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Experiential Learning

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.

Andrew Boon – Principal at Notre Dame College School

Andrew Boon - Principal at Notre Dame College School (NCDSB)
About Andrew Boon

Andrew Boon is the Principal at Notre Dame College School in Welland, Ontario. He is the recipient of the 2021 Inspiration Award from the Niagara Catholic District School Board and currently is in his 25th year in Education. Andrew started his career working in behaviour programs and Special Education.

He moved into the role of Vice-Principal, working in various schools. This is his fourth year as a secondary school Principal at Niagara Catholic. Aside from being a fanatic of the Beatles, Andrew enjoys coaching the girl’s hockey program at Notre Dame and enhancing the extracurricular opportunities for all of his students. He strongly believes that kindness, care and humour will help each student find their unique potential.

Connect with Andrew Boon: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Welland teen awarded time with the Super Locker | The Star

‘Be Someone’s Taco’: Toronto youth speaker inspires students to pay it forward with kindness

Notre Dame College School in Welland, Ontario

Niagara Catholic District School Board: Home

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):
Andrew welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Andrew Boon (00:09):
Thanks very much, Sam. Yeah, my name’s Andrew Boon. I’m a principal at Notre Dame college school in Welland Ontario. And yeah, proud, proud principal of this place. I was, I know we were doing a little bit of chatting before, but just letting everyone know, I guess the special place it has in my heart. I went here as a student. I spent my first 10 years teaching here before getting into administration and now moved here. This is my first year back as the principal and so super excited to be here.


Sam Demma (00:40):
When did you realize throughout your own journey that you wanted to get into education as your career?


Andrew Boon (00:48):
Well, for me, my, I grew up in a family of teachers. Actually, my father was a retired teacher now. And for me you know, it’s that, I, I guess the light bulb moment is for me happened with some of the teachers I had actually in this building. And for me that’s another of why it’s pretty amazing to, to be back here. And for me, that impact that they had on me and, and feeling like I might be able to, to try to do that for students. So for me, I went to a, a concurrent program at McGill and they, the nice thing about that program is they, they throw you in right away, year one, you’re, you’re at, you’re in a school for a short placement. And, and that was the moment I kind of knew like, yes, this is absolutely what I want to do and, and and spend the rest of my life professionally doing.


Sam Demma (01:37):
Tell me a little more about what the educators did for you in this building when you were a student that really stuck out in your mind, if you can think of some of those experience is, or even some of the people, if you wanna mention them.


Andrew Boon (01:49):
I have no problem mentioning them. The one that comes to mind right off the bat is her name’s Kathy McPherson. She was a instrumental teacher for me. I was lucky to have her for a few different subject areas, but predominantly in English. And and she was some, she was also, I, I was on student council. I was involved in that, but she was also one of the moderators and someone that kind of just innate kindness and care and caring for students. And you felt it, and it’s, what’s great about her is that, you know, you could interview literally a thousand people that would tell you the same thing. And so you know, I think as students, we often learn sometimes when we make mistakes and for me, some of those mistakes that I made as a student where she helped guide me and, and showed that compassion and, and and care that helped I think send me in the right direction and not just, and, and motivate right. And so for me she was a big piece of that. I think everybody will have that teacher that they can talk about. And who’s still very present in, in what shapes them and for her, for me. Anyway, Kathy was certainly that person.


Sam Demma (03:06):
You went to the concurrent program. What was your first role in education and what did the journey look like to bring you to principal at this school today?


Andrew Boon (03:17):
The first placement I had was actually teaching a vied class at a, a school in Montreal and in Montreal, the high schools under that the C E system. So their grades were seven to 11. There wasn’t a massive difference between a first year university student and, you know, potentially a 16 year old in grade 11. Right. and it was funny cuz the very first thing that happened to me was I had I had some money stolen from me if you can believe it. And it was literally like, oh, okay, so this is happening. And it was a tough school, but there was some great kids, even in that 10 days that just kind of gave me that again, that feeling of that this is what I wanted to do and what I loved about the program, it’d be quite fair too, is that for, you know, if you’re, if you’re in this business, if you’re teaching, you gotta love what you do in terms, you gotta love kids.


Andrew Boon (04:15):
You gotta love trying to support them. What I liked about that program is that there are a few people that did placement in their first year and it quickly dawned on them that they do not like this. And so you know, to their credit, they were able to say, well, hang on a second, this isn’t for me. But for the rest of us, that, that were in that you did a placement every year, whether it was in that you did a special ed placement it wasn’t just like you, you did your education and then you went out, they, they tried to give you that practical experience each and every year, which I felt was so important because it actually reinforced what you, what you felt about what’s happening in the school. There’s a big difference, obviously, between your theory and, and your in classes content, but then when you get into those placements or you really see, and I think for the other part to that was, I, I had a, a placement in, in Montreal. They, they tried to put you in a a public school and a private school to give you two different placement experiences. And they were most certainly different. But each of which brought a number of fantastic people and experiences that I I’m so grateful for.


Sam Demma (05:24):
How did Montreal bring you back here? Like,


Andrew Boon (05:27):
Yeah, well, it’s funny cuz there was that in that particular time you know, teaching jobs were definitely a little bit harder to come by and I remember putting out my my resume right across the country and I was quite prepared to, to go anywhere. I, at one point I was very close to actually going to Japan. I, I applied to this jet program. It was called and basically was, went through this, you know, ridiculous interview process and then and then was offered the job and but I was playing football at McGill. I had an opportunity to try to take a shot at the CFO. And so for me that was was one of the other, I couldn’t do both. And so I, I decided to do that no regrets, but when all was said and done I got an interview request with our what is now the Niagara Catholic school board. So it was very it was a definitely a bit of a homecoming, very surreal, but, but obviously a blessing when you, you think of everything else that has happened,


Sam Demma (06:40):
Education looks very different now than it did probably when you first started hopefully slightly and then even more so in the past couple of years with the pandemic, definitely You’ve been in a fortunate school that hasn’t been affected as much. What has the school culture been like over the past two years?


Andrew Boon (06:58):
Well, the interesting thing for me as a principal here, even coming in new, I was very much a part of this Notre Dame community. My daughter graduated from here. My son is is currently a student here. Nice. I dunno how happy he is about that. You know, that being the principal, but I think he’s managed it very well. So I’ve kind of been still within that Notre Dame culture and there’s, you know, I know probably everybody says this but there’s something special about this building and this place and you know, that we’re I feel, again, I keep saying it about how lucky I feel to be back here. And I do know that the, the teaching staff and the extended community the level of care that they exhibit to us, to students right across this entire city and, and region is something that is incredibly special. I, and again, so I you’ll hear that probably from everybody when they talk about their schools, but of course I feel that, you know, it’s something unique here


Sam Demma (08:02):
Is football a big aspect of Notre Dame?


Andrew Boon (08:05):
Yeah. Football’s a big deal here. Matter of fact, we just had an amazing year, our junior team won, like what is the salsa championship around here? And that, so they won the, their, the ultimate championship that you could win as a junior. And then our senior program for the first time in our history won offset which is the provincial championship. And so it was one of those fantastic years for me, you know, I love football, but it was also the fact that kids could be back doing something after COVID and actually participating and going to practice and being around each other. So for me, that was a wonderful to watch as a principal. And obviously I’m very proud of of all those kids and the effort they put in.


Sam Demma (08:51):
You grew up playing sports football as well. Do you think there’s a link between coaching and teaching? I’ve had other educators on in the past and they, they talk about coaching and teaching, and I’m curious to know from the perspective of the coach, do you think there’s similarities and then also from the perspective of an athlete do you think it helped with your grades or for your athletic growing up for your academics?


Andrew Boon (09:17):
Yeah, I absolutely think there’s that correlation. And as much as I’ve talked about, for example, Cathy, as an inspiring educator, you know, I, I had a a coach, his name’s Joe Perry who to me had a ma massive impact on, on me as a coach. And then ultimately as a, an educator you know, it was someone actually, I ended up when I returned to teaching that I ended up coaching with. So it was one of those, again, beautiful moments that happened. And and, and I, I always make, you know, like to, to think that he had a major part of my my career as a football player at McGill and beyond. So but yeah, like that, that the, the lessons learned, I guess, as an athlete for me anyways, certainly were about time management. And, you know, when I went to McGill, I, I have no problem.


