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Experiential Learning

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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris St. Amand

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

Peter Bowman – Principal of Orillia Secondary School

Peter Bowman - Principal of Orillia Secondary School
About Peter Bowman

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

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

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

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

Connect with Peter: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Orillia Secondary School

Simcoe County District School Board

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations

Georgian Bay Secondary Association (GBSSA)

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (12:51):
Mm.


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


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


Sam Demma (14:25):
Mm.


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


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


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


Sam Demma (15:51):
Mm.


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


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


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


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


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

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


Sam Demma (20:01):
Yeah.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (25:45):
Mm.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Bowman

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

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.

Brian McKenzie – Principal at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School

Brian McKenzie - Principal at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School
About Brian McKenzie

Brian McKenzie (@pforilla)has more than 30 years of experience in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Armed with a B.Ed. From Western in 1992, he joined the staff of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia as an English teacher and enjoyed more than ten years of teaching everything from English to Philosophy to Data Processing.

He moved from the classroom to the school office in 2004 and since then, he has served as vice-principal and principal in 6 schools and at the board office in privacy and information management.

With his wife Christine, a teacher, he has three adult children, two standard-issue cats, and a beautiful backyard where he spends summers watching the Blue Jays. He is currently the Principal of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia, where his teaching career began.

Connect with Brian McKenzie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia

Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

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


Brian McKenzie (00:08):
Sure. My name is Brian McKenzie and I’m principal of Patrick Fogerty Catholic Secondary School in Orilla Ontario.


Sam Demma (00:13):
When did you realize when you were a student pursuing careers, that education was gonna be the vocation for you?


Brian McKenzie (00:22):
Well, I think I’d began in high school. I had been kind of a student who liked to help other students with with tutoring and with helping out with courses. I I was I was never really one initially for public speaking or presentations, but I was as a result of taking one of my, one of my high school courses where I was forced to presentation. And I found that I actually had some skill and some talent that you know, leading a class and, and, and doing that kind of that kind of thing. When I got into when I got into university, I took a number of courses where having, again, having to do presentations and seminars, where a component of the course, and I found that I had to talent for it.


Brian McKenzie (01:07):
I became a, a TA in my in my fourth year and a graduate assistant. And I was working on my master’s degree. And then after I finished, I, I became a a session instructor at the university as well for a while. I found that you know, being in a classroom was a, was a natural fit for me. And I enjoyed it and I found that other people recognized my students and my colleagues and the other professors wanted to reinforce and and, and compliment my my, my classroom ability. I just found it was a good fit for me, a very natural fit. And I, and I have always enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Did you have educators tap you on the shoulder and tell you, you, you should consider getting into teaching? Was that something that ever came in your journey?


Brian McKenzie (01:55):
Yeah, I wouldn’t say explicitly. I think that became a little bit later you know, when I was in university where I was encouraged to, to apply, to be, you know, a session instructor and, and as a graduate assistant, I think that came a little bit later. I don’t think it was so much that somebody explicitly said to me in high school or, or university, you should be a school teacher or, you know, get into high school so much as just that I was good at what I was doing.


Sam Demma (02:23):
Got it. Yeah, that makes, that makes sense. For someone who’s listening to this who thinks might be the thing for them, but is on the edge in a nutshell, why do you think education is one of the best jobs in the world?


Brian McKenzie (02:42):
oh, simple question. Yeah. Well, I, I think people often get caught up in in believing that teaching is is, is kind of a day to day activity. And I think we’ve gotta look more holistically at what education is. Mm. I’d heard it described when I, when I was much younger as it’s the process of transferring civilization from one generation to the next we’re engaged in a huge, huge responsibility. And it’s not just about, you know, the, the individual subjects or the individual kinds, the things that we do on a daily basis, but it, it’s more holistically about the importance of ensuring that we’re creating a future that we all wanna live in and, and excuse me. And I, and I think education is, is is a tremendously important part of separating us from are, you know, from, from the distant past of, of of superstition and of primitivism and of a lot of a lot of a lot of attitudes and beliefs that we are best leading behind.


Brian McKenzie (04:00):
I, I, you know, I remember as a, as a younger teacher teaching north prize, the educated imagination, and, and he goes at in great detail into what is the importance of education. And it’s literally, it is about creating the world that we want to live in. And, and again, you know, I, I, I’ve often heard this one too. I, I, I gotta retire into the world that the younger generation’s gonna run. So I’ve got him make sure that I’m setting the conditions for a, for a, a comfortable life for my generation and ensuring that the world is better than we’ve been than I found it.


Sam Demma (04:36):
Hmm. I love that that’s a worthy pursuit. from the moment you decided you wanted to get into education what did the journey look like? So take me back and take me through the steps that brought you from where you started to where you are today.


Brian McKenzie (04:55):
Okay. So, as I mentioned I was working as a as a, as a professional instructor at the, I was at the university of Windsor where I graduated. Yep. And my initial intent was to be a lawyer. I had known a couple of a couple of classmates who had pursued the law. And it, it seemed like an interesting thing to me when I was in high school and when I was in my first couple of years at university. But as I, you know, as I progressed through, I realized that that wasn’t really a good fit for me. So it was it was in it was in my time that I was working as an instructor, that I started exploring what it, you know, what it was required to be, to get into the faculty of education.


Brian McKenzie (05:40):
I don’t come from a family with with extensive education background my, on my mother and my father’s side most of the family were blue collar and and or semiprofessional workers that weren’t necessarily highly educated in terms of multiple, you know, secondary degrees had one uncle who’s who’s a university professor, but that was about, about it. So, so the notion of higher education and extensive multiple, you know, multiple degrees and going on to education, wasn’t really stressed, very highly in my band. This was kind of a, a, a process of self exploration and, and I found, you know, what’s involved in, in, in becoming a teachers, another, you know, going to school for another degree and spend more time. And, and that was very attractive to me, just when I, when I love that what was involved in, in the year of of, of the faculty of education.


