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Experiential Learning

Nicholas Varricchio – Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)

Nicholas Varricchio - Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)
About Nicholas Varricchio

Nicholas Varricchio (@MMrPrincipal)  is the current Principal of M.M. Robinson High School of the Halton District School Board located in Burlington Ontario. Nick’s career in education has spanned 24 years – 12 of which as a Principal. Nick has taught in 3 different school boards across Ontario both in the Catholic and Public systems, with experience in both the elementary and secondary panels.

Nick has earned a Master’s of Education from York University, a BEd. from the University of Windsor and his Honors BA. from the University of Waterloo.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

M.M. Robinson High School

Dr. Frank J Hayden High School

Solution Tree – K12 Professional Development

Halton 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 (00:02):
Nick welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Nicholas Varricchio (00:11):
Well, my name isNicholas Varricchio. I am a secondary school principal with the Halton district school board, and my current work location or school is M.M. Robinson high school. And thank you Sam, for allowing me to participate in my very, very first podcast. So if I stumble and hum and hall a little bit, please excuse that, but I’m excited about this opportunity and thank you for hearing my story.


Sam Demma (00:38):
Thank you for saying yes to this opportunity. I appreciate you may the time to come on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about what brought you into education and maybe even explain how you came to realize that education was the career that you wanted to get into?


Nicholas Varricchio (00:58):
Well to be quite honest, I stumbled into education. It wasn’t something that I had planned as a, as a, as a kid or as a teenager, I, I stumbled into it. And you know, the reason why I, I like doing what I do is not because I’m crazy because a lot of people do think being a teacher or a principal today is to, especially during the pandemic, we ought to be crazy. Yeah, but I’m not, I can assure you. I feel that there’s no better place to stay young, energetic, and in tune with the world and the direction of the world, other than being in a school, you learn a lot from kids. They are, are the future. And if you enjoy working in a very fast paced environment with complex situations and you enjoy inspiring others to help evolve the world to be a better place, then absolutely.


Nicholas Varricchio (02:02):
There’s no better place to work than being in a school. What, whether it’s a teacher or a principal secretary, or even custodian, the kids of today will definitely keep you hoping and young and who doesn’t wanna stay young nowadays. Right. But I stumbled into this particular job, you know, as a, as a kid, I, wanted to be a rock star. I’m a musician and a drummer and still have music as part of my life. And although on the surface people might think that, you know, being a principal and a drummer and a, and a rock band are totally different you know, practices or careers, but, you know, I’ve thought about this for many years. You and I come to realize that, you know, I, came into schooling or education because of music, really, even though I’m not a mu I wasn’t a music teacher you know, musicians have a story to tell they like making connections through their music, which is a language and, and teachers and educators have a story to tell both musicians, both educators feel that their stories can inspire and make the world a better place.


Nicholas Varricchio (03:18):
So I think it, it, for me, it’s a, a very good metaphor to help explain how I stumbled into education.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I appreciate you sharing and think it’s so awesome that you still pursue your passion of music. Do you actively continue to play in bands today?


Nicholas Varricchio (03:38):
I do not as my much as I used to when, you know I, I was a young teacher or even a vice principal, but as a principal, I still do. Of course, the, the music industry is somewhat shut down today and has been for the last 18 months or so. So obviously no currently, but it’s definitely a something I continue to to do in my own house on my downtime gives me a definite a definite outlet. My wife is also a singer professionally, although she, she works for a, a big bank as well. She tends to be more active in music today, despite the pandemic challenges than, than myself. But you, yes, to answer your question, I, I still have music on, on, on the radar and hoping to sort of get back into that a little bit more formally once we’re behind once the pandemic is behind us,


Sam Demma (04:32):
You mentioned stumbling into education. You know, your first dream was to get into music, but you stumbled into education. Can you explain a little bit behind that stumbling journey or at what point you realized education is something I would like to do? And then what did the path look like from that moment?


Nicholas Varricchio (04:51):
So you know, I, believe that kids fall into two camps when they’re you know, pursuing their education or the school system one camp is that kids know exactly what they wanna do, or, or at least they think they know what they want to do post secondary, you know and they pursue it. And then there’s the other camp where, you know, kids have no idea what they wanna do post Canary and both camps are okay. I was in the latter camp. I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. I did like music and wanted to dabble into that a little bit knowing full well that, you know, to make a real good go as a, as a career to let live off that most certainly would be a challenge for many people. And so I decided to, you know, continue with schooling after high school while I still played music.


Nicholas Varricchio (05:58):
And while, you know, I had my part-time job in the retail sector. And you know, when I entered university, I dabbled into all subject areas because I didn’t really know you know, what I wanted to do. And I wanted to see if I could keep as many doors open as possible, should the music not play out the way I thought and hoped it would. So that was in around the time where it was very difficult to get a teaching job. There was a surplus of teachers. And so I decided to take some time off after my four year degree, just to kind of play music, supplement my income with the retail sector and go from there and see what happens. And then after about a year and a half doing that, I kind of got tired of being around a bunch of Grammy guys, playing music in some bars.


Nicholas Varricchio (06:53):
And so I thought, okay, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, apply to teachers college. And just the, to see where that goes. And it was very competitive to get into teachers college, but I made a commitment to myself that should I get, go get into a, a, a program, I’ll give it a shot. I got nothing to lose. And so I did you know after I completed my four year degree at the university of Waterloo you know, I, I eventually got into the university of Windsor for teachers college and during my first practice teaching assignment at WD low in Windsor, Ontario, I loved it. It was, it was the kids. The kids kept me hopping. I shared with them, you know, some of my, my, some of my journey with music and made a connection through them. And, and and that helped me, you know you know, get through the curriculum with the kids and keep them engaged, you know, developing those personal relationships.


Nicholas Varricchio (07:44):
So being able to, you know, share some personal stories with kids to, to engage them and using those stories to you know, work through the curriculum, I think was is key and was key for me. And so that’s how I kind of stumbled into it. Once, once I finished teachers college, again, there was still that shortage of of teaching opportunities. So again, went back into music into retail and did that for a few months. And then I thought, okay, I, I think I’m ready to at least apply. I think I have the maturity now to apply and let’s see where it goes. And so I applied to, you know, pretty much all the GTA boards and the Halton Catholic board was the first board to give me a chance. And you know, I supply taught and then quickly got out, got, got an LTO that evolved into, and to an, a, a, a position in an elementary school.


