subject area based on the type of film they’re creating, whether it’s documentary or experimental or, or like fiction or nonfiction. But there was a student who had had an interest in film and, but didn’t have experience in it and then ended up winning so many awards at our, our film festival, the, for Southwestern Ontario, and now he’s going off to make larger pictures. And I, I just think about in a very short amount of time from being exposed to industry supports and being part of something beyond the walls of the school, it kind of amplified his own experiences. So that example would be Ethan Hickey. And he was from a school in London. And I just am so excited to see where his career goes, because when, when we have these industry supports championing students early on, it really creates more pathway opportunities. And I find as educators, we can intentionally find out what kids love, connect them with the people that they need to know who are doing that in the real world and, and support them to build those connections. So that’s one example of kind of a huge long winded story of, of how I, I connected with that student, but it was through the film festival and I’m just excited to see his career take off,


Sam Demma (26:38):
Shout out Ethan Hickey


Laura Briscoe (26:40):
yeah. Shout out, Ethan HIE.


Sam Demma (26:42):
Are you still involved in the film festival?


Laura Briscoe (26:45):
I, I do support that, so yes, I am still involved. I’m not technically on the board or anything cuz of my role now. It started as a volunteer bunch of passionate educators, all working together as a committee and it’s because it’s grown so much. I now work with them in support and supporting educators and students to be involved, but I’m not an active director anymore because of too many balls in the air at once. But I, so yes. So yes, I’m still supportive and working with them, but not directly every day.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Awesome. when you’re not working and Mo probably spend like every second of the day thinking about work and innovation, cuz you’re passionate about it, but when you’re not physically working or answering emails or focused on school work, where do you get your own inspiration? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up with a full cup and attack these challenges and opportunities?


Laura Briscoe (27:49):
Hmm. Friends and family. I love like for a passion. I love the outdoors and being active. But I also look at, you know, needs of friends and their children and, and family and being in this role when I hear of different needs or gaps in those experiences, it’s always like, well and what are we gonna do about it? Like, why don’t we try something if this is something that I’m hearing. So that’s kind of where some of that passion comes from is just in, in local networks and hearing different challenges and trying to be a solutions person of what we can do with that. But yes, like in my free time I have two young children. And just, you mentioned that word earlier. Curiosity. I feel like when you’re two and five years old, you’re asking a lot of questions. Yeah. And that definitely keeps me motivated and on my toes. And then that probably trickles into my role as well.


Sam Demma (28:51):
Cool. that’s awesome.


Laura Briscoe (28:54):
I can give you a question actually. I like my son asked me how come as we all get bigger? How come adults, when you’re big, you don’t get bigger every year. Cuz every time we have a birthday, we’re bigger. Why do we stop growing? And if we kept growing every year, would we be extinct like dinosaurs so there you go. When you ask about questions, like now we need to look up, why do we stop growing and what happens?


Sam Demma (29:21):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well,


Laura Briscoe (29:23):
Yeah, things like that. How can we keep that and adults, how do we get better at that as adults to, to be asking questions?


Sam Demma (29:30):
It’s so funny. Not only asking questions, but using the imagination to full ability, right? Because he tied your, is it, was it your son or daughter or


Laura Briscoe (29:39):
Son? My son. Yeah,


Sam Demma (29:40):
He’s fine. Like he tied together like five different things. Like the fact that we stopped growing and if we did, we would turn into dinosaurs. Like, you know, there’s like things, so many different things tied together in that question. And it’s funny, I was talking recently with my own friends about this idea that when we were young, we would get back from school, go into our forest and pretend we were fighting some imaginary army and we’d be like kicking the air. And like, you know, there’s no one there and we were having the funnest experience ever. And then my dad would whistle really loud and we’d all know to run back for dinner. And that child like curiosity and imagination at some point, like gets buried. So I think it’s so cool to kind of even get inspiration from that, that experience and, and younger people, you


Laura Briscoe (30:27):
Know? And, and you know what I appreciate about that story too, like not just that you’re outside in nature. But I feel like with this constant over stimulation that we all experience, it’s really hard to be. I wanna, I don’t wanna say bored, but it’s really hard to just pause everything and turn off everything. And what I’ll realize that some of the best ideas happen when you do are able to do that and you need to do that for certain amounts of time for that to happen. Some people will say their best ideas come to them when they’re driving and that’s that, you know, your logic brain is turned on cause you’re focused on the rules of the road, but it allows your mind to get in your head if you turn off the radio and you’re just alone without your phone on or Bluetooth or whatever it is. So try to find moments to pause in order to use your imagination, whether it’s fighting an invisible person or thinking about missed my exit once on the 4 0 1 when I was driving, cuz I was so in my head D which is different. I think it’s really hard to, to force ourselves to do that because it seems like a never end of list of things that you have to do.


Sam Demma (31:41):
Yeah. So I agree. I couldn’t agree more and thanks for sharing that little story and the questions. What if you were just starting your first role in education again, with the experience you have now and the knowledge you have, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you have given your younger self that you think another person getting into education could benefit from hearing?


Laura Briscoe (32:05):
Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t need to doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be done that way. And I feel like that advice is so empowering because as a new teacher you want to be almost like a people pleaser, cuz you’re trying to prove yourself in a new role and keep up with what everyone else is doing. And, and there’s a lot to be learned from people with experience, but there’s also a lot to be learned from people who are, are new to the system because they’re coming from a whole different experience. So I would tell myself to not be intimidated to share ideas and explore ideas that I felt would have a positive student impact. And the best people to ask those questions to are often the students themselves, about what they’re interested in and then, and then connect with the educators who also are interested in that type of approach.


Sam Demma (33:02):
I love it. Cool. that’s not only great advice for education. I feel like anyone can take that advice, especially if you’re pursuing a path where the entire industry seems dominated by one demographic. , you know, film art. My sister works on film sets and it’s, it seems like, and it’s changing now and thank, thank goodness it’s changing. They seemed like it was a male dominated industry and it’s like, no, it shouldn’t be. And doesn’t, you know, just cuz it was like that in the past doesn’t mean that has to be like that now. So I feel like that advice can be so reassuring, no matter what path you’re choosing to take.


Laura Briscoe (33:43):
I, I, you know, it’s funny I didn’t today when we planned this meeting and I know, I don’t know, it’ll be shared later, but it’s international day of the women. And, and so I didn’t, I didn’t realize that, but I thought, oh, what a great day to, to do our, our podcast. When we talk about different careers and, and different experiences recently it’s funny that you mentioned that I was in a conference on stem and education and all the presenters were women and somebody commented on social media. I see a lot of gender inequity in here because it’s all women. And when we look at the need and the detriment in our society, not as many women in stem, of course we have a conference with women presenting stem because in everything that we do, we want everyone to see themselves in something, if they care about it and something else in innovation that I’ve really championed and worked and collaborated with is supporting newcomers. And when you mention travel, you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere when you have people with lived experiences right. In our own worlds that we have a lot to learn from and to support. So I know I’m going off onto another conversation. I feel like I can keep talking to you, but yeah. Yeah. So I, I just making that connection to looking at opportunities for all students specifically, for me, I’ve worked very closely with newcomers and indigenous students and, and creating opportunities that connect with them personally.


Sam Demma (35:17):
I promise you, this interview is gonna end at 1245 and we’re 10 minutes over


Laura Briscoe (35:21):
I know, sorry.


Sam Demma (35:23):
No, you don’t have to apologize. I’m asking the questions. You did ask a question though that we didn’t have the answer to, and the question is you know, why do we stop growing when we get older? If someone out, out there is listening to this and , they love the conversation and wanna provide you with a brilliant answer, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Laura Briscoe (35:43):
okay. So if they’re on, the easy way is how we found each other, on social media @Briscoeclass is my Twitter. If people follow me, I always follow them back ’cause I hope for those deeper conversations or my email’s l.briscoe@tvdsb.ca is another way to, to find me. And in my role @tvinnovates is a Twitter account that celebrates what all these amazing passionate educators throughout our system are doing.


Sam Demma (36:14):
Awesome. Laura, thank you so much for taking the time today. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Laura Briscoe (36:21):
Thank you. Nice to, nice to meet you in real life.


Sam Demma (36:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or 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 Laura Briscoe

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.

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams – Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams - Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board
About Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

Katie Lewis-Prieur (@klewis_prieur) has been in education for more than 25 years, many of it in the classroom teaching English and Drama before working in system-level positions at the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  She is blessed to be part of the Specialized Pathways team as the Experiential Learning consultant for K-12.

Sarah Abrams(@SarahMAbrams) has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years.  She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and Guidance Counsellor and is currently the Guidance and Pathways Consultant for the board.  Sarah is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.   

Connect with Katie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Connect with Sarah: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)

Specialized Programs – OCSB

New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP)

Carleton University – BA in Journalism

Brock University – BA in English Language and Literature

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 a pair of guests, not just one person, but two people, two very incredible influential people that I’ve done a ton of work with, but are also just phenomenal human beings that I call two of my friends now. We have on Katie and Sarah.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Katie has been in education for more than 25 years. Many of it in the classroom, teaching English and drama before working in system level positions with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is blessed to be part of the specialized pathways program team as an experiential learning consultant through K-12. But the reality is she’s actually moving on to a new position. So stay tuned because maybe we’ll do a follow up episode with her next year and her partner in crime Sarah is also on the show today who has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years. She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and guidance counselor, and is currently the guidance and pathways consultant for the school board. She is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.


Sam Demma (01:49):
The two of them bring together a wealth of knowledge. I was a part of one of their career fairs about six months ago now, or maybe four, three months ago and they do such amazing work. So I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoy chatting with them, and I will see you on the other side. Katie, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you both together on the show. This is the second time only that we’ve had a group of three on the show. So I’m, I’m super excited about it. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today. And Sarah, feel free to kick this one off.


Sarah Abrams (02:29):
Well, hi Sam. I’m Sarah Abrams. I work at the Ottawa Catholic School Board and I am the guidance and pathways consultant. So I work with the guidance departments across our school board. And I’ve always loved teaching. I love working in a dynamic environment like a school where every day is different. You never know what, what is gonna come at you that day. There’s not too many jobs where you can participate in dressup days and spirit weeks and, you know, take kids on field trips and watch watch them learn new things and get excited about things they didn’t know. And so, and also building the relationships with those young people and with my colleagues has inspired me. So, you know, for me, education has always been my passion and I love everything about it.


Sam Demma (03:15):
Love that. Awesome, Katie what about yourself?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (03:19):
Well, thanks for having us on today. I’m Katie Lewis-Prieu and I’m the experiential learning consultant for K-12 for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and I get to work every day with people like Sarah. The reason I’m doing this job is because I think kids getting their hands in and doing practical work and exploring careers is something that’s gonna change their life, and I’m just privileged to be a part of it.


Sam Demma (03:44):
Mm love that. And when you guys both come together, you create a power house of a team and I I’ve seen the impact firsthand. What are some of the projects that you’ve run this year? Things you’ve put on and worked together and, and created that been really passionate about, or, or that went well, I know this year has been challenging. We’ve, we’ve been limited in many ways, but I feel like there was also some opportunities and you’ve taken advantage of those. And Katie, maybe you can answer this question first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (04:12):
I think this has been an incredible year for us in spite of the pandemic. It’s my first year working as a team mate with and so it’s been incredible just to build that relationship and to see what we can do. And we usually start with what we’re trying to accomplish before we set out what our goals are. And so this year we had a nice kickoff at the beginning of the year with OCSP career week. And it was one of those weeks that had been doing well and things were happening in schools, but when the pandemic hit a huge challenge, right, because you can’t have all these presenters coming into your school to talk about their post-secondary programs or entry into the world of work. And so that was our, our first major challenge that we hit this year because we knew it was still really important for students to be able to explore these careers. So we decided to, to tackle it head on and to create a really dynamic week where teachers and students could access all sorts of activities career panels really great resources for them to leverage. And so that was, I think, our first success.


Sam Demma (05:25):
Awesome. Yeah. That’s great. And Sarah, maybe you can touch on some of the other things that have happened this year. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things happening behind the scenes every day, each and every day


Sarah Abrams (05:35):
There absolutely was. And, and a big part of what we wanted to do was figure out how we could bring this rich experience, financial learning, and, and also one of our goals is to, to bust pathway myths. So we also, we want students to know that college and university, aren’t the only options for them that some students will go directly to the world of work. And some students will go into apprenticeship program. Some will take a gap year and, and that’s one of our big missions is to bust those pathway myths. So one of the things we did was we have created with a community partner on fee career panels. And we’ve had several of those throughout the year, this year. And the pandemic has actually opened our eyes to the possibilities with this. So in prior years you would have this career panel at one school, you’d only be able to reach a few students, but because we were in the pandemic, we had to reach rethink things. And we were able to do them virtually and bring in hundreds of students. So hundreds of students have been able to learn about careers in manufacturing and the arts in English in all kinds of areas that maybe they wouldn’t have done before. So that’s been an excellent opportunity for us.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (06:49):
And if I can just add on if, if you are not aware of the careers that are out there, how can you possibly know that this is something that you want to explore? And I know your messaging, Sam has always been go out there and taste things like it’s a, a banquet or a buffet. And that’s definitely our message as well.


Sam Demma (07:07):
I love that. And I was gonna say, you know, Sarah, you mentioned fifth years and, you know, MIS myth busting, well, if your name’s Sam DEMA, you would take a fifth year of high school, a gap year after the a fifth year go to college for two years, drop outta college and then get into the world of work after, you know, three years of trying to find things and, and figure things out. So it’s, the work you’re doing is so important and I think it needs to happen in, in every board and hopefully it is happening in every board and keep doing it because we need it. I’m curious though, we start this conversation and asking both of you, you know, why are you passionate about this work? What led you down the path of education? Like, did you have teachers in your life who deeply inspired you to, you know, take on this path or did you just stumble into it by a mistake and have been here since, like, I’m curious to know why you’re working in education today and, and Katie, maybe you can kick this one off.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (07:59):
Well, when I was little, I used to parade around in my backyard pretending I was ginger from Gillin island. So I knew that I wanted something that was engaging. I thought I was gonna be an actress when I was really little and there just weren’t the, the career classes to support that there was no ran a class in my high school when I went to school. So I had to look for something else. And being an actress just didn’t seem reasonable at the time. So I thought I want to work with people. It was just a part of who I was that I, I definitely not a solitary person. I, I like to collaborate. And so teaching in journalism were the, the two things that really grabbed me with the limited, you know, exposure to career exploration that we had at the time.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (08:48):
So I ended up actually doing a journalism degree at Carleton university. And then just as I was about to graduate from that, we were in the middle of a recession and I thought, well, I’m just not the type of person to sit back and do nothing. And I thought, well, I’m gonna go in and I’m gonna finish my English degree. And while I was doing that, I thought, you know what? I actually really like how much more collaborative being a teacher was. Cause there were a lot of people trying to scoop each other in the journalism program. And I thought I’d rather work with people as opposed to trying to top them. So that’s definitely how I started heading into teaching and was a high school teacher and taught English and civics and drama for many years before I started working at the school board. And did two terms as the arts and indigenous studies consultant. And last year had the great opportunity to sit in a leadership role for a year while my colleague was on leave. And then this opportunity opened up for experiential learning and I jumped right at it, cuz I thought this is exciting.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Cool, awesome. That, that, you know, I was gonna ask you, but I didn’t want to age you there. Let’s What’s Gilligan’s island ,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:03):
You’ve got to be kidding me. Gilligan’s island was the bomb. When I was a little kid, it was a little show and Gilligan was stranded on an island with six castaways. And one of them was bombshell actress who walked around everywhere in an evening gown on this deserted island. And so she was just it for me when I was a little


Sam Demma (10:25):
Kid, I love that. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go earn some brownie points with my parents with that one later


Sarah Abrams (10:30):
And


Sarah Abrams (10:32):
Sometimes we still have to tell Katie not to wear her ball gowns to work, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:38):
You can’t see what I’m wearing down below. It could be, you know, heels in a full skirt.


Sam Demma (10:43):
I don’t know if you can hear it, but the whole crowd’s laughing. it’s awesome. Sarah, you know, what did your journey into education look like?


Sarah Abrams (10:55):
Mine was similar in some ways to Katie, but, but also a little bit different. I always have wanted to be a teacher, so I did follow a very linear pathway, which is something I’ve, I’m trying to bust for a lot of students. But I think part of that was because I was number one, a bossy older sister, and I had a much younger brother and he was my first student. So when I, I was about 10 and he was four, I was making him sit down and listen to me and I was teaching him to read and teaching him everything I wanted to teach him. And then the other thing was that I had a lot of family members who were in education, so that influenced me greatly. And, and I probably can remember every teacher I’ve ever had. So I really, for some, and it just, it just called to me from a young age.


Sarah Abrams (11:42):
But throughout my career, I’ve really realized that within teaching you can do so many different things. So I have, have not been static. I started out teaching history and English in high school and, and I was very much a yes person. So I was tapped on the shoulder and they’d say, we need someone to teach parenting. And I would say, okay, we need someone to teach hair styling. Okay. and so I’ve done a lot of different things within my school which culminated in a position as a guidance counselor, which I absolutely loved. I would, I could do that forever. I loved working with kids in student services, but that also then led me to this position at the board, working with the guidance teams from all of the schools. So I think education is a nice career because there are so many different things you can do. You don’t have to just stay in one path. There are a lot, there’s lots of opportunity for growth and for learning. And that’s been great for me.


Sam Demma (12:38):
I love that. And one of the most pivotal people in my high school career was my guidance counselor. She had countless conversations with me and my parents miss Diana. Yeah, Diane, her last name’s escaping me right now, but she, she would help me because my pathway was, I was trying to go to the us for soccer. And like, I can’t remember. I had probably, probably at least two dozen meetings with her in my last year of high school to try and figure things out for NCAA. So it just goes to show that every role in a school, whether it’s in the physical school or as a consultant, plays a huge role on impacting young people. And I’m curious to know, because I know you’ve, you’re not directly in touch with students, but you probably hear a lot from the schools and the principals. What do you think some of the challenges that schools and students are facing right now? And we won’t stick on this question too long because I don’t wanna get negative, but what are some of the challenges you think we’re facing and maybe Sarah, you can kick it off and then I’ll pass it back on to Katie.


