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Department Head

Anita Bondy is the Team Lead of the International Cohort-Based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor

Anita Bondy is the Team Lead of the International Cohort-Based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor
About Anita Bondy

Anita Bondy is the Team Lead of the International Cohort-Based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor. In this role, Anita oversees the admissions of approximately 9,000 applications annually to many of the university’s largest graduate programs. Her team of 6 works with applicants, educational agents, overseas recruiters and faculty to admit only the highest quality applicants to these very competitive programs.

In 2020, Anita received the Ontario Universities Registrars Association (OURA) Award of Excellence for her leadership in transitioning the course-based admissions process from the Centre for Executive and Professional Education (CEPE) to the Office of the Registrars.

Anita also teaches part-time at St. Clair College Zekelman School of Business and Technology. She can use her MBA and CHRP designation to its fullest by educating students in various areas of Human Resource Management. Her HR expertise is also shown in her volunteer VP-HR role for the Latchkey Child Care Board of Directors, which she has served for almost a decade.

In her leisure, Anita volunteers her time as a Committee Member and coach for the Miracle League of Riverside Baseball association, an all-accessible baseball league for individuals with physical or developmental exceptionalities.

Connect with Anita: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

International Cohort-Based Master Admissions – University of Windsor

Ontario Universities Registrars Association (OURA)

OURA Awards

Centre for Executive and Professional Education (CEPE)

St. Clair College Zekelman School of Business and Technology

Latchkey Child Care Board of Directors

Riverside Baseball association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Anita Bondy. Anita is the team lead of the International Cohort based Master Admissions at the University of Windsor. In this role, Anita oversees the admissions of approximately 9,000 applications annually to many of the University’s largest graduate programs. Her team of six works with applicants, educational agents, overseas recruiters, and faculty to admit only the highest quality applicants to those very competitive programs. In 2020, Anita received the Ontario University’s Registrar’s Association Award of Excellence for her leadership in transitioning the course based admissions process from the Center of Executive and Professional Education to the Office of the Registrars. Anita also teaches part-time at St. Clair College, Zekelman School of Business and Technology. She can use her MBA and CHRP designation to its fullest by educating students in various areas of human resource management. Her HR expertise is also shown in her volunteer VP HR role for the Latchkey Childcare Board of Directors, which she has served for almost a decade. In her leisure, Anita volunteers her time as a committee member and coach for the Miracle League of Riverside Baseball Association, an all accessible baseball league for individuals with physical or developmental exceptionalities. I hope you enjoy this insightful and energetic conversation with Anita and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:35):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today’s special guest is Anita Bondy. Anita, welcome to the podcast. Please start by introducing yourself.

Anita Bondy (02:45):

Hi Sam. Thanks so much for having me. My name is Anita Bondy. I currently work at the University of Windsor as the team lead for our international cohort based master’s admissions, and I teach part-time at St. Clair College.

Sam Demma (02:59):

Did you know when you were a student navigating your own career pathways that you wanted to work in education?

Anita Bondy (03:05):

No. So and so I started at the university in my Bachelor of Commerce actually thinking that I was gonna go into finance or accounting because that to me was where someone with a business degree went. I don’t know why I thought that front, what leading high school. So I started with that thought. And then after my first two years cuz we don’t choose a specialization until your third and fourth year, I just realized I did way better in what I call the soft skills. So like the marketing, the human resources side versus the number side. So I kind of switched my focus and I did my undergraduate degree in marketing thinking I was gonna go into marketing and sales. And I did for a little bit. I did for a little bit. And then when I did my mba, I wanted to do a different concentration.

Anita Bondy (03:57):

So I went into the HR strain and that really sort of changed where I thought my career was gonna go. But genuinely, I I just kind of fell into this for lack of a better way of putting it. my first job out of university was recruiting for the university. So right away I was doing marketing and sales from an educational perspective. And I did that for a couple of years. And then I ended up getting more of a full-time role with our business school doing their curriculum redevelopment. Nice. So that I, I fell really hard into curriculum and, and higher education at that point. But then I was actually offered an opportunity to go back into sales in the private sector. And I did pharmaceutical sales for Proctor and Gamble for about four years. Wow. And that was really cool. It was a very cool job.

Anita Bondy (04:52):

and that’s, that was very sales focused, of course. And then the role that I was in they actually downsized the entire department. And so I was out looking for something and I, I always say that it was very serendipitous because the day that I was told that they were getting rid of like, that they were downsizing all of the sales reps. I reached out to two of my friends who still worked at the university and said, Hey, I’m looking again. And that same day a marketing role at the university came up. So I I I smile all the time. Cause I was like, that’s, that’s interesting. Yeah. So then I went back into education and I did marketing recruitment for our professional programs, which morphed in, these are more internationally focused graduate programs. So my role with that turned into more doing marketing recruitment for all undergraduate and graduate programs.

Anita Bondy (05:49):

And then that morphed into what I do now, which is overseeing the admissions for those programs. So originally when I started, when I was in high school and university, had no thoughts of working in education. and it just sort of happenstance turned into that. And now I’m quite convinced that this is my career. I don’t intend on on leaving. but probably starting to teach at the college was where I really feel like my, my heart is, I think that I should have gone into teaching maybe because that is where I really feel like I’m being the most impactful, even though it’s only part-time and I’m only affecting 50 or a hundred students at a time, that’s where I really find the most enjoyment out of my roles.

Sam Demma (06:39):

Nice. From selling drugs to education <laugh>. Right.

Anita Bondy  (06:43):

It’s so funny. It’s so funny. I remember my, my sister who is an educator, she’s a kindergarten teacher, used to joke around that I was a drug dealer. And I said, listen, it’s, it’s, it’s legal though. I’m a legal drug dealer. and then yeah, now I’m, I’ve popped into you know, and in fact one of the programs that we admit for one, one of their career paths is going into pharmaceuticals. So it’s like I, I completely changed hats and now I’m helping people do that job <laugh> or get qualified to do that job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (07:12):

What are some of the skills you think you learned in the corporate sector doing sales and marketing that have been very helpful in the work you’re doing now in education that you think any educator, whether you’re working in an office or in a classroom, could benefit from?

Anita Bondy (07:27):

One of the things that Procter and Gamble did wonderfully was the training and development program for their, for their staff. And one of the things that we were sort of taught was really identifying really well with your customer or your client mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So understanding what their needs were, understanding where they were coming from, and then recognizing how I, as a person providing the product can help them with that. that I think is really transferable to what I’m doing right now because as much as I have these applicants who are applying to these roles, everyone is a different story. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> people are, are, maybe they’re doing this because they want a career advancement. Maybe they’re doing this because this is their next step in their educational journey. Maybe they’re doing that, the this because they wanna come to Canada and this is, this is a pathway for them to get educated in order to be able to immigrate and have a worthwhile career in Canada.

Anita Bondy (08:25):

So everyone has a different kind of a, a story same as the faculties that I represent. So each faculty that we recruit for and we admit for, has a different rationale as to what students that they’re looking for or what pathway they’re looking for, how many students they want, what demographic of students that they want. So really understanding my client, who I view as being both our faculty members, but also the applicants who are applying I think is really beneficial from the classroom perspective. Knowing each one of my students as best as I can and identifying where their strengths or their weaknesses are is really important as well. and that follows the same idea. You gotta know who you’re selling to, so you’ve gotta know who you’re teaching to. And if I’m teaching to someone who doesn’t have the background that I think they have, it’s gonna be a loss. But if I’m teaching to someone who maybe already has 10 or 20 years in the subject that I’m teaching, because I do teach continuing education, so I do have professionals who take my classes, then I teach a little bit differently because I know what they’re trying to get out of the course is different from what someone who’s taking it as a first year might take, might get out of it.

Sam Demma (09:43):

Ah, that’s so cool. I think selling is teaching because you’re not necessarily, if you’re doing a good job trying to sell somebody something, you’re trying to teach them something that moves them to a decision. And I think that’s so true in education as well, right?

Anita Bondy (09:58):

You just like nail on the head right there, Sam. So one of like, that is, that’s per, it’s a perfect way of, of putting it, to be honest. It’s a perfect way of putting it. Because as a salesperson, especially in pharmaceuticals, they don’t buy from me. I’m reliant on them writing a prescription, and that’s my sale. So when I’m sitting there, and it’s not like you’re selling a pair of shoes where you’re saying, okay, do you want the black or the white? And then someone makes a choice and leaves with that product. At the same time, with this type of sales, you’re educating the physician as to why that product is superior, or what demographic that that product works better with. And hoping that through that educational process when the physician has a has a patient come in who identifies with those characteristics, they look and they say, okay, this product is the best for them. So like absolutely. It’s a, it’s, it’s, it’s an educational point for first and foremost,

Sam Demma (10:59):

One of the things I love about education is the facilitation of mentorship. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’ve found in my own experience growing up as a student, some of my teachers became some of my biggest mentors. And I still stay in touch with some of them to this day and have coffee on their porches to catch up. Did you have some mentors in your corporate career and also your educational career that played a big role in your own personal development? And if so, like who are some of those people and what did they do for you?

Anita Bondy (11:29):

So my partner when I was in sales was a woman and by the name of Mary Hallett, who had been in the role for years. And she was, she was my partner. I, every piece of my success went to that lady cause she taught me everything that I needed to know. She taught me who, who the doctors were and, and what their personality were. She taught me how to sell to this person versus another person. She taught me a lot about our products and things about our competitors. So I, I owe a lot to her and I am still in, in touch with her. Cool. from a business perspective, when I was working for the Otet School of Business, part of my role was doing recruitment, part of it was doing retention. So I actually created a bit of a mentorship, a tutoring program for our business students.

Anita Bondy (12:20):

Nice. Through that I was able to hire some students, and one of the students that I hired as a third year business student is actually one of my colleagues at the university now. So she was, yeah. So, so I actually have tea with her on a very regular basis, and she was someone who I mentored a long time. So Clementa. Hi. How are you? <laugh>? from a, from a professor’s perspective, in that same role, when I did recruitment, I was partnered with a professor, Dave er, who Dr. Er was in charge of the ODT recruitment. Nice. So he and I would go out and we would go to high schools and ses and colleges to advertise for, for the b o program. He taught me a lot more about the actual curriculum and, and things along those lines that really helped me to be able to sell the program to a prospective student.

Anita Bondy (13:19):

He was very important to me in that he was such a personable professor to me. He knew me, he knew who I was, he knew my sister, he knew my family, he knew everything about me. And I so distinctly remember my first day of my MBA program, I was meeting all these other students and one student was from the University of Toronto and Dr. Bustier walked over and he goes, Hey, Anita, how you doing? I said, oh, I’m good, Dave. How are you? And he said, great, great. He’s like, did Nicole start, you know, Beed yet? And I said, yep, she’s already started. She’s doing, she’s doing I j And he’s like, great. And then we, and then he kind of left and this student who is now also a colleague of mine turned around to me and goes, that’s our marketing professor. And I said, yeah.

Anita Bondy (14:01):

And he goes, he knows your name. And I said, yeah. And I go, he knows my name. He goes my sister’s name, he knows my, you know, she’s studying <laugh>. Yeah. And, and he goes, wow. And I said, yeah. And I was kind of confused because at our school we got to know our professors really, really well. Yeah. And this, and this fellow turned around and goes, I, there’s not one professor who would know me. And I said, really? And he goes, it, he’s like, I, I’m an A student and I can tell you this man has an exceptional career now, but as an undergraduate student, he was just a number at, at the, he came from. And he was so amazed that this random professor who was walking down the hall happened to know me and that I, I saw him the other day. He’s telling me about his grandkids and what they went for on a Halloween.

Anita Bondy (14:47):

And, you know, like, I’m still in touch with him. so I’ve had some really good mentors in, in every aspect of my, of my my career. Both mentoring people or men or, or being that mentee. So I think that’s a really, really important part, especially for young people who are just getting out into their career. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> no one knows what that job is on day one. No one is expected to know what that job is on day one, but you are expected to do it. You’re expected to do that job right away. So if you don’t have someone there to guide you and to lead you and to show you the way you can get really lost. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So I love the idea of mentors and, and mentorship programs and, and partners and things like that to, to really help you understand your role a little bit better.

Sam Demma (15:40):

Sometimes mentors are even people you haven’t met before. Right. You have a, people can’t see it, but I see you on Zoom right now with a big bookshelf behind you. I’m curious to know if there’s any other resources that you found that were helpful in your own personal development or professional development, whether that be authors, books, conferences podcasts you listen to, or anything at all that’s been helpful.

Anita Bondy (16:05):

I, I do a lot of sort of some like not self-help books, but our motivational books. So I do listen to like the Brene Browns and, and things like that as well. periodically I’ll, I’ll pop in for a TED Talk and I’ll, and I’ll read through that. through the university we have a few different organizations. So we have Aura, which is the Ontario University Registrars Association. Nice. That meets fairly regularly. And there are some coffee chats that we can participate in if we’d like to. and there’s a similar sort of organization acro as well as just some internal ones that we have at the university. one of the things the university does do is offers quite a bit of professional development opportunities. So I’ll reach out to you know, someone who maybe led one of the, one of the webinars that I went to and asked for more advice that way. there are some good resources as well within our organization. So I’m having coffee this week with our talent manager to go through like possible career options for myself because, you know, and I’ve been in this role for four years, so it’s time to maybe start looking for Yeah. For something different. so I’m sitting down with her to kind of go through some other options or maybe some development opportunities. So nobody that I would pinpoint as being a go-to other than like some little pieces here and there.

Sam Demma (17:34):

Cool. Yeah. That’s awesome. You mentioned one of the things you did with the School of business was develop curriculum for an educator who doesn’t know what goes into doing something like that, can you share the process and like what you actually did in that role? Yeah.

Anita Bondy (17:48):

So the, the re the rationale behind that was within the business school world, there’s something called an AACSB accreditation. And this is a special accreditation that not a lot of business schools have. I wanna say that it’s something like 10% of the business schools around the world have this. So it’s hard to get the reason and in order to get that accreditation is based on your curriculum. It’s based on your curriculum, it’s based on your professorships and, and things along those lines. And so the ODE School of Business said, we wanna do this. We want this accreditation, so we need to revamp our curriculum. So I worked on the undergraduate committee with other well mostly professors and to look at what we were missing. And so what I did for the better part of probably a year is research schools that already had the AAC C S B accreditation looked at what their curriculum was looked at.

Anita Bondy (18:48):

And this is looking at learning objectives or learning outcomes. It’s looking at hours spent on certain topics. It’s looking at is it a tenured professor who’s teaching it versus a sessional teacher? Is it a PhD teaching it versus someone who has a master’s degree? So it’s, it goes into who’s teaching it as well. You have to look at textbooks that are available in that subject and if they encompass what is required in order to meet that accreditation. So over about a year, we researched dozens of schools to see what were the commonalities that curriculums had. And then we looked at our curriculum and found the gaps. What are we missing or what are we teaching that we don’t need to be teaching? Or what’s a duplicate or what are we missing? And through that, they, they revamped the entire undergraduate curriculum. And now, for example, we didn’t have business communications when I was in my B C O.

Anita Bondy (19:46):

Now that’s what you take in your first term, first year. they changed around some of the we didn’t have operations management when I was a student. Now that’s a required course. So there’s a lot of different pieces that were missing that through this process we were able to go through. But it’s a lot of research of other schools. It’s a lot of research of the accreditation bureau to ensure that we’re meeting all the pieces. But then it was also tasked to the faculty because they do look at things like how many people are on staff with a PhD. Mm-hmm. How many people are on staff with maybe a doctorate, how many people are employed with an accreditation versus you know, hands on experience. So that, that actually changed the hiring process for the next few years for that school because they had to emphasize more PhD or doctorate acre like accredited people for their hiring purposes. So it was a long process. And in fact, I ended up leaving for my other job before it was, was finalized. Gotcha. But I, I did present it at a conference with a, with a professor who I worked on it with. And that was, that was rewarding. It was a lot of work. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:57):

It sounds like it was a lot of work. <laugh>. Yeah.

Anita Bondy (20:59):

Yeah. A long time ago, but it was a lot of work. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (21:03):

How does the organization of data and research look like? Is it just a never ending Google Doc <laugh>

Anita Bondy (21:09):

That it’s, so, it’s, well this was back in the day. So this was Excel spreadsheets Nice. And access databases. Okay. cause this was probably, oh gosh, it’s been a while now. So I probably completed this in like 2007 or eight. Oh wow. Cool. It was a long time ago. Right. so it was, it was before the world of Google Docs took over. So it, it was a lot of spreadsheeting. and in fact, back in that day, we didn’t even have shared drives. Ah. So it was, it was saving on USBs and, and bringing to someone’s office to upload, because our email wouldn’t send files that long <laugh>. So like, I’m very much aging myself here. But yeah, it was, it was a year’s worth of, of Spreadsheeting and documents before we got it into, and then it ended up being like a, a full report, dozens of pages. I couldn’t even tell you how many it was that led to our recommendation to the faculty as to how to change the curriculum.

Sam Demma (22:09):

Hmm. One of the things I love about education is no matter what role you’re in, you know, it has an impact on the end user, the student who’s going through the whole system, whether you’re developing the curriculum they’re gonna participate in from future years, whether you’re in accounting and writing invoices. So students can have new opportunities, you know, whether you are the teacher, the bus driver, the custodian, like every person plays a role. I’m curious from your perspective, the role you’re in now, what do you think is the impact on the end user and have you heard some of the impact <laugh>?

Anita Bondy (22:43):

Yes, I have. So both positively and negatively, I’ll be honest with you. the programs that I oversee the admissions for are very competitive. So we’ll get annually, anywhere between nine and 10,000 applications. Wow. We have about 3000 seats at the most. Somewhere between two and 3000 seats, depending on the term annually. Right. So there is a lot of students who are not admitted. So they, so I do have to deal with the negative aspect of it affecting someone as well. So, and, and so I do, so I’ll start with that. So, you know, I have had to answer emails from students who are not admitted asking why or what are pathways now. And sometimes this is an opportunity to put them on a better pathway. So if they’re not maybe qualified for our program, but I’m looking at their transcripts and I can see that they would be qualified for a different program on our campus or maybe a different program that I just happen to know about at a different school.

Anita Bondy (23:47):

Yeah. And I’m able to give them a different pathway to be able to get in On the positive end. I have students who come into the office every term wanting to see me to say thank you for their, for, for guiding them. Thank you for accommodating them. I, as I’ve told you, Sam I’m, I’m an identical twin. So I had one set of twins actually contact me. One got into a program for fall, the other one got into a program for winter, and they called me and they said, we can’t do this alone. I need my sister there. What can you do? And I ended up being able to push one to, to the previous semester. And they came in, the two most identical people I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t think these two girls have been a part for a day in their lives.

Anita Bondy (24:40):

So they, they were very thankful that I was able to help them out and to, you know, to get them. So every day I get thank yous every day I get, can you help me with this? Or can you give my direction on that? So I know that my day to day work is impactful. I’m not the person making the decision on the file. That’s my team is able to do that. So I’m not the person ultimately deciding, but I am the person that if any concerns come up or any accommodations need to be made, or any special circumstances have to be approved, I’m that person that, that has to make those decisions. So I know that what I’m doing is going to be impactful. The programs that I oversee are graduate level programs. So these are not 17 year olds. These are 25 to 30 year old people likely coming from another country who are coming here to Canada.

Anita Bondy (25:36):

So it’s, it could be them bringing their families, it could be them leaving their country for the first time that they’ve, and they’ve never left. It could be that they’re coming from a non-English speaking country. So there are concerns that way. so I get a, I get a very long list of different concerns or questions or you know, can you guide me in this direction? And in many cases, this admission to this program and how they handle their admission to this program could impact the rest of their lives. Because if they are successful in getting in and they are successful in the program they are eligible to apply, apply for a postgraduate work permit. Ah, yep. And if they’re able to get that job and they have a company who’s willing to support them, they can apply for permanent residency. So this could actually really change their lives significantly once they’re admitted to the program.

Anita Bondy (26:34):

And if they’re successful in, in all of those steps. Not every student wants to stay in Canada. Not every student is successful in staying in Canada. but for those who are this could really impact. We have also had students who, you know, parents pay for them to come over to study with the expectation that they’re gonna come back to their home country and maybe take over their family business. So I know that the education we’re providing here is gonna be impactful not only for that student, but could be for the entire family that they are now in charge of because they’re running their family business or, or something along those lines. So I definitely see the work that I do having an impact For sure.

Sam Demma (27:19):

That’s so cool. Thanks for sharing that. There’s so many different ways that the things you’re doing ripple into the lives of the people going through the programs. this is just a question from pure curiosity. Sure. Have you ever had someone, and I know you don’t make the decision a part of your team, does, have you ever had someone not get admitted and then share something, send something, say something, show up and change the result to an admission?

Anita Bondy (27:48):

Absolutely. So, like for example, if we look at a transcript and we see a bunch of failures, right? That’s usually a red flag to us that they likely will not be successful. Cuz if they were not unsuccessful in their undergraduate degree, they might not be successful. So we do have some rules about that, but periodically I’ll get an email from a student saying, you know what, I had a death in the family that semester and my mental health was not where it needed to be and my grades suffered, or I had a medical issue and I was unavailable to write the final exam. So I didn’t fail it, I just, you know, was unavailable. So I do get quite a few of those. If the applicant is able to properly prove what happened, we might reconsider, of course the decision is up to the faculty at that point. but yeah, we have, we have definitely had students who maybe were initially declined that came to us with maybe a personal story that really changed what the outcome was.

Sam Demma (28:51):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’m a big advocate for solely in a business context or like a, you know, professional context that no, doesn’t have to mean never and stop. It could mean try again in a more creative way or provide the person with value. And even as an educator, keeping that in mind when you’re navigating your own career journey, I think is just something to remember. At the end of the day, it’s humans making the decisions, so. Right. Right. Yeah. that’s so cool. When you think about your, all your experiences in education if you could take that experience, travel back in time, tap Anita on the shoulder in her first year working in education and say, you know, this is some of the advice. I think it would’ve been helpful for you to hear at the start of your journey, right? Not that you would change anything about your path, but what would you have told your younger self that you thought might have been

Anita Bondy  (29:41):

Helpful? I actually probably would change my path. <laugh>

Sam Demma (29:44):

OK. <laugh>.

Anita Bondy (29:47):

 one of the things, so I didn’t start teaching proper teaching until I was in my thirties. Ok. and that’s when I was like, oh my God, this is what I was meant to do. And I, I love it. I love it. So genuinely, if I had to go back in time, I probably would have, I had applied for my Bette at the same time as I applied for my mba. And in my brain I was like, no, I’m a business person. I’m gonna go, I’m gonna do my, my mba. I genuinely wish I would’ve gone the other pathway because I think that, I think that I would have been a great teacher. I think I would’ve been a great grade school or even high school teacher because I connect so much with my, my current students. So that is something that I would’ve actually probably gone back to.

Anita Bondy (30:33):

 teaching at the college came as a fluke as well. I when I was let go from p p and G, they gave us a severance package that included money to go towards schooling. And I said, well, you know what? I need three classes to get my C H R P designation. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go to the college and I’m gonna take three classes. And I got in touch with the professor and he said you know, if you use all your transfer credits, you can actually get a diploma from us with five courses. And I was like, really? And he was like, yeah. So I ended up completing a diploma without intentionally meaning to completing a diploma. And when I was done he turned around to me and goes, Jerry Collins, by the way, is his name. He’s still a professor at St.

Anita Bondy (31:19):

Clair and says, Hey, do you wanna teach for us? And I said, yeah, I do <laugh>. And he, like, as soon as I finished my diploma, he gave me a part-time role. Nice. And I, and I’ve now been teaching at St. Clair for about six or seven years now. So he was, again, all of these things in my life happen as kind of flukes. So I think one of the best pieces of advice that I could give to anyone when you’re starting your career journey is you never know what’s gonna come around the corner. You never know what’s gonna happen. I did not expect to be let go from p and g. I thought that that was gonna be my career, and now I’m in a role that is so much more enjoyable that I’m getting value out of. There are some days when you’re in sales where you finish the day and you’re like, I I didn’t make an impact anywhere.

Anita Bondy (32:13):

Yeah. You know, where did I make that impact? You know, I’m, I, I didn’t connect with anyone. I can genuinely say that in my, in my current role, I think I make an impact to someone multiple times in a week. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, if not daily. So that would be my, my best advice is take every chance that you can to try different things out. Because you never know what’s going to make sense for you. Had, had Jerry not said, Hey, do you wanna teach? I would’ve never thought about applying to teach. And through that, I now have a really good second job that is very rewarding to me. that has really shown me sort of what, what I’m good at. So that would’ve never happened if I hadn’t have taken a different, a different pathway.

Sam Demma (33:02):

Shout out to Jerry

Anita Bondy (33:04):

<laugh>. Yeah, that’s way to go. Professor Collins. Yeah.