Brian McKenzie (06:43):
And I saw what the courses were, they saw what it involved that was really attractive to me. And, and I applied to, I can’t remember what schools anymore. I ended up at the university of Western Ontario for the faculty of ed. And I, you know, I, I immersed myself in that. I had a great time there. And and you know, maybe I was very fortunate that you know, it was in the early nineties when teaching jobs were pretty scarce as they, as they have been for the last few years. But I was fortunate to end up getting a job right out of laid out of my graduate.


Sam Demma (07:23):
That’s awesome. And throughout the experience and the different roles and positions you played in education which of them have been from your perspective? Some of the most meaningful, and I, I’m sure it’s hard to compare the roles , but maybe the, the different pros and cons in different positions you’ve played throughout education.


Brian McKenzie (07:47):
Yeah, well, yeah, I started as a classroom teacher. I became in fact, I started as a classroom teacher at the school I’m currently at where I’m now principal 30 years ago. And, and I very much loved that being in a classroom and working with, especially in a smaller community is is very rewarding because you know, unlike unlike working in a larger city or a municipal school board where the schools are very large, this is a very, a relatively small school at the time. They only about 500 students when they started teaching the class were very small. The, it was very possible to get to know all the kids. It was a fairly close knit community because we are a Catholic high school. We’re the only Catholic high school in town. So we also had some tight integration with our church and with our parish and with our elementary school feeders schools.


Brian McKenzie (08:41):
And so you get to know each other very well and very closely. In fact, some of the students that I taught back in the nineties are parents of the school now. And so I, you know, I’ve known them for many, many years and that, that is a, that’s really exciting. And that’s really rewarding work because getting to know kids you know, not just in, in the classroom, but also seeing them out in the community, seeing them, the church, seeing ’em at the, you know, the Saturday morning market and all those kinds of things. It does foster a much greater sense of community. I left here and in 2002 and went on a, like a 17 year odysey of working in a number of different schools, as well as at our school board. And all of them brought different things in different rewards and, and had to create great advantages.


Brian McKenzie (09:33):
I worked in as an elementary principal, I’ve worked as a secondary principal. I’ve worked as a, as assistant to the superintendents at the board office. I’ve worked in information management and they’ve all brought the different perspectives on education. I you know, I, I, I feel that I’m much better running a school after having at some time working in the board off, being the bigger picture of how our system works from seeing things from the, from the, from the administrative side of the board, as well as from the, from the school side. And it’s given me the ability to, I think to provide a much I don’t wanna say more rational, but at at least a much more balanced approach to, to running a school and, and what kinds of programs and services I can offer to do.


Brian McKenzie (10:30):
I’ve never regretted, not, you know, leaving the classroom and beginning into administration. I miss being in a classroom sometimes. Mm. And I you know, I was a, I was a very dedicat English teacher when I was a teacher. And I know that I could walk into an English class right now today if I needed to and, and, and, and and lead the class and have a lot of fun with it. So I never really felt that I, I lost that that ability, but but I, I, I don’t see it as having lost in any of as much as having gained a lot more and having the, the responsibility for shaping the instruction across the entire school is very exciting. And, and it’s very rewarding work in and of itself because you can see over the course of a, of a school year, you can see the growth and you can see the the progress that the students make.


Sam Demma (11:22):
You’re probably a lot closer to viewing the future of education or how, you know, education is changing and shifting. What are some of the things that you think have changed over the past two years due to the, the global pandemic and moving forward that you think are positively changing in education.


Brian McKenzie (11:43):
But, well, definitely the pandemic has accelerated our, our efforts for what we’ve been calling 21st century learning. And what 21st century learning is about is using much more than just the traditional, you know, teacher in front of the classroom tools and and approaches to, to teaching and learning, and have many more influences on their ability to learn than just a classroom teacher. When I started teaching, if kids wanted to know something about Shakespeare, they had to go to their whole, their high school English teacher, or they had to go to the public library. And there wasn’t a whole lot of other ways, or, you know, or, you know, if their parents had invested in second Britanica, but there weren’t a whole lot of ways to obtain knowledge outside of traditional classroom structures. Now over the last you know, 20, 20, so years as, as with the rise of of the internet, and even more specifically with the rise of specific social media channels, there’s a much wider opportunity and, and much greater opportunity for students to, to, to learn things on their own or to be exposed to different perspectives.


Brian McKenzie (13:00):
So the job of schools now, and we’ve seen this very explicitly occurring over the last couple of years with the pandemic, the jobs of schools now is to harness that and to kind of filter it and to organize it in a way that makes it you know, I don’t wanna say constructivist, but you know, in a way that is provides some logical progression in learning, you know, I have kids of my own and, and, you know, long before they ever got to high school, my, my son’s in particular had in depth understanding and knowledge of physics from playing some some computer games and, and video games, and could rattle off all kinds of things about trajectory and speed and velocity, and, and a lot of, a lot of fairly advanced physics classes. They had no clue of the science behind it, or the math behind, but they kind of understood it.


Brian McKenzie (13:56):
So taking the time now to back up and explain how it all works, the math thing it is, is an important role for a classroom teacher. But we, we, we do have to do it in a, in a, in a very careful and structured way to ensure that the kids aren’t just coming away with, with the head of facts, without any understanding behind it, but going forward. What I, what I really see is, is the potential that’s going to be very positive is the opportunity for teachers to very much be instead of gatekeepers, very much facilitators and very much coaches who help the students to understand and, and and focus on how they acquire learning, as opposed to just simply learning things.


Sam Demma (14:47):
We talked a little bit about alternative pathways on our first planning call also. And it’s understanding that, you know, every pathway is a valid option and every learner might be a little bit different. How do you kind of foresee school supporting those students with the D streaming of, of courses and everything that’s changed now in education as well?