Sarah Abrams (13:40):
Well, for me, and I think this would be similar for guidance folks. I can speak sort of for them a little bit. It’s the building relationships piece. I’m all about building relationships. I like building relationships with the counselors that I work with and the teachers that I work with. And as a counselor, I L loved being able to call a student into my office and have a chat and, and you build relationships with those students and that’s what, where you build the trust as well. And so with COVID and having to shut down and then start and shut down, and then we have some students going completely virtual. It is very, very hard to kind of keep those relat ships going and build new ones. So for me, that’s probably the biggest challenge, I think right now, due to COVID. I mean, lots of people are, are facing lots of personal challenges in lots of different ways, but in terms of my career, I think that has been something that I’ve really had to be conscious of and figure out how to build relationships in different ways. And I think teachers and counselors, schools are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (14:38):
Yeah, no, I agree. Yeah. Katie, what, what do you think?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (14:42):
Well, my job is experiential learning consultant and challenge. It’s pretty hard when you’re on lockdown to, you know, when you, you start thinking about, well, what can I do? So for sure, there’s been a lot of pivoting and it’s hard. I think of just our, our theater students alone, because it’s something I’m very passionate about. And those students aren’t in most cases, not getting the opportunity to have that full theat or experience where you’re under the spotlights you’re you know, in scenes with other people, even just the, the, the acting piece where you can’t even make physical contact with someone to, you know, if you’re seen as telling, you’re trying to get somebody to snap out of it and the scene, you would normally be shaking them. You can’t do anything like that. So that was a huge challenge coming in. And I do worry about the mental health of our students as well, cause we’re social beings. But I think what Sarah was describing with those relationships is just the, the key to everything and, and still trying to give students opportunities to connect with the outside work world through things like learning partnerships has become crucial this year.


Sam Demma (15:58):
Hmm. And along with each challenge comes some form of an opportunity. I would, I would suppose that one of them is technology. You’ve probably learned a dozen new skills and tools. I mean, you’re wearing, very, no one can see it, but yeah, it looks like a pair of gaming headphones and I wouldn’t say you’re a huge gamer or who knows, you know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:22):
You’d be right Sam when I play Mario Cartt my children laugh at me.


Sam Demma (16:28):
Yeah. So what are some of the opportunities you think have arise from the situation this year are some of the things you’ve learned that have been really helpful and we’ll start with Katie.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:41):
Well, I think Sarah alluded it to it earlier. Just the opportunity for the reach, like, you know, whereas you might have had an individual teacher setting up a session in their class where they had a guest speaker coming in, we’ve had these opportunities to do things like career panels where, you know, if we had I think one of the ones we ran for one of our other initiatives OCS B steam week, I think one of our career panels, we had over a hundred classes that’s classes wow. On the call. So in that one, I think we had three different panelists. So students were hearing from three people quick, 45 minute meet where the teacher is, you know, getting a chance to engage in that career exploration with their students. And then all sorts of crazy fun stuff have, has come out of those calls as well.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (17:37):
And I think it’s opened up our students and teachers to further inquiry. Us doing OCSP steam week actually came from the challenges that we faced with OCSP career week. And it grew into something huge. And there were a lot of teachers, I think, who, because they had opened themselves up to technology, also opened themselves up to new things like learning about stem or steam subjects. And so I think there’s just been enormous growth for everyone throughout the process and technology is allowed it, I mean, it can be so frustrating at times when things aren’t working out, but what an opportunity to reach so many more people. And also to have fun, we set up all these challenges as well. For OCS B steam weeks is stem challenges where students were doing these rub Goldberg machines. And I don’t know if you know what they are, but they’re like a chain reaction thing where they’re, you know, setting up slides, like, you know, maybe a ruler in a marbles going down there and it’s gonna hit something else and pop into something else. And we just loved seeing these students with that whole perseverance piece where they were setting up their systems and it didn’t work the first time, but they kept going. And then when you see those videos and you see their face and they are so proud of themselves, that they got it to work. That’s a huge thing.


Sam Demma (19:09):
Yeah. Oh, I, I agree. I totally agree. It’s funny, those, those contraptions, I think they happen in physics class. I might be wrong, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (19:19):
, we had kindergartners doing it as well. Wow.


Sam Demma (19:22):
yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. So cool. Yeah, I remember it feels like yesterday I was in grade 12 and my buddy was making one for his grade physics assignment. Sarah, what do you think? Like what, what are some of the opportunities that you’ve seen arise outta this crazy situation?


Sarah Abrams (19:38):
I think I, I think Katie’s answer was bang on, but, and just to add, you know, or to, to echo what she’s saying. I think the challenge of as a history teacher, too, I think of challenges in the past, the great, the world wars with any big challenge that a society faces comes the opportunity for growth and creativity and some of our, our most amazing achievements and accomplishments come out of those tough times that we face as a, as a, as humanity. And like the, the growth in technology, especially among educate, I think is something that I have never seen before in my whole career. It’s and it’s because it was necessary, right. It was something that teachers had to do and, and we had to do as well. I’ve never learned so much about technology as I have in the last year.


Sarah Abrams (20:26):
And so I think that’s just opened up the doors to so many different things. One of the things Katie and I are involved in right now is providing, working with our partner, Algonquin college, providing our students with different virtual workshops on coding and using laser cutters and a 3d printing. And it’s all virtual, but the kids are able to learn how to do this stuff on their computers. And then at Algonquin, something will actually be 3d printed or laser cut or, or whatever. And the teachers are learning this too, and it’s making teachers more comfortable with all of the new technology that is up and coming. So I think if you look at it with a positive spin, there are a lot of challenges, but a lot of growth has come out of it.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Yeah, no, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s, it’s great growth. Like it forced, it’s forced growth almost like you grow up as a kid and you hit your growth spurt and then you stop growing. It’s almost like we’ve been to grow more at past that point. And it’s painful. You have aching pains from the new growth spur. And not to say that the challenges aren’t there, cuz they are like, it’s a crazy time and people are struggling, but it’s cool to focus on the positives for a second. You know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (21:42):
And neuroscience tells us that we need to be lifelong learners. We need to keep bill holding those neuro connectors. So as, as tough as it has been, and it has been tough for some people like just the new skills that we are picking up this year are definitely something to be applauded.


Sam Demma (22:02):
Yeah. No, I agree. Totally agree. And you know, I’m curious to know when you were both students, so think back what are some things that educators in your life did for you that had a huge impact? And I’m, I’m curious to know, maybe you can pinpoint one teacher in something they shared or did. Because I think educators sometimes underplay the impact they have because they don’t see it sometimes. And with this story you can share about how they’ve impacted you it’ll remind educators that they’re having an impact on their own students and also give them some ideas on what’s important in the classroom. And Katie, you seem like you had an aha moment. So oh,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (22:43):
A hundred, a hundred percent. I had an incredible English teacher when I was at St. Joseph’s high school called Mary Lynn Oche. And I had her for a bunch of years at a time cuz it was when Catholic education was just starting to get the funding. And I remember we were studying Hamlet and she would not give us her opinion on whether Hamlet was mad or whether he was putting it on. And I remember being so upset at the time that she wouldn’t tell us her opinion, cause I really did value her opinion, but it was so smart of her because it forced us to use our own critical thinking skills and to make our own mind. And that has stuck with me. And she’s also one of the people who let me teach a class about journal is one of my independent study projects. And that certainly was one of those key things that made me think, okay, do I wanna go into journalism or teaching and gave me a sense of confidence that you know, I could be engaging in front of a class and, and it was just a little thing that she did by letting me try something out that had a major impact on me.


Sam Demma (23:55):
Wow. Love that. I love that it’s like giving you a responsibility almost absolutely. To succeed or fail and either, or it would’ve been a success,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (24:03):
But with support, with support, you know, we talked about what it would look like and it wasn’t something so hugely overwhelming that I couldn’t be successful at it, but I also got good feedback. And to me, that’s, that’s an enriching, deep learning opportunity.


Sam Demma (24:19):
Love that. Love that. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (24:23):
When I think back, I, like I said earlier, I can remember every teacher I had and I think each of those people had an impact on me at some point, but I do remember in particular, a grade eight math teacher and I, I wasn’t the best math student. But she always took the time with students at lunch or after school. And she was very friendly and really encouraging. And her name was Phyllis Perry. And I still think about her sometimes. And I think I wrote her a letter actually, when I became a teacher thanking her for what she did. But one of the things I think back at is I don’t remember the lessons I learned. I don’t remember the curriculum from each of those teachers that I had. I remember other things remember, you know, what they talked about or how they made me feel mm-hmm or you know, those kinds of things. And I think sometimes as teachers, we forget that it’s not all about the curriculum. It’s about that relationship building and it’s about the impact of caring adult can have on a student. And for me, those are the, when I think about the teachers I had, it was it’s really the ones who were the most caring adults in my life that, that really stick out.


Sam Demma (25:31):
Yeah. So true. So, so true. And it’s funny cuz I’m reflecting now asking this question on my own experience and teachers who change my life, did the same thing that you’re sharing now. Like they, they took the content and personalized it for every student in the class. They knew what we liked. They knew our hobbies. They, they took the time to get to know us. So I think it’s great. Yeah. It’s such a, those are all great examples. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, you know, the first year you got into education, what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now and yeah, Katie, you can,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:08):
You can


Sam Demma (26:08):
Go first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:10):
Well, I remember being terrified, absolutely terrified when I, I started teaching, I didn’t have the educators in my family like Sarah did. So I really leaned on the colleagues who were at school with me. One practical piece would be not to pick up every single thing I assigned because I remember hitting Christmas and just being in tears because I had a stack of paper this high that I had to get through. And mark and I, I had gotten so busy that I wasn’t keeping up with it and it was overwhelming at the time. And I remember just being in the laundry room and crying. Aw. But it was, you know I look back and I got through it and you, you really do lean on people to give advice to you. And we’re a learning community mean if you know, a school is working well and functioning well, you’re not teaching in isolation, you’re teaching as part of a team and that collaborative piece.


Sam Demma (27:11):
Yeah. Love that. Love that great advice. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (27:18):
I think for me too, it’s, it’s probably a little bit about, you know, do don’t, don’t worry as much about the curriculum. The curriculum is super important, but be yourself. I, I remember when I first started teaching, I thought, okay, I’m, I’m young. I need to go in and I need to be, you know, a mean teacher. I need to lay down the law and I need these kids to know that, I mean business and, you know, that’s the only way that they’re gonna pay attention and learn. And, and I learned very quickly that if you try to be something you’re not, students will pick up on that very quickly. And when I actually was comfortable enough just to be myself and to, you know, I’m, I’m naturally sort of a caring, motherly kind of a teacher and, and every teacher has their own style and, and every style is good. But that was my style. My style was not to be the hard nose, you know, strict disciplinarian and it worked better for me. I found my students responded better to me when I was authentic. And and when I just, just went in there as, as myself and that has worked really well for me.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Hmm. Love that, love that. Those are, I get a different answer every time I ask an educator so thank you for sharing. It is cool to see the different, you know, the different answers and examples and I appreciate you sharing. This has been a great conversation. It’s already been almost 40 minutes, so thank you both for being here and sharing in this conversation. If a teacher or an educator wants to connect with you, like what would be the best way to reach out and Sarah, maybe you can share first, you can share maybe a Twitter or an email address, whatever you prefer.


Sarah Abrams (28:52):
Well on Twitter, I’m @SarahMAbrams. So that’s definitely a way that people can connect with me, Sarah with an H and Abrams with no H and we can, we can share that with you later. And my email, absolutely. I’m happy to answer emails and it’s sarah.abrams@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:13):
Awesome. Katie, how about you?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:15):
And it would be the same two ways for me also on Twitter. I’m @klewis_prieur. And my school board email is katie.lewis-prieur@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:41):
Awesome, love it. Well, Katie, Sarah, thank you both for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. Keep up the amazing work and I will talk to you soon.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:50):
Thanks so much for having us; this is an honor.


Sam Demma (29:53):
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 Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

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

Tina Noel – Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB

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

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

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

One – Integrity

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

Two – Own It!

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

Three – Choices

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

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM)

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP)

Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC)

12 steps of rehabilitation

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (14:49):
Mm.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (22:58):
Ah,


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


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


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


Sam Demma (24:13):
Yeah.


Tina Noel (24:14):
Anyway,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tina Noel

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin is the resource teacher at École secondaire Notre Dame in Woodstock.  He is extremely passionate about special education, student success and gardening.  If you get a chance to speak with him, definitely ask him about the peppers he’s growing 🙂 

In this episode, Martin shares a little bit about his own journey into education and why he walked away from a career in medicine to do what he is doing today. 

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

École secondaire Notre Dame

Specialist High Skills Major

Specialist High Skills Major in Health and Wellness

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 the podcast is Martin Tshibwabwa . Martin is the, he’s a grade 9-12 resource teacher for École Secondaire Notre Dame, a secondary school named Notre Dame in Woodstock, Ontario. He speaks French as well. I met Martin after he reached out to do a SHSM (specialist high skills major) presentation for a group of students at his high school.


Sam Demma (01:09):
And since then we’ve worked together twice, but we’ve had many of conversations about his farm, about his his upbringing in a different country, about him studying medicine and walking away from medicine. And you’ll hear a lot about a bunch of those things in today’s podcast interview; but all in all, Martin is a very heart centered educator. He’s someone who really cares about his work and the students he’s working with. And I know you’ll feel that in today’s conversation. Enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side. Martin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. First of all, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do with young people today.


Martin Tshibwabwa (01:54):
Perfect. Thank you for having me here on the show, Sam Demma. I appreciate the time and the opportunity to be on the platform. So a little bit about myself, a little history about my journey to education is first of all, I just have under seven years in the education field. And for me, learning and teaching is about inspiring the next generation. Passing on what I’ve learned, and passing it on to the next generation for them to take my craft and knowledge and build something out of it. Doesn’t replicate the exact same way, but they can inspire themselves from me, or surrounding staff members around me, and take that as a measuring stick to help them guide them through the education path. And prior to coming to education, actually my first role path to a profession was medical school.


Martin Tshibwabwa (02:47):
So I did two years of medical school down in the Caribbean, in the Antigo. So I did two years there and my second year out of burnout and I decided to a time out, come back home and reset the batteries. And during that time, when I was at home, it was a four month break, but that four month felt long, cuz I wasn’t doing nothing. I really told myself, you want mind, you go home. You shut down. Don’t think about nothing. So while I was at home, I became bored and I started looking at what are other options that I out there because while in undergrad, my mind was so settle med school. I had attention to other areas. So while at home, during those four months, I looked at different areas and education came about and I looked into it. I said, you know what?


Martin Tshibwabwa (03:33):
It was in December of 20 12th. I said, I’m gonna apply. I had missed. But I said, I’m going to apply. As I shot in the dark and I applied for September, 2014, I told myself, I get in, I’m returning. I’m gonna go to education and I’m not gonna go back to med school. I’m gonna take a break from med school. And then if I have education down, I’ll probably be considered med school. So I went to education. I got in for September surprising. So I put in my time in the education program, I did the practicums and I loved it. Cuz when I went to Medco, I actually wanted to become a pediatrician. Hmm. So when I finished my first term of teachers college, I told ’em you can place me anywhere for a practicum from kindergarten old, grade 12. I don’t mind. Surprisingly, the first posting that comes up to me is kindergarten.


Martin Tshibwabwa (04:28):
It works out well, cause I always wanted to be a pre yeah. So I went in there, took it. It was, it was a big challenge. Like I, I really respect teachers that teach kindergarten because we, we tend to overlook it. We think that it’s more play. They’re not learning. But one thing I’ve noticed is actually even us, we learn by play career plays different. For example, we have group work, which is still a kind of play, but there’s a theory behind it. And when you compare to kindergarten, yeah, there’s a different, there’s different type of learning centers, but yeah, the kids are learning through play. For example, the learning, how to share without knowing that they’re actually learning something life skill. And that’s pretty much my journey. So once I was in after completing my degree in education, I look back at the scale.


Martin Tshibwabwa (05:16):
Is it worth going back to, to med school or did I continue education? I evaluated the two and I told myself, you know what, going back, it’s true. My passion was med school, but this new passion has become my new career plan. So I told myself, you know what, plan B actually better the plan a and I stuck it out and up to now, I’m still in contact with guys and girls that I was in med school with. And I spoke with them the upon graduation. So let’s say two years after I left the island of vent, a few of my folks that I spoke to, they actually told me all money. You actually did a good decision to lead med school and go to teachers college because we’re still a here grinding in your career. Mm, same time I was happy for them because they toughed it out for the ups and downs in med school. And they’re still going. And every time that we sit back and we look back and we talk to each other, we’re both, we’re all always happy for each other. Although I was able to start my career world ahead of them, they started late. Although they still trenches. Yeah. Now playing the encouraging role when I’m telling you guys keep going, keep going. So it’s pretty good.


Sam Demma (06:22):
That’s awesome. I, I re resonate with you on such a deep level because what I’m living right now is my plan B. I thought amazing. Sam’s gonna be a professional soccer player. And that was the thing until the injuries came. And I kind of like, you went on this discovery of a journey, try and figure out, you know, what the heck is Sam gonna give a value to the world? And yes, now I think I’m living that out through the work I do with, with students and young people. I’m curious, where was home for you? Was the, was Antigua home or did you just decide to do your, your work there?


Martin Tshibwabwa (06:55):
So my parents are from the Dr. Democratic Republic of Congo, nice


Martin Tshibwabwa (07:00):
Myself. I was born in Zambia and as Zambia, my parents moved to Canada or went to Europe and Canada. And ever since we moved to Canada, home has been Hamilton comes in home for me. And now I recently relocated back. I live in Branford. So Branford is my new home and way Howt came about was in my third of undergrad, I applied for med school in Canada. I applied at mass university where I did my undergrad nothing on Ontario, school of medicine and then bury and also U of T. And I told myself, switch out in the dark. If I don’t get in, I’m gonna go to on the islands. Nice. I didn’t get into Canada. Then I looked on the map at different schools. I evaluated the pros and cons. And the reason why I picked Antigo was because it was a direct flight versus flight. So that was the reason why I ended up in Antigua. And honestly, I spent two years there in I only have good things to say about the islands, honestly, of course there’s ups and downs, but everywhere you go as a foreigner, you gotta face those obstacles, which is part of the journey


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:07):
That you embrace it.


Sam Demma (08:08):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And right before we started recording today, you, you told me that you spend your summers farming, where did your love and passion for farming come from and how does this play into the picture?


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:20):
Once again? So being in Antigua, everything’s important from Miami, from the United States or to the island. So produce fruits are expensive. If you want to live, like we live here in Canada or in the United States, you gotta go on the height and for marketplace, like if you wanna live as a local, you go to the market, you get your goods. Then what I noticed was one of the stands where I used to go all the time was actually a couple. So the wife worked at the market and the husband worked on the field. He’d bring the goods all the time and I’m regular there. So she told me if you ever want a deal on produce, come help us on the farms. And I said, Hey, sure. On my days off I can come. I usually took Sundays off from studying. So studying over there is usually a beach day. It was early Sunday morning. I go would help out of the farm. And then while being there, it became therapeutic because I did enjoy gardening, but I didn’t take it as seriously as like I wouldn’t put the entire day’s worth of gardening. Got


Sam Demma (09:27):
Got it.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:28):
Being over there on the island and working on the garden, seeing what goes into the labor. And that goes into the dedication and the discipline. I had a big admiration for it. So what happened is in returned instead of buying produce, my labor was giving me free produce. I didn’t have to buy no more produce. I see.