Andrew Boon (10:09):
I tell the students all the time. I struggled that first year trying to figure out how to manage that. You’re jumping into a, a program that’s definitely intense, and obviously I’m very proud of, of being a Manil grad, it’s an amazing school. But you know, then you add 30 hours minimum per week for football and full course load and being on your own in a province for the first time and learning how to manage all that. So that my first year definitely struggled with it and needed to make sure that I, I reached out and took, took some help and, and figured out what’s the best way of managing my time. And that includes actually 20, like reaching back out to old coaches and, and, and having those conversations when you would, you know, end up back at home visiting or something like that. So yeah, the correlation between those two and, and time management, I, that, you know, are so important. They’re great skills that that you’re, that, you know, you’re gonna learn that you hopefully will hang onto for your, the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (11:17):
You’ve definitely witnessed some student transformations over your years in education. Maybe it was a student in your school, someone else’s school in someone else’s classroom, but, you know, a student transforming or realizing something or pursuing their passions. Isn’t the result of one individual it’s the whole community, but I’m curious to know over your career, have you seen any student transformations or seen the impact that a program has had on a young person? And if so, like what, what, what was that story? And if, if it’s a serious one, you could change their name if, if you have


Andrew Boon (11:52):
To. Yeah. I mean, I have, so when I started my teaching career I was offered a job basically teaching what was a a behavior class. And it was an alternative classroom. And the unique part about this was that a I had students that were bused from different high schools to my location here at Notre Dame. And so our, you know, our first, my first foray into teaching was a class of about 36 very challenging students and each of whom are unique, different. And so the, the, the, for me that, I mean, I feel so again, so lucky that, of all the things that you could have started to teach it was that, and I was teaching you know, English to, to, to some of these to these students and to, to be able to have an impact on them and see their transformation not just in, in a, in a, a semester, but then potentially moving forward, there are some of those students and I know I feel like an old man when I say it, but like that, that I still am in touch with and still have a great connection with, and I it’s, it’s one of those blessings where someone will tell you, well, you had an impact on me a as a teacher.


Andrew Boon (13:22):
And so that, that kind of behavior classroom was like the, you know, a great platform for really trying different things that, that, that would be applicable to, to an individual, not just a whole class. And I’m, I’m super proud of that, I guess, as an administrator, when you jump into that you can do the same thing. It’s finding those students that need that help. And, you know, there’s a few that they will say the loveliest things that, you know, somehow I had an impact on their ability to grow graduate or, or move forward. And I hold that dear to my heart, but I, I know that you know, it, it does, it takes, it takes a, a group effort as at a school when you’re surrounded by other incredible people that are helping with these kids. So yeah, I mean, I, I don’t know if I like individual stories.


Andrew Boon (14:13):
I I’ve been lucky cuz there’s, there’s a few of them. Right. And and some that are doing incredible work right now. I think the, the most satisfying thing is I see their their kindness and their, they become incredible citizens in their community. And that to me is what this is. What’s really interesting about what we do is you know, I tell this to people all the time and I betcha, even if I were to ask you this question, if I said, tell me about your high school, like a, a positive memory of high school and chances are, you’re gonna tell me about friends that you met the activities that you did that maybe trips that you went on and no offense to any of the math folks out there, but like I’ve yet to hear anyone say, oh, I remember that one math class on equations or something like that. Right? Yeah. It’s more about how did someone make you feel? Yeah. And so me, when I see some of my former students now and see what they’re doing in the community and, and as citizens, that’s the most satisfying element of, of, of what we do


Sam Demma (15:22):
For everyone tuning in today. Andrew and I am recording this on pink shirt day. So the topic of kindness is very, very relevant. , that’s awesome. I, I call those moments being someone’s taco. You can see this little


Andrew Boon (15:36):
Nice


Sam Demma (15:36):
Big taco on my shirt here. And the start of the pandemic, one of my good friends was just calling him to check in and see how he was doing. And very quickly I realized he wasn’t feeling too great. And just asked myself, you know, what can I do to make him feel a little better figure? He didn’t wanna make dinner that night. So I went on his Facebook to figure out what foods he liked, eating and found out that he was a big taco fan and Uber Ubered, him and his wife, Emily, this taco dinner for two and left a note saying, this is from Sam. He helps you feel a little better. And I just thought, you know, this took me five minutes less than $20, he’s going to, you know, ex he’s gonna be happy about it, whatever they FaceTime me at dinnertime crying box of tacos, open behind them telling me I’m never, ever gonna forget this moment.


Sam Demma (16:25):
That’s and then they went ahead and like created this little logo to be someone’s taco. And they were like, you need to encourage other people to be someone’s taco every day. And education is one of those fields where you have the opportunity to do that every day, because you have a classroom sitting in front of you and not only do the teachers have the opportunity to do it to their students, they could also do it for their other staff. And it’s not about buying them food or giving them tacos, but it’s looking for those intentional moments where you can create an experience for somebody else that they may remember for the rest of their life. I, you know, I’m sure if I asked you the same question, you know, what was your favorite memories in school, or do you remember the last time someone made you feel special? You can probably recall some of those memories of kind things people have done for you and require is no special skills, talents or abilities, just a decision, right?


Andrew Boon (17:18):
Yeah. And, and for here, like, so we, we have a, you know, I know social media is is a big part of how we communicate with kids now. And so we have this hashtag that we use here for everything kindness lives here. Mm. And when I get here, that was one thing I brought up to our staff, our students, and same, like, it’s kindness. I hope we live here and kindness does live here. And I say it to kids. And I mean, this, that, you know, it’s only a cliche if you don’t mean it. Yeah. And if you, so for here, it, it’s something I take very seriously. Yeah. And you know, for those little gestures that you talk about, those little moments of how you make people feel that’s, what’s gonna shape them to be better citizens and, and leave here you know, moving in the right direction.


Andrew Boon (18:12):
You know, one of the things we do here, which I I’ve done it at a couple schools I’ve been at now and I think it’s it’s kind of fun. So we have here, what’s called super locker. And so we had our construction class participate and we built a locker there’s about four or five times the size of an actual lock. And then we we put the, we wrapped it up to make it look really good. And then we put a fridge in it. We put a charging station. And so once a month we give that to a student for no other reason than just that they’re kind, and that they’ve exhibited kindness. It’s not about academics, it’s not about athletics. It’s strictly just, they’ve done something kind that another person has noticed. And it’s wonderful to get these submissions from staff and students saying, you know, oh, this kid did this for me.


Andrew Boon (19:08):
This kid did this for me. Right. And so and then what what’s lovely about it for me is we get to surprise that kid and they get to move in. We give him the key. We, we hook him up with a bunch of, you know, of, of, of swag, I guess. And we’ve got, I’ve got some people that have donated some things for this student. And then the, you know, again, we have some fun with it at the end of the month, I get it to a victim and basically saying, you’re out. Right. And we, we, and we have another student move in. Right. And so this is taken off in our even in our board, I’d like to think cool. There’s myself and another principal Glen Gifford. And we started this back at when we were working together at at lake shore, like in port Coburn, and then we’ve each kind of now gone our separate schools, but super locker has, has continued.


Andrew Boon (19:57):
And it’s just a fun thing to kind of talk about the most recent one that we did here in September when we or October when we first kind of did it here. When I got here. It’s just funny how a little story like that. Again, I, I look at it as more as like its just a little community thing and next thing you know, for us, it’s picked up by the Toronto star and it’s, we’re hearing about it kind of running across the country. And I had a, you know, you talk about former students and I’m gonna mention her because I’m so proud of her, her name’s Laura cope. And she was a student of mine here at Notre Dame and she’s now a teacher now doing great things in Toronto. And so she had actually messaged me to say that she saw that and approached her principal and you know, can we do a super locker at our school? Oh wow. And so it seems like that would be an idea that maybe every school could have something fun like that secondary anyway. Right. I guess. Right. Yeah. But it, all it, I mean it all relates to those little acts of kindness, those moments that are are memorable that, you know, that, that actually impact a, a person and that you don’t ever forget. Right.


