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Experiential Learning

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)
About Brent Dickson

Brent Dickson (@brent_dickson) is a leadership & physical education teacher at Centennial High School. In 2005 Centennial High School started with one leadership class of 25 students.  Now Centennial has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. 

Brent has been teaching student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years. He has presented in schools and conferences across Canada and is the Director of the Canadian Student Leadership Association. Previously, he served as President of the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers. His previous schools have also hosted the Jr. High and the Adviser Alberta conferences.

Currently teaching leadership and P.E., he is the Department Head of Student Leadership at Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. He also coaches rugby there as well, and he is the certified Link Crew coordinator there. Brent was awarded the Canadian Student Leadership Association Leader of Distinction Award in September 2012 and an Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award Finalist in 2004.

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

What is a Walkathon?

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 episode is a little bit different. Firstly, we don’t have the normal intro playing. You may have already noticed that. Secondly, we have a repeat guest. Our repeat guest today is Brent Dixon. Brent is a leadership and physical education teacher at Centennial High School in Alberta. In 2005, the high school started with one leadership class of 25 students, and it now has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. I’m so grateful that Brent took the time to come back on the show. We used today’s conversation to talk about so many amazing ideas that he has implemented in his school, in his classrooms, with the help of his student leaders that have created massive impact and generated awesome results in the hope that you can steal and borrow some of these and his ideas. We talk about everything from the power of colouring to running a rock athon, to using candy <laugh> to generate some very meaningful conversation and ideas, to having a special appreciation for students on their birthdays. Like there are so many amazing ideas in today’s conversation, and I hope you really enjoy it and take something away. I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Brent. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine, Brent Dixon. Brent, welcome back to the show. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Brent Dickson (01:41):

Well, hello, my name is Brent Dixon and I’m a teacher in Calgary at Centennial High School. We’re a 10-12 school and for the most part I teach student leadership, and then I occasionally have a phys ed class. Also, in the spring I coach junior boys rugby. So I’m a man of many efforts, I guess. Not talents. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (02:03):

You’re a man of many both. And I can say that from personal experience. There are tons of teachers listening to this, some of which are always looking for new ideas. They can’t see that. Behind you. During this interview is a collage of colored superheroes and cars and unicorns and just beautiful pictures that your students colored behind you on the wall. Can you explain what those pictures are, why they’re up there, and how a teacher could use something similar to engage their students in a leadership perspective?

Brent Dickson (02:36):

Sure. So it was actually as Covid forced us to get a lot more creative. when I was doing leadership classes, we didn’t run near as many activities and sometimes we weren’t even doing any. So I really had to find stuff to engage them. And so I, I can’t credit where I got the original idea. I saw it somewhere, but the idea to let kids color in class. So once a semester when they come in, I have four different designs out specifically Spider-Man and cars and a unicorn, and of course SpongeBob squarepants, but it could be whatever, nice. And a whole bunch of crayons. And then they come in and I say, it’s just time to color. And so they’ll start coloring one thing and they are very into it. And then on the instruction it says that we’ll put them up around the classroom once you’ve shown it to me.

Brent Dickson (03:24):

And so I kind of talk about how it’s kind of like a fridge door at home where you know you color something great and your mom puts it up nice. So they, the first time I did it, I couldn’t believe how into it they were. And then I realized I really gotta limit this to once a semester. And so I chose a Friday where our, our Fridays are shorter class. And even that day we had a modified schedule, so it was a little shorter. We never actually got to doing any leadership work. Cause kids would come up and they’re like can I color a second one? I’m like, well, it has to be different. Okay, so now I’m doing SpongeBob. Can I color a third one? Sure. by the end of halfway through the second class, I had to run down to the photocopy room and make more copies cuz I realized I wasn’t gonna have enough for the day.

Brent Dickson (04:04):

And then they show you very proudly and they put ’em up around the room and we just use like some green painters tape and I’ll leave them up until the, well, until the end of the semester. And there’s actually three I can’t really show you, but they’re up behind a screen. This was last spring. These three kids said, we want ours to last longer, <laugh>. So they’re behind the screen we pull down so you can sort of see ’em sometimes. I’m looking at ’em right now and so they might just be there a long time. But oh, one little tip though. Don’t put green tape on your windows cuz I discovered if I left them up too long, the sun would make it leave residue. Ah, we were scraping tape off of those windows. It was not good. So

Sam Demma (04:47):

Do you stick to the walls?

Brent Dickson (04:49):

Stick to the walls? That’s right. Otherwise it’s awesome. And so actually we did that last Friday and so now it’s Tuesday. I still have kids. They’re all coming in. They, they’re checking out each other’s, they actually take their friends to show them their drawing. And then there’s one that’s that my grade tens thought was amazing. They all had to look at and find out what kid in grade 11 had made that post or colored that thing. So it’s, it’s a simple little thing, but they just need a break and they need something a little different and something that, that they can feel good about and be engaged. So

Sam Demma (05:22):

I think it’s the simple little things that make the biggest impact. Sometimes the small ways in which we appreciate other people engage our students leaves the biggest impression. I remember being in your classroom, facilitating some workshops, speaking in the school, and there was something that you do for every single student’s birthday that I think is priceless. And it’s one of those simple little things that really makes them feel appreciated and included in a part of the community. Can you explain your little birthday hack and where it came from? <laugh>?

Brent Dickson (05:55):

Yeah. Well it, most of my ideas, I either copy from someone else or they’re by accident. And so I had some ring pops left over this a few years ago, just kind of little, the cheap candy you put on your finger and then you suck on the ring pop. I had a few left over in from some activity and then it was a kid’s birthday and I said, well, why don’t you have a ring pop? And they got like all excited and then the other kids are, can have a ring pop. And I’m like, well, it’s not your birthday <laugh>. And so then it became a tradition and so I, I was hitting I think it was superstore to get ring pops and then there was a real crisis because they weren’t carrying them anymore. And you can tell my generation, it didn’t occur to me that I could just go on Amazon and order buckets.

Brent Dickson (06:39):

So once I figured that out, started bringing them in. So what happens is I’m, I’m lucky on my attendance program, it tells me two weeks out every kid’s birthday. Nice. And so when it’s their birthday, the very first time we practice, there’s a very specific song. So it’s happy birthday to you. And then they have to point their fingers and they go Cha Chacha. They do that a few times. And then at the end we say, happy birthday Dear Sam, and we draw your name out and happy birthday to you. And then they have to show jazz hands and we say, and many more <laugh> and it’s super cheesy, but they all know how to do it and they expect it. And then sometimes they’re writing their names on the calendar that the birthday’s coming up, the kid comes up and they choose their ring pop and I take a picture of them with it.

Brent Dickson (07:26):

And and then some of the kids they like, they’re asking, well, can I get a ring pop? It’s not your birthday. oh it is. Well show me your id. You know, they have <laugh>. And then the kids like, well what if it’s not my birthday this semester? I’m like, well, you come on your birthday or close to it and I’ll get you one. Well what if my birthday’s in the summer? You come last day of classes in June and we’ll take care of you <laugh>. Several kids will come in looking for their ring pop for sure. So wow, it’s a little thing. But if you make the ring pop a big deal, then it becomes a big deal to them. They can’t get one. I mean, they can obviously go to the store and buy their own, but I will never give a kid a ring pop for anything other than their birthday. I got other treats and stuff for other things, but it’s just the event and making a big deal of it that I think and, and letting ’em know that, that we know and that we care about ’em.

Sam Demma (08:13):

You could use any object, but if you hype it up and make it significant, the students will also hype it up and believe it’s significant. And I think that’s such an important reminder, not only for physical gifts and little objects, but for teaching. When you’re passionate about what you’re teaching, you’re passionate and enthusiasm about the subject will hopefully rub off on the students. your Ring pop idea made me think back to a conversation I had with Josh Sable, and you might know the name Josh is from Tanem Bomb Chat. It’s not a west A school in the west. He’s, he’s here in Toronto, but they do this thing at the end of the year that they call the Golden Bagels. And it’s like the Oscars, but they hand out these shelac bagels <laugh> on a golden piece of string. And it’s like the school’s big end of the year celebration.

Sam Demma (09:08):

And I, I was at the school recently and they gave me one as a parting gift and it’s, it is ugly, it’s a bagel with sesame seeds on it, glued on. And you, you would think to yourself, who the heck would want this? But it’s what’s attached to it, the meaning that’s attached to it. And I think there’s so many things that you do that have such good important meanings in your classroom and outside of it, one of the things that I loved was the wall of cell phones. Can you talk about what inspired that decision? And I, I just think that in a world that’s always glued to their phones, it’s such a cool idea and one that I think other educators could benefit from trying in their own classrooms if done correctly at the start of the semester, <laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:52):

So this is how you can become the least popular teacher in your school,

Sam Demma (09:56):

<laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:57):

 so I had a couple years ago, I had a semester that put me over the edge with a class that the phones were such a problem and they were just getting worse and worse. They just couldn’t leave ’em alone. And so they were addicted to ’em all the time. They’re on top of that. They weren’t engaging with each other, they would, I even had like a guest speaker in one time and third of the class is on their phone. And so it just kind of had decided that’s enough, but you can’t, you can’t really do it mid-semester. You have to kick it off at the beginning. So some friends of mine at SKO High School in Edmonton had been doing this, so I copied their idea and I found out that there are phone caddies you can order off of Amazon. I had no idea.

Brent Dickson (10:37):

 and then when I went and searched it, like there are tons and tons of them. So apparently this is a market, I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a big market for teachers. So it’s a thing you kind of can hang over your blackboard. And so I ordered one that’s got 42 slots in it. You wanna order the bigger one if you got bigger classes. And then when the kids come in, they have to put their cell phone in their designated slot. And so I write down the number for each kid, so in case one gets left behind, I know who it belongs to, they have to put it in right away. And then on the screen I have what’s called a do now activity running. So it could be almost anything. It might, so for example, today I had these cards you hand out that were pre-made and they had to ask someone else what’s big question number one?

Brent Dickson (11:21):

So like one, and then I have the kids report after. So one kid asked someone else, who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone? Another question was what countries have you traveled to and which was your favorite? So it, you know, simple basic stuff like that. Yeah. So they, so I’m taking away their phone, but I’m giving them something to do right away. And so I have a whole PowerPoint set with a whole bunch of these slides that I go to and I just recycle each semester. And then the other thing I do is the kids are not allowed to have their cell phone until the last 10 minutes of class. Mm. And so unless they come to me and they have a very specific reason they’re posting something or looking for something. And the funny thing that happened when I first started was I’d put up these times on a piece of paper and I said, it’s exactly this time.

Brent Dickson (12:08):

So you don’t get the phone until three twenty four, not 3 23, not 3 22 or whatever it is. Right. And then this one kid says grade 12 student, well Mr. Dixon, how are we gonna know what time it is if we don’t have our phone? And I’m like, that is an excellent point, <laugh>. But then I went to Walmart and I bought a little digital phone and I, it’s right beside the phone caddy. And now all the kids know, and I actually ran into him just a week ago. He, he graduated last spring and he was back at the school and I said, Hey, your your clock is still there. He’s like, no way. And I said, yeah, I, I’ll tell teachers how sometimes you don’t think of everything and you gotta listen to students. And so the clock is there and they know that they can’t touch their phone until it touches that spot.

Brent Dickson (12:58):

Now the real bonus for that is it actually frees them from the phone. It allows them to engage with each other if I, and then I can be the bad guy, right? Like, oh, I wish I had my phone. But most part they really don’t. Yeah. And so we, when they’re working on their projects and stuff, we’ll play music. Like a kid can be DJ for the day with a Bluetooth speaker and whatever, but they’re talking to each other. So even if they’re sitting and making a poster or they’re planning something or whatever, they’re also talking about what happened on the weekend. They’re talking about that science test they hated or whatever it is. But they’re connecting, which we know more than ever is super important as they’re having that face to face conversation. I, I will never go back to cell phones and kids’ hands. I, I, I thought it would work and I was really impressed with how great it really has made a difference in the class.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Speaking about listening to students, what are some of the ideas that have been student generated in the school over the past couple of months? Is there anything that students in your class have suggested you try or as a school that you do? Is there initiatives or ideas or anything that’s going on right now that you think this was, you know, co-created with the help of the students in front of me?

Brent Dickson (14:17):

Well, there’s one little one that it’s not hard to do either that we’d been talking about before is we called them kind of our dinosaur posts on Instagram. And so it kind of had 2, 2, 2 names. It was the dinosaurs of the school or it was the day so you can decide what you, so Centennial opened in 2004 and I came to the school in 2005 and the kids were starting to talk about what was different. I was telling ’em some stories about how the gym wasn’t ready the first time and oh, what the cafeteria looked like. They were fascinated by this stuff. It was like I could have gone an hour of old school centennial story time. So then I said, well, why don’t we, or do you wanna explore this further? So they came up with the idea that we would identify, so they picked five teachers that I kind of told ’em who had been around a long time.

Brent Dickson (15:08):

So they interviewed them all and they asked them, they asked them what was one of their favorite stories from back in the day, and then something about why they, I’m trying to remember now why do they why they’re still at Centennial now and what do they love about Centennial cause cuz a lot of people have taught here for, you know, 18, 20 years. And so they came up with these stories and they took a picture of each of them and to promote it, they put some of these dinosaur posters up around the school and just said, coming soon. And then for five days they just posted them on Instagram and it got a lot of conversation. I think kids were like, no way. That’s what it was. Like that wing was closed. You had to wear hard hats at the beginning or whatever it was that that they thought was great.

Brent Dickson (15:51):

So it was, it wasn’t very hard and it kind of showed a little shout out or respect to those teachers that had been around a while. And it wouldn’t have to be from the beginning of the school, but you know, just in your building who’s been here maybe 10 or 15 years, cuz they’ll have, even if the physical building hasn’t changed Mm. They’ll have stories of stuff that was different. We used to do this, or this time this thing happened, or, or whatever. It’s, you know, so it, it wasn’t very hard and it worked really well.

Sam Demma (16:19):

There are, it sounds like there are a couple of things you do annually, the birthdays, the phones, the coloring, the different activities you mentioned previously. What are some of the other things that you, you do on a non-negotiable basis? Every single year, like this is an absolute hit and every single time we do it, students love it and you’ve continued to do it or intend to continue doing it because you think, gosh this always has such a positive response.

Brent Dickson  (16:54):

I, I’ll go from really small to really big. Okay. I would say that one of our biggest that has the biggest impact is our rock athon.

Sam Demma (17:02):

Ah, nice.

Brent Dickson  (17:03):

To every spring. And so we had done it before Covid for a few years and then of course it got blown up like everything else. And then we brought it back this last spring. And so I’m sure a lot of people listening have had this similar experience where we’ve got these traditions, but there’s no kid in the building that’s done them <laugh> kinda like starting over again, right? Yeah. So rock athon, what we do is we raise money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital, but it really doesn’t matter what you choose. Nice. And kids will form a team of, of six to 10 kids and they have to fundraise as a team, $750 to qualify to come to Rocka. And then they also pay a ticket fee for the, for the event, for the expenses of the event. So right now it’s been $25 though it may have to go up a little bit with inflation here in the future.

Brent Dickson  (17:56):

Nice. The kids have to, so the first thing they do is they register as a team. They pay their, their $25 per person fee, and then we have them in as a group and then they start their fundraising. And it can be from soliciting people to bottle drives, to bake sales. Like there’s all sorts of creative stuff that goes on. And if they raise that amount of money, then on the day of rock athon, we always do it on a Friday one or they have to bring in a rocking chair. So that’s the idea of rock athon. It’s not like rocking and rolling. And so at one, so for 15 hours straight, one kid or another has to be in the rocking chair and rocking. Ok. And so that’s kinda the thing that they’re getting sponsored to do. So during this, and we set them up in little groups in the main cafeteria area, we kind of map it out with tape on the floor.