Nicholas Varricchio (08:45):
And I, I took it, you know, even though my passion was more of secondary and my experience in teachers college was secondary. I took the opportunity and, and it was a great opportunity that is for sure, but strange enough you know, a few months later I got a call from the principal at St. Francis Xavier, which is in Mississauga for a full-time geography position at their high school. And I never applied to that school. I applied to the Catholic board for a supply teaching gig, you know, several months before, but you know, the principal called me and I thought, man, that was pretty strange. And it was an odd time of year. It was like, you know, the third week of February and, you know, the teachers across the province were just coming off the major strike during the Harris days.


Nicholas Varricchio (09:37):
And so I went for the interview and, you know got the job. And I was in din field for quite a few years. And it was strange because that opportunity presented itself because the the permanent teacher, I guess, decided to marry some guy overseas and didn’t return to the teaching job. So, you know, the, the, I got that opportunity and I, because of somebody else’s best luck in a marriage. And it was a strange time. And I was with din peel for six, seven years. And you know, I was I taught at C I was just gonna zag another big, big high school in Mississauga. And then from there, I came to the Halton ditches school board, which which is actually home for me, I’m a product of the Halton district school board. My K through 12 experience was through the Halton ditches school board. And ironically very ironically the high school at, I graduated from 25 years later. I became the principal of that school at a time when many of my teachers were still there. And I, I wasn’t the best student. And most certainly, if you had asked those teachers if they thought that I would become a teacher or a principal at the school where they worked at, they would look at you like you’re crazy, but the world is a crazy place and a funny place. And that’s my stumbling into education journey.


Sam Demma (11:10):
You mentioned your belief about this idea that students fall into two categories, those that are so certain and, and know what they wanna do with their future and those that are not so certain and like yourself, I feel like I fell into the latter category of not a hundred percent being sure. How do you think we help those students that are unsure, you know, as a principal and as a teacher, how do we also support those students who are unsure, think about maybe what you would’ve needed when you were a student.


Nicholas Varricchio (11:45):
So, you know, and I know there’s gonna be some people who hear this podcast, who, who will adamantly disagree with me, but I, believe that it’s perfectly fine not to know exactly what you want to do as a young person. Mm. And I also believe that to help those young people who are not certain, what they wanna do is to highlight for them that it’s perfectly okay, because that will help take the edge off in some of the anxiety that they might be experience experiencing on not knowing exactly what they want to do. I always say to the kids, Hey, look at it this way. If you’re not sure what you want to do, and you spend an extra year at school, that means one less year that you’re, you’re having to work for a living. So, you know, I, say to kids, don’t worry about it.


Nicholas Varricchio (12:38):
Just, you know, if you’re not sure, just try a little bit of everything, something will, something will spark your interest and, you know, and once that spark happens, continue to spend more time and energy in that area. And it, it, something will emerge for you most certainly. So I, I think, you know, to help kids understand that it’s perfectly fine, you know, say that to them, be transparent with them. And again, you know, some people will disagree with that. Because you know, there’s so much pressure on kids nowadays in selecting the right courses is early on in their career to leave the doors open, which, you know, you wanna leave doors open for sure. But I think it’s perfectly fine and normal not to have a concrete plan for your next step in university, but I think if you, if you prepare kids and, you know, take that layer of pressure off of them I think they will appreciate that and understand that that’s just a normal process of growing and learning and moving on in life.


Sam Demma (13:45):
I personally agree with you and relate, because again, I was the student who wasn’t sure who maybe got three years of no work because I, I took a great third a gap year and a year off before deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally. So it’s really refreshing to hear that perspective coming from a principal as well. What do you find most rewarding about your work in education?


Nicholas Varricchio (14:18):
I, think, and often the reward is not an immediate reward. It could come days, weeks, months, and maybe even years after it’s, it’s seeing hearing or understanding that some of the work that you’ve done, whether it was directly with a student or a specific class or some of the work that you’ve done with the staff in your building or some of the work that you’ve done collaborating with central board staff, the reward for me is that I see that some of the energy input and voice has been acted upon and, and influenced others, processes, products or paths for kids or for staff that evolves schools systems and helps kids grow to be better people. Hmm. So I, that is, to me, the most rewarding bit is seeing that, yes, my work, my voice had a positive change for the better in education for kids.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And along your journey as an educator, I’m sure there’s been teachers, mentors, people that have poured into you and, and helped you, who are some of those people that come to mind and what did they teach you or share with you that you think was impactful in your journey of, you know, becoming the best educator and role model or, or principal that you possibly can be.


Nicholas Varricchio (16:07):
So, you know, I two things I’ve always had connections with teachers who am evolve themselves outside the classroom like through extracurricular, for sure. But also those teachers who had incredible stories and a gift to tell a story, to engage kids, to keep them captivated and listening and learning and class. I also, I also think that you know, my parents and I think this is probably, this will probably echo for a lot of people too. My parents were probably my best teachers throughout my life, and my mom Conti continues to be my best teacher in my life and together between, you know, my parents and my parents and my teachers throughout my school journey have always encouraged and, and foster this sense of, to ask some real crew critical questions. And don’t be shy from asking real critical questions.


Nicholas Varricchio (17:24):
That’s what I’ve learned. And, you know the power of partnerships are very important. And I I’ll give you two, two examples of, of partnerships with team parents and teachers that as, as a, as a kid, you know, if something happened in the school and I was directly involved in this incident, I tell ya I would go home. And of course, I’m not gonna say anything to, to my parents. And my mom would say, well, anything happened at school today? And I’d be like, Nope, Nope, no. And then she would throw it in my face. Right. And I would always wonder, how did she know? You know? And you know, she all always used to say, and I remember never lie to your mother. Your mother will know everything. The fact is my mother used to work for Loblaws and she was a cashier and the teachers would deliberately go through her line to share some of the things that were occurring in the class.


Nicholas Varricchio (18:25):
Now, whether they op, whether they deliberately shared to throw me under the, a bus or my mom would ask them, you know, keep the pulse of of of what was happening in schools, either way the partnership was there. And you know, funny enough, you know, again, when I came back to be a principal at the school we had a good chuckle with some, some, some of that, you know, cuz you know, here’s me being the principal and of the school and knowing that office space quite well from 25 years earlier. So very interesting. That is for sure. So the power of partnerships is definitely important. And in fact, my mom also volunteered in, when I was a, a high school kid, volunteered with the auto shop teacher. Now she claims she just volunteered because my dad was useless and didn’t know how to change a tire. But I have a feeling that I have a, I have a feeling, she did that to kind of keep an eye on what was happening in the school. So, you know you know, those teachers who had good connection or I felt I had a good connection with were those who actively got involved with my life, both inside and outside the classroom and through building partnerships with my parents.