Brian McKenzie (15:14):
Well, pathways have been really important to us over the last 20 years. We’ve really focused a lot on shaping an, an education program for the individual student. Yeah. 30 credit sent out is is, is not any anymore, really the model for a lot of students. We have students who take some credits through the day program here at school. Some they take through e-learning outside of school. Some they take in summer school. We have the opportunity for students to get into apprenticeships, to get into reach ahead credits in their, in their postsecondary, through colleges. The idea of students, again, just sitting passively in the classroom and listening to teachers talk is, is, is long. You know, it’s pretty much long gone. I think even you may have experienced this in your own high school experience, but there there’s much more opportunity for kids to get out of the classroom and learn through experience.


Brian McKenzie (16:13):
So I, I think you know, some changes are coming from the ministry of education, include a greater emphasis on experiential learning, a greater emphasis on e-learning and a greater emphasis on, you know, exploring what not even state exploring of, of, of ensuring that there are stronger opportunities for the, the, or the skill trades. And and technology based programs is, is going to be, is going to be really important too many, too many years in Ontario. You know, and probably by extension, the rest of Canada, the perception has been that the only marker of secondary or post-secondary success is a university degree , and, and it’s an unfortunate belief. You know and, and then even, even in, in terms of a postsecondary degree, we tend to identify a very narrow slice of, of postsecondary education as being valid or valuable.


Brian McKenzie (17:15):
You know, I, I often when we have arts nights here at the school, we have a school called cert, or we have a drama presentation or something. I always remind the parents who are the people that we most admire in society. There are actors, there are musicians, there are artists of all different stripes, but when kids say to their parents, they’re interested in a career in the arts, the parents laugh at ’em and tell ’em, that’s a hobby. You, you get a real job being accountant. I, I think we need to make sure that we’re offering a much wider range of experiences for students and, and a, and a wider range of, of postsecondary pathways to help them arrive at what they see as personal success, as opposed to what somebody else measures as success based on something as narrow as a paycheck or, or a specific post secondary diploma.


Sam Demma (18:06):
Ah, I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, pursuing this podcast is an artistic expression, and some people would say, you’re crazy. This is what you spend your days doing


Brian McKenzie (18:18):
But yeah, well, a hundred percent. Right. And, and, and the thing is, is that maybe you’re not using the specific education you receive, but yeah, I can guarantee that’s not a whole lot of what you’re doing that you, and doesn’t rely on education that you’re receiving


Sam Demma (18:32):
A hundred percent.


Brian McKenzie (18:32):
Do it without having been educated, but you don’t necessarily, you know, and that’s the same thing in my job. I, I don’t really, I was an English teacher, as I said, and a history teacher, I don’t really get to use a whole lot of my knowledge of you know, 17th century poetry in my daily job, but there’s no a way I could be doing my job right now. If I hadn’t been as a as well educated as I was. And education doesn’t necessarily mean, like I said, it doesn’t just necessarily mean a university degree in a very narrow slice of what are considered to be valid. Occupations. Education comes from a lot of different different sources. It includes, you know, like I said, includes hands on learning through the trades and or through technology programs, it includes travel. You know, you can see you know, your listeners won’t see, but you can see I’m wearing a a sweatshirt that says Kenya on it.


Brian McKenzie (19:23):
Our school board has been actively engaged for the last 15 years and what we call service learning, where we’ve taken students to a number overseas destinations to work on school projects. And and we integrated with a multi credit program here at the school, so that they’re understanding the global context with what they’re doing. We’ve had trips from everywhere from China to south America, to Africa, to India where students have explored you know, the opportunity to work in in, in community development project. And, and, and it’s, those, those experiences have changed their, their lives. They have into been the countries that they never could have imagined visiting and seeing things that they never could have imagined seen. And it’s changed. In many cases, it changed the trajectory of their own careers, and they became more involved in social justice and, and development work or, or law or other areas that that have provided them with a much more rewarding and much more rewarding career than they might have initial that they were going to have.


Sam Demma (20:34):
It’s amazing. I know your school does a great job with the social justice programming and programs. I’m curious though, for yourself over the course of your career, what resources, even maybe people resources, but what resources have you found helpful in building your own philosophy and also tangible actions that you’ve taken in education? What resources have helped shape those things?


Brian McKenzie (21:01):
Well, I, I think the the greatest resource that we have in education is our colleagues. Mm. There’s an old joke that that, you know, well, it’s too likely to get into here. It’s okay. But just spice it to say that, you know, that, that, you know, there’s the old joke that you know, those who can’t teach or those who can’t do teach. Right. And, and, and, and that’s not at all, and that’s not at all true. What I do know is that some of the smartest and some of the most capable people I’ve met in my life have been my colleagues in education and whatever, I think I know whatever I think I’m good at. I spend sometimes 15 minutes, 20 minutes chatting with somebody at a meeting or in a conference call or something like that. And, and I learn something new.


Brian McKenzie (21:51):
I come away having learned something new every time because everybody has their own everybody has their own kind of way of learning for themselves as well. So if we take, you know, me sitting home alone or sitting at night on, you know, browsing on my computer and I, and I, and two or three new facts multiply that times to thousands of teachers in, in the system and the thousands of kids. And we’re all bringing that information back to the back to school together you know, education, isn’t just a one way isn’t just a one way thing. Schools are a place for where everybody learn. And, you know, when I, when I, I talk to my colleagues, when I hear ideas, we’ll, we bounce ideas off. Each other people ask for advice and people give advice. There there’s a lot of a lot of really powerful learning that can take place just in a, in a, in a, you know, on a casual conversation more, you know, more formally as I said, I spent a couple of beers in, in information management and several years working, you know, at the board off level doing that kind of stuff.


Brian McKenzie (23:02):
And what I’ve learned from what happens around the world in other places. You know, again, we often have the perception that we’re, you know, here in Ontario, we’re doing everything right. We’re, we’re the, we’re the pinnacle of, of educational achievement, but there are other places around the world that are far ahead of Ontario in, in a lot of areas and and do a far better job than, than we do in, in, in a lot of things. You know, I think of some jurisdictions where kids don’t even start school until they’re seven, whereas the, in Ontario get them into school as early as possible, starting as you as three. And yet schools that start kids later, you know, at age seven, in many ways, our, our have better outcomes for, for students than, than what we have here. When we’re starting in that three.