Sam Demma (33:07):

<laugh>. Awesome. Anita, thanks so much for coming on the show to talk about your different experiences, your career journey, what brought you to where you are today. If someone wants to reach out, ask a question, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Anita Bondy (33:21):

Yep. So emails probably the most direct, and it’s just my, my first and my last name. So anita.bodny@uwindsor.ca. I’m also on LinkedIn and happy to answer any kind of questions that anyone has if you wanna get me through that, that medium as well.

Sam Demma (33:39):

Awesome. Anita, thanks so much. Keep up the great work.

Anita Bondy (33:42):

Thank you for having me, Sam.

Sam Demma (33:43):

And we’ll talk soon.

Anita Bondy (33:44):

For sure. Take care. Have a great week.

Sam Demma (33:47):

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 Anita Bondy

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.

Eric Keunne – Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board

Eric Keunne - Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board
About Eric Keunne

Eric Keunne (@EricKeunne) is an Educator and Instructional Program Leader for Youth Settlement (K-12). He is also a Research Assistant for the Camerise Project (FSL hub) and a Ph.D. student in Francophone Studies at York University.

Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon.

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We have a very special guest with us today. His name is Eric Keunne. Eric is an educator and instructional program leader for youth settlement, K to 12. He is also a research assistant for the Camerise Project, also known as the FSL Hub and a PhD student in Francophone studies at York University. Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French Department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Eric Keunne (01:55):

Well, thank you so very much Sam. It’s really a pleasure to be on your show today. My name is Eric Keunne. I speak many languages. I speak Aghem the from the west region of Cameroon but my official language is French because Cameroon, where I come from is a bilingual language country, just like Canada. And my, the language I grew up speaking and studying in is French so you will realize that very often in this interview that I will use on French expressions. And you can also derive from there that as I’m a French language teacher, right. So I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to certainly have the opportunity to talk about my journey as an educator all the way from Cameroon and here in Canada, in Ontario now today. So, aside from that, I’m also a dad married to a wonderful wife. So, and my lovely two kids Michelle ve <inaudible>. So yeah. And pretty much also working towards bringing the Cameroon community together. As always, I’ve been very invested in, into that vain. And but what is very important is certainly to sheathe the path for the future of our kids. Rightm and the next generation. as an educator.

Sam Demma (03:10):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was it something you always knew or something you stumbled into?

Eric Keunne (03:18):

That’s a wonderful question, Sam. I, well, it really gives me the opportunity to visit back against some sweet memories. Like I said, I was born and raised in Cameroon and Cameroon’s, a very beautiful country’s actually located in Central Africa. For those who you who are so wondering, Cameroon is the home to Toronto Rap NBA champion, Pascals, of course, yes. <Laugh> and also Ronald Soccer players like Samuel Ato and Roja mil. Yeah. So just like I indicated, Camon it’s a very, I’d say Sweden, blessed country in a sense that the dynamics of the population living in Cameroon is such a unique one, and I would love everyone to experience that. However as you know, Cameroon is also today, Cameroon as we know it today, is not only a result of colonization, but it’s also had to go through so many iterations as a country itself.

Eric Keunne (04:17):

So many changes actually happen in there. And that has also influenced my path. I grew up in a very, very modest family. My dad and Ream was a business man, and he was very, very invested into bringing up his children in such a way that they were not experience the same challenges just like he grew up experiencing. He, he was not fortunate enough to pursue his education on after elementary school. So one of the things that always prompted him to motivate his kids to go beyond his level where he dropped, was to ensure that, you know, they’ll be able to embrace the future. And for me, particularly he absolutely wanted me to hold a key position in the family, being that person who always trying to not only help others to navigate around the challenges that they were facing, because apparently, I, I had that gift, that talent of being able to, to communicate eloquently in French and also, but in a very respectful way.

Eric Keunne (05:27):

And for him, that was a sign that I would be an amazing educator in the future. So somehow he, he pushed me in this, into this profession. He pushed me to embrace and to love this profession. So I grew up with that in mind knowing that I had a huge responsibility, not only towards my family towards my community, but people that I, I meet with every single day. Mm. And I, you know, I grew up with that love and passion for, for education, for, for helping others people to grow and try. Right. And I ended up at a teacher’s college in, in Cameroon, and here I am today.

Sam Demma (06:03):

You mentioned Samuel Etto. Is, is football a big part of your childhood,

Eric Keunne (06:07):

<Laugh>? Absolutely, absolutely. I grew up playing football, we call it in Canada soccer, but I grew up playing football and enjoying it, just like every, every young man of my generation in Cameroon. And even now. And you know, when I actually started teaching, one of the things that I also dedicated my time doing, Sam, was to to coach, right? So I used to be a soccer coach when, in high school, when I was working in a high school.

Sam Demma (06:32):

So you mentioned the passion, where it came from. What did the journey look like from the different roles you worked in education and then the transition from Cameroon to Canada?

Eric Keunne (06:45):

Well, it wasn’t an easy transition all the time. So I, like I said, I I, I did my teacher’s education in Cameroon at Eco Hill, the Bomb, and next to bomb Bili. So ENS bomb, that’s in northwest region of Cameroon. And my training was in bilingual letters, bilingual education. So I was trained as a FSL teacher, but also as an English language as a English as a second language teacher. Nice. And when I finished my, my teacher’s education in Cameroon, I was actually assigned to my first high school in Cameroon government high school, je, where I spent almost two years. Ah, and I, I, I, I ended up being a department head for French in, in that high school. Then at some point my dad, who was very, very very motivated in seeing me exploring and exploiting all my full potential, he encouraged me to go beyond the level of being a teacher at the high school level.

Eric Keunne (07:48):

So he really encouraged me to pursue my, my post-secondary education. So I started looking for opportunities to doing a master’s degree. And I, so I started that in Cameroon, and I eventually got the chance to go study abroad in the uk. But before the uk I made a stop in Belgium in Brick. So where I studied for one year. Then I eventually ended up at the University of Newcastle where I did study in a Master’s of education program in international developmental education. So in the uk what was very fascinating about my, my journey there was the fact that I was able to not only match part of my experience with, you know, the reality of teaching and learning in the uk, but I was also able to share this experiences with so many learners around me. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I was a unique opportunity in that specific program.

Eric Keunne (08:38):

And I, you know, I want to take this opportunity to give a, you shout out to Professor Pauline Dixon, who will be probably listening from the uk. She was my professor in that program. And she, she really invested in, in a platform where all the scholars in this program would be able to come and share experiences, because of course, we were talking about international development, and it was also a unique platform to talk about some best practices and things challenges that we were actually able to identify in specific countries, especially in developing countries. Right. And how we could actually work towards fixing that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And back then we were talking about the, the, the development goals for the future. So it was very interesting. Right. And and back then, I also had a chance to do some supply job teaching in the uk some of the schools.

Eric Keunne (09:31):

So it gave me a unique perspective, right, to compare my experience from Cameroon and of course, in the uk. Then of course, eventually after that I moved to Canada here in Canada when I actually arrived in 2009, I didn’t write away get an opportunity to teach because the process was quite tedious and challenging. So I did apply to the College of Teachers. It took me about two to three years to get my OCC license, as you would imagine, Very, very stressful. But in the meantime, I was very lucky to to be invited to teach at a private school in Maka, Ontario. That’s why started my first teaching experience in Canada. Truly was at Town Center private high school. That’s why I started teaching in 2000 and, and 12. Nice. And it, it was good because I was working in a small school and it was really the firsthand experience for me working in Canada for the first time as a teacher, Right.

Eric Keunne (10:25):

Mm. And getting ready as my p my papers were being processed. And so it was really at that moment, and I, I really always thank the principal back then, Patrick McCarthy, who hired me and all the staff at thousand High School for all the support that they provided me with. And today I’m very, very pleased with where I am, because after Town Central High School I eventually had a chance to also teach at Seneca College in the nice living program where I was teaching French language as well. And after that I think in 2014 there was a, a position at Qua High School here in Halton, Hal, Industry School Board, for which I applied. And and I got a job in 2014. I’ve been really enjoying my journey so far since 2014 with Halton Industry School Board.

Sam Demma (11:14):

I love that your journey pursuing education has quite literally brought you around the globe, <laugh>, like

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

It’s so exciting to hear about the diverse perspectives you have and have picked up from teaching in such different places. What are some of the stark differences or, and similarities that you’ve noticed teaching in Cameroon versus teaching in UK and then versus both teaching in Canada, like <laugh>? I’m curious what kind of comes to mind when you think about those experiences and the similarities and differences?

Eric Keunne (11:48):

Well, the first thing that comes into my mind what I, in terms of, you know, comparing my teaching experience in these three countries is, is the fact that, you know, it’s actually provided me with a unique, unique facet of, you know, understanding the needs of the student and, and of course the families, right? Cause in Cameroon, one thing that is very interesting for you to know is that we do have very large class sizes, okay. And, and there’s that desire for every single students to to be knowledgeable. So they’re really, really looking into embracing every single word that comes out of the mouth of the teacher. So, to that is, to that regard, I think the position that you hold as a teach in Cameroon is quite different from how you position position here in Canada or somewhere else.

Eric Keunne (12:45):

Got it. Because you do have that you know, unique position as a, in Cameroon to secondly bring all the students towards a direction, the direction that you think it’s good for them, because they look up to you as not only teacher, but as a leader. I’m not saying it’s not the case here, is it still the case here? However, the dynamics in terms of the relationship is quite different. Right. And here, and, and that’s why I say I’m very grateful because I’ve had a chance to teach in Africa, in Europe, and now here in North America. So I, I, you know, I’m very blessed in that sense because throughout my journey, specifically here in Canada, I have come to the realization that, you know, beyond the fact that as a teacher, you are a leader, you are also there to facilitate the knowledge, not necessarily to give the knowledge to students, not only to provide them with everything that they need to swallow and digest now.

Eric Keunne (13:44):

Yeah. Right. You broaden the perspective, You open their avenue to students so that they can actually grow up with some critical thinking, Right. And be able to co-plan with you. Right. And that’s really what is amazing. You know, when I think about the experience here but again, you, you have to also understand that, you know, the, the, the way education is shipped around the world, it’s specifically tied to all the, the economic of that country as well. Because resources is very important when you think of planning in education. So for countries who have limited resources, financial resources I’m talking about here, and of course technological resources, it will be very, very difficult to apply the same system that we have here in Canada, everywhere. And, and to that, I think when you have the opportunity to move around a little bit, you get to appreciate every single country with what they actually bring forward in this uniqueness.

Eric Keunne (14:46):

So every country has a unique approach, which I like. So everywhere I’ve been to and here in Canada particularly I, I think one of the things that really makes me always enjoy my, my role as a teacher is really the passion that I see in every class that I go into, especially when it comes to the learning of French as a second language. Mm. As a French language teacher, I’m always, always very fascinated, but by the desire of students to wanting to learn an additional language. And that makes me feel happy because it really indicates the fact that beyond the, the, the, the noble desire to utilize that language, they want to learn the culture of a different country. And as you know as a francophone, I always try to promote all French countries, not just France and Quebec as we know, but try to open the horizons to my students in such a way that they can learn from all the French countries and including your history, right? Because yeah, no, the fact that this country speak French is a result of colonization, right? So it’s important that we bring that in perspective so that, you know, the kids that we actually teaching here can grow up learning, right? And visiting history, and be able to position themselves as citizens of the world. That the way I see,

Sam Demma (16:13):

I’m getting so much energy just speaking to you, <laugh>, I, I feel like educators listening will hopefully absorb some of this energy and remember why they got into education in the first place. What, what about teaching keeps you coming back every single day? Excited, Of course there’s challenges and difficult times, but what about the opportunity gets you excited to get outta bed every single day and teach and help in education?

Eric Keunne (16:41):

But I, I think what really gets me motivated every single day is the transformational aspect of our job as teachers, as educators. Not only do we provide in classroom space and time and platform for kids to be be able to express themselves, but we also help them to break down some barriers that they actually facing in their day to day life. I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience as an international student in the uk and you suddenly understand why I’m so motivated every single day going out and doing my job as a teacher. You know, when I actually landed in the uk back in two and eight and I think that was one of the most challenging moments of my life. Just now, one thing that I fail to, I forgot to mention, is that right now I’m, I’m actually working at my board’s welcome center.

Eric Keunne (17:41):

I’m in charge of the Youth Settlement Program, so helping and facilitating the transition of newcomer students and families in our, and in our schools, right? And that it’s really, it’s closely tied to my experience as an international students back in the uk. Cause like I said, it was one of the challenging moments of my life cuz I wish you know, I had something called the welcome center back then. Yeah. That was solely designed for newcomers and international students like myself, Right? I’m talking about the structure that is actually working towards supporting students every single. And I’m so happy to be working with this amazing team at the welcome Center Hall, District School of Welcome Center because as you know, newcomer students, and when they arrive in a place a new place like Canada or, or in Ontario or in Halton, they do have so many challenges that they’re going through.

Eric Keunne (18:34):

That was me back, back then. Yeah. I, I was struggling with language because like I said, I, I grew up speaking French, studying in French, so I had zero mastery of English language per se. Right. And in addition to that, I was trying to get used to my new environment, and I was far away from home, right? Yeah. So I had no place that I could go to or nobody that I could call a family member. Right? And, and with my, my being a francophone with little knowledge and master of English language I was required to to attend classes, graduate courses, for that matter. I was actually required to complete assignments in English. And, and, you know, it was very difficult. And I see that every single day for our newcomer students and, and families that come here, Right. The struggle with the language, but yet they actually exposed to the learning in English every single day.

Eric Keunne (19:29):

So, for me, particularly, I developed back then what I called my personal technical dictionary, and I still have it here in my shelves, I promise you that. <Laugh> <laugh>. So what, what was that is actually some a notebook that I, I, I actually designed for myself in which I would write down all the comments, expressions that I would hear people use every single day around the classroom in, in the articles that I was reading. Right? And I would, when I go home, I would translate those into French Mm. So that I could comprehend and understand these expressions. And then now in return, try to use them in sentences. This is simply to tell you how much time it takes for a newcomer students in a country like this, Right. To be able to understand the concept that are taught in a classroom and be able to utilize them.

Eric Keunne (20:20):

You see what I mean? Yeah. So it takes at least two, three or four double the amount of time for them to be able to develop the communication skills, the writing skills. And so language was a huge barrier, and language is a huge barrier for many newcomer students and families when they actually arrive here. Right. And for me, it’s very important when I wake up every single morning, is to think about every single student in the classrooms, Do they have all the tools? What am I doing as an educator to ensure that in our system, in our board, in our pro, every single student is equipped right. With the support that they need in order to try and succeed, Right? Mm. So, and beyond the language barrier, one thing that was very interesting to for me as well, and I really want to point this out I was a computer illiterate. Mm.

Eric Keunne (21:11):

As a matter of fact, I have learned how to use a computer for the first time in 2008, believe me or not. Right? Mm. And, and it would take me so many hours to type a single paragraph, this is the challenges that newcomer students and family’s experience because maybe they’ve not been exposed to technology from where they come from, Right? So, and I had to rely, rely on the support of my classmates and my professor, right? To get my work submitted online. So in thinking of that experience, I was trying to ask myself, what are we doing differently today in 2022, in such a way that students will not be experiencing the same challenges, right? So I’m not talking about financial challenges because that’s also something that every family and newcomer families actually go through. So, and it’s important for me when I wake up in the morning, to always ask myself this question, What am I going to do differently today?

Eric Keunne (22:09):

What am I going to add to what I did yesterday to put a smile on the face of every single student I encounter? And also, how do I actually foster collaboration with my team, with my staff, with the teachers that I work with to make the difference in the life of our students? Because every single student in our classroom, every single student is a success story waiting to be told. And we have a role to play into that. We have to be able to not only of God put forward our motivation, but also look for the resources that would help us as educators, as teachers, to transform the life of these individuals. Because this is the future of Canada. We’re talking about because 10, 10 years, 20 years down the road, the same student that we do have in our classroom today are the one who are going to help us navigate around our society. Are ha are those who are going to help shape the future of our country. So we need to continue to invest in education. We need to continue to embrace our job with all the energy and enthusiasm that is possible. But at the same time, I think a while ago I was talking about resources. I think the government needs also to continue to provide enough support Yeah. And financial resources for educators to be able to do the job efficiently. Mm.

Sam Demma (23:35):

You, you mentioned a few minutes ago when you were talking about your experiences overseas, that one of the things that was a little bit different was the way student and teacher relationships are built. I think what’s calming, calming common amongst here, Cameroon, Europe and the uk, is that one of the main goals of the educator, despite how the relationship is built, despite how the classroom is set up, is to help young people become their own success stories. As you just mentioned, that every student is a success story waiting to happen, and that educators play a part in it. I believe that that idea is one of the main reasons why people actually get into education. Because they wanna help people. They wanna serve young minds. They wanna make a difference. Sometimes we forget, sometimes educators forget why they started. And I think sharing an example of one of those success stories can help rekindle that fire. And I’m curious to know, in all year years teaching, if there are any success stories of students that come to mind that you might be willing to share. And it could be a very serious story of transformation, and if it is, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m hoping you’ll, you’ll, you’ll be willing to maybe share one or two that that come to mind.

Eric Keunne (24:57):

Well, you know what? There’s so many success stories that I, you know, I could actually share with you. And I, I’m not just sure where to start, but I, I would love to, if you are okay, to probably read this letter that I received from one of my students. And she actually graduated I believe a few years ago no. Last year from Iru High School. Yes. And I, I, when she was about to graduate she actually sent me a very, very lovely letter, which to me kind of sum up the, the role and and, and I think the, the, not only the, the influence that we have on our students every single day, and, and for me it was at the same time also an appeal, right? Mm. And an invitation to even do better every single day. Because to me, when you have a student writing, you emailing you to share with you all these details and be able to tell you how transformative you’ve been in their lives, I think it’s just amazing as a staff, right? So for me, this is something that I want to share. Okay. Please, are

Sam Demma (26:15):

You ready for it, please? Yeah, I am. I’m patiently waiting. Ready? Excited. <Laugh>.

Eric Keunne (26:19):

Okay, so I, I’m, I’m really exactly what is, I’m not changing anything. Comment on this. Okay. Okay. And this student would, when, if she listens to me, shell recognize herself. S so the title of the email is La De So the End of Secondary School, High School S let me translate that because this is my bilingual mindset, Okay? It’s been long since the last emailed you, but now, you know, in the good of I, this is already end of, end of the school year, and she goes now in English. Okay? I would normally insist on sending you a French email, but since these words are so hard to say, I thought English might be better, they always say, High school goes by so quickly. And I didn’t believe it until now. Nothing could have prepared me for the memories I would make at ioi.

Eric Keunne (27:22):

But memories are only as good as the people who contain them. Mr. Kearney, you have taught me for more than three years. Oh, you have taught me in three years. Sorry, let me repeat that. That’s okay. You have taught me more in three years that I would’ve learned from anyone else. You brought a smile on my face on my worst days. Mm. And made me laugh at times. I didn’t expect. Without a doubt, you have been one of the most important role models in my life, and that is something I will never forget. Learning French for 12 years was a trial, but learning French with you was a joy. Selfishly, I wish you would have stayed at ioi, but even though you are not here physically, your memory leave in the praise of my peers. And I now, I have reached the end of high school, and I’m sad to live behind all the wonderful people who built me up these last four years.

Eric Keunne (28:27):

Mr. Kaney, without you, I don’t think I would be more, I will be where I am In another circumstance, I would’ve been pleased to see you watch me graduate. Although that isn’t an option. I will carry you in my heart today as I received my diploma. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, All the lesson you have taught me, and all the lifelong memories I will carry onto university. Being your student was a privilege and owner, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life. Please send my best to your family. Don’t your friend forever. And I’m not reading this just because I want to sing my own praises. Okay? I’m, I’m sharing this because when I read this email, some, you know, I shared some tears. Mm. Because this is a student I taught for two years, and I left to take another role, but yet we kept in contact.

Eric Keunne (29:22):

So many of them, actually, this is just one of them, okay? And, and up to now, she’s at, in, she’s going to her second years at the university. And she recently emailed me just to ask for advice and to share with me where she’s up to many. This is really what I call the reward for teachers. This is how impactful we are. It’s shaping the lives of main students in this country, and of course, in the world. So to me, when I actually reach something like this, it gives me the motivation to go out there every single day. And of course, and to double my efforts to ensure that, you know, 2, 3, 4 years from now, we have people who be doing the same thing no matter what direction they decide to pick in life, whether they’re in finance, whether they actually become lawyers, whether they become anything. The most important is to plant the seed for all these students. You understand that all together, we’re walking towards the better tomorrow, right? This is the essence of this message. Mm.

Sam Demma (30:24):

What a beautiful letter. It’s so cool to see the seed planted, harvest, and see the impact, but I’m sure there’s also been situations where you’ve given your best foot forward, your best effort, and maybe you haven’t heard from a student until 10 years later or 15 years later. And maybe you wonder for a while, did I make a difference in that young person’s life? And even if they don’t, you know, send you a letter like that I think the impact is felt, you know, it’s a blessing to receive it, but sometimes they’re a little shy and they don’t share. Right?

Eric Keunne (30:57):

I agree with you. And that’s totally okay. Right. Because every single person is different, right?

Eric Keunne (31:02):

Yeah. So for me, the most supporting as an educator is to ensure that I do my job, you know, with all my passion and energy, and ensuring that the students in my classroom are safe, That the student in my classroom are able to recognize themselves in the curriculum that I’m using, that the student in my classroom are able to actually identify themself in the material that I’m using. It’s so important that way we are actually helping our students to feel included, but also to feel valued Yes. As individuals. So for me, it’s important to to point that out. Absolutely. Because as you know we’ve had so many instances in our schools where, you know, kids go through so many challenges. And I think our role as educators is also to be able to identify those students who are lacking behind, who are experiencing difficulties, who are actually feeling rejected for one reason or the other. Yeah. And being able to bridge the gap. Right. And I think the Covid 19 pandemic has created also more gaps, right? For, for these students. And it’s important that as educators we’re able to recognize that and identify the resources that are going to help them, that are going to really help to protect and uphold the right and dignity of all the students and families that we actually work with every single day.

Sam Demma (32:34):

I was gonna ask you what you believe some of the challenges are, but you just had some light on them, them. What do you believe are also some of the opportunities? I think as a result of covid 19, we’re spending more time focused on some of these things, whereas in the past, maybe we brush them by without giving them the time, attention, and energy they deserved.

Eric Keunne (32:54):

And I think one thing that I absolutely want to share is that, you know, as educators and, and teachers, it’s, it’s our responsibility. Yeah. Truly. and it, I think it’s really an imperative that, you know, we acknowledge and we embrace our responsibility to, to build, to buildable and inclusive classrooms and school communities. That is so crucial, right? So to me, I, one of the things that I always try to bring forward in, in my mind, and that’s one of my belief, is that, you know, as educators, we, we need to build a community in which every single learner, all the children can succeed. All the children can achieve success. And, and for me, I begin that through my, my enion lens, right? Which really seeks to engage and challenge my colleagues to recognize and disrupt the inequities that have actually impacted historical marginalized students in our, in our society and our schools. And we, we, we, that’s the reason I was talking about the curriculum a while ago. We must think about the curriculum as an instrument tool of learn a learning material through which we can actually infuse some inclusive perspective, Right? This way we can always make sure that the student voices are put forward, right. Especially for those who have been historically marginalized. So it’s important that as educators, we build that solid community in which every single learner can drive and succeed.

Sam Demma (34:29):

Mm. I love it. If you were to somehow snap your fingers and travel back in time to the first year you taught in the classroom, but with the experience and the knowledge that you carry now, what would you have told you younger self in the form of advice when you were just starting? And not that you would share something in the hope that you would change, the path you take, you took, but something that you thought maybe would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation of teaching?

Eric Keunne (35:02):

I, I would certainly tell myself one single thing. Use the classroom opportunity to help the student understand their past and help them to shape the future. Because when I grew up, Sam, as a, as a student in Cameroon, I didn’t learn about the, the history of my own country in classroom. Oh, wow. It’s when I grew up that I learn about the history of colonization in Cameroon that is not taught in classrooms. So for me as a French language teacher, Cameroon, I would’ve loved to start talking about that within the, the classroom context and bringing that into perspective when I’m church, selecting my material. So it’s the same thing that, you know, I try to do today. Helping the students to understand the history of our country, Canada, the impact that, you know, there, residential schools I’ve actually had on you know, our population, our indigenous population, and how together we can actually work, right?

Eric Keunne (36:05):

To ensure that nothing like that ever happens again. Mm. Because if we fail to talk about what happens in the past, our kids will never understand, and it will be so difficult. And 20 years down the road, we will still be here experiencing the same challenges. I’m not saying that we should always dwell in the past and talk about everything in the that, but again, talking the perspective of bringing change, making some significant change for, for the current generation and for the future generation. So for me as a teacher, when I started back in 2005 in Camero, it would’ve been very interesting for me to bring that perspectives in the context of teaching a language like French, because I was so focused on grammar, like grammar and LA zone, because that was the curriculum. Of course. Yeah. But now having that critical lens, I think it’s important that every single language teacher, every single teacher is able to bring forward in all the current reality that we’re experiencing. Actually looking into what happens a few years ago and shipping the path for a better tomorrow for every single student.