Brent Dickson  (18:46):

And so that’s kind of their little living room or their camp. And so during class some of them get excused and they’re rocking and they get to miss school while they’re doing it. So that’s not a bad thing. And and then what we do is if they fundraise $1,500, then they get power at their station. so I have like several electric cords stacked away for Walkathon. So the idea there is they can plug in like an Xbox or a, a blender for smoothies or whatever they want. And some kids say, well, I’ll just bring my own. And I’m like, and then I’ll cut it up because my wall <laugh>, but they’re good with, so usually about a third of the groups will fundraise that extra money. And so it’s like Call of Duty all day with them and they’re loving it. Right.

Brent Dickson (19:32):

And so that goes during the day and then we actually bring in a whole bunch of food trucks and the food trucks will give us a percentage of their profits in our parking lot. And all the kids in the building get to participate in that. But if you’re part of Rock Aon, you’re wearing a t-shirt that says rock athon on it and kind like a v i p we walk you to the front of the line and those lines are pretty long, so it’s nice to be able to get your fries or tacos or whatever else it is. Right. I give a taco shout <laugh>. And then after school, once the building’s cleared, we have a full on party. Okay. So we have, we actually bring in some bikes and trikes and skateboards and then go up, down, up, down, or they’re allowed to actually ride the bike in the building.

Brent Dickson (20:14):

Nice. we’ll set up treat tables. We have a photo booth going at one point. We bring in a professional improv company. This year we’re looking at maybe doing a hypnotist. we’ll do like cahoot games and then there’s times we just let ’em sit and visit and chill and we bring in dinner for them as well. And then we go till about 1130 at night. And it’s, it’s an awesome experience because I, the key things you gotta do, if you’re gonna try to fundraise for something that’s significant, you need to have a great cause and then you need need to have a social experience for kids just said, Hey, donate money to Children’s Hospital. We’re not gonna get much if we just said, Hey, why don’t you come hang out with all your friends on a Friday night at Centennial. They’re not coming when you put the two together, that’s the magic where they have those things and then you’re gonna have success.

Brent Dickson (21:06):

And we had, I can’t tell you how many kids I heard after, either anecdotally or personally talking about, oh, I should have signed up for Rock Athon. I didn’t know what it was nice. We’re anticipating we’ll have at least 50% or twice as many teams next year. Now the kids have seen it and they kind of know what it is. It’ll top out at some point, but you just kind of have to see it and experience like, oh, I should have done that. So that it’s, it’s a big huge event. It takes a lot of practice and, and work to get ready for. But the other real payoff too is your kids running the event. Oh man. Like the, how happy they are and how good they’re feeling about what they did and that it was their thing that they ran. So

Sam Demma (21:45):

That’s a massive idea. Give us a medium size idea and then a small idea.

Brent Dickson  (21:53):

Play bingo in the cafeteria at lunch.

Sam Demma (21:56):

Hmm.

Brent Dickson  (21:57):

So I would strongly recommend buy yourself a smaller bingo drum.

Brent Dickson  (22:02):

Is so easy. You just go in at lunch and you can go on the the worldwide web and they have plenty of printable bingo cards.

Sam Demma (22:10):

What’s that?

Brent Dickson (22:10):

Just yeah,

Sam Demma (22:12):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson (22:13):

Just get just get goofy prizes. Like go to the dollar store, get like a two liter bottle of pop, get a thing of chips, get, get a thing of Princess Tiaras or Wagon wheels, it doesn’t really matter. And, and you just play bingo at lunch and Nice. And so we’re about 1500 kids in our school and every time we do bingo, we’ll have two to 300 kids. All their playing bingo. Nice. And when they call it, they come up, they get their prize, they’re super happy, it doesn’t take very much and it’s, it’s a win. Right. And the nice thing about it is, you know, if you’re doing the pie eating contest or something like that, that’s a few kids that participate and launch the watch. We do a lot of that kinda stuff, but this is one where they can come up and they can, whoever wants, can be a part of it and have a chance to win. Right. And then if you’re really ambitious, take their pictures of the winners, post it on Instagram so they’ll have glory forever as they won these, this pair of two sweatpants from the smart shop that who knows <laugh>, how they’ll ever be able to wear it. But, but it’s glory forever. Right.

Sam Demma (23:17):

<laugh>. Okay. Medium size idea. What if someone orders a small leadership idea? What are you telling them?

Brent Dickson  (23:23):

Small leadership idea.

Sam Demma (23:25):

I mean you already shared a few at the beginning of this call, but anything else come to mind?

Brent Dickson (23:30):

Oh I think just, well I’ll give you a couple lollipops in the classroom. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I discovered this one by accident and it works really well. we had some, some kids, we have an opening orientation with our link crew program where we bring candies in for these tours and stuff and there was a bunch left over and so a kid comes up and says, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And I’m like, sure. Then another kid, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And so I realized this was popping. These are the cheapest type that you get when you go to the doctor when you get a shot. Lollipops or not fancy schmanzy lollipops. Yeah. And I started putting them in this bowl and there was a run on lollipops real quick. So then I discovered I can only put out one bag a week or I’m gonna go broke <laugh> issue Now I went to the dollar store and they’re not carrying them right now.

Brent Dickson (24:21):

Okay. I had to turn to Amazon at a slightly larger expense. I need to find a new supplier of my chief load cups. Nice. But it’s just a little thing that’s really easy. And then I think the other thing is, is little things is just recognizing kids in your school. So we do things like we’ll have the coyote the month display and we just picked four random kids that have done not academic or athletic, but just have done cool things. Like a teacher just told me a half hour ago, Hey, I got a kid for carry of the month and it was a kid who has been helping out with a special needs kid, ah, and just kind of helping them at lunch and some things like that, that kind of just stepping out and, and that, I don’t know this kid very well. They may not be an athlete at all. They may not be an academic all star, but that’s pretty amazing what they’re doing. So that’s a, that’s a way to recognize,

Sam Demma (25:07):

I won’t forget the young man who held the door open when I walked through the front doors of your school. And then you told me that he holds the door open every day for everybody. And I think I had three or four students after I was making a big deal about it. Tell me that they walked through the door every day and he’s holding it for them. And most times they have their hands full and they’re so grateful for it. So I think recognizing your population once a month, once a week in your classroom, I think that’s a great idea.

Brent Dickson (25:36):

Here’s another little bonus idea along that lines. We, we do Walmart greeters on Friday mornings. Nice. You have kids go, we have two doors that kids come in, you have to kind of figure out your building. Maybe there’s just one place or maybe there’s a couple. So we split ’em up and I’ve got two Bluetooth speakers. So they go to each door and they play whatever music they want, long as it’s appropriate. And they just say good morning. They kinda wave, say Good morning, welcome to Centennial. Kind of like a Walmart greet. And you, I’ve watched when kids come in, some, some will be stone faced all the way through. but some you see they get a smile on their face or Oh hey, how are you? That kind of thing. Right. And so we made some t-shirts that kind of ripped off the Walmart logo. We changed it to Centennial. But you don’t even need anything like that. You can go to the Dollar Star and get Walmart greeter hats or, I mean, who cares? You call it. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s nothing. But and actually the kids have found the music that works the best is old school like playing Abba or Elvis or something like that. Cause cause no one really has an opinion on it, whether they love it or not.

Sam Demma (26:38):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson  (26:39):

It’s just a little easy thing to do. And oh, and then when my, my kids come back as Walmart greeters they get a two pack of dad’s cookies and a superstore juice box.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Nice.

Brent Dickson  (26:50):

Not a big deal, but like that’s how you earn those is you’re a Walmart greeter. Right. And it’s mostly just thanks for coming in early and, and doing that for other kids. Right.

Sam Demma (26:58):

Yeah. I think the incentives are great ideas, whether it’s a ring pop lollipop, a dad’s cookies, some chocolates. I know you have assorted candies that you hand out for certain things too.

Brent Dickson (27:10):

This seems like the most unhealthy leadership program ever. We we’re really not all about just handing out candies of bribing kids. There’s a lot more going on. But

Sam Demma (27:18):

We talked about candy, crayons, social media ideas, recognizing students. We talked about the rock athon. This was a full on masterclass for student leaders and student leadership ideas. So Brent, thank you so much for coming on the, the podcast today to share all of your wisdom and insights. If someone wants to learn more, you have a blog filled with ideas where should they go to read and and check those out?

Brent Dickson (27:46):

It’s easy to remember; brentdickson.net. So you go on there and I try to faithfully periodically I put down stuff, just different ideas, things have been working out. usually try to start with a story about something that kind of inspired me. Usually something that a kid did. And then here’s an idea for your school. Here’s an idea you can do in your class. And when you go on there, you can either like it and follow it or you can actually click a click a spot where the post comes directly to you in an email so you can check it out and hopefully it helps you out.

Sam Demma (28:15):

Awesome. Brian, thank you so much. I’m gonna title this podcast episode, how to Become the Most Unpopular Teacher in Your School, <laugh>

Brent Dickson (28:25):

Perfect

Sam Demma (28:26):

With the phone case id. I love it. no, seriously, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, keep up the great writing, and I look forward to crossing paths again soon.

Brent Dickson  (28:35):

All right. Thank you brother.

Sam Demma (28:38):

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 Brent Dickson

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.

Vickie Morgado – Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher

Vickie Morgado - Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher
About Vickie Morgado

Vickie (@vickiemorgado1) has been an elementary educator in Ontario, Canada, for over 20 years. She has taught multiple grades and is currently an EGELT (Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher). Vickie believes in empowering her students to take charge of their learning to create positive change in the world, becoming agents of change.

She holds a Master of Education in Curriculum Studies and has presented throughout southern Ontario at various conferences, including BIT and Connect and internationally at ISTE. Vickie is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), Global Mentor, Nearpod PioNear, Global Goals Ambassador, National Geographic Certified Educator and Micro:bit Champion.

Connect with Vickie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master of Education, Curriculum Studies – Brock University

English BA – York University

Connect Conference

ISTE

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE)

Global Mentor

Nearpod PioNear

Global Goals Ambassadors – United Nations Association

National Geographic Educator Certification

Micro:bit Champion

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Vickie Morgado.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Vickie has been an elementary educator in Ontario, Canada for over 20 years. She has taught multiple grades and is currently an EGELT (Elementary Guidance experiential learning teacher). Vickie believes in empowering her students to take charge of their learning to create positive change in the world, becoming agents of change. She holds a Masters of Education and Curriculum studies and is presented throughout Southern Ontario at various conferences, including BITand Connect, as well as internationally at ISTE. Vickie is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), Global Mentor, Nearpod PioNear, Global Goals Ambassador, National Geographic Certified Educator and Micro:bit Champion. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Vickiw and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Vickiw Morgado. Vickie, please start by introducing yourself.

Vickie Morgado (02:00):

Hi everybody. My name is Vickie Morgado. This is my, I think, 22nd, 21st year in education. I’m currently a elementary guidance experiential learning teacher. I support 11 schools working more with middle, middle school students, and I’m really excited to be here.

Sam Demma (02:21):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself that you wanted to work in education?

Vickie Morgado (02:28):

 I think I was, early on I was kind of that kid that would like, organize all the games and you know, I see get everybody <laugh> doing something fun. But then in high school I was, I was this woman instructor and I really, really loved that. And then I volunteered in an elementary school around York University when I was there and I applied to the concurrent program and I didn’t get in the first year, but I applied again and I got in and and it’s been awesome. It, it just felt very natural. It’s definitely my vocation, it’s my calling. So it’s challenging. Every day is very different, but it’s a very fulfilling career. so it’s definitely, I think what I was meant to do.

Sam Demma (03:12):

It sounds like you’re working at the systems level overlooking lots of different schools. Would you call it the systems level or

Vickie Morgado (03:19):

Yeah, it’s, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative>? No, that’s a really good question. So what I love about it is I’m in classrooms every day teaching. Okay. But I get to do fun stuff every day. so the kids really look forward to it and I put a lot of thought and passion into the different activities that I’m working with. So they can range from, you know, like with my grade eight, I’m picking courses and talking about all the opportunities beyond high school, not just in high school, but helping them transition. But then I do a lot of work with technology and coding and STEM and trying to promote that with young women especially. so, but I’m really there to support teachers and, and just like our students or teachers are at all different levels. so I’m really there as, you know, I’m just trying to make learning fun ignite a passion and just be there to support not just our, our our our students, but our educators in learning and learn alongside them. So it’s, it’s, I love it. It’s, it’s a great, it’s been the best job that I’ve ever had in the 21 years, so I love it.

Sam Demma (04:18):

Within the 21 years, what are the different roles you’ve played in education? Tell me about some of the different responsibilities and positions if we were to use a sports analogy.

Vickie Morgado (04:29):

<laugh>. Yeah. No, I, I definitely have done a lot of different things. I like moving around and I love challenging myself. So I started off teaching like grade six junior grades. I moved into intermediate and took my intermediate qualifications. Then I got tired of that. So I went down to primary taught primary. I was a technology coach for about six months or so. so I was supporting PRI elementary and secondary, so that was awesome. And then went back to the classroom and now I’m doing this and like, I’m sure I’ll do something else in a couple years <laugh>. Cause that’s the way I rule. I like to keep learning and keep challenging myself and trying new things. So

Sam Demma (05:07):

You mentioned that every day in the current role you’re in is very fun and you’re very intentional about the games you choose to play and the activities. What are some of the things you’ve done recently that you think students really enjoyed or staff really enjoyed and you had a lot of fun facilitating

Vickie Morgado (05:24):

<laugh>? So right now I’ve been, I have one more school to work with. I’m doing a breakout edu. So it’s an escape room style activity. so it’s having the students kind of solve puzzles and they’re related to like graduation and high school credits and what you need, but also digital citizenship and also you know art, like, you know, basically questions to do with teamwork. And it’s just it’s just been great and they love it. and I love, like every experience is totally different. Every team is different. And I just love seeing how they interact and get frustrated and move beyond that and kind of learn. And then we consolidate that at the end and we talk about like, what went well, who could give a shout out to on your team, what did you see working well and relate that to like, you know, you’re gonna be in teams no matter what you do in life, and you know, what worked well and what didn’t and get them thinking about that and how to choose groups and looking for, you know, when you choose a group, I always say you want, you know, people with different strengths.

Vickie Morgado (06:22):

You don’t wanna pick everybody that’s like you. so, and how to navigate challenges and how to speak up when you don’t agree. And so I, it’s been, it’s been a really positive experience. So yeah, it’s been fun watching.

Sam Demma (06:34):

That sounds amazing. Where do you, where do you gather ideas from? I’m, I’m assuming some of them come from your own thinking, but is there a way or is there like a place you also gain inspiration from?

Vickie Morgado (06:47):

 absolutely. So I’ve been really lucky and I, I go to a lot of conferences. I talk to a lot of educators on social not just in my like, you know, school board, but like in other parts of the world. I see. I just saw something cool on Twitter that I saw somebody doing with coding and he’s in another board and I was like, messaged Tim Sep privately was like, I love this. I wanna bring this to my classes. Can we like talk and meet? and so we’re gonna meet on you know, teams or whatnot virtually, and he’s gonna kind of walk me through what he did. So I’m really big on like, you, the learning isn’t just in your walls of your school. Like there’s amazing educators out there doing amazing things globally. and when I was a classroom teacher, I used to co-teach with them.

Vickie Morgado (07:34):

So like in grade two we had this really cool, like solid to liquid to gas experiment where you feel like a balloon up with water and you know, so, and then, you know, becomes a snowman and you watch it through the states of matter. But to make it cooler, I was paired up with a class in Texas and we throughout the day we’re like messaging and tweeting and sharing like our snowman’s melting faster. And so Atlanta, we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of stuff like that. And, and that’s really helped me keep motivated through my career, but also kept me learning and also kept me growing and being able to really stay on top of my game and try new things. Cause students will get bored of, you know, the breakout and then you need something else to engage them. So yeah.

Sam Demma (08:16):

You mentioned you were a technology coach at one point. I also noticed you have a beautiful headset on that sounds amazing. So you must love technology to some degree, <laugh>. yeah. What was your experience like through the pandemic and how did your teaching style have to change as a result?