Sam Demma (21:05):
Yeah. So a true what a fantastic idea with the super locker. That’s so cool. Do, do they actually, is it big enough for a person to sit in this thing?


Andrew Boon (21:15):
Yeah. Like they they’re, it’s when you open it there’s a place for like a hanger. There’s a place for their shoes. There’s like a, a little stool that can come out where they can sit. And what I love about it, obviously our construction class, when they’re when they’re doing it, they’re they’re, they’re involved. Right. I, I think the funny thing about it is that my son is aware of it and you know, he’s in grade 11 here. And the first thing he said to me is like, dad, I, I understand I will never win super locker. And I was like, that’s correct. You will never, ever win this super locker. So I said, but that’s not gonna stop you from being kind which, which he is. Right. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:54):
That’s so awesome. That’s amazing. If you could take all your experiences in education, bundle them up, go back in time, tap end you on the shoulder when he just started teaching, what advice would you give a younger self? I,


Andrew Boon (22:09):
That’s a great question. I mean, I think I’ve definitely learned it’s, it’s okay to, to be wrong, to completely, to make mistakes and and not to be afraid to try things. I know as a principal I love trying stuff and if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. And no big deal. And I think that, of those things where you try things as an educator, whether it’s different programs or, or or different guest speakers or whatever it may be. And sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. And I think then the other thing is don’t ever be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. And I think sometimes as maybe as teachers that, you know and, and as administrators, that, that we can kind of worry about that. And I think it’s actually refreshing when like I’ve had parents, that’ll call me and they’ve have a concern about something or they’ve had something that they wanna maybe complain about and I have no problem going you’re right.


Andrew Boon (23:06):
Yeah. We, we, we gotta do better. And on behalf of the school, I’m sorry. And you could just see everyone just come down and realize, oh yeah. Okay. Well, I can work with this. And, and then you try, then you actually have to try to do better. Like you can’t just say that. Right. but I think sometimes that being willing to act like really listen, and I, and you must, you know, do this all the time because I’m sure you’ve had conversations with people. And when you know, someone’s not actually listening, they’re just waiting for the other person to finish so that they can talk. Right. And that’s something I try hard to do when I have people come in my office saying that they get my full attention. I’m, I’m listening to actually what they’re doing. I think when people come to you as an educator, it takes a lot of courage to come and say, Hey, I need to do this, this or this. And if you’re not giving them your time or actually listening, they’ll people will submit all that a mile away.


Sam Demma (24:08):
How do you remind yourself to be present during conversation and listen to what someone’s saying rather than wait for your turn to respond? I feel like it sometimes is a challenge when you have so many things going on, but it’s, so, yeah,


Andrew Boon (24:22):
That’s a great, it’s a great question. You’re right. I, I, so you have, I have a couple rules, at least for me, you know, like I don’t answer my phone. Cuz you know, that’ll happen. I’m surprised you haven’t heard it yet to go off sometimes because it’ll happen. Right. But you just, I said, well, I don’t answer it. And staff and teachers are so caring, they’ll say, oh, it’s okay if you need to get that. And I’m like, no, you’re here that’s I don’t need to get that. Right. you know, obviously sometimes it’s like the phone goes five times in a row and like, something’s up, I better take that. Right. But but little rules like that, you know, put your phone down. Right. there’s nothing, you know, again, I, I always think about, who’s taking the time to walk down here and, and I remember being a teacher and walking into my principal’s office and, you know, to ask for some advice or ask for something and that’s the kind of, for a younger teacher that was a big deal. And so I always try to remember, like, someone’s taken the effort to come walk down here to ask a question that, you know, be present for that.


Sam Demma (25:30):
I love it. That’s awesome. Great piece of advice for not only education, but any conversation or relationship. Yeah. If someone is listening to this wants to pick your brain about super lockers, your experiences teaching in CG schools or almost going to Japan what would be the best email for them or contact information for them to use, to reach out?


Andrew Boon (25:52):
Yeah, I, I, and I use my, my board email there’s two, a couple ways. It’s just Andrew.Boon@ncdsb.com. What I is very important to me when I send out messages to our school community and they know that you know, they can respond directly to that and they’re gonna get an answer from me very quickly cuz that again, you’re letting people know that their time’s valuable. You want to hear from them. And, and is it a lot of extra emails sometimes. Yep. But it’s worth it. If people know that you’re gonna pay attention to that you probably are way better at the, as than me, but like you, the presence of social media now in schools is, is critical to sharing information to parents. And so and, and students, by the way I know for, you know, I joke with the kids that like follow our Instagram account because you’ll, you’ll hear all that you need to know for the old folks like us follow your Facebook account and our website, that’s another, you know, Notre Dame college.ca is a great way of, of kind of seeing and getting in touch with us and seeing what we offer try to do a lot of fun stuff cuz school, like it should be fun.


Andrew Boon (27:07):
It really should be right. And so yes, we’re an education institution. Yes. You know, you’ll hear all the, you’ll see all the great things that are happening in class, but schools should be fun. And and I think we try to do that when we’re sharing me in for, with our students and you know, I think, I think it’s working again. I hope it’s working, I guess we’ll see. Right.


Sam Demma (27:32):
good stuff. Good stuff. Well, Angie, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here. Talk about some of your ideas, journey, philosophies, and education, the projects going on in the school community. It means the world to me, and also a lot of other people tuning in wanting to learn more about education or pick up some creative ideas. So again, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and keep up the great work.


Andrew Boon (27:55):
I appreciate it. No, thanks so much for for, for reaching out and yeah, very much appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andrew Boon

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Katie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Connect with Sarah: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)

Specialized Programs – OCSB

New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP)

Carleton University – BA in Journalism

Brock University – BA in English Language and Literature

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have on a pair of guests, not just one person, but two people, two very incredible influential people that I’ve done a ton of work with, but are also just phenomenal human beings that I call two of my friends now. We have on Katie and Sarah.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sarah Abrams (10:30):
And


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (26:08):
Go first.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (29:53):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

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

Sean Ruddy – Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board

Sean Ruddy - Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board
About Sean Ruddy

Sean Ruddy (@SeanRuddy14), is the Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the last 17 years has been a Vice Principal, Principal, and System Principal with the Near North District School Board.   

Sean has his Masters of Education from Nipissing University where his focus was on Safe Schools and using Restorative Practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices World Conference and the International Confederation of Principals Convention.

He has a strong belief that all students can learn.  Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and well-being.

Connect with Sean: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Near North District School Board

Rainbow District School Board

Masters of Education – Nipissing University

International Institute of Restorative Practices

International Confederation of Principals Convention

Specialist High Skills Major Program (SHSM)

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 (01:02):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sean Ruddy. Sean is the Principal of student success and specialized programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the past 17 years has been a Vice-Principal, Principal and System-Principal with the Near North District School Board. Sean has his masters of education from Nippissing University where his focus was on safe schools and using restorative practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices world conference and the International Confederation of Principals convention. He has a strong belief that all students can learn. Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and overall wellbeing. I hope you enjoy this enlightening conversation with Sean. I will see you on the other side, all the best. Sean, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, please start by introducing yourself.


Sean Ruddy (02:07):
Yeah, thanks Sam. My name’s Sean Ruddy and I work for the Near North District School Board. Currently, my role is the Principal of student success and specialized programs. And the board office is located in North Bay, and we cover roughly about 17,000 square feet. So geographically we’re a fairly large board, and it stretches kind of from Perry Sound in the west, to Sturgeon Falls and in North Bay; in that that basic geographic area there.


Sam Demma (02:42):
At what point during your own career exploration phase of life, did you realize that as you is where you want it to work?


Sean Ruddy (02:50):
Yeah, it’s funny. Everybody seems to have a different story about how they end up in, in this in this spot. Graduating from from secondary school, I went on to post-secondary school. I, I was going into business, so I had no intention of, of getting into education at all. I was really fortunate enough to volunteer coach at a, as my, my high school that I graduated up and and, and got to work with some, some students and, and coaching them hockey. And for me, I really used the word coaching and, and teaching kind of interchangeably because they’re essentially, in my view, they’re, they’re the same thing. Really got to, to see that I was making a difference and, and that you know, you know, you knew it was as a your experience with soccer. You know, when you, you have, you have some success as a team and, and you, you know, as a leader of that particular team it certainly gives you that that thrive to, to want to do more. So I quickly figured out that that, you know, impacting students was something that I wanted to do for a living and then applied for teachers college and, and kind of the rest is, is history.