Sam Demma (37:15):

I feel so energized. I have so much energy just hearing and, and listening to you speak. I know for a fact that the educators listening feel the same way. If one of them wants to reach out to you, share an idea, ask a question, collaborate on something, what would be the best way for an educator tuning in to reach out and connect?

Eric Keunne (37:36):

I think, the best way to reach, I will be through my Twitter @erickeunne Eric, as you already know, but also they, they can actually email me. My, my school board email is keunne@hdsb.ca, so that you can share with whoever wants to collaborate, because it’s, I believe in the power of collaboration. As educators, we can always come together to do some critical thinking on how, around how we can make things better for every single studen in our classes. And also, I believe in sharing, sharing experiences is what really help us to move forward as a community of learners. Sharing and sharing best practices, sharing some of the resources is what helps us to really bring the world into our classrooms because I usually tell my students one thing, which very crucial in, in a classroom, in the language classrooms particularly, it’s important that we bring the world to our kids.

Eric Keunne (38:37):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> because if our students don’t have the opportunity to travel, just like I did back in, in a few years ago, as a language teachers, through the resources that we are using, we can actually help the students to travel, to travel without taking a flight. Yeah. To camon. We can bring in novels from Kaon, we can bring in novels from every single country around the world and be able to discuss that in a unique way. And that will help the student have a broader perspective around the world. And of course, provide them with the tools to be able to navigate after high school and traveling around the world to become that global citizen ambassador that we want our students to become.

Sam Demma (39:21):

You. I was about to end and then you sparked my interest in another area. So I’m gonna ask you one final question before we wrap up. You mentioned the importance of bringing the world into the classroom in the form of resources. And I’m curious to know, are there anything, are there any resources that you personally have brought into the classroom or your classroom spaces that you felt have helped bring the world into your classroom or help students see themselves in the curriculum? Are there any things that come to mind or things that you’ve used in the past that you think other educators might benefit from looking into?

Eric Keunne (39:55):

Absolutely. in terms of language teaching, you can always bring so many resources in your classroom. So what I’ve done in the past when I started teaching in Ontario is really to broaden the horizon by actually selecting and identify different resources from different countries around Lahan, Kaho around French countries in the world, right? And helping the kids to understand how language and culture are so intertwined, are so related, right? And helping them to understand, of course, the vq the experience vq of this, of people population in these different countries. One of the things that I’ve also done, I’m so connected to, I, I love communication by the way, and, and I always try to bring into my classes the opportunity for students to learn through news report from different countries over the world. So I, I bring the news reports so that we can listen to the news and talk about and be able to learn about experiences that are happening around, and of course in French, because we have so many varieties of French, so beautiful varieties of French that needs to be put forward when it comes to teaching and learning French, a language like French.

Eric Keunne (41:07):

Also, I had a few years ago the opportunity to take the students from my French club, a French club that I started at the college high school. So one of the French community radios in Toronto, Shock fm, where we had a debate. And it was a unique opportunity for my students to be able to do the learning outside of the classroom in a different setting, in a different context in the media, right? And I think that’s something that we failed to always think about. It’s learning is not just within the classroom context. The resources could be outside the classroom. And one, most importantly it’s also thinking about some resource people that you can always invite into your classrooms to talk about things that are crucial key to the students development. So thinking about who you can bring in your classroom or where you can take your students to so that they can learn from. It’s so important. So beyond the textbook, beyond the material that if you be using, it’s important that you brought in the horizon for the students so that they can actually, at the end of the day, have a rich experience. And I promise you, if you do that, every single student will be so pleased to come to school every single day and be able to be in your classroom and be so engaged. And that’s the essence of our job, right?

Sam Demma (42:23):

It’s so clear you’re doing work that you are meant to be doing every, Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. It means the world to me, and I know everyone tuning in is gonna feel energized and motivated after listening to our conversation. I can’t wait to continue to witness the things that you do and the impact you have. Keep doing the amazing work. And I, I look forward to staying in touch

Eric Keunne (42:50):

That I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you in French. Cuz like I said it’s my first language, official first language. Don wish you all the best as well, and I’m looking forward to to listening to more podcasts from you.

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find a 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 Jesse Macdonald

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.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd – Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria

Dr. Quintin Shepherd - Superintendent of the Victoria Independent School District and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria
About Dr. Quintin Shepherd

Dr. Shepherd (@QShepherd) is in his fourth year as Superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students.

From that, he invited those stakeholders to be a part of shaping the future of the District. Members of those groups have been, and continue to, work collaboratively with District leadership to make recommendations as we build that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community.

Dr. Shepherd also serves as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Houston, Victoria. Recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular “The Secret to Transformational Leadership.”

Connect with Quintin: Email | LinkedIn | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Victoria Independent School District

University of Houston

The Secret to Transformational Leadership Book

P-Tech Schools

Advanced Placement

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. The High Performing Educator was created to provide you with opportunities for personal development directly from your colleagues and peers. Each episode is like sitting face to face with a colleague in education at an amazing conference and chatting about their best practices, their learnings, their philosophies, and the mindset shifts that allow them to be successful in education today. If you enjoy these episodes that air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each week, please consider leaving a rating on the show on iTunes, so more educators can find it. And if you would like to receive emails that include inspiring videos for your students and actionable ideas for yourself and your staff, please visit www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up, join the network, and I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Quintin Shepherd.. Dr. Shepherd is in his fourth year as superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. When he came to Victoria, his first priority was to listen to the voice of the community, parents, staff, and students. From that, he invited those stakeholders to be part of shaping the future of the district, which you’ll hear all about in today’s interview. Members of those groups have been and continue to work collaboratively with district leadership to make recommendations as we begin building that future to meet the current and future needs of Victoria students and the community. Dr. Shepherd also serves as adjunct faculty at University of Houston, Victoria. And recently, Dr. Shepherd published the popular book, the secret to transformational leadership, which we will talk a lot about today. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Shepherd and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by Dr. Quintin Shepherd from San Antonio, Texas,. Quintin, please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (02:12):

<Laugh> my name is Quintin Shepherd. I’m currently in San Antonio by I, I, I reside in Victoria, which is a few hours east of here, southeast of here. I’ve been a superintendent for 18 years in three different states. Prior to that, I was a high school principal. Before that I was an elementary principal and, and what seems like almost a lifetime ago, I got to teach pre-K through 12th grade music every day, and it was awesome. Seeing the three year olds all the way up through the 18 year olds. I guess the other thing that’s that’s relevant is in my spare time, I, I teach at the University and I get to teach ed leadership for folks who are aspiring to be principals or, or superintendents and I also get to teach school law.

Sam Demma (02:53):

When did you realize growing up as a youngster, that education was gonna be the pathway you would take in the future?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:01):

One of my, one of my favorite sayings of all time is that little boys grow up to do what their mothers want them to do, but they do it in a way that their fathers would’ve done it <laugh>, which I think is like appropriate for a lot of men that I know. My mom was a school teacher. My grandfather actually her, her, her dad, he had an eighth grade education and lived on a farm, a working farm, and he was a school custodian. So he would get up at four o’clock in the morning and do chores, and then he’d go off and be a school custodian all day and then come home in the evening and do chores. And so I guess education is sort of in my blood. And like I said, my mom was a teacher taught kindergarten for a number of years, almost her entire career.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (03:42):

And I sort of resisted the call into education, but I think it was a foregone conclusion that I was gonna get into education. And shortly after I started as a teacher, I came to realize that there’s really only two groups of people who work in schools. There are those who teach, and there are those who support teachers. And I was a pretty good teacher. I think I was a pretty good teacher, but I wasn’t my mom, like my mom was an amazing teacher. She was one of these walk on water teachers. And I recognized that my calling and education was to be the number one chief supporter of teachers, and to try to make their job as easy as possible, try to keep the, you know, the, the politics away from the classroom and the, and, you know, do what I could to support, support what needs to happen in the classroom. And that’s where I found my calling.

Sam Demma (04:29):

You realize education is gonna be your pathway. What did the journey look like from that moment forward?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (04:37):

It was when you’re first outta college, it’s you know, you, you’re, you’re trying to sort out what direction is, is, is your life gonna take? And at the time applied for just about every job you could, you could imagine. And I landed in a small country school in rural Illinois, and it was, it was from there it’s, it’s a matter of one foot in front of the other, every step along the way. It’s, it’s recognizing that, you know, you, you have this dream and you have this vision and you want things to go a certain way, but sometimes life doesn’t see it that way. And sometimes life throws the opportunities that you didn’t see coming curve balls, for instance. And so you, you take a swing at every one of those and you miss some, you miss a lot of them, but then some of them you hit and it’s, it’s things like that.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:19):

That’s, that’s how I ended up at Victoria, Texas. Quite frankly, I was a superintendent in Illinois for a number of years. And then I moved to Iowa and, you know, things were going along splendidly and, and this opportunity came up to come down and meet the school board in Victoria, Texas. And you swing it, you swing at the pictures that are thrown at you. And it, it was the best move I could have possibly made. I’m doing some of the best work of my life and, and, and really feeling great about, you know, the work that’s happening.

Sam Demma (05:47):

Tell, tell us a little bit about why you’re in San Antonio, Texas right now. I know we talked about it before the podcast started, but what’s going on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (05:55):

Yeah, so summer for for school administrators, a and for school board members, we try to focus on some pretty deep learning. So right now what’s going on in San Antonio is a statewide Texas conference for school board members. It’s designed for school board members, TAs V, Texas association of school boards. And it’s called the summer summer leadership Institute. And so school board members from all over the state of Texas come together for this conference and do some pretty intense learning for, for three days, which seems kind of unremarkable because educators do it all the time. Right. But you have to remember, these are volunteers. Yeah. These are people who have real jobs that pay real money, that they need to support their families. And they choose to come here for three days during the summer to keep up their learning. And that’s just a Testament to, you know, how, how committed they are to making sure that we have great public schools. And I just, so, so for a superintendent to be here and support their board, it’s just, it’s, it’s an awesome experience.

Sam Demma (06:49):

You mentioned that you realized shortly into your journey in education, that leadership was going to be your calling, or should I say supporting teachers and being the chief supporting officer <laugh>. I love that phrase. Yeah. When you realized that, what transition did you make and what started your deep interest and passion for leadership itself?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:13):

So my passion for leadership was, was really just this recognition that pretty, pretty soon after I started as a principal. I mean, when you’re doing the job as a principal, essentially, there’s a couple of things I’m gonna say. The first part is it’s a performance, just like when you first started as a teacher, like the first day in the classroom in front of kids, <laugh>, you’re performing a role in your mind, you know, what a teacher should be doing and what they should look like and how they should dress and so on and so forth. And you’re performing and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just doing the best you can. And and I recognize that the same is true for principles that when you start as a principal, there’s no, you’re, you’re playing by the rules as they’re handed to you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (07:54):

Right. And so you do what your principal did or what the principal before you did. And that’s how a lot of leadership training takes place is by mimicry. Frankly. And then I, I became a superintendent and same thing, same exact thing. And after a year or two of figuring out how to play the game by the rules, as they’re handed to you, then you come to realize this, the same thing as a teacher, it’s true for a superintendent that maybe these rules aren’t right for me. Mm. Like they’re not the way that I’m supposed to be doing it. And the best way to describe it is, is it was like a suit that didn’t fit. Mm. And so start to change rules a little bit and say, look, we can do this thing differently. And when I started to do that, I, I came up on this, this recognition that I think a lot of how we’re doing public school leadership were just doing it wrong, quite frankly, mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (08:46):

And I couldn’t articulate it any better than that at the time. But I just felt like when I was reaching out to my community or when I was reaching out to my teachers, it just wasn’t working. I didn’t feel like I was connected to them because we’re gonna adopt a new curriculum here. We went out and did all this research. Here’s a curriculum, and we need you to do the summer professional development or training or whatever. And it’s like, it falls flat on its face. And you start to hear that the, you know, district office is disconnected from what’s happening in the classroom. And like all these things that, you know, it’s, it’s happens everywhere in education, and this is fairly, fairly commonplace. And so I started to flip the paradigm on its head as far as how I do leadership. And when I, when I came to recognize that is as a superintendent, there’s only two types of decisions that ever come to my desk. They’re either complicated or they’re complex. Now, if they’re complicated, there’s just one right. Answer. There’s one way to do it. So like a math problem, they’re complicated, right? Disassembling an aircraft engine and putting it back together. That’s complicated. Like, I’m not gonna ask you do that. Right. I’m guessing you, you’re not an aerospace engineer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (09:53):

Complex is inherently unknowable complex. Doesn’t have one right answer. Mm. So what’s the best way to educate kids during a pandemic? Well, that’s a complex question. So what I committed to in my leadership is that anytime I’m faced with a complex issue, I will go to the people who are gonna be most impacted by that decision and give them the greatest voice. Mm. So for instance, with the pandemic, for a pandemic response plan, we went to the teachers first and we said, what would you do? How would you address this problem? And so we had about 700 teachers help us write our pandemic response plan had about 500 kids had over a thousand community members. So imagine this over 2000 people, co-authored this document. And we literally took their language and put it into the document. And then when we represented it to the community, the community’s response isn’t to judge the superintendent on his ability to write a pandemic response plan. Cause I didn’t write it. Yeah. The community says, we wrote this and this is pretty freaking awesome. Let’s get the work. And so really the, the leadership journey for me has been around. That’s how you support teachers, you support teachers by giving ’em a bigger voice in the complex issues that are facing education.

Sam Demma (11:03):

What an awesome way to craft a response plan. I would assume other districts heard about the success and maybe ask, how the heck did you facilitate this? Like, can you give me an, an idea of how long it took to craft that or how quick the turnaround was? And were there any challenges through the process?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (11:23):

It was couple, two or three weeks, at least from start to finish, which seems remarkably fast, but essentially, and we were doing it during the pandemic, which remember that meant that we were having these mega zoom meetings of 5, 6, 700 people at a time. Wow. And when we went to the students, that was crazy. I mean, imagine putting 500 middle school students in one zoom <laugh> and we did crazy, right. I mean, but we, we did it. And part of what we, part of what we did was not just let somebody come off mute that wouldn’t make any sense at all. What we wanted to do was crowdsource good ideas. So we’re, we worked with a company called thought exchange and we pitched the question to our kids and to our teachers. And, and there were lots of different questions, but as an example, what things should we focus on?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:06):

So that students have access to technology or what are biggest barriers to technology. And then every single teacher of the 700 who logged on, had a chance to respond. And then they had a chance to read the other 699 teachers. Wow. And what they said, and they could give them stars. So they were like, oh, that’s really, really smart. I didn’t think about that. Or no, that’s kind of dumb. We don’t need you to think about that. And it doesn’t matter because the whole thing’s anonymous. But by doing that then of 700 people who shared over a thousand thoughts, the, the smartest in the room go to the top, the stuff we should most focus on because they got the most stars. So that’s literally crowdsourcing great ideas. And so that was the language say top 15, 20%. That was the language that we then put in the pandemic response plan.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (12:51):

And then when we went to their students, we started with that and said, okay, students, this is what the teachers have said, what are your thoughts and questions about that? And then we crowdsourced that, right. And made the document that much more robust. So it took on like almost this three dimensional that shape. And then when we had done that, since we knew the kids were gonna be probably second most impacted by its decisions, parents would be third, most impacted. So then we went to the parents’ third and said, okay, now we’ve had teachers and students, what are your thoughts and questions? Mm, well then it turned into a whole other conversation about what needs to happen at home to support learning. So Sam, it was just this really interesting, fast and iterative process where we were constantly adapting and evolving in a, in a really rapid cycle. And we do that for any, anything that’s complex, which could be bonds or redistricting or closing schools. I mean, we’ve tackled some things that typically get lots of people fired and communities in an uproar and in our community largely says, Hey, thanks for giving me a voice in the process. This has been awesome.

Sam Demma (13:52):

I’m thinking it would’ve been really nice if I interviewed you two years ago. <Laugh> <laugh> because this, I mean, the cool thing is that this process is something that could be repeated with tons of complex issues. But I know being in Canada, there were so many school districts and superintendents struggling to find a way to create a really great response to the COVID pandemic. And in Canada, it was really bad. Like we, you know, everything shut down and stayed, shut down for a very long time. Students fell behind on learning. You know,

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (14:27):

Well, but even, even now though, I mean, we’re, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, this is still like, we’re doing the exact same thing now. But the new question is what things should we do to post the learning gap for those students who are behind more importantly, like there’s, there’s so many iterations on this. We’re also talking about what sorts of things should we focus on when it comes to student wellbeing and mental health and we were, we’re going directly to the kids. Nice. And so, so I’m, we’re actually kicking off. I’ve been told that we’re kicking off the largest participatory budgeting experiment in the history of the United States. Wow. We set aside 5 million of our Sr funding and we’re, we’re literally gonna go to each of our high schools and say here’s $500,000. And we want it to focus on student mental wellness and mental health.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:12):

And 250,000 is carved out for the kids themselves. So we’re basically gonna take this pile of cash to our high school students and say, how would you spend this money in a way that helps us solve the mental health crisis? So like the timing couldn’t even be better to share ideas like this, because I think this idea about mental health or closing achievement gaps or learning gaps, or what students are worried about as they transition into college or on and on and on the number of questions out there is endless. And what, what better time to just tackle them

Sam Demma (15:42):

Tackling tough questions over the past two years sounds like something you’ve done a lot of, and I’m sure it consumes a ton of your time. You also found the time to write a book <laugh> like, tell me, tell me about it, what inspired it? And what’s it all about?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (15:57):

I think the, the book had been on my mind for about a decade, as I said previously, I I’ve just, you know, been doing D leadership differently and, and seeing others, I’m not the only one doing it this way. Yeah. But seeing others do leadership differently, but that we lack maybe a common language around what it is that we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And so I’d been kicking around this idea of, of writing a book for several years, the pandemic just presented itself as a great opportunity to sit down and actually get my thoughts down on paper and or digitally, I guess <laugh> dating myself a bit. But, but essentially I wanted to make it very approachable. Like I tried to make this because if, if you’re steeped in leadership theory, then you can, you can, you know, see transactional versus transformational leadership in this book.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (16:42):

Or you can see technical versus adaptive, the work of Hz and Linsky, or you can see elements of power. I talk about power and Ross’s notion of power and so on, so forth, but that’s all the theory. That’s all the stuff that leaders learn, you know, as they go through university, I wanted to just make this approachable by saying, well, what’s common language. That’s that differentiates complicated versus complex. And it’s interesting because they’re almost two completely different. They’re two completely different languages. And the one that I like to use to explain it is so applicable at the classroom level, but it’s also about the leadership level. Is that a complicated way to look at your classroom is to tell the students, this is what I want from you because it assumes there’s one right answer, right? Mm. Or there’s a way to do this, and this is what I want from you.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:27):

And so we tell them, and when you’re in complicated, it’s all about judgment. So this is what I want from you. And if you don’t deliver it for me, I’m gonna judge you and you’re gonna be strong, or you’re gonna be weak, but either way, you’re fragile because it’s always complicated. And that’s how this works. And that’s what I, if a stands up in front of group of students and resists the urge to say, this is what I want want from you. And then they can focus on this is what I want for you. Mm

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (17:54):

Oh. Now that’s a conversation. What I want for you is to have a sense of autonomy. I want for you to have a sense that you’ve mastered the content I want for you, the opportunity to have worked in the best team that you’ve ever worked on to create this project. Well, that’s complex. There’s not one right answer. There’s not one way to do it. And the nice part about that is it resists judgment. I want these things for you. How can we make that happen? And so what I’m asking you to do is to suffer. I’m asking you to share your suffering. Like, I don’t know how to approach this project. I don’t know if I can work with this team. Awesome. So now what we’re doing is we’re in compassionate versus competent, right? And the, and that’s the juxtaposition because compassion, if you break that word down, passion is to suffer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (18:37):

Compassion is to suffer with mm it’s. Empathy plus action. And so I, I try to create the language that says, look, you get whatever you’re asking for. Based on the language you use and too many leaders stand up and they use complicated language when they’re actually trying to do transformative and complex work. And as a result of that, the community has been trained to recognize complicated language to mean, oh, you want us to judge you <laugh> oh, so you wrote your pandemic response plan. Well, I think it sucks. I went to Google and this is like some other school district that did something. And so I’m like, well, use the right language, use the right language.

Sam Demma (19:10):

How long did it take to crystallize the ideas and get the book on paper? What was the start to finish process like?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (19:18):

It was just about a year start to finish. It was, I had taken a couple of false starts before, and then I met Sarah who helped me with the book, pulling it together and doing some of the vignettes. And what have you, Sarah Williamson. And she just helped me put together a structure. What I really needed is as I, as I shared sort of my background as a superintendent and I’m teaching university and so on and so forth, I, I, I stay sort of busy, I think is the word for it. And she, she helped me set up a timeline to say, no, you’re gonna sit down. You’re gonna, you’re gonna write, and you’re gonna turn these in. And these you deadlines and so and so forth. And so having an accountability partner really helped me. And I think the other thing that helped me, and this was a, this was a light bulb moment for me, I’ve, you know, over 40 years old and have had a pretty successful life, but just had this amazing light, light bulb moment that will transform every decision in every goal that I make for the rest of my life, which is the recognition that all of us have been taught to set goals.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:12):

Right. And so we try to create these goal habits, but the truth is that most of us truthfully fail at most of our goals. Like I would say the failure rate is probably close to 90, 95%. And it makes sense because we’ve designed our entire lives around the life that we’re living right now this very second. And if you set a goal that’s outside of that life, that you’re living a hundred percent of your life is working against that goal. Right? And so you’re, you’re destined to fail when you have goal based habits. And if on my goal based habit was to write, I was probably gonna fail. And then if you flip that goal based habit with something that’s completely different. So I’m gonna take a quick aside to prove a point here. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, I’m guessing that every day when you wake up, you brush your teeth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (20:59):

I do. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the road. It doesn’t matter if you go visit your parents’ house, it doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re home, you brush your teeth every day, right? You take a shower every day. Mm. And this is not a goal based habit. This is an identity based habit. Like, I don’t wanna have the identity of someone who has a bad breath or who stinks, right? Yeah. So I have an identity based habit. And the aha for me was, oh, no, no, no. I want to set my identity as someone who is a writer. So what does a writer do? Oh, well, a writer would get up every morning and they would write because they’re a writer and they would set aside a place in their house where they’re gonna do their writing and they’re gonna do this.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (21:38):

And all of a sudden these identity based habits. And then I never had to create a goal. I never had to carve out space. I never had to make the effort because I was living the identity of being a writer. And it, it kind of just took care of itself. And so like now I’m like, why have we not talked about this for fitness or health or nutrition or yeah. Getting a doctorate or just about anything goal or even teaching. If we try to have students have goal based behaviors to study versus identity based behaviors of, I am a scholar and a learner,

Sam Demma (22:07):

It sounds like you identify as a reader as well. I first learned about identity based goal setting in James Clear’s book, atomic habits. Yeah. It really resonated with me and changed the way that I think about things. I actually use a similar analogy. When I talk about brushing your teeth as a way to prove that we are never too busy when someone gives me the objection that I’m sorry, I can’t take this or do this. It’s because I’m too busy. What I actually start to understand is that even if I have the most busy day of my life, I still brush my teeth before I go to bed one, because it’s a part of my identity, but two, because it’s something that I prioritize right. It’s a priority. So if someone tells me they’re too busy, it just means that the thing that I’m asking them for is not of the similar priority as a task they’re already doing, or even more priority that they would switch their schedule for it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (22:58):

That’s, that’s a very polite way of saying it. I think a little bit more harshly, they would say it is when somebody says I don’t have time valuable is I don’t care <laugh>

Sam Demma (23:09):

Yeah. Just of no value to me. <Laugh> that’s right.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:12):

That’s

Sam Demma (23:12):

Right. So am I correct in assuming that you like reading and like constant learning?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:20):

Yeah. I’m a, I’m a fairly voracious reader. I work with an executive coach and I, I didn’t realize this, but she had been in our conversations over the course of this past year. Just every time I referenced the book, kinda kicking it off or so, and I I’ve come to the I’ve come to the assumption that I read between 40 and 60 books a year on average. So yeah, pretty, pretty avid reader.