Vickie Morgado (08:34):

<laugh>? So that’s a really good question because prior to the pandemic Yeah, I, I’m, I’m a big person with tech. Like I, okay. I go to huge tech conferences, I present at tech conferences. So when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t afraid. I was like, this is my forte. Yeah. However, it was too much tech and I started to hate technology <laugh>, and that’s when I realized, I used to talk about this pre pandemic, but creating that digital balance with students was so important. And I got to a point where I literally wanted to throw my computer across the room and smash it into a million pieces. And I think we all felt that like, as wonderful as technology is it doesn’t replace that, you know, face to face contact, that connection. and while it was awesome that we had the tools, it most definitely cannot replace, you know, you know, being with people, no matter what anybody says, it really cannot. And so for me, it taught me to create more balance with technology and made me passionate about that. So in getting outside and, and just, you know, doing other things. So

Sam Demma (09:37):

You mentioned conferences. Is there any conference you are a regular at that you are like, Oh, this one’s happening again this year? Or are there any conferences that have occurred in the past that really equipped you with new tools and ideas and amazing connections that you think are really informed you of some new ideas?

Vickie Morgado (09:57):

There’s a lot of great conferences. I’ve been really lucky and I’ve gone to like, STA science conference and reading for the love of it is awesome for literacy. if you are into technology you know, Canada has the Connect conference in the Bring It Together conference. But you know, the Disney World, I guess, of technology for me has been isti, which is the International Society for Technology Educators. And I think I went back in 2015 for the first time, and it was pretty cool cause I actually ended up presenting with somebody that I had never met in person. We put in a proposal together and we kind of met there and we kind of presented together. We put everything virtually. And back then, this was pre pandemic. It, I, it was, we were doing some really cool things. Okay. But when I went there, I was like, literally there’s like 10,000 people there.

Vickie Morgado (10:47):

It’s like absolute like big huge conference. And there was all these people that I’d seen again online, but I actually got to talk to them in person. And so the sessions were amazing and all that, but it was just being able to connect with people. And when I saw what was going on on an international level, more North American, but definitely international and saw students from all over the world, I was like, Wow, I need to step up my game. Like this is, this is awesome. So I’ve tried to go back to that because to me that’s always been sort of the big, the big one for technology. But yeah, any, any, there’s some fabulous educational conferences out there and they’re a great way to just keep you learning. So,

Sam Demma (11:25):

Yeah. Are there any tech tools that although the pandemic has passed you continue to use now that you find extremely valuable in your classroom or with your students?

Vickie Morgado (11:36):

 yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of them. it depends what I’m doing. So definitely like video conferencing is huge. you know, just to stay in touch with like, educators that I work with internationally. But near Pod is awesome. I’ve worked with them since they came and I was looking for something that was like, you could do cross platform and Nearpod. I mean, it was, it was amazing during the pandemic because especially with middle school students, you often don’t know if they’re listening or if they’re on like Discord or doing something else <laugh>. So you can like ask a question and you can see who’s doing what and also you can share out their answers. And it’s anonymous. So where you’ll get like the same four students that talk, you get 30 responses. And so there’s a lot of power in that.

Vickie Morgado (12:26):

 yeah, that, that one is, has always been my one of my go-tos for sure. but if we’re talking like creation apps, there’s so many great ones out there right now we’re using, We video, we’re having a film festival that we’re working on, and the students are going to be creating their own movies that we just started. Yes, we did this last year. And so we, video is works well on, you know, Chrome browser and it’s just our students have Chromebooks, so that one is huge. but like, there’s so many amazing products out there that depending on what you’re doing, lend themselves really nicely to student voice and differentiation and all the things that we’re supposed to be doing as educators. So

Sam Demma (13:07):

One of the resources that I think are most valuable are other people. And I’m sure there, there’s other people in your life as well who have played an impact on you, maybe in the role of mentorship or colleagues who you lean on when things get difficult and they lean on you, vice versa. When you think about the mentors in your life, is there anyone that comes to mind that you think really helped you develop as a teacher, as an educator? Or was it a collection of individuals?

Vickie Morgado (13:34):

Definitely a collection. Like I had a really great elementary school experience where they valued my ethnicity and that they brought that into the, the schooling system. I had teachers that made me love learning that made me feel like I belonged, I was important. and that love early on, I think carried on to later in life. And then even in university, I had so many great people, like even my practicum leader my last year who was there for me. you know, there’s, there’s, there’s it, it always seems like when you need somebody, there’s somebody there for different reasons that kind of pushes you along. So there’s so many. And of course, like the team I work on now, there’s 14 of us. they’re amazing. My partner that I work with is amazing on my team and she just takes my list, like my ideas and I’ll take her ideas and I think we make them come out better. and what I love about Connie is that when we met she was like, you know, I just to warn you, my ideas are like really big. They’re out there and you gotta bring me down. And I thought, I said to her, We are in big trouble because

Sam Demma (14:47):

I didn’t say this. I’m

Vickie Morgado (14:48):

The same way. We’re gonna, like, we’re gonna have so much, much work on our hands and so many, cuz you know, it’s like, well, like I have an idea and then it ups it, it just keeps going and going. And I love being on teams like that where people are, you know, collaborators and they’re hard working and they push you and they question you. I think they just challenge you to become that much better every day. And, and that’s like I’ve been fortunate. Those have been the mentors and the people that, you know, keep me going. So yeah.

Sam Demma (15:14):

The idea of questioning ideas, is that something that happens often? Like you challenge each other?

Vickie Morgado (15:20):

 you know, it depends. Like I think in education sometimes we’re, but maybe elementary a little more than secondary, we try and we’re like really polite with each other. We don’t wanna step on each other’s toes. But I keep telling students, especially with the equity work that I’m doing, that we need to be okay to say the wrong things and challenge each other and know how to dis. And I think that’s a skill we had to teach more is teach kids how to disagree with each other in respectful ways. because especially on social, there seems to be more of this like silo happening where it’s like you’re just listening to everybody that believes everything you’re saying. And it’s like, these people are, you know, they’re way out there. But like, if we don’t actually listen to each other, nothing’s gonna change. you don’t have to agree with other people, but let’s have a dialogue and a discussion as opposed to just behaving each other, which is what I’m seeing on social a lot, especially when it comes to politics.

Vickie Morgado (16:12):

<laugh>. Yeah. So, you know, I want my students to be like, it’s okay to challenge me. And I’ve had students say that and I say that like, I’m gonna get it wrong. you know, one of the best lessons I did was critical literacy lesson where and I got this idea from a conference. There’s this website about the Pacific what is it? there’s this, this basically it’s a fake animal that they, we claim, oh, it’s a, a octopus that lives in a, in a Christmas tree, basically a trick <laugh>. And I told the kids that I was really passionate about saving this animal. And you know, I was looking for fundraising, you know, and we were gonna write a letter to their parents to ask for donations. And like, nobody really questioned me. I mean, they’re grade three and I get that and I’m in a position of authority, but yeah, like, doesn’t it kind of sound ridiculous that there’s an octopus in a Christmas tree? Like, and then after some of them were like, Well, I didn’t wanna be mean to you. And I’m like, But it’s not being mean. It’s asking questions. Right? Yeah. So we, you know, trying to teach them to like, and I get that traditionally the education system has not been like that, but I think we do need to to, and they need to advocate for themselves, right? so yeah, it, it, I think that’s a skill we should be teaching more.

Sam Demma (17:25):

That’s a phenomenal idea and concept. <laugh>, I think it could be used at older ages too. <laugh> to a degree.

Vickie Morgado (17:32):

Yeah. Like spot the fake news. Like I’ll get stuff from friends and not, or relatives and I’ll be like and then I have to like check it out cuz it like looks, the image looks legit, but then when you look it up and there’s different websites that will tell you and you trace the image, it’s fake. And then I have to come back and say, well that isn’t true. Right? So especially now, I think that’s really important to teach students like how to tell between fake and real. Right.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Yeah. That’s awesome. So how does you, how do you balance your day to day if you’re teaching in the classroom, but then also supporting other schools? Like how does it actually work?

Vickie Morgado (18:08):

 so basically you have to be very, very organized. Okay, <laugh>. it’s all about relationship building. Like, here’s this person coming into your room. I’m not there to judge you. I’m there to work with you. and get where people are at and what they need. So you can’t come in with like your own agenda. You have to really get to know the students and get to know the teacher. It’s all about relationship building, getting that trust going and you know, hooking them. So my first lesson was outside with the students doing cooperative games and I hooked a lot of them because they, they were like, this was so much fun, when are you coming back? Right? So you know, and sometimes it’s, you know, during pandemic it was being there for people, listening to people you know, doing what they needed in that moment to support them. So no it is a pretty good balance. I love it cuz every day is different and there’s so many different students and teachers and administrators and people that I work with that it’s it’s, it’s really exciting every day and every school is very different and so it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s, but organization for sure. and yeah, just trying to create that balance for sure is important.

Sam Demma (19:27):

Do you use Google Calendar and have like, color coded events on it? <laugh>

Vickie Morgado (19:33):

 actually, so me and my colleague we just use a doc cuz we’ll talk to each other and tell each other where we’re at. But I do, it’s funny, I have like my Google calendar, but I have my home family calendar still on like old school paper. Yeah. So it depends like, yeah, like for my personal stuff I use my Google calendar and then but yeah, definitely I have a combo of, I’m a kind of, I I’m kind of a hybrid digital and paper pencil. I still like writing

Sam Demma (20:00):

<laugh>. I’m with you. I’m with

Vickie Morgado (20:01):

You. Yeah. Okay. <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:02):

That, that’s awesome. okay. This, this is so unique. I think your role is one that is so important and different from a lot of the past guests that I’ve spoken to, which is why I was so excited to chat with you today. when you think about your experiences in education, can you recall a story where you may have met a student or a young person who was struggling and through education was transformed and how to breakthrough or really got over a struggle they were faced with? And the reason I ask is because I think a lot of educators get into this work because at the core they really just wanna make a positive impact in the lives of young people. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I’m wondering if a story comes to mind and you know, if it, if there isn’t one specific one, that’s okay too, but if you have one, I would love to hear it.

Vickie Morgado (20:52):

There’s so many and it, what’s neat is in my role, because there are so many students sometimes, and I live in the areas that I work in, Yeah. People will stop me and talk to me and I honestly don’t remember their names. <laugh>. Yeah. Cause there’s so many of them. But one time I was at this red light and there was a police car next to me and I was like, Oh man, what did I do? And I, the, the police officers like waving at me. So I rolled down my window, I’m like, hello? And it was one of my students that I had taught in grade seven and I, I was like, Oh my God. I’m like, you know, you always kind of worry sometimes about some students and you’re like, ugh, like am I doing enough or, and we’re such a small part of their lives, right? Like, because really every year we get different groups of students are gonna have the teachers. but it was so nice to see, he’s like, Yeah, I became a police officer and then we joked and like, so you’re not gonna gimme a ticket

Sam Demma (21:48):

<laugh>.

Vickie Morgado (21:48):

And you know, it was really nice to see like where they’ve, they’ve gone and I’ve heard a lot of stories because I move around sometimes I don’t get as many people like, you know, you know, like I don’t see people coming back cuz I’ll move on, but I’ll be out and about and then people will stop me and then my kids are always like, How do you know everybody? And I’m like, I don’t know who that was necessarily <laugh>, but, and you know, like they’ll say something and I’ll be like, I don’t even remember saying that. Like, you sure that was me? So you never quite know how, what little tiny interactions. And when I think about even the teachers that I have an effect on me. It’s like the little tiny comments sometimes it’s not this big grandiose thing, but just that little like, you know, that that person believed in.

Vickie Morgado (22:32):

You know, that that person like had your back. That makes all the difference. and when I look at my journey, that’s true. Like I said, there was somebody, you know, it wasn’t this big person that made a difference, but like my kindergarten teacher, she let me play piano in front of the class. I felt like a leader. I felt empowered. My grade seven teacher, like made like learning so much fun and really made like English fun. And I went to on to be, become an English major because like I loved and I saw that literacy was everywhere and I loved reading. So like all along there’s been these little journeys and now I think actually the kids are my greatest teachers because if you really stop and listen to, you wanna talk about mentors, these students are phenomenal. And you know, they are, they can be your, everybody has something to teach you. I truly believe that if you’re willing to just like listen and just be open to learning from them and you know that, that is true, I think of all students regardless of their abilities and needs. Like they’re, I think we’re all here to kind of teach each each other something. So

Sam Demma (23:35):

If you could teach yourself something by taking all the experiences you’ve had in education, traveling back, I think you said 21 years or 22 years, and tapping Vicki on the shoulder in her first year teaching, what would you have relayed in terms of advice to your younger self when you were just starting to get into this work? Not because you would’ve changed anything about your journey or the way it unfolded, but because you think it would’ve been beneficial to hear at the start of the whole career.

Vickie Morgado (24:07):

 it’s funny, I, I work, I do do a lot of presentations. I work with faculty students and you know, it’s, it’s like running a marathon almost. And I have run a marathon so I can tell you it’s not always fun, <laugh>,

Vickie Morgado (24:20):

I did it once and I’ll never do it again and I finish it. But you know, there’s times where you’re gonna wanna quit and, but you’ve done the training and you just gotta like keep going. there’s those people on the side cheering you on when you’re running a marathon that are strangers, <laugh> and you’re like, Thank God <laugh>. Cause you just wanna quit. But you hear that, that stranger and you, they’re like, and they can see your name and, and just hearing it gives you that little edge. And so find those. I think it was Fred Rogers said, Find the helpers, find the people stay inspired. Don’t let the politics drag you down. you’re more than enough. You’ve got this, you’re gonna mess up. be compassionate towards yourself and you know, you know, know that you’re trying your best, but the system isn’t perfect.

Vickie Morgado (25:08):

And always advocate for the the students that the system is, you know, the underserved in the system. That should be your goal. And you know, the relationships and, and those students are important. Yes, curriculum’s important, but the end of the day it’s about, you know, making those students love learning, recognize their awesomeness and their people and you know, they’re at a stage in their journey that they, they just need somebody that believes in them. And you know, you can’t, you know, the other thing I would say is you never know what’s going on in a student’s life. So don’t assume anything and try to really listen, listen with an open heart and you know, recognize the privilege that you have in your job and the power that you have.

Sam Demma (25:54):

Such an awesome, insightful answer. Thank you so much for that, and for sharing some of your ideas, the resources you found helpful, a little bit about your journey and education. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, have a conversation, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Vickie Morgado (26:11):

Definitely on Twitter, ’causeI’m a little addicted. <laugh>. Ok. yeah, social is great. You can also, I am on Instagram, but it’s more like, that’s more for fun. So yeah, probably Twitter would be the best place to find me, and it’s @vickiemorgato1 My name was taken <laugh>, so I had to add a one.

Sam Demma (26:31):

I was like, are you the only.

Vickie Morgado (26:33):

<laugh>? Yeah, no, there was somebody from Brazil with my name at the time, so I had to add a one. So. Nice.

Sam Demma (26:38):

Yeah. Okay. Awesome. Thank you Morgato. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

Vickie Morgado (26:47):

Thanks. Thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (26:49):

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 Vickie Morgado

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.

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

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

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

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

Connect with Don: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lester B. Pearson High School

Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre

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

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

Mount Royal University

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)

Ironworking at SAIT

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

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

Don Middleton (01:44):

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

Sam Demma (01:50):

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

Don Middleton (01:54):

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

Don Middleton (02:49):

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

Don Middleton (03:32):

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

Sam Demma (04:13):

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

Don Middleton (05:07):

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

Don Middleton (05:59):

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

Sam Demma (06:53):

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

Don Middleton (07:55):

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

Sam Demma (09:01):

And it keeps staff’s, bellies full

Don Middleton (09:04):

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

Sam Demma (09:24):

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

Don Middleton (09:50):

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

Don Middleton (10:36):

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

Sam Demma (11:57):

<laugh>. That’s okay.