Sam Demma (09:51):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:52):
Then when I shut down on the island, when I came back home, I have access to a garden community garden. So I got involved into it. And what I was doing is I was growing these vegetables that we don’t find in Canada. For example, the scotch buned hot pepper. It’s pretty much a delicacy in every Caribbean dish, especially vegans like it’s the too hot pepper. It has a strong aura, which if you put it in a stew, your whole house will smell like it.


Sam Demma (10:24):
Nice.


Martin Tshibwabwa (10:25):
I was lucky enough that when I was in anti brought back, some of those seeds seeds are authentic. They’re not something that’ll tell you SCO button, but then when you grow, you realize that the, so I was growing it when I first got, when I first finished teacher’s college, my first year of the teacher’s college, I had a summer off. So that’s what I started doing. And a few of my friends came over and then they realized that the scent in my food was different. Told them no, I grow my own peppers. And Hey, mark, we buy some off from there. They’re the ones that actually encouraged me to get into bigger, large a larger plot. So I spoke to a farmer here in town, in flame, bro. And they allowed me to get some space. So I’m leasing space right now. That’s what I do during the summer. Just growing D crops that I brought back the seed from the Caribbean.


Sam Demma (11:16):
That’s awesome. That’s such a cool, yeah. It’s such a cool passion project to have.


Martin Tshibwabwa (11:20):
Yeah. So it’s amazing how things worked out. Like I was an anti for one thing, but then I picked up something else into farming. Then when I came back home, got into teaching, had the summers off. But during my summers off, I had this new passion that I do active, which is farming.


Sam Demma (11:35):
That’s awesome. Love it. And yes, I think what’s so cool about that is that you went to Antigua for one reason, which was education. And you came back with this hobby, which is now a part of your life every summer, and exactly, you know, sometimes we’re close minded and we don’t see these other opportunities or hobbies. But when we’re open-minded in every experience, we find these things that we, we might love and enjoy that we didn’t even expect would happen or, or we would develop. And now what’s your role today? So explain a little bit about what you do right now with your school. So tell, tell me a little bit about the journey about it went from kindergarten class to working in the role you’re in right now.


Martin Tshibwabwa (12:17):
Yeah, so kind as I said, now, I’m in I’m a high school teacher. I teach life skills nutrition, human development. And I’m also in, in charge of the specialist high skills major here. And we specialize in excuse me, I’m figuring French. We specialize in health and wellness. Nice. And as I did mention earlier, I am in a French high school. So when I first started was in kindergarten, I enjoyed it. And then my second intern, my second practicum was on the high school side. And once I got into high school, I loved it because I could be bolder with the students versus kindergarten. You can’t be bold, but you can’t be too bold on the kids either. So I found that I was having a challenge fighting in the middle between when you become bold and too bold for the kids.


Martin Tshibwabwa (13:09):
But when I high school, the switch was quick to be done. And one thing that I, I do find on the high school side is I’m able to create opportunities and experience for a life skills for the kids, by providing them life skills, help them character build through and Chisholm. It’s, I’m able to invite people like yourself, sorry, speakers like yourself. Like early, when we did in January, the students were able to speak to student that they could relate to. And speaking with you, you’re able to show students that, yes, you’re a public speaker, but there’s work that goes into it. Mm you’re. Able to show them the truth behind the grind. And that’s why I do admire a lot about the Chisholm program. Yes. As a teacher in front of the classroom, I can explain to them how it takes time to accomplish great things.


Martin Tshibwabwa (14:03):
Mention yourself a small, progressive step that bring you toward success. Yeah. When students can see that coming from somebody else outside from the education world, they see the truth beyond the grind is very appreciate. So being on the high school side, especially in grade 11 and grade 12, they had a crossroads where they don’t know where they want to go. And then that brings me back to my, where I was so centered on med school and focused on something else. And then being able to withdraw and shut down and gave opportunity to look at now with the program, bringing guests like yourself, it’s opening the eyes to students of what else is out there. Whereas they can also explore in order to be successful or whatever craft they want to take. And the other thing that I also do notices attitude. Attitude is important. Yes. You can have hard work. You can be dedicated, but if your attitude and approach is not right, you can achieve anything.


Sam Demma (15:04):
Yeah. I love that. And why are you personally so passionate about life skills? Like you could, you could be teaching farming, you know, like you could be teaching courses, anything. Why, why life skills?


Martin Tshibwabwa (15:17):
Well, life skills first would, it helps to build confidence. Mm. Have life skills. In my opinion, you cannot accomplish much. Cause life skills goes from just starting with body language, your body language, where you are, but on people, the way you have a conversation with people, if you do not express yourself properly. Yeah. For example, like there’s some kids especially when I start my first lesson, like to tell students to find five artifacts that represent themselves so I can get to know them and five things that mean something to the so five things or five artifacts. So I get to know who they are, where they come from. And the reason why I do that is just to create a sense of community. Just, just like yourself. I want to get to know you, you know, just a student in my classroom. I want, I want you to be a buddy of mine. But at the same time we still have that student teacher relationship.


Sam Demma (16:09):
Accountability. Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (16:10):
I wanna show them that I’m a co-owner with you. Yes. I’m your teacher, but I’m a co-owner with you. And it goes back and gets my point of attitude because I, I see a lot of students when you talk to them, they don’t have respect for authority. And that’s why I show them that life skill comes in. For example, I also remind, although my colleagues, especially teachers that enter and tell ’em one thing to realize, first, when you do talk to students is you don’t know what the kid went through the morning when they woke up. Mm. You might see some students that don’t respect authority, but you don’t know maybe the way you, you elevated your tone or might of them suddenly happened back home. So one thing I try to explain to other professors, I mean, other teachers and remind myself also when it comes to life skills is to approach students from a calm tone. Yes, we want authority, but we have to remind them, I understand that something might be going on. But one thing that I wanna do is to IM empower you. And by IM empowering you, I want to teach your life skills and also put character build in you.


Sam Demma (17:21):
I love it. And something that goes hand in hand with teaching a subject like life skills and sharing these things with young people is growth and transformation. And right now there might be an listening. You might be listening right now you know, addressing the listener. They might be listening right now thinking, I don’t know if I’m gonna teach next year. Like this, this new virtual reality is, is difficult and it’s different and I’m not sure about it. Can you share a story of student transformation that you have seen? That’s been really impactful and it could be a student that was in your class or a student that you know of. And if it’s a very serious story with tons of adversity you can change the student’s name. So it remains, it remains totally private.


Martin Tshibwabwa (18:06):
Sure. Well, it’s, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when we had to T into e-learning yep. A challenge for everybody. I bet within yourself as a speaker virtual was it brought it on ups and downs, but that’s where you you really go back to the drawing board. You review the board drawing board and you see what adjustments can be done. You execute new task and new challenges. So to my other fellow teachers that are listening, what I would do is what I did personally was I told the students right away, Hey guys, you know what? This is new territory for me. I have no clue what’s going on. If some of you have skills, when it comes to manipulating computer software, let me know. So them that, Hey, I am human. I don’t know either. And you’ll see. It’s like, so they’re shocked. Another thing that I enjoy doing too, is when I tell ’em, I don’t know, I show them, teach me, show me how to show me how it’s done, what I’m showing them that, Hey, I’m becoming with you something as well. And another success story that I have with my students, what I did in the course in the human development was


Sam Demma (19:19):
I have to interrupt you for one second. No worries. Hold that thought. When you said, teach me. I think it’s the most, I think those are the two most powerful words you can ever use because when you, someone, and you say, teach me, you’re humbling yourself. Right? And, and you’re showing them like, you have some information that may be superior to what I have, and I would love to learn from you. And, and that gives a young person, empowers them to, to want to learn deeper, to share those things with you. And I just wanted to highlight that because I think, you know that sometimes the teacher learns just as much or even more than the student. And exactly. I just, I wanted to share that, but continue what’s that second example.


Martin Tshibwabwa (20:00):
Exactly. And so the other example I was gonna bring up to you is when we started e-learning, a lot of them were not turning on their cameras, and I never told them once to turn on their cameras. But then when I started to show them, I was getting more comfortable with the platform and I was showing them that, Hey, I understand that your priorities right now, being able to be virtual gives you priorities to go to work. I don’t mind, but as long as you logged on, have no problems. So I had some students who would start taking their during works hours. Mm. I never questioned them. But one thing that I always did with my students was I asked them at the end of every lesson, what can I do better? Mm. And when I asked them that they all say, no, you’re a great teacher. I’m like, okay, I’m a great teacher, but what can I improve better in my lesson? How can I address the topics better? And I find that asking them that feedback, it catches them off guard and they, they get more involved in the topic.


Sam Demma (21:00):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (21:01):
Teach, asking them to teach me something and asking them for feedback versus giving them feedback all the time or after a test. What I can, after reviewing a test of answers with them, I ask them were the questions fair? Did you find any trick questions? If those tricks, tell me, what do I have to change? Or just, and you can just see, like the light bulb just lights up, like, whoa, what’s going on here? Like this doesn’t usually happen. You


Sam Demma (21:27):
Mm. That’s such a, that’s such an important that’s such an important question to ask. I remember being in high school and sometimes getting some tests and getting questions and thinking we never, like, we never even talked about this. We didn’t learn about it. Like, how am I supposed to answer this? And, you know, most of the times we bring it up to our teacher, but it’s, it’s past the, to test now and he’d say, oh, well, you know, we covered that. And you know, that goes to show that, you know, the, the teacher and, and some of those experiences, you know, didn’t prioritize the learning of the student. They just prioritized the questions on the test. And so I think that practice of, of asking you know, for feedback, but also were there any trick questions? It allows you as an educator to ask yourself, how can I improve the teaching aspects of this, this specific topic. So it lands next time and they’re, they feel more capable to answer those questions. Exactly. That’s such a good philosophy. I love that. And did you develop these kind of concepts yourself, or you inspired by other educators? Where did your philosophies on doing these things come from?


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:29):
Honestly, I was inspired just from as you said, being a student in the classroom and just, it seems like it’s just a one way conversation where the teacher is in the magistrate position. Yeah. Bring information to you and you almost feel like you’re just a an empty vessel, just waiting to be filled.


Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:48):
Information. And then that information get tested on the paper. And there’s no feedback from your part. You know what I mean? So it’s like, if that’s the case, just gimme something to memorize at the begin the semester and tell me I’m gonna quiz you on it. Versus when you get your, your, your your classroom or even your panel, even yourself, when you do a presentation, you like to get your crowd involved in the presentation. It’s not, you’re filling them with information. And then at the end, that’s it, that’s all questions answers, that’s it? That’s all. But no, when you get them involved, implicated, you’re building confidence in them and instilling them the fundamentals and also reinforcing confidence for them to just be more vocal versus being expecting.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yeah, I agree. I totally agree. On the topic of, you know, educational education philosophies that you have and principles that you, you know, you live by, if you could give your younger self advice, meaning you could talk to year one, you know, the year, the first year that you started teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, and being a student for the past seven or eight years that you’ve been teaching, what advice would you give your younger self?


Martin Tshibwabwa (23:59):
Wow. I’d tell myself the younger self ask a lot of questions. Hmm. Just say, you don’t know. Don’t don’t improvise right away. Just say, Hey, you know what? I don’t know. I need help.


Sam Demma (24:15):
Mm.


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:16):
And just to ask a question to be a sponge and to take in all information that you can, and when you know something share. Cause that’s one thing I did realize in educat. I always tell myself, I write a thesis today. My thesis type would be teachers who bully other teachers.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I don’t,


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:34):
Yes. We do point the student to point. We do point out fingers to the students a lot because we are around them a lot. But we tend to forget ourselves teachers as do feel. We bully ourselves a lot. For example, my first year for education, I could ask somebody for a resource asking a resource. You almost feel afraid because you don’t know what answers you’ll get. Some teachers will tell you. Yeah. You know what? I’ll email it to you later on you go check your email, but it’s still nothing. You check your email and hour later, still nothing. I’m just asking for help. For me. Anybody asks me for something I’m giving you. And I even tell that, Hey, if you can make it better, please do. And if you find to teach, please let me know. So that’s one thing I would tell my younger self. Don’t be afraid to say, you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to get your work criticized because critical thinking is important. If someone can be critical about your work, it shows that, Hey, you do have room to proving. You’re not just at a dead end, cuz if you just at a dead end, then why education’s about learning every day, constant marathon, it doesn’t stop. So that’s one thing I’ll talk myself. Don’t be afraid to ask, share, and be a sponge.


Sam Demma (25:45):
I just want to take a second to applaud and appreciate you for your open-minded philosophies. Like I think that these apply not only to education, but in any profession someone might be in and they’re beautiful things to impart in the minds of young people. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. And it, it’s also interesting that like ancient philosophers, like Socrates and stuff, they used to say things like I know that I know nothing. And you know, people who assume that they know everything, you know, eliminate themselves from new learning. And so I, I love these philosophies and thank you so much for sharing. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:32):
Email, I’m always on email. Email is the quickest way to get to me.


Sam Demma (26:36):
Perfect. Can you just spell it out for anyone who’s listening?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:41):
So my email; I shall give my personal email. My personal email is tshimart@cscprovidence.ca. So I repeat it again; that’s tshimart@cscprovidence.ca.


Sam Demma (26:59):
Awesome. Martin, thank you so much for calling on the podcast here today. Really appreciate it and look forward to the next time we get to see each other on a zoom call.


Martin Tshibwabwa (27:07):
Definitely, I’m looking forward to it.


Sam Demma (27:10):
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 Martin Tshibwabwa

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.

Natasha Daniel – Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner

Natasha Daniel - Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner
About Natasha Daniel

Natasha Daniel is a bilingual (French and English) project manager in the Youth Skills and Employment Program at MCG Careers.  A Certified Career Development Practitioner, Certified Work-Life Balance Coach, Certified Strengthening Families Coach and a Trained Trauma-Informed Community Facilitator with a strong passion for community and working with people.

Her passion for empowering others began while working as a Trainer and Restaurant Manager for Burger King Canada, working as an Educator in an Adult High School and working in Human Services managing programs. 

In 2013, after several years of gaining expertise in Program Management, Career Development, Family and Youth advocacy in Montreal, her family relocated to Edmonton. Joining MCG Careers in 2013 with a wealth of knowledge she believes her career has further evolved in program management and process managing while empowering youth to increase their strengths, become more resilient and accomplish goals through the REBRAND PROGRAM.

She is motivated and driven to excel by incorporating a hands-on approach. This allows her to focus on the needs of others and their potential which results in stronger engagement, trust and stronger relations with stakeholders and the community. She loves bringing awareness and educating individuals in areas related to career and employment, mental health and any aspect to enhance one’s wellbeing.

Passionate about human relations and volunteering, she is instrumental in bringing strategies and resources to Non for Profits by serving on different boards and volunteering on Youth projects.  Natasha enjoys learning and is constantly broadening her knowledge through training and certifications. Natasha spends time honing her creative skills by writing poems and loves working around fun people.

Connect with Natasha:  Email  |  LinkedinTwitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel
Resources Mentioned

MCG Careers Website

The REBRAND Youth Development Program

Small Consistent Actions TEDx Talk

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):
Natasha welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Natasha Daniel (00:13):
Thank you Sam, for having me. So my name is Natasha Daniel and I work at a wonderful company called MCG Carrer as an employment center. And I am the youth program coordinator for our program called rebrand. And by the name rebrand, it gives youth an opportunity to rebrand themselves to really change their lives. And it’s a great journey to be on working with youth, supporting them and encouraging them to really be the best that they can be, and really be empowered to realize that, you know, the world is out there, that they can conquer. So that’s called REBRAND. So what led me to the journey of wanting to work with youth and when we say youth, the, the category of the clients that I’m working with there are between the ages of 17 to 30. So that’s the federal go? My definition of youth.


Natasha Daniel (01:03):
And you know, I started working with you very early in my career as a trainer and manager for burger king several years ago. And I had the opportunity to really hire and, and train youth to just maybe in their part-time jobs as they were accomplishing their ed educational goals. And I moved further from there into working in an adult high school, again with youth who are trying to accomplish a high school certification and stuff like that. And, and really seeing that youths need support and that youths are smart. They are innovative, they’re creative and they’re open to challenges and experiences. So that really empowered me to wanna continue working with youth then fostering an opportunity to support them into their career and employment journey.


Sam Demma (01:52):
That’s awesome. So bridge the gap between burger king and MCG careers for us, what was the journey in between that brought you to MCG?


Natasha Daniel (02:01):
So burger, I was my first career, my first employment opportunity in Canada. So I started off with cashier, but I have the passion for learning and I always wanted to be a teacher when I was younger from since elementary school, because I had a wonderful male elementary school teacher, nice. And my passion for learning and reading and all of that. So when I was burger king, I took time to learn everything on the job. So which within two years with working in a company, I was a shift supervisor because I really learned everything that they had to do like managers did and on the operation of the business. And then I just worked my way up into becoming a restaurant manager. So having an opportunity to hire youth more, also youth to wanna work in a fast food you know, in a fast food restaurant, I want, want to get that opportunity to have extra money while they’re studying so high school youth or post secondary youths.


Natasha Daniel (02:55):
And then from hiring, then I started training as a corporate trainer for burger king. So Alberta was one of my places I came to for a couple months to train people. So that’s kind of my part in terms of with youth and then going into when, when I, whilst I was studying for my post-secondary, I went into adult. So working again in the, in the education facility where you are helping people to learn and helping people to get their educational goals and stuff like that. And then I transitioned into community. I used to be a big brother, big sister at, for boys and girls club for many years. Nice. And being a big sister all also really empowered me and, and, and helped me to really understand that younger people need some additional support. And I taught about what can I bring from my experience?


Natasha Daniel (03:49):
What can I bring from my background? What are the values that they have that also Correl to my values and how could I empower them? So always working the community and working families. I had the opportunity to work with families and interventions in the school and child and family services and stuff like that. So again, I saw that, you know, sometimes as a child you mightn’t get the foundation that you need, but when you get into your youthful age, you’ll still require some of those foundational skills to help youth get into a stronger adulthood and life management. And that’s how I’m here at rebrand right now.


Sam Demma (04:29):
I know it makes you upset when people don’t treat youth with the same respect and I guess, general treatment as they might another adult. and I think what’s really awesome is you explained earlier that you, weren’t only focused on people getting jobs and working shifts at burger king, but you were also making sure they focused on their education. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?


Natasha Daniel (04:55):
Yes. And I, I think sometimes in society older, you know, adults, so people in general, sometimes we underestimate the power that a youth have. And we also, there are a lot of biases against young people also, you know in society. And I believe that how could you just be open to learning about a youth and learning that a charity that they come from and how they can contribute to society and how you can support them? So, one of the things I know that was imperative for me was I work at burger king, as education is very fundamental or at least acquire high school education on the first level is important to, you know, looking at a career path possibility or helping you with your learning goals. But I, when I worked at burger king, I wanted to make sure a part-time job wasn’t, you know, the main focus for everyone, you will have to have that life balance.