Sam Demma (23:39):

What are some of the resources that, of course your own book is gonna be a, an amazing one and teachers should consider picking it up, which books have you consumed or resources in general that have helped you develop yourself, turn into the leader you are today that you think other educators would benefit from consuming.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (23:57):

So for me on my leadership journey, lots of leadership biography, I take, I take great inspiration from leadership biography. So I read a lot of leadership biography. I also read a great deal of innovation work on innovation, anybody who’s writing about adaptive innovation and creativity, but specifically I stay away from education. Believe it or not, because I think that we, I think we understand creativity or entrepreneurship or innovation, but we have a, a somewhat slanted view of it. I think there’s a much better view view of innovation and creativity that comes from the business world. So I’m always kind of scouring for what’s out there in the business world, in that area. And I’ve learned a ton and I brought to, to education specifically in our space as we, when I got to Victoria, we didn’t have a department of innovation. We now have a department of innovation with the whole we’ve written, you know, approximately 15 million in grant funding every year. Wow. Just from the department of innovation alone. And it’s transformed the way we, you know, work with some of our schools, but virtually everything I learned about innovation, I learned outside of education and just applied to education.

Sam Demma (25:02):

Very cool. Speaking of innovation, creativity moving forward, what are some of the things you are working on right now with your school board school districts, superintendents that you’re excited about in the coming years or next next fall?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:20):

So, so I think that some of the stuff that I’m working on is obviously getting the message of this book out. Like, and that’s actually, I’m focused on that and getting this message out there because I think I have something that people can understand and I love to do it in medium size groups or even large group formats. Where, where we create, I create this space called house of genius. And I just, it rather than tell people about it, we actually do it like whatever group I happen to be in front of. We just solve a massively complex issue for that group right there in the room, and then we solve it and we go through it and it only takes, you know, 40, 45 minutes, depending on what we’re talking about. And then I back away from that and I talk through, well, this is how we did it.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (25:58):

This was the language. And this was the framework, and this is all the stuff from the book, but you just experienced it. You just lived it and you can live it, you know, any way you want to. So that’s, that’s kind of fun. And I’m excited about doing that in, in our district. We’ve launched a number of pathways. So for instance, our kids essentially we’re transforming the, the simple way of talking about it is that we’re trying to walk away from this notion of elementary, middle, and high school. Now let’s still have elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Everybody’s gonna have elementary, middle, and high school. That’s not gonna change because that’s the way education works. But let’s just talk about what elementary school really should be right now. Elementary school. If you think about it is all about exposure. Mm.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (26:38):

Exposing kids to different learning pathways, different learning styles, different interests, trying to find their genius all about exposing, exposing, exposing, and then middle school. Once kids start to figure out what they’re good at and what they like and how they like to learn you move from exposure to experience that’s middle school. So how do you experience things like internships or job shadows, or how do you experience a, a profession or a unique way of learning? We, we just launched one of our stem middle schools just this last year. So we have a stem based middle school. That’s open enrollment for any kid that wants to go there. We have a project based learning school as well, but it’s all about exposure experience and then rethinking high school as pursuit. So pursuit means like I know I’m college or university bound, so this is the courses I need to take and so on and so forth.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (27:23):

So for our district, but that means more kids taking AP than ever in the history of the district. And the scores are higher, more kids taking dual credit than ever in the history of the district than their scores are higher. But we also have more kids doing CTE coursework, cuz they want to go right into the world of work. Nice. And so we’re trying to create pursuit opportunities and we’ve launched several Ptech high schools so that kids can their associates degree as, as they, as they move forward on their launch, which is pretty cool. And we’re all about this one simple, simple, simple concept, and that’s the concept of the, and the Amper sign, right? And so when you think about the Amper sand and it’s become a sign for our district, we even have it on shirts and stuff, all kinds of stuff. But essentially our goal is that every student finds their and which is a way of saying, we want you to find your genius, right? And we also want to guarantee that every single student who walks across the graduation stage has a high school diploma and university acceptance letter, military recruitment letter, or industry certification. So that on Monday morning they have work, they have work waiting for him. And we’re just over 92% right now of our high school, graduating seniors who graduate with their aunt. I’m not gonna quit until a hundred percent. I’m not gonna quit until I can guarantee parents a hundred percent successful launch rate.

Sam Demma (28:36):

Wow. That’s awesome. How many students are there in the district or the, I guess the area in total?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (28:41):

Just under 14,000.

Sam Demma (28:43):

Wow. That’s a, that’s a success story in itself. Yeah, on a large scale, it seems like the programs, ideas that are being implemented are having massive success. I want to talk about for just a moment a story of how something someone did in a school, maybe yourself or someone, you know, had a serious impact on one individual. And the reason I know sometimes it’s hard to remember these stories, but there’s probably hundreds on them. Oh, I’ve got one. Yeah. the reason I ask you to share it is because when teachers are feeling burnt out, sometimes it’s because they’ve forgotten why they even started this work in the first place. And I think stories of genuine impact relight that fire and helped them remember why they got into this profession anyway. So please feel free to share. You can change your name if it’s a serious story. Just for privacy.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (29:31):

I love, I love the story. It gives me cause sometimes when I tell it I get goosebumps and sometimes when I tell I can’t help, but cry. So in the, in the, at the start of this last school year, one of our middle schools was invested with mold and we didn’t have an extra facility. So we had to pull every one of our middle schools out of this kids out of this campus. And we needed to put ’em somewhere. And the only facility that we had available was all our alternative high school, which is a smaller, much smaller campus, but we just had to have a place to put the kids, but that displaced the alternative high school. So alternative high school, these are kids who are in credit recovery. These are kids who are disciplined placement. So they’re, they’re essentially on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:10):

Mm. These are students who failed out of traditional high school. They have very little credits or no credits and they’re in a dropout track and we’re just trying to get ’em to the graduation stage. And so we, we went to our, some of our community partners and we said, look, what if we could give these kids the golden ticket of a lifetime and a fresh start? Hmm. And if we can help these kids in a way that we’ve never helped them before, by giving them unprecedented levels of support, giving every one of them, an academic and life success coach. And could we put 120 of these students on the community college campus? Can we rent rooms from you? And so the community college president said, sure, this is interesting. I’m, I’m, I’m up for this so that they’re going to community college. Now these are kids on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (30:56):

These are, these are kids who failed out of traditional high school with zero credits. And so then our next wonder question, cuz I love wonder questions is I wonder what would happen if we help these kids apply for college? And I wonder what would happen if we gave ’em a success coach and you know what, I wonder what would happen if we we went ahead and enrolled them in a class just to see what happens. And so we we were very slow and deliberate and thoughtful and all the great things to happen. But outta the hundred 20 students who were on that dropout track 120 of them, a hundred percent successfully enrolled in college and passed their first collegiate course. Wow. And they’re all gonna graduate high school and they’re all college bound, 100% of kids who were on the dropout track.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (31:40):

And so we got to take them to a school board thing in February, which for the entire state of Texas. And so we took seven of the kids from that group to give a presentation. And there was one gal who stood up in front of that group. And she said, when I was a sophomore, I had a baby out of wedlock. So I was a single mother and I had approximately zero credits in high school. And she said, and I am now a college student. Wow. That’s amazing. Our success rate with our kids is so great. This is a, a great statistic. I’ll leave you with a statistic and it’s connected to dropouts, but it’s with homeless students. So we have hundreds of homeless students in Victoria Texas. And if you happen to be a homeless student and unhoused student in Victoria and you go to our schools, your chances of graduating high school are actually better than if you went to any school, anywhere else in the entire state of Texas, our homeless, our homeless student graduation rate is higher than the average for the state of Texas.

Sam Demma (32:42):

Wow. I I’m wondering, you mentioned success. Coaches who are the people that would be paired up with a student in that program to help them apply for college and you know, pass.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (32:54):

So we actually went to the community college counselor structure. So they, they already have academic coaches and support and so on and so forth. You know how community college works. Like there’s all this support structure in place. Yeah. Yeah. We’re like, let’s fold that over to the high school and pull kids up rather than push them.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Cool.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:12):

It worked like, who knew, we didn’t know it was gonna work, but that’s what innovation’s all about. Like try crazy stuff. And so we tried it and it worked,

Sam Demma (33:20):

It sounds like innovations in your experience. Start with the, I wonder questions. Is that something you explore a lot?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:27):

Yeah. We talk about it all the time. It’s either I wonder. Or what if those are the two best sentence starters.

Sam Demma (33:32):

Lovely, cool, cool. Well, we’re getting close to the end of the podcast here. This has been a phenomenal conversation because we’re close to game seven and the NBA finals. I wanted to play some throwback music. <Laugh> what we’re about to do is do a quick five rapid questions. Are you ready?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (33:56):

I’m ready?

Sam Demma (33:58):

Question number one. <Laugh> question number one is what is the best advice you’ve ever personally received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:07):

Oh, wow. Best advice. Yeah. It’s it’s so cliche never give up,

Sam Demma (34:12):

Love it. What is the I’m putting you on the spot here? What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:20):

Worst. <Laugh> the worst advice I forgot was go to medical school. <Laugh>

Sam Demma (34:25):

<Laugh> Hey, you have to, you have to know your path, right?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:28):

That’s right.

Sam Demma (34:29):

<Laugh> I like that. If you could have everyone on the planet have to follow this one rule the way they live their life, what would the one rule be that everyone would have to follow? Non-Negotiable

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (34:45):

Start with vulnerability.

Sam Demma (34:47):

Mm, love it. If you could travel back in time and speak to Quentin, when he was just starting in education, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:01):

Don’t don’t lose hope.

Sam Demma (35:04):

Final question. If someone wants to buy your book, reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:11):

So they can buy the book through amazon. Easily found, it’s the secret for secret to transformational leadership, or they can go to our website; compassionate leadership. And I’m sure you can put that in the, in the talking notes for sure. Yep. That’s and that’s the best way to reach out to us.

Sam Demma (35:27):

Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you and meet you. I don’t think this will be our last conversation. Keep doing amazing work and have an amazing summer.

Dr. Quintin Shepherd (35:40):

Thank you, sir. Great to talk with you. Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (35:43):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Quintin Shepherd

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.

Larry Paquette – Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls

Larry Paquette - Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls
About Larry Paquette

Laurent (Larry) Paquette is the Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls. He started his career at L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron in 1992. Since then, Larry was a Physics, Math, Computer Science and Communications Technology teacher at Saint Charles Garnier in Whitby and then Northern Secondary School.

Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Northern Secondary School and then Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay. For the past 10 years Laurent was principal at Northern Secondary School, the school at which he graduated from as a student. While at Northern Larry brought in two High Skills Specialist Majors (SHSM) into his school; one in Hospitality and Tourism and the another in Mining.

He also brought in Lego Robotics and Vex Robotics into Design Technology courses at the school. The favourite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice-principals.

He is looking forward to retiring at the end of the August after a long successful career. What he will miss the most about his profession is the time that he spends with countless number of students. In retirement he plans to focus on his firewood business, travel and spend more time with his family.

Connect with Larry: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Northern Secondary School

L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron

Saint Charles Garnier

Widdifield Secondary School

High Skills Specialist Major Program (SHSM)

Lego Robotics

Vex Robotics

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. The High Performing Educator was created to provide you with opportunities for personal development directly from your colleagues and peers. Each episode is like sitting face to face with a colleague in education at an amazing conference and chatting about their best practices, their learnings, their philosophies, and the mindset shifts that allow them to be successful in education today. If you enjoy these episodes that air Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each week, please consider leaving a rating on the show on iTunes, so more educators can find it. And if you would like to receive emails that include inspiring videos for your students and actionable ideas for yourself and your staff, please visit www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up, join the network, and I will see you on the other side of this conversation. Welcome back to the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is the first episode of season number three, with your host Sam Demma. Today our special guest is Larry Paquette. Larry Paquette is the Principal at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls. He started his career at L’école secondaire catholique l’Horizon in Val Caron in 1992. Since then, Larry was a physics, Math, Computer Science and Communications Technology teacher at Saint Charles Garnier in Whitby and then Northern Secondary School. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Northern Secondary School and then Widdifield Secondary School in North Bay. For the past 10 years Laurent was principal at Northern Secondary School, the school at which he graduated from as a student. While at Northern, Larry brought in two High Skills Specialist Majors (SHSM programs) into his school; one in Hospitality and Tourism and the other in mining. He also brought in Lego Robotics and Vex Robotics into Design Technology courses at the school. The favourite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice-principals. The favorite part of his job as a principal was the mentoring that he got to experience with his various vice principles. He’s looking forward to retiring at the end of August after a long successful career. What he will miss the most about his profession is the time that he spends with countless numbers of students. In retirement, he plans to focus on his firewood business, travel, and spend more time with his family. I hope you enjoy this reflective episode with Larry as he is now retired, focused on his business, and I will see you on the other side. Larry, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Larry Paquette (02:39):

So I’m Larry Paquette. I’m a principal at Northern secondary school in sturgeon falls. I’ve been here as a principal for 10 years and this is my last year before I move on to retirement. So it’s, it’s been a great journey for me and I’ve, I’ve spent most of my career in this school. And actually I was a not only a principal here. I was also a vice- principal for four years, a teacher for twelve years and, and a student for for five years. So this has been my home for, for, for a long while.

Sam Demma (03:16):

That’s, that’s amazing. Thank you for your service. <Laugh>.

Larry Paquette (03:20):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (03:21):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was there a special moment? Was it gradual? Tell me more about that.

Larry Paquette (03:31):

Yeah, so, so that’s a, that’s a great question. And, and for me, it’s going way back, right? So I can attest this to to probably some teachers of mine who were awesome and there’s a number of them along the way. And I struggled when I was in elementary school, but flourished in secondary school. And for me English is my second language. So I, I learned English in high school and I went to a French elementary school and then came to Northern to learn English that that was, you know, back in that day, we didn’t, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have that, that many opportunities to learn a language. And, and I came to Northern and I, and I had many great teachers here. That’s not, when I decided though I kind of, you know, went off to university studied engineering for a bit and then went into computer science and, and that’s my background, computer programming and software engineering.

Larry Paquette (04:31):

And I graduated in 91 and back then we were kind of in a recession and, and a bunch of us all French speaking. I went to a French speaking university in Subbury loon university, a bunch of us decided, Hey, let’s go to teachers college for a year. It’ll give us an extra year, something else in our backpack. Maybe a little more employable and ended up doing teachers college for a year and ended up in teaching. So there was no aha moment. It’s just, I gradually stepped into that role and, you know, enjoyed working with with students. That’s always been my passion.

Sam Demma (05:09):

Where did your interest for computer programming and computer science come from <laugh>?

Larry Paquette (05:13):

Oh my God. That, that, that also goes back to the mid eighties. It started here at Northern actually we had we had Vic twenties back then with a, a tape recorder and I had this awesome teacher, Mr. B Brenner was my teacher. And we learned about programming in basic. And actually I didn’t do well. I, I, I, I almost flunked the class, took it again in grade 12, my dad had encouraged me to keep at it for some reason. He kinda felt that computers would be the wave of the future. And my dad had a great eight worked in the mines and said, Ray, I’m not sure what he saw in computers, but he said, you know, you should keep at it because that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be taking over the world one day. And, and if you zoom back to 1985 not many computers around, I kinda lucked out. My mom bought me a, a Commodore 64. And that’s how it started for me. It’s just that passion of coding and, and getting a computer do to do things for me. And it went from there and, you know, I studied computers in university and I, I even had my my business at one point when I first started teaching and wrote some software for the ministry and wow. It was awesome.

Sam Demma (06:31):

What a awesome transition and initial starting point in education. Well, what are the different roles you’ve worked in since you started what schools, like, tell me a little bit about your journey chronologically.

Larry Paquette (06:44):

Yeah, so, so I first started teaching adults at night back then we were teaching word. Perfect.

Sam Demma (06:50):

Okay.

Larry Paquette (06:51):

And, and the funny thing about that story is that my girlfriend at the time took the course with me and we ended up getting married <laugh> so she’s, we’ve been 20, well, we’ve been married for 29 years this year. And, and I always joke about it. Like, I must have done a half decent job cuz she’s still around <laugh>. So that’s how I started teaching adults at night. They were mainly secretaries from the Subbury board. Okay. and then moved into a long term occasional position teaching computers and Ft. Even though I’m French teaching FCE was very challenging for me, but you know, it was a job. It gave me a couple months experience and moved into an LTO, a long term, occasional position in computer science. I think I was teaching some physics in, in a school in Whitby.

Larry Paquette (07:48):

Nice. So I spent a year there and then, you know, I was desperately trying to get back to to Northern and I knew the principal at the time. He was one of my teachers and I actually, I called him every two weeks on a Friday at two, just to connect with, ’em asked about the school and back then, like there were so few jobs. They hired three people that year. It was our board hired three people and I was one of the three and you know, more or less like the HES, the rest is pretty much, much history, but I, I moved into admin early on into my career just because of the opportunities. Right. So I, I ended up being a teacher in charge. I think I was about maybe 32 years old. Ah and then went and got qualified as, as an administrator and became principal here at Northern. And I was principal, I mean, vice principal here at Northern for, for four years. Then I was moved to north bay in a big school and worked there for two years. And actually I was fortunate because the principal who I worked with here at Northern as a vice principal, moved to Whitfield in, in north bay and I, I moved and worked with him there. So, and then came back here and then became principal. And, and I’ve been principal in this building for, for 10 years now.

Sam Demma (09:10):

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of the role you’re working in right now? And soon to be retired from <laugh>,

Larry Paquette (09:20):

It’s such a rewarding career overall and, you know, people will ask me, what did you like the most? Actually, I love being a vice principal the most, that was my favorite part of the job, because I got to work with kids on a one to one basis. As the principal though, you, you, you even have a bigger effect because you’re working with teachers also. Mm. and the community. So everything’s a a reward, right. Just, you know, knowing that you’re making a difference in your, your community. And, and this is my community. I grew up here and I’ve spent most of my life in this community and, you know, everybody knows you <laugh>, you know? Yeah. I’m the principal in my, in my community. There’s not 10 of us. Right. Yeah. So it’s and people reach out to you and, and, you know, I bump into people that I taught back in the day and they remember things and it’s, it’s, it’s such a, a rewarding, but challenging profession.

Sam Demma (10:21):

You mentioned your first role was teaching adults. How did that come about? Is that like typically a way that teachers usually start or tell me more about that experience?

Larry Paquette (10:35):

Not, not necessarily. I was kinda I kinda got into that by luck. I had a friend who was teaching adults who said, Hey, Larry, you wanna, you know, they’re looking for people who have that computer science background to teach to teach secretaries. Cool. And, and, you know, there were not that many of us in that, you know, in that, having that knowledge and I was still in university, I was like a computer science student when I first started teaching. Right. So it kinda gave me a taste of what teaching was all about. So, and also I ended up paying into my pension early on, so I kind young, still to retire, which is a real bonus. Right.

Sam Demma (11:15):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Along the journey, you mentioned you had some teachers that inspired you, impacted you along the way. I’m wondering if you can recall who some of those people are, and I’m sure there’s way too many to name, but maybe one or two that had a significant impact on you and what they did for you.

Larry Paquette (11:34):

Well, yeah, for sure. So, so the first one ISPR new, my grade eight teacher, and he probably doesn’t even know that he still lives in our community, but he kind of, you know, it’s just that patience, right. Cause I was a bit of a squiggly kid grew up on a farm. So, you know, sitting in a classroom was not my big thing, but I, I, I understood the importance of school. But, but that grade eight teacher was probably the first person that kind of made me realize, you know, I could do it. And then, you know, zoom forward to to high school. I, I had a couple the principal that hired me his name was Don Cole and, and Don taught me drafting in grade nine. And you can imagine moving from a small com small, small, rural school community into a bigger school.

Larry Paquette (12:27):

And I call this a bigger school, but it’s not a big school. We, we were maybe 400. Okay. and I took drafting with Mr. Cole. And, and I remember that first assignment, I got a hundred percent came back home and told my parents, man, I’m good at something I’m good at drafting, not knowing that every kid in the class got a hundred percent on his first assignment, that was kind of his shtick of okay. Of getting us to believe that we could do it. Ah, I shared that story with my staff. And, and I had a, a math teacher. His name was Ken Brener and I kinda replaced him here when I, when, when I got first hired, Ken was so patient and spent so much time, you know, he was always available at lunch before school, after school.

Larry Paquette (13:13):

Wow. if you wanted to learn more about Matt, Ken was your guy. And then I had a couple of university professors. One was his name was Dave Goforth was one of my computer science professors, just a, a all round nice guy. And then one of my faculty teachers who, cuz I was about to quit in November, in October and November, I just said, I’m done I’m I’m gonna go start my business, do my own thing. And he kind of took me a aside and said, Larry you know, you’re, you’re two months in. I think you’re gonna be a great teacher, just stick with it. And I did, which thank God he had that conversation with me.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Wow. And I love that story of giving every student a hundred percent on their first test quiz. When you realize that everyone got that, what was the Le like what lesson kind of came to mind or how did you perceive it?

Larry Paquette (14:07):

I, I was a little young to understand why that had happened. Really. Yeah. I understood that actually it took a while. I was probably well into my teaching career before I really realized, Hey, that’s like, that’s a nice little trick. Right? Yeah. Doesn’t cost you anything. And why be stingy with marks they’re just marks. Right. So yeah.

Sam Demma (14:28):

I love that. That’s such a great way to put the battery in the kids’ back and help them believe in themselves. You know,

Larry Paquette (14:35):

That’s, that’s, that’s exactly it.

Sam Demma (14:38):

Cool. thinking about your journey through education if you could take the wisdom and experiences you’ve had and bundle them up into a piece of advice for your younger self travel back in time and tap Larry on the shoulder in his first year and say, Hey Larry, this is the advice that would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just starting this career. Not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice would you give to your younger self?

Larry Paquette (15:08):

Forgive yourself for making mistakes. Don’t focus on those mistakes run with your horses. You’ll always have people who will challenge you, but they keep you honest. Mm. and, and, and zoom out. And, and actually for me, that just came about in the last month, <laugh> where I’m zooming out and, and saying, Hey, I’ve got, I’ve had an awesome career. And, and actually I’ll, I’ll give credit where credit is due on this one. They’ve parachuted in a vice principal into our school at the start of may. And she’s the one, you know, she’s, she’s, she’s younger than I am. And she just said, you know what, Larry, you’ve had a great career focus on that, going out and, and keep your head high because we tend to be critical. Right. We tend to focus on the negative instead of celebrating all the great things that we do. And when we do zoom out, all those little things that happened along the way, they made us better people and they’ve kept kept us honest. So that, that’s what I would say. Just be forgiving of your, your, your challenges, your mistakes especially if you have like, you know, if you, if you have noble intentions.

Sam Demma (16:18):

Yeah. I think we spend so much time focused on all the things we have yet to accomplish yet to do. Whereas there’s so many things we have accomplished and achieved and we forget to give ourselves the flowers for those things, or don’t reflect on them enough and celebrate them for a small moment in time and then never revisit them again. Right. speaking of some ch I mean, we didn’t really get on the topic, but along with successes and accomplishing things, I know the past two years have been a little bit difficult with the global pandemic that no one knew was gonna come. What are some of the challenges your school community was faced with over the past few years? And along with the challenges, what are some of the opportunities that you think came out of the situation?

Larry Paquette (17:08):

Well, so, so many challenges, it’s hard to zoom in on, on the one thing, cuz we’re kind of in the middle of it still. Yeah. And I kind of feel someone said at one point, like, we feel like we’re building a plane at the same time as we’re trying to fly it. Mm. so you know, the mental health issues are, are certainly coming to, to, to the forefront. And the importance of supporting kids, mental health is more important than actually the curriculum that we’re trying to teach. So yeah. So that’s a huge shift for us, for us as, as principals, but also for our teachers especially the ones that are, are kind of stuck, like in a bit of a rut in the classroom where they’re not seeing the bigger picture. Mm. so that’s been a, certainly a challenge and we’re really filling it with, you know, there’s about 12 days left before the end of the, the school year.

Larry Paquette (17:59):

Nice. You know, the wheels are coming off, right. The kids are really struggling right now. And, and so are the staff and everybody’s so tired, we’re just trying to get to the end of the year. You know, and part of my job is, is, is to to keep the focus right. To stay calm if, if I lose my wheels, then for sure things are gonna go south. Yeah. and staff look up to their principal to get us a pulse of how they should feel. So it’s, it’s been it’s been interesting and how I go about trying to keep that, that even keel is I, I I, I do I produce firewood <laugh> of all those things. And I think Sean might have mentioned it in his podcast. So I go out there and I, I work in the backlog, I cut wood, I split wood. I sell with customers. Nice. And I, you know, it, it keeps me active, keeps me in shape and clears my mind. Right. So I, I think that’s, that’s pretty much I, and I’m, I’m fortunate. I, I have I have an awesome family. I have five children wonderful wife. I, I rely on my faith to, to get me through the, the, the stormy waters

Sam Demma (19:16):

Love that. I, I love chopping wood. We, we have a little cottage about an hour and a half from our house. And from a young age, my grandfather had taught me how to, you know, safely swing the ax and we would chop up logs and, you know, use ’em for the bonfire pit. And it’s such a therapeutic activity. <Laugh> so you don’t do that a part as a part of school though. You do that outside when you’re not working outside of the classroom, like outside of the office.

Larry Paquette (19:49):

Yeah. I’m just gonna check. Can you still hear me?