Sam Demma (19:37):
That’s awesome. I totally relate to having parents as mentors, I’m even inspired deeply by my grandparents as well. Both who I think like yourself, are, are you a Italian? Is that your background?


Nicholas Varricchio (19:53):
Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. My mom and dad were both born in Italy. My, my grand, my grandparents of course were born in Italy. My, my grandfather was a world war II vet. Oh. They immigrated in the, in the fifties and you know, my grandpa other worked in the mines in Northern Ontario and the subways in in in Toronto and then actually later on in life, he, he worked for the the Toronto school board and he was a, he was a custodian for the for the for the Toronto school board. And for any Toronto district board central staff, one of his grievances was, you know, staff members leaving half coffee cups in the garbage cans. And at the time they weren’t using garbage bags and all that used to bother him. So if there’s any central staff listening, they won’t leave your half, your cup, half full in the garbage can for the custodians.


Sam Demma (20:49):
I love it. Leave it there. That’s a, that’s a very good point, but yeah. You know,


Nicholas Varricchio (20:53):
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that. So, but anyway, that little, little funny story, but a true story.


Sam Demma (20:59):
Yeah. And my grandparents are both from Italy as well. My parents are born a year, but my grandparents are born there and grandfather’s name Salvato. And he, yeah, he passed when I was 12, but yeah, he was a big, you know, mentor, not even through his words because I was so young and you know, didn’t really, you know, understand a lot of the meaning of mentorship back then, but through his actions and his hard work really taught me a lot. So I think partnership is really important. And having people in your life who you can bounce ideas off of, or who you can share, the honest, authentic truth, no matter how bad it sounds and, and know that the person you’re sharing it with is gonna be giving you advice from their heart with your best interest in mind. So, yeah, I think what you’re mentioning with your mom and just with, with partnership in general is so important throughout your career in education have you come across any resources, any programs anything you’ve attended or things you’ve brought into your school that you think were really valuable for the community that another educator listening could also benefit from?


Nicholas Varricchio (22:10):
So, you know, some, some of the, some of the PD that I’ve participated in both through my board, the Hal and ditch school board, and, you know, other PD that I participated in outside our board through solution tree, I, I have the opportunity to, to hear a fellow, his, his name is Anthony Mohamed and he’s, he’s well known in education circles and a lot of his work centers on the importance of culture and really understanding culture of a school to, to, to navigate the culture and how to evolve culture in a way that best serves every single kid. And, you know, some of the messages and the, and the thoughts through his research and, and and work really resonates with me because, you know, understanding culture is understanding people and you know, and, and trying to inspire them to get them side and doing that takes time doing that, you know requires you to build trust lead with empathy. But also, and as my dad would say is, you know, approach relationships by being fair firm and friendly. Mm. So, you know, very simple. But I think it, it, you know, if you keep that in mind being fair firm and friendly you know, I think it, you’re in the right, you’re taking the right steps to, to, to build trust to get people to buy in, to feel supported and see the bigger picture on, on what you’re trying to do.


Sam Demma (23:56):
Got it. That’s awesome. Do you know, what’s a solution tree, like a organization that has some speakers or what, what is solution tree?


Nicholas Varricchio (24:07):
Yeah, so it, it, it’s a network of professional speakers that that, you know, they have, they put on conferences throughout the world really. And and I’ve attended a few conferences in the United States that one here too, as well in the past. And, you know, school will, boards will often tap into solution three to bring speakers to the, to their boards of education. And, and, and quite a few colleagues. I’m not the only one who will, you know you know, participate in these conferences with solution three. And of course, you know, they, they promote the, the the speakers and their books. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s well known in the education world for sure. And the speakers that are engaged in solution tree are, are well known as well and experienced in school systems. They’re not just, you know they have experiences in schools. Let’s put it that way before they, before they became on the speaking circuit. So, yep.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely make sure to include a link to their stuff in the show notes of the episode. If you could take your knowledge and experience, and maybe this will be reiterating something you’ve already shared, but if you could take your knowledge and experience, wrap it all up and travel back in time, walk into the first couple of years of teaching that you did as a young educator. Not that you’re old now, but when you were fresh into your career if you had all the advice and wisdom now could give it to your younger self, what would you have told young Nick?


Nicholas Varricchio (26:00):
I would say that do recognize that everyone has a different starting point. Mm don’t don’t don’t assume that, so I don’t that as a, as a teacher that just because a student had graduated or moved on to the next level, they will, they, they do most, certainly have the same skill, knowledge experience, even though they formally have moved on, on to the next grade or the next course. So rec recognizing that, despite what it says on a transcript, know that when you are in the classroom with the kids, that despite what is said on their previous report card, for the course, they are coming with a diff or they both are starting your class with a different starting point. And I think also as well is you know, when they, when a student starts, starts a course with you as a teacher you know, you you’ll hear, you’ll hear things.


Nicholas Varricchio (27:16):
And if you review the OSR, which, you know, teachers are teachers, do, you know, just have that as a background, but, you know understand that it is a, it is a, a blank canvas and you have an opportunity to to work with that student from the beginning. Mm. So, you know, and we are approaching a new beginning, you know, February 4th is the start of semester two. And so every student and every teacher has a fresh start here in the next week or so. So I think, I think as a young Nick remembering and highlighting that, that every student that’s sitting in your class, despite what it said on a report card is starting from a different point in, in, in their, in their learning.


Sam Demma (28:11):
Hmm. That is a very good piece of advice. Thank you so much for, for sharing that if someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we talked about during the podcast, maybe even inquire about hearing some of your music so they could find it online. What would be the best way for somebody to reach out and get in contact with you?


Nicholas Varricchio (28:34):
So I am on Twitter, (@MMrPrincipal). So that’s a good way to kind of remember, MMR principal. I am on Twitter and actually some of the, some you’ll see some music video clips on, on Twitter too where you’ll see me playing with some of the kids at my previous school and some good classic hard rock, a little bit of Metallica, Black Sabbath Motley Crew, which is not usual picks for your principles nowadays, but nonetheless, you’ll see it on my Twitter and those videos. Actually they, they came about in a very interesting way at my previous school before, before before, mm Robinson, I was a school, I was at a school called Dr. Frank J. Hayden. And it had a a common lunch and often kids would go into the music room at Hayden and just jam.