Sam Demma (04:05):
You mentioned coaching, how has athletics played a big role in your involvement at school and also outside of school?


Sean Ruddy (04:12):
Yeah. Athletics is huge. And you know, speaking of athletics, I know you’re a soccer guy. Yeah. Is there, is it a better timing camp, Canada to be a soccer fan right now? You know, like it’s,


Sam Demma (04:23):
Especially for me, because two of the guys who play on the Canadian men’s national team used to be teammates. So not only are they winning, but I’m able to personally cheer them on.


Sean Ruddy (04:33):
Yeah. That that’s incredible. Yeah. No sports sports has had a huge impact on, on my life as I believe it has on, on, on yours. The, you know, all of those lifelong skills that you learn in terms of you know, collaboration and you know, and teamwork and you know, putting the the common goals of the groups ahead of your individual interests, all of those are, are foundational leadership philosophy that, that I’ve taken from my years of playing sports and and try and implement it to you know, everything that I do here at the, at the schoolwork.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Awesome. you mentioned that the, the word coach and, and the word teacher could be kinda used interchangeably, what do you mean by that? And where do you see the striking similarities?


Sean Ruddy (05:21):
Well, I see, you know, you, you know, if we go back to using the, the coaching analogy, right, if you, you, you replace the team with your class and those are all interchangeable. And the, the really neat thing, and as you would know, is that every, every person is different. So every player that you have on your soccer team is different. Every kid in your class that you have is different. They all come from varying backgrounds and, and are motivated in, in different ways. And you know, you, the way I see it, the role as you’re as the leader or the coach, or the teacher, you have to figure out how each individual student learns and how to get the best out of that individual kit. And you know, it’s, and it’s no different on the, on the quarter on the field. And you know, the best best coaches are able to maximize the potential in each of their individual players, you know, and all going towards the you know, a common goal. So that’s where I see it. They’re, they’re, they’re really interchangeable from, from my point of view.


Sam Demma (06:22):
So you started teaching tell me a little bit about your first role and then bring us through the progression to what brought you to where you are right now.


Sean Ruddy (06:31):
Yeah, so I, I was fortunate enough out of teachers college to get hired in a, in a little small, a small town notes side, February called lava. And it was with the rainbow district school board, and I’m from north bay. So it was, it was outta town. So I spent one year there really immersed in teaching pretty much everything you can think of because when you’re in these small communities, there’s no such thing as specialized teachers. So you, you have to everything. So it was, it was great to, to live and learn there. I was able to eventually get back to the north district school board and taught for a number of years and then became a, a vice principal. And now I think I’m about 17 years into administration, a a on, through a few different secondary schools. And and this is my second year in the central position at, at the board office. So I I’ve really kind of been in, in every area of the board.


Sam Demma (07:31):
That’s amazing. You’ve played every position on the field.


Sean Ruddy (07:34):
Yes. Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:37):
Central role. Tell me a little bit more about what it entails and what your roles and responsibilities are, and some of the projects maybe that you’re focused on bringing in or running.


Sean Ruddy (07:48):
Yeah. So, so for me, you know, my focus is on student success and, and any of those specialized programs that we can put in place to, to help impact student achievement and our wellbeing within our board. Some of the, some of the ones that we’re really proud of is all of our secondary schools have specialist high skills, major programs. I and those were a variety of different programs from hospitality to construction, to business and arts. Students are, are very fortunate now where they have a number of options that they can focus based on their interests. So, so that’s one that certainly falls within my portfolio. Another one that we’re re we’re really excited about is we have a dual credit program with Canada or college here in north bay. So they’re a partner with us, and we offer a variety of, of dual credits where a student can actually go to college and get a, from the college and a credit from high school. So it’s you know, if you think of some of those the shortages that we have in the skills trades this is a great program to encourage our youth to get in there and and, and really get involved in a, you know, a career that would be very beneficial to them. And then we’re also lucky we’re, we’re launching a couple of new things for September we’re, we’re launching a, a dual credit and video game design.


Sam Demma (09:10):
Oh, nice.


Sean Ruddy (09:10):
So you know, some, some unique things like that, so that’s going on. And then, and then one other one that will likely be announced probably when the podcast airs is that our school board is partnering with Everest academy hockey academy. Wow. And we’re gonna have a, we’re gonna offer a high performance hockey academy combined with an academic program with the near us district school board, which will be unique in, in one of its kind. And again, trying to you know, find the interest of students to engage them in their academic career.


Sam Demma (09:47):
That’s amazing. I think the high performance program sounds like something I would’ve loved to be involved in for soccer when I was growing up in the school. So sounds like a final opportunity for students. What, what keeps you hopeful personally about this work on the days when you show up and there’s global pandemics or on the days you show up and things are a little bit difficult.


Sean Ruddy (10:10):
Yeah. You know, you know, Sam as, as an education and a, a leader I think your only option is to Mo model hope for your your, your teachers and students. Like, yeah. These last two years have been challenging for everybody, not just in, in education as we you know, continually pivot between timetable structures and in school and outta school. And you know, the people that are looking up to you, your, your teacher or your, or your students, they’re looking for that calm, steady beacon of hope. And you have to be the model for them especially during times of crisis and chaos. So I mean, the, there are going to be some lasting things out of this this pandemic, one of them we’re doing right now, we’re, we’re able to connect from, you know, hundreds of kilometers away in real time in, in video. So there’s all kinds of opportunities where we can get students in front of experts from literally around the world you know, through zoom or teams or, or those types of things. But yeah, no, there’s we’re gonna get through the other side that we, we always do. And again, as a leader, I think all you can do is, is to be that model of hope and, and optimism, and and continue to find ways to make things work even in, in times where it it’s very difficult.


Sam Demma (11:35):
I couldn’t agree more. I think you’re absolutely right. Being hopeful. Yourself definitely rubs off on those, around you, especially in the leadership position. So that’s awesome. When you think about programs that have happened in the past can you remember the transformation of a student who went through a program or was ever a part of a, of a class or a team that you’ve coached, who, when they started were very different than when they, you know, completed it or came out the other end? And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name just to keep it a private


Sean Ruddy (12:11):
Yeah, no, there’s, there’s so many Sam having been around you know, I think this is here 22 for me in education. There’s so many stories. You know, if you just think of your own experience going through high school, when you, when you entered grade nine and you know, the maturity level of, of grade nines that were in your class, and then you, the, that same group walking across the stage four or five years later there’s, there’s just a massive change just in maturity. And, and, you know, as educators, we’re, you know, we’re proud of the accomplishments and seeing that transformation for sure. And certainly I know your your educators would be certainly proud with the, that you’re doing not only with, with this podcast, but also the work that you’ve done in your community.


Sean Ruddy (12:58):
So, so thank you for doing that. Just, you know, there’s so many individual stories. It’s hard to, to pick out one, but I can give you like, just a general just a, just a general basis on, in terms of kind of my involvement in, in terms of impacting students. It’s so difficult in the education businesses, because you don’t have that instant feedback. And it’s so hard to you know, I like, I think of one of my colleagues who’s a principal out in sturgeon falls. He also runs a, a wood business. And if you think of something simpler like that, and you, you compare it to education. So not to say that the wood business is simple, but a pile of logs get dropped off. And he goes out there and he works all day on a Saturday, the logs get cut up and they get stacked nicely in court.


Sean Ruddy (13:46):
So he can look back at the end of the day and all that hard painstaking work he’s done. You can see that it’s made a difference in education. We’re, we’re doing that pain making work day in and day out. And, and it’s really hard to see that until there are times like graduation. There’s one, one example. I met a, a former student in the grocery store and he came up to me and he said, you know, he’s told me about how successful he’s been, told me about an interaction that I had with him in the hall one day now, to be honest them, I had no it’s one of a hundred interactions we’d have with students in the day. So I had no recollection of this interaction. He said, he said, you know what? You really made a difference with what you said to me that day.