Sam Demma (19:52):

Yep.

Larry Paquette (19:53):

You can hear me. Yeah. It was telling me that the microphone disconnected. Okay. We’ll back up a story about that. That’s okay. Yeah. No, this is totally separate. It’s it’s a separate business. There’s a bit of story behind that is just, it’s just like, instead of seeing a therapist, I go chop some wood and actually like I’ve got machinery. I’m not doing everything by hand. Yep. Yeah. I’ve got tractors and the processors and all this nice jazz, so yeah.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Oh, it’s cool. When did that begin and why what’s the, what’s the story behind it? <Laugh>,

Larry Paquette (20:24):

It’s a long story. As I told you, I grew up on a farm. Yep. and I have four brothers and, and we always worked so back in the eighties times were really different. We, we work together regularly and at one point my dad told me, like, he, he noticed I was struggling in, in, in being a principal. It was, it was a grinding job, not much. I, I wasn’t feeling like I was successful. And you said to me, you need to go back to your roots. You love producing wood. Maybe you should start producing wood, like just even for yourself. And that’s how it kind of started one little chainsaw with one ax and slowly built, you know, started selling a bit of wood, bought a wood splitter, bigger chainsaw tractor. And it just mushroom. So in retirement, I’m, I’m, I’m gonna be doing that full time.

Sam Demma (21:15):

Why do you think it’s important people working in education also have something like that. It doesn’t have to be wood cutting, but a hobby where they can forget about their work during the day, let their mind run loose. Like, how has that been helpful for you?

Larry Paquette (21:33):

Well, you need to recharge. And that was one of my biggest mistakes. When I started as a principal here, I was working 70, 80 hours a week. I was in six days a week and I was frustrated because nobody else was doing that. I, it was a choice that I had had made. Mm. And it came to the cost of my, you know, my family, my personal relationships. And I don’t think I was a good principal because, you know, I, I, I never took that time to rest and recharge and, and come back on a, on a different angle almost. Right. So, and I was fortunate, my, my superintendent took me aside and said, you know, Larry, I don’t even work 70 hours a week. So why, why are you working so hard? And I kinda learned to work smarter, right? Yeah. To delegate, to get people, to to, to take on some of those some of those pieces and let them run with with it.

Sam Demma (22:28):

One of the most rewarding aspects of a career in education is the impact you get to make on the lives of thousands of young students and young minds. And for those people who are listening, and obviously can’t see this, cuz there is no video <laugh> big smile across Larry’s face. When I said that, I’m curious to know over the years, if there are any stories of students who you can recall that were seriously transformed due to education. And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name and explain it with a totally different name just to keep their privacy respected.

Larry Paquette (23:04):

Yeah, no, absolutely. So couple weeks ago I bumped into a parent and we are a small community. So, you know, I, she said, Hey Larry, how’s it going? Remember my son? And of course I did remember her son. And, and she had come to a parent teacher interview night and she said, you remember that parent teacher interview night? I said, no, I don’t. I remember your son, but don’t remember that teacher interview night. And she said, you know, you had told me that my son was great in math and her son, like not, not the type who would sit down in the desk. He was really active, a sports kind of guy like football, hockey, but in the classroom, not so much, didn’t do that well on tests, but I knew he was smart. I, I knew it because he would choose the toughest question on the test.

Larry Paquette (23:56):

And he’d answer that question. And not just the one question and hand in his test. Now, if I would’ve marked him, you know, usually traditional ways of marking, he, he would’ve failed because he would’ve only gotten that, that one question. But I knew he knew all the question. He knew all the answers. Anyway, she, she kind of, you know, she, she, she’s kind of beaming with pride when she was sharing that, that, that that experience and so fast forward about 30 years now I won’t, this kid now owns a, a company in our community, a big mining company and wow. You know, he, he runs that. I’m not surprised. I, I knew this guy was going places. You know, if I would’ve judged him on, on traditional ways of, of evaluation, you know, he, he, he wouldn’t have done well. And there’s so many stories like that.

Larry Paquette (24:49):

<Laugh> like, yeah. And that that’s, that’s the piece. And, and, and I’m sure I will be bumping into people for the rest of my life. People that I’ve taught. I’ve had one kid come back and said, remember that game doom. We used to play back in the nineties. Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, we had used that game to learn about 3d modeling in my class. And he said like, that’s the one thing I remember from high school. I is learning how to use doom to like, we created like the school, we built the school.

Sam Demma (25:19):

Oh, wow.

Larry Paquette (25:20):

As a 3d model.

Sam Demma (25:21):

Okay. So

Larry Paquette (25:22):

It was outside the box thinking, but I have to give credit to my principal Don Cole, who I was talking about to gimme that, that leeway, that permission to trust me, to try something different. And I’ve tried to emulate that as, as a principal. If I have a, a teacher who comes in here with an outside the box idea, I run with it. I let them run with it. I encourage them to try it. The worst thing that could happen is we fail big deal.

Sam Demma (25:50):

Yeah. I, I love that. And I think it’s so important that we actually give ourselves the opportunity to fail. Because most of the time, before we try something, our brain actually stops us and we hypothetically fail. We don’t even actually know what the result’s gonna be, cuz we don’t even do it. <Laugh> I think. Well,

Larry Paquette (26:09):

Yeah. And I’d even add to that Sam, like if you’ve never failed, you probably haven’t tried hard enough. Right? Yeah. You’re always down that safe road where there’s, no’s no, I’m success meed many times and I’m okay with that.

Sam Demma (26:28):

Yeah. Because you keep picking up the acts and trying again, it’s like exactly, you’re gonna keep chopping away until we figure it out. Right. Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m excited to see your transition after you, you know, retire and it’s not, I don’t think retire is the right word. Just it’s a transition of your time and, and your efforts, right.

Larry Paquette (26:46):

It’s a change, right. It’s part of like being a principal is, is very demanding, very rewarding. But you know, you get to a point where, okay, I, I I’m, I’m getting there. I’m I wanna leave on my, my terms on high. I feel really good that Sean is gonna be taking the school over. Nice. and Sean’s excited too. And I I’m gonna be in the wings. Right. I, I told him if you need help, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll be happy to help out, but there’s, he’s coming to an awesome school. There’s a lot of great things happening. And, and I, I know I’ll hear about it and, and I’m glad for for him.

Sam Demma (27:22):

Awesome. Ah, I’d love to hear it. Thank you so much for taking some time to share some of your stories and wisdom today on the podcast. Thank you for your 29 years of service. I wish you the best in your transition. If there’s an educator who’s listening to this right now, wants to reach out, have a conversation or ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Larry Paquette (27:42):

So there’s two spots, I’m at on Gmail. So it’s laurent.paquette@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (27:51):

Sure.

Larry Paquette (27:52):

If you look me up on Facebook, you’ll, you’ll, you’ll find me, you’ll see my picture there. I usually have drone pictures up on my Facebook page and I, my business is on there too. So if you want to chat, I’m we didn’t talk about this, but my favorite part of being a principal is also mentoring VPs and moving them into into the leadership position of the principal. So I would love to help out in any way

Sam Demma (28:28):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Larry Paquette

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.

Reg Lavergne – Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Reg Lavergne - Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
About Reg Lavergne

Reg Lavergne (@RegLavergne) is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role.

For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning.

Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12.

At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius.

Connect with Reg: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS)

OCDSB

Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller

Russ Interview by Jay Shetty

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 Reg Lavergne. Reg Lavergne is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role. For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning. Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12. At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Reg, and I will see you on the other side. Reg, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Reg Lavergne (02:21):
It’s fantastic to be here and I really appreciate you reaching out to me. So my name is Reg Lavergne. I’m a superintendent of instruction with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board which is a public school board in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I support a number of schools, but I also support the innovation and adolescent learning department and the student success programming across our district.


Sam Demma (02:44):
At what point in your own career journey did you determine that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?


Reg Lavergne (02:53):
Okay, so this might sound sad. I always wanted to be a teacher. My mother tell you if she was here right now, that when I was a very small boy and people said, what do you wanna do when you grow up? I said, I was gonna be a teacher. And I always did say that that I was gonna be a teacher. I, so that, that truly has been, was always, and still is my main goal. I like working in education. I like working with, with kids. I like helping and working with adults who are working with kids. And I have always naturally gravitated towards kids for whom the system didn’t necessarily work as well as we might like it to. So I’ve always gravitated towards, it’s not working. Why is that? What can we do differently?


Sam Demma (03:42):
That’s awesome. Tell me about the journey from five year old reg that always told his parents and everyone in his life that he wanted to be a teacher to reg today. Like what were the different positions and roles you worked in? Where did you start and what brought you to where you are today?


Reg Lavergne (04:01):
So I, I, I, I think I’d have to say that my, my journey hasn’t been exactly linear. Although I I’ve always been connected to education, so I was in school and then I’ve worked in, in schools and, and in education, my entire career. I actually when I was in school I was very fortunate. School worked for me. I really enjoyed school. I got a lot out of it. I actually went to university and I, my first degree was in music. So I was a music teacher first and I loved that. I got to work with kids in a very different environment to help them celebrate strengths that they didn’t know they had in a way that many people weren’t looking for and, and to help them see how they can contribute in ways that to be perfectly Frank society doesn’t always put on the forefront.


Reg Lavergne (05:00):
So when I was watching kids, we would often work with I, I was a high school teacher for the most part. I actually started working in a private elementary school. And then I got hired with public board, the secondary level, and I was working as a music teacher and we would go to the local elementary schools and I would watch kids who didn’t always have the easiest paths and had lots of different things. They were working through flourish when they were working with younger children and helping them, helping them grow and helping them overcome challenges that they were working with. And I really, really loved that. And from there I became a vice principal. I, I I worked actually, I should take a step back when I was in taking my my degree, my education degree. I sought where, where I, where I could sort of put my voice in what type of placement I, I was asking for.


Reg Lavergne (05:57):
I worked with children who were suspended or expelled from their schools or districts and, and helped their, their learning. I also volunteered in a program that was designed for kids who’d been suspended so that they didn’t stay at home all day. They came, we helped them with their schooling, but we also helped them with why they were suspended and how can we not get there again? I became a music teacher after that. When I became a vice principal, my first school was working with the student was in an adaptive school. So was working for students who had lots of different types of challenges social as well as cognitive, as well as physical and I, and I worked with with them. And then when I became a principal, I worked in an inner city and a rural school.


Reg Lavergne (06:43):
But I brought a, a very strong student success link to that, to those discussions, to those schools, those situations when a student was struggling, stopping and saying, why are they struggling? What can we do differently for them asking them to do the same thing multiple times when they’ve struggled on it on the first time, probably isn’t going to make them feel better about themselves. They may learn the skill, but they’re not going to feel better about themselves as they go through that. So how do we also take into account their thinking their their feelings about themselves? Do they think that they’re a capable learner? Do they think they’re smart? How can we make sure they do see that way? And how can we make sure that they do see that there are lots of options available to them and how can we help them get there?


Sam Demma (07:25):
Mm. I love that. And they’ve gone continue,


Reg Lavergne (07:31):
Sorry. No, I, I may have gone a little off topic there, but, but that was where sort of my thinking went. And actually one part I, I actually then started I moved out of working in a school and I was working centrally. I was assistant principal for four years of student success and adolescent learning. And I supported, I think it was 96 schools in our district on school student success programming and, and looking at, at options and opportunities for students outside of the, the, the norm outside of the traditional box that we might work in.


Sam Demma (08:04):
You mentioned that you had the opportunity to see students flourish in a different environment to uncover strengths, that they didn’t even know that sometimes they had. Can you share an example of what you mean by uncovering strengths? They didn’t even know they had, because I think that’s a beautiful thing to help a young person or a student realize,


Reg Lavergne (08:26):
Mm-Hmm, , there are so many I have a couple from my past, that’ll be more general. And then I can speak to one specifically that I’m thinking about from last year. Mm. So Stu students who that I was working with, who may not have had clarity on their strengths. I spoke very vaguely to say that they may not have thought they were very good at very much. And I remember, again, I was in a high school going to local elementary schools and intentionally partnering students up with, with younger children who needed help in different things. If it was music, they may have needed help playing their instrument or setting their instrument up or trying a new instrument or working through something that they were working on, but they were struggling and giving. I, I I’m, I’m seeing several in my mind right now, and I’m years giving, providing the opportunity for them to step up, to be a leader, to show their strengths to help someone else.


Reg Lavergne (09:36):
And I think that brought in the idea of contribution, right? As soon as you can bring in the idea where a person feels like they’re contributing in some way, they feel valued, they feel valuable, they feel important. They know that they have strengths that they can bring. And I would watch these teenagers working with these younger students and suddenly see them light up as the younger student achieved, what they were working on. And I could see that the, the older student realized, wait a second. I helped them do that. Right. I was able to, to share with them some of what I know, some of the skills I have, I was able to motivate them and make them feel that they can do this. They knew it was possible. And suddenly they did that. And I would watch the kids light up. And to me, I don’t think I have the words to describe how I felt on the inside, nor how the kids felt as they were going through that.


Reg Lavergne (10:32):
Because then all of a sudden, as we’re heading back to, to the main high school, I’m watching the excitement in this young person’s eyes, I’m hearing them talk about what they did and, and how they helped the other student. I’m hearing them talk about the other student’s achievement. Like it really wasn’t all about one person. It was about the different pieces. And I remember watching kids suddenly be willing to try more and to do more back in the classroom after that, because they sudden they saw that they had a strength that they, they could contribute. They could help someone else. And we’ve seen that in a program that we actually started last year in our district, it’s, it’s a, a ministry supported provincial program. So we did not design the entire program. We did design what it looks like for our district.


Reg Lavergne (11:25):
And we started a program with one teacher. And she started reaching out to students who had dropped out of high school without graduating and talked to them about a different approach and a different type of program. And it it’s called a SW program. So that school within a college, like I said, it’s a, it’s a provincial program in Ontario. It is situated to support students who are at risk of not graduating high school and connect them to pathway options. We took a, a slightly different approach to it. In terms of, of, again, reaching out to kids who were at risk of not graduating and finding out what are you doing right now? How can we connect that to your formal learning? So basically we were, we, we did. And when I say we, I mean, the lead teacher who is the most brilliant educator you have ever met she connected with kids who, who were not at school and started talking with them just to find out more about them.


Reg Lavergne (12:21):
What are your interests? What do you like to do? What do you do outside of school? You know, when you do that, that’s actually this part of the English curriculum. And it’s this part of that math curriculum. And at this part of the history curriculum, and she was able to, to show the students who, the structure that we developed together, that they were smart. They had talent, they had strengths. It may not manifest itself in a way that we would normally capture it in a school, but they were demonstrating learning in, in in, within their life. And she was, she was able to engage with them to, they came back to work with us. Now, this was in remote last year. So they actually did not return to a traditional school, but they did engage in some traditional school structures and different things.


Reg Lavergne (13:10):
They were engaged in outside the school. The teacher captured because they captured this demonstration of their learning. They had learned, they had developed a ton of skills, maybe not sitting in the classroom at 9:00 AM on Monday, but maybe at different times. And they were able to demonstrate that learning. And she worked with, with students capturing evidence of their learning. So she did not create lessons for them every day, the students from their interests and then where they wanted to go. So meeting their pathway goals developed learning experiences. And as they were doing that and demonstrating different learnings, the teacher was, was connecting that to different curricular expectations. And the students were accelerating the, the credits that they were earning. And at the end of June last year, 22 students graduated from high school. And I believe 18 of them are in college right now. These students had dropped outta previous.


Sam Demma (14:05):
Wow. That’s such a cool story.


Reg Lavergne (14:08):
Oh, get goosebumps. When I think of that story all the time, that teacher and that program approach changed those kids,


Sam Demma (14:20):
It’s a case study of how to deal with students of whom school is not working. Right. Like you mentioned earlier, sometimes school doesn’t work for everybody. Well, I think the question that came in my mind was like, how do we help those students who school is not working for? And it sounds like this program like fills that void. Is it continuing this year in person? Or like, tell, like, tell me a little bit more about it.


Reg Lavergne (14:45):
Yeah. We expanded it three teachers this year. And the program is full again. They’ve reached out to different groups of students and they’ve intentionally reached out to students that might not reach out to us to make sure that they are aware of those pieces and that, that, that there is an opportunity. And sometimes they situated from why not give a shot, try it out. If it doesn’t work, you don’t have to stay, right. We’re not, we’re not holding you here, but if it does work, this could be changing for you. And, and something, you said it, it made me, it made me think of something else that the, the teacher engaged with as well. In that program, we’re not saying that traditional learning structures are not engaged, right. They’re not out the door, they’re still there. Yeah. But they’re engaged differently as the student needs it.


Reg Lavergne (15:34):
And I remember talking with the teacher again, brilliant educator. And she was telling me this story about a student who had struggled in school for many, many years, obviously had dropped out of high school, was back into this program. And they needed a very solid, theoretical understanding of mathematics for the program they wanted to go into at the college the next year. And so the teacher engaged in some more traditional learning so that they could understand the theoretical underpinnings of the mathematical concept they needed to go in. The difference was the student knew why they needed it.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Mm.


Reg Lavergne (16:12):
And it was connected to their goal. It was connected to their pathway. It was connected to their passion. So they were, they were there, they were into it. They were working on it. I don’t believe six months earlier, the student would’ve engaged to the same degree, but because of the approach that that program provided and that educator provided for the student, they saw meaning and purpose for their learning as they had never seen it before. So that theoretical piece that possibly, and I, I, I can’t guarantee these pieces, but possibly before they may have thought, I don’t want that. I don’t care about that. Like, I’m not doing that. They knew it was important. It was important to them. It was part of their pathway goal. So they were totally engaged and worked very diligently with the teacher to learn in that way. So it is a balance of sort of a authentic in school and outta school experiences with some very traditional, theoretical learning opportunities as well.


Sam Demma (17:07):
There’s a really phenomenal new book called hero on a mission by an author named Donald Miller. And in the book, he talks about the importance of setting goals in the context of stories. Like he believes that the reason why most people don’t bring their goals to life is because the goal isn’t actually baked into a story about how their life could change or what it is they’re working on. And when you mentioned that student who didn’t understand why they needed this, all of a sudden realizing that it’s a key component of bringing their future goal to realization it just, it like compels you to, to do it and take action because no longer is it just a math class, it’s a stepping stone in your goal or your future, you know, story. Which I think is a really cool realization. And that’s what came to mind when you were explaining that, what do you do you, what’s the teacher’s name that runs this program? Does she also does she also teach like a grade or is she solely dedicated to running and organizing this, this program?


Reg Lavergne (18:10):
So she teaches she taught all the students last year. She teaches a third of the students this year, but she’s, she works with the other two teachers and they they’re very collaborative in their approach. Cool. In terms of bouncing off each other’s strengths so that the students can maximize they’re learning off of the, the strengths from the three teachers that are, that are involved. We have a fourth teacher that helps liaise with the college, the local college we have as well. Nice. because part of that program is the students. I call it tow dipping, but they, they engage in some college courses as well. And while they’re engaging in the college courses, they’re earning a college credit and a high school credit at the same time. Nice. to try to explore different options, they may not have considered the lead teacher in the program.


Reg Lavergne (18:57):
She is extremely humble and will not be happy that I have said her name. But her name is Donna. And and she was an exceptional educator. And she you know, she was the one working directly with the students last year. Helping them see their genius, which is a saying that I captured from another one of our, our educators to see their genius and to see the possibilities before them. And you know, she has, has dramatically changed and the colleagues she works with have dramatically changed the lives of children.


Sam Demma (19:31):
I’m getting goosebumps. It’s such a good feel. Good story. And it’s so cool to hear that the program is growing. I’m sure other boards might be reaching out to you after listening to this podcast, to ask some questions and connect with Donna too. about this, because I know it’s not an isolated problem or challenge. There are so many challenges in education, especially with the pandemic, but with challenges, come opportunities being on the cutting edge of innovation and student success, what do you foresee? Some of the opportunities being in education, things that are unfolding and the school board is working on that you think are really great opportunities for the future.


Reg Lavergne (20:11):
I will never say that COVID has been a great thing. It’s been a horrifying thing. It has caused so much harm. I will say that it created the opportunity to look at things outside the box. Mm that’s my very gentle way of saying sometimes we have to knock the lid off and push the wall over. Mm. And look outside the box. Traditional approaches to learning work for some and need to be available for some, they don’t work for everybody and we need to be more attentive to, and more responsive to and proactive to different ways of learning that engage people in different in, in different ways. I, I am very focused on who is the student? What are they doing? What do they want to do? What are their strengths? How is the learning environment set up to help them see meaning and purpose in their learning?


Reg Lavergne (21:18):
When we first went into shut down because of C learning, didn’t go into shut. Buildings did congregating together, did, but learning didn’t stop. And I was so privileged at the time. I was the principal of student success and innovation and adolescent learning at the time. And at first I remember thinking, what are we going to do? The way we’ve done everything. Our entire system can’t function right now, the way we’ve done it, what are we going to do? And I have to tell you how blown away I was with students, families, and educators, as everybody morphed into doing things in a very, very different way. I had the privilege of working with all of the student success teachers in our district. Every school that has grade seven and eight or grade nine to 12, has a student success teacher assigned a, a specific position for it.


Reg Lavergne (22:15):
And I was so privileged to get to work with all of them, incredible educators, incredible credible people. And we started doing a lot of brainstorming because those are the teachers that also support the students that are at greatest risk of leaving us, having not completed their courses and completed their diploma. And so we spent a lot of time talking back and forth. Well, what does this look like when you’re talking about students who don’t necessarily want to engage in learning every day, because they haven’t had success in it, or they haven’t felt good in it. Then when they’re sitting at home, it’s even more at risk that they’re not going to engage. So what are we going to do? And we built an approach, a philosophy, excuse me, and a framework to really take a look at all right, what are you doing right now at home?


Reg Lavergne (23:08):
You are learning. You are learning in very different ways, but you are learning. It just doesn’t look like it did the previous week when we were in a school building. So what are you doing? Talk to me about that. We had one student I’ve, I, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. A teacher shared I’ll speak generally because yeah, I don’t, I have share name, but had contacted a student who had had a variety of different experiences in schools and not all of them. Good. And, and they were now at home as, as everybody was. And the, the teacher, the, the student success teacher asked the student what they were doing and the student was tearing apart a trailer and rebuilding it with his dad at home was just something they wanted to do at home by talking with the student and finding a little bit more about what they were doing.


Reg Lavergne (23:57):
And, and he engaged in regular conversations with the students. So to, to hear what they were learning, talked to me a little bit, suddenly we realized the student was actually doing two tech education courses with his dad at home by tearing it apart. And the teacher was able to capture evidence of learning through the conversation and the student would take pictures of what he was doing and share it with the, with the teacher to say, this is what we saw today. So we had to do this for X reason. That is not my area of strength. So I can’t give you the exact specifics on what they were say. But what I do know was that the student was engaged in activity. They really loved, they were working with their dad and they were able to explain why they were making the steps they were making.


Reg Lavergne (24:41):
And the teacher actually asked the student at point would write down the steps of what you were, why you were doing it. The student was like, sure, why? Well, there’s a grade 12 technical English course that would meet the criteria of, so by building a manual on how to tear apart and rebuild a trailer, the student was also working on a technical English course. This wasn’t a student who necessarily loved writing or loved literature, right? At that point in his life, he may at one point, but at that point he didn’t necessarily enjoy that, that approach, but he was totally on board with writing down what he was doing and why he was doing, we were capturing his thinking. It was important to him. It mattered to him. He was creating a technical manual. That for him was really, really important. And that connected some credits. So during the, the initial closures, and that’s what sort of inspired and led to the development of our approach with our program as well it was very much looking at well, what are they interested in? What are they good at? What do they wanna be working? That’s where we start. And that’s how they get that spark to continue pushing themselves even further.


Sam Demma (25:57):
It sounds like flexibility is such an important part of this process. Like the, the student being flexible, but also the, the teacher and maybe in the past flexibility has not been the most utilized idea when it comes to projects or completing assignments or the way that you complete the assignment. How did, like, how do you build a culture of flexibility where, where, like an educator is proactively looking for those ways to connect real world experience to specific students learning or is this like situation you’re explaining more used for the students who school is not working for?


Reg Lavergne (26:42):
That’s a great question. I think the flexibility piece is, is key. Yeah. How do we build the environment for it?


Sam Demma (26:51):
I’m putting you on the spot. not that you have to have the perfect answer.


Reg Lavergne (26:57):
No, it’s a great question. I think, I think it’s a, it’s a brilliant question. I I’m going share some of my initial thinking. And then this is the question I’m gonna walk away from thinking even more on, I’ll be honest with you. I think, I think part of it comes down to what’s the goal and who decides the goal and who’s decided how that goal is achieved. And we have we have a society, our, our, our society, and some may argue that it has to be this way for a society. As, as, as large as our planet is to function together that there are certain goals and there are certain ways that we’ve decided over a series of years or decades that work mm. I have to talk about that, that work to achieve those goals. And I think what we’re seeing, and I think COVID has helped illuminate this it’s, it’s put a spotlight on it.