Don Middleton (11:59):

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

Sam Demma (12:25):

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

Don Middleton (12:58):

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

Don Middleton (13:43):

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

Don Middleton (14:31):

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

Don Middleton (15:19):

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

Sam Demma (16:08):

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

Don Middleton (16:41):

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

Sam Demma (17:18):

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

Don Middleton (17:49):

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

Don Middleton (18:37):

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

Sam Demma (19:10):

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

Don Middleton (19:47):

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

Don Middleton (20:50):

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

Sam Demma (21:52):

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

Don Middleton (22:04):

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

Sam Demma (22:43):

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

Don Middleton (23:17):

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

Don Middleton (24:12):

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

Sam Demma (24:50):

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

Don Middleton (25:23):

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

Don Middleton (26:18):

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

Sam Demma (26:56):

I love that analogy. <laugh>,

Don Middleton (26:58):

That’s,

Sam Demma (26:58):

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

Don Middleton (27:43):

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

Don Middleton (28:34):

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

Don Middleton (29:18):

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

Don Middleton (30:04):

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

Don Middleton (30:51):

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

Sam Demma (32:03):

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

Don Middleton (32:32):

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

Sam Demma (33:30):

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

Don Middleton (33:44):

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

Sam Demma (33:54):

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

Don Middleton (34:02):

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

Sam Demma (34:05):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Don Middleton

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

Dawn Thompson – Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA)

Dawn Thompson - Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students' Association (NSSSA)
About Dawn Thompson

Dawn (@miztee7) grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience: from Grade 4 to adults, in public and private schools, day school and summer school, in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and abroad, and in English and French. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, for the Strait Regional Centre for Education.

While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school Student Council advisor but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association). She has been the Regional Advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the Advisor Co-ordinator for the Provincial Conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of Provincial Advisor for the organization.

She is a mom to 3 amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day (and sometimes make her scream in frustration). She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens. But her true talent lies in the kitchen . . . and not just because of the food she makes.

Connect with Dawn: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lakehead University

Strait Regional Centre for Education

NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association)

NSSSA – Conferences and Events

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest, I had the privilege of meeting this past year in Nova Scotia. Her name is Don Thompson. Don grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in thunder bay. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience from grade four to adults in public and private schools, day school, and summer school in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and abroad, and in both English and French languages. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the straight regional center for education. While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school student council advisor, but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary School Students Association)

Sam Demma (01:57):

She has been the regional advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the advisor coordinator for the provincial conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of provincial advisor for the entire organization. She is a mom to three amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day and sometimes make her scream in frustration. <Laugh> She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens, but her true talent lies in the kitchen, and not just because of the food she makes. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don Thompson. She is filled with positivity and so much high energy, and I know you’ll enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dawn Thompson (02:46):

Okay. I’m Don Thompson. I am a high school English and French teacher in Antigonish, Nova Scotia at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Sigh school. But more significantly, the reason you asked me to be here is because I am the regional advisor for a student leadership organization in Nova Scotia called the NSSSA.

Sam Demma (03:09):

Your heart has been tied to the NS a for many years. Please tell us why it is such a meaningful organization for you and what inspired you to get involved.

Dawn Thompson (03:22):

So when I moved here about 13 years ago, I didn’t know anything about the Ente. It’s a Nova Scotia thing. I’m an Ontario girl. And I had a couple of students in an English class who said to me, miss, we’re going to this leadership conference and we need an advisor. Do you think you’d wanna go with us? And I thought, well, that’s kind of up my alley. I’ve done student council in the past. And I was sort of looking for my thing outside of the classroom. So I agreed to go. And afterwards I found out that it was over the long weekend in may and it was a three hour drive away. And I was gonna have to take some time off of school. And I thought, holy cow, what did I just get roped into? But my principal assured me that it was an amazing organization and that the girls who wanted to go were really great young people.

Dawn Thompson (04:17):

And so he said, just do it. And I got there and about five hours in, I called home and said, I wanna go to this every year. Mm. I have never experienced anything like this in my career, the enthusiasm, the positive energy and just the astounding quality of an event organized and run entirely by students, which was so well done. I thought I have to be a part of this. And then the two girls who asked me to go ran for co premier of our region, they won the election and they said, would you be our regional advisor? And I said, okay, <laugh> what do I have to do? <Laugh> and, and, and then it’s history from there

Sam Demma (05:15):

And N S a stands, can you share what the abbreviation stands for in case someone’s outside of Nova Scotia?

Dawn Thompson (05:23):

Of course it’s the Nova Scotia, secondary school students association

Sam Demma (05:29):

Love it. I, I loved the conference. I think I had similar feelings that you had being there over the summer. I second, everything you say about it. And if someone is in Nova Scotia listening to this and it’s not involved, what are you doing? What are you waiting for? You know, get involved right now. So when did you realize as a student yourself that you wanted to pursue a career and a future in education?

Dawn Thompson (05:58):

In high school, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist and my father kept trying to talk me out of it. He kept saying, oh, Don, you’d be a really great teacher. I didn’t know if that was really what I wanted. I, you know, like I’d done babysitting and I taught swimming lessons and I’ve done summer camps and things like that. So I guess I’d kind of always been involved in teaching, but I didn’t really know if that’s what I wanted as a career. And then in my last year of high school, I had a momentous conversation with somebody who I guess was kind of a mentor. And he said, Don psychologists build hospitals at the bottoms of cliffs and teachers build fences at the top. Which one do you wanna build? And I thought, I wanna build the fence. I wanna catch them before they fall. I don’t wanna fix them once they’re broken. So I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (06:54):

And when you made that decision after these meaningful conversations with people in your life, what did the journey look like from the moment the decision was made in your mind to where you are today?

Dawn Thompson (07:06):

I remember at university preparing for my very first student teaching lesson and I was terrified. I thought, what if I’m terrible? What if I suck? How am I gonna call my parents and say, I know we’ve spent thousands of dollars in a few years of my life, but I, I think I made a mistake. And then that first lesson was incredible. And like, in that moment, I knew that I belonged at the front of a classroom that like I was born to be there. It was the right fit. So I taught in a bunch of different places. I taught in Toronto for 10 years. I taught outside of Ottawa for the upper Canada school board for a couple of years. And then we moved to Nova Scotia. And in the time that I’ve been here I’ve taught at, I think, six different schools. I’ve taught every grade level from grade four to grade 12. I’ve taught English, French history, social studies, art drama. <Laugh> you name it? It’s pretty much been on my plate at some point in my career.

Sam Demma (08:13):

That’s so awesome. And in your role today, what are some of the aspects of the job that bring you the most fulfillment and joy and just fill your heart?

Dawn Thompson (08:27):

Truly my job with the NS a absolutely does every second. A lot of the time I get asked what do you do in, in your role as regional advisor? And I often answer, well, I don’t do much. I go to meetings, I listen to these kids talk and plan. They do all the work. I’m just the backup plan. And the reality is I do the job because I get, get so much out of it. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, it is so inspiring to watch young people be so capable to watch them plan and run incredible events and to do it all with no payback for themselves. This is not a job that they’re getting paid to do. They’re doing the work at the conference. It’s not like they even get to go there and just enjoy it. Yeah. It it’s a significant amount of work.

Dawn Thompson (09:24):

And one of the things that I love about it is that as a teacher, I have always wanted, I’ve always felt that it was my job to prepare students for the world outside of my classroom. Yes, I’m an English teacher, but who cares? If you can write a great essay, that’s not gonna do you a lot of good in your life. I would much rather know that I’m teaching you real life skills. And the N essay is a great way for kids to actually get those skills. They learn how to write appropriate emails. They learn how to read a contract and sign it, how to negotiate, how to create a budget how to problem solve, how to hire people and how to fire people. Yeah. So the skills that they get there are always so impressive. And in my career, I hear a lot about what kids can’t do. Mm. And the NS a always shows me what they can do when you give them expectations, they rise up and they meet them.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Yeah.

Dawn Thompson (10:30):

And give me hope for the future. Truly, you know, I think someday I’ll be in a care facility and it’ll be okay. <Laugh> because they’ll be BSA kids there looking out for me. The future of the world is in good hands.

Sam Demma (10:45):

Mm. So the, the students themselves sound like give you a ton of hope. I would assume they’re also the reason you’re fired up every day to get out of bed and pursue this work. What, what, what else keeps you motivated?

Dawn Thompson (11:01):

There’s a lot of joy in a classroom, right? When you can create a really great safe environment where kids come every day and they know that it’s okay to be who they are. And and that I’m interested in knowing them and learning from them as much as they learn from me, then you often get really, really great classroom conversations that go on which, which are so inspirational. And truly, there’s a really, really wonderful sense of comradery that comes with working with amazing colleagues, too. You know, those connections you make with other educators where you can think outside the box and solve a problem for a kid that nobody was expecting that like, that’s a really rewarding experience too, at the end of the day, if I go home and say, well, you know, maybe they didn’t learn how to write a really great introduction today, but I know that this kid felt loved in my classroom. This kid got some support for making a hard decision. You know, I connected with a colleague and we found a solution for a kid who’s gonna be away for three weeks or something like that. It just, those are the little things that really make every day matter.

Sam Demma (12:21):

I’ve spoken to many people in education over the past two years, and something many of them have had in common is there’s been moments of challenge, especially throughout the past two years personally, with the pandemic. And, you know, thankfully things are changing hopefully for the better for the rest of our lives. <Laugh> school will never go back to the way it was before, which I believe is a really good thing. You know, it’s challenge us to think outside the box and maybe change some of our focuses and practices, but I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are that are coming outta this interesting time.

Dawn Thompson (12:55):

Hmm. Opportunities. I worry that we are not taking advantage of the opportunities that are coming here. We’ve got kids who are really, really connected to technology, and I hope that we find a way to use those opportunities the right way, because I’m a little concerned that right now we’re not preparing kids for how to handle the technology that they’re suddenly so well versed in. They don’t have some of the skills. I think that they really need to navigate that in a healthy way, but a lot of them have become in some ways independent learners. They’ve had to be if they’re doing online learning, if they’re missing classes, because they’re homesick, there’s a lot of independence there that I think we can really cultivate in them and that we need to cultivate in them a sense of personal responsibility for their achievements and their success. And more importantly, a hope that we find a way for them to recognize that what they do at school is really about preparing them for the real world, that there shouldn’t be that disconnect between your classroom and the job you might have someday. Mm

Sam Demma (14:09):

That’s a really great point. I think there are so many pathway opportunities that exist that even when I was a student, maybe we weren’t talking about as much in school and the whole pandemic has really shined a light on the, the flexibility of education or the ways it can exist. And I think it’s given students a chance to, you know, explore the world for maybe a year. Some, some schools in Ontario didn’t even actually go into a classroom for like eight months. And so, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, like shortening that gap or that leg between what’s getting taught and what’s happening in the world. It sounds like more real world conversations are getting pulled into classrooms, even when we were at N say, the conversations that are happening are so forward thinking and based on current events. So I, yeah, those are, those are great opportunities for learning. What, what, yes, go ahead.

Dawn Thompson (15:05):

I would love to see a four day school week

Dawn Thompson (15:11):

Where kids are in classes four days a week, and there’s one day where they do all the other stuff. They do the extracurriculars, they don’t miss any class time. They get extra support. So they’re not being pulled out of a class to get support in another subject area. I would love to see education seen in a different light. We’ve been doing education the same way for hundreds of years, but the world we’re looking at today is not the same as a hundred years ago. And so I think hopefully the major changes, the, the spotlight that has been Sean on the current challenges in our whole society will allow us to be able to say, okay, we need to really make some bold moves here. If we can survive a couple of years of major changes with no preparation, you know, no, no reports written and no experts hired and no warning. And none of that stuff, if we can manage, then we can do a lot more and we should do a lot more to actually tackle the major challenges that we’re facing in our education system. For sure.

Sam Demma (16:25):

Time to push the limits. That’s the thing that comes to mind, you know be, yeah. What, what do you do to fill up your cup when you’re not at work or in the classroom to help you show up at the best of your abilities?

Dawn Thompson (16:43):

I read I’m an English teacher, so I have a real passion for literature to start with. But to me that’s a really, really great way to decompress get lost in a book, get lost in the life of somebody else, forget your own troubles for a little while and, you know, worry about how they’re gonna manage theirs, which are so much worse than yours. And <laugh> enjoy like I have a passion for language. So I love to see how a writer creates language and controls it and shapes the world, using words. That’s exciting to me. And I make sure that I try to balance that with physical activity and with time in my kitchen, I cook, I bake, I dance at the same time sometimes <laugh> and you know, I try to make sure that I spend time with my kids and I laugh and, and hang out with my friends and just, it it’s, it really is that balance in life, all the things in moderation.

Sam Demma (17:44):

Mm. I, I support the dancing and cooking at the same time. Sounds like a party. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (17:51):

You have to be careful though, and you should definitely wear an apron.

Sam Demma (17:54):

Yeah. <laugh> I should get food everywhere. That’s awesome. Well, when you think about people who have had a significant impact on you as a person and your professional development as a teacher who are some of the individuals that come to mind and what do you think those individuals did for you that had a significant impact?

Dawn Thompson (18:17):

There was a teacher in high school. I took political science in grade 12, and I remember walking in to his classroom every day, thinking I know nothing <laugh> and then I would leave going. I only know what I learned today in this class from him, but he never ever made me feel like, I didn’t know anything. In fact, he was the one who started calling me a political animal, somebody who was really passionate about that. And he made me actually want to live up to that. He got me interested in politics, and so I know that a lot of what I do in my classroom, I have shaped around trying to give kids that same feeling, trying to get them to see themselves in a way that maybe they have not in the past, trying to get them to say, well, it’s okay if I’m not an expert or I’m not perfect as long as I’m always trying to grow and, and learn and be better.

Dawn Thompson (19:14):

So I definitely would consider him to be a, a role model for the kind of teacher I became and have a very long relationship with the woman who was my cooperating teacher when I was a student teacher, ah her name is gay Thompson, no relation to me. Oh, wow. <Laugh> but I actually kind of think of her as a second mom, you know, we’ve known each other for 25, some odd years now, and it was amazing to be in her classroom and see what she did and then to work with her again, later on in my career and to watch the environment she created for teachers in her presence and to call her up during the course of my career, when I was facing a job crisis, should I take this job? Should I take that job? What am I doing in my classroom?

Dawn Thompson (20:11):

That’s not working anymore. And to be able to call her up and, and talk to her, not just as somebody who understood my profession, but also who understood me as a, a friend has been really, really extraordinary. And I hope that I pay that forward to young teachers who come into my space as well. And into my teaching world, I, I hope that I give them what she gave me. And then, and then someday when I am retired, I hope that they also call me up and say, Hey, I have this really great thing that happened. And, and, and I can celebrate it with them.

Sam Demma (20:52):

Ah, I love that. Are these individuals that you stay in? I mean, it sounds like you and gay Thompson stay in touch with, do you stay in touch with these individuals often?

Dawn Thompson (21:02):

Well, I don’t talk to her as often as I probably should. That’s okay. But I, we do, we, we call at least two or three times a year, major life moments. You know, she sends my kids birthday cards, which is so lovely. And, you know, just the, the little things that make sure that you stay in touch so that we know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Sam Demma (21:22):

Nice. Well, this interview gives you another reason to reach out to her <laugh> so hopefully it facilitates a connection. So

Dawn Thompson (21:30):

When tell her, she will be,

Sam Demma (21:32):

So it’s obvious people have played an impact. Are there any resources that you think have also played an impact, maybe that’s books you’ve read that really provided unique perspectives or courses you’ve been a part of, you know, you mentioned the conference NS a, so that’s a big resource. What else?

Dawn Thompson (21:54):

Well, the N plus a I, I know it’s a student leadership organization and it really is designed run planned. The whole thing is for students, but teachers get a lot out of it too. When we go there as advisors, if, I mean, you did a session with advisors, you spent time with advisors over the weekend. You know, how important that time is for them. There are advisors who have been going to conferences for years, and it might be the only time that we see each other, but there’s such a really great sense of family that comes with that. We’re teaching in different places in the province, we’re teaching different levels, different subjects. And yet there’s a connection that we make that is really rejuvenating for a lot of us. And having that provincial conference, especially in may leading into that really rough part of the year, which is June there’s something that really fills up your tank to help you get through the month of June.