Sean Ruddy (14:27):
And I stayed at school and I, I continued to go on. So if I have any advice around that for our educational colleague out there is to not underestimate any interaction that you have with a student, no matter how small you think it is, because you know, depending on that particular student, it, it makes a huge difference. And I also equate you know, the work we do in education to my golf game, going back to the sports analogy again, right? So, you know, I’ll go out. I don’t play as often as I’d like to, but I’d go out and shoot 85 or 190 shots, 85, 90, 95 shots. And many of those are frustrating shots and they don’t go where you want them to go, but without fail, there’s one or two that you hit, whether that’s that nice long drive, or you drained a long pot that goes in and you get that satisfaction of doing something that makes you wanna play again. So when we get that feedback from students, oftentimes it’s not until they’re long graduated and you meet them at somewhere in the community you really realize the difference that you make and it makes you want to keep keep going back.


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s a beautiful analogy. I’ve played golf for one summer, and I don’t have many of those moments yet, but they’re coming.


Sean Ruddy (15:43):
You got it. They’ll come.


Sam Demma (15:45):
Yep. I go, I do a lot of swimming, actually. It’s a dual sport athlete when I golf. Yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing. And if you could, and you may be echoing some of the things you just shared now, but if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education this far bundle it all up, go back in time and tap yourself on the shoulder. And your first, second, third year of education, knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given to your younger self?


Sean Ruddy (16:13):
Well, I think we all all, all of us that are in education are, are fairly driven to be successful. And, and to get to that point, you have been successful. You’re going to fail. You’re, you’re gonna try things and you’re gonna fail. And as frustrating as that is, you know, looking back now, that’s exactly how we learn. Yeah. Like we try things and we fail and, and we reflect on it and do it again. The most powerful lesson that I learned really early on is that I, I ended up working at a school that was about 45 minute drive away from, from my house. So at the end of the day, I had 45 minutes of, of kind of quiet reflection to think of about what happened during the day and reflect on how I can, you know, do it better.


Sean Ruddy (16:58):
So you know, make those mistakes, think outside the box, make connections with kids. You know, kids are the variable, right? Like they, they change, they, you, you, what you did five years ago, won’t necessarily work this year. You’re gonna have change. The kids are the, are the variable. So you know, continue to adapt and and reflect and, and make mistakes. And that, and that’s how we learn. And you know, what, El Sam, I think it’s also fair to show that vulnerability, even as a, as a leader right now, show that vulnerability. Yeah. We continue to make mistakes and that’s okay. And that’s how we learn, but you reflect on them and, and you keep moving on. And you know, as a leader, I think it’s important to, to show that you know, that, that vulnerability.


Sam Demma (17:46):
Finally, before we wrap up here today have you found any specific resources helpful for your own development and education and coaching? Maybe the resource is actually even a person. So, you know, you can mention a mentor or even something you’ve read, watched or been a part of that’s had an impact on you.


Sean Ruddy (18:05):
Yeah. There’s, you know, nobody gets a this far in their career without help from, from people along the way. And there’s many, many people that had a, a big impact on, on my career in particular, the, the first principal that hired me in the rainbow board, Fred law took me right under his wing and, and gave me that permission to make mistakes and, and, and learn. So that was great, but you know what, to be honest, the, and I’m not a, a huge social media presence or, or person. Yeah. But the the best PD that I’m I’m getting right now is you know, following a variety of people on Twitter. Like there’s so much positive PD that that’s out there again, right. So, and it connects people from all areas and all boards and you know, where you can collaborate on, on pretty much any topic you want. So it, it really kind of shrinks the the world. And and basically any topic that you, you want, you can find somebody all else that’s either tried that, or would like to try that with you. Cool. And you can go from there.


Sam Demma (19:16):
If someone wants to reach out to you, ask a question, bounce some ideas around or collaborate after listening to this podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Sean Ruddy (19:24):
Yeah, probably the best place is they email Sam. So it’s sean.ruddy@Nearnorthschools.ca. And I do have Twitter, although I’m not, I use it more for PD than being active and it’s @SeanRuddy14.


Sam Demma (19:39):
Awesome. Sean, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up with the great work, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Sean Ruddy (19:45):
Awesome. Thanks Sam, I really appreciate the opportunity.


Sam Demma (19:49):
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 Sean Ruddy

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.

Sarah Hernholm – Educator turned Entrepreneur, Founder of WIT

Sarah Hernholm – Educator turned Entrepreneur, Founder of WIT
About Sarah Hernholm

Sarah is a former elementary school teacher turned entrepreneur.  In 2009, she left the classroom to create WIT – Whatever It Takes. At WIT she works with t(w)eens around the world who are interested in using their voice and ideas to launch businesses, non-profits, and/or social movements. WIT also focuses on helping t(w)eens develop emotional intelligence, soft skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset. 

She has given 3 TEDx talks, a few keynotes, and one commencement address. When I’ not “doing WIT” I’m planning my next adventure, working on a new business idea, or spending time with my amazing family and friends. 

Connect with Sarah: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.doingwit.org

www.sarahhernholm.com

Camp WIT

Do WIT Podcast

From Victim to Victor | Sarah Hernholm | TEDxYouth@Austin

Authentic self expression: Sarah Hernholm at TEDxSDSU

Bravery: Commas, Not Periods | Sarah Hernholm | TEDxRBHigh

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 to the High Performing Student podcast. The number one resource for self development for young people. If you’re a student, athlete or youth entrepreneur, looking to crush your goals and reach your vision. This show is specifically for you. Each episode is engineered to provide you with the practical systems and strategies you can use to stay motivated, beat burnout, and ultimately make your dreams a full blown reality. And I’m your host, Sam Demma. Since the age of 17, I’ve spoken to thousands of youth across north America, and now I’m sharing the tools and strategies that will help you lay the foundation for future success. So grab a pen and a sheet of paper, and let’s go. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Student podcast. Yes, you heard that right; The High Performing student. I know you’re listening to this on the High Performing Educator, or maybe you’re listening on the High Performing Student, regardless of where you’re listening.


Sam Demma (00:58):
I thought this episode applied to both audiences that I catered to. I have a second show. I have the High Performing Student podcast and the High Performing Educator. The High Performing Educator is geared towards people in education. The High Performing Student, geared towards students. Together, there is over 300 episodes. You know, if I combine both of the podcasts together over 50,000 downloads, I’m so grateful that you choose to take your time tune in and listen to this content. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. Whatever show you’re tuning in from, I’m super, super excited to share today’s interview with you. Sarah Hernholm is the founder of WIT(whatever it takes). Her story of getting out of a career and becoming an entrepreneur and doing amazing work and the obstacle she’s overcome and the people she’s met and the impact she’s making; all of it combined really inspired me.


Sam Demma (01:51):
And I was so impressed with her, her beliefs, her ideas, her philosophies, when it comes to life that I thought I should share this episode on both platforms. So I hope you enjoy it; have a pen and paper ready because you’re gonna take a lot of notes and I will see you on the other side, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the work you do today and why you even do it?


Sarah_Hernholm (02:25):
All right. Well, my name is Sarah, Hernholm. I am the founder of an organization called WIT(whatever it takes) and we help young people become leaders and entrepreneurs, specifically tweenagers and teenagers. We believe you’re never too young to start making a difference and that you’re never too young to be an entrepreneur. And so all of our programs and everything that we do is geared around that.


Sam Demma (02:48):
Why, where, why?


Sarah_Hernholm (02:51):
It’s why wit why doing entrepreneurship? I mean, I just feel that what kids are learning in school and I used to be a school teacher. So, and I do know that there’s great teachers. I was a great teacher and I know great teachers exist, but on average there’s not a lot of great, there’s not a of great teachers out there teaching real world skills and applications to young people. And I, I believe very strongly that if you really wanna be ready for the real world, then schools should be doing that for you and getting you ready for that. And if they’re not, then other organizations like mine need to exist until they get it together over there.


Sam Demma (03:37):
I like that. I totally agree. What, what do you think are some of the real world skills that are so important that we teach to our young people today or that you even teach at, you know, your own curriculums and schools?