Reg Lavergne (27:55):
That practices that work, we have to stop saying that we have to start saying they work for some and other practices work for others, and we needed to be more open to a diversity of practices that are going through. I think that certainly the approach we took in the district, I was working with student success teachers who I was very fortunate. We’re very engaged, very flexible, wanted to try different things to support student achievement in different ways and move that forward. What we’re seeing is that that thinking philosophy and the use of this framework is, is expanding in the district. As people are seeing that it’s working. Because I think something that just jumped into my head after what you said was the idea of permission.


Reg Lavergne (28:41):
Do we give educators permission to go outside the box to try things that are safe, appropriate, but that engage students in ways that engage them. So rather than it being an approach that I’m confident in, because I’ve seen it work a number of times, if I see it not working for a student, do I feel that I have the permission to try something different with them, especially depending on where they’re going with it. We all, depending on geographically where you lived, the people who were in the same area with you took the exact same courses through high school, had the exact same learning, delivering models in place. I’m guessing they didn’t all do exact, the exact same thing. So they took those learnings that they had and have tweaked them to has, and it tweaks them, adjusts them and applies them to where they went with it, what they wanted to do with their learning, what they wanted to do with their life.


Reg Lavergne (29:43):
So I think a part of it is giving that permission to, to, to dip into different ways of doing things, to saying for this student, that approach is appropriate and it supports where they want to go. It supports what they wanna do. So we don’t have to follow necessarily in, in sort of a, a, a very structured manner, traditional approaches, traditional approaches work in many cases. And so this isn’t a case of throw all of that out and try this instead, this is a case of, for this person who they are, their identity, their experiences, their goals, what about this? And I would even put on the table, imagine if we started saying to the student, well, what are you interested in? Well, what would you like to work on right now within the parameters of, of the, the the, the courses that we’re working on to say, how would you like to engage in that learning?


Reg Lavergne (30:42):
There are lots of different ways of engaging in learning that is embedded within English curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum. I think we can give permission. And I’m, I’m in a, I, I’m very fortunate. I’m in a position where I can work with a number of schools and principals and vice principals and teachers, and, and I can establish the environment that provides for that position. I don’t mean for that to sound power trippy in any way. But when I, when I say it, I’m having a conversation with someone and, and I say, why not? That gives that permission to say, it’s, it’s okay to go outside of what you may have normally done, because you’re engaging with that student in a way that is going to be more effective for them and is ultimately going to enhance their wellbeing and their achievement. And I remember that when I was a teacher asking, you know, talking with my principal and when my principal said, why wouldn’t you try that? If you think that’s gonna work, knowing that my principal was supporting my thinking was very powerful for me. So that’s something that I try to do. And I’ve always tried to do in my roles as I’ve gone through. My career is, is to make sure that we’re engaging in those conversations and that we’re providing that permission because the permission is needed for us to change the way it was to the way it could be.


Sam Demma (32:06):
There is an American hip hop artist named Russ, and he was being interviewed by this guy named Jay Sheti one time. And Jay Sheti said, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? And he said, it was a question, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected? And when you approach situations with that mentality, what, like, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected or ever imagined, instead of what, if this goes wrong and terrible, you build some courage to try new things, to take new things on. And I think the, why not question becomes even more powerful. When you look at it from that perspective and back to your toe dipping analogy, you know, if you do try it and you dip your toe and the water’s really warm, and it’s working out, you dive in and, and, you know, you scale the program, get three teachers involved. And then, you know, five years from now, maybe the program is going throughout the whole board, and there’s like dozens of teachers organizing it and running it all because of a test, a pilot project which is really cool and exciting. This has been a really awesome conversation. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. If someone is listening to this Reg, wants to reach out, ask you a question, talk about this program or your experiences in education, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Reg Lavergne (33:27):
The easiest way would be to go to my board’s website ’cause you can find my email. I’ll spell my email over in a second, but you can find it there. My board’s website is ocdsb.ca and then you can do a search on me and you will find I’ll pop up. My my email is reg.lavergne@ocdsb.ca, and I’m more than happy for people to reach out and have conversations because as we look to what could be and what the possibilities are, that’s what I find is really, really exciting and and can truly change kids’, change kids’ lives.


Sam Demma (34:07):
Awesome. I agree. Thank you so much, Reg, for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Reg Lavergne (34:15):
Thank you. Take care.


Sam Demma (34:18):
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 Reg Levergne

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.

Cassandra Tenbergen – Principal at Marymount Academy (Sudbury CDSB)

Cassandra Tenbergen - Principal at Marymount Academy (SCDSB)
About Cassandra Tenbergen

Cassandra Tenbergen (@CassandraTenbe1) is the principal of Marymount Academy.  The only all-girls school in Northern Ontario.  In her 12-year career as a principal, she has worked in schools from JK to adult education and spent two years at the board office as Assistant to the Director.  Her passion is program development, and has worked with her various school teams to create programs such as summer school e-learning, personal support worker, elite sports training program and many specialist high skills major programs.

Cassandra’s passion is student success and thinking of various ways to support each student individually.  She is also always lending a hand at the school; whether it be making costumes for the school play or stepping into coach, she enjoys being a part of the school team.

Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Marymount Academy – Sudbury Catholic Schools

Sudbury Catholic District School Board – Schools to Believe In.

What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means – Harvard …

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):
Cassandra, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.

Cassandra Tenbergen (00:09):
My name is Cassandra tengan. I’m a principal with separate Catholic district school board. I’ve been a principal and vice principal for many years, since 2005. And my background is every anything from JK all the way up to adult education.

Sam Demma (00:28):
At what point in your own pursuit of careers as a, as a young student, did you realize education is the field that I want to get into in the future?

Cassandra Tenbergen (00:38):
I think I’ve always wanted to go into education. I being young during the summer, I would even play school with my twin sister and any other kid that I could find on the street. And there were tons of kids on the street back then. So we would play school all the time. So that was one of the memories that I, I had. I don’t think I ever wanted to be anything, but a teacher, I think at one point I have a memory of being in an elementary school and my principal at the time was Mr. Griffin. Great. Great man. And I remember walking past his office and I’m like, I wanna be a principal one day. Mm. And even when I went for my interview to become a teacher with sub Catholic I, I don’t remember it cuz you know, you’re so nervous. During interviews you don’t really remember a lot, but the superintendent that hired me at the time reminded me afterwards. She said you, during that interview, you said you wanted to become a principal. And I’ve been supported through this process through the board too to become a principal, you need specialists and you need all those forms. I to get those extra qualifications and they supported me along the way. And I absolutely love being in the field of education.

Sam Demma (02:15):
Tell me about the journey and what it looked like right after you got your degree. So from that moment to where you are now, like what different roles have you worked in? What did the progression look like? All that fun to?

Cassandra Tenbergen (02:27):
So I was hired back in 1997, the day after the poli the walkout and the political protest. Wow. So there were not a lot of jobs back then. I was hired November 11th, 1997. So I didn’t start in September. I kind of started right near, near the beginning of the school year, but in November, the person that I was taking over for decided to retire at the last minute with everything that was happening politically. And I started my teaching career at Marymount academy, which is an all girls school, which is also the high school that I attended. Hmm. Back in 1997 they still had OAC. So there were still five years of high school instead of work. So I taught English, which was not my major in university. My major was in science. But I did get teachables in English cuz I wanted to make sure that cause it was so hard to find a job back then I wanted to have the broadest spectrum being able to, you know, I was willing to teach anything back then.

Cassandra Tenbergen (03:47)
And I, I taught OAC. So there was actually only four years age difference between me and my oh wow. Students. Yeah. Yeah. And then I was surplus at my school. The only thing that there was only one job posted and that was math. So that summer I went to Toronto, got my teachable in math. I just kept getting different qualifications. I have a specialist in, in guidance, a special in special education. I, you know, we have four high schools within our school board. I’ve taught at all three. Wow. And in different areas. So I’ve taught math, science, English. I did guidance. I was actually our school board opened a new high school that would’ve been in 2002, I believe. Hmm. And so we started with five teachers and I was one of those five teachers.

Cassandra Tenbergen (04:59):
Wow. So I had the experience of building a school because we only started with grade nine and then we went the following year, we had nine and 10 and then 9, 10, 11. And, and it, so working, starting with a small group of people with working with the principal I was teacher and had the ability to be teacher in charge back then. So that’s when I got a little of and was got my principal qualifications during that time as well. And started in an elementary school as a vice principal, came back to Marymount , which was a seven to 12 school. Went to adult ad that’s when I had the opportunity to be a principal, spent a couple years at the school board level it’s assistant to the director. So I oversaw student success portfolio for all the high schools. And then I was sent to a school in in the outskirts of Sunbury spent seven years there.

Cassandra Tenbergen (06:02):
And then for the past two years, I I’m back at at Marymount. And I I’ve always had no matter where I went to, I had great experiences. I have great call colleagues, worked with great teacher teams in, in all the the schools. And I really I love working with the teachers. I think that’s an important aspect of leadership learning with them, learning beside them creating different programs, creating things. And I think that that is that’s my passion, one of my specialists, if you like to yeah. Consider it that is developing programs. Even in the adult education setting, I develop the PSW program, so personal support we’re and it’s still running and, and very successful today. So

Sam Demma (07:04):
That’s awesome. What a, what an amazing journey and it’s, it’s cool that it’s come full circle and brought you back to the school where you grew up which is, which is really awesome. You mentioned OAC. I was one of those students that took a fifth year. So you could have been my teacher years ago. but well, yeah, it’s an amazing journey along the way. Did you have other principles, other people in your life that mentored you and supported you? And if so, do you remember who those people were and maybe some of the things that you think they did for you that made a difference?

Cassandra Tenbergen (07:41):
Yes. I, every principal that I worked with, I learned from, mm, and we still we did have a mentoring program too for newly appointed principals and vice principal. So I was a part of that as a mentee and as a mentor. So I , you know, was on both sides of that I’ve learned from each one of them. It’s funny because some of them that have retired now asked me what I thought of their leadership and it is interesting to have that conversation with them and for cuz they all, everybody has a different leadership style. And I remember having a conversation with one of them and I said, wow, you, you kind of left me to figure some things out on my own. Mm. Which is not a bad thing. So at the time, you know, it could be scary for someone new.

Cassandra Tenbergen (08:43):
But you know, their door was always open for me to ask questions and I think that that is extremely important. So I’ve had to train two brand new VPs over the just recent years. And I think that’s really important is always having an open door quality taking the time, having those conversations, bouncing ideas off of each other, even though I’ve been doing this job for my years, it is important for, for me to have a partner that I can bounce ideas off of. Because education is changing, the kids are changing. We have to change our, our approaches to supporting those students, whether it be directly in the classroom in terms of what courses and programs we create. So having that, that partner that we can you know, bounce those ideas off of talk about how are we going to support the students? How are we going to support the parent how are we going to have those difficult convers? Yeah. All those are, are important and, and growth opportunities for both myself and for my VP.

Sam Demma (10:06):
You mentioned earlier programs, creating programs, running programs has been a big part of your education experience. Have you witnessed firsthand the effect that any has had on students within the school culture community? Maybe there’s even a story that comes to mind. Like I would love to, I’d love to hear one or two stories.


Cassandra Tenbergen (10:26):
There’s lots of stories. So the personal support worker program is in our adult education school. And oh, I created that way back when, but I thought it was important. So this people in those the adults in those programs can earn credits towards the high school diploma diploma, as well as a personal support worker diploma. First one out of the, in a school board and in our area. So I had to reach out to colleagues across the province to learn how do they develop it? And I, it was a lot of work, a lot of work and my colleagues across the province that there’s no way you can develop a program and become accredited in one. And I’m like, watch me and I did it

Cassandra Tenbergen (11:25):
I did it. There’s a lot of programs that I developed that came to mind summer school e-learning within our school board. And that’s going strong. I did that as part of my practicum for my tennis qualifications at the last high school I was at, we developed an elite sports training program really focused on not training in a particular sport, but really training the whole athlete. If you are good, if you are a good athlete, you are can be good in any, you can Excel in any sport of choice. And, and that was our philosophy and a lots of those students ended up graduating with scholarships even in the states. Wow. We would have about three, four students a year who would receive sports scholarships, whether it be college university or somewhere in the states.

Cassandra Tenbergen (12:29):
So that was a very successful even developing specialist, high schools and major programs. I’ve developed several of them within the, the high schools that I’ve been at. And a lot of them are those students are working in that area that they that the specialist high schools major in cuz part of the component of the specialist, high schools major program is co-op and I full I’m a full advocate for co-op believe it’s so important, whether you’re in a specialist, high schools, major program or whether you are not I, I will give you an example of my son who was in the health and wellness specialist, high schools, major program, and thought for sure, for sure. He wanted to be a physiotherapist. So I’m like, okay, great. That’s what you’re gonna do your co-op in.

Cassandra Tenbergen (13:25):
So he lasted three days in that co-op and said, I can’t do this. I can’t go back. I can’t do this for the rest of my life. And I’m like, yeah, that’s great. I didn’t spend, you know, thousands of dollars in tuition at a university for you to figure out that that’s not what I wanna do for the rest of my life. So I’m like, what do you wanna do for the rest of your life? And I was always, I, I say it’s, you know, one of those me mom moments where I would never for allow my Stu my child to stay home on an exam day when he didn’t have an exam. I’m like, where do you want a job shadow him? So I gave him lots of opportunities. And so when I said to him, you have to do a co-op, so where do you wanna go?

Cassandra Tenbergen (14:11):
And he’s like, I really enjoyed the placement that I had at the pharmacy. So I’m like, great. So let’s drive there right now and see if they’ll take you for several months instead of a day. So they did agree to take him most places do agree to take a co-op student. And so he was there for several months. It ended up becoming halfway through the co-op placement. They ended up starting to pay him. And he’s been working as a pharmacy assistant you know, during the summer after school hours for many years now. So

Sam Demma (14:53):
That’s amazing. I, I always try and tell students think about life like a buffet. You know, you show up to the buffet, there’s so many different food options. You grab a plate, take as much as, you know, take as as many different options as you can bring it back, you try a little bit of everything and the things don’t like, you make a mental note, not to grab those again, but the things you do, you go and double down. And I feel like, you know, your son went through that exact same situation, which is awesome because it’s just as important to learn what you don’t like as it is to figure out what it is you do. Right?

Cassandra Tenbergen (15:27):
Absolutely. And I think that’s really important for, for people to hear. So he did apply and was accepted into a program a pre-pharmacy program at Waterloo and spent two years there. And this year he was supposed to enter the school of pharmacy. And during his second year at Christmas, he came to me and said, you know, I thought that this is what I wanted to do, but no, I can’t. And I said, that’s fine. So he finished his year and I said, what do you like, what do you wanna do? Like we, we had to have that conversation exactly what you said, what piece you liked it enough to apply to the program, but not to continue in the program. So what piece did you like of that? Right. Mm-Hmm . And so now he’s he’s in a paramedic program.

Cassandra Tenbergen (16:26):
Oh, cool. Absolutely loves it. So he, he liked the he likes the fast pace of the paramedic program. He likes the ability to solve problems. And he talked to me about I love the learning about and figuring out about drug interactions. Mm. So, and he says, you know, when, when you’re responding to a situation, you have to find out what medications are. They are, you know, what is, is this a possibility of drug interactions and just that aspect of it. And that’s why he chose paramedic and absolutely loves it. So

Sam Demma (17:07):
That’s amazing. I’m glad to hear that you know, programs are an important part of school, whether it’s that actual curriculum or other things that is brought in by principals or other teachers programs have been a little difficult to run over the past two years. What are some of the challenges that, that may mountain has been facing? Other schools you’ve heard of in the board that are presently, maybe dissipating slowly, but are still like in the back of your mind?

Cassandra Tenbergen (17:38):
Oh, that’s a good question. That’s a tough question. Because everything is constantly changing. Yeah. and, you know, guidelines are constantly changing what we can do, what we can’t do. So we just, I just wanna say the word creativity, you have to be creative to keep those programs running the best that you can.

Sam Demma (18:12):
Yeah. Creativity is, is key. I I’ve seen some people pivot the way they deliver their programs. Maybe even try to do some of them virtually but you know, at may amount, was there any programs that like, kind of had to stop and the school tried to pivot slightly or do something slightly differently with it?

Cassandra Tenbergen (18:34):
We try to keep things going as much as possible. And that is my mantra for everything that we do here. Hmm. So, you know, Marymount is a school with lots of school spirit. Obviously it’s all girls, it’s like a big slumber party. like, it’s just, it’s that, that great feeling, right? You’re, you’re, there’s no boys around, you could be yourself. The, the school spirit is amazing. And how do we keep that going when you can’t have those assemblies when you can’t get together as a school? So we just find ways around it. We still have our we have our, it’s called a big lip competition. It’s a lip singing competition. Nice. So we, you know, we can’t gather in the gym together and, and ha do performances on the stage, but how can we still keep it going? So the students go up on stage, they tape it. It’s, you know, it’s going to be through zoom. Nice. We’ll try to keep things going as, as much as possible, you know, even with the co-op some co-ops had to move to a virtual platform, but we try to keep those the face to face. Co-Op going as much as we could meeting all the, you know, the guidelines and procedures that we have to follow.

Sam Demma (20:02):
Of course. So got it. And what do you think some of the opportunities might be or things that I feel like with every challenge, there is some form of growth, potential, or opportunity that presents itself. You think there are some opportunity that have come out of this, this situation or this time?

Cassandra Tenbergen (20:21):
Yes. definitely with technology. Mm. So I think that the use of technology really was able to spring even the teachers for it was a quick, oh my goodness. Such a quick they had to pivot so quickly back in March 20, 20. They have to be commended for that because we took teachers outta the classroom and that’s how they they’ve always been in the classroom. That’s you, you, you learn to teach in a classroom and then we’re saying you have to do your job virtually online. You have to do the same job, but in a different setting, using technology. So, you know, they they have to be commended for making that the switch and doing doing a great job at it. And so using technology I think, is really going to, to Excel.

Cassandra Tenbergen (21:29):
Learning for everything is at the fingertips of students now. So it’s not necessarily always teaching them about the content. It’s about thinking about the content and using it differently and really focusing on the six global competencies. So that’s something that we started looking at last year as a, a school team and something that we’re we developed the whole program around it. It’s called the spark program here. Nice. And it’s really focusing on those six global competencies students here really like the opportunity to be able to reach ahead. It is we only offer academic programming here at the like at the academic level university bound courses. So the, the students really like the opportunity to reach ahead in terms of credit accumulation and grade level. So we, this program is based on that based on the global competencies and really helping them develop those those six global competencies about, you know, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication in being a global citizen.

Cassandra Tenbergen (22:54):
And self-directed learning. So some students if you stay in the program all the way to grade 11, they’re really focusing on working on a project that meets their interest mm-hmm . So for example, one student might be wanting to eventually open their own business and they might be developing a business plan and working with community partners. Cause we have a lot of community involvement community partnerships with this program. Another student you know, might be more of science focus and maybe wants to look at the a city’s recycling, a green box program. How could it be more efficient? So, you know, they contact the city and look at that, and then they present their learning and their projects to the teacher and to the the rest of the class. So this classroom teacher acts more of a facilitator for their learning.

Sam Demma (23:53):
Got it. Love it. The, the school sounds amazing. it sounds like a really lively and diverse place with lots of opportunities for growth. If you, you could take all your experiences in education and all the different roles you’ve worked in travel back in time you know, tap younger, Cassandra, not you’re still young now, but tap even younger Cassandra on the shoulder and be like, Hey, this is what I needed you to hear when you were just starting in education. And I asked the question because there’s probably a lot of people listening to this who are just starting to think about getting into education. I’m curious to know what advice you would’ve gave yourself.

Cassandra Tenbergen (24:35):
Never give up.

Sam Demma (24:37):
Mm.

Cassandra Tenbergen (24:38):
Always have a growth mindset don’t and when I say never give up, what, what comes to mind is, you know, there’s always obstacles whether you’re looking at program development or whether you’re dealing with a student and who you know, might find themselves in a difficult situation, may not be succeeding in school. And, you know, you, you work with them, their parents, maybe some community organization, and you find a plan. And if that plan doesn’t work, then try another plan and you try another plan. And I know, like I remember having conversations with, with some parents and then they get frustrated and like, we can’t give up cuz something is going to click. Mm.

Cassandra Tenbergen (25:30):
And I even remember this one girl and she was behind eight credits in her grade 12 year. Wow. And she came to me and she says, I’m determined to get, not only the, the six credits I need, but I’m, I need I’m, I’m, I’m determined to graduate. And I said, okay, so let’s sit down and come up with a plan. And I was lucky enough to have what’s called an open doors program at that school at the time. So there’s a classroom teacher in there, an EEA. It was a place a safe place for, for students who maybe a regular classroom setting, just wasn’t for them. It was work at your own pace. Some worked a little faster than others, but you know what? She did it, she ended up graduating and, you know, it’s, it’s being able to think outside the box, coming up with plans for students that that might not, you know, I, and every student’s different and every plan’s different. And just when you’re just never give up, never give up and continue to have that growth mindset that, you know, everybody can succeed. They might not all in whatever successes is for them. Right. For some student success is just coming to school. and, you know, just being there to support them, supporting them, supporting the parents, you never give up

Sam Demma (27:10):
I love that. That it’s a universal piece of advice. Doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about getting it to education, or if you wanna fly planes or start your own business, there’s no real limit to where that should be applied, but I thank you so much for taking the time to do this. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything you talked about on the podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Cassandra Tenbergen (27:35):
They can email me. So it’s cassandra.tenbergen@sudburycatholicschools.ca. I’m also on Twitter. It’s https://twitter.com/CassandraTenbe1

Sam Demma (27:49):
Awesome. That sounds good, Cassandra. Thank you so much again for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Cassandra Tenbergen (27:58):
Okay. Thanks for.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen

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.

Karen O’Brien – Re-Engagement Counsellor

Karen O'Brien - Re-Engagement Counsellor
About Karen O’Brien

Karen has worked in the education system for over 30 years. She began her career as a secondary school classroom teacher teaching multiple subjects. She continued her teaching career with the added responsibility of being a department head. With each new role and school, she developed a passion for helping students who face barriers to success. Her passion led her to the headship at an alternative high school site for students who struggle in mainstream schools.

Today, she is the Re-Engagement Counsellor at Halton District School Board where she helps youth aged 14 to 21 from all high schools in the board stay in school or return to school. Karen works with community agencies and schools to create a plan for each student, ensuring they’re able to finish their high school education and take the next step towards achieving their goals – whatever those may be.

In her personal life, Karen spends time with her family, friends, and at the cottage where she loves to be by the water. She is also a member of a book club that has been ongoing for over 10 years. Her group discusses books, cooks together, and shares many laughs and a few trips. As a mother of two, Karen also gets a great deal of joy watching her children develop their own career paths and passions.

Whether in her professional life or her personal life, Karen loves to learn, take on new challenges and support others as they pursue their goals.

Connect with Karen: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board

Western University – Bachelors of Education

Book Clubs in Ontario

Google Hangouts Guide for Teachers

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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview with Karen O’Brien. She has worked in the education system for over 30 years. She began her career as a secondary school classroom teacher teaching multiple subjects, and then continued her teaching career with the added responsibility of being a department head.


Sam Demma (01:00):
With each new role in school. She developed a passion for helping students who face barriers to success. Her passion led her to the headship of an alternative high school site for students who struggle in mainstream schools. Today, she is the re-engagement counselor at the Halton District School Board, where she helps youth age 14 to 21 from all high schools in the board, stay in school or return to school. And let me tell you Karen does an amazing job. I was fortunate enough to work with her on a project with some of those students, and it was a, a very in enjoyable experience working with her. Karen works with community agencies and schools to create a plan for each student, ensuring they’re able to finish their high school education and take the next step towards achieving their goals, whatever they might be. In her personal life, Karen spends time with her family, friends and at the cottage where she loves to be by the water.


Sam Demma (01:49):
She’s also a member of a book club that has been ongoing for over 10 years and her group discusses books, cooks together, and shares many laughs and a few trips. As a mother of two, Karen also gets a great deal of joy of watching her children develop their own career paths and passions. Whether in her professional life or her personal life, Karen loves to learn, take on new challenges, and support others as they pursue their goals. I hope you enjoy this interview with Karen O’Brien, and I will see you on the other side. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that led you into education?


Karen O’Brien (02:31):
Absolutely. So my name’s Karen O’Brien. I work for Halton District School Board; I’m the re-engagement counselor. So I work with youth 14-21 who have left school or are in, at risk of leaving school, and the 17 high schools board call me in to work with those youth one on one or in small groups to try and keep them in school and motivate them to not only finish high school, but to plan for their future and go beyond that. So I’ve been doing this particular job for 7 years. Before that I have been in seven different schools; a classroom teacher for the most part. Always looking for a new challenge, hence the move between schools and, and a variety of programs. I’ve taught alternative-ed, regular classroom, gifted, all sorts of different classrooms.