Natasha Daniel (05:50):
So I believed in life balance from really early. So I supported the students who were to get that life balance by, you can make your money part-time or full-time work, but you can also go to school. So in the, at burger king, we had a lot of post-secondary college students, and I would have them, we kind of opened a little tutor session within our diet, within our our work employee room. And they were free to bring their assignments. And I kind of them with another worker who in college could help so that they can get support and help with their assignments as they were going through high school. And that’s just because also some of the youth, they didn’t have that support at home. It’s very difficult when your parents are just trying to make money to put food on the table. And especially if it’s an immigrant parent also, they really sometimes don’t understand the whole structure of the Canadian system. So their goal is just that I need to feed you. I need to keep the house going, but what about all of the other needs and needs? And looking at the challenges that your, your child might have. And a lot of them didn’t have that knowledge and didn’t have that skillset. So that’s where I kinda stepped in from that early, early times, being in burger king and moved on into community and stuff like that.


Sam Demma (07:03):
Your experiences in burger king, in different community organizations and clubs has all led to the perspective that you have in working with students in rebrand. Can you talk a little bit more about the rebrand program, why it’s so close to your heart and what’s compelled you to continue working on it for the past eight years?


Natasha Daniel (07:25):
So rebrand again, you know, be why is it so close to my head when I came from Montreal to Edmonton and got a job at MCG, they had this beautiful program and it’s so really one of the foundational programs and I, that MTG offers. And I think it’s about 15 years in ENCE in the, in our current employment center. So there’s a great knowledge about the program in Edmonton is a program that a lot of agencies and support workers and stuff they know about because of the strength of the program and how the program helps you. So with looking at rebrand and going through many cohorts and many you know, participants with different challenges and experiences and background, you understand that really youth, they need the support and they need to really be allowed to have the resiliency. And they need that part where they see that there’s more to life in the world, or there’s more to what I could accomplish.


Natasha Daniel (08:24):
And I always say to my youth, like, how do you define accomplishment? Not don’t define accomplishment by society’s, you know, definition of accomplishment, because what did, what have you done? It doesn’t have to be that you’ve gotten a trophy, or you was, you, you were in the, you know, the football team or you had a scholarship and many of them do, you know, they had those, but what other accomplishment, how, what, how do you see accomplishment from your, your perspective and how can you think out of the box and bring those skillset to your life? So with rebrand because rebrand, we allow them to have many experiences in the program by having a mixture of, of training that they don’t get in school. So we focus on the life management and with the life when it comes with the basic things about budgeting, the basic things about, you know, those communication skills, the basic things about being more self aware.


Natasha Daniel (09:22):
So, you know, who are you and what can you bring to the table and how, you know, what part, what are your goals that you wanna accomplish? So we focus on those great ma life management skills now at COVID and a lot of youth, they go through mental health challenges, and sometimes they’ve gone through those challenges from early childhood and, you know, not having the right supports, the challenges, the mental health challenges increase and increase and increase. Yeah. So really getting them to understand that, yes, you can have a mental health challenge, but what is the best strategy that you are going to incorporate? And what supports do you need to really cope with your mental health challenge? Because not everybody who, you know, you do have coping skills when you have mental health and sometimes society label, you, you have mental health, you depressed, but with that, the, you can still achieve something as long as you have the, the right strategies.


Natasha Daniel (10:21):
And as long as you have the support, so rebrand provides all of that to the participants. And then we fo we help them to focus on employment. What skills can you bring to an employer what’s out there that you would like to learn on the job? You know, what are some of, of the values that you have that another employer might, you know, wanna bring into take you on because that value kind of meshes with their work value. And then what are your long term goals? So what are your current goals? So what are your employment goals, or, you know, so what do you wanna go back to school? What would you like to do? So helping them to really have a broad rate of experiences through training, through you know, sessions like having a good motivat speaker, like you, you know, through financial literacy programs first aid, computer programs, computer training, and volunteer experiences, and just basic, you know, everything their experiences an adult might have, or have had to bring them to a successful journey. That’s what we brand helps them. And then we support them in all aspect, as they’re, you know, being trained and gaining more of self and becoming, you know, looking at the path that, oh, I needed this to help rebrand my life to start a new journey.


Sam Demma (11:39):
The name is so appropriate for the purpose of the program, which is so cool. And I’m honored to have been a part of a few of them. And another one this week, I’m always super excited. One thing that I love about the program is the diversity. It seems like the students all come from very different cultures, different walks of life. How do you get through to students, you know, from the get go and make sure that they understand it’s a safe place where they can be themselves and share the truth. Even if it’s one that’s a uncomfortable to talk about.


Natasha Daniel (12:14):
I, I, I believe for myself, it’s just, I’m open. And, and I, I say, you know what being open is the first time. So I’m no longer youth, but I was a youth at one point in time. And I know some of the experiences that they might have might have be maybe a similar experience that I had, or also by my dive first experience in working community, working, you know, with intervention services and all of that, all of the prior work that I’ve done, you know, I let them know that it’s okay. That as a youth, that everything wouldn’t be smooth it’s okay. That you are gonna make challenges. It’s okay. That because you didn’t critically think about the consequences that, you know, like hitting someone in the head, you didn’t critically think about it, and then you gotta arrest for that.


Natasha Daniel (12:58):
And then you got a criminal record is okay. You know, and because of the challenges that you have, it doesn’t mean that your life stops right there. What it is is that, how can you cha take those challenges and make them into opportunities? So when they, when I connect with a youth, you know, it’s just to see I’m here to support you. And let’s have that open dialogue. Let’s talk about, just be upfront, put it on the table, lay on the table. I’ve heard it all. Like I tell him, I’ve heard it all. There’s nothing. I think that you would come and tell me that like might be a shocker with working with youth you know, from the different backgrounds and different challenges. I had a youth who came to Canada from from a, from the con African continent. And this kid was so resilient.


Natasha Daniel (13:46):
And when he had a story of this kid, he was a war soldier at 13 years old. And they him to kill someone and he didn’t want to. And he ran away. He ran from two weeks, no shoes on his feet, in the jungle for two weeks. Wow. To get to the border of another country for safe Haven. Wow. And this kid came into the program, was really resilient, you know, new immigrants. So he had to learn a lot, but he took to the supports and that, that, you know, everything that the program was offering, he got employment. He got a hand of learning how to understand money because his things that I need to work as I had to money for my mom, I need to take care of my family. And then, you know, two, three weeks into the program, he had one of those days where, you know, he was himself and I’m like, what’s up, he’s always a child.


Natasha Daniel (14:46):
He’s like, you know, I just got worried. One of my best friend got killed, trying to escape and trying to leave, you know, the, the world off that they grew up in with all of the hardship and he felt really guilty. And I says, you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay. Because he felt that I got freedom, my friend didn’t. Mm. And I says, you know what? Take a mental health day. It’s okay. You can go home. You can probably go, just call your mom or talk to the people that you need to support from culturally. And when you feel better, come back tomorrow. And so some of these are just some of the small things that allows, because when you give them those kind of supports, then they’re able to start planning the next step forward. And he moved on into employment. And a couple weeks ago I was outside and he is like, Natasha, Natasha.


Natasha Daniel (15:34):
I’m like, who is that is me? Like, what are you doing? He was doing skip the dish, but he’s a university student. Oh, wow. he is a university student. And he was just doing, skip the dish to make extra cash. So that’s just kind of some of the, the, the people that we experience in rebrand. And one of the things that I can say that learning working with youth is youth are so open. There’s never judgment in my classroom. They never judge. There’s so much support from one youth to the other, even though life experiences are different. They are one of the most open, hated group, I should say, within our society that a lot of people don’t know. A lot of people think that they’re lazy. A lot of people think that you’re paying for your games all day long.


Natasha Daniel (16:22):
And a lot of people think that, you know what, they, they just don’t wanna do anything. They just wanna BU around and all of that stuff. I don’t think they use the word bumming anymore. you’re showing your age, be careful. yeah. I don’t think I don’t that they would like, you know, and the thing about working with you, sometimes I say a word and like, like the other lady they said in my classroom, I’m like, what social media? Do you guys, you know apps and stuff, do you guys think that I have, and like, yeah, Natasha, we know you only have Facebook and one of them she’s like, and because you’re from the Caribbean, I know Caribbean, people love to talk to their family members and they only do WhatsApp and like, like yeah, know that, you know, on Instagram, you and I was, and I was like, whatever guys, whatever, , that’s so funny.


Natasha Daniel (17:22):
Yeah. And, and that’s to take, and, and even the fact that sometimes I said, sometimes in rebrand, I said, okay, tell me some of the I’m like, okay, well, let’s just, just, just, just, just write it down a little bit. You guys write some of the words that you say that we probably, that I probably wouldn’t know of, you know? And then they make me a whole list of kind of the, the, the, the pop culture words, and some of the regular words that they use now, so that I can be on the same lingo with them. yeah. , you know, and I think, so these are some of the things that, so for me, it’s just being open with them and making them, letting them know that you know, I’m not here to judge you. I want you, so I never forget that I was a huge, and I know we gonna all, sometimes we messed up.


Natasha Daniel (18:06):
Sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes we, I says, you know what? I know. I know the days where, when I was in university, cuz I lived in Montreal and New York was right there, leave Montreal on a Friday, go club in Friday, Saturday sat up until Sunday night, you drive back into Montreal, you go to Tim Horton’s bathroom, wash up, you run to class. And then when school is finish on a Monday evening, you crash I’m like, and they were like, what? I’m like, those are some of the experiences, but how do you do things positively? You know, you can still experience live, but how do you do it in a positive way that it can help you increase your life management and become more aware of the part that you wanna go? You know? And every journey is a different journey. There’s so many, you know, youth and rebrand mental health, as I say you know, one of my rebrand pats was actually just from 2019 and this came, he came through the foster care system.


Natasha Daniel (19:09):
And when he came into rebrand, a smart kid, oh my gosh, like, cuz he has all, one of my, one of my coworkers say he reminds of Scooby duke because he was like, you know, bigger than my parents. But he was so he is such a smart kid and he would be there in the classroom. You teach him and is part of his ADHD and all of this FST and everything. But he’s there, he’s probably building a website, but he can tell you everything that you just said. And he wanted to go when we were part of the coach is looking at where do you wanna go? He says, you know, I really wanna do physio, arts. I wanna become a pilot, but I can’t afford it. And I says, but do know that there’s a program here in Alberta because you were in care, they can pay, you know, they can help you with your supports for education. I got him connected. We get to, we apply, we did the forms, we did everything. And he went forward into doing his assessments and everything to go to school as a pilot. So this is 2019 two weeks ago, cuz I’m not on Instagram again. he sent my other coworker, a video on Instagram to give to me, he was crossly he was flying cross Canada. Wow. yeah. And she came and she’s like, look at this. I’m like, what is that? And she’s like your student gauge. I’m like what? She’s like. Yeah.


Natasha Daniel (20:40):
He’s I on Instagram. And he was, he got yeah. And is accomplishing his goal of becoming a pilot. Wow. And this was 2019. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:54):
It, it sounds like the program really helps students lay the foundation for future success.


Natasha Daniel (21:01):
It does. And, and, and, and there, and no there’s by no means I wouldn’t say some of them drop out, but with me I am a high achiever. So from the get go, I, you know, they know that they have all of the supports that I said to them. Like, you know, I’m not working for you. We are working together. Yeah. And that’s my mantra when they come in, like I’m not working for you, we are working together. So with that, we, we have I used to have 12 for, for every four and a half months now I have 10. And for the most part I have eight, eight successful achievers all the time. Nice that they would go through the program, they would go into employment and figure their life part. And the thing about rebrand, because some of them who’s not completed high school cuz there’s a percentage of non high school completers.


Natasha Daniel (21:48):
They probably in school had negative experiences. Yeah. But coming into rebrand, it gives a different shift. Hmm. And then they, so, so for many of them, and I remember one of my UT said, you know what? After being in rebrand, I realized that I can go back to school now. Ah, because they have a lot of assignments that they’re given. There’s still some of the written work and the teamwork where you have to collaborate to the team and come up with ideas and, and you know, and also your critical thinking, what do you bring to this case study? So they do have work. That’s not structured like school, but they do have some work together increasing their knowledge and to get them to really articulate on pair with, you know, on the computers or whatever, what they’ve learned or how they would approach something.


Natasha Daniel (22:36):
And that helps someone who probably had a lot of challenges in school, realize that, you know, what, if I really am motivated and I can recommit myself, I can go back and complete my high school. So that’s one of the things that I know of, of a couple people who struggled in school and coming through rebrand and they realized that, oh, okay. And one of the things they always said, why did we learn this at school? Why did we learn this at school? And I says, you know what, sometimes school doesn’t, but you have the opportunity where you are here to, to, to get supports. And when we talk about what we are looking at now, we have mental health counseling that they can, you know, that we have a counseling session services that that we, the program pays for. They have also supports when they get employment.


Natasha Daniel (23:26):
So everything to remove the barriers from, you know, to keep them out of work. So they have so support for clothing to get them into employment. They have supports, they get bus tickets and stuff like that to help with the transportation. So every little thing that might become a barrier for a youth to not get in a job or not faking a job, the program tried to decrease those barriers. And then another, the other bigger support for them is that in comparison to a youth who has a job search on their own, we help with some of the employment connection. So if you are in the pro, if you are my participant in the program and I’ve seen your computer skills, I get a test, your time management. I know that you ha you have great communication skills. I know that you have a lot of leadership skills.


Natasha Daniel (24:10):
I, when we are looking for employment for them, I would market you to an employer and say, you know, this is such and such. I remember one of my UAN, she had some trauma was going to post secondary. And she stopped because of you know, being a domestic father and relationship. But then after she bounces back with con and all of that, and she she got with one of the employer connections I made. And he left her after three weeks to manage his driving school and insurance business. Wow. Because she had the skills. Yep. But its just that she didn’t know how to really formulate those skills into the language and then demonstrate them in the workplace by having that opportunity. And she excelled at her at her job and she’s still there today, you know? So that’s one of the things that we do with Reba when we have employers who we know, and especially when it’s an employer who have a hat for community, it makes it so much better and so much easier to really support a you to say you could accomplish all of this.


Natasha Daniel (25:15):
You know, I’ve had youth who came into the program and they got promoted from just being a regular employee to manager, warehousing manager. And so getting them to really become more self aware is one of the goals of the program. Because when they’re more self aware, we focus a lot on their strength. And that’s my thing. I wanna focus on your strength. I know you messed up a lot, Sam, but that’s not, that’s not who you are. You know? And my thing I also say to them fail means your first attempt in learning. Mm. So what did you learn from that? What did you learn from the jobs when you wouldn’t get up on time? What did you learn from, you know, and again, and I say to you, Dr. I know that when you don’t have anything to look forward to, you can go to bed at 2:00 AM in the morning, 3:00 AM in the morning.


Natasha Daniel (26:06):
When I try position from Montreal to Edmonton, that was my life. Cuz what, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have to get up early to go anywhere. So I would stay up and I would be job searching at 2:00 AM, go to bed at three sleep all the way through, get up at 2:00 PM cuz I know my husband’s about to finish. And that’s how I, so it’s natural. And I think people have to admit to all of these things because it’s be, you know, adults do. I did it like I, them, I did it because I didn’t have any set schedule. I didn’t have any programs. I didn’t have anything to look forward to. Hmm. So I know that a you as a youth might do stuff like that, but how do you not stay in the moment? How do you not stay and dwelling it and look forward to something else?


Natasha Daniel (26:57):
And that’s what weand helps them to do. Look forward. I remember I had a tute rebrand. He was gonna have an assessment to join the program and he had finished full secondary doing graphic design. So website design and he forgot his appointment at 6:00 AM. He left me a message and he said, Hey Natasha this is Nicholas. I can’t remember what time is my appointment. But I’m now about to go to bed. Don’t call me during the day, cuz I’m going to bed at 6:00 AM, but you can text me and let me know what time is my appointment. Mm. So then I did call him later on in the day and I says to him, you got the oddity to tell me, don’t call you cuz you’re just going to bed. And, and that’s again, 6:00 AM. He’s going to bed because he’s still of all night playing for your game.


Natasha Daniel (27:49):
And I said to him, you know what, if you want to be in rebrand, you have to change the sleeping habits. Mm. The program is about to sat in two weeks. You’re gonna be in the program. I need you to start going to bed at a regular time. Yeah. So you can be in class by eight 30. Yeah. And you know what? He did it. Then he got his job as a first, as a, as a graphic designer. We got him this job, the kid was so happy and he called me a couple. I think it was last year. And he’s like, I missed you. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t miss me. Stay on the job. and him, he, he was so happy to get because after he graduated from post secondary, for two years, he had, was doing nothing, playing for games.


Natasha Daniel (28:32):
He was so happy and was driving well in the job that he moved closer. So he to the employment. So he would have a for time. And I would say, I says, no, don’t call me. Don’t miss me at all. Don’t miss me, me stay on the job. And that’s just some of the small changes that’s required for you. So me saying to him, we adjust your sleep in habit. Because again, if you’re going into employment, I don’t think you’re gonna start. You know, you have to be depending on what way you wanna work, you have to be grounded to really be successful by just doing small, consistent action, which is one of your words. Yeah. Thank you. Consistent actions. Yeah. also a word that I like to tell him now and that small, consistent action is that adjusting my sleep in time. That’s all he needed. Yep.


Sam Demma (29:22):
Be successful. That’s awesome. I, we could talk for like two hours. Thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your stories. One last question. If you could speak to younger Natasha, not that you’re old, but if you could speak to, you know, first year working in the rebrand program, but with the knowledge and experience, you know, now what advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Daniel (29:49):
What advice I would give my younger self and the advice I would give my younger self is from learning from the rebrand participants. I would tell myself right now, you know, take on more, get out of my comfort zone. Mm. Because I remember like I’m a personal even, you know, I, I get comfortable in my zone and then you know, that’s my zone. Oh. I would tell myself also shine myself, more shine, more like, you know, I write poems, I love writing and stuff like that. And everybody’s like, why don’t you? We didn’t know you. Right. We didn’t know you. Right. why don’t you publish a book and, and that’s just me just staying within my zone. Yeah. You know? And, and so I, soon as I write my poems and I share them more often, so that’s what I would tell myself, just be, get out of the comfort zone.