Brian McKenzie (23:54):
You I’ve learned a lot from studying how, you know, those other jurisdictions do things, how they make up for the lost time that, well, the perception of lost time by having kids start four year later, well, what are they doing for that? You know, from the time between H three agent, what are they doing? What are they doing? yeah, I mean, we are, we all have to recognize that whatever it is that we think we do well, there are other people who do things, do things well and sometimes even better, we can’t be so high bound in our own way of doing things that we can’t we can’t learn from them.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I love that perspective. And even if you approach every situation, thinking, you can learn something from the other party, you’ll probably one enjoy the experience talking to someone else or being around someone else, or being exposed to something new. And the chances are, you probably will take something away from that interaction. So I think it’s a good perspective.


Brian McKenzie (24:56):
Yeah. You know, and I, and I, and I do try to approach things that way when I was, when I was younger, it was, I’m gonna tell you something , and, and now it’s gonna be, can you please tell me something? I, I, you know, I’ve, I’ve learned that as well is that I have to be, you know, much more in a receptive mode than in a transmi mode. And and, and, and that’s where I’ve I think that’s, like I said, by, by just by talking to people, that’s where I’ve gained the most. I used to, I used to go to a lot more, again, when in my information management, I used to go to a lot of conferences. That’s where, that’s where I had to learn to sit down and be quiet. Cause most of the people in the room were a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than I was. And if I was going to be of any value in the role I had to learn to listen more than than talk and then be able to bear my, you know, my, my, my new learnings with with my colleagues.


Sam Demma (25:53):
I love it. Th this probably dovetails really nicely with my next question, which is, if you were able to take all your experiences and in education bundle, ’em up, go back in time to the first class you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Brian, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting, knowing what you know now and the experience you have, what would you have told your younger self?


Brian McKenzie (26:19):
Oh man. Well the same thing that I’m telling my, my teachers here in my school now is that you can’t push students to learn more than they’re ready you to learn at any given time. Mm-Hmm what does, you know? And, and I, and I, I guess what I’m referring to specifically is the experience that we’ve just gone through over the last two years. We have gotten into the, the, into the, you know, into a mindset where we think we’ve lost time. We’re losing time, we’re losing time. And, and that the solution to the lost time is to accelerate base accelerate the, you know, the rate of learning, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t say to a student who’s behind, I’m gonna, you know, jam you with more work to get you caught up. It just, it just won’t work.


Brian McKenzie (27:20):
You know, back in the, in the early nineties, there was, again, the baby bit of a, a bit of a story. There’s old episode of the Simpsons where the, the family moves to Colorado and they, Homer takes a new job working in a new power plant. And Bart ends up in a, in a special ed cloth because he’s behind the other kids in, in the new school that he’s in and the teacher is doing, you know, it’s a, it’s a silly team. The teacher is doing a joke, or it’s a bunch of kids sitting around the table and she’s gonna teach them to letter a and Bart says, let me get this straight. We’re behind the other kids. And we’re going to catch up to them by going slower than they are. And I’ve always that that line has always stuck with me as a teacher and as an administrator.


Brian McKenzie (28:06):
I, you know, again, it’s a funny throw away kind of line, but there’s some wisdom in it too, because oftentimes this is what the situation we, we, we put our, our students into is that we think that you’re behind so that the, the, the better way, the best way thing we need to do is to jam you with more work, which means slowing you down when students are behind. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop the bus and figure out where are we, why are people being left behind? If, you know, if one or two kids are, are, are behind, okay. Yeah, we can, we can check into their, their work habits, or we can look into their, into their skills, but if an entire class or an entire school is behind, then maybe we gotta stop and figure out what it is we’re doing and are, you know, what is the, what is the source?


Brian McKenzie (28:57):
What is the cause? And what can we do to help get everybody back on track? Often use the, the metaphor of the, you know, if there’s an old story, I don’t know how true it is, but there’s an old story that you know, the British rail system at one point decided that in order to make sure the buses ran on time, it would stop picking up passengers. Right? So if the bus, if the bus had to, you know, left the Depot at 8:00 AM, and it was due at its first stop at 8 0 5 and then at eight, 10, and then eight 15, or something like that, if it saw too many passengers waiting to get on it, would, it wouldn’t stop and pick them up because it had to be at the next stop for, you know, five minutes later. And the joke is, of course, the, a bus driver would get to the end of the run and there’d be nobody on the bus, but he was on, at least he was on time.


Brian McKenzie (29:41):
And, and, and again, sometimes I think that’s what we do in the classroom. We get so intent on, you know, delivering curriculum and making sure we get all of our lessons in, and we make sure we hammer the kids with work on assignments and tests and, and on and on and on. And then, you know, you get to the end of the semester and you’ve lost the kids. They’re, you know, and, and there’s a lot of different ways that you know, again, you know, from your own experience, there’s a lot of different ways that kids show that they’re lost, right. They stop attending class or they’re, or they’re not doing their homework anymore. They, they shut down or they’re, you know, they’re acting out or there’s a lot of different kinds of indicators that the teacher has lost has lost the class. So we wanna make sure. And, and for me, , I wanna make sure that as we go forward, we’re not, you know, we’re not running the buses on time, we’re picking up passengers.


Sam Demma (30:31):
Mm. I love that. That’s such a cool analogy. And the Bart Simpson story, being someone who wants that every once in a while. that’s awesome. Well, if someone wants to reach out to you based on this interview, ask a question, talk about anything you discuss today, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brian McKenzie (30:52):
You can, well, we have a social media channel for our school. It’s Instagram and on Twitter, it’s at @pforilla. Our school’s website is https://pfo.schools.smcdsb.on.ca/ and you know, there’s contact information for the school on there. And I’m, I’m, I’m I’m available through those channels primarily, cuz you know, I, I get too many emails to try to try to follow, but you know, there’s, there’s a couple of us that track the DMS on the, on the Instagram and on the Twitter channel. So we’ll be able to probably follow what best there.


Sam Demma (31:37):
Awesome. Brian, thank you so much for making the time to come on the show. I hope you enjoy the experience and keep up the great work and education.