Dawn Thompson (23:00):

So it is definitely a huge resource for me, especially because I get energy from that. But I also have an opportunity to dialogue with colleagues, which is not something that happens on an everyday basis, often in a school, you know, you’re locked in your own classroom, doing your thing, that there is not a lot of opportunity to meet with other teachers and say, Hey, what are you doing in your space? Or I’m trying this, and I don’t know if it’s working out. What do you think have you had had experience with this? So certainly the S a has given me that the other thing that I would say really, really shaped my career in terms of a resource many years ago, when I taught in Toronto at Asian court collegiate, we had a principal who was kind of visionary, and he decided that he wanted to train everybody on staff.

Dawn Thompson (23:53):

And I’m not just talking about teachers, I’m talking about TAs caretakers in the building, secretaries administration, everyone who worked in that building was trained on a program, which was called tribes. It’s no longer called that now. It’s peace learning groups. I think I’m not sure that’s okay. Because I think that they’ve recognized that perhaps the name while it was well-intentioned was not necessarily a good choice, but really it’s about cooperative learning in your classroom. It’s about creating a community of learners who support each other for their success. And it’s about the teacher as much being a part of that community of learners as the students are. And so I took the training, but I was initially very skeptical because it was really designed for elementary students and they were trying to run this program with high school teachers. And I thought, oh, really, you think I can play that game with my grade twelves, are you crazy?

Dawn Thompson (24:57):

They’re not gonna wanna do that. And I asked a lot of questions and, and I was probably a little bit difficult. But at the end of the training, I committed to giving it a shot the next year in my classes. And so in September I started it up and I’ve never looked back. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> the difference that it made in my classroom. Every single time has been tangible. It makes kids comfortable with each other. It makes them feel safe. It creates a relationship between me and them that is so necessary if you want real quality learning to happen. So during the pandemic, it was more challenging to do that because a lot of the activities required contact and they’re supposed to be sitting in groups and working in groups and they weren’t allowed to, and they had to wear their masks and they couldn’t see each other’s faces and they couldn’t touch the same ball.

Dawn Thompson (25:57):

So you can’t play the game where you throw the ball back and forth. Like it was just, there was so much about it. That was so hard. And I felt it because the environment that I created in my space was not the same. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> it was missing something. So getting back to it this year, just renewed how much that had such a gigantic impact on me as an educator. I would love to become a trainer and train other people to do that someday. But in the meantime, I make sure that I use it in all my classes, and I talk about it with my colleagues. I have the book that has the whole program laid out. I bought it, I consulted on a regular basis. I check out new activities that I might try from it. And I think that that was a really huge component for developing me into the educator that I am.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Isn’t the book, the same title of the program? Like what would the title of the book be if someone wanted to try and find it, or

Dawn Thompson (26:55):

The, the, I don’t, I’m hoping that they’re manufacturing a new version of it. Okay. But the old version was tribes, TLC the tribes learning community and it’s I think if you go online, they have a website, but I’m pretty sure exchange if you search up tribes, it’ll take you to peace learning groups now. And I think that they’re revamping a lot of stuff, so I don’t know how many of their resources their books are available anymore.

Sam Demma (27:26):

Okay. When you say using it, is it more so a collection of exercises and activities that you could implement in your classroom or what exactly is the program?

Dawn Thompson (27:37):

Well, the program has, it’s an approach really cool to how you run everything in your classroom. Okay. So I spend a lot of time at the beginning of a course, really making sure that I’m creating that space for students, getting them comfortable. They’re sharing information about themselves. I’m learning about them as individuals, as learners. They’re learning about me. We’re developing our four agreements, which basically set the rules for the classroom. You know, it’s about being an attentive listener. It’s about being mutually respectful to each other. It’s about the right to pass or participate, meaning that there are some times where if you don’t wanna talk today, you don’t have to. But recognizing that the more you don’t participate, the less other people get to know you. And then that’s not such a comfortable space for you. So understanding that you have to make choices and really building this sense of community in the classroom respect and celebrating the differences in our space and amongst our people, but also looking for the connections that draw us together and, and help us make a community.

Dawn Thompson (28:50):

So it’s a bunch of different activities that you can do. And then it’s sort of an approach to even how you run the lessons. If I really wanted to, I could structure all my lessons that way I don’t. But often I do have activities that we do on a regular basis that build that sense of community. And then eventually, probably about six weeks in when I feel like kids know me and I know them I ask them to give me a collection of probably about five names of people who they would like to have in what I’m now calling guilds instead of tribes. Nice. because it, I think a Guild is a really great name for what they’re doing. It’s a group of people who are not related by blood, but who have a common goal, their own success. Yep. And who have things in common.

Dawn Thompson (29:41):

So I’m calling them guilds now. So they tell me five people they’d like to have in their Guild. I put those guilds together and I promise them that at least one person that they have asked for will be in their Guild. So everybody has a safe person in their Guild. But I put those guilds together thinking about genders. I think about strengths and weaknesses. I think about personalities. I think about learning styles. I think about all of the things that contribute to how they might successfully work together. And then they sit with that group. They often work with that group. They don’t do everything with their group, but many things. And what I hear usually at the end of the year is how much they loved their group, how tight they became. You don’t have to think of a name for their group and they’d come up with crazy stuff all the time. And <laugh>, it’s, it’s just, there’s so much positive about it that I think if I create that in my space, then all the learning that happens in the room afterwards comes out of the fact that this is a good place to be.

Sam Demma (30:45):

Mm. Sounds like a conference in a classroom. That’s what came to mind. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (30:49):

I hope

Sam Demma (30:50):

<Laugh>. Yeah. It’s so that’s so cool. It sounds like it’s had a really big impact on your beliefs and philosophy and approaching education, which is awesome. I’ll definitely hyperlink it down below so people can check it out. If you could take all of your experience in education, all the wisdom you’ve gained and all of your years teaching go back in time and like tap down on the shoulder. When, when you were just starting to work in a school, knowing what you know now, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice do you think it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting?

Dawn Thompson (31:25):

You don’t have to mark everything.

Sam Demma (31:29):

Hmm.

Dawn Thompson (31:31):

As a beginning teacher, there’s this sense that you have to be on top of everything students are doing and everything they do matters, and you have to have marks for everything and you have to be accountable and guess what you don’t, mm-hmm <affirmative> sometimes you just have to relax and let the learning take place that there are other ways to assess the learning that’s happening and to check in with kids that has nothing to do with marking the work.

Sam Demma (31:59):

That’s a great piece of advice and I’m sure people who just started teaching over the past few years could have used that maybe two years ago before they jumped in so thanks for sharing. If someone is listening to this conversation, has been inspired by it, wants to connect with you, join your personal Guild, or ask you a question, what would be the best way for someone listening to get in touch?

Dawn Thompson (32:25):

Well, I I’ve got my social media, so I am on Instagram. I think I’m @miztee77. You’d have to request to follow me because I do keep it private, teachers have to do that. I’m on Twitter, so you can find me there too. I’m pretty sure I’m @miztee7 there, and obviously I’m happy to get emails too. So you know, if you wanna talk about teaching, you wanna talk about the NSSSA? My email address is kuzykmommy@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for taking some of your time to stop marking some exams and you know, join me on the podcast to share some of your experiences and beliefs around education. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and I can’t wait until our next conversation,

Dawn Thompson (33:27):

Sam, it was a real pleasure for me too. It was so nice to reconnect with you. I, I had a great time.

Sam Demma (33:35):

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 Dawn Thompson

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Laura: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Thames Valley District School Board

Oakridge Secondary School

Prime Minister Certificate of Achievement Award

Ontario Business Educators’ Association

XR Studios

Art of Math Education by Laura Briscoe and Jeni Van Kesteren

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (06:19):
Journey


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (36:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Laura Briscoe

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

Julie Mathé – Principal at St. Mother Teresa High School

Julie Mathé - Principal at St. Mother Teresa High School
About Julie Mathé

Julie Mathé (@JulieMathe66) has been an educator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for over 25 years. She began her career teaching multiple subjects in the intermediate panel and honed her craft in the secondary panel teaching French Immersion and Religion Immersion. She moved into administration where she began her role of vice-principal at Immaculata High School.

Julie was then assigned to St. Patrick Catholic Intermediate School, followed by St. Francis Xavier High School and finally St. Joseph Catholic High School. With 11 years as vice-principal, Julie was appointed Principal of Frank Ryan Catholic Intermediate School and then St. Mother Teresa High School, where she currently works.

Julie loves what she does and has a passion for uplifting staff and students. She is currently also teaching PQP II for CPCO. Julie is wife to James Paterson and proud mother of two daughters, Anjelia (22 yrs) and Sabrina (20 yrs). She also has two cats and a dog. She loves spending time with her family.

She is grateful that her daughters still like to plan activities with her on a daily basis knowing that this could change at the drop of a hat. Julie also loves music and playing pool. Once retired, Julie hopes to travel with her family.

Connect with Julie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Mother Teresa High School

The Ottawa Catholic School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

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


Julie Mathé (00:08):
Oh, my name is Julie, Mathé and I am the proud principal of St. Mother Theresa high school in Neapan, Ontario. And we work under the Ottawa Catholic school board.


Sam Demma (00:17):
Beautiful. first of all, I apologize. I love the way you pronounce your name way more than the way I did.


Julie Mathé (00:24):
It’s all good.


Sam Demma (00:25):
When did you realize growing up that education was the calling for you or the career you would get into?


Julie Mathé (00:34):
Well, like many other educators, I was inspired by teacher at a very young age. I grew up in a French Canadian home and attended a French Catholic school. I only spoke French and when an English Catholic school was built much closer to home, my parents enrolled me in that new school. So entering grade five with all new students, the new French to make, not speaking a word of English was pretty scary to say the least. I was really an English language learner when programming for students like that didn’t exist. Mm. My teacher at the time took the time to get to know me, my interests, my strengths and weaknesses. He made appropriate accommodations for me to reach my personal goals and then got me involved in school activities. He did everything he could to help me succeed. And that’s when I knew I wanted to do the same thing and I wanted to have that positive impact on youth. And as I ruined my career as a classroom teacher in the auto Catholic school board had leadership opportunities and experience working with great administrators. I discovered my passion and vocation for leading.


Sam Demma (01:45):
I love that you mentioned you were really young and that teacher made an impact. Bring me back into that situation for a sec second, and kind of shed some light on the things that that teacher did for you that you think looking back made a really big difference.


Julie Mathé (02:00):
Just really getting the time taking the time to get to know me more on a personal level. And he found out very quickly that I was quite athletic mm-hmm. And so he was one of those teachers that coached a lot of things at the school and just got me out on those teams and participated and helped me make friends. And he, his wife at the time was also French speaking. And so there are times even during the weekends that with my parents’ permission, I would go over with some other students and spend time at their pool. And just, just taking, just really spending quality time with me. And even those accommodations in the classroom were as simple as you know spelling didn’t count as much when I wrote things out. As long as the content was clear he gave me extra practice to do at he worked with my parents to help me get some extra supports and, and some extra learning as an English language learner. Like he was like phenomenal. And, and just to add, he actually, we became very close and he followed me throughout my schooling career as well. Oh, wow. And he actually named his daughter he gave her my name as a middle name, so, oh,


Sam Demma (03:24):
Wow.


Julie Mathé (03:24):
Wow. yeah. Very special relationship.


Sam Demma (03:27):
It sounds like he just really cared about you as a person and went above and beyond to help you.


Julie Mathé (03:35):
Oh, completely, completely.


Sam Demma (03:38):
So tell me more about the moment you got into education. What the journey looked like that brought you to where you are today, like the different schools you worked in and yeah, the different roles.


Julie Mathé (03:50):
So I, I was very fortunate that I worked in a number of schools and one of my goals when I became a teacher was not to stay at the same school for a very long period of time. So I could experience working with different people, different demographics of population working with different administrators. And so I’ve been in above five or six different schools. And I first started as a teacher of many different subjects between grade seven and grade 10. And I actually traveled from classroom to classroom and between school and portable my first couple of years and finally settled down in teaching at the grade seven, eight level for about four years. And I taught all French courses. Nice. So whether it was religion and French, the language itself history, geography and so did that for a few years and then moved into teaching high school and basically taught in grades nine to 12, almost every subject you could teach in French. And then really honed in, in my last few years in the classroom as a grade 11 and 12 French and religion teacher. And I was a department head at the time and I worked with great administrators who maybe saw some potential there and got some practice work in the office as an acting vice principal and decided to do the journey, taking the courses required to become an administrator. And then the rest was history. I became an administrator and I’ve been an administrator for about 16 years. Now.


Sam Demma (05:34):
You mentioned getting into administration helped you realize how much you love leading. What about leadership and leading do you love, what are the things that you think make it such a meaningful role and opportunity?


Julie Mathé (05:51):
I think the great thing about leading is once you’ve gained a lot of experience and had experience in many different schools you’re able to bring things to the table that we call best practices. And so I was able to bring best practices to schools that I’ve that I’ve worked at. And also in being in different schools, every time I joined a school, I learned their best practices as well, and just marrying those together and being able to move a staff along in their journey of lifelong learning in their journey of what it means to teach now in the way we’re teaching. It’s very different from even when I started teaching leading has become more of bringing people along and not shutting people out. And there’s nothing I love more than to see people come together and collaborate and work for the same goal.


Sam Demma (06:51):
I love it. What are some of the challenges that come along with leadership, but also some of the pros or opportunities?


Julie Mathé (07:01):
I guess some of the challenges are when there’s resistance to it and you know, that what you’re trying to do is needed work and good work. And I always say you know, doing God’s work is, has never been easy. And being a leader is very similar. You do come across those challenges and those you know could be difficult parents. It could be difficult students, it could be difficult staff but it’s too hone your skills on having those courageous conversations and still move the, that middle crowd along and hopefully get those that are questioning to start seeing the good that’s being done. So that’s I guess, kind of a, a pro and con in one. Yeah. I have to say that the most recent challenges really have been around this pandemic and how to support students and staff with their morale.


Sam Demma (08:00):
Hmm. With challenges come opportunities, or at least I believe that to be true. yes. What do you think some of the opportunities that are presenting themselves in education are right now?


Julie Mathé (08:14):
Well I think the greatest opportunity we have right now is is this, I call it an awakening that our world is finally having around equity. And I have to say that, you know, aside from youth and, and faith, my faith, this awakening has given me hope, and this is an opportunity for us to work even harder than ever to end racism and promote equity. With the most recent wrongful deaths and accompanying discoveries we’ve been awakened, shaken and forced to take action, and we’re doing just that in our school and, and in all our schools in this board.


Sam Demma (09:00):
I couldn’t agree more, I think being stuck at home and also being confronted with all of these challenges has given us all, hopefully the time to reflect as well on our own actions and our collective actions that have an impact on the people around us. And yeah, diversity and inclusion has always been important, but I’m so glad that a spotlight has been placed on it and actions are being taken to change things and actively work towards improving situations for many different groups of students and learners and human beings.


Julie Mathé (09:33):
Abso absolutely. And, and we have to be intentional about the work that we’re doing. We have to say it out loud. We have to show it in our buildings, in our classrooms. We have to walk the talk. These kids have been marginalized for their entire lives. Yeah. And unfortunately it’s taken, you know, these horrible acts in the world to bring it to light and for us to really take a good look at it and look at, take a good look at ourselves. And yeah. And there there’s, there’s no more excuses for us.


Sam Demma (10:11):
What are some of the things that have gone on in the school or in the classrooms that you’ve witnessed or other teachers in your school have witnessed that give you the hope that things are moving forward?