Sarah_Hernholm (03:49):
Well, I think we need to be teaching financial literacy. I mean, you should be very clear on how to make a budget. You should know that how much things just cost and understand where that, that cost comes from. And then that’s very empowering when you know that information, cuz then you can know when you’re getting screwed over by something and then you got like, you’re getting a good deal. Like those kind of things. And then when you’re launching your own business, you wanna know what it’s gonna cost to actually run something. And all the things that go into that. So financial like real world application of literacy is really important. I like getting young people to grapple with, with ideas. And so that looks like, okay, you wanna solve this problem that adults have created, whether it’s climate change or homelessness or fast fashion, whatever the thing is that like you don’t like then start making changes and, and start creating an alternative and create a solution. And I love that. That’s what we do at wit is we really empower a young person to take the tools they’re learning at wit and then go do something. That’s why we say, do wit, just do wit yes, I know that is a little bit close to Nikes, just do it, but it’s just do WIT and that’s really our call to action to our young people.


Sam Demma (05:06):
And at what point in your own journey did you decide I wanna leave the formal classroom and start this organization and what prompted the decision to do so because even for a young person, making a decision to change paths is a huge one. Sometimes it comes with a bunch of difficult obstacles and the expectations of others like parents, family, and friends. And I’m curious to know what prompted your career change and what it looked like.


Sarah_Hernholm (05:36):
Well, there’s nothing like getting laid off everybody to make you start wondering what you’re doing with your life. And I was a teacher in California and in California, there’s something called last and first out. So the last teacher hired as the first one fired not based on merit, not based on the impact that you have on your, on your students, but solely based on your higher date. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. It’s I don’t know of any other business that would ever do that. So I was laid off four years in a row due to due to budget cuts. And so the fourth year I was like, what the hell is going on? I mean, it, it was like being in a dysfunctional relationship where, you know, you’re doing like everything you possibly can. I mean, I was a great teacher. My kids were scoring off the charts, but besides that, cause I don’t really care about testing, but I knew how to play the game.


Sarah_Hernholm (06:28):
I had really, we were doing really cool things. We were even getting pressed about what we were doing in the classroom and still I was laid off or I was told to stop doing those things. And you’re like, I’m doing everything I can. And I love this and I’m doing passion and heart and it’s still not enough. This is so dysfunctional. Like this is so dysfunctional. So the fourth year is when I kind of, I had a moment of ma I’m well, first of all, it’s really good to like know yourself. So I was like, I’m not changing. The I’m not changing. I know that I’m not gonna dumb down what, I’m, how I do my teaching. I’m not gonna change to make. I was once told to stop doing things that I was making other teachers look bad. And then now parents were complaining and they wanted me to change what I was doing.


Sarah_Hernholm (07:12):
And I was like, I’m not changing it. And so I knew I was not gonna change. And that’s actually a really good thing need to realize about yourself is like, just to know yourself and to know that where your boundaries are, what your limits are, what your and I was, I’m not changing. And so if I’m not gonna change, am I willing to go play their game? And I wasn’t willing to play the game anymore. And so then I thought, well, if you’re not gonna do that, you gotta figure what you’re gonna do. And so that’s, I started figuring out what I was gonna do.


Sam Demma (07:41):
There’s so much to unpack there. Like where does your confidence come from to not change? And the reason I ask is because I feel like society pushes young people, especially to change, to mold, to certain societal standards. You might have been a little older than a high school kid when you made this decision, obviously, but where does your confidence, where does your confidence come from to, to stand in your own power and decisions?


Sarah_Hernholm (08:06):
Well, I wanna be clear that I’m not always like that. Yeah. I mean, I’m gonna be doing something right now. I got a really big opportunity yesterday and my stomach is still uneasy about it because I’m like, oh my gosh, am I gonna be good enough? Am I worthy enough? He’s probably expecting like this and what if I can’t deliver? And so it’s normal to you. Don’t just feel confident all the time. I mean it’s, but I was very, very, very confident in my teaching abilities. I’m very confident in that. Like I just, that’s something that at, can I take you back on it and do better and will I learn new practices and do better? Sure. But no one can even like, come at me with me, not caring about kids or like wanting to help kids or doing everything I possible for a kid.


Sarah_Hernholm (08:55):
Like, it’s just, that’s this one area of my life where you just like you can’t, I, I wouldn’t even believe it. Like there’s other areas of my life where I feel insecure and I feel not enough. And I try to take the, the confidence that I have in this other area and how I’ve gotten that and try to bring that over there. But I just don’t want your listeners to think that I’ve all that that goes into every area of my life. I definitely have areas where I need to work more on or I get to work more on my confidence, but I, it was UN I was unshakable. I knew I was great as a teacher.


Sam Demma (09:27):
Mm. And then, you know, you mentioned as well, this idea that school’s a little bit dysfunctional in the fact that we think our self worth comes from our GPA. And you mentioned very briefly just now, you know, I don’t care about that. And I noticed on your Twitter, you even retweeted something from someone named Neil Sharma, who was basically saying like, oh,


Sarah_Hernholm (09:46):
He was in my,


Sam Demma (09:49):
OK. Oh, sorry, Nick. Yeah. and he was basically saying shout out to all the kids who felt worthless, that didn’t do great in school, but your greatness isn’t tied to your grades. And I wanted to unpack that because I wholeheartedly believe it as well. You know, you judge someone by their ability to do good in math when they’re they wanna be the next Picasso. Like, it just, it doesn’t make any sense. You’re judging them based off something they don’t like doing. And then you’re gonna tell them they’re a failure because of it. So I wanted to know your perspective on GPA and also how it relates to students identities and, and self-worth,


Sarah_Hernholm (10:22):
Well, first I’ll share that I was not an academically inclined kid. I, I was not somebody who, what like thrives in, in a hypercompetitive academic info. And I was sometimes put into those, I, I was very fortunate to have parents who were wanting to give me the best education possible. And so we went to some of the best schools and one of the schools, I went to three different high schools, and one of the high schools was a college prep school and very, very intense, very academic and very competitive academically. And I think it was twofold. One, I just didn’t, I just didn’t buy it. I guess I was a little bit like, all right. I mean, I don’t know if it was a self-preservation or defense mechanism, but it was a little bit like you kind of suck as a teacher if I don’t understand this concept, because why are you like making me feel about, I remember one teacher would make me go to the board and do the math problems in front of everybody.


Sarah_Hernholm (11:24):
And I obviously was struggling. And instead of getting support, it was like, I guess we’ll wait, or I guess we’ll have to wait before we can move on until Sarah and I. And then when I became a teacher, I was like, who the hell does that to a kid? Yeah. Like I, cause I thought, I think you think when you’re a kid that wants you, you become an adult. Certain behaviors will make sense. While I became an adult, I became a teacher and I could never have imagined doing that because shaming, your kid is only gonna make them like perform worse and also have zero trust. And if you’re like me, it becomes a little fight or flight. So I mean, I would send I one time like walked out of a classroom, I just like put the thing down and like walked out. I probably got in trouble, but it was more like, you’re not gonna get me.


Sarah_Hernholm (12:08):
Like, you’re not gonna let, you’re not gonna have this moment of me maybe crying in front of everybody or whatever. Like I, I, but that is silly that I had to learn how to survive. Right? Yeah. Like that, like that that’s ridiculous. So I, I didn’t wanna stay at that school. My sister was there and my brother was on his way there and they were more, they were, maybe it was a better fit for them. It just wasn’t a fit for me. I went to a public school for about, I went for happy year and then I ended up going to a boarding school where a lot of people that I knew that I, I would go to summer camp. And a lot of people from summer camp would go to this boarding school. And I ended up there and probably, I would say my best high, high school teacher, one of my best high school teachers was from there, my English teacher.


Sarah_Hernholm (12:50):
And she kind of went me into shape. I mean, I, I kinda came in a little bit like a punk. I mean, I, but definitely self-preservation a lot of like defense mechanisms up get given what I’ve gone through. And she pulled me out of the room one day and said to me, you’re better than this. And you’re better than that. And I was like, I am okay. And that was really powerful. So my high school journey was that three, three different high schools became better. Academically. My later in high school got motivated. I could get the grades if I was motivated by something, but it was very hard to motivate me. And, but if it was like a carrot, like, oh, you can’t audition for something or you have to have a certain GPA to participate in something that was creative or theatrical.