Brian McKenzie (31:45):
Thanks a lot. And, and, and good luck to you with.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brian McKenzie

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Mark Cossarin – Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Mark Cossarin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Trillium Lakelands District School Board – Better Together

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® – FranklinCovey

Four Must-Do’s for Empowered Principals

The Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Cossarin

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

Cassandra Tenbergen – Principal at Marymount Academy (Sudbury CDSB)

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

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

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

Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Marymount Academy – Sudbury Catholic Schools

Sudbury Catholic District School Board – Schools to Believe In.

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

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Cassandra, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Demma (24:37):
Mm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen

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

Karen O’Brien – Re-Engagement Counsellor

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Karen: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board

Western University – Bachelors of Education

Book Clubs in Ontario

Google Hangouts Guide for Teachers

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview with Karen O’Brien. She has worked in the education system for over 30 years. She began her career as a secondary school classroom teacher teaching multiple subjects, and then continued her teaching career with the added responsibility of being a department head.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (17:55):
Were good from


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (25:35):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karen O’Brien

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

Carl Cini – Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Carl Cini - Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)
About Carl Cini

Carl Cini (@cjrpc55) is the Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He began his career at Loyola CSS in 1995. Since then, Carl has been a Law, History and Economics teacher at St. Joseph CSS and St. Edmund Campion CSS. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel CSS, John Cabot CSS and St. Joan of Arc CSS before becoming a Principal.

During the past 27 years, it has been a pleasure to mentor students to see them grow in so many ways. Carl is focused on provided a variety of opportunities for students to grow into well rounded adults. He can be seen in the gym, on the field, in the audience, driving the bus and visiting classrooms to see students in action. He celebrates the success of every student. Carl firmly believes that we only as successful as our students and teachers, and with that in mind, reaches each individual in the way that student and teacher will best learn.

Connect with Carl Cini: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga

St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School

St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School

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


Carl Cini (00:10):
My name is Carl Cini and I am the principal of Iona Catholic Secondary School in Missassauga.


Sam Demma (00:17):
At what point in your educational journey did you realize you wanted to be in?


Carl Cini (00:26):
Well, when I was in university, when I first went to university, I thought, you know, I’m gonna go into business and go make money and all of those things and the more and more I took courses, well, I took my first business course. I didn’t like it, so that didn’t help. And and then the, the more and more I started, you know, doing things around campus and, and the courses that I was taking, I did some volunteer were and some coaching. At that point I realized that that working with young people was gonna be my calling.


Sam Demma (00:52):
That’s amazing. When you say the things, when you say doing things around campus, what did that look like? Or what were the things you got involved with that made you realize this work was meaningful and something you really wanted to do?


Carl Cini (01:06):
Well, I had more to do with sort of hang on one second.


Sam Demma (01:11):
No worries.


Carl Cini (01:19):
When I was at university I was a tour guide. I was a mentor to like new people that came to my campus and did a little bit of peer tutoring. I was involved with with student council and and just, and then as I said, coaching, I was coaching basketball for young people and coaching a team in our, it was an as a competitive intermural league. And so I was there as well. And like I said, the more and more I got involved and the more and more I was talking to people in you know, in other years it just kind of made me think a little bit about some of the mentorship I didn’t get when I was in school and and thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to you know, to share my talents and to share my experience with other young people and to help them grow and develop.

Sam Demma (02:13):
Paint the picture. So you, you finish your degree or your teaching degree and what did the journey look like from there?

Carl Cini (02:22):
Okay. So, I mean, I will give even the journey, getting to teachers college was not an easy one. Yeah, please. It took a couple years for me to get into teach interest college and and even at the time it was very much based on marks and not so much on experience and other things. So I didn’t, I didn’t get in, I applied a couple times. I didn’t get in. I remember being at U of T and sitting in a meeting with all the other people that got rejected and being asked you know, being told, you know, if you have experience and, and you have decent marks, and this is your second time around, you know, you might wanna book a meeting with the registrar and see what’s happening. So I booked a meeting, I went into the meeting and the guy basically told me at the time, he said, you’re got good marks.

Carl Cini (03:08):
You got good experience. But your application just lacked, possess. Well, unfortunately at that point I kind of was like, okay, I came all the way down here and you tell me my application. And I kinda said to him, so if I put in old folders, I mean, it’s gonna be any better than it was. And I went on a bit of a tie rate to say that, you know, what your system is flawed. You can’t pick people so solely based on marks. And that, there’s lots of other things that, that encapsulate being a good teacher, but by the time it was all over, he’s like, oh, I guess we made a mistake. And then he let me in on they on appeal. Wow. And so I made it through teachers college, which was a phenomenal year. I, I was with some really, really great people. Interestingly in that year, all of us that were on student union were all students that got in on appeal.

Carl Cini (03:56):
I thought it was a bit of an interesting process back when that happened. And then, you know, and I graduated, I took a, a job at school by the water at Harbor front leading field trips in may and June. And then I got my, you know, I got on a Duffin peel, got called for a supply job the first day of school. And as they say, the rest is history. So they it was it was a bit of a journey.

Sam Demma (04:19):
You’re not the only one who’s had a journey going to education. Every educator has a different story. How did you pick yourself up and keep going when you were kind of facing those barriers or the nos and the rejections?

Carl Cini (04:37):
And I knew, I, I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Like they, they talk about education being a vocation or being a calling. And that’s exactly what it was like for me, it was like nobody was going to stop me from going to do it. Like, in fact, I mean, I would have, at that time when I was going through this you know, if we didn’t get an Ontario teacher’s college, there was always the option to go to the us to the Buffalo schools. And I have a number of who are excellent teachers who did their EDU, their education education in in Buffalo. So I was all set and ready to go to Buffalo and you know, had all my paperwork in and, and I did everything I needed to do to get in. And then I just happened to get in, in Ontario instead. So I chose you know, I always, to me anyways, it was, would’ve been better to to be in Ontario then to have to go to another jurisdiction. I had friends that went to Australia for teachers college. I mean, I was prepared to do and go wherever in order to, to go into, go into education.