Julie Mathé (10:24):
Well as I mentioned, we are all doing work in our schools and, and St Mary therea high school is no different. We’ve done a lot of work around equity. And so we’ve taken the time and continue to take the time to educate and inform both staff and students. Nice. We wanna create a better understanding of our student population, which in turn further promotes, respect and kindness. We’ve made our support very visible whether it’s pride posters or symbols in every room, we have a gay straight Alliance. And we, they have a very strong student voice that we support. We have a black student association and they have a very strong voice. We’ve just finished a full month celebration of black history month. We have a, a wall in our atrium called the unlearn wall. Ah, and it’s pictures of different skin tones to show that we are more alike than we are different regardless of our skin color. We have a lot of indigenous art in the atrium. We have a new Muslim student committee nice that just wanna share their culture with everyone and educate everyone. We’re making sure now that our curriculum reflects every student, including their culture and we just, at the end of the day, Sam, we want this to be a safe place for students and families. So everyone needs to see themselves in our school and feel safe.


Sam Demma (11:51):
I love it. I absolutely love it. I it’s funny when you talk about the atrium, I was thinking about like the, the a, I think there’s like a piece in your heart called the atrium. That’s like a valve and it’s like the heart of your school has all this important stuff in it. And that’s what kind of came to mind visually, like you’re working on the heart of the school with these topics and, and projects, which is amazing. What do you.


Julie Mathé (12:15):
Absolutely.


Sam Demma (12:18):
What, what are some of the things you’re excited about in education over the next couple of years that you think will continue to change or grow or evolve?


Julie Mathé (12:28):
I, I think one thing I’m obviously passionate about equity and I think that’s gonna continue to evolve. Yeah. And I’m so excited to see where it takes us. I, I’m excited as an administrator, but I’m excited as a mom. Yeah. You know, just to see where where we go with this. And and I hope we go all the way yeah. The other thing I’m excited about is just the idea of having now our school board has two schools that are virtual schools, one for elementary, and one for seven to 12. And that was formalized last year during the pandemic. And I’m excited to see where that goes because it has certainly helped a lot of our students, especially those that had a very difficult time being in a bricks and mortar type of school.


Julie Mathé (13:18):
Think of kids that have, you know, anxieties or depression or students that have needs at home that is really hard to leave the home. I think this is doing a lot of good for them and giving them every opportunity to succeed. Like every other student in a bricks and mortar type is school. So I’m really excited about that. I’m also excited about where we’re going with the grade nine program being a D streamed coming September, see what that looks like and see what assessment around those courses look like. If that changes at all, just to help improve a student confidence and self worth.


Sam Demma (13:59):
You mentioned earlier, morale has been a challenge. How have you noticed that and its effect on the school community?


Julie Mathé (14:10):
Well it, during the time that we were I’m gonna call it basically in lockdown, even though we had students in the building, but we didn’t have all students in the building at the same time. You could tell students, even walking through the building, we’re happy to be in the building, but just didn’t have that extra hop in their step. You know, their, their movement in the school was so limited because of C and we didn’t have opportu opportunities like sports or committees. And so it, it was challenging for them. And even though they, they did really wanna be here at the school, most of them anyhow. And so we had to do some work around how do we uplift their morale and, and same with staff, you know, a lot of what was missing for staff was that social aspect, because they were in the classroom for long hours with the students as well, without much movement. So we had some work to do around that.


Sam Demma (15:08):
Got you. Awesome. when you think about, you mentioned the one educator who had a big impact on you as a student point, you think about your journey into administration, your journey into education. Do you have any other mentors or resources? Sometimes people are a resource, but also maybe some courses or books or things that you found helpful that you learned from along the way?


Julie Mathé (15:32):
Well, I I’ll say two things for sure. I definitely had like I said, I mentioned before I worked with some great administrators and nice, and you take the best from the best and, and things that you don’t like or things that don’t suit who you are, you don’t take with you. So I got to take a lot of things of how, how they, how they look at the process of, of running through scenarios, how they work with staff little things that they do to uplift staff things like that. Definitely took a lot of that with me. A sec, the second thing is the courses that we take to become an administrator are phenomenal professional development. Even if you’re not going into administration, you learn so much from those courses that you get a better understanding why administrators made certain decisions in a school, and it’s kind of an aha moment that I had in taking those courses and kind of come full circle where I’m now one of the co-instructors for the principal’s qualification course.


Sam Demma (16:40):
Nice. That’s amazing. It’s PQP right?


Julie Mathé (16:45):
It is PQP

Sam Demma (16:49):
I’ve had other guests tell me about it. I did a little bit of research on it just to familiarize myself with it. What does the process look like for an educator who loves their work in the classroom, but would like to maybe one day get into administration?


Julie Mathé (17:04):
Well aside from taking the necessary courses, it’s is taking every opportunity to get some leadership experience and that could be in a variety of ways. It doesn’t actually have to be as an acting vice principal the way I did, but I could certainly look as if you’re leading a large committee on the school. You’re part of a committee at the school board level. You’re, you’re coming in and, and asking questions. You could spend half a day with an administrator to see what it looks like. There’s just different ways of, of learning about the role rather than assuming what it looks like because of what you think you see, cuz there’s so much more that goes on behind closed doors. And, and what I often say to teachers going into administration is first of all, they will love it.


Julie Mathé (17:58):
Mm. Secondly your relationship with students does change. You’re not the quick go- person that you are in the classroom, especially, especially if you were a successful teacher where you were popular and you knew kids wanted to take your courses that relationship changes, but it changes in the way that you’re helping the student as a whole now, and you’re also helping their family. And that’s a different relationship relationship that you start building. And the rewards for that are tremendous. You just feel so good when, you know, you’re making right or better decisions for students and their families. And you’re able to support them in ways that you wouldn’t do as a classroom teacher, you know, whereas you’re connecting them with resources in the community or you’re connecting them with a social worker or you’re providing support financially. It’s it’s, it’s different and it’s really good.


Sam Demma (18:58):
I’m curious to know if you could bundle up all your experiences in education teaching and learning from others and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, this is what this is something that I would’ve liked for you to have heard when you just got into this work, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you share with your younger self? Not, not because you wanna change something about your path, but for another educator who’s listening to this. Who’s just starting in this vocation. What would some words of advice be?


Julie Mathé (19:35):
The vocation of administration?


Sam Demma (19:37):
Mean just education as a whole, like teaching and getting involved.


Julie Mathé (19:42):
As a classroom teacher, it would be to observe other teachers learn about the school culture come in with ideas, but be open to what you’re hearing and try things before you suggest new ideas.


Sam Demma (19:59):
I love that. And it sounds like you may have even had some other pieces of advice for administration if someone was just getting into an admin role, would the feedback be similar or


Julie Mathé (20:12):
It, it would well, they, the listening piece and, and the watching for the first year. Absolutely. Yeah. But the most important piece is to learn to live in the gray. There’s no black and white in administration. And although we do have rules and policies and guidelines, there is a gray area for for extenuating circumstances. So you do treat every student and every family different because they are different, but that’s your work around equity. That’s how it becomes an equity piece. And so you have to be able to work in the gray and you have to be able to listen with empathy at all times,


Sam Demma (20:53):
You exude enthusiasm and positive energy and hope. What, what, what inspires you and motivates you to show up every single day and continue doing this amazing work?


Julie Mathé (21:06):
I absolutely, as you can tell, I love what I do. Mm. I, I say probably weekly to someone who asks me or someone who doesn’t even ask me. I love what I do. I have hope because I have my faith. I have hope because I have a family that supports me. I have hope because I see change in our world for the better. And and I get to work with young people and may keep me vibrant and hopeful.


Sam Demma (21:38):
I love it. if someone would like to reach out and borrow some of your positive energy by ranging a phone call or asking you a question, what would be the best way for a fellow educator to get in touch with you?


Julie Mathé (21:51):
They can certainly access our school website, our St. Mother Theresa high school website. And my email address is right there.


Sam Demma (21:59):
Awesome. All right, Julie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It is a pleasure to have you keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Julie Mathé (22:07):
Thanks so much, Sam. I, it was my pleasure and it was nice meeting you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Julie Mathé

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.

Chris St. Amand – Leader of Experiential Learning at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board

Chris St. Amand - Leader of Experiential Learning at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board
About Chris St. Amand

Chris (@MrStAmand) was born and raised in beautiful Sarnia, Ontario. He left to attend University in London. He enjoyed four great years at King’s University College and completed his Teacher’s College at Western’s Faculty of Education. When he finished, he took the opportunity to travel to South Korea to teach English to Kindergarten students for a year and a half before taking time to backpack through Southeast Asia. 

When Chris returned in 2009, he began teaching with the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, first as an Occasional Teacher before being hired as a Grade 6/7 teacher. About 5 years into his career, an opportunity arose for him to work in curriculum, and he has enjoyed working as a Student Work Study Teacher (a classroom-based instructional research position), Intermediate Numeracy Lead, and now as Leader of Experiential Learning, a position he’s held since 2018 (with a brief detour teaching Grade 6 in his Virtual Elementary School this past year). Chris is very passionate about education and is so fortunate that he’s been afforded so many different opportunities throughout his career.

Chris is married to a wonderful partner who is better than him in almost every way, and together they have been blessed with two beautiful children who are his what, how, and why every day. Coffee keeps him going, reading keeps him learning, and people keep him happy!

Connect with Chris: Email | Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Clair Catholic District School Board

The suite of Reflection Strategies (Free resource)

Matt Sanders – Experiential Lead Learner at the Lambton Kent District School Board

The Transcript

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

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


Chris St. Amand (00:08):
Thanks Sam. Glad to be here. My name is Chris St. Amand. I am the leader of experiential learning at the St. Clair Catholic district school board, which encompasses the beautiful Chatham Kent area.


Sam Demma (00:22):
When did you realize in your own career journey and growing up as a student, that education was the field for you?


Chris St. Amand (00:30):
Well, I kind of, I kind of came into it pretty naturally to be honest. My parents were both retired educators and they truly loved their jobs. Now. They, they were terrific educators as well. Mm I know this because I still have, when people hear my last name, I live in the same town still that I grew up in. Oh, was your, was your mom or your dad teacher? They taught me. Oh, it was great. You know, I, I know they were good. They were good teachers and it, it, it showed through at home how much they enjoyed it. So that’s not a reason why you go into something, but it’s a good reason not to rule something out. We’ll put it that way. Yep. And I, I have always been a people person. I enjoy working with people talking with people.


Chris St. Amand (01:11):
So it’s a good fit there. But honestly it just, it, it just sort of happened. I, I became a lifeguard when I was 16 years old and I worked at a, a pool where part of the time was instruction. Part of the time was doing the lifeguarding pool stuff. And I loved it. I loved, I loved teaching. I got the same opportunity university to teach again at a higher level there students thoroughly enjoyed it, connecting with people. And then I thought, well, this, you know, why not teachers college? And every everything I’ve done since I taught for a year and a half in South Korea internationally, I’ve been an occasional teacher, a classroom teacher, summer learning teacher, a virtual teacher, a curriculum leader. And I’ve, I’ve, co-taught with some incredible colleagues and everything I do kind of reaffirms that this is the right profession for me. So I guess, I guess what I said is, is all the reasons I’ll stay in the job as, as much as why I got into it. It really is. It really is the right career for me.


Sam Demma (02:16):
You said something so quickly that it’s such a significant experience that I want to jump back and touch on for a second. And that’s teaching in South Korea. What brought you out there? And what was that experience like for you?


Chris St. Amand (02:31):
Yeah, so I, I finished teachers college in spring of 2007. So a while ago now , so the world was a little bit of a different place but there was just sort of a burgeoning overseas sort of teaching presence, you know, go teach in Japan, go teach in South Korea, go teach in India. There were a lot of opportunities and there have to be a lot of recruiters that are teachers college. And it wasn’t something I initially was drawn to. But a we sort of finished up and my roommate, one of my best friends and I, we finished each calls together, driving back. We kind of looked at each other and said, okay, you know what, we maybe need to do something before we started our career. So I ended up going to South Korea. He ended up teaching in Sweden.


Chris St. Amand (03:15):
But that, that’s how I got there. And it was uhcredible. I was teaching, I was high school qualified originally. I ended up teaching up a kindergarten immersion. Why not? seems like the next natural thing to do. But it was, it was great. It was the first time I got to live alone to understand myself. It was the first time. I really had sort of a program of my own and I’m grateful for that. And to be able to South Korea is a beautiful country and, and be able to explore that and use it as a travel point for all of Asia was just an, an incredible year and a half that I, I wouldn’t wouldn’t trade for anything.


Sam Demma (03:59):
And you’ve, you’ve, it sounds like you’ve done so many different roles in education now, you know, you can add to the list international teaching and yeah. Experiential learning. And you know, you said virtual teacher and kindergarten teacher and high school teacher and support teacher, and the list goes on and on out of all of the roles you’ve done, there’s no better roles in education, but for you personally, what has enabled you from your perspective to one have the most fulfillment and two feel the most meaningful meaning you’re making the biggest contribution or difference?


Chris St. Amand (04:36):
I, I like how you gave a preamble to that question, because I feel like every role I’ve had the opportunity to do that. Yeah. So I’m a little cautious to elevate one over the other. Yep. Although I will say the work I’m doing right now is experiential learning lead is affording me a lot of opportunities to reach a lot of students and and educators and, and sort of bring, bring programming to schools in a ways that you can’t do as a classroom teacher. You get your, your own kids and you control that ship. Yeah. But I get to work K to 12 I’ve got outdoor education in my portfolio. I’ve got all sorts of connecting with community partners. And, and I, I connect with a tremendous team of colleagues where we get to work on secondary and elementary programming, where I get to work on indigenous programming, ready to work on pathways programming for seven to 12, where I get to you know sit down with senior admin and think about what do we want to do for system level pieces. It it’s really, and, and then get a chance to connect with the community partners who I can help bring to schools. Yeah. Virtually in person, whatever that looks like. It’s, it’s, it’s sort of and I I’m sure we’ll talk about this later, but this year, especially has been challenging, but also has been full of opportunities in a way I wasn’t expecting when I return to the role. Yeah. And it’s been, it’s been pretty wild. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:18):
Well, let’s jump right in. What, what are some of the challenges that you think I’m sure there’s some obvious ones that all schools are facing, but what are some of the challenges you think the school and yourself have been facing and to dovetail with that, some of the opportunities that have come along or come to life because of the challenges?


Chris St. Amand (06:35):
Yeah. I mean, I’m not unique in this and yeah. And I know this cause I talked to, to my colleagues who do the same job I do in other boards and it’s no secret you know, COVID is the elephant in every room. Whether, whether you’re saying it or not, it’s there. But other things are exhaust. That’s sort of exacerbating some other things like you know, a shortage of occasional teachers. So it’s difficult to release people sometimes. Or if people are sick and jobs, can’t be filled, that’s a challenge too, right. That’s structurally that needs to be addressed. There’s difficulty running extracurricular programming right now, be that club sports or things with community partners where we want to get an awesome learning engagement, but we can’t get a bus there or they won’t let us in because of their policies.


Chris St. Amand (07:19):
And of course, family like educators, student staff, and family wellbeing has been stretched really thin for a lot of people. So everyone’s kind of in a different place with that. And I mean, all those challenges, I’m, I’m certainly not immune to, and, you know, been, been in different places in the last couple years as we all I, I guess, but to tie that all together in a bow, the biggest challenge I think that that sort of pulls all that together is we can’t as an education system, I think eventually. And certainly I’ll speak for our board. Yeah. We can’t do things the way we did them before. We can’t, the, the mechanisms may not work or other doors have been opened that are leading some really interesting ways of doing things. And, and for some, for some stuff, the, you know, the genie out of the bottle or the toothpaste is out of the tube, or, you know, you can choose whatever you you’re a metaphor is. We just can’t necessarily go back to the way we did things pre C for, for all those reasons. So that, that I guess is probably the biggest challenge is trying to figure out what is, what does it look like? What does good quality education look like with all these challenges and a new changing landscape?


Sam Demma (08:40):
And that question sounds like it’s the opportunity as well. And I’m, I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities have been along with those challenges and why it’s also been exciting in this role during this time.