Nicholas Varricchio (29:27):
And so, you know, when I first got there, I, I kind of made a point just to kind of go in there, listen to what the kids were jamming with. And of course they’re jamming some hard rock songs and, you know, I just tap the drummer on the shoulder and say, Hey, do you mind if I kind of try a little bit? And they’re like, sure. And I’m like, what’s on, you know and, you know, just, you know, they started playing some stuff and I just played along. And all of a sudden, you know, kids started coming in and taking some videos and, you know, thought, Hey, look at this. This is really neat. And so I had them share the videos with me and, you know, just at the time I thought, you know, a good little memory of my experience at this school when I eventually move on.


Nicholas Varricchio (30:03):
But then when the pandemic hit you know, one, the first lockdown, you know, there was a lot of concern around about kids and staff becoming disconnected with the school. And so, you know, as an admin team, we would think about ways of somehow keeping the staff and students engaged with us or engaged together. And so, you know, at the time I thought, you know what, I, I, I’m gonna try, you know, some learning, some editing software that were free on the Google play store, downloaded them video editing software. And I decided to, you know, upload those videos that some of the kids took and shared with me. And, and and I started editing them a little bit and I thought, you know, how can I use this to engage the community? And so, and then I started tweeting them out and created a music trivia challenge and saying, okay, if anyone can guess what song I’m playing here with these students, you know, hit me back first, first, correct.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:00):
Answer. You pick up your hard prize when the school reopens, and I would do this on a weekly basis and sure enough, you know, kids were keeping engaged. And the whole point of that was ensuring that our school community remained connected. So another kind of innovative way to weave in music, to, you know, to share a story and, and work in partnership with kids. So, yeah, I share all that because some of my music’s on my Twitter handle and you can see how music can be weaved in as an educator and not just a music teacher.


Sam Demma (31:31):
Absolutely. that sounds awesome. I’ll, I’ll be following you after this as well, and digging for some of those videos. So I appreciate you sharing. Yeah.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:39):
Yeah, no problem. They’re buried in the Twitter. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (31:42):
Awesome. Well, Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show here. I look forward to staying in touch with all the amazing things you do. Keep up with the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:53):
Sam, nice meeting you. Nice talking with you and best of luck and stay safe. My friend.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicholas Varricchio

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.

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development
About Jim Rieder

Jim (@riederj) leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College. providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities focused on future careers opportunities in Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and International Languages and Culture. 

Jim is always looking to partner with professional organization who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths.  Jim has had a dual career in Education and in the Software industry.  Jim started his career in education and education administration, becoming a Vice-Principal at 27 years of age.   

After a 7 year stint as a school leader, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew, went through a series of acquisitions and went public.    

Jim eventually became a sale director who looked after sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across North America and the globe.  About 6 years ago Jim returned to his educational roots and started working at West Island College, leading the Admissions team, and eventually transitioning to his current role as the Head of the Institute program.  

Jim has been married for 27 years and has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in Business and Biotechnology.  Jim’s enjoys hockey, golf, travel, backpacking and just being with people.

Connect with Jim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now (Part One)

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

Listen Now (Part Two)

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

Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Flagship Institute Program at West Island College

Bachelors of Education at University of Alberta

College of Education at San Diego State University

Books by Peter F. Drucker

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 guest. He is the head of Institute and strategic development in Alberta at West Island College. Jim leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College; Jim rider. He’s providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities, focused on future career opportunities in business, engineering, health science, liberal arts, fine arts and international language and culture.

Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s always looking to partner with professional organizations who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths. He has a dual career in education and in the software industry. In fact, he started his career in education and educational administration. He became a vice principal at 27 years old and after a seven year stint as a school teacher, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew and went through a series of acquisitions and ended up public. Jim eventually became a sales director who looked after a sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across north America and the globe. About six years ago, Jim actually returned to his educational route and started working at west island college, leading the admissions team, and eventually transitioned to his current role

Sam Demma (01:53):
as the head of the Institute program, Jim has been married for 27 years, has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in business and biotechnology. And when Jim’s not in a classroom room, he enjoys hockey, golf, travel backpacking, and just being with awesome people. Jim is a kind human being. I’m so excited that he agreed to come on the show today. I’m actually working with him and his school and bringing them some awesome presentations, and I really thoroughly enjoy this, this interview and this conversation. And I hope you do as well. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Jim, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that led you to education today?

Jim Rieder (02:40):
Hi Sam. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here. It’s a, it’s an honor for me actually, to be invited on your podcast. I appreciate that. So my name is Jim Rieder. I am an educator in Calgary, Alberta. I currently work at West Island College. I’m the head of institutes and strategic development. I’ll talk a little bit about that more, I guess, during the podcast. My journey started a long time ago, actually sitting in a classroom in high school. I think I was in a grade 10 or 11 social studies class and I was watching the teacher teach. She was a bit of an old school teacher and it was the, the class was a bit boring and, and I thought to myself a few times in that class, you know, I think I can do that better.

Jim Rieder (03:28):
I think if I was in charge of this class, I would, I’d be able to provide a great experience for the kids that are sitting here board to death that are, that are trying to find any excuse they can to get out of the class and, and go to the washroom or in those days go have a smoke outside. Yeah. And I think that’s what started me on my journey into education way back in the day. And yeah, I went to, I went to the university of Alberta and did a bachelor education. And then my very first teaching assignment, I went out to the, I was, you know, I was a young kid living in the city and I’m like, you know, I’m never gonna, never gonna work outside of the city. All my lifestyle and friends are here. And I found myself very shortly after graduation out in rural Alberta, a few hundred kilometers away from Edmondson, a teaching in a K to 12 school with 300 students in living in a teacher Ridge way back in the day. And that’s where it all began.

Sam Demma (04:19):
Oh, I love that. That’s an awesome story. And I can relate to the boring classes, but I, I also, on the other hand know that I had some teachers that were super inspiring correct me if I’m wrong, but your journey took many different turns. I mean, you got involved in technology, you got involved in sales, you did a bunch of different roles in and out of education. How did some of, how did some of those opportunities appear for you and what encouraged you to pursue those?