Sam Demma (05:34):
Understood the willingness to do whatever it takes is something that I think is super important, not only in be coming an educator, but any path you choose to pursue in life. So I appreciate you sharing that little insight and story. What, what, so once you got accepted tell me more about the journey from the moment you got into education to where you are now.

Carl Cini (05:59):
So I originally at the, and again, this was like 94. At that time, I, I mean, I always wanted to be a high school, a high school teacher. However, I also knew that the jobs are few and far between for my qualifications. So my qualifications are in my degrees in economics and politics. So I didn’t really have great teachables to go into secondary plus at the time I know that there was a push to have more men hired into elementary schools. So I did my teacher’s education and junior intermediate. And because of my economics degree, I had quite a bit of math. So I was able to, to start to go through that, that angle. And so I went through and, you know, took my, my courses for English and history and intermediate. And then I continued through teacher’s college.

Carl Cini (06:47):
And then, like I said, when it was over, I I took it the, the best education job I could find, which was leading field trips. And then when I, I applied to almost every school board that I could think of I will say the only thing is I only applied to Catholic school boards. I did not apply to the public school boards. I mean, my education has been in Catholic schools. And, and even when I went to university, I went to Kings college at Western and I specifically chose a Catholic university to go to, because it, to me faith is, is a very important part of, of everything that we do. And so I did want to work in a Catholic school board. So I applied to all of them, ended up getting a position at Duffin peel. And, and again, at that time, you used to have to check a box as to what you wanted to supply teach for, whether it be for areas in elementary, secondary, or for French. So I just checked on up all the boxes. And then on the first day of school, I got a call from a high school that they needed me to come into supply teach. And again, I was there supplying for about the first three weeks before I got my first LTO job at Loyola. And it’s been fantastic.

Sam Demma (07:56):
You mentioned you took the best job you could get in education and they, it was leading field trips, which I think is amazing. When you just were starting out, what, what, what about leading field trips do you think was so special?

Carl Cini (08:11):
Oh, I, I thought it was great. I mean, first of all would be the outdoor part of it. We were outside all the time and the program was different depending on what grade we had and and what exactly the, the field trip was about. So there was certain themes with regards to the field trips, if I recall. And you know, a lot of it had to do with the history of Toronto and how Toronto developed. And, you know, we were, I remember showing pictures, standing on a parking garage and showing students pictures of what the Toronto skyline looked like in 1880, what it looked like in 1912, what it looked like in 1950. So students can see the growth and development of Toronto and just being able to work with different students from a whole variety of different grades. It also had me even have a better idea as to what I wanted to do when I, you know, sort of a grade that I might wanna teach when I get to when I get to schools. And then the other part, just the flexibility of the whole thing. You know, learning very clearly that you have to be flexible and you have to tailor your, your pedagogy and tailor what you do to the students who are before you at that specific time.

Sam Demma (09:15):
Understood, understood, and the different roles you’ve held in education which one has been the most meaningful for you. And I know it’s a difficult question to ask because they all provide such awesome experiences and can give you, you know, the opportunity and ability to make a very positive impact. But what’s your role, have you found the most, me meaningful or enjoyable as well personally?

Carl Cini (09:41):
Well, I think I might have to separate those two people and enjoyable. I mean, I really did enjoy being a classroom teacher and and I really loved it. And then I became a department head for canner world studies and, you know, being able to be in the classroom every day, I, I missed C tremendously. But I will, but then I will turn around and say that the most meaningful job I’ve had is the one that I’m in right now. Hmm. I think being a principal of the school it, it was interesting before I became an, like I told I did not wanna do this job. I remember scoffing at people who wanted to be principals at one time, cuz I’m like, why would you wanna be away from the kids that our job is to work directly with our students.

Carl Cini (10:20):
Yeah. And that, you know, to put yourself in those positions put, takes you away from that. And I reached the point in my career. I had an administrator who who kept pushing me to do, to become, you know, to go into administration. And and he made a comment to me where he said to me that, you know, when you’re in your classroom, you influence the students that are around you. And then you coach and you participate. And, you know, your 90 students are a hundred, maybe whatever, 120 students every day that you get to influence. And when you move into a leadership position, you influence more and more and more students. Cause I mean, as a, as a classroom teacher, not every student’s gonna have you, not every student is gonna be in your class. And I mean, I know that I sat at graduations and, you know, when we had some really big graduating classes at 400, 450 students and they’d be walking across stage and I’m like, I don’t know who that kid is.

Carl Cini (11:10):
I’ve never seen that kid before. Mm. Because they did, you know, they didn’t take the classes that I taught. They didn’t, you know, or maybe they did. And then I wasn’t their teacher or, or they didn’t participate in the co-curricular activities that I supervised. So I, I couldn’t know them all. But, but then as you continue to grow and you continue to move into leadership, not only do you influence more students, but you also get to influence the teachers and you influence the systems and the runnings of the school so that everybody is impacted by. So you get to increase your impact on the, you know, on the number of, of individuals as you move into leadership positions. And, and that I think is incredibly, incredibly meaningful as a principal. And even talking to my other principal colleagues where, you know, we will call each other when we’re having the dilemma and how we’re gonna deal with this, or how we’re gonna deal with that. And you know, and then again, you’re also being able to have an impact on even other schools that you’re not even really a part of, because you can be part of those conversations on a, on a, on a more broader scale,

Sam Demma (12:14):
Such a good point. You bring up, you also get to witness probably from a bird’s eye view, how different programs and bigger initiatives are impacting the whole school, like school culture. And you probably get to from a, another large perspective bird’s eye view, see how students are being impacted by these programs as, as well. Have you over the past, you know, dozen years you you’ve been working or more than a dozen years over your whole you know, career, have you witnessed programs that you’ve brought into schools or that your teachers brought into schools have an impact on the students? And can you remember any of those stories of student who is very transformed by something in the school? That kind of is a hopeful story. I think these types of stories during a difficult time remind educators, why the work they do is so important. And I’m wondering if you have any that come to mind.