Natasha Daniel (30:37):
And, and, and this is what this generation of youths are teaching me how open they are and how open they are to new experiences. And not even just owning new experiences, how open they are to each other, like, you know, working with youths who are diverse cultural background, youth who are L G B T youths who have, you know you know, being maybe a criminal record history, two in a gang and they just embrace everybody and they just open to the experiences mm-hmm . So I would, that’s what I would tell myself as a younger, you know, back a youth back, you know, just younger again, like just be open, be more open. Now I became I’m open right now, but you know, if I, if it started back then, like, you know, the younger Natasha, I think I would’ve been like I would, I flourish. Well, I think I would just be like, Hmm That’s awesome. That’s what, and that is just all from, from the experience of working with youth and also you know, I, I, I tell them this now. And it’s just because from my experience was said, don’t let others define who you are. Don’t let others define who you are. You define who you are, because at the end of today, you would want, that has to live with you and not others.


Sam Demma (32:09):
Natasha, this has been a great conversation. Thank you again for taking the time to come on here. I really appreciate it. I look forward to future programs and working with you and the students keep up the great work, happy holidays. And we’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (32:22):
Thank you, Sam. I do appreciate you. You know, I appreciate just, just the work that you’re doing to empower others and, and, and sharing your story. Like I was, you know, the other day when you sent me sent me the, the invite my son who’s nine. He was like, who’s the guy, like I’m gonna do a podcast. And so then he, I, I said, listen to his video, my son listened to one of your TED talks. Oh, wow. He’s into the he’s nine years old. He’s into stuff like this. And then he says to me, mommy on Saturday, he’s like, did you do the podcast?


Sam Demma (32:54):
That’s awesome.


Natasha Daniel (32:55):
And you know, and I, and then I, I was to him. Yeah. So Sam, you know, I think he used to, he used to play football and then my son, he corrects me, like he says, mommy, you know, he played soccer. was not football.


Sam Demma (33:11):
He’s attentive. That’s good.


Natasha Daniel (33:13):
yeah. Oh no, no. I, I was like, so I said to him, you know, like, so that’s just to show you, I don’t a nine year old kid is also empowered by what you do. Ah, thanks for sharing that. So I would just say, you know, keep up the good work and the fact that, I mean, coming from Reeb, right. Again, when you come and speak to our youths, a lot of you, they don’t see youths who can bring and shed light to a lot of what they go through. Mm. And this is what, from having you into rebrand from having a young computer instructor, we as MCG, make sure that we have, we get them to get that balance. Yeah. So that they’re not just learning from our experiences, but they also, so learning from people who are dear generation and people who can really identify to what their struggles and what their challenges are, you know, within living in the 21st century as a young person. Yeah. So thank you again for the good work that you’re doing. You too.


Sam Demma (34:19):
You too. And thanks for sharing those stories! We’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (34:22):
No problem. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel

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

Nicholas McCowan – Lenovo’s Visionary Teachers Award Recipient

Nicholas McCowan – Lenovo’s Visionary Teachers Award Recipient
About Nicholas McCowan

Nicholas McCowan (@NJMcCowan) teaches at St. Joan of Arc Academy in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and teaches Science, Leadership and Student Success.

In 2019, Nicholas was the winner of Lenovo‘s prestigious Visionary Teacher’s Award which earned him a set of VR headsets for his classroom. His submission focused on the socioeconomic limitations students face, along with the challenges associated with assimilating to a new country, as many of his students were newcomers.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Joan of Arc Academy

Visionary Teacher’s Award

Teach Me Toolbox

Teachers Meet Teachers

Bubba Gaeddert – CEO and Founder of the Varsity eSports Foundation

Google Expeditions

Minecraft Education

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox, you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma today’s guest is Nick McCowan. Nicholas is a teacher at St. John Arc Academy in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He teaches science leadership and student success, and he is also a tech wizard. He helped an entire classroom at John Vanet experience visiting the national space station and traveling through exotic places throughout the world, using the Lenovo virtual reality classroom set without even leaving the classroom.


Sam Demma (01:11):

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Academy became the first school in the TCDSB to use this virtual reality kit. After today’s guest, Nick won an essay contest put on by the big tech giant Lenovo, and he believes that using technology can empower students who are new to the country and who may face social stigma. As a result, he is a phenomenal educator, phenomenal human being. He also runs something called Teach Me Toolbox, which is an Instagram page and a platform that shares tips that you can add to your teacher toolbox. He does so much to empower and educate and inspire his students. He is also a world experiencer. He loves traveling and he’s super passionate about the ocean. Anyways, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Nick. I hope you enjoy it. And I will see you on the other side, Nick, welcome to the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by sharing with our audience who you are and how you got into the work you do in education now?


Nicholas McCowan (02:17):

Okay. Thanks for having me on Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. So my name’s Nick McCowan. I taught with the Toronto Catholic District School Board for this is now my 10th year nine years at the school that I’m at. Generally I teach science and leadership and student success. So I wear a couple hats at the school. As a lot of us tend to do these days. I got into this work, I guess this story goes all the way back to high school. I had one particular teacher as I think a lot of educators can, can relate with this. They all had that one teacher that inspired them. George Robel at Cardinal Newman in a grade 12 history class. What he did was he, he brought in his, his dad just randomly and this, like, he sort of like crunched over old man walked in, didn’t say a word rolled up his sleeve and showed everybody the number tattoo on his forearm. And he had been a prisoner or in one of the concentration camps during world war II. And that experience just really like that got to me because I think, you know, that was the aha moment. Like what was in the textbook was real. And I think when that, for me, that experience was where I wanted to, to do that. I wanted to give people that experience. So that was sort of the main driver from me amongst a lot of other influential experiences as I went through my educational career myself.


Sam Demma (03:45):

That’s amazing. Yeah. Yeah. It’s so cool because I have that teacher for me too, and I don’t do, I mean, I’m not working in formal education as a teacher, but I’m, and I’m, I’m aspiring to impact students in, in different ways and doing so virtual right now. What other character traits did your teacher have, you know, in your, in your, in your history class that really made an impact on you? Cause I’m sure along with bringing in his father, there was other things he did for you that made his class your most memorable class?


Nicholas McCowan (04:15):

I think he was available, you know, he, he wasn’t just a teacher. He, he, he made himself readily available in the class and outside the class and, and he talked to us, not at us. And I think that that’s a valuable distinction that a lot of teachers, sometimes when you like in different stages of your career, or even just day to day, we we’ve something happened at home and we forget to talk to the students mm-hmm instead of at them. And I think that, you know, especially now given all the restrictions we’re going through and the challenges we’re going through, it’s an important lesson to, to remember. And Robo was so good with that. I mean, he would pull you out of class when he knew you were having a bad day and ask you what was going on. He would sort of just E even down the hallway, kind of engage you with something that you mentioned in class, which empowered us. Right? Mm-hmm he was listening to what we were saying. So I think that that was sort of the most valuable thing that he offered us as well, was just the fact that he listened and, and was genuine with us on a, a day to day basis.


Sam Demma (05:18):

No, that’s awesome. And it’s funny when I think about Rob and my teacher, Mr. Loud foot, very similar. He tried to meet each student where they were at, meaning he would take his overarching lesson and try and apply it to all of our lives individually. So one kid loved fashion. He would talk about the ability to make an impact on the world. Through fashion. One of us loved sports. He would talk about the importance of using the platform you build responsibly to make a difference. And what’s crazy is that their, their preaching was backed by life experience and action. So like my teacher told us small actions make a massive change, go in the community and try something. And I didn’t know it, but he, he, for 20 years along with other colleagues of the school were organizing the food drive. And when he, when he retired from the school board after 20 something years or 30 something years, they had, they had donated over a million pounds of food. And I didn’t know that. And he did that. And I’m sure your teacher the same way, you know, showed interest in all of you guys and behind the scenes was like very calculated and, and very intentional about doing so how do we, how do we be intentional and make students feel seen and heard in this virtual world you know, with all the challenges that are being faced?


Nicholas McCowan (06:39):

I, I think the important thing is to remember that as educators, like we really have that role of a hero, right? I, I think that you can’t underestimate how much the kids are watching and how much they’re listening. And even if we can’t observe it as readily as we can, and during like regular teaching and having the students in front of us, we have to remember that they’re still listening and they’re still observing everything you do. So, and it’s even more important. And I mean, we’re constantly bombarded by warnings from our school boards, like, Hey, you know, dress the right way, have the background the right way, have, you know, have all, all your ducks in a row so that you can’t get in trouble. And, and the phrasing of that has kind of made people paranoid. So we have to under like still address those kids and be impactful from behind a screen, which has like been.


Nicholas McCowan (07:34):

I don’t know, we’ve had a whole new set of challenges given to us, and we’ve really had to adapt so quickly. So I guess some of the ways that we’ve done it is by using some of the amazing tools that are available. I, myself am a pretty tech savvy guy. So we’ve I’ve been doing this for a long time. A couple years ago, 2019 Lenovo Canada gave me the visionary teacher of the year award for some of the work we we’ve been doing with our VR project. At school, we, we were doing the virtual classroom two, three years ago using VR helmets to give students student voice at the particular school that I’m at, we’ve got a lot of new Canadians and allowing them to use tools like Google expedition which is a fantastic tool that we can get more into if you’d like.


Nicholas McCowan (08:25):

But essentially it’s one of the VR programs that you can go to anywhere in the world, see different environments. And you know, like for a kid, who’s just come from the Philippines who doesn’t have a handle on the language who doesn’t know the environment he’s coming, and he doesn’t have any friends in the class throw that helmet on him and show him his street in Manila, that kind of power from that experience is huge. And that just, that opens up so many things because now kids in the class can be like, Hey, I lived right around the corner from there. And that gives him the power to say, I now have the commonality with the kids in my class. So those kind of tools that we’re, we’re dealing with, you know, we are restricted because we can’t put the helmet on them, but we still have the ability to use similar tools from behind the screen. And it’s important to keep digging and not make it full. Do you know, like we, we really can’t just send an email like here, do questions one to 10, you gotta make it as engaging and interactive as possible. And that’s when you really grab the student’s attention.


Sam Demma (09:26):

Where did the, where did the curiosity come from for you to develop your tech skills and dive deep into to these?


Nicholas McCowan (09:39):

I would say experiential learning opportunities is, is it bad to blame Sega Genesis or like, or PS, you know, PS one through four, you know, like I think actually a lot of it came from gaming, man. I think you know, as much as a lot of parents ride the kids for gaming, I think more and more, those are the kids that are tech savvy that are, are winners when it comes to this online engagement. And I’ve seen a lot of kids become wizards with using some of the tech tools that are out there. They’re so, so better versed at it than we are. And I think that that comes from that, that kind of similar back that, that gave me that that love for it. It was no nobody in particular, but I, I guess I’ve always really taken to it. I mean, being at UofT and being at Trent University and at Ottawa doing all the degrees that I’d done, you, you, you’re doing labs, you get these opportunities to play with electron microscopes. And I mean, we’re all kids at high, right? So when you get these tools, like why not engage fully? And I love offering that opportunity to the students.


Sam Demma (10:43):

I just recently on the high performing student podcast interviewed a director of something called the, the Varsity eSports foundation and his name’s Bubba. And he talks about the difference between mean talks about the difference between gaming and eSports and the stem advantages that come along with eSports. And I’m curious to know your personal opinion on that. Should educators listening, start being more open minded to the possibility of using games to build critical thinking teamwork and even, you know, overcoming challenges as a team?


Nicholas McCowan (11:18):

Absolutely. I mean what better platform than to use one that students are already familiar with? There’s no need to like teach them the skillset to use the tech, you know, so they’re already familiar with it. So they hop in running. I use a a game called no man sky for PS4. It’s not an amazing game, but allows students to explore sort of it it’s engages them with space exploration, which helps with my earth and space science class at the 12 U level. So it’s a nice little hook activity for them. And then as soon as they have that, you can start adding to programs like sky safari pro, which is a fantastic sort of telescope tool. And I think that for students, as soon as you, you pull out those, those tools, they’re already engaged as it is. So they, they love that kind of thing big time and, and hop in with both be.


Sam Demma (12:13):

That’s awesome. And for a teacher who’s listening and thinks this is awesome and wants to give it a shot, but is so overwhelmed by the idea of this technology. What is the first small step they can take to dabble their feet in the water and give some of these things a small try?


Nicholas McCowan (12:31):

I think the best thing to do is to ask the students, ask the students, to show them what they think is best and do a quick little poll. The kids are, well, I should say students because, I mean, I got kids that are up to 18 but they’re watching the videos on like Twitch and, and watching all those streams, right, where ki people are playing the games. So a, a student would readily have, you know, a whole handful of videos that a teacher can use to, to sort of learn the basics and, and, and watch the gameplay and see whether it’s valuable for the lesson they had in mind. So I would start there with that. But a lot of the S resources that were being given by our particular board, we’ve got a great 21st century learning team that is all about a listen.


Nicholas McCowan (13:18):

If you guys have some sort of tech tool that you wanna use, go for it. We, I mean, we even got a Minecraft license so that we can use Minecraft for some of the for some of the tools in elementary. And it’s, it’s going from math to English all the way over to history. I mean, the, it, it’s pretty amazing. I think a, another, one of the valuable tools that we were talking about earlier, Google expedition, one of the things that they can do with that. And I know like for an English teacher, the chance to use a lot of tech is, is not always there. It, it tends to be more like a, a stem teacher that has the availability. One of the experiences students can have is, is being the ghost of Macbeth in the play and watching the play virtually from the stage. So, I mean, you can actually experience Shakespeare, which is the way it’s supposed to be, right? So you have students that are, are so accustomed to just opening up that small little book and reading along in class. Now you can actually live the experience, play on YouTube VR or on on this like Google expedition platform. So really the, the learning for the teacher is not that onerous. So it’s actually pretty straightforward and there’s lots of great tutorials online.


Sam Demma (14:34):

So what you’re saying essentially is teachers can take their kids on a class trip without leaving or going on a bus.


Nicholas McCowan (14:44):

Well, it’s, it’s cost effective. I’ll tell you that. We, we we’re we do that all the time in my environmental or biology classes, earth and space. I mean, talk about bringing the experiential learning to the classroom, because I mean, another one of the hats I wear, I work Fori academy. And we take students down to Belize and Costa Rica for the summer. And I mean, the very first day in class, we, it in class is a loose term because we actually take a, a skiff out like to the coral reef. And we jump into the coral reef and dive with sharks and, and Ray, and actually engage in discussions about biodiversity. And there is no better teacher, but obviously that’s an experience only a few can afford. So these VR helmets and, and this kind of technology allows that integration into the learning and when it comes for free, I mean, it’s, it’s a win-win situation, right?


Nicholas McCowan (15:41):

Like the kids are all in as soon as they can do that. Another interesting facet of that technology is, I mean, you can, some of the AR the augmented reality stuff that they can do too, is I can now put a shark in the middle of the classroom virtually via an iPad. So I can have a camera showing the class input, the shark, and we can dissect it like layer by layer, you know? And, and I think that that kind of experience for the students is, I mean, you can’t touch it, right? Yeah.


Sam Demma (16:09):

You can even do that in real classroom, unless you were thinking about it, you know, at least virtually, maybe more teachers are open to the idea of giving this a try now. That’s so cool. And what’s the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality in a very layman’s terms.


Nicholas McCowan (16:26):

Okay. Quick virtual reality will be a full immersive 3d experience. Okay. so if you want to go down the backbone of a DNA strand and look at all the different nucle or the nucleic acids, as you go down in the phosphate backbone, you can actually engage and manipulate the environment. Whereas augmented reality will be a 3d image that you can insert your, your camera’s ex view. So if you take a picture in a hallway or you have students sort of holding up a mitochondria or whatever it is they’re looking at it it’s, it’s something that they can actually manipulate in, in the virtual world, so they can spin it around with their hand. They can actually touch certain parts and information can, can pop up. So it’s a full, fully engageable learning tool that’s in that virtual world. So AR is that 3d image and VR is that fully immersive experience.


Sam Demma (17:30):

Okay, awesome. This is really, really interesting, and I’m sure there’s gonna be some and teachers who are very curious to learn more and hear more, especially from you. And we’ll, we’ll ask you to share some contact information at the end, but I wanna know in all the years you’ve been teaching, you’ve learned lots. You’ve obviously gained a lot of wisdom. If there’s an educator listening who is just getting into this, or they feel like they’re starting from the ground up, because it’s so changed and different this year what pieces of advice could you give your younger self or that new educator based on what you know now?


Nicholas McCowan (18:06):

I think the, the first thing, like when you, when you, we all start our careers, we, we really want to be that teacher, the one who students like really, they love our classes. They, they want to engage in all our lessons and we want to be the superhero that, that we all sort of start out as. And I think that we, we burn ourselves out so quickly at the beginning because we’re trying to be perfect. Mm-Hmm . And I think that the, the important message is that there is zero need to be perfect at the beginning of your career. We were all there and we all had to start building those courses and, and from scratch. And, you know, I think that not having it done the best way the first time, give yourself a break and don’t take it home with you.


Nicholas McCowan (18:52):

We are notorious overthinkers and teachers work like beyond the hours of the classroom. And I think that, you know, the, the mental stresses of, of that kid who didn’t eat in your class that day, and you worry about what’s going on at home, you, you still want to have that on the back burner, but don’t stay up till two in the morning overthinking how you’re gonna solve that problem, because it’s a group effort. And I think if you keep home and the student, most importantly, I think that that’s where those solutions start to come. So don’t kill yourself, trying to do everything. You know, I think where we’re sort of forced into this business and, and teachers were in the business of knowing so don’t kill yourself if you miss the, if you miss an answer on the board, be open about admitting that, hang on.


Nicholas McCowan (19:43):

I don’t know. And let me look it up for you and let’s learn together. Because each semester you got 30 new people in front of you, and, and you’ve got that times, you know, however many courses you’re teaching. And even if you taught it the same way, and it was successful for, you know, eight straight semesters, maybe these 30 need a brand new take on things. So be open to the new buzzword that we keep getting be flexible. So, you know, like, so be flexible in your own pedagogy and, and in your own lesson planning and curriculum delivery, because it’s really important to know that being perfect. Isn’t the, the be all and end all when you’re delivering curriculum. It’s, it’s good to have that idea in your head.


Sam Demma (20:28):

I love that. One of the pieces of advice I always tell students to is don’t, you know, don’t be afraid or shy away from asking for help. And I think right now it applies to educators more than ever. And there’s this one story called the Oracle of Delphy and it’s a story. It’s an ancient philosophy story about Socrates and an Oracle telling him you’re the wisest person in the land. And he says, no, I’m not. And, and so he goes around to talk to all the other philosophers and asks them, what do you know about life? And they all give him these, these definite answers. And at the end of all of his journey, he realizes, wow, think this Oracle might be right, cuz I’m the only one out of all the philosophers who said, you know, I know that I know nothing, and that’s why I continuously learn. I think educators are the perfect example of that because like by nature, you’re perpetual learners. Like you, you never stop learning. And right now is a chance to just learn a ton more and almost take the role of the student and the teacher, which I think is awesome and presents a cool opportunity. And if, if someone listening wants to be a perpetual learner and dive more into VR and technology and maybe have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out and do so?