Jim Rieder (04:47):
Sure, great question. So when I was in university still, I, I you know, they started bringing in what they called computing computers for teaching. And we were all made to take a computers for teaching course. So when I graduated, I went out to these rural school, these rural schools for the first time. Well, I was now, I now became the computer expert in the school. Nice. And I remember in the, in the in the school that I was in, in Wayne Wright, they had just brought in a brand new lab of apple, two GSS or something like that. And nobody knew how to use them. But I had taken a computers in, you know, education course. So I was the resident expert. So I started running the computer labs right back from the beginning of my teaching career.

Jim Rieder (05:30):
And I eventually moved on into the Calgary area to south Calgary. And again, got involved in teaching out there was running the computer labs. I became a vice principal very early in my career. I was a, only about 27 when I became a vice principal. And I was involved in bringing technology into the division. I sat on a districtwide technology committee and we, we were the ones bringing new computers, new, new software, new programs into the school district. So about 10 years into my teaching career, I’d already been a vice principal for about seven years. Some friends of mine were involved in a educational startup out of Simon Fraser university. Nice. And they asked me to, they were looking for sales people who had education experience.

Sam Demma (06:14):
Nice.

Jim Rieder (06:15):
So it was a very young company just getting started. And I thought, well, you know, I’ll take a bit of a flyer and I will, I will, I will leave the reigns of education behind. I was quite young. I knew I could come back to it. I was in line for principalships, but I was a bit young yet for, for, to really take on the, on that role. So I thought, Hey, I’ll, I’ll try it out. And my school division was kind enough to actually give me a leave of absence and hold my position for me. And they did that for two years while I went away. And cuz they wanted that, you know, young technology leader to come back anyway, I became the, the, the, the Western north American sales manager for this brand new company and, and and started traveling and that company we started doing quite well.

Jim Rieder (07:02):
We were selling collaborative, educational, collaborative project based learning software early days kind of prebi internet access. So local servers with kids accessing accessing projects to the web browser, its very pioneering, very interesting. Well that company went public and we bought, we bought a much, we did a reverse sort of takeover and bought a much bigger company and that carried on my journey of selling collaborative groupware products back to education. And for the next 15 years I sold with its sales team across north America. I became the director of sales north America us Europe and we sold collaborative groupware solutions to big school districts, universities, private schools allowed them to have their groups of people working together, collaborating. It was a very exciting journey that being in the public stock markets was very exciting, both the rise and the fall of the, of the stock markets.

Jim Rieder (07:57):
We, we, we injured the dock calm bubble both the growth and the bursting of it. Yeah. And about about five years ago, six years ago now I guess I was friends of mine were working here at the west island college and the economy was changing in Alberta and one of them reached out and said, Hey, you know, we love your background. We love your experience. Why don’t you come check out a private at school? We know that’s your background and your journey. And so I came over and talked to the headmaster and they said, we really like your blend and your mix of experience and maybe you should come and work with us. And so that, so I’ve been here for six years and it’s been a, it’s been a great journey here at west island college.

Sam Demma (08:35):
That’s awesome. I, I have so many questions. You know,

Jim Rieder (08:41):
That was the Kohl’s notes version

Sam Demma (08:42):
Of the, yeah, I know there’s so much more to it. Especially during the rises and falls, I’m sure there’s a lot of, a lot of great stories packed in there, but I’m fascinated by,

Jim Rieder (08:51):
Well, everybody was a, everybody was a stock expert back in, you know, the.com era

Sam Demma (08:56):
Making all

Jim Rieder (08:56):
The, we had stock tickers on our computers all day long,

Sam Demma (09:00):
Making all the projections and assumptions, people going on the news and saying when things are gonna happen and then the total opposite happening

Jim Rieder (09:07):
It wasn’t about wasn’t about making money. It was about how much you could spend in those days.

Sam Demma (09:11):
Interesting. It was

Jim Rieder (09:11):
Different era.

Sam Demma (09:12):
Yeah. I’m curious though, you know, you mentioned become becoming a vice principal at 27 and then, you know, moving out of education, getting into sales very quickly, becoming a, a, a national sales you know, manager, what do you think are the principles and philosophies that you carry that allowed you to Excel quickly in those different roles and positions, because they’re, they’re very different. But I’m curious to kind of dig into your own philosophies. What do you think makes a, a great leader, salesperson educator, et cetera? Sure.

Jim Rieder (09:44):
Well, that’s, that’s an excellent question. And I always, I often thought about that and talked about that in terms of someone from education who transitioned into the business world and what skills that being an prepared me for. You know, the idea that and, and I think a lot of it comes from the classroom where you, when you walk into a, into a room full of people and you’re ready to do a presentation or a sales pitch, you need to very quickly understand who your audience is. You need to understand how, how to to make sure that you are addressing their needs. And building a rapport very quickly with them. Reading the room is a very important skill for an educator. They need to know what students are up on a given day or what down or on a given day, which students might be causing you a little bit of discipline problems and how to deal with those, how to, how to, how to control the flow of your presentation.

Jim Rieder (10:33):
How to understand if you’ve got half an hour as you’re a teacher, if you have a, some plan you’ve got pacing skills, all of those kind of play into effect in, in a sales pitch, of course, as an educator, you’re naturally just trying to, you’re trying to get your audience in front of you to learn something new. And I always thought, you know, I’m not selling, I’m teaching, I’m educating my audience about the benefits of my product and how that will help them in their organization. And that’s not what a teacher does. 6, 7, 8 times a day is they get in front of a room of a new group of kids and they, and they try to convince them that what they’re providing is valuable and useful and having them to, to, to take that up. So, you know, organizational skills, thinking on your feet just the interrelational skills that teachers have with, with, with, with working with other people, all those skills are, are empathy for other people. Mm. Those are all skills that are very transferable into the business world. And I’ve said that time and time again, to, to people who are thinking about making, making a transition,

Sam Demma (11:33):
Who, who are some of your inspirations just outta curiosity, people that you have looked up to that taught you these own philosophies and principles that have served you well, personally.