Carl Cini (13:08):
I mean, there’s a number of, of programs that that I’ve been able to be a part of. And, and I have to say, say, I can’t take credit for any of these programs because I never did them by myself. It always requires a team approach in which to do that. And I know that as a, you know, this is my 15th year as an administrator that my role is, is in supporting what teachers do, because my other thing with any program is any program has to have legs programs, have to outlive you the person and have to outlive the people who do it because they’re gonna change. So whether they move schools or not, every student deserves that, that kind of quality programming, regardless of the person who is in front of them to deliver it, or whoever happens to lead their school or not.

Carl Cini (13:50):
So I’ve always been very cognizant of trying to make sure that whatever it is that we run is something that’s gonna have a long, you know, a longer standing tradition or legacy if you wish you know, moving forward. So, I mean, an example, one of the schools I was in, they had a program for the students that were in that were taking locally developed classes. So these are some reluctant learners or students that had some learning disabilities. And, and the program was set up. It was, I thought it was a phenomenal program and I was happy to be a part of it to help, to support that where students would take so courses would be paired up. So students would do religion and the learning strategies class and they would do it all year long. So it’d be the same teacher teaches both those courses, but it was all year long.

Carl Cini (14:37):
And then the other was science and math. So in period one and two, those students were together. They, we were able to take courses instead of teaching them in a semester, we were able to teach them over the course of the full year. And then as the day progressed you know, they ended up being able to take their elective classes. And a lot, a lot of leadership was put into those classes because it was the same the same four teachers over the course of the whole year that were working with those students with academic resource you know, we were able to spread the curriculum out and by doing that, we could fit in more leadership opportunities. And there were many of those students who may not have been college bound who ended up being college bound because of the program.

Carl Cini (15:20):
You know, I always find it interesting. I mean, we really don’t know the impact of the programs that we ha that we develop or that we put in place for students until almost years later. So I mean, I remember meeting a student from that program. I was at the grocery store and the student was there and the student came up to me and said, Hey, sir, do you remember me? And, you know, again, I, I get good, I’m good with faces, but sometimes after a certain amount of time, you can only keep so many names in your head. So, you know, I said, you know, yeah, I REM I do remember you, but I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name student told me their name. And they had said like, what a transformative, what a great support they felt in that program at that school. And that they, that I think they’re is now they’re an electrician and that they never would’ve been able to do that, or even have the confidence to continue to go forward and run their own business if they weren’t in that program to start off with,

Sam Demma (16:11):
Wow, it’s, it’s such a cool thing to reflect on because there’s so many people listening to this who are probably considering education as a vocation, or who might feel like it’s the right thing for them to pursue. Or there could be some educators tuning in who have been burnt out by the challenges over the past couple of years. And I think at the heart of this work is the students and, you know, seeing them transform or seeing them resonate with an idea shared in class or seeing something that’s done in school support. Hello them. Oh, can you hear me? Hello? Hello? Hello. Oh, oh, there we go. Sorry. I must have cut out there for a second. Right? I’ll edit that part. No worries. I was just saying, thank you so much for sharing that story. I think at the heart of education is the students and for an educator listening, who is just considering getting into this vocation or who thinks it’s right for them, you know, what a great reminder that the work that you’re go going to be able to do can transform kids and change lives. And then what a great reminder to an educator who might be burnt out right now as to why this work is so important. What are, what are some of the challenges that your school community has faced over the past, you know, two years? And what are some of the opportunities that you think have come out of the times as well?

Carl Cini (17:33):
There’s been tons of challenges. COVID has forced us. And I think it’s, again, you’re right. It’s a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, because all of this, you know, the, the in and out, and sometimes we’re virtual, sometimes we’re not, you know, hybrid and all of those things what it has done is it’s forced us to re-look at what we do, how we do. So I’ll give you an example. When we first in that March of 2020, when we first went on lockdown and we had to, you know, start to move things to a to a virtual virtual platform. And I remember talking to specifically our math and science teachers and saying, you, we really need to have a look at that curriculum and you need to separate your curriculum into two categories, the must haves and the nice to haves.

Carl Cini (18:24):
And, you know, that was the beginning of, of starting to re-look at what we teach and how we teach it. And really how important is the stuff that we have done on a regular basis so that we can change it, not just to fit a different platform and a different delivery system because that’s also been the hard part. There are many teachers who have wonderful presence with kids and have relied on that presence you know, to forward and, and to move their program forward and be able to take a advantage of those teachable moments and, you know, and those connections that come from being in the same room as the te you know, teachers and students being in the same room. However, when we went to a virtual virtual mode of learning where students didn’t necessarily have their cameras on, there was a distance that took place.

Carl Cini (19:10):
You couldn’t see each other. I mean, and I mean, everybody knows this, that when you’re with someone in a room, the personal connection, and I guess, you know, again, not to the person with the vibes and the mojo that takes place between the connection between those two individuals is so different than when you’re trying to speak to somebody through a screen especially when that individual’s not necessarily responding. So again, it forced teachers to rethink, you know, how they do what they do. And, and that’s been a huge challenge because there’s, I mean, teachers love consistency. And and normally we work on predictability as there’s so many variables in EDU in teaching that they’re and things that we don’t know that can change the way we do what we do. You know, a big challenge, as well as the mental health of our students.

Carl Cini (19:55):
You know, the way that COVID hit the best I thing I saw was a was a cartoon. And it was circulating around quite a bit during COVID that we may all be in the same storm, but we’re all not in the same boat. And, you know, you’re in a yacht, or if you’re in a cruise ship, you’re gonna feel that a lot differently than if you’re bombing around on a piece of it. So, you know, depending on the situation that some of these students were in and, you know, some of them were taken out of their safe space for a lot of ’em school was the place where they were safe and where they grow. And it’s, it’s sad to say, but for some students, home is not a safe place, and yet they were forced to stay in that home and not go anywhere for an extended period of time.