Nicholas McCowan (21:43):

I think right off the bat, I mean, email is a quick way to get in touch with me. Anyone who wants to ask any questions about what we’ve talked about?


Nicholas McCowan (21:56):

Well also I’m part of two other Instagram initiatives where I’m part of a group called @teachersmeetteachers. It’s not a dating site, it’s for for teachers to share resources and ideas and I’m it’s, it’s given me so many outlets to either share some amazing resources that I’ve found or engage in conversation with teachers or experiencing the same challenges. So give them a follow and coming up right now me and another teacher of mine, we’re starting up a new page @teachmetoolbox. And we’re gonna be putting up sort of valuable resources that will really help you get through the COVID times right now. So give those two a follow if you can.


Sam Demma (22:52):

Awesome. Perfect. Nick, do me one more favor and repeat your email one time and cut out a little bit.


Nicholas McCowan (22:55):

Sorry. Yeah. It’s nicholas.mccowan@tcdsb.org.


Sam Demma (23:10):

Nick, It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for coming on and maybe I’ll see you in person VR pretty soon.


Nicholas McCowan (23:15):

Let’s hope, man. Let’s hope, man.


Sam Demma (23:18):

Yeah, you’re welcome. 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 call content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna 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 Nicholas McCowan

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.

Ian Howcroft – CEO of Skills Ontario

Ian Howcroft - CEO of Skills Ontario
About Ian Howcroft

Ian Howcroft (@IanSkillsON) is an action-oriented leader and decision-maker with a focus on customer needs and service. He is the CEO of skills Ontario and one who can lead a team and is able to build consensus to maximize and leverage the strengths of team members to the overall benefit of the organization. Ian has a strong background and interest in advocacy, government relations, public policy, legal/regulatory issues, administrative law, and human resources.

Connect with Ian: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Skills Ontario Website

Volunteer Opportunities with Skills Ontario

Ontario College of Trades

Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing

Ontario Centre of Innovation

Hopin Event Software

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I had an amazing conversation months ago with Shelly Travis, who is the, the state president, the national director of skills USA, which is a career and technical skills student organization. And after the conversation ended, she gave me the name Ian Howcroft to follow up with and hopefully get him on the show as well.


Sam Demma (01:06):
Ian is the CEO or Chief Executive Officer of Skills Ontario, an organization dedicated to promoting skill trades and technology, careers to young people. We have a phenomenal conversation on how COVID affected their operations and what they’ve done to adjust and pivot. . You probably all hate that word by now, but we talk about how he’s pivoted his organization, how they’re continuing the work they’re doing and still making an impact on the lives of so many young people and students. I’ll see you on the other side of this interview, enjoy. Ian, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure and honor to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Ian Howcroft (01:53):
Well, thanks Sam, I appreciate the opportunity. I am with an organization called skills Ontario. We’ve been around for just over 30 years and our raise on debt is to promote skilled trades and technology careers to young people. I got interested in that from my former job at an organization called Canadian manufacturers and exporters. I was there for almost 30 years in a variety of capacities, but every year I was there, one of the top three priorities, and usually the number one priority was a skilled shortage. We’re not gonna have the skilled workers for the future. How can we make relationships with schools and other organizations to promote skilled trades? So I was always involved in that and I ended up on the board of skills Ontario. And when the opportunity came to take over as CEO I was contacted and thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about solutions and things that we can do to help move things forward and create a clearer pathway for young people to understand what the potential is, how they can follow their path of, of career aspirations and how we can do some linkages with business and better engage them and also wanted to do things to promote to young people, but also part of that was getting to their parents and getting to some other audiences because they have a huge impact and influence on their kids. And many of them don’t know what the real opportunities are with regard to a future in skilled trades or technology careers. They say go to university not knowing what the full opportunity is. So we’re trying to dispel some myths and create some realities about the positive aspect of a career in skilled trades and technology careers.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Did you know when you were working in manufacturing that one day you’d be in an organization running an organization like Skills Ontario did you plan to do this when you were younger or like when was the moment when it was like, whoa, I’m making this shift and I’m, I’m gonna make this pivot?


Ian Howcroft (03:38):
Well, I was I, I thought when I went to Canadian manufacturers, I would be there three to five years get some experience make some contacts and move on, but that organization afforded me a whole lot of opportunities to do a whole lot of different things from, from membership business development, policy work speaking dealing with a whole variety of manufacturing related issues, one of them and skills. So I ended up staying there for almost as I said, 30 years, but my role changed and the issues changed and my passion continued to grow. So I also realized at some point I did not want to retire from an organization that I started with. So I was keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities that I had an interest in and passion for myself. So when this one came up, I thought this is something I should look at. And and, and I did thankfully and I’ve been there for about two and a half years now.


Sam Demma (04:29):
That’s awesome. So cool. And I’m sure the first year working there with working with skills, Ontario has a, has been a lot different than this current year.


Ian Howcroft (04:38):
Yes. Yes. And when I started there, I thought there’s huge challenges, always with challenges come opportunities. And we got things moving forward. We had a lot of staff changes. We were trying to do things a little differently. Last year we’re off to a great start. And then we experienced here in Ontario, the labor disputes for the teachers. I thought to myself, what could be more challenging? The teacher dispute for like skills Ontario, nothing could be more frustrating. Nothing could be more problematic than that, but I was proven wrong again, as we got into the pandemic in March and that just changed everything we could deal with the teacher strike. We would work around that, but the pandemic just caused us to go back to basics and say, what do we need to do? How can we do that? Given the restraints the constraints and the realities that we have to face knowing that the health and safety of, of students staff and everyone was the number one priority.


Sam Demma (05:30):
Hmm. I like how you said with every challenge though comes an opportunity. And I wanna focus on that for a second because what we focus on grows, what opportunities have you seen along with the challenges in co of it right now?


Ian Howcroft (05:43):
Well, I, I think we’re learning new and, and different ways to better engage our staff and, and our audiences. We’re not allowed to hold in person events right now, which is a challenge when you’re trying to promote skilled trades. You want to have that hands on experiential opportunity, but we can’t do that. So what we did was pivot and started offering everything online, virtually remotely tried to have an experiential component to that, so they could do it in the classroom or, or, or do it at home. But we were, I think being very, as I like to think innovative and creative is how, how can we make this a meaningful experience? How do we get the, the interaction there? So we were able to link in with with students and with parents when everyone is in lockdown at home, we came up with a skills at home program.


Ian Howcroft (06:27):
Here’s something that parents can can learn from and watch encourage their kids to take part in it. The first one was a, a rollercoaster challenge using materials. You could readily find at home, build a rollercoaster and see how long you, you keep a marble in the air for, or on the roller coaster for. So we started looking at how we can do things to continue to engage our audiences, to continue to engage our partners, and also work with our main partner, the, the government of Ontario to deliver what their message was, was there’s an important opportunity and we need skilled trade. We need technology people and this is an opportunity for, for skills on Ontario to really come in and, and fill that, that vacuum that was left when everything else was being shut down.


Sam Demma (07:07):
That’s awesome. A lot of people have told me recently that the state of education right now, or anyone who works in, in the educational industry is like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what’s the, and,


Ian Howcroft (07:20):
And I, and I think, you know, we’re, we’re all trying different things. We’re all faced by the, the same challenge. So how do we, how do we do something that’s still gonna be impactful, still gonna create a learning environment for kids. And I know the, the teachers and the boards of education and the other partners involved are, are trying on to do everything they can to make it still a meaningful year for them. But it is a, it is a challenge, but I think as you said there’s creative ways to come up with new ideas and opportunities to, to address some of these challenges. One thing I’d just like to add is that with the remote delivery of our programs, we found out that that’s not something we’re gonna stop when the pandemic is over and we can go back to in person. We also think there’s still an important complimentary role to have remote delivery and virtual delivery. We’re able to engage everybody around the province. Whereas sometimes it might have been a geographic possibility for someone to attend an event or to come to a competition or to be in something that we’re doing a, the remote delivery allow us to engage them in a whole different way. So we’re gonna continue with that and use that as a complimentary program for for moving forward after the pandemic.


Sam Demma (08:29):
And it makes the presenter more easily and readily available. Like last week I did three presentations, one in Saskatchewan, one in New Jersey, one in Toronto, all from my bay. Like there’s no, you know, it’s, it’s from a delivery and an audience perspective. There’s so much possibilities in the virtual world. Tell me more about some of the things that have stuck. I love the skills at home, the, the challenge to build a roller coaster. What else have you experimented with as an organization over this time that has worked well so far?


Ian Howcroft (09:00):
Well, some of the things that we’re doing now we were talking about, but we moved forward a lot more quickly. We talked about having a podcast, but hadn’t yet done that. So this allowed us the opportunity to create the podcast. And one of our folks guy named Dan Cardinal put together a podcast. So we’re doing a podcast that we’re using to promote skilled trades and highlight individuals, highlight partners, highlight people that have gone through and become a, a skilled trades person and what they’ve done, how they overcame some challenges and are now leading a satisfying career and doing, doing really well. We, in the summer run something that we call our the summer camp program. We did about 25 camps around the province. They were in person weeklong camps. Couldn’t do that this year. So we said, if you wanna provide again, that opportunity for kids.


Ian Howcroft (09:46):
So we came up with 35 different camps and they were half day, full day or two day events. And we engaged twice. As many kids had over 800, approximately 800 kids involved in our summer camp program, which is almost twice what we would normally have and the results that we got, the evaluations we got were even more positive than what we’d had in the past. Now, our event, our, our evaluation in the past were very positive, but these ones were were even more positive because it allowed more kids to get involved in a whole variety of things and try things at home. Some were like tutorials, how to fix a bike, how to change a bike tire or, or a bike chain, but others were doing some, some cooking or baking at home. So we tried to make sure there, there was something there for everyone. So even when we go back to our in-person camps, we will have the complimentary virtual camps for those that can’t make it to a college, or can’t make it to one of our sites where we’re hosting an in-person camp. So it’s been a, a great experience in that regard. And we’re using that to, to learn by and move forward with. Oh,


Sam Demma (10:43):
Oh, that’s awesome. That’s really amazing. And, you know, despite the challenges, skills, Ontario has done an amazing job, it seems at, at pivoting. But I’m curious to know, are there any challenges that you have learned from cause we talked a lot about what what’s worked really well. But I think with any challenge, there’s great learnings. Like what is, what are some learnings that you think might be beneficial for other educators to hear about this new world?


Ian Howcroft (11:06):
Well, in, in general, I think what I’ve learned or had reconfirmed is don’t just go on assumptions. Mm-Hmm that, oh, that won’t work or this won’t work try things. And if it doesn’t work, adapt it, change it modify it, tailor it because if you just say, so that won’t work or that hasn’t worked before, I don’t think this will work. You’re gonna limit yourselves. Whereas if going with the more positive attitude and say, let’s let’s, what do we wanna do? Let, let’s try this. And if it’s not working or it’s not resonating with the audiences, partners make some, make some changes and, and don’t, don’t be afraid. This gave us an opportunity. Let’s try things. We we’re all in new territory here. So we don’t have to worry about, about failing. We everybody’s floundering.


Ian Howcroft (11:50):
So this, that gave us an opportunity to try things that perhaps we had talked about, but hadn’t done, but we’re able to move forward with, and, and we’re we’re as a, we have about 35 staff around the province now. And when we could get together, we did it a few times a year. But that was it. But now we’re, we’re getting together with, with teams, meetings or zoom meetings, and we’re engaging and trying to make sure we have no or, or fewer internal silos, so that we’re all leveraging what each other are doing, better understanding what each other are doing. So we may be farther apart physically, but I think we’re closer together a as teamed members and as colleagues within the organization. And I think that’s allowing us to do more and again, have more impact with our audiences, with the students, with the partners, with the educators.


Sam Demma (12:33):
That’s awesome. And I’m sure with the increased internal communications, you’re hearing a lot more about what the students want. What are you hearing as a whole organization from students right now? What is it that they’re, they’re asking you for? What are they challenged with specifically that, that you’ve heard of?


Ian Howcroft (12:50):
I think there’s a, a real appetite for information and how do I enter a skilled trade or technology career? And it’s much broader than many people think, you know, think they, they think of the traditional trades or traditional skills, but there’s like 152 skilled trades in Ontario. And we, we broader with, with technology. So we’re doing coding, we’re doing robotics mechatronics a whole lot of opportunities. So there’s a lot of interest in that, even though we’re having to do that remotely and doing the presentations virtually to the classrooms, there’s, there’s still an awful lot of interest in that. And we’re are going, we’re looking at how do we get the skills kits put together to give them that experiential opportunity at home? How do we make sure that they’re able to engage and get some experience with the limitations that have?


Ian Howcroft (12:50):
I think there’s a, a real appetite for information and how do I enter a skilled trade or technology career? And it’s much broader than many people think, you know, think they, they think of the traditional trades or traditional skills, but there’s like 152 skilled trades in Ontario. And we, we broader with, with technology. So we’re doing coding, we’re doing robotics mechatronics a whole lot of opportunities. So there’s a lot of interest in that, even though we’re having to do that remotely and doing the presentations virtually to the classrooms, there’s, there’s still an awful lot of interest in that. And we’re are going, we’re looking at how do we get the skills kits put together to give them that experiential opportunity at home? How do we make sure that they’re able to engage and get some experience with the limitations that have? So we, we still feel we have a very important role and there’s still an awful lot of interest.


Ian Howcroft (13:40):
And the Ontario government is highlighting the opportunities and skilled trades. So we’re working with our partners in business, our partners in labor, our partners in the education system to make sure that kids aren’t at a disadvantage because of the COVID limitations. We’re still able to provide them with the information to promote the skill trades and to give them information that that they can benefit from. When we were in, in, in the March and April timeframe, we tried to, well, what are the programs that we have? What are the products that we have? So let’s modify them so that we can put them available on our website or make them digitally we’ve updated some young women in, in trades. Our other programs that we have, we do first nations programming. So how do we make sure that we’re still offering relevant, impactful, and, and exciting events that will engage kids and provide an interactive experience for them?


Sam Demma (14:31):
Well, that’s awesome. That’s really cool. And you mentioned zoom calls and go Hangouts. What has been successful with virtual events? Is it doing a zoom webinar? Is it when all the students can see each other’s face on zoom? What has worked the best for you guys?


Ian Howcroft (14:48):
I, I think it depends on the event and we’re somewhat guided by what platform schools will allow. You know, Google hangout was one that I think the schools were, were using and we were getting into the, the classrooms that way. Yeah. We used WebEx for some of our larger events. We do when we have our normal competition, we have at, at the Toronto Congress center, we have about 2,400 hundred kids competing. We have almost 40,000 visitors. We hope the largest young women’s conference in Canada with 2000 participants, girls and young women and supporters, mentors, volunteers come out. So we had to gravitate towards the virtual delivery, but I was really pleased with our young women’s conference. We had about almost 1500 people sign on, lot more registered, but we have 1500 participants in our virtually young women’s conference.


Ian Howcroft (15:36):
We did a, a business summit. So we’re looking at the various platforms to continue to make sure that they’re continue to be more and more interactive and engaging for, for the participants as cuz we’re right now, we’re going to, we’re planning to do our competition virtually in the, in the spring we were won’t I don’t think be able to have in person events. And if we do, they’ll be smaller and have to modify that for the most part, we’ll be doing it virtually. So we’re looking at what’s the best platform to do that. What gives the kids the best opportunity to have an experience that they can have as meaningful, that they can win and be proud of their gold or silver or bronze medal. And how do we also use that to make sure our partners and our other supporters and volunteers are still engaged with us and realizing the value and benefits that they normally do through Skills Ontario.


Sam Demma (16:23):
Oh, that’s awesome. Really cool. There is a cool platform that was used recently with an event. I was a part of called hop in; might be worth checking out. They have like virtual booth. So a networking section where you meet one of’em with random people, there’s a main stage option, really cool stuff. And yeah, I’m sure you guys will probably build something in house and and build something really cool, but it might be worth, worth checking out. If anyone listening to this has been intrigued by any part of the conversation wants to connect with you, maybe ask some questions, bounce some ideas around, maybe they have some ideas for you. What would be the best way for another educator to reach out to you?


Ian Howcroft (17:00):
Well, I would refer everyone to our website. That has a lot of information about the programming that we’re doing. We have our Halloween spectacular skills experience based around some Halloween caution design pumpkin painting carving , a few other things around the Halloween theme. It’s all on our website as is all our other program information but that’s www.skillsontario.com. And I’m always encouraging people to reach out and contact me directly at ihowcroft@skillsontario.com. Contact information is on our website, but what we do is engage young people, engage parents, engage educators, labor and business. So we’re trying to do as much of that as we can. So I love hearing from students particularly, but I love hearing from our other partners and anyone else, that’s looking for some information about skills, promotion skills opportunities, and how they can work with Skills Ontario.


Ian Howcroft (17:51):
I just wanna point out that we have 35 staff, as I said, but we could not do what we do without our volunteers. And volunteerism is so important. We probably have up to a thousand volunteers that help us deliver our, our programming, our competitions, our contests. Again, right now we’re restricted to the virtual reality, but we look forward to engaging our volunteers in a variety of ways as we move forward, virtually as well. But also when we get back to doing our, our carbo boat races and the contest and the qualifying competitions, and again, we’ve also been able to offer a few new programs. We couldn’t do the car boat races, which have to take place at a pool and teams design it, but we’ve moved to an airplane glider contest that you can do it into schools could even do it at home if you had to. So we have a competition based on that. So there’s a lot of exciting things that are coming forward from this tragic COVID experience that we have to deal with.


Sam Demma (18:40):
Ian. That’s awesome. And thank you so much for sharing. There’s a lot of great ideas and insight coming outta this podcast. I’m sure a ton of people will, will be reaching out. Thanks again, for taking time to have this conversation, it’s been a real pleasure having you on the show.


Ian Howcroft (18:53):
Thanks, I’ve really appreciated the opportunity, Sam. Hopefully our paths will continue to cross.


Sam Demma (18:57):
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 in review so other educators like your find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna 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 Ian Howcroft

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.

Deb Lawlor – Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB

Deb Lawlor - Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB
About Deb Lawlor

Deb Lawlor (@deb_lawlor) is the coordinator of student success at the Ottawa Catholic District School Board. 

Her interests include authentic learning experiences & inquiry.  She is also an avid outdoor enthusiast, photographer, traveler, optimist & cook.  In this episode, we talk about her educational journey and her travelling sabbatical. 