Karen O’Brien (03:26):
What, what got me here teaching? I, I always have sort of been looking to teach or did when I was younger. I thought teaching could, was a possibility and so definitely loved it when I got into the classroom, loved it, but what I really truly loved were those watching those kids who were struggling you know, had barriers to success, watching those kids succeed. Mm. And so tho those are the kids. I kept thinking, oh, those are the kids. Those are the kids I want, wanna work with. So so that’s probably what led me, led me first of all, into alternative education and then led me into this job when this job was advertised. I, I thought this is my dream job and talked to a couple people and they said, yes, yes, you’d be perfect. So I, I thought, oh, my worlds are coming together. This is exactly the work I wanna do.


Sam Demma (04:22):
Well, tell me more about the work itself with reengagement, you know, being a reengagement officer. I, I don’t know that many teachers and even principals are even aware of what it is that might be tuning in. So I would love for them to learn a little more about it.


Karen O’Brien (04:35):
No, yeah. So what I do, so there’s two parts of my job. So if kids have left school and disengaged completely been removed from the register, so 14 and up I contact them at least once a semester to try and talk to them about why they left school. I often look at what’s beyond school because often why they left school. It has nothing or very little to do with school has a lot more to do with what’s occurring in their lives. So I work with all sorts of community agencies whether it’s housing agencies or employment agencies or addiction agencies, I work with all sorts. So I’m work regionally with all of those. I’m on a couple of regional committees. So I have lots of connections. Mental health supports are huge. So I work with all of those agencies.


Karen O’Brien (05:27):
So if I have a youth and I think, okay, these are the barriers, these are the struggles we address those. I get them connected to those type of agencies if they’re not already connected and work hard for that, because that’s the first thing, that’s always the first thing, once they’re connected and on sort of a road to wellness and doing, starting to do better. And, and they start to also trust me and, and have a relationship with me within start to talk about school and what those school goals might be and how school can look for them. That school, isn’t always about sitting in a room of 30 kids in a classroom that school can be done very differently than what perhaps they had experienced. So we talk about how they can do school without that model, that they don’t feel they fit into.


Karen O’Brien (06:15):
And also after they’ve addressed some of their concerns. So a lot of the youth when I meet with them are not, they don’t really see themselves as students has, has potential graduates. So I try to reframe that and help the see themselves. Yes, you could absolutely be a student, maybe not the picture or you have in your head, but, but you can learn and you can be a student and you can go on. And the goal is to go on after high school. So you know, I also read a lot of data and studies, so I know that they’ll do better in life if they go beyond high school and, and post secondary. And that’s pretty, pretty critical for a lot of, of students is to find their passion and whatever that is. So to have either is certainly traditional post-secondary college or university, but there’s also apprentice.


Karen O’Brien (07:09):
There’s also work. There’s also like a dream, a passion. So, so having a plan beyond high school, getting the diplomas a huge win, but it’s, what’s the next step. So I always say, I don’t wanna just get you out of high school. I want to get you into something yeah. Beyond high school. And that’s my goal with them. So I work with them and then, yeah. And work with them, just one one-on-one for the most part, some small group stuff. But most part I do one on one because they’re all unique and need those, those supports. So those are the youth. So those of youth have left school. The other part of my job is I built a relationship with all the schools and the board. So they call me in when they have a kid who’s flounder ring, cuz I always say, please, please call me before they’ve left.


Karen O’Brien (07:56):
Oh, I have a much better chance of helping them. If you know, you introduce me because they know you and, and we meet and I start to work with them when they’re still in school has, you know, when they’re hanging by a thread I want in so the schools bring me in a lot for that too. And that’s that’s, to me, my has evolved so seven years ago, it was mostly kids who have left. Now it’s mostly kids who are disengaging, who are, and, and that’s the bulk of my days and most of my days, which, which I’m very happy for that shift.


Sam Demma (08:33):
Wow. I love that. And you mentioned trust no. Yes. The beginning, initially it might be a generic conversation about their life and what’s going on and listening to them until they trust you. How do you build that trust with a student who might be disengaging?


Karen O’Brien (08:48):
Well, a lot of it is just meeting them. So pre pandemic, I’d meet them near their house, whether that was, you know, at Tim Horton McDonald’s or in a park or the library, wherever, I’d say like, what’s easy for you, where can you walk to, can we just meet and, and either walk and talk or sit and talk. And, and just, and I build the trust, not by saying, tell me about your life as much as I tell them about my job and that I have the ability to help them, not just with school, but with other things, I, I can connect them with other things. So I start to talk about that. For the most part in that first conversation, we don’t talk as much about school we do about their lives and, and sort of what, they’re, what they’re looking for in this moment.


Karen O’Brien (09:41):
I need, you know, I have precarious housing in this moment. I need, I really wanna work in this moment. So I, whatever that one thing is, I work really hard off the initial meeting to make that connection and get them support in that, because then they trust me and then they go the next time. Okay, here’s this, here’s this, here’s this, we do get to the point where we talk about school. I talk about you know, I ask them about when they liked school, like, what do they remember? Even if they have to reach really far back, what is it that they remember to do they remember a class or a project or something? What do they remember? And, and every single time they end up talking about the teacher. So not, well, you know, they may say grade, whatever nine I did this, or with this, they’ll start with, but they talk about the teacher and I think, okay, this is, this is what teaching is.


Karen O’Brien (10:39):
This is relationships. So, and, and they inevitably, that’s the discussion that comes out, that they like that class because they like the teacher because the teacher respected and valued them. Mm-Hmm so that’s really inevitably where it comes from. So I try then to a nice soft place, I call it for them to land in the education system where they have that caring adult. So I don’t just say, go register. I take them, I work with the school, like who’s gonna work with them. Who’s the first teacher they’re gonna encounter. Who’s going to work with them. And let’s pick carefully so, so there’s a good connection or the, the chance of the good connection.


Sam Demma (11:22):
That’s awesome. I love that. And where did your passion come from to work with these, you know, these specific type of students, like, you know, did you have a teacher that impacted you as a student? Did you have a unique own, your own unique journey through school?


Karen O’Brien (11:37):
Definitely. I, well, I moved five times growing up, my father kept getting transferred, so that’s, that’s, you know, it creates a little little, now I look back, I think. Okay. You know, you had to make it the transition. It creates a little chaos in your life. Every time you move. The most difficult move for me was probably the middle grade 12. And so you know, that, that was a tough transition for me. I had an economics teacher who was awesome and really sort of looked out for me. I must say he, so I actually enrolled in economics initially when I went, you know, nice went to university ended up getting an English and economics degree. But, but I, I think that, that was because, and he was like, you know, just one of those teachers who was like, Hey, in the hallway and, you know, built the, like totally made me feel like, okay, I’m part of this.


Karen O’Brien (12:37):
Mm. Even though I don’t feel part of this school, I, I know in this class, I feel like I’m definitely part of this. So so I do think that I also think when I started out in teaching, I was really, really so super curriculum focused. Mm. Like, like that was my, like I knew the curriculum and I was like, you know, had my lesson plans and I was like, I was on it. And I had a, a great 10 class who was gifted in rich class and they were challenging. And so I stopped trying to make them fit my curriculum, that they taught me that that’s not gonna work. and started talking to them about what they want to do. So I’d say, okay though, this is what the curriculum says you have to do.


Karen O’Brien (13:32):
How do you wanna show me that you do that? And, and this was many, many years ago. So it was so my classroom probably appeared a bit chaotic in those days compared to other classrooms. But but like, I love that class. And I, and so that’s what started me on this journey thinking, okay, you know, this, this is yeah, this is, this is how, how you teach you. Don’t, you don’t teach curriculum, you teach kids, you teach students. And, and if you’re always focused on I’m teaching the student, whatever the curriculum is, we can bring in.


Sam Demma (14:10):
Hmm. I love that. You know, you mentioned your economics teacher as well. Sounds like they, they played a huge role. Can you PI point what they did specifically that made you feel like a part of the class? Like, I, I’m curious because I, I know I’ve had teachers like that in my own high school journey. And if you asked me my favorite class, I would tell you world issues, class with, you know, Michael loud foot . So what are some of those things that you think he did or they did for you?


Karen O’Brien (14:35):
Well, part of, so part is there’s twofolds. So the one is a passion for his subject. You know, he loved it. He loved, and he loved the world. So economics, I suspect like world issues. We didn’t have world issues, but economics gave us the opportunity to look at what was happening in the world and then interpret it through the economic lens, through what’s happening. And, and, and so everything seemed like you were getting this, this passionate person about his subject, but getting an understanding of the world and what’s going on in the, in the world that, you know, you’re about to enter as an adult. So though that combination of his passion for the subject and his understanding that students wanna see the relevance, right. We want like, like make this relevant for me, make me understand why this is important. So and he did the curriculum became very relevant to me.


Karen O’Brien (15:29):
The other piece was the, the constant one on one talks. When I look back, he was, he was, you know, he kind of would do a lesson at the front, but he was always, you know, beside me, or, you know, or checking or sitting or pulling a chair or grabbing two desks and putting two, like help this person with, like, he was constantly like, you know, his classroom evolved with relationships as well as with the curriculum. So it wasn’t like we weren’t all just getting the curriculum, getting information from her, from him. We were, we were you know, part of the learning journey as he circulated through and went. And I think that that’s the teachers who, who are on the learning journey with the students and, and meet the students at whatever step they’re at to get them to the next step or help get another student to help them get to the next step.


Karen O’Brien (16:25):
Like, that’s, that’s the learning journey. So if they’re part of it, rather than the, you know, purveyor of knowledge, it’s, to me, to me, that’s, that’s the key to, to really being excellent at your job and for students to then trust you. Because if you are the expert students, I don’t know. I just get the sense that students just sit and passively take it, and then they watch for, oh, did you make a mistake? I’m gonna watch for it kind of thing. Yeah. Like it becomes a little, little bit of a us, us versus him or her or them. But if you’re, if the teacher’s on the learning journey with the student, then I think, you know, everybody leaves.


Sam Demma (17:07):
Yeah. Cause they feel just like them. It’s like, we’re both learning, you know? Yeah.


Karen O’Brien (17:12):
Yeah. Yeah. My students taught me something every year. Like I, I was teaching English and I just still remember this one young person was so funny cuz I was, he was really struggling with the poetry unit and that day we divided everything. Anyway, he was struggling with the poetry unit. So I was explaining it and I was, you know, going, oh, this is so cool. And this is what the poetry’s doing. And he said, okay, I understand. He goes, you understand that? I’m never gonna love this stuff. Right. And I go, okay, hear you. I will, I will back. Like, like I thought, okay, I’m a little Mure. So I I’m, I’m okay with you not loving it. Let’s get down to what you need to know. Yeah. And move on. And he was like, okay, good. So we


Sam Demma (17:55):
Were good from


Karen O’Brien (17:56):
Then on like I thought, okay. Learning again. Right. I get that.


Sam Demma (18:01):
That is so funny. that’s awesome.


Karen O’Brien (18:04):
It was so funny.


Sam Demma (18:05):
Yeah. And so no thinking about your role again, as a, you know, the re-engagement officer in the past couple of years versus this year, how has it changed? Like has there been a huge need for it during like, you know, COVID and what are some of the challenges you’ve been faced with and how have you tried to overcome them?


Karen O’Brien (18:24):
So huge challenges cuz I’m used to going and meeting with the student face to face. So arranging a phone call or a Google hangout as, you know, students don’t turn on their cameras and you know, there’s, there’s, they don’t always attend. Not that they always attend it in person, but so huge struggle. So I have so what I’ve done is I’ve primary to use the staff in the school. So is there someone in the school they were connected to? And I talked to the school and so then I try a three-way Google hangout or a three-way phone conversation because if they had a student success teacher or a guidance counselor or somebody or a math teacher, whomever that they really connected with and that teacher feels they can help. Then, then we were on setting up the Google meet with them, with them to sort of introduce me.


Karen O’Brien (19:19):
So we work a lot of the administrators do that. A lot of the vice principals know these kids really well. So they, we did a lot of three-way Google meets initially. So we worked with that. I got a cell phone numbers whenever I could for kids and would start texting because I can get a response, even if it’s short initially from texting. So just lots of texting check-ins really looking again for that agent, like what, what can I get to help them not necessarily school, but what can I get to help them? So I’ve used, yeah. The Google meet with, with a, a caring adult who introduces us texting some kids I’ve just driven to and said, will you just meet me outside? And we can talk. So some kids I’ve just said, you know, are you willing to do this?


Karen O’Brien (20:10):
So if they are, yeah, we just, we, you know, safety protocols stay distant and stuff, but we’d you know, go walk in a park or, you know, whatever, or just stand outside their house and they’d stand in the doorway and I’d stand back and talk to them. So I did a number of those too, just to try, I you know, used whatever I could, we have Halton learning foundation here. There’s a barriers account. So if a student is struggling, their family’s struggling financially, you can we can give them grocery gift cards. So in some, sometimes I deliberate those and that was my way so, so that was my way in with some of the kids to, to try and engage them in that conversation. I definitely used that a lot. Because a lot of these kids yeah, don’t don’t have much, so that was my way in. So rather than yeah, so I just, yeah, showing up, I mean, I really just have to show up where whatever way they’re willing to show up, if it’s a Google meet or texting or a phone call or on their front porch or, you know, at the door of their building, whatever. Yeah. I just try to show up and be there.


Sam Demma (21:27):
That’s awesome. And did you find that this year there was more support, but you were able to still, you know, do the same type of work, but it was just more difficult and more work or did you find that it was a lot, like it was a lot harder and maybe more students might have slipped through the cracks as a result of the challenges that


Karen O’Brien (21:50):
I felt that more students were slipping through the cracks this year. Although I I’ve been doing my tracking this week and, and summarizing, so we, I feel as a board, we have a good handle on our students. So I, I worried that they were flipping a slipping through the cracks, but that’s partly because I wasn’t seeing them. Oh, picture man. I’m so, so accustomed to seeing them and doing the check-ins that way. But, but I feel we have a good handle on them. There are definitely more suffering from mental health challenges all sorts of other challenges. So we have social worker workers working through the summer mental health, there’s all those things. So I’m feeling like the kids are, they struggle more. Yeah, definitely struggle more, but I’m feeling like they’re connected. You know, we see how, how well they stay connected throughout the summer, but I’m, I’m hoping that we have enough connections that we’re hanging on to them and, and we’ll get them back in September. I’m so looking forward to face to face in September, I’m feeling like we just need to hang onto them and get them back and then support them once they’re back.


Sam Demma (23:06):
Yeah. Couldn’t agree more. It’s it’s so different. I even think about the work that I do speaking this students and doing it virtual is one thing doing it in person is a totally different thing, you know? Totally. So, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And if you could go back seven years and speak to Karen when she was just getting into this role, what, like what advice would you give your younger self and knowing what you know now?


Karen O’Brien (23:31):
When I I think knowing what I know now, when I first got into this role, I tried to cover everything like do it all, but that brought no depth to my work. Right. So, so, so cover every possible thing. And what I learned is I personally don’t need to cover every PO. I need to make sure everyone’s covered all the kids are covered, but I don’t personally, like I’m not the only person, I’m the only person in my role. And there’s no other role this in the board, but that doesn’t mean there. Aren’t a lot of other people out there who I can tap on and say, Hey, can you connect with these kids? Or even people in the community you know, informal, informal mentors in the community. Like there’s so many people. So I think, I think what I’ve learned is to build that network over the years.


Karen O’Brien (24:22):
So even if I’m not the person you know, diving deep with that kid and helping them every step of the way, I’ve got them connected to somebody who can help them navigate that. And, and they may cycle back in and ask me questions the odd time. But I, I think, I think that I would tell myself to just like focus on not focus on the kids, but focus on your network and who can help and, and who you need to tap on because the, the faster you do that, the more help you’re gonna get for these kids.


Sam Demma (24:55):
Yeah, love that. Such a good piece of advice. Well, Karen, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. If someone’s been listening and they’re interested in the conversation, or just wants to chat with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out?


Karen O’Brien (25:09):
They’re welcome to email me. So obrienk@hdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (25:18):
Cool, awesome. Karen again, thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of your summer. This is probably coming out in September so if you’re listening now, you’re probably wondering what the heck, but , we filmed it in the beginning of July, so enjoy your summer and I’ll talk to you soon.


Karen O’Brien (25:33):
Okay. Thank you so much, Sam.


Sam Demma (25:35):
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 Karen O’Brien

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 Bathgate – Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College

Natasha Bathgate - Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College
About Natasha Bathgate

Natasha Bathgate (@NLBathgate) is the Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College, Calgary. An educator for 17 years, she is passionate about people, nature, and good design.

Natasha was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 2008, and lived in Vancouver for 10 years. Currently in Calgary with her husband and twins aged 10, Natasha is driven by a need for continuous growth, new experiences, and feeling strong.

Connect with Natasha: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Royal Road University – Masters of Arts in Educational Leadership and Management

IB Leadership Certificates

Choose your Own Adventure Books

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 is Natasha Bathgate. She is the director of learning and innovation at West Island College in Calgary. An educator for 17 years, she is passionate about people, nature and good design. Natasha was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 2008, and lived in Vancouver for 10 years. She’s currently in Calgary with her husband and twins who are age 10, and Natasha is driven by a need for continuous growth, new experiences, and feeling strong. And I know you will take all of that and so much more away from our conversation today, so enjoy. Natasha, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of the reason behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today?


Natasha Bathgate (01:34):
Sure. So I’m originally from Wales in the UK which is the kind of land of daffodils and male voice choirs and rugby. And I came to Canada over 20 years ago now and just first of all, moved to Vancouver and fell in love with Vancouver and decided that at some point in my life I wanted to, to be living there permanently. So I’ve now been living in Canada as a Canadian citizen since 2008 I think; 2007/2008. And funnily enough, I didn’t actually get into work in education for many of the reasons that other people may have. My pathway was not exactly traditional. I, the reason I got into education is because I wanted to get permanent residency in Canada and when I was looking to, when I was looking to fill out all of my papers to come, to, to move to Canada they had a list of careers that were on that were, were acceptable to get a get permanent residency.


Natasha Bathgate (02:38):
And at the time I was working as a travel consultant and travel consultant originally was on the list. And then at that time, September 11th happened and the Canadian government took all travel related careers off the list. So I was ready to put my code in the code of the job I was doing. And and then it was no longer there. So I just was chatting with a few friends in Wales and around in a pub one day. And and I said, look, I really wanna move to Canada. What am I gonna do? I looked at all the list of things and I considered vending machine repair technician. Yeah. I thought, okay, I can train in that pretty quickly. So maybe I could do that. And then one of my friends said, Hey, why don’t you go into teaching? I think you’d be pretty good at teaching.


Natasha Bathgate (03:21):
And I just thought, no, like why would no never considered that? Why would I do that? Yeah. And she said, well, and I thought, what would I even teach? And anyway, I was, I was quite good at art at school and I I yeah, I enjoyed drawing and painting, so I thought, okay, I’ll just go and see if I can do that. So I started, I arranged to I arranged to shadow my old art teacher in Wales and I just thought, okay, well, I’ll see if I see if I would be interested in doing this. So I shadowed her for a little while. Then I submitted my application to do a a postgraduate for kit in education so that I could become qualified to teach. And anyway, kind of fast forward a few, a number of years, cuz it still took a long time to get the actual qualification, the work experience, the visas, et cetera. But finally I, I managed to move to Canada and that’s what got me into teaching.


Sam Demma (04:19):
That’s so that’s, that’s such an,


Natasha Bathgate (04:21):
But I did actually. Yeah. And it turns out I I do, I mean, I’m not teaching right now. I’m director of learning and innovation, but I for the last like fif 16 years, I’ve been teaching and I love it because it’s even though I’m not directly teaching, I’m still obviously very closely connected to it. I just it’s, it’s so interesting. It’s never boring. Like there’s never, you know, you, you never go into the school or the classroom thinking, oh God, it’s gonna be another boring day. There’s never a dull moment. And because every student is different and every student has different backgrounds and different experiences and different little quirks and it’s just such a great fun place to work.


Sam Demma (05:03):
Well, I was gonna ask you like, what was your first role? And maybe you could explain what director of learning and innovation looks like as well, because I’m sure many people are wondering that sounds like a cool role and I’ve never heard of it before. So yeah,


Natasha Bathgate (05:16):
I know. It’s funny. Yeah. So well, yeah, so originally I was an art team, so I was teaching art for a number of years. And then I became the kind of department head of, of a, of a department that had a bunch of different subjects to do with arts and technology graphic design, computer science, all that. And then I started to become really interested in educational leadership and about I think five years ago now I did my masters in educational leadership and management at a really awesome university called Royal Rhode university in Victoria, Vancouver island. Nice. And the reason I kind of chose that university is because they really have a very kind of future focused, collaborative, innovative approach to teaching leaders to become leaders. Hmm. And so, so yeah, so I got into educational leadership because I really just wanted to be able to have a bit more impact and influence on the future of education.


Natasha Bathgate (06:18):
And I think that I was able to influence the students in my classroom on a daily basis, but I got to a point where I thought, you know, I want to be able to be part of decision making at a, a broader level. So that’s why I got into educational leadership. So my role is really, I feel I found myself, I felt I’m quite lucky Rudy, cuz my role is about, you know, I get involved in educational research. I continually sort of observe teaching and learning in the classroom. I work with teachers and ask them like, you know, what do you need to be at your best? Like how, how can I support you to be the best teacher and the best person? And then I, and then I just I guess building relationships with teachers to help them be the best teachers they can be.


Natasha Bathgate (07:04):
And some people, some schools will call this role director of academics. So it has different job titles, but it really is about making sure that the, the teaching and learning that’s going on in your school is aligned with, you know, your vision, mission and values it’s aligned with where you believe the future of education should be. And and it’s just kind of, you know, if we say we want students to be curious, then what does teaching and learning look like for students to be curious? And what does the teacher look like if they, if you, if you want that teacher to infuse curiosity in students, then what should that teacher be doing? So I don’t get involved with the day to day. I don’t get too involved with the day to day kind of operational stuff. Like that’s why I think I’m quite lucky. I really do love this job. Yeah. but yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s it up.


Sam Demma (08:00):
That’s awesome. And you know, from talking to Jim and from also just reading a ton on the website, I found that you take like the school takes a very personalized approach, tries to create a very personalized approach for every single student and learner. I would assume like that’s a big part of your work as well is like, would I be correct in saying that? And what does that look like? Like for you or for the school?


Natasha Bathgate (08:21):
Yeah. With teachers, cuz I guess I, because I work closely with teachers. Yeah. So I’m trying to per I’m trying to personalize the professional growth for teachers. Hmm. So it starts off with, it starts off with a one-on-one conversation towards the beginning of the year and setting goals. And the goal is of course aligned with, you know, the teaching and learning quality standards for the province. But once we’ve had that conversation, then I, I make notes about what that person has said. And I, and I work hard to try to find things that I think would interest them. So if I’m suggesting professional development activities, I might suggest books. I might suggest connecting them with certain people. Like I, I try and I try and build capacity in individuals by really connecting them with other people as well, who could, who could support them. Nice. And that’s kind of also the, my approach that was my approach to teaching as well. When I was, when I was teaching, that was my same approach. I just want to find out, you know, what is it that person needs, wants enjoys and how can I build their capacity by drawing upon those, those things.


Sam Demma (09:37):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned goal setting as well. Has that been a foundational pillar in your own personal life? Like think back to when you were still in whales, like is one of the first things you did is sit down with a pen and paper and like write out your own personal goals. Like tell, tell me more about that.


Natasha Bathgate (09:52):
So I don’t necessarily write them down and I know that’s key thing that if you write them down, then it’s, you’re more likely to achieve them. But I do, I’m very, very goal orientated oriented. I’m very driven by goals. And even if I don’t write them down, I’m kind of quite determined to achieve them. So, so for example, I was determined to move to Canada no matter what. And I knew it was gonna take a long time and I, and it, it did take an extraordinary long time because even once I got my teaching qualification, I, I still had to get a couple of years experience teaching in Wales before I could even submit my application to, to move here. And I think the same with, with getting the right to become an educational leader. I originally had applied to a university in, in Vancouver that I thought was gonna be good to UBC and and no disrespect to UBC anyones listening this, but , I, I had an application to, to, to go onto their educational leadership program, their masters I was accepted.


Natasha Bathgate (10:58):
And then as I was choosing the different courses, I was, I couldn’t choose the courses until after I’d been accepted. And then once I chose the different modules, I was reading the descriptions and thinking, I don’t know, this doesn’t sound like a particularly future focused, you know, innovative learning environment for me. And, and I was so set on being an innovative future oriented leader. I realized then that, that university wasn’t gonna be right for me. So I withdrew and that meant I was back a year. I, I, I kind of wasted a year, I suppose, cuz I then had to submit an application to another place that did fit what I was looking for. So I, so that’s an example, I suppose I am very goal, goal oriented and, and I’m, I’m prepared to, you know, to take a side step if it means taking longer to get the right thing.