Jim Rieder (11:42):
Yeah, that’s a great question. Probably my most, the largest inspiration I probably too, but in my early days it was the principal. It was the principal who I was the vice principal for out in in just south the Calgary and the Foothill school division. Doug Anderson was his name. He was a long time principal. And that, and Doug just taught me about empathy, about caring for the people who work for you about knowing, knowing who they are, what their family situations are like when your staff was, when your staff was having good days and bad days and, and just reaching out and making sure that they felt valued and listened to, and that you tried to help them out of tough situations. Or as many times I know was with him. And it, it was just about taking care of people in need. The other thing that he was really good at was, was, was always looking for the, yes,

Jim Rieder (12:36):
He he wasn’t, when you came to him with ideas, it wasn’t about, oh, no, no, we’ve never done it that way. Or we can’t do that. It was always about how could we do that? That’s you know, let’s, let’s explore that. How does that fit into what we’re doing? So the, the yes, and philosophy is something that I really learned from him. Just the idea that we, we want to keep moving forward. And I think that that’s played very well for me in my career. And then when I first came to, when I first came to west island college, the headmaster here at the school as well Carol Grant wa was of the similar fashion. She was at the pathetic leader. She, she really cared for the people who were working for her. She really cared for her students.

Jim Rieder (13:20):
If someone was sick, you immediately go to the hospital to, to see what they need. If they’re in the hospital, just that reaching out and making sure that people feel welcomed in a party or community was very important. And the other thing I learned from her too, was that she was a very quick to quick decision maker and people, if they come to you, if they come to you with a problem and they’re looking for a decision I learned from her that, you know, you’re better off making that decision quickly, whether it’s something they want you to, whether it’s good or bad, just make the decision and move on. And those are a couple things that I learned from those two people.

Sam Demma (13:55):
And I’m interested to also know when you took the shift away from education and into the business world, who were some of those similar role models that you looked up to, and maybe they were authors or people that you haven’t even personally met yet, but drew a lot of inspiration from,

Jim Rieder (14:10):
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, I think one of my early sales managers, sales director was his name was Scott Rosses and he, and he, he taught, he taught me a lot about, and he’s still in the business world and he’s still selling a lot into back into the education space. And he was a, he was a world class rower competitor. And, and he, he had that competitive edge, you know, do whatever it takes to, to get it done. You know, overcome the excuses. I can remember being with him at a conference in in Texas, we were in, we were in Austin, Texas, and our materials. We were at a trade show and our materials had not showed up. And we were kind of like in a bit of a panic and, and it was just like, well, we’re gonna make this work. And we were at, we were at king coast, you know, king coast in those days, you know, at two in the morning, the night before at big trade show, getting all of our, getting stuff, printed it, getting trade show materials printed. And it was just one of those, like, let’s just get this done kind of attitudes. And I learned that from him that, you know just, just, if people are counting on you to get something done, then, then get it done. Mm.

Sam Demma (15:27):
No, that’s awesome. Love that. So, so cool. And this all comes as experiences that you’ve had, and it’s, it’s almost like you’ve, you’ve been building your life’s resume through these experiences, which have led you to where you are right now, which is strategic planning and development at the school. What is that role? Why are you passionate about it and what are you responsible for doing with the school?

Jim Rieder (15:48):
Sure. Those are, those are great questions. So I guess, so the first part of my role is the our Institute program here at the college and the Institute program is what I would call a, a, a unique academic experiential education offering. So we all know the idea that we, we offer academics in the classroom and this that’s, you know, the core, bread and butter of the school. And when we talk about the co the experiential education, you know, Westtown colleges does a lot of travel programs. We do a lot of sports teams. We have a lot of clubs that run throughout the school day, but the Institute programs are kind of over and above that. And what we try to do this is give a, give kids experiences and opportunities to explore future career path for themselves. So about 11 years ago, the first Institute, if you will, was developed, that’s called the, was the business Institute.

Jim Rieder (16:40):
Mm. And the whole model was that we would expose students to they might they could be in the city or outta the city class, outta class experiences at businesses on offices, meeting professionals you know, accountants, finance, people, investors, and and those kind of things. We expanded into engineering, liberal arts, fine arts, health sciences, and international languages and culture. So we have six institutes running now, and, and I oversee that program. We have coordinators for all of those institutes. And on a weekly basis, we try to provide 20 or 30 different opportunities for students to just do that experience. What a future meet professionals in the, in fields, in their field experience some activities around what they might do in their, in their career, in their lives, find out what their educational background was like, what their journey’s been like. It really just expose them to what the future sure. Career potentials could be. We run a block of time on Friday in our timetable called focus Friday. And every week we, we plan 20 or 30 activities that the kids can participate in. Usually there are a series of four or five that occur a week after week. So the kids can actually participate in, we have a group graduating on Friday with drone, pilot licenses. Wow.

Sam Demma (17:54):
For example,

Jim Rieder (17:55):
We we have students that just built a virtual reality experience. We’ve got yeah, we just, you know, on and on, we do engineering courses. We’ve got kids who have built battery pack systems that are for green energy supply and how they’re adding solar panels and things like that to them just various various kind of activities in all of those institutes. And it goes, and the we also plan weekend activities for them. And we have travel programs that are associated with them. So a couple examples might be a trip to the Silicon valley, which we unfortunately had to council of last year where the kids would go and learn about the, the tech sector and entrepreneurism and the history of computers. And we were going to Tesla and Google and to Facebook and the history of computer museums.

Jim Rieder (18:43):
We have a trip that goes to New York city, and we go look at the financial district and go to investment banking houses and go to wall street and get them exposed to the, to the financial districts. So, yeah, it’s just that we have, we go to hospitals, we go talk to doctors, we have you name it. We have people coming in. We really, we really rely on our alumni community who are willing to you know, get us into their facilities and tell us about their career path. And we, and we rely in our parent community who are all, you know, leaders and experts in their own. Right. And it’s just a fantastic program. So I’m very excited about that. The kids are excited about it. They can earn certificates alongside with their high school diplomas. It becomes a resume builder for them, but most importantly, it really helps them on their journey and their path to what their future might look like.

Sam Demma (19:32):
I can tell, like, it seems like it sounds like a core belief of the school and yours is the importance of experiential learning. Why do you think, or does the school think experiential learning opportunities are so essential and important to young minds?

Jim Rieder (19:47):
Yeah, we really, we really do feel that that’s the value add of the program that we offer here is is that opportunity to, to go off and, and explore and to, to become independent and to work collaboratively with collaboratively, with others to, to build leadership skills, to, to and just to open their minds to what the global possibilities are for their future. So our travel programs are, are, you know, are about exposing them to the become global citizens. And, and to give back as we do service work in those things, our sports teams, like most schools are about developing leadership and, and, and you know, comradery and, and, and on and on and on it go. So, you know, if you’re, if you’re only coming to a school to just take, then you’re missing out on all of the things that you, that you should be participating as a young adult that will help you build your, build yourself, build your character, build your, build your leadership skills, build your public speaking skills, all of the things that will do you well in the future,

Sam Demma (20:46):
It’s a holistic picture, right. And you gotta have all the, the separate pieces before we continue. Do you have a hard stop right now? I know we started a little late. I just wanna make sure you still have time, but if you had it, I’m good. Okay.