Connect with Deb: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

6 Modern Sabbatical Ideas

Specialist High Skills Major Program

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Hapaweb Solutions

Smiths Falls

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, I had the pleasure of working with back in 2019, and then in 2020, she took a sabbatical to go travel the world and she’s finally come back and I convinced her to come share some of her wisdom on the show. We talk a ton about her social sabbatical. Today’s guest is Deb Lawlor. Deb Lawlor is the coordinator of intermediate and secondary student success at the Ottawa Catholic school board. She also now has taken on the portfolio of helping to coordinate anything related to SHSM and OYAP, specialist high skills major, or the Ontario youth apprenticeship programs. And she is a powerhouse. She won’t be in education too much longer but while she’s here, we can learn a lot from her. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. I’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:34):
Deb, 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 sharing a little bit about how you got into the work that you do in education today?


Deb Lawlor (01:47):
Okay. Hi, I’m Deb Lawlor and I’m currently working at the Ottawa Catholic school board as a coordinator in the intermediate secondary student success department. And I have been an educator for about 25 years now. I started way back when, and I was able to leave from high school, get into university to take a teaching degree. I did my Phys ed degree first and was able to start yeah, actually with adults in the beginning, I sort of, I call it, I went through the back door to try and get a job at the time because there wasn’t anything available. And through, some people who were in a class of mine, they told me about it and I started teaching adults. So I was probably, I was in my, my mid twenties and I was actually teaching adults who were anywhere from 18 years old and my oldest student was 54.


Deb Lawlor (02:36):
I can remember Florian because he was his grandfather in my class trying to get his education after having left. I think he left like grade five, six and went to work on his farm and he was just trying to get his basic grade nine math and, and get his G E D at the time. And from there I moved on to teaching grade seven and eight. I wanted to get into working with the kids. I, I enjoyed working at adult Ted, but it was really, I wanted to do the extracurricular. I wanted to coach, I wanted to have activities beyond, you know, student council with the kids and work with them in that way. And so I was able to, to go into grade seven and eight. And from there I moved into a high school when, when St mother Teresa was opened up in the day when, when we were expand quite a bit in the Ottawa area for, for schools out in some of our outside the city areas.


Deb Lawlor (03:23):
And I taught there for almost 14 years teaching F ed mostly for anything from grade 9, 10, 11, 12 girls to mixed classes with grade 11 and 12 girls, boys and I, my last class I taught was actually a grade 10 boys class, which was quite fun. They, they, they made me laugh. and partway through that time, I started consulting at the school board as if I said consultant halftime and did that for about eight years. And after that, I moved on into being the coordinator within my department. And the section that I have is called specialized pathways, which really covers some programs for are students who are trying to get through high school and explore areas within options for them after high school, whether it’s apprenticeship going right into the workplace or if they take a college or university pathways.


Deb Lawlor (04:12):
So I have focus programs, dual credits, specialist, high skills, major or Chisholm program as we call it. And oh yeah, the Ontario, a youth apprenticeship program, which is some fascinating areas where you can really look at what are the options we can offer students today that are not just taking a class, you know sitting, listening, and, and learning, but they’re actually doing, they’re doing the hands on pieces, getting into job work experiences and finding out about what the work world would would be like in their career that they’re wanna choose and pursue.


Sam Demma (04:42):
I love that. And if you can think back for a moment to when you were younger and going through university or school and teachers college, when did you actually know, ah, I want to be a teacher. Was there like someone who pushed you down that path or did you just know at a young age that that was the calling for you?


Deb Lawlor (04:59):
It’s funny, you asked me because my path sort of, I had a very direct path and I meandered for many years and then I came back to it. So I actually, I wanted to be a teacher in grade four. I, I loved school as a kid. I wanted to that was all I wanted to do was to be a teacher. And, and then I hit grade six and all of a sudden I met somebody in my class and they were very well off. And when I looked at what she had, I wanted that and I thought, well, her dad’s a lawyer. I’m gonna be a lawyer. They’re rich. I’m gonna be a lawyer. I wanna get into them pursuing that. So from grade six, all the way to grade 11 until like took grade 11 law, and then I went, I don’t wanna be a lawyer anymore.


Deb Lawlor (05:37):
so a way too much detail and article and the, the research you had to do to look up stuff did not interest me. So then my brain went to the second thing. Okay. At the time I was in grade 11 and in grade nine, I got braces. So I went and had braces grade 9, 10, 11, 12. And again, I’m going, Hmm. My orthodontists are making a killing and not hurting people while doing it. So I thought, great. I wanna be an orthodontist. So I went down to see my guidance counselor and he’s like, yep, you’re gonna need to take this science and this science and this science and here’s, I said, oh, I don’t wanna do that. That’s not of an interest to me to take all the sciences. Yeah. And at the time I, then I was grade 12 by then I had started, I had started working at a summer camp when I was in grade 10 and I was working with kids mostly anywhere mostly preteens, like kind of like your 11, 12, 13.


Deb Lawlor (06:28):
And then I took over the program to work with kids who were counselors in training. They were the 15, 16 year old. So in working with them and I wasn’t very, and still am a strong athlete in, in my abilities. And so I was playing on all the school teams at school and it wasn’t until I finally talked to my dad. So if you talk about who was my influencer, it was my father. Hmm. He said a couple of things to me, one of the things was he, he told me, and this was really important to hear as a female back in 1980s, you, you can do anything you want to like, whatever you choose to do and to be, go for it. That’s, that’s your, your, your ability to try and do that. So that was one thing that was very important to hear.


Deb Lawlor (07:07):
The other thing was he’s, you know, I had this idea that, you know, I did well in school. I had good grades. I could be anything I wanted to be, I could apply to any program and probably get in. But when he said to me, think about this for a moment, if you’re gonna work for 30 years, you better darn well, like what you’re gonna do. And I kind of went, whoa, I’m like, yeah, like 30 years, that’s a long ti 30 years is a long time. Yeah. I have to try and imagine what I would wanna do for 30 years and was at a time when, like, people actually did the same thing for 30 years. That’s no longer the case anymore. But in thinking about that, I went, all right, well, look at your life, Deb, you are playing all these sports. You’re an athletic person.


Deb Lawlor (07:51):
You enjoy being active and you enjoy working with kids that you’ve been doing this at this camp, put the two together. And it was like, well, okay, yeah. Be a PHY ed teacher. And in my mind, at the time though, I was like, well, but you know, I could be more than a pH ed teacher, but I went back to the thought of, you had always wanted to be a teacher anyway. So it doesn’t matter what, you know, that stigma that might have been around it was, is I thought I could enjoy that for 30 years. And so, yeah, my dad was, was a very big influencer and what I could do and that I could choose anything I wanted to, whether I was male or female at the time. And also to say like, you wanna enjoy what you do. And I remember my first years of work going, I, I don’t, I didn’t work a day in my life because I didn’t feel like it was work, you know, in the beginning I, you know, I was doing with my physi and that, and I was kind of like, yeah, like I’m, I’m getting paid to play.


Deb Lawlor (08:43):
You know, now there’s a skill to making play interesting to kids and having them engaged. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I, I, I really don’t feel for most of my career that I’ve really worked a day in my life in that sense that it, it it’s enjoyable. I, I love what I do.


Sam Demma (08:58):
That’s awesome. And it’s changed a lot over the past couple of years, specifically this year and something I’ve recently started to realize is that our beliefs lead to our emotions, our emotions lead to our actions and our actions lead to our results. And when we get a different world view, our beliefs change, then our emotions change, our actions changes and our results that we might even project onto our students change. You recently took a sabbatical and traveled the globe for a year, gained some new perspectives, came back to the classroom. And I would say arguably back to education, arguably more passionate, more inspired with a new clarity. Could you share a little bit about what prompted you to make that decision to travel and how it affected you as a professional in education?


Deb Lawlor (09:47):
Okay. I’ve always loved to travel. I, I started traveling in, in my mid twenties and the nice thing. I mean, it’s, it’s to double edge sword as a, as an educator, we are pegged into times that we have to travel mm-hmm. So we have to travel at March break. We have to travel at Christmas the two week time break. And then we, and we graciously have a summer time where we can choose to, to do some, some intensive traveling during that time on the flip side of that, it’s also very costly at all those high season times. But what sort of got me into wanting to pursue some sabbaticals and, and, and to travel in that way was in order to go to New Zealand in Australia. And I, and I did that on a sabbatical that I took back in oh 5 0 6. It was my first one.


Deb Lawlor (10:32):
I, I had that care at dangling in front of me for five or six years as I was on reduced pay in order to, to get to that goal. But what drove me was I wanted to see Australian New Zealand, but the time to see their summertime was in our wintertime and as a teacher, I wasn’t gonna be able to do that. Mm. And so that gave me the drive, the push to kind of go, okay, let’s try this, this sabbatical where I do a reduced pay. And it’s given, you know, I’m paid from a, that final year from my own money. And when I did that, it allowed me to see places. I, I, I had never, you know, had an opportunity to see. And this time when I went to go, my, my dream was to go to, to Asia. I wanted to go explore Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and see cultures that I didn’t know very much at all about.


Deb Lawlor (11:16):
And it allowed me to immerse myself into a place that there was new things to see there was new things to taste. There were new people to get to know. And I traveled with people who were internationally spread across the world. There was people from the UK, people from Switzerland, people from Germany, I met people who were Dutch all over the globe. And I think just that exposure to people, you start seeing other perspectives. And I’m always very curious about the education systems in other places. And you talk to them about how long’s your school day and what do your kids do? You know, what are the sports that they might get involved in? What extracurriculars do they run? How do they do that? And it was very interesting to me going to Asia because it is very different in some ways to, to how we do things.


Deb Lawlor (12:04):
I, I had a really great opportunity. This little boy in Vietnam came and, and approached me while we were wa walking between PI places on, on the tour. And we had a chance to stop. And I was sitting on a bench and this little nine year old boy came up and he said to me, is it okay if I sit and talk with you? And I said, sure. And I kind of looked around for the parent and, and the parent and his father and his grandfather was sitting on the bench across from me. And what I had ended up finding out later from my guide was that this was how a lot of the children would try and learn English. They didn’t wanna learn from their teachers who were Vietnamese. They wanted to learn from English speaking first language people. So they were often encouraged to see, seek out the tourists and have conversation to practice through English.


Deb Lawlor (12:49):
And so I was fascinated because this little guy, he knew, knew more about Canada than some of the students that I knew. And he was like, he, I told him where I was from. And he started talking about, well, your population is approximately this million, this number million. And you have a very large country, and it’s very cold there. You know, he had all these, I, you are nine years old and can tell me about my country. It was very interesting. But then to ask and say, so, you know, like, what are the types of things you do? What do you like doing at school? And he liked computers and he liked reading. And I asked him about sports and I said, physical activity. I said, do they do it at your school? And it wasn’t popular among some of the kids. And there were some things that were happening, but it was very oriented to achieving and to practicing your lessons and working on those types of things.


Deb Lawlor (13:42):
So I always find it interesting to travel elsewhere, to find out what they, what they do. And, and can we learn anything from, from other other cultures and, and, and having other perspectives. I mean, just on the, on tour itself my tour in New Zealand that followed that was, I was probably the oldest on that tour for most of the time of that tour. I was probably 20 years senior, too, to most of the people on the tour. And again, to have that perspective of youth and say, you know, how do you see these things and what do you, think’s happening in the world? And is this working, and, and why would you do this? Or wouldn’t you do that? Was very interesting. And I met a, I met another teacher from the UK and she was 32 and, you know, worked at elementary.


Deb Lawlor (14:24):
So again, something different for me to kind of probe. And I’m actually still in contact with, with three of the four of the gals that I met. We’re still on, on WhatsApp together to, to connect and talk about things and see how, how we’re doing. So the opportunities. And then, so what that brings back with me then Sam, for coming back to work is, is a, a renewed vigor about what I do and, and listening then to finding those other perspectives when, when I’m dealing with what I deal with now and making sure that, you know, there’s not somebody in the room that’s not heard mm-hmm , and if I’m not hearing a voice, I start to look for it and thinking or asking myself, well, what would this person think? Or how would this impact this person? Whereas before, you know, if you, it might have just been a bit more narrow because you haven’t had all those other different perspectives to hear about.


Sam Demma (15:15):
That makes so much sense. And would you recommend other educators listening to travel?


Deb Lawlor (15:20):
Oh, absolutely. I highly recommend I’ve done three sabbaticals over my time. Nice. And my next one will be permanent but no, I, I think it’s a great, I think it’s a great opportunity. And you know, what, you, you also don’t need to travel extensively far away. I mean, I, I went to Asia, I went to New Zealand. Yeah. Those are big, big options to try and, and get away from. But what COVID OS taught me is that you can actually explore around the area you live. I’m actually trying to, now that I’m restricted in where I can go from auto it’s like, well, what new trails can I go check out? And what are the new, I went to a grocery store the other day that I, I kept seeing fruit for a long time, on my way to my, my physio appointments.


Deb Lawlor (16:02):
And I said, I that’s Adonis. I’m like, that’s telling me something. That’s not a Sobeys. It’s not a Loblaws. You know, I thought, well, what kind of, you know, what’s, what’s the type of foods and stuff. So I went in and I, I had a, a little mini exploration, you know, for half an hour of just walking through aisles and going, wow, okay. Like in their deli, they’ve got a whole bunch of chickpeas and they have nuts and they have different produce that I couldn’t normally find in the wintertime. And I thought, you know, looking at the different culture that’s been brought into a store and it was very exciting in that same way of just going something new, something different and something to try. So I absolutely, I, I would highly recommend travel for, for anyone to do, but it, it can be travel even to another province.


Deb Lawlor (16:42):
If you haven’t explored Canada, it could be to a, to a small town. We live in Ottawa here with my board. But I mean, there’s Smith falls around there’s, Almont, there’s Kingston, not far our way, there’s these small little town Smith falls, Richmond, like you can explore, you know, and I think that it adds to when we’re lifelong learners, mm-hmm, , you’re constantly in, in education, you are a lifelong learner. Whether you like it or not, because you’re not always gonna be teaching the same courses, the same grade level, you’re gonna change positions. You might go into advance, you’re always gonna need to learn. And if you keep open to that learning, then it makes it a lot easier for, for what you’re


Sam Demma (17:20):
Gonna do. I was speaking to an educator yesterday on a phone call, Michael Kelly from the Toronto Catholic district school board. He teaches a GLE learning strategies course. And he was telling me that he has a passion for history, and that’s what he got into education be cause of. And there was this opportunity to travel to Italy with his students and show them history. And he said, by going on that travel experience, it renewed his passion and reconfirmed for him that he does love history. And it’s so exciting to him. And it’s so cool. And he said, he came back to school with so much more passion to teach it. And I think it’s the same case for you, but in a slightly different position that you’re now working in with the school board. What new challenges though, have you been faced with over the past? I don’t know, a couple of months that you’ve been placed back into this position right after a global pandemic?


Deb Lawlor (18:11):
Yeah, definitely a, a change in in experiences coming back to this, I, I wasn’t, so therefore I wasn’t in, in place working when COVID hit in, in the spring when schools were, were, were adjusting that I think part of the challenge I’ve seen is trying to find ways to make activities. And this is activities with my teachers or the activities teachers are doing with students trying to make activities that we normally would do engaging. Now that they’ve a lot of it switched online. And I, I think the screen time is a challenge. I, I think it’s, it’s very difficult for people to be on screen, how they’re in school. And then, and then they go home on, in our board. They, they flip flopping days at high school and then go home and then you’re expected to be on screen all day long with that.


Deb Lawlor (18:59):
And then a lot of what people’s personal interests and hobbies are, is to be on social media or to be online on, on their device. So, so I think that’s the, the biggest change that I’m, I’m on screen now all day long and I’m on meetings and, and doing trying to connect with teachers through Google meets or individual Hangouts, or it it’s a lot of a lot of time that just sitting. So I just, you know, before I, I got online with you, I just came from my walk outta lunch that nice, you know, get outside dress for it. It’s a little chillier there today. Yeah. but, and, and I also thinking it’s trying to reach out to our students and, and our teachers for me, cuz I, I work with our staff to, in a meaningful way. It, it’s making sure that they’re is those human connections that we still need.


Deb Lawlor (19:54):
And so something, you know that you can try and create, that’s fun. Something that, you know, is lighthearted being able to make use of time. That’s precious for people being consistent in terms of what you want to try to accomplish and be clear about things. It, it’s a challenge to try and make sure that, you know, you’re not wasting people’s time for different pieces. And then also for me in the, the role that I have is I get funding to run some of these programs. And there’s a lot of funding this year that we’re not using it for buses. We’re not using it for supply release. We’re not using it for hospitality reasons. So now it’s like, well, what do we use that funding for? And it’s trying to find ways to brainstorm and to think outside the box of, okay, I can’t, I can’t bring a, a, a provider and to give a certification to students. So what am I gonna do instead? You know, we ask, we can do it online, but it’s like, well, can I give you kits that you can have someone zoom in live with you and you guys each now all have your individual piece to build a house and to work on that and understand the, the makings behind construction and, and, and the skills that go with that.


Sam Demma (21:08):
I love that that’s an amazing understanding and how things have changed and shifted what is going really well though. I, you talked about an online system that specifically the O C D S B or the OCS B is using that’s working really well for teachers and students and helping them keep track of their it’s. I believe it’s like a Google workflow or something along those lines.


Deb Lawlor (21:30):
So ha power workspace is what we use. Yep. And teachers are able to load up all of their different materials in there. But the nice thing about Hapa is that the students it’s already set up for them when they walk into their, into their, their, they say, walk into their class when they begin their class, when they get yeah. Virtually, if they sign in and the folders for each of their courses are already in Google drive. So if they had math history, religion, and English happening, then there’s already a folder that has all their documents that they need. So it kind of removes that need for a binder. You’re not losing papers, things aren’t falling out. If the teacher knows the student’s gonna be away, they know that that information is in there to access wherever they are remotely and be able to do that.


Deb Lawlor (22:13):
And that was a, a nice thing to be able to see happen where it really, I mean, COVID, that’s a plus side of it. Is it really accelerated how quickly our staff is using it and becoming comfortable with it? Because we had to last spring when everything went, went remote, now I could see in the future that, you know, let’s say a student has a lacrosse tournament that we can misses some of their classes, right? Yeah. Then they come back and they know everything’s already in there, or they’re on their bus, taking the ride out, or they’re driving to Toronto to, to do a tournament you know, in their personal life. And then they can be worth on the stuff and not miss anything that that’s gonna happen there. And Harara allows the students to actually add cards to it. So you can actually collect evidence and, and they might have something where say, you know, Sam, I want you to add, you know, your ideas to this slide and Deb, I want you to put your ideas in this slide and each student would have a slide to add into it.


Deb Lawlor (23:06):
So now you have collaboration happening between students, even though they’re in their different places or it could even be happening in the same classroom because now you can’t touch each other’s, you know, laptops and materials, et cetera, but they can still be collaborating on the same document together. And and the assessments are done there through there as well in track so that they teachers able to see their progress as they’re working on it, to see where they’re at and whether they need some little reminders to, you know, keep going at it, or if they, you know, need feedback and get some help and they can do that electronically as well.