Sarah_Hernholm (13:42):
I was like, okay, all right, I guess I’ll start working now. But otherwise I wasn’t really motivated. Hmm. I understand why so many people are, are motivated by grades and adults owe young people a huge apology for creating this beast, which is that we have told you that if you get a high GPA, then you will get into the school of your dreams and you will be happy and that’s not true. There is no death or, or job or title that makes you happy. It can provide happiness at times, but it’s fleeting. It’s not consistent because life happens in all the places that you end up going to, whether it’s a getting a job or a school or a partnership or a boyfriend or girlfriend, they don’t make you happy. You can experience happiness. There, so they’re is a big lie that we’ve told people. And as a result of that, we’re burning out young people and we’re also getting them pretty dependent on some hard prescription drugs. Yeah. So I it’s really unfortunate, but you know if you really wanna look at things and wonder why things happen, you just have to follow the money. And a lot of money is made on young people believing the lie that their GPA determines their worth.


Sam Demma (15:07):
How do we break that cycle? Or how do we helps students realize that it’s, it’s not, it’s, that’s not where their self worth is attached from. Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (15:19):
I don’t, I’m surprised that it keeps perpetuating itself. I don’t have kids yet. And, but I would never pass that on. So I’m kind of confused by all of these adults who have, even who even have, who even got the GPA, got into the school, realized that didn’t bring them happiness, realized that they had to do their own work and like maybe even change career paths, why they would pass that on to the live onto their children. I think maybe they just want, I, I think I know every parent loves their kid. My experience has been as a teacher and working with young people for over a decade is that parents are doing the best they can, what they’ve got.


Sam Demma (16:00):
Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (16:01):
And I’ve never met no one. That’s not true. Most parents I’ve met wanna do better by their kids and give them more than they had. And they might just go about it in walk ways. But I think parents have to just stop drinking the Kool-Aid and being like, no, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I I’m not. And, and maybe this next generation, when they have kids, maybe they will stop the, the cycle. Who knows. I don’t, I just do. I just stay in my lane, do what I can with the work that we do, cuz otherwise it becomes overwhelming.


Sam Demma (16:40):
Yeah. I’m hoping that the next generation crushes that meaning like when I become a parent, when you become a parent, because I know firsthand that it’s almost like education was everything that my parents and grandparents knew because you know, they come to this country with nothing and get an education. What gets you, which gets you a stable paying job. And that gets you a, you know, a very average life. And so in their eyes, education is protection and safety and they wanna like, you know guard you as your, as their, as their child or grandchild. Right. But I think we’re starting to realize that there’s so many other paths to a stable life that don’t just involve your grades and whether or not you get a 92 or a 72, you can still create a stable life and a great life after high school or post-secondary.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I think I’m curious to know, you know, I remember when I decided to take a break for my university studies, I dropped outta school after two months, you know, my parents looked me in the eyes and like, what are you gonna do with your life? I told them my dreams. And I said something along the lines of, and I didn’t say these exact words, but in my passion and in my description, I basically was saying, I’m gonna do whatever it takes. And I’m curious to know in your perspective, what is doing whatever it takes mean to you. And can you give us like a story or an example of a situation in your life where you’ve been told? No, because from your Ted talk, I know as an entrepreneur, you’ve been rejected hundreds of times. Yeah. So gimme some stories. What does it mean to be, what does it mean to do whatever it takes to you and gimme some stories or examples of how you’ve done it in your own life?


Sarah_Hernholm (18:14):
Okay. I’ll tell everybody that. So the name of the company that I started is called wit whatever it takes when I started it was called wit kids because I was gearing it towards elementary age. Got it. And the name came because when I was in teacher, my classroom motto was whatever it takes. The reason it be the classroom motto became, whatever it takes is because one day, and this is my first teaching job. I was teaching fourth grade in a trailer because the CLA the school was under construction. We didn’t, I didn’t have a classroom. And I was in a trailer and I was in heaven. I was so excited to start teaching and get my classroom. I mean, I was, I, I was loving teaching. I don’t know how in, how long into the first year this conversation happened, but it was probably pretty early on.


Sarah_Hernholm (19:04):
And a kid came in and they hadn’t done their homework. And I said, and I, when I always did my homework, I may not have liked school, but I always did well. I mean, I I’m gonna always, but I mean, homework was it wasn’t optional, especially elementary school. Are you kidding? I mean, my parents were still guiding me then. And so it was quiet time after school. Did you get your homework, play your sports? And I was really surprised. I remember being really at how casually. He said he didn’t do his homework. And I remember being like, why are you not concerned? Cause I’m concerned and you’re not.


Sarah_Hernholm (19:40):
And I was like okay, well you need to do your homework. Like, it’s part of your grade HES. Like, oh, okay, well I didn’t do it. And I said, well, why didn’t you do it? And without even like blinking, flinching, anything, he said, I was watching the Simpsons. And then I was even more like, are you kidding? Like you don’t even, like now you are even like, I mean, props tea for being so honest, but also like do not see a problem with this, that you were watching like a cartoon. And I said, you know, really the tip to everybody when you really wanna go like one way in a reaction, maybe it’s like more of an extreme reaction or anger or frustration lean into curiosity because that will keep you more present. So keep asking questions versus having like overreaction. And so I said did your parents like know that you’re watching?


Sarah_Hernholm (20:31):
And he said, oh yeah, we all watched it together. And so then I thought, interesting. So you have, in that moment, it was like, oh, well, the reason he didn’t think he’s doing anything wrong is because he’s doing it with his parents. Mm. And then I asked, did your parents know you had homework? Yes. Did you tell them it was done? No. And I’m thinking like just processing in real time. And I thought, oh, and I knew what demographic of kids I was teaching. I was clear on the school and the demographic and the situations of a lot of the kids. And I thought, oh, they’re gonna, this is gonna be different. Like, they’re not gonna, they don’t all have the same kind of support that I had growing up, which was sit down, do your homework, show me, it’s done. Put your folder in the backpack.


Sarah_Hernholm (21:16):
Right. Which is pretty, that’s a lot of like parenting, like a lot of like monitoring you. Yeah. And so that night I stayed late at, in the classroom and I wrote on butcher paid, I painted on butcher paper, whatever it takes, put it on the, the wall of the right above the chalkboard whiteboard in the front of the classroom, in front of the trailer. And then when they came in the next day, I said, this is our classroom motto. And we do whatever it takes. If it means you have to take your body and like put it in the other room, your homework, that’s what you do. And we do that because we love ourselves and we want, we, we have big dreams. And so I really tried to make it feel like, of course you wanna do whatever it takes because we do whatever it takes because we love ourselves so much.


Sarah_Hernholm (22:01):
And we have a, we, we believe in ourselves and we, we have goals and dreams. I didn’t wanna shame anybody. I didn’t wanna make it sound like we have to do whatever it takes, because you know, sometimes you get crappy family situations. It’s like, no, like nobody wants to, like, that’s not empowering. And that I still have that butcher paper and that, that sign and that when I went to different schools, like that was the motto. And so then when I left teaching and started my new thing, I thought I wanted to combine that. So that became wit kids then to wit then to do wit doing wit and I, I, it’s not whatever it takes to burn yourself out. It’s not about doing whatever it takes. And like I’ve hustled so hard. And so I, I only sleep one hour a day, no, whatever it takes about creating the life that you really desire and you need sleep for that life. And so do whatever it takes to get eight hours of sleep, do whatever it takes to move your body every day. It’s not a beat down, cut a corner, whatever it takes, it’s an empowering, whatever it takes.


Sam Demma (23:09):
I love that, that such a empowering story. And sometimes doing whatever it takes is sending a tweet to Gary Vee and then responding four years later and hopping on a podcast with him. Right. So that


Sarah_Hernholm (23:23):
So that was so random.


Sam Demma (23:25):
Well, you know, I think, and Gary Vee highlighted it in that conversation with you, he said, you know, it’s so important. You go into interactions, figuring out how you can give as opposed to ask. And I think that that’s such an important thing to keep in mind when we are chasing our own dreams and goals. And I’m curious to know your perspective on that and has it played a big role in your own entrepreneurial journey?