Chris St. Amand (08:53):
Yeah. well, I mean, there are some, there are some serious opportunities right now and I’ve been able to kind of get creative with, with what I do. So I’ll, for example, outdoor education, I’ll put it this way. Traditionally our outdoor ed model was we would carve up our budget equitably among our schools by size population, socioeconomic needs, et cetera, and say, here’s your budget, go ahead and, and do something with it. And, you know, book, book, and trip, bring your kids to conservation area or you know except something like that, right? Yeah. Your classic like field trip. Right. but now I have this budget this year that I’m, I’m helping to kind of try and bring opportunities to teachers, but we haven’t really been able to leave schools and a lot of vendors won’t let us go there if we can.


Chris St. Amand (09:57):
So what we’ve tried to do is flip it and identify ways, opportunities to bring things to schools. And what we’ve found is that systemically people are loving it because there’s no travel, the costs are less and we can engage a number of classes in good experiential, outdoor education opportunities, whether that’s you know, someone from and it could be virtual as well. We’ve done a lot of virtual outdoor ed programming, like a local conservation area does a great live streaming where you connect to the class for an hour and they take you through the pond or biodiversity or something like that. Right. Yeah. It’s, it’s really cool. But they’ll also come and do nature in your backyard. Lots of sports opportunities under the outdoor ed piece, lots of lots of stuff like that. It’s been, it’s been pretty neat to, to do that.


Chris St. Amand (10:57):
So you know, another challenge too, is that people returning this year after last year, which was so disruptive, a lot of virtual or, or whatever trying to create opportunities that are seen as just that an opportunity, not an imposition. Mm. So here’s this opportunity, give it a, give it a try. And we’ve done with my colleague at, at our co-term board, Matt Sanders, we’ve done a lot of virtual programming. That’s been very successful where we put up a calendar for February most recently, and booked a lot of community partners. Some we paid for some were free and said, it’s free to schools drop in. If you can make it, if it works for you, that’s great. And they were live and interactive. And the feedback was tremendous between our two boards, we reached, we figure about 14,000 students over the course of the month.


Chris St. Amand (11:56):
Wow. which we would’ve had a fraction of. We were trying to bring those in person. Yep. You know, we just, first time we’ve done this too, we’re we hired a dance, a dance instructor, professional dance instructor. Oh, cool. To bring virtual dance instruction to our K eight schools. And we just wrapped up today with our 5, 6, 7, 8 classes. And over the course of the week, we had 7,000 students doing dance instruction. Wow. which again is just so, like she said, that’s how many, I, I wouldn’t see that many in a year and I saw that in a week. So when I say there’s opportunities, you know, if it can be a good quality thing that teachers can then take and supplement support or bring these opportunities to people again, as an opportunity, not an imposition, you don’t have to do this. No one said that it was free for them. Cuz you know, we, we paid for it centrally. Yeah. It seems to be what’s working for the class and you know, it, it, it’s an interesting model. We wouldn’t have been able to do pre pandemic cuz people weren’t there, the technology wasn’t there, the virtual comfort level, wasn’t there. That’s now there cuz it had to be


Sam Demma (13:05):
Talk about an opportunity for impact with mm-hmm such large groups. You’re right. If you brought a dance instructor into the school, max, they’re gonna be able to do two or three classrooms max 80, 90 students, not 7,000. Yeah. Which is amazing. I’m curious out of the programs, the school board has been running and you’ve, you know, you’ve been in so many various roles. You’ve definitely been a part of programs in many capacities. Do you have any stories of how a program has impacted a student that kind of come to mind? Then? The reason I ask is because I think one of the and it’s hard to quantify of course, like or, you know, narrow it down to one story. But one of the things that I think is really helpful in education is reminding educators that the work they’re doing is changing lives and like everyone plays a role and sometimes hearing about how a young person was changed or transformed is a reminder as to why they’re doing the work they’re doing.


Chris St. Amand (14:01):
Yeah. And I, I appreciate the question. And every time I get an email from a former student saying, how you doing, thank you for this. You know, it, it makes my, it makes my day, if not my week. Yeah. Cause it’s not prompted and it’s especially the farther way I am from teaching them. Yeah. It’s, it’s even nicer. Right. but yeah, I’ll share, I’ll share two stories if that’s okay. Sure. one is, one is sort of more technical and one’s, one’s more personal. Yeah. So, but, and both involved summer learning. So I was with the team that was able in a, in a previous role, I was a numeracy support teacher and I worked with my superintendent and some other, other people on our secondary team to bring in some summer learning to support grade nine, applied math, which spoiler is no longer a thing in 2022 that we’ve de streamed it.


Chris St. Amand (15:04):
But back in 2017/2018, it was, it was a big deal. And there were some serious equity pieces we were worried about with graduation rates with pass rates for grade nine applied. It was, you know, it was, it was considerable. So we built a program which we called head start and we, we put the mascot of our, our school in front of it. So St Sarnia high school St. Pat’s fighting Irish. So the Irish head start program and we invited grade eight students who had chosen grade nine, applied math to join us for a three day camp. And it was three half days. And part of it was not an oxymoron, fun math, where you get to meet your teacher. We had the grade nine applied teachers there just do some get used to the school.


Chris St. Amand (16:00):
And then we had some of the elective teachers tech, they made bottle rockets, music. They did some drum circles and some percussion stuff. Art, they did a project like that, you know, drama stuff, you know, those, those elective courses to Z, they got a chance to show off to the students like, Hey, maybe you didn’t take it for grade nine, but we’re here. And I’m a friendly face. Yeah. Well, we got guidance to meet them principals to meet them secretary staff, anyone who they’d be potentially chaplaincy, anyone who they’d be interacting with in grade nine. And the feedback was good. The, you know, the couple years we did it and I mean, the kind of stuff you’d expect, oh, this was great. I feel much more comfortable coming to school. And oh, you know, I liked, I liked, I like Jim and you know, like, you know, Mr.


Chris St. Amand (16:49):
San, get us better snacks, please. That sort of stuff was, was a food comment. Yeah. But here’s, here’s why I tell this story. It’s not something anyone said to me, but every single student, except for one past grade nine applied math. Wow. Compared to 70% of the rest of the population who passed. So it could be, you know, you could say, oh, causation is not correlation. I, I, I know that, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had that first year was 65 kids between our two high schools, all but one, and that was an attendance shift you passed, like that tells me we were on the right track. And even if it gets them in the right head space to do well and connects them with their teachers ahead gives them that head. Start. That to me is, is something that I’m really proud of the impact we had.


Chris St. Amand (17:41):
The other one is I had the opportunity to teach summer learning to elementary age students. So students who were going to grade three who were, who were needing a, maybe a bit of a bit extra math and literacy. So again, it was a, it was a whole day camp. The morning was math and literacy, the afternoon, some sort of experiential learning offsite or on we, we had fun with it. And the first time I did it was with a great great teacher, Erin leach, she and I kind of co-taught it nice compliment each other very well. And the kids went off and honestly, I didn’t, I didn’t see them again until this past fall. When I walked into a classroom at a high school, I was dropping something off for the Cosmo teacher. And I heard, Hey, and I’m wearing a mask too.


Chris St. Amand (18:28):
Keep in mind, I’m wearing a mask. I turned around and saying, hi, they’re like you taught a summer learning. Or a couple of ’em there said I did. They’re like, we loved that. We were so sad when it was over. We wanted to go back and like, again, I’m getting, you know, kind of chills just saying it again. It was just so unexpected. And I mean, you know, when you’re seven or eight years old to then be 14 years old to then number one, say that to a teacher, most, most kids don’t wanna talk to people they who previously taught them. But then to, to go out of their way to say that, cause I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have said anything. They were just kind of sitting in the back of the class. Right. It was, it was awesome. So, you know, those, those two stories about our extra summer programming are two I’m really proud of and had a, you know, a hand in, in planning and implementing.


Sam Demma (19:18):
It says a lot about the, the way you made them feel like sometimes some something that a lot of educators always tell me when I ask them some of their advice and we’ll get there soon for younger educators is, you know, sometimes students will forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel like the whole Maya Angelou idea and quote. Yes. And you know, they might not have remembered all of the content. You taught them in summer school, but they obviously remembered the environment and how it made them feel. And so, yeah, it’s really, it’s really cool to hear and reflect on that. And it, it goes to show you listening, you know, as a potential future educator that that’s the impact that you can kind of have on kids, hopefully one that lasts a lifetime. It, I’m curious to know some of the resources that you found helpful throughout your journey and all the various roles you’ve been in. Have you, have you created a dashboard of resources? and have you also, what have you also found helpful just personally for your own development?


Chris St. Amand (20:23):
Yeah. well, I’ll answer that backwards. The, the most helpful resource I found bar none is, is people fellow educators. And if I could say nothing else, it’s that it can be difficult, especially in your career to figure out, you know, what’s what, but if you can, if you can find one or two people who you click with and, and you agree with, and, and can have been doing it longer than you, and can maybe show you, show you some stuff or tell you some stuff or, or give you advice or point you in the right direction, it, it goes, it goes farther than any blog or book you could read. It goes farther than any, any lesson you could possibly teach in a classroom by itself is a one off it’s it’s integrated those, those friendships and partnerships are, are invaluable.


Chris St. Amand (21:22):
And teaching teaching, even though, you know, you think of the teacher teacher, class’s their own thing. It is a very collaborative profession. Mm we’re. Often we’re often collaborating with each other, sharing ideas, sharing resources, professional development is that collaboration model and teaching itself is moving more collaboratively teacher and student in a lot of, in a lot of circumstances where it’s appropriate kindergarten, right through grade 12. So I would say that is that, is it but I mean, there are some go-tos that said depending on, depending on the role. Yeah. So I’ll maybe it’s best to speak to the role I’m in now. I, again, working with Matt Sanders and this is why I say again, people is your resource, cuz they can push you and, and, and bring you places you didn’t, you couldn’t get by yourself.


Chris St. Amand (22:22):
We’ve, we’ve created a number of pieces to support ourselves as well as support educators. Not to get too into the weed, Sam, but when you think experiential learning there’s three pieces participate, reflect, apply, that’s sort of the cycle and it doesn’t have to go in that order, but you know, you do something reflect on it to, to learn something, to glean something from it and then apply it in some new context or to your life or whatever that is. Right. as, as educators, we’re really good to participate, pretty good at apply. The reflect is where it’s tough and what makes it even more tough is that if you look in any curriculum document or anything supported by the ministry of education there, it says dozens of times you need to reflect it. Doesn’t say how to reflect. Ah, that’s, that’s the challenge.


Chris St. Amand (23:17):
So, and that’s when I started in this role found very challenging. People would say like, what do you mean by reflect and be like, oh, I don’t know. So , that’s a great question. Let me, let me get back to you. So I said, I thought I need to have something to give people or have myself if they’re saying, what do you think I should do here? So I built with Matt, a database of reflection strategies pulled from tons of sources, nothing particularly original. It just sort of, it was a, it was just a Google sheet. It still exists. It’s a library and we use it regularly. It’s a library that is sorted by grade time resources needed. When, you know, when you do, before you do something during, after, or all three and it’s ways just to pull some of that reflection out it’s not exhaustive, but it it’s something that teachers have appreciated and we’ve been we use again quite, quite regularly. So, you know, again, nothing, nothing particularly original, but yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:22):
Well, the


Chris St. Amand (24:23):
It’s


Sam Demma (24:23):
Accessible, I guess that’s, what’s more important is that it’s accessible. Right? mm-hmm, , I mean, there’s ideas everywhere, but some people that don’t have access to them or know where to find them, you guys have created this super rich database. Where can someone go check that out if they’re interested in, in looking at it?


Chris St. Amand (24:40):
Yeah. It’s the it’s just, it’s free. It’s open access. It’s just bit.ly/reflectionstrategies. And that will take you right there. And yeah, you can, you can check it out. It’s open to everyone in the world. Anyone who wants to kind of check it out that it’s, you know, again, it’s not, not exhaustive and it’s grown since we we’ve, we, it started as reflection strategies, then we said, okay, how do you reflect using the curriculum? How do you reflect? You have to do something to reflect. So if you’re interested in a strategy, here’s some, you know, activities that you can do that are team building with your, your class.


Chris St. Amand (25:33):
Not put together a really nice piece about reflection question a day that gets your class talking. I used a lot of ’em when I was teaching last year, it was nice to have that resource. You know, if you could if you could, you know, not be one thing when you grow up, what would it be? Why like flip that question, stuff like that, right? Yeah. And it, that often leads to a very rich pathways discussion too. So, you know, it’s something that people can explore if they’re interested, but it’s, you know, it, it does, it does, it is aimed at that experiential learning and good activity beyond the four walls of your classroom.


Sam Demma (26:10):
Very cool. You mentioned human resources, people Bitly strategies or Bitly forward slash reflection strategies.


Chris St. Amand (26:20):
Yep.


Sam Demma (26:21):
If you could take your experiences in education, bundle them all up, travel back in time, top yourself on the shoulder when you were just starting your first job in education. What advice would you have given yourself, knowing what, you know now and gone through all these various experiences? Or what, what do you think you would’ve have liked to have heard at the start of your career or understood more at the start of your career?


Chris St. Amand (26:47):
Mm-Hmm yeah. I mean, God knows I’ve, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.


Sam Demma (26:59):
You’re human congrats.


Chris St. Amand (27:00):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s an interesting question because it, it is one, it’s one. I have trouble answering Sam because it, what I’ve done has gotten me to this place. And I feel like if I could tell myself any differently, it might be would


Sam Demma (27:22):
Change.


Chris St. Amand (27:23):
Let, let me rephrase. I’m so sorry. I’m gonna be that guy. Who’s gonna pick up our question. So like, I can’t think it through.


Sam Demma (27:30):
No that’s okay. Well, what if we looked at it from the aspect of there’s someone listening, who is just about to get into this profession yeah. And is super excited about it, but also extremely nervous. Like what, what, what would you tell someone who’s just getting into education? Who might need a little bit of encouragement or some insight?


Chris St. Amand (27:52):
Yeah. I’d, I’d say don’t fool yourself. It’s hard. Like it is, it is a it’s hard work and maybe something I wasn’t prepared for and nothing can really prepare you for it is that when you go out a classroom, your own and you don’t really you’re new, like, like anything, you don’t really know what you’re doing. I mean, you’ve been prepared in some ways, but nothing really prepares you for that. For that first class you have that first day you have, when you’ve got people looking at you expecting you to, to be there, to, to steer the ship. Right. Yeah. So I think, I think what I would say is connect with, connect with kids and make sure they’re taken care of and show them that you care, you know, and, and take the time to listen. And if you do that, it goes farther than anything.


Chris St. Amand (28:46):
The some of the best, best advice I ever, ever heard was five words. Tell me your future story. Mm. And I learned this at a bridges outta poverty workshop, which I had the privilege of attending twice. And a former principal of mine actually. He’s, he’s now the director when I worked for him had Scott Johnson. He had those words on his door and everyone, you know, has a future, but not everyone has a future story. And what does that mean? Some people can’t see themselves in the future. Some people are beholden to their circumstances or whatever. So having those conversations, showing that you, you care asking them, well, what, you know, what’s your, what are you gonna do? Like who, who are you? Who do you wanna be? What are your opportunities? Let’s help. Let’s find those out together. Whether that’s little, little, three year old kindergarteners who just starting, or, or a 17 or 18 year old, who’s just graduating.


Chris St. Amand (29:49):
It’s it doesn’t, it doesn’t change. I, I think, I think that’s it. And, and truly, I mean, it’s so cliche, but showing that you care, if, if you, you can’t fake that you have to actually care. And if you do you will have fewer, fewer issues across the board in terms of planning, in terms of student relationships and student of parent relationships and all that one other thing I’ll, I’ll say, and it kind of fits with it is don’t be, don’t be shy contacting parents, especially in the first week of school. Hmm. And don’t, don’t be shy to contact them for good things as well, share the successes that they don’t get to see let them know how, how beautiful their child is and, and what they’re doing so well, not just the bad news, because if you get ahead of it with the good news, it makes those, those more challenging phone calls or, or, you know, communications much, much smoother. And I, I don’t always practice when I preach. Cause cause life gets busy, but that’s something I kind of always, always strive for. And have, when I’ve been teaching,


Sam Demma (31:06):
I love it. Those are great pieces of advice and I appreciate you, you, you sharing, if someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea off you what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Chris St. Amand (31:21):
Yeah. So, I mean email, email is always good. I, I live on email, chris.stamand@sccdsb.net Also on Twitter at @MrStAmand. Good to connect there as well. And yeah, I I’m always open to an email and if someone wants to collaborate or ask questions, I, I love it. I think it’s, I think it’s how you get better.