Sam Demma (23:37):
I love it. And you mentioned that your, your next sabbatical will be your final one before that parting day mm-hmm . What, what keeps you hopeful and motivated when working in education with young people, despite the challenges that we’re facing?


Deb Lawlor (23:53):
There’s always hope if you look for it. It it’s, I, I have an attitude of gratitude and I think that alone really gives me hope because as even, even walking outside today, I was thinking, you know what, I, I can go outside and walk. I’m not sick with COVID right now. Yeah. And I have my health and I’m in an area that I can do this in. I think that the the ability to not give up that there is that there’s always going to be something kind. I see people being kind that’s hopeful to me. So when you see simple kind gestures during your day, someone opens the door for, for you at work, you’re out in the grocery store. And, you know, you can still see the smile of people’s eyes above the mask, right. If, if you look for it, if, if you, so it’s pain attention to the little details.


Deb Lawlor (24:47):
Sometimes watching that, you know, someone’s got a real joy for Christmas right now in my department, and they’re just, every decorations are going everywhere and it makes people smile. And I think the other thing too, is just knowing that this too shall pass like it, this isn’t gonna be forever. It’s inconvenient. Absolutely. it’s, it’s depressing for some at times it’s certainly financially impacting people and, but it’s not gonna last, it will, it will be done someday. And I think you, that having that belief, knowing that it, you know, when you think of something hard that you went through it, wasn’t forever mm-hmm . And at the same time, what gives hope is that there’s other people that you can, that you can be helpful to around you. And that in itself is very, oh, very inspiring to, to see others doing that, to, to watching, you know, students making things for others, for the can.


Deb Lawlor (25:46):
I mean, the can food drives aren’t happening in the same ways that they did before, but we’re still finding people who are thinking outside the box. And I think when I see that when I see people being innovative, when I see people being creative with the situations they’ve been given, and yet seeing really neat things that they’re doing with their students, that gives me hope within, you know what’s gonna happen. And, and you sort of get pushed outside your comfort zone. But I think that gives me hope in the sense too, that we’re doing things that we might not have done. Had we not been put in this position? Yeah. You know, there’s been a lot of quick changes. People are collaborating a lot more now because they need to. Yeah. And they’re seeking help out from other people. I, I, I put an all call out to my, to my Chim leads across the province, you know, back in October when I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do with this.


Deb Lawlor (26:35):
And, and I got 13, 14 responses. And then I connected with those people by phone and followed up. And then we chatted about things. And then I went, okay, I’m not the only one dealing with this. Someone else is feeling the same thing I am. And someone else is going through something similar. And as you talk to someone, you just kind of go, okay, I’m not alone in this. There there’s others who are going through the exact same thing. And then you stop being so hard on yourself in what you’re trying to deal with because others are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (27:02):
Yeah. I love that. And your hope is hopefully rubbing off on your hope, the listener. I hope this reminds you that there is always a perspective shift that you can have, right? That’s the whole idea of change. What you’re believing about the situation. It will change how you feel. It will change your actions and you’ll get a totally different result. Deb, if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you just got into education, what would you say?


Deb Lawlor (27:30):
Oh, so if I’m, I’m speaking to myself from my perspective now to my younger self?


Sam Demma (27:34):
Yeah. In education. Okay.


Deb Lawlor (27:37):
Don’t take it personally. I love it. I think as young educator is we take everything personally. We are upset if they don’t do the homework, the student doesn’t do their homework in our class. We’re upset when they walk out and say, I hate you. That we’re upset when, you know you, you plan this great lesson, you put all this effort and it totally bombs. And the kids think it sucks. You know? Like I, I think you can’t take it personally. You do the best that you can with what you’ve got and that’s gonna develop over time. I think part of it is I would tell myself I would tell myself it doesn’t have to be perfect. I think there’s so much, we strive that, you know, you’ve gotta have that perfect lesson. It’s gotta be, everyone’s gotta receive it in the right way.


Deb Lawlor (28:20):
And, and everyone being happy with it. I’d probably tell myself not to work so many long hours. I burn the candles a lot when, you know, and you do as a young teacher because yeah, you just, you need to you until you get the experience until you, you know, figure out what it is you, and if you’re teaching something different all the time, it’s, it’s inevitable it’s gonna happen. What else would I tell myself? I would tell myself to, to enjoy the ride. Mm. But really enjoy the ride because it, it, and I think I did, I eventually, I, I started to do that to really, to, to it’s about the journey. It’s not about the endpoint really, to, and, and not to be afraid to, well, certainly to not worry so much about the content. And it’s more about, it’s more about the skills that you’re teaching the kids.


Deb Lawlor (29:08):
And again, sort of my beginning year, my first, you know, five, six years that wasn’t in my mind as I, as I grew, and as I got more experienced, you, you start to enjoy those kids who who are the challenge, the kids who don’t agree with you, who, who will push and who have issues that you start to realize that you can help mold and help guide them. And it’s not all about having the kid who puts their hand up all the time and raises their hand and hands everything in and does everything you want them to. And doesn’t talk back to you. After a while I started seeking out the kids who I thought you’ll be okay without me, you’re gonna do fine and be all right, but you need a little more attention and, and, and you need in year and you need me to ask you, how are you doing today? You know, scale of one to 10, where are you at just doing a check in? Doesn’t need to tell me a, any information. I don’t need to know the details, but if I know you’re a four today, then I’m gonna deal with you a little bit different than if you’re at an eight, you know, and, and, and cut you a little slack and give you a little bit of room and be understanding that, Nope, you’re not gonna get that assignment into me today. And it’s not the end of the world.


Sam Demma (30:18):
I like that. That’s awesome. Deb, thank you so much for coming and sharing some of your wisdom and advice on the show here today, and some of your own personal journey through education. If another educator wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to do so maybe Twitter or an email or whatever you prefer.


Deb Lawlor (30:35):
Yeah, they can, they can give me an email at debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. So debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. My Twitter handle is @deb_lawlor.


Sam Demma (30:55):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much, Deb. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing where your travels take you next.


Deb Lawlor (31:02):
Sam’s it’s been a pleasure to be here.


Sam Demma (31:04):
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 to 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 so soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Deb Lawlor

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.

Christa Ray – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) Coordinator at the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB)

Christa Ray - Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at ALCDSB
About Christa Ray

Christa is passionate not only about teaching & guiding the next generation but also intently interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment. She is also an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator(OYAP) at the ALCDSB. Her career path has been very rewarding so far and she always looks forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector! 

Connect with Christa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Queens University Bachelor of Education Degree

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Christa Ray. Christa is the Ontario youth apprenticeship coordinator at the ALCDSB, the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. She’s passionate, not only about teaching and guiding the next generation, but also interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment.


Sam Demma (01:01):
Her career path has been very rewarding so far, and she’s always looking forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector. I hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I enjoy doing it and I’ll see you on the other side. Christa, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Christa Ray (01:27):
Sure. Thanks Sam. It’s it’s great to be here with you today. I, I’ve been in education for about 17 years now. I started at the high school that I actually graduated from and initially I was a geography teacher among a few other things, and then I jumped into guidance shortly after my career started. So I was a guidance counselor for about 10 years and then I decided to take a leap of faith and I left the school that I loved and a job that I loved and I came to the board office. And now for the last three years I’ve been working with five high schools and a couple of college, local colleges. And for the first two years, I worked with student success teachers mainly. And this year starting in September, I have a new role called the OYAP(Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) coordinator. So those that’s rounded out the last three years of my career.


Sam Demma (02:20):
Awesome. And what made you take, tell me more about what made you take the leap of faith. Why did you make that decision? Was there anything behind that?


Christa Ray (02:30):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, I loved what I was doing in the high school and I was coaching and I was doing a few clubs, but I was getting tired and I had needed a change of scenery and had young children at home. And so I thought I would try a different venue. And it was very nerve wracking, actually. I, I didn’t, you know, normally people change jobs when they don’t like something, but I was leaving something that I really liked to the unknown. And so it, it turned out it’s been really great for not just myself. And I’ve learned probably more in the last three years than I have in the, in the full 17 years that I’ve been teaching. So it’s, it’s been a good, a good move for me.


Sam Demma (03:16):
Oh, that’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know, I wanna work in education. Was this something you knew from a young age? Did you stumble upon it? Did someone kind of guide you in that direction? Or how did you come to that decision that you wanted to work in schools?


Christa Ray (03:31):
You know, my sister and I always had a little Blackboard in our house growing up and we would always play school as I’m sure a lot of people do. So that was a something that we just enjoyed. But I don’t think it was really until my third or fourth year of university that I had confirmed with myself that I wanted to get into education. And my main driver was was geography actually, because I had an amazing geography teacher in high school who really propelled me into not, not the world of teaching, but the world of geography. Thanks and sustainability. And I mean, I know you have your pick waste initiative. Those, those were all things that I really wanted to to talk about with students. And I felt that the, maybe the biggest way I could have an impact on the world would be to spread my love for the environment with kids. So that’s why I mainly got into it and I didn’t foresee myself getting into guidance, but that just sort of fell into my lap. And I love that just as much so.


Sam Demma (04:29):
Oh, that’s awesome. And I’m sure the first 10, 15 years are a lot different than what school looks like specifically this year. as you exhale that’s right. I’m curious. What, what is different? I mean, what, what are the challenges that you’ve been currently faced with? I know you you’ve put put in a slightly different role this year, but what are the challenges specifically that your school board is facing?


Christa Ray (04:54):
Being the OYAP coordinator? I really rely heavily on hands on activities with students you know, bill building things and talking about the trades and the importance of tools. And so that’s probably my personal big, biggest challenge would be not being able to do the traditional activities with students. We generally try and work with our two local colleges, as I mentioned earlier, and we get students bused into the colleges to see the programs there. We’re not allowed to be busing students. So we are really having to think outside the box and do some alternative planning. And I have been going into schools and I’ve been doing like smaller presentations because I’m still allowed to travel into schools. But I find even just a small thing would be students wearing masks and myself wearing a mask while I present. It’s very unusual for teachers to see a room full of masks in front of you. And you don’t really necessarily get I mean, I’m only in a classroom for an hour at a time doing my presentation. So I feel like I don’t get to know the students very well, especially when they’re have their faces half covered.


Sam Demma (06:11):
No, that’s so true. yeah. It’s so, so true. I, I know they come out with these masks and now called mingle mask, which is like a, it’s like a clear visor. Okay. But then it has other problems, like it’s not close to the nose. It’s like, it’s a whole disaster , but it might be too early to ask, but someone described to me education, like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that your school board has done or tried that has stuck so far. Maybe there’s maybe one little nugget or one thing you might share about teaching online or something the schools have tried.


Christa Ray (06:49):
Yeah, I, I feel like our school is still forging ahead with some plans we have to downscale it a little bit and because we can’t get together in large groups due to COVID we are targeting a smaller classroom type activities. So for example, there’s an activity that we’re going to be doing in December, just building a birdhouse with some grade seven, eight students. Oh, cool. And hopefully they’ll be able to, to put that together. It prefab kit actually from one of our local colleges and we’ll take those out and then students can build them and maybe wrap them up and put them under the Christmas tree as gifts. Nice. And and that’ll tie in nicely with when I have my OAP presentation and where I, you know, cuz my job this year is to promote the trades with students.


Christa Ray (07:37):
And oftentimes college and university pathways are really well spoken about in school with guidance counselors, but sometimes the apprenticeship doesn’t doesn’t get highlighted the way it should. So that’s one thing that I feel even though we’re not be allowed to have 300 kids in a room at a time building a bird house, we can still have 20 or 25 building. Yeah. And, and you know, we might have to sanitize things a little more frequently than we normally would, but it’s just one of those challenges that we will, we will overcome.


Sam Demma (08:10):
That’s awesome. I love that. Mm-Hmm and I wanna go back to your geography teacher for a second. What made that teacher really impactful for you? I’m sure the content was great and, and they taught it really well, but there was probably some other characteristics that made this teacher really impactful for you personally. Is there any traits that stick out when you think about this teacher that you think made it such an impactful class?


Christa Ray (08:32):
Yeah, actually as you’re asking that question, I just got goosebumps because he was pretty amazing and I still work with him. Oh fun. Because the irony is he was my geography teacher. I went away for five years. Got my geography degree, came back to the same high school and he was still teaching. Nice. So I was his student and his colleague and I just saw him the other day, but he, I don’t know, he just made learning really fun because he was a storyteller. Mm. He had a story for almost anything and everything, any of our lessons, he, he had done a lot of traveling and I just thought that that was really really interesting. And he was very passionate. Even when he talked about things, places that he had never traveled, he, he made you feel like you were there anyway.


Christa Ray (09:19):
Mm. And so I just felt like you know, that was something that he really instilled in us was to become knowledgeable global citizens. Even though, even if you’re not traveling, you can still do a lot of research. And obviously the worldwide web is really good for checking out initiatives across across the world. And I tried to do that with my students as well. You know, we talked about some of the people that really make a difference. I mean, I was so interested to read a little bit more about your pick waste initiative that you did with your friend and you know, that it’s just two high school students picking up trash. It seems insignificant, but when you get a, when you get a bit of a following, especially now with social media, mm-hmm, you find out that you can really make a difference really fast. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:08):
So, so small actions compounded over time. Right? Small, consistent actions. exactly. Yeah. That’s awesome. And you know, your teacher had a huge impact on you. I’m sure there’s so many stories that you’ve seen of students transforming due to education. And I’m curious to know if any story that you know of, whether it’s a student that you had, or it’s a student that you’ve heard of that had a huge transformation due to the support and care of a teacher. And the reason I ask is because there might be an educator listening right now, who’s a little bit burnt out who is maybe on the edge of even getting out of this calling and, and getting into a new job or career because they’re totally stressed out, but those stories are transformation might remind them why it’s extremely important and why the work they’re doing is so necessary and needed now more than ever. And if it’s a serious story, feel free to totally change the name to John DOE or whatever. You’d like . And anyways, yeah. Does any story come to mind?


Christa Ray (11:09):
Oh, I have a few. But one in particular that really sticks out in my mind was a student that came to our high school. He was a, a grade 12 student at the time. He came from Toronto to a small town in Beville to finish up his high school diploma. And when he came to my class, he was a grade 12 student in my grade nine geography class, cuz he had failed geography a few years prior and I’d never had a Stu an old, older student in my class and I was a little worried, but I realized really soon that he became he was kind of like a role model for the younger students. So even though the everybody else was in grade nine and he was in grade 12 and about a foot taller than everybody I, I realized that he was a really good resource for me to have.


Christa Ray (11:58):
And I mean, as a guidance counselor, I could see his transcript and I knew that it wasn’t very shiny. He hadn’t been doing really well. Due to many circumstances his life in Toronto was very difficult and not to get into too many details. He, he was trying to make his life better for himself. Hence the reason why he had moved to Bellville. And so when he came I, I think my biggest mistake was kind of pre-judging him, mm-hmm , you know, this is, this is gonna be a student where I’m really gonna have a lot of troubles and I actually didn’t at all. So near the end of his grade 12 year when he had accumulated his geography credit, which is a prerequisite to graduate in Ontario. Yeah. And he had accumulated other credits. He, he, I was so proud of him and I think he was proud of himself.


Christa Ray (12:52):
And I, I told him specifically that I don’t know what I would’ve done without him because he was a good motivator. He always had his homework done. When other students didn’t, he would sit with them and ex like, say, you know, I, I like to help you, which baffled my mind because I thought that he would just stick to himself, but he literally was a, like an older role model for the students. And he helped a few other students get through my class as well. It was like having a peer helper. Yeah. Actually, and I he went on to do welding at a college program. That’s and I’ve since lost track of him. I, I always wonder what he’s up to, but I don’t know. He, he is definitely one story that sticks out in my mind and I will remember him for as long as I live, actually.


Sam Demma (13:42):
That’s awesome. That’s such a beautiful story. And maybe this podcast is a reason to try and reach out and figure out what he’s up to these days. And if, you know, if you’re listening to this, remember that these stories are not far in between that, I think so much transformation happens inside schools or even outside the school walls with conversations because you, as an educator, you take on the role of parent. Sometimes you take on the role of teacher. Sometimes you take on the role of coach. It’s like, you’re so many things to these young minds and you can have such a huge impact. And it sometimes transforms students lives, which is pretty cool. Anyways, this has been really, really awesome. If you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just starting teaching with all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you, would you share when you were just starting?


Christa Ray (14:36):
Hmm. I think, well, I mean, you learn more and more each year. So even though I’ve been teaching for quite some time I would tell my younger self that you’re, you’re basically on a journey. You’re not gonna know all of the answers. You’re not gonna have it all figured out in your first fifth or even 10th year of teaching. And as we all are very aware of this year has thrown everybody for a loop and we’ve had to change our teaching style significantly, especially earlier in the spring when we went to remote learning. But I just think that teachers need to not be so hard on themselves. Mm. They need to you know they need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their classrooms. Yeah. And you might not be able to get it all done in a day.


Christa Ray (15:28):
So try not to be too overworked because I know a lot of teachers and myself included, we bring our work home with us. We try to make things as good as we can make them. And sometimes we can’t have perfection a hundred percent of the time. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I’d give people is you know, doing a good job is okay. You don’t need to do an awesome job every day because it can get very tiring. And so just do as best as you can do. And that’s good enough.


Sam Demma (15:59):
I love that. That’s great advice. And I think it applies in all areas of life. Like if you’re tr if you’re trying to be perfect, 24 7, you’re gonna burn out fast. And then instead of being great each day, you’re gonna be poor on a couple of them now, because you’re not actually able to physically perform and show up for your kids. Correct.


Christa Ray (16:18):
We, we talk a lot about, sorry to interrupt. Like, we talk a lot about mental health with students mm-hmm , but we really should also focus a mental health with teachers because I know a in particular this year, a lot of teachers are feeling very strapped. Our, our schooling system right now is in an Okta master system. So yeah. Credits are being accumulated at a very rapid pace in 23 days. And that’s, it, it’s a very different reality from what we’ve been experiencing in the past. And so I think teachers need to get sleep. They need to eat. Right. they need to do something fun on the weekend yeah. To re-energize their batteries.


Sam Demma (16:59):
So, yeah, I think it’s true. Almost like a teacher retreat or something


Christa Ray (17:03):
If yes, that’s right.


Sam Demma (17:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Cool. Well, Christa, thank you so much for taking some time and to come on the show, I really appreciate you sharing some stories and ideas. If another educator listening wants to reach out, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Christa Ray (17:18):
Well, they can email me. My email is raychris@alcdsb.on.ca. And if they want to email me, I can, I can do what I can to help.


Sam Demma (17:34):
Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much. Again, I look forward to staying in touch and watching all the cool things you do with the school board.


Christa Ray (17:40):
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (17:43):
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 wanna 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.

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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.