Jim Rieder (20:58):
I’m up until 10:15. I have a meeting at 10:15.

Sam Demma (21:01):
So, okay, perfect. So, so many things happening at this. Cool. what do you think right now is the most exciting project? I know that there’s so many things going on before we started this call. You talked about a, a business case competition. What are some of the more exciting projects that are going on? And I guess that’s a subjective question. So you can add in your own personal flavors and passions in this one.

Jim Rieder (21:25):
Yeah. It’s interesting. I know some of your early questions were about COVID and Marilyn talked about COVID, but I wanna talk a little bit about the school in general, in that sense, because when we in Alberta, the school’s locked down in March and we really only closed the school for a day to train our, make sure our teachers were up to speed on using the, the virtual, the zoom technology. We went to the zoom platform

Sam Demma (21:48):
Just a day,

Jim Rieder (21:49):
Just one day. And the next day we were, we were back, we were online, we were completely virtual. And our students were taking their classes on a regular schedule online with their teachers. So we, we really only instead of being in person, we went virtual and classes carried on. We for normal, this was, this was an incredible pivot and an incredible change that, that occurred. And it allowed us to carry on and finish the school year strong. Mm. And when we started up in the fall again, we took that. We took that and we learned, and we came, cuz we came back in the person, but we added extra into all the classrooms. We continued to train our teachers on how to use technology for teaching and learning when the students weren’t weren’t present. And now we went into a hybrid model.

Jim Rieder (22:39):
So some of our students were at home and some of them were in the classroom. Most of them were in the classroom, the teachers. And just to see, I mean, that’s an, a challenge in itself, but just to see, but to see the whole community thrive and grow on that has you’ve you we’ve added technology. We’ve never thought we would be using before this, every week we celebrate and showcase new software. That’s being used by teachers and their students in the classroom. There’s always one of our, our, our one of our senior leaders who works with teachers on their professional development is always showcasing on a what kind of innovative and new things that are being done in this school in this virtual hybrid mixed model. You know, if you talk about a project, that’s the big project that’s carrying on.

Jim Rieder (23:25):
Now we see all the clubs have returned. We’ve seen our we’ve started to be able to sneak back. We had outdoor ed occur with some grade nines. They went out cross country skiing, you know, instead of taking one bus, you take four buses and spread them out. And, and just the, the adaptation that’s occurred has, has been a, a amazing to watch this, the whole school go through that transformation, even in my program, you know, I couldn’t, we can’t go to Silicon valley. So we’ve been bringing Silicon valley to the school virtually. I’ve had Tesla engineers. I’ve had, I’ve got a Google engineer coming in tomorrow. We’ve got, you know, all sorts of resources that we would’ve gone to in person are now coming in and virtually. So that, to me, that’s the big project. And then the question will be, I think that will change us as we, if we get back to, you know, the normal we’ve got so many more tools in the tool belt that we’ll be using going forward. That just makes us a better place.

Sam Demma (24:19):
And, you know, you mentioned going on field trips with four buses instead of one, I think it’s important to also share that, you know, you’re one of the people that just became certified to drive the bus. That’s great.

Jim Rieder (24:30):
I just went through a nerve wracking class, four driver’s license test last night.

Sam Demma (24:34):
Yeah. And I, well, what, what I think is so awesome about that is that, you know, you are in this position of influence and leadership within the school and you’re the one going and getting the, the, you know, you’re not hiring a bus drive, you’re the one going and getting certified. It just kind of shows your principle about, you know, I can, we can, let’s figure it out and just make it happen. I think that’s just really interesting and cool. What do you think is one of the greatest opportunities in education right now with challenges? There are opportunities and sometimes they’re hard to find but I find that if you look for them, you know, they, they kind of present themselves.

Jim Rieder (25:07):
That’s a good question. I think, I think, you know, with our new gen ed gen Z cohort, that’s kind of in the school now. Yeah. I think just to continue on the path of personalization. Mm. I think students are looking for that. You know, they want to be known in the school, which we think we do a good job of, and they want personal, they want their, you know, their, their, their journey through school to be personalized. And I think that with the ability to be flexible in our programming, whether students are here, whether they’re at home you know, students are in and out all the time now the flexibility of, of not having to, you know, they don’t have to be in the school to take the test at the same time as other kids, we can bring them in after hours, for example, which we’ve run in after our test center.

Jim Rieder (25:52):
So they can come in and write tests in a, you know, more secluded environment, if that’s what they need modification of programming, you know, we’re an academic school. We’ve, we’ve added us. We’ve really beefed up our student success center and are really trying to do a lot more with personalizing the per programming for all the students. I think that’s, I think that is the, the model you know, do we have to be in school five days a week? Can we be in school three days a week can be at ha at home can the families be at their, you know, away on holidays or those kind of things, and still have the students come into the school. We are moving in that journey already where we have, you know, high performing students who are away for athletics or for something that they’re pursuing outside of school and the ability to give them programming that sort of meets their needs. I think we’re on a journey that that’s gonna take that to a whole nother level.

Sam Demma (26:45):
I agree. There’s, there’s so many opportunities right now to personalize, especially I was talking to another school recently, not only with the students, but also with the parent community. I had a teacher tell me that they, they would do all these parent engagement events and not many parents would show up. And the moment it became virtual, you know, parents started showing up because they could keep their greens off. They didn’t have to talk to other people if they ended a long Workday and just wanted to sit back and learn and listen. So there’s even in some cases, opportunities for increased engagement or increased interest. And I think you highlight that with all the different things happening, you,

Jim Rieder (27:16):
You hit the, you hit the nail on the head there. We just ran our parent teacher interviews last week. They were all virtual, of course. And, and, and parents signed up for 10 minutes, you know, their blocks of time. And it was solidly booked for two days. Wow. So, you know, those kind of things are definitely changing. We just ran a, an information meeting on Wednesday on Tuesday night with eight alumni who are in the medical profession. And the whole theme of the theme of topic was how to get, you know, what, what’s it like being a doctor? What’s it like getting, how do you get into medical school? What are the kinds of things that are going on? And we had about a hundred people on that call. So, so people are definitely willing to sit in the comfort of their home and, and be a part of a, of a zoom call or a interactive session that way,

Sam Demma (28:02):
Love that. Awesome. And being cognizant of the time maybe we’ll do a part too as well if you’re open to it. But I, I would love to know if you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you just got into education and teaching, what would you say? What, what advice would you give knowing what you know now?