Sarah_Hernholm (23:47):
Huge. And I think it really played into why I got this big offer that I got yesterday. Opportunity yesterday is.


Sam Demma (23:54):
One second. You’ve mentioned it twice now, is it like private? Or can we like so light on yeah, it’s, I’ll tell you.


Sarah_Hernholm (23:59):
Offline, but it just happened. And so, but it’s just really timely because it’s around feeling a little bit inadequate and scared and, and that’s all really good stuff. It means you care. Yeah. And it’s on my mind and I’m gonna be working on this presentation after we have this call and this hangout. And I also feel like a, that the opportunity came due to me. It, I, of being focused more on like gratitude and, and giving. And what I mean by that is I’m really, really big on gratitude and what that looks like. It looks like I’ll just walk you through a situation. If someone’s gonna come be a guest at wit and speak to our teens. So we have something called wit Hangouts and we have them every week. And we bring in different CEOs, celebrities, entrepreneurs, we leaders, and they come in, they spend an hour with our teens for free and they share their stories.


Sarah_Hernholm (24:50):
And it’s an interview similar, like what we’re doing right now, but the kids can jump in and ask questions. And we do this because one, I believe that you should surround yourself with those who have gone before you and learn from them. And I also do this because that I expression your network is your net worth. I mean, and I think how cool is it to be 15 or 16 years old and already be connecting with John shoe? Who is this great director? And one day you wanna be a director. And now you’ve had a hangout with John talking about crazy rich Asians and in the Heights. And so I just really believe in that. And so we, I make the ask for someone to come and I share what, you know, I share the opportunity. And a lot of these, these people are like people that have met along the way in my life, but I thank them before they come.


Sarah_Hernholm (25:38):
I send a message saying, thank you in advance for making the time tomorrow to come to this hangout. We’re so, you know, just expressing the gratitude. And then during the hangout, a very essential part of the hangout is the last part of the hangout, where the teens write in the chat on zoom, their takeaways in their gratitude, because I’m wanting them to learn the value of takeaways and gratitude. And not only that, when I, I will call on a teen and say, oh, Emma, do you wanna read your, she didn’t take away. Emma reads it. And then she sees Dave’s face re like receiving that gratitude and being like, oh my gosh, like that really made him. And then the person says the speaker’s like, oh my gosh, like, I’m so glad that, that you, like, it resonated with you and I could help. And there’s this exchange of like, oh my gosh, just being, you can visually see the power of gratitudes. Then after the hangout, we’ve screenshot all the gratitude that the kids wrote. And then we send an email to our speaker and say, thank you. We thank them again. And then we say, and here are the GRA the gratitude and takeaways from our students that you can have time actually reading them and digesting them. And like, knowing that you really made an impact today.


Sam Demma (26:45):
Hmm.


Sarah_Hernholm (26:46):
Let me tell you, no one has done that for me. And I speak all over the place.


Sam Demma (26:51):
Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (26:51):
Now, are they wrong for not doing it? No. But when you do something like that, you stand out. And so this, this, we had a guest yes. Yesterday, and this person came and spoke and, and it was great. And I was like, oh my gosh, I really want this person to help me on my journey. They’ve gone. They they’ve gone before me. They are so like far along and I would love to work with them. And so I had a lot of asks I wanted to make, but I thought, no, the move right now is just, is gratitude. And, and, and sending the thank you email with all of the screenshots. And then they wrote me back and said, we wanna do something together with you. I


Sam Demma (27:38):
See.


Sarah_Hernholm (27:38):
And like, whoa. And I just, and receiving of that. And like, I’m really grateful. But I’m also, the other thing that I did was I got off that hangout and I wrote a thank you note to that. Person’s assistant an email because that person booked it and made it happen. And I also wrote a thank you email to the person who had introed me to the assistant, because both of those people were essential for me to get this star on. And I also think that people forget who helps them get there. And I will, I will. I know what it’s like to be the assistant. I used to work in Hollywood. I was an assistant to celebrities. I mean, you like, people don’t always treat you well, but you’re also the gatekeeper to these people. So it’s always so interesting. It’s like, so you just don’t wanna forget who got you, where you’re going or act like you got there all by yourself. And so, so gratitude appreciation. Those things are just really key for me. Give more than get it’s a tough thing though. It’s a tough thing to teach, especially to a demographic of young people who are fighting for limited spaces at colleges. And so they kind of feel like they don’t wanna share the spotlight. Yep. But I always remind them that there’s enough to go around.


Sam Demma (29:05):
So true.


Sarah_Hernholm (29:06):
There’s just enough to go around.


Sam Demma (29:08):
And I think, you know, you highlighted also within that response, the underrated value of just being a kind human being, like you’re not being a kind human being calculating like, oh, I can get this. If I say, thank you. Or please, it’s like, no, it’s just the right thing to do. It’s the kind thing to do. But natural by being a kind person like the world opens up for you, you know, in ways that you didn’t imagine, you didn’t do it to get things right. You do it to get things. But you did it cuz it was the kind thing to do. Like I, I, you know, I, there was a golf course near my house that me and my buddies just started playing at and I made an effort just because I thought it would make it funer to talk to the person behind the window who I was paying.


Sam Demma (29:52):
And I found out his name was ed and he he’d worked there and it’s his course for 25 years. And he was so happy to tell me all about his course. We finished the nine holes. I over, I thanked him, told him how much fun we had and he looks at me and he’s like, Sam, is this your first time playing here? I’m like, yeah, like this was an amazing experience. He’s like, go play it again for free. I told my buddies, they were like, bro, let’s go nine more holes. They’re super excited. Now I didn’t, you know, talk to ed and get to know ed, you know, so that I could ask him to play nine more holes, a golf, but it just, it just, it just happened. And I feel like that’s, you’re right. It’s such a hard thing to teach. And something, sometimes nothing ever comes from it, but it’s, it’s just a, I think it’s just the right way to go about living our lives. I agree. Yeah. So kindness is underrated. Don’t forget the at. Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (30:44):
And Gary, V’s really big on that. So a lot of that is you, if you follow, I mean, find people that you wanna follow that you wanna have on your, when you’re scrolling, but Gary is very big on gratitude and kindness and patience and all of that. So it’s good to have that always as a reminder.


Sam Demma (31:01):
Yeah, I agree. And if PE wanted, like to know more about your group I know Emma’s a founder of the sweet spot. I think that’s who you’re referencing have been some research. Yeah. If people wanted to find out more about your group, learn how they could get involved. Is that something that’s still open and, and accessible? Like tell me more about it.


Sarah_Hernholm (31:19):
So people can get involved in a variety of ways. If you’re, if you are, are a high school student, you can take college credit classes that you can then transfer to the university that you end up getting into. Cool. You can also do classes, not for credit. You can be part of WIT community, which is the members only online community of young entrepreneurs who get to go to those Hangouts and meet those people. Those, the applications are ongoing. We have fun things that we do like camp wit happens during the summer. And that’s competitive cuz I like a good competition. It’s healthy, nice and compete for some money for your business. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who doesn’t want money. So it’s really hard for young people to get access to money for their businesses. And so we try to find creative ways to get them in the arena so they can pitch and win some prize money. And if you’re an adult and you happen to be listening to this, or then we have speaking opportunities, mentorship opportunities, and we even are now letting people pitch us, adults pitch us the class. And course that they wanna teach are wit teens. And then if we like that class and course we will hire them to come in and teach that class.


Sam Demma (32:33):
Awesome. Very cool. And if someone wants to connect with you online or reach out to you directly, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Sarah_Hernholm (32:41):
Well, most of my handles I think are @miss_WIT. That’s, I mean, you can DM me. I mean, I’m on Instagram. I don’t have a ton of followers, so it’s not like, I’m like, oh, I won’t see your message, I’m getting hit up all the time. So yeah, you can find me there and then that’s probably the best way.


Sam Demma (33:03):
Cool. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat about WIT and your own journey, time’s flew by. I really appreciate you doing this and maybe we could do a part 2 in like, you know, six months or a year from now. Totally. Yeah. I hope you, the listener enjoyed this, and got something from it as much as I did and let’s stay in touch and keep doing great work.


Sarah_Hernholm (33:25):
Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (33:26):
You’re welcome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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