Sam Demma (31:55):
Awesome. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Chris St. Amand (32:01):
Thanks for the opportunity, Sam. Cheers.

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Peter Bowman – Principal of Orillia Secondary School

Peter Bowman - Principal of Orillia Secondary School
About Peter Bowman

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

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

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

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

Connect with Peter: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Orillia Secondary School

Simcoe County District School Board

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations

Georgian Bay Secondary Association (GBSSA)

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (12:51):
Mm.


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


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


Sam Demma (14:25):
Mm.


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


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


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


Sam Demma (15:51):
Mm.


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


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


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


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


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

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


Sam Demma (20:01):
Yeah.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (25:45):
Mm.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Bowman

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

Dave Wilson – Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Dave Wilson - Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute
About Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson is the Principal of Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario. He has been Principal at CHCI since January 2020. Before that he was Principal at Glenview Park Secondary School in Cambridge. Both CHCI and GPSS are IB World schools and offer Ontario and International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Dave began teaching in the Waterloo District School Board in 1997, at Southwood Secondary School. He also served as Vice Principal at Galt Collegiate, Forest Heights Collegiate, and Glenview Park. Dave believes in the importance of extra-curricular activities at school to help students engage with school life beyond academics.

Dave enjoys travelling with his family and works towards finding work/life balance by participating in various athletic pursuits.

Connect with Dave: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Waterloo Region District School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

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):
Dave welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself.


Dave Wilson (00:09):
Thanks Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Dave Wilson. I’m a principal with the Waterloo region district school board. My school is Cameron Heights collegiate. We’re located in downtown Kitchener and I guess this is my 25th year in education. And I look forward to a few more!


Sam Demma (00:27):
thank you for, thank you for your service, sir. well, when did you realize growing up that education was the field for you and how did that journey unfold?


Dave Wilson (00:43):
Well, I guess I enjoyed school and I enjoyed the experiences that I was able to have at school. And so in high school I enjoyed playing sports and being in bands and other activities. And so I think I always knew I had an affinity for the educational environment. But I was from a family of educators you know, grandparents, parents aunts. So, and so I think, I thought I wanted to try to do something different. And so I, I went into journalism, went to journalism school and was working at a small, weekly newspaper I would in Canmore, Alberta. And I found, I was spending an awful lot of time in the local schools covering sports or education issues. And then I ended up coaching a basketball team and, you know, I kind of looked at what my career was gonna be like. And I thought, you know, maybe I shouldn’t fight it. Maybe teaching is really what I wanna do. So went back to teachers college and I ended up getting a job at my old high school, which was it was great great timing. It was a little odd though. I’m now working with people who taught me.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Oh, wow.


Dave Wilson (01:46):
Sort of 12 years later, I guess it was. But that’s, that’s sort of how I got started


Sam Demma (01:51):
Kenmore, Alberta, such a beautiful place. My cousins live out there. Did you en enjoy your time out there?


Dave Wilson (01:58):
Oh, I loved it out there. Yeah. Yeah, I really did. And one of our daughters is in working in ban right now. It’s sort of, we, we got them hooked and nice. Yeah, no, that’s a great place. Fantastic.


Sam Demma (02:11):
That’s awesome. What piqued your interest about journalism? Tell me more about that aspect of your journey.


Dave Wilson (02:19):
Well, I mean, I’m always interested in what people do and why they do it and, you know, journalism’s a way to be exposed to a lot of different things and you talk to different people learn about what they do. You know, there’s a, a variety to it. You, you get to I mean, one of the good and not good things about journalism, at least from my point of view was you’re you see a lot of things, but you’re unnecessarily part of a lot of things. And so the sort of difference between journalism and education is now I’m, I’m part of the, the sort of action as opposed to the observer of it. But it, it is, you know, that was the part that drew me to it in the first place.


Sam Demma (03:00):
Awesome. Take me back to finishing your credentials and degree for teaching and give us a peek into the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Dave Wilson (03:12):
Well so my wife had gone back to teachers college a year before me. She had also started in journalism and we were living in Ottawa and she has dual Canadian American citizenship. Mm. And there were no jobs you know, it was very difficult to find a job in Ontario at that time. So we considered going somewhere else. You know, somewhere in the states. And I got a call from a former roommate of mine who had always knew we wanted to be a teacher. And so by this time he’s already been teaching for five years and he said, you might not believe this, but there’s gonna be a job coming up. And I, I think you’re qualified. Why don’t you apply? Hmm. And so it was, you know, we got, so we got our applications together and we submitted them.


Dave Wilson (03:58):
It was one of the last times in our board that they used to essentially have like a hiring fair and all the candidates would meet at the ed center. And there were interviews happening all over the place. And so my wife and I came out of that the next day, both with jobs. And so we kind of looked at each other and said, well, we can’t really give these up. Like, you know, this is gonna be great. And we were at the same school and we were at the same school for nine years and, and we’re still married. So that was good.


Sam Demma (04:26):
I was, I was gonna say education during the day education at home education everywhere.


Dave Wilson (04:33):
We’d make rules about talking about school. Yeah. I had to, you had to stop at a certain point.


Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. So after those initial nine years, what did the remainder of the journey look like to fill the 25?


Dave Wilson (04:46):
Well, I I took some courses so that I could pursue administration. Nice. And so I in our board you apply for a pool. So a vice principal pool. I got into the pool in the next year I was placed. And that was kind of fun. I got placed at the school where my, my father had been the principal and my mother had taught there. So it was it was interesting, you know, there were still a couple people left there that my dad had worked with. And my mom had worked with, so it was, it, it was a fun experience. It things went fairly well. I learned a lot and it was, yeah, I, I enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (05:26):
Was that a inground pool or aboveground pool? Yeah. That’s good thought was just joking. That’s


Dave Wilson (05:35):
Good. That’s awesome. I didn’t, the student here just asked me if we could get hot tubs, but


Sam Demma (05:38):
Really? Yeah. Yeah. Well, how do you respond to that?


Dave Wilson (05:42):
I, well, there is a swimming pool in this building owned by the city of kitchen. And I said, maybe we can just turn the heat off in that for


Sam Demma (05:48):
You. Nice.


Dave Wilson (05:48):
she didn’t like that.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s funny. So what are the different roles that you played in schools and of those roles, which have been from your perspective, very fulfilling and meaningful, and maybe the I’ll have, and you can touch upon why?


Dave Wilson (06:04):
Well, it, I mean, there’s certain different aspects to it. When I was a teacher, I coached a lot. I’ve coached a little bit as an administrator and the relationships you develop during any kind of extracurricular activity with kids, they can be the, the most fulfilling, right? Those are the kids that you know, you meet up with 10, 15 years later kind of thing, and see how they’re doing or you see them around town. So those experiences were really rewarding in administration. It’s more there’ll be specific student situations where maybe you’ve been able to help. And when you’re a vice principal, sometimes maybe the student doesn’t realize you’re helping ’em in the moment mm-hmm right. But, but, you know we look at it like, you know, a student might make a mistake, but we want them, we wanna help them learn from it so they can be successful in the long term. Right. So you know, you have to, you have to find your successes and your satisfactions in sometimes small interactions with families, things you can do to help them, that kind of thing.


Sam Demma (07:11):
Gotcha. That’s awesome. Along your journey, through education, working in different roles, did you have other educators that mentored you? And if so, who are some of those individuals and what do you think some of the things you took away from their instruction or example?


Dave Wilson (07:29):
Well, there’ve been too many to sort of count and name them all. You know, I think I had teachers that I would say I used as role models, you know, like I can think of a couple of my history teachers in high school, and I can think of some coaches. I remember when I was filling in as a vice principal before I was a vice principal, kinda learning how to do it. You know guy named Bruce deacon was the principal at the time. And I remember we had a, we had a challenging situation and he, he kind of sat me down and he said, Dave, you have to remember that after all this is done, everybody involved is coming back to the school, right? Like, is there was some conflict involved? I think it was a, a bullying situation.


Dave Wilson (08:13):
And he is like, so you’ve got a plan for what to do to react to it. What are you gonna do? You know, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, or to make sure these kids can get along, that kind of thing. And it was little moments like that he, you know, would take the time to you know, gave me some guidance that helps kind of helps you frame what you’re gonna do. Like you have to do these jobs, kind of you do it on your own, but you do it in consultation with other people, you know, it makes it more fun and you’re better at it. If you do it that way too,


Sam Demma (08:42):
A hundred percent human resources is one resource, right. You can learn from other people. You also can learn from courses, books, other things. Are there any videos you’ve watched or books or courses or things you’ve been a part of that you think had a positive impact on the way you approach education or how you show up every day?


Dave Wilson (09:04):
Well, it’s, this is a fairly recent example, but I’m an instructor for the Ontario principals council teaching the principal’s qualification program. Oh, nice. And, and so, you know, if you’ve ever had to teach anything, you realize that’s one of the best ways to become, you know, more of an expert in that field. Right. So I’ve been watching all those videos and reading things and it’s hard to pick out one in particular, but it’s just that experience of going through the course with my students. It, it helped me as well. Right. You know, it just you know, the number of good questions they ask, some of which I have an answer for right away and others I’m like, yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure what I do in that situation. I’ll get back to it. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:48):
That’s awesome. Not knowing the answer and being okay with it. And honest, I think is a really important aspect of education. Not only education, but any career you get into, because we’ll always find ourselves in situations where we, where we don’t know the answer. How do you deal with those situations?


Dave Wilson (10:07):
Well, I mean, one of the things I tell the principal candidates, and I try to remind myself is that very few decisions that we make have to be made in the moment. Mm. Right. Like usually things you can take your time and, and try to have a more thoughtful approach. There are other other times when you’re sort of put on the spot and if you, if you don’t know, you’re better off just saying, you don’t know. Right. Like it, you if you, if you guess, and paint yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of, then that’s not doing any good. So you know, just, and at the same time acknowledge sometimes, and people might be impatient, right? They, people want answers to things. They want to know what to do. And it’s, you know, you can imagine the last two years of during the pandemic, the number of questions about what we can do and can’t do. And so on,


Sam Demma (10:58):
Got you. That makes total sense. One aspect of education that excites me, and it sounds like it’s something that excites you and everyone else that I’ve talked to is the potential of positive impact on young people, right? Like the, at the heart of education is, you know, helping a student realize their own potential. And in the hope that what you teach them and share with them will set them up for success for whatever path they choose to pursue in the future. I’m curious. If you can remember of a program that transformed a student or a situation where you kind of saw a student trans transform in a school, maybe it was, you know, one of your classes or someone else’s class that you heard of. And if so, share a little bit a, share a little bit of that story. And if it’s serious, you know, maybe change their name and whatnot.


Dave Wilson (11:48):
Well, there was a student at at a school who it has autism and a couple other behavioral challenges connected to autism. And when I got to the school, I was her vice principal and she would have outburst, regular outbursts, maybe, I don’t know, two or three times a week.


Sam Demma (12:12):
Mm-Hmm.


Dave Wilson (12:13):
And, and I’m not taking any credit for this cuz I was really just kind of, sort of managing some of her some of the services she was getting and our staff kind of worked with her intentionally over and over and her, she had great support from home. And by the time she was in grade 12, she was achieving at a high level and was very successful. And it, it, it was rewarding because it wasn’t just one person that had helped that, that kid, it was a number of people. And so there, there are a few stories like that and it when you have someone say, come in in grade nine and they’re having real challenges, it helps drill look back on those kids, you know, came in, in grade nine, had challenges and then worked it out by grade 12. You know, so, so it, those kind of stories, their, their heartwarming, and it’s one of the perks of being the principles I get to sign all their diplomas and, you know, sometimes the opponent you’re like, yeah, I guess we did. We got this kid there, he’s graduating, you know? Yeah. And it’s, there would’ve been moments in the previous four or five years where you would’ve said, that’s probably not gonna happen. So


Sam Demma (13:21):
Something, you mentioned the word perks and it, it sparked my memory, something, my economics teacher, Mr. Belmonte taught me in grade 12 was opportunity cost. When you decide to pursue one opportunity, you’re you cancel out the opportunity to pursue anything else in that time or moment. With that in mind, what is the opportunity cost of being a principal? So share some of the perks and also what you think are some of the more challenging aspects of it. Because I would imagine as a teacher passionate about, you know, teaching kids, it might be hard to leave the classroom at times. But there’s obviously some perks and also some challenges to all rules.


Dave Wilson (14:02):
Yeah. I mean that day to day contact with kids in that, you know, I mean, I have day to day contact with kids. I see them in the school, but it’s not the same as when you’re their classroom teacher or you’re their volleyball coach or whatever. Right. And so I have to kind of go outta my way to, to get to know some of those kids. So for example, you know, I’ll be asking our student council leaders to come to our school council meetings. So I get to know those kids. But that, that is an opportunity cost of being a principal is you, you lose a little bit of that day to day contact or that opportunity to build those relationships. On the other hand, I’ve got a bit of flexibility and that I get to be sort of part of a little part of everything, right? Like I go to all the different games and I see the different performances, especially when it’s not COVID and right. And so, you know I get to have influence on the hiring and staffing of the school, which it seems like a really dry topic, but it helps make all those other things happen for kids.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Love it. And it, for somebody who’s thinking about getting into education right now, there could be an, a potential educator listening. Who’s just finishing their credentials, super excited about teaching, but equally nervous. If you could take all the experiences you’ve had bundle them up almost like travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Dave, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting knowing what you know now, what would you have kind of told you younger yourself or for other future aspiring people who wanna work in education?


Dave Wilson (15:42):
I think I tell them that when kids come to school for the vast majority of them and majority of time, they’re not, they’re not coming to school for the math and they’re not coming to school for the French. And they’re, they’re, they’re coming to school for the relationships and the way that environment makes them feel right. And so they wanna see their friends, but they also want caring adults to connect with them and they want to learn. And so maybe you get back that maybe you get to the math and the French and the science, but you you’re teaching the individual right. Each and every one we say in Waterloo, you’re trying to reach them. And you want them to have a positive experience and a positive relationship with you so that you can help them. I think if you, if you get into teaching and you think it’s all about your subject matter I think you’re gonna miss the mark. It’s, it’s about more than that. And it, if nothing else, the pandemic has certainly shown us that, that, you know, it’s the kids for the most part are craving that kind of social connection that they can get at school. And you, you’re an important part of that as a teacher.


Sam Demma (16:54):
How do you think as a teacher, or even as administrator, you build relationships with students, like what does that look like in a classroom or in your role?


Dave Wilson (17:05):
That’s a good question. Because when we’re interviewing people, we ask them basically that same question, like, what exactly do you do? You know? Yeah. Just told me, I just, that same mistake you, you told me you build relationships. What do you do? Well, I mean, there’s some simple things, like you take some interest in, in their lives and what they like to do, you know, if you’re if you’re an English teacher and you’re trying to find texts that kids want to read, you take the time to ask them what they like, and you respond like just basic human things. You, you ask, ’em how they are. And if they, if they don’t seem right, you, you do something, you, you talk to talk to the kids. It’s you know, they, what’s the that’s saying you’ll, you’ll what somebody said to you, but you’ll remember how they made you feel. It’s those kind of moments over and over and over again, that that’s how you build relationships.


Sam Demma (17:57):
I love that. Well, if someone wants to build a relationship with you reach out, ask you a question based on this conversation. Maybe they’re an educator who’s just getting into this and would love to have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out?


Dave Wilson (18:13):
I think the best way probably to use my board email and contact me that way.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Sounds good. I will include your email and the show notes of the episode. So anyone who’s interested can access you there. But Hey, thank you so much, Dave, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. I, I hope you enjoyed the experience and keep up the great work we’ll we’ll talk soon.


Dave Wilson (18:55):
All right. Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Wilson

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.