Carl Cini (20:32):
So trying to teach whether it’s math or science or history to a student who has very, who is mentally not doing very well they’re not gonna learn a whole heck of a lot. So there was a lot of learning that had to take place amongst the, the teachers so that they could do things differently. And there was a lot more that we had to learn about our students. I mean, it was pretty personal when you, you think about the fact that you were in a student’s bedroom or in a student’s kitchen or in a student’s home that we would never have seen before.

Sam Demma (21:04):
Yeah.

Carl Cini (21:06):
A student at school.

Sam Demma (21:07):
Such a good point. It, the challenges are similar. I I’ve interviewed a lot of educators and, and the challenges are similar. And I was intrigued by the opportunity. You mentioned about the list of the must haves and the, maybe not as important things, but are things that we could change. Do you have any examples of things that actually changed or like things that were adjusted or, or analyzed or looked more closely at that you think are starting to shift?

Carl Cini (21:38):
Yeah. I mean, I look at our math curriculum is a big part of that, right? So again, the, the idea of going through this, this process of having, you know, the, the must haves and the nice to haves means that you have to know your curriculum top to bottom. So it kind of forced our math department to be able to see all the courses. So what’s the continuum. So, you know, if a kid happens to be taking grade nine or grade 10 academic math, you know, they can possibly go and take either 11 U math or they can take 11 M math. So then what are the really, really important skills that they need to the master in order for them to be successful at the next course? Hmm. So it, it did force a more global view of what it is that we were doing.

Carl Cini (22:17):
It also forced teachers, I think, to have a look at the curriculum documents and look at our overall expectations. So, I mean, again, math was a perfect example. They, I know in the grade 10 academic math, there were a number of of certain expectations around around, I think it was geometry that were, that were dropped because it’s like, well, they’re not gonna see this unless they happen to be taking a specific course in grade 12. Mm. So, you know, let’s, you know, do the things that they need to know the more number sense and, and factoring and, and things like that. I know science was the same. I and then, I mean, my, my subject area was history. And so I was speaking to our history teachers and trying to implore them to, you know, not spend all this time doing world war I and world war II.

Carl Cini (23:03):
And let’s get, you know, let’s start moving, maybe move that stuff a little bit farther down the line and or a little bit faster doing it a little bit faster so that we can get kids to see themselves in history curriculum. Which I think which more and more important considering they’re living a historical event. I mean, you know, even what we’re seeing right now. Yeah. How we taught that great tennis course forever. What we’ve just seen is really reliving the, the Winnipeg general strike and the lead up to the Winnipeg general strike in 1919. So, you know, all of that becomes more and more important in making sure that it’s connected to things that we’re doing now, instead of spending, you know, all kinds of time talking about, you know, maybe world war II battles or or spending, you know, additional time on the rise of the nineties and things like that that are still important. I mean, everything’s important, there, there’s, there’s no doubt that, that these pieces of content are important, but contextualizing it so that the student can see themselves in the curriculum becomes really important, especially when you don’t have all the tools that you would normally have in, in which the teacher program.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Yeah, totally agree. Not to mention the real time events like what’s occurring right now in Ukraine. Like things like that can be brought into the classroom and have such an impact or conversation, you know?

Carl Cini (24:15):
Yeah, definitely.

Sam Demma (24:16):
That makes total sense. That’s awesome. It’s cool to hear that things are shifting and changing and the opportunities are being looked at. If, if you could, if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, kind of bundle it up, travel back in time, tap, you know, tap your younger self on the shoulder. And when you were just starting in education, knowing what you know now, what advice or feedback would you, would you give to yourself?

Carl Cini (24:45):
There’s a few things I think I would say to myself, I, I, I think the first one is the patient. There’s no rush. So I mean, even to go back what we talked about before, I mean our job, most of the time we are not going to see, we’re not always going to see the progress our students make. And particularly in our most difficult students, I mean, our job is to plant seeds and seeds, you know, germinate and they grow at a great, and so do the students that are in front of us, and yes, we’re gonna see students grow and develop, but we can’t focus all our energy on those because it makes us feel good to see that progress when it’s really the students who maybe we don’t see the progress at the same rate, who we’re probably doing the best work with and the ones that we really need to focus on.

Carl Cini (25:25):
So I would say, be patient, be patient with the students who, and their, their growth and development. Not everything has to be done right away be patient with yourself. You gonna make a lot of mistakes. And you know, there’s gonna be lots of things that you don’t know and you need to be kind to yourself and you need to be patient that you’re gonna be able to handle those things that, that come your way. I mean, there, one of the things that I’m hopefully other sure others have said the same to you before is, I mean, E education brings a lot of sleepless nights. Mm. And, and a lot of o’clock wake ups going, man, I probably could have handled that situation better. Or, you know, I could have, you know, maybe I should have said this to this student instead of that.

Carl Cini (26:04):
Or, you know what, I should have said this at this point, which would’ve maybe created a, a better aha moment for the student. And I did it. And, and all of that takes so much time in order in, in order to figure that out and to go through that. So I think the biggest advice I would give to myself or to any new educator is, is be patient. And then the other one I would say is ask for help. You’re not going is by yourself. You’re not going through it alone. I, I mean, when you’re coming in, in your first year teaching, and you’ve never taught a class before, you can’t know what, you know, when you’re 10 years in, or when you’re 15 years in, because all those experiences teach you how to navigate those situations. And, and there are people in your school and people who, you know, your whatever network that you’ve created, who have been through it before. So don’t be afraid to ask for help as well. You don’t have to know everything.

Sam Demma (26:57):
This isn’t again, only advice for education, but I like it’s such universal stuff. And I’ve appreciate you sharing that and like, reflecting back on your own experiences. This has been a phenomenal conversation. It’s already been 30 minutes. We’re getting close to the end here. If, if somebody listening wants to reach out, ask you a question, send you a note or a message. What would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Carl Cini (27:24):
The best way would be via email. My my board email account. carl.cini@dpcdsb.ca

Sam Demma (27:37):
Awesome. Carl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Carl Cini (27:45):
Thanks.

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