Jim Rieder (28:22):
Oh, that’s a, that’s a pretty philosophical question. And You might wanna cut this outta the interview.

Sam Demma (28:31):
No, not at all.

Jim Rieder (28:33):
No, I think I, I think probably one of the things I would do and maybe it’s still down the road for me is I would, yeah. I really think that there’s a education is in, in is in a stage of transformation and you know, the virtual world is coming. Technology is coming. I always thought there was a, I always thought there was a room for a different model of a school and maybe that’s part two of the conversation. But yeah, I think I would’ve, I think I would’ve you know, worked harder, maybe it’s still to, still to come, but yeah, I think there’s a, there’s some new models of education that I probably should have, could have pursued in terms of, you know, stepping out on my own. I have the business experience now. And I would’ve said to my said to, you know, I always say to my kids and I’ve said, it doesn’t matter what you do, what your passion is, but try to own the business that you’re, that, that you’re in. So you can, as long as you’re, you know, living your dream own your business and, and take it. So I think that’s something I might have done differently to my, or told my younger self is you’re in education. You can change the world. You know, you, you know, you can do this well to take the, take the reins by the horn and create your own vision in your own school or your own, your own your own education system. If that, if that makes sense,

Sam Demma (29:48):
It does. And I love that. You said if it’s yet, maybe it’s yet to come. I was listening to a podcast recently with Jim Collins and Tim Ferris. And Jim is one of his mentors was Peter Drucker. Who’s like this know brilliant thinker. And I believe he has something like 29 or 39 books that he’s written over this, this man of his lifetime. And

Jim Rieder (30:10):
I’ve read, I’ve read some of his books.

Sam Demma (30:12):
They’re awesome. And Jim was

Jim Rieder (30:14):
A master’s degree.

Sam Demma (30:15):
Yeah, that’s amazing. And, and Jim was telling Tim, Jim Collins was telling in Ferris that he got to visit his house and see all the books he had written in order sitting on a shelf. And he asked the person who owned the estate. Now, can you point on this shelf to where Jim was 65 years old? And the lady pointed to the first third of the bookshelf and he blown away that this guy wrote the two thirds of his life’s content after the age of 65 years old. And it’s just a test Testament that goes to show that age is a number. You can create things for the rest of your life. Sure. And I think its just important to end on that note because someone listening might be a little older or, or just starting and now’s the time was the time.

Jim Rieder (31:03):
Right. I agree now is the time. Yeah.

Sam Demma (31:05):
And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all, wants to chat with you, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jim Rieder (31:13):
They can email me. I’ll give you my email address. That’s okay. Yeah, Jim Rieder. So JimRieder@mywic.ca.

Sam Demma (31:27):
Awesome. Jim, this has been awesome. We’ll definitely do a part 2, and until then keep doing great work and I’ll talk to you soon.

Jim Rieder (31:34):
Sounds good.

Sam Demma (31:35):
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; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jim Rieder

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.

Ryan Fahey – CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author

Ryan Fahey - CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author
About Ryan Fahey

Ryan Fahey (@wellnessrf) is a 3-time author, speaker, and edupreneur who is passionate about personal growth and well-being. He is the Owner of FaheyConsulting which aims to help people and organizations move from good to great.

His latest book, “How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments”, which supports the well-being of remote workers globally recently hit #1 on Amazon in Canada and cracked the top 40 books on entrepreneurship. Originally from Eastern Canada, Ryan has dedicated his life to pursuing wellness and is widely considered a thought leader in the wellness & education sectors. 

Three fun facts about Ryan:

  1. Early in his career, Ryan ran a mobile personal training business out of his Hyundai hatchback.
  1. Ryan has worked in various education delivery roles in a provincial capital, state capital, and national capital.

Ryan owns a small digital publication called, The Canadian Way”.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ryan’s Website – Fahey Consulting

How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments (book)

Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE)

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


Ryan Fahey (00:08):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me and for everybody tuning in. I hope you’re having a good day. Yeah. My name is Ryan Fahey. I’m a bit of an entrepreneur educator by trade and also a lead for special projects and resources for an organization called physical and health education Canada. So I’m excited to, to get rolling here, Sam, and to share some stuff with your audience today.


Sam Demma (00:32):
Tell me a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do with educators and also with schools.


Ryan Fahey (00:39):
Yeah. You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed. So I, when I, when I was in university, I went, I was training to become a physical and health education teacher. And movement has always been a big part of my life growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed the subject area of physical education, health education. And when I got into this field both as an educator now working nationally supporting physical education across the country. You know, when I look back at this, there’s just been so many people that have invested in me. You know, I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way that have supported my journey. And so one of the, one of the pieces, I guess, that drives the work I do is just willing to give back to the community and wanting to give back to this C because they’ve just given me so much, like every step of the way, and I’ll share a little bit more later, but every step of the way, you know, I’ve had people investing in me, people encouraging me, calling me lifting me up when I needed it. And and really, you know, passionate individuals when they get, when they get out there and they get into their gymnasium. So, you know, working at the national office is credible being able to support schools and, and educators, cuz it’s, it is an opportunity to give back that community that really has put me here. So so yeah, that’s a little bit about, I guess, why I do what I do and why I get up in the mornings to support the, the folks that have invested in me.


Sam Demma (02:04):
And how did you get into this work? What did the journey look like for Ryan as a young career aspiring man to Ryan now?


Ryan Fahey (02:16):
Well, so it’s funny. I was actually talking to a guy earlier today about this. We were having a conversation, so it was my last practicum. My teaching practicum at St. Xavier university. I I got approval to go on this trip down to shape America conference, which is the national kind of PhysEd conference in the us. And I was gonna get a job. I was determined, you know, I’m gonna get a job down there. So I went down, I printed off all these resumes, brought my binder. I went to this huge convention center and just started literally handing out, resonates to people. I knew that when I was graduating that I really wanted to travel and I wanted to, you know, I wanted to see the world. I was curious and growing up in small town, Nova Scotia, spending most of my life in Nova Scotia, I