Sam Demma (11:51):
And it sounds like with your work supporting educators, one of the goals is to really make a huge impact on the, on the students because that’s kind of like the end results you’re hoping for by helping the teachers become better and more equipped to, to teach their students. Like if that’s the end goal, how do you think right now we, we make students feel seen, heard and appreciated in this, the, you know, very different and difficult situation.


Natasha Bathgate (12:15):
Well, you know what I think actually I’ve been reading a little bit about like generation Z and what, what gen what, what your generation the characteristics, I guess, and one thing that I’ve noticed is that I don’t even know if they need much help, like your generation is so, so driven. And so so intent on making an impact and not afraid to speak up about things that they believe need to be talked about. And I’ve noticed in my I’ve noticed in recent years that that students are this generation all they need is the space to be, to, to be heard. Yeah, they don’t need, they don’t even need much encouragement. They don’t even need to be, you know, it’s like, here’s a space, here’s the time we’re gonna have this meeting come and say what you need to say. And, and, and I, I think that the students right now, the generation right now are incredibly capable and brave.


Natasha Bathgate (13:20):
And I think that, I know it sounds kinda corny, but I do think the future’s safe. Like I think the future is safe in, in your hands and, and this generation. So, so back to your question, I guess it’s I think it’s really important to know what it is that to, to be constantly aware of the issues of today that we need to make sure that we’re getting voices around the table. So, you know, for example, obviously a, a big piece of a, a big, I, it’s not issue, but a, a big topic, I guess at the moment in education and around the world is, is diversity, equity and inclusion. And how can we make sure that, that everybody feels safe and included and valued and respected and honored and appreciated. And they’re all fairly, you know, you wouldn’t think that would be too difficult, but, but I’ve realized that some students don’t feel safe and valued and honored. And when you ask students, if you just have the courage to ask them, what’s your experience like what’s going on for you? Mm-Hmm and what, what should we be doing differently then, then it’s, I guess it’s that sense of my moral, I, I feel a sense of moral responsibility. I feel as an educational leader, I feel a moral responsibility to, to give these students a voice and to actually act on it, you know?


Sam Demma (14:52):
Yeah. I, I, I think that’s so important and I’m assuming over this past year, those conversations have started to happen and have been happening. That’s, that’s amazing. And is it usually in the form of a one-on-one conversation or do you find it being more of a group conversation? Like how’s it working?


Natasha Bathgate (15:09):
Well, I mean, I’ll give you an example. I think earlier on in the year I had sent, I had sent a communication out to our alumni saying just really kind of an invitation, I suppose, to anybody who’s, who has expertise in advancing your organization or, or your community with diversity, equity and inclusion, or anyone who has an interest in this area, or anyone who has experiences at, at w that they want to share with me, please reach out. So it was just an open invitation. And I, and from that, I had just a small number, but six people contacted me. Some of them met, some of them kind of contacted me as a group. And I, so I met with them as a group and then one of them was just as an individual and that, that started in January. And it’s really kind of built in momentum to the point now where I’m now.


Natasha Bathgate (16:03):
So I, I meet with this kind of group of alumni only once a month, but but I’m also meeting with some students from us within the school who are sharing their experiences and, and sadly their experiences have not been, you know, have not been great. And and it’s, it’s, it’s been very difficult to hear, you know, when you’ve, I’ve only been at school for two years, but I know that other people who have been there longer feel, feel terrible, that, that some people have not out great being at the school for the last number of years. And also not also not necessarily realizing and not knowing that, but now that the stories are kind of out now that we have that awareness. Now we can start to develop an understanding around, well, what contributed to that? Like, what as leaders, what, what should, and could we be doing to, to to make everybody feel, you know, to help everyone feel safe and included in the school.


Natasha Bathgate (17:01):
And now we’re at the point where, I guess I, I’ve also introduced some of the alumni to our, some of our current students, so they’ve kind of met and shared their experiences. And now this week, hopefully we are about to start a student pluralism group, which is really around, let’s start having discussions about, about how we can, how we can make the school, I guess, a more inclusive place. Nice. But we have incredibly intelligent, passionate, brave individuals at the school who they just need, you just need to unlock. And they’re like jumping into there. , it’s just a case of turning the key. You don’t even need to open the door, like they’re ready. So it’s, it’s an exciting place to be in education right now, I think.


Sam Demma (17:48):
And it takes a ton of self awareness as a school community, as educational leaders to address those things, because it’s uncomfortable. Right’s not, it’s, it’s not a uncomfortable thing to do, but it’s definitely the right thing to do. And I think it’s cool that, you know, you’re very passionate about addressing those things and, and kickstarting those conversations and unlocking those doors. So the conversations can happen. You, you mentioned that, you know, you didn’t go to UBC because it didn’t feel like they had the right training materials that would lead to the innovative approach you were hoping to take. What, what do you think the future of education looks like being someone who sounds super passionate about innovation in the future? Like if, you know, if you could jump into time machine in travel there, what would you suspect to change or be different in the future?


Natasha Bathgate (18:34):
Well, I think that I think that we really need to explore a bit more about where learning happens and to be more open, to learning happening in different places other than a school building. And I know that already takes place. I know that people go on, you know, experiential learning trips to different parts of the country or different countries. And you know, and we have, there’ll be sort of work experience. And at our school, we have few experts come in. So it does happen to a certain extent, but I think we need to have much greater flexibility in mainstream education. So for example, my kids are homeschooled. I’ve got twins who age 10 and my husband was really passionate about homeschooling them, which was kind of funny, cuz I I’ve been a teacher for a long time. So I was like,


Sam Demma (19:23):
You sure,


Natasha Bathgate (19:24):
I wasn’t. I know I was thinking, well, this is strange. Is this like a sort of slap in the face of my profession here? But anyway, he, he really wants to do it, so I’m going along with it right now. But so they he’s been homeschooling them for, for just over a year and it, and it turns out that because of COVID, it’s fine. It, it makes sense. But what I’m noticing though, is that what he does is he pieces together. They’re learning experience through all different things. So they go, they go to a place in Calgary called Phoenix foundation, which is kind of like a school for homeschool. And you can choose what day of the week you go, depending on what what’s happening on that day. So they, they go once a week to that, then they meet up with a huge homeschool network group and they have different activities outside.


Natasha Bathgate (20:09):
And then they share like the parents will share expertise and do little workshops. So, so anyway, there’s that flexibility and, and choice over learning that is also about homeschooling. But what I think would be even better is if they could also have a consistency of going to choosing to go to a particular place for a couple of days where they’re gonna meet the same people all the time and build up those relationships and have that consistency and have, have that expertise from teachers. But then to be able to say, actually for like Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m gonna go to this place here and learn from these different experiences. So this is a bit of a long-winded answer, but I think the key really with, with learning is, is flexibility of where the learning happens. And, and to, to make it normal because it, in so many places right now, like there’s, you know, there’s schools that are outdoor schools, there’s schools that specialize in project based learning there’s schools that specialize in the arts there’s schools that specialize in everything. But, but if you want, you kind of have to be all in, like, you know, if you choose to go to an outdoor school or a, or a school that it specialize in project that only does project based learning, then you’re kind of, you’re invested in that one thing. But I think the future of education and mainstream education, I think needs to be that that those options become, become commonplace.


Sam Demma (21:40):
Yeah. Yeah. It makes a lot,


Natasha Bathgate (21:41):
It’s only a subtle, it’s only a subtle change. It’s kinda like, you know, they should be able to create their own adventure, you know, create your learning adventure and, and you know, what, what works for you.


Sam Demma (21:51):
And I think that comes back to what you mentioned earlier about, you know, sparking curiosity. Like I think back to books I used to read and the choose your own adventure books were the funnest, you know, I would say flip to page 70, if you want to try this. And, and I’d much rather read those than reading a blank book just right through. And I younger. So yeah, I think we could definitely pull that model into education. Yeah. Which is a really interesting idea. And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Natasha, the first year you got into teaching, like knowing what you know now, what pieces of advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Bathgate (22:26):
Oh my gosh. It’s tough one. I think just yeah, I think, I think probably just to have


Natasha Bathgate (22:43):
Just to, to learn from other people, like I was terrible at classroom management at the start and, and, and I think learn from other people, observe other people watch what’s going on, watch the experts and learn from the experts. It’s not to say that I didn’t, but I didn’t get looking back. I think if I had made more of an effort to ask another teacher, can I come and can I come and watch your class? I know you’ve been teaching for 10 years. I’ve heard that you’re really good at this, that and the other. Can I come and watch? So I think seeing each seeing really learning from learning from people who are better than you at something and not being, not being embarrassed to, to say, I’m, I really suck at this. I need to get better at it. Can you show me, can I learn from you? Mm. I think that’s something that I would probably do because I, there was a time when I think I did struggle with, I was working in a school in, you know, terrible schools in Wales and England, where, where they throw paper balls at you, like as a teacher, you you’re, you know, yeah. I had things thrown at me. I had a garbage can thrown at me. Wow. so it’s really about survival in that, in that, in that situation. And I think I needed some more survival tactics.


Sam Demma (24:00):
Being, being a soccer fan. I was gonna ask you, are, were they hooligans? yeah,


Natasha Bathgate (24:07):
That’s funny. They were, they would wanna be hooligans. They were, they were hooligans in training for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:11):
That’s funny, that’s funny. Awesome. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone’s listening right now and has been inspired in any way, shape or form and wants to just have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to, you know, get in touch with you and reach out?


Natasha Bathgate (24:26):
Well, I do use Twitter and I use LinkedIn. I think my Twitter is just @NLBathgate I think, and then I don’t use LinkedIn as much, but yeah. Twitter or LinkedIn or even yeah, I think those would be the best. I would just put those, you can incorporate those into the podcast.


Sam Demma (24:43):
Sounds good, Natasha. Thank you so much.


Natasha Bathgate (24:45):
And then I, and I’d be happy to have a conversation with anybody for sure.


Sam Demma (24:48):
Perfect. Thank you so much for doing this and coming on the show, I appreciate you sharing some insights and some of your experiences. Keep doing great work and I’ll, I’ll see you soon.


Natasha Bathgate (24:56):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks a lot. Okay, bye.


Sam Demma (24:59):
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 Natasha Bathgate

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.

Michelina Battaglini – Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School

Michelina Battaglini - Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School
About Michelina Battaglini

Michelina Battaglini (@BATTAGLINI_dpc), is the Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic C.S.S. in Brampton. She is a recipient of Principal of the Year Award 2015 presented by the Catholic Principal’s Council of Ontario. Michelina started her educational career in 1997 at St. Francis Xavier C.S.S. and then moved to Loyola C.S.S. as Department Head of Science before she moved into her role as vice-principal at Cardinal Leger S.S. in 2008. 

Michelina then moved back to Loyola as vice-principal before becoming principal at St. Michael C.S.S. in Bolton in 2015 and has now been at Cardinal Ambrozic for 2.5 years. She cares for and works with ALL students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the secondary school experience, including student leadership, extra-curricular clubs, school-based productions and athletics. 

She participates in many extra-curricular events and always joins the instrumental concert band when they are performing for their school community. Michelina believes that many hands make for light work, so if we all come together in our schools to provide a multitude of opportunities for our students. The sky is the limit!! We are here to ensure our students graduate from high school as well-rounded individuals who are:

  • discerning believers
  • effective communicators
  • self-directed, responsible, life-long learners
  • collaborative contributors
  • effective, creative and holistic thinkers
  • caring family members
  • responsible citizens

Student and staff wellness is a passion as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life.

Connect with Michelina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic C.S.S

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Catholic Principal’s Council of Ontario

Being A Good Listener – The School of Life

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (01:02):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Michelina Battaglini. Michelina is the Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in Brampton. She’s a recipient of the Principal of the year award in 2015 presented by the Catholic principal’s council of Ontario. Michelina started her educational career in 1997 St. Francis Xavier, and then moved to Loyola as department head of science before she moved into her role as Vice Principal at Cardinal Ledger Secondary School in 2008. Michelina then moved back to Loyola as Vice Principal before she became Principal at St. Michael and Bolton in 2015, and has since been at Cardinal Ambrozic for two and a half years. She cares and works with all students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the secondary school experience; including student leadership, extracurricular clubs, school-based productions, and athletics.


Sam Demma (01:57):
She participates in many extracurricular events and always joins the instrumental concert band when they are performing for their school community. Michelina believes that many hands make for light work so if we all come together in our schools to provide a multitude of opportunities for our students, the sky is the limit. She’s here with her staff to ensure that students graduate from high school as well-rounded individuals who are discerning believers, effective communicators, collaborative contributors, reflective, creative, and holistic thinkers, caring family members, and responsible citizens. Student and staff wellness is a passion of hers as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michelina, I will see you on the other side. Michelina, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Michelina Battaglini (02:49):
So my name’s Michelina Battaglini and I’m a Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, which is part of the Duffern-Peel Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (03:00):
When did you realize that education was gonna be your career? And when did you make the decision that you were gonna pursue this path?


Michelina Battaglini (03:10):
So I guess I realized more so when I was doing my master’s degree in biochemistry at 12, and I was teaching me undergrad science students in the lab. Many of them started saying, well, why don’t you go into teaching? Cause you’re a great teacher. And I said, well, no, my, my goal was to try to get my PhD in biochemistry and then pursue probably like research. But then if you ask my family or friends of when I was younger, supposedly I don’t seem to recall this as well, but maybe, maybe I do. And I’m just trying to lie right now. In the summertime we would actually, I would actually make all the kids in the neighborhood go to school in my garage. And so I would make them homework and all of that kinda stuff. But so I think I put that aside and then I had other aspirations, but then, you know, being with the young students in university and just hearing how, you know, they wanted someone who could explain things the way I was doing it. So then that is what triggered me to get into education.


Sam Demma (04:11):
Awesome. And along the journey, did you have educators in your life who tapped you on the shoulder, gave you advice, helped you along the way? Did you have educators who guided you or said you should consider teaching


Michelina Battaglini (04:30):
Teaching directly? No, that I don’t recall. I mean, I have a few educators that really had an impact on me and I think that’s, those are the ones that then allowed me to pursue that I did like going into sciences wanting to like pursue a higher education. But education, like going into teaching teaching, that was those young kids that I was their teacher, like their lab supervisor that they, they were the ones that really pushed me. So it’s kids and that’s what my life is great students. So


Sam Demma (05:06):
Tell me more about the teachers who had a big impact on you when you were a student. And tell me a little bit about what they did for you.


Michelina Battaglini (05:14):
Okay. So I guess the first one was my music teacher in grade eight, who grade seven, eight, who really said that I had an CLU for music. And so I started then to pursue music and played a few instruments and especially in high school and then high school, my biology teacher was quite influential for me so that science and, but also my music teacher, so that music science thing was there. And then university, my undergraduate professor in biochemistry is what a passion I had for biochem. And then that led me to do my computer.


Sam Demma (05:54):
Awesome. When you finished your, your education that you were required to start teaching, what did your path look like from that point forward?


Michelina Battaglini (06:07):
So when I finished teacher’s college and of course I went to teachers college and I was a little older than most of the people there. Right. Cause I had been my master’s degree. So my goal was to get into the science field biology, chemistry. And then that summer I took one course for computer science qualification and that’s what landed me a job. Cause there were no computer science teachers out there. And so I had a lot of learning to do over the summer cause I had to learn how to program and teach that. So yeah, that’s what I ended up doing. That’s what got me, my job as a science teacher, then I became, then I moved into the sciences. And then I ended up in administration.


Sam Demma (06:46):
Tell me a little bit about what it’s like being a principal. It sounds like you’ve done various roles for someone listening who doesn’t really know what the life of a principal is. Like, how would you explain it or give the behind the scenes?


Michelina Battaglini (07:04):
Well it’s really like, everything stops with me. Right? So you know, you’re in charge of, you wanted to put it like a business, like you have all of these different employees, let’s say different levels. So you have your students, you have staff and your staff that’s up into seven different groups, right? Like, so you have secretaries, historians, teachers, educational workers, et cetera. So as a principal, you’re always willing to try to ensure that, you know, children are being educated the best possible way you’re providing all of those opportunities for them order to ensure success so that they can continue in those secondary. So as a principal, there’s a lot on our shoulders I guess. But it’s, it’s rewarding and it’s energizing cause of the, of the people that we serve, which are the young students and being in high school which is very different, right. There’s people that prefer elementary over, but I just love the energy that then. So yeah. I don’t know. I guess that I would say that’s what sums up being a principal, everything just stops with me and I have to make all those decisions. And when I go home at night, I don’t wanna make one decision at all. And it’s like, everybody else can make the decisions I’m done for the day.


Sam Demma (08:21):
Go home. And people are like, what’s for dinner. Yeah.


Michelina Battaglini (08:23):
And it’s like, no,


Sam Demma (08:24):
I don’t know. I somebody else. Yeah.


Michelina Battaglini (08:26):
You tell me and I’ll make it, but


Sam Demma (08:28):
That’s awesome. You got into administration how far into your career and what would you say? You mentioned that the students were rewarding. What would you say are some of the rewarding aspects of, of being a teacher and working in administration?


Michelina Battaglini (08:46):
So I guess so being in the classroom and when you have students in there who are eager to learn or always trying to do their best, I think that is so rewarding. Right. I to see how kids want to please another person, but in the same time learn is just, I dunno, it’s, it’s magical for me, I guess if you wanna use that word. And just their eagerness. So like what, and being a high school teacher, when you transition from that grade 10 to 11 years and being a chemistry teacher, which I love doing the grade 11 chemistry course was one that a lot of kids have a hard time wrapping their heads. Right. And because of the concept that you’re teaching, but it was just, it was so wonderful to see when it child finally understood what we were talking about.


Michelina Battaglini (09:38):
It was almost like this sense of clarity came upon them when you’re in the classroom. You’re like, wow, you’re like miss now I get it. Mm. And so just knowing that they get it, and then they have this sense of comfort, whatever that, that definitely working. So I started teaching, loved the teaching part, but then there were people in, in the school who obviously saw something more in me. So they started encouraging me to move forward, becoming an administrator. So, but in the interim I was taking on like schoolwide initiative where I was in charge of student council like the new teacher. And then, you know, my team of teacher between six of us, we had a, I mean, they came up with amazing things that year, you know, they were also part of rewriting the constitution for the school, which was then from other schools. And then from there I took my courses. I administrator, I was a vice principal and I was happy to be a vice principal, but people were like, you know, you should be a principal. So I’ve always had a lot positive encouragement. And then even from like teachers and other adults, and I think that’s, what’s yeah. Gotten to where I am right now, their, their belief in me. Cause sometimes I think on, do I, can I do it? So is, is


Sam Demma (10:58):
Mentioned making lots of decisions. I’m certain, there are some days where you have to make decisions that are extremely difficult on those days. What keeps you hopeful and motivated?


Michelina Battaglini (11:15):
Ultimately it’s my, when I make any decision is what’s best with this. So what I think is the best thing for kids. Sometimes some people don’t think it is because for them it looks like it’s more work. Right. and so if I always keep that at the center of my decision, I don’t, I don’t waiver from that. And as long as I have points to defend why I’m, I’m making that decision. Even though people try to challenge me on some of my decisions, they do see where I’m coming from. And, and I mean, you know, I don’t always just make a decision and not consult with people. I do speak to my vice principal or I’ll speak to other teachers right up to an area that I’m not fully familiar with. But those hard decision days where, you know, you’re gonna have people that aren’t gonna be happy. Ultimately it’s, what’s best for kids and that’s for me then not just, that’s the reason why I make that decision and I go ahead with them, no matter how hard it’s gonna be, I will


Sam Demma (12:14):
Keep calm and carry on.


Michelina Battaglini (12:16):
Yes, exactly. Gee, I wonder where you saw that.


Sam Demma (12:22):
That’s amazing. I think that’s a really solid piece of advice. Keeping the students wellbeing at the center of your decisions, you kind of can’t go wrong. No. What do you, you, what do you think reflecting on your experience in administration have been some of the programs you brought in the school, things that you have done that have had a positive impact on school, community students that you are really proud of and that you and your team are proud of?


Michelina Battaglini (12:52):
So I know so in my previous school where I was a principal I think some of the most important students in a school and the way our school is from different feelers, we have our special needs classes that are part of the school and some school boards, we have segregated schools, but integrated and, and also those students are integrated into classes, but I feel it’s important to have integrated into the entire of the school. And I think there’s a lot of learning that goes on working with those students, not just for adults, but even for other kids. So at my last school and I had a great staff as well, I, I pushed forward that I integrated those students and everything. So if there was a presentation, they were part of it and were, was beautiful to see from there was that they then took on schoolwide initiatives, right.


Michelina Battaglini (13:41):
Where they ran things that all the other students participated in. But then students during their day, like regular students couldn’t leave the school during, couldn’t leave the school that day, if they didn’t go up to seeing their students in that session. And for me, that’s like just that, that empathy towards those individuals. And then when events would come up, we would see our, you know, students in mainstream actually coming out to invite these students to participate. So when we were at semi formal at one one year they, you know, the student, the students in the special needs programs attended. And so they would get up and dance, but at one point then all the other kids and to dance. And so it was, it’s just that whole students brings or and I think that that was very forceful because it just sort of became part of the norm. Right. We would never exclude them. They’re always part of everything we do. And they actually lead a lot of things. So that for me, was an important for kids to realize that we all have something to contribute in, in society. We just have different ways of doing it, but we have to acknowledge and appreciate all that. That was one for sure that


Sam Demma (15:07):
I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that story. It’s feel good one for sure. That’s amazing. If you could take the experiences you’ve had in education, bundle them all up, travel back in time to when you were just starting top yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Lina, this is what you needed to hear when you were just beginning knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have gave or given to your younger self?


Michelina Battaglini (15:38):
Slow down, listen and be flexible. Because when I think back when I was a teacher, when I first came in in science, of course, I’m very sort of geared towards one way. You know, for me a mark was a mark, it was a mark. And I, I wasn’t as flexible in my, you know, working with a student or, I mean, I was always compassionate that I offered extra help. But for me was, if this is what you showed me, then that’s what the final mark is. But then once you get into administration where I even worked in the special education department became, so everyone learns differently. And I think as educators, that’s one of our biggest faults is that we go into it cause we love it. But we neglect to remember that not everybody learns like this. And so even though we try to teach the way we love, not everybody loves to learn that way. And so going back to my younger self would be more open, listen to the kids you know, asking what they want and, and, and education is really changing in that group right now. But yeah, I think that’s it. Yeah. Slow down, listen, and, and just, and be flexible because every kid starts at a different level and any level of progress is progress. Right. So, yeah. That’s it.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Describe a little more why you mentioned listening, how has listening played a huge impact on bringing you to where you are today?


Michelina Battaglini (17:11):
Let’s see. Well, I think sometimes we, especially, even in the business of our jobs, we, we think one way and then we just keep on going, right. That’s the right way to do it. But when you actually stop and listen to others, people have good ideas that you need to take into account when you’re making decisions. And, and as an administrator, I mean, you know, I say, yes, the buck starts with me, but I have to listen to a of people before I make that decision. And I think you hear a lot, not just from the words of saying, but just on their actions. And I think that helps form the decisions you make or the direction you take from certain things. So yeah, that listening piece is, is definitely important. And it helps you in every day, not just in school, but like dealing with other people as well. I don’t think we listen that I think we make judgment and, and come up with answers. We want them to say, or we convince them to say, but really listen to someone. Cause everything that everything people say has a message and it might not be the words they’re using. It’s something else.


Sam Demma (18:19):
Once somebody told me, you have two years in one mouth, so you should, you should listen twice as much as you speak.


Michelina Battaglini (18:24):
Exactly. And, and it’s so true. You should have used that line too. I forgot about that, but it’s true. I


Sam Demma (18:30):
Well, being Italian, I laughed because I thought this is not true in my culture.


Michelina Battaglini (18:35):
No, that’s my culture too. No, no one actually listens. Everyone just talks. And we know that, right. When you’re in a room, you can’t hear anything except one voice over another or


Sam Demma (18:45):
Yeah, but I couldn’t agree more. It’s so true, listening is so important; not only for administrators and teachers, but for communication with anybody you have to understand where someone’s coming from to have any form of a relationship. If, if someone listens to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Michelina Battaglini (19:10):
So, because I’m still working right now, that seems to be the email that I, I check the most. ‘Cause the other ones, you know, they pile up and it’s like, delete, delete, delete. So yeah, it’s my work email, which is


Sam Demma (19:26):
Awesome. Michelina, thank you so much for taking some time this afternoon to come on the show. I really appreciate it. You up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Michelina Battaglini (19:34):
Perfect. Thank you.


Sam Demma (19:37):
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 Michelina Battaglini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Jacquie Pece: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Principal Qualification courses OPC

Craig Kielburger Secondary School

Halton Secondary Principal Association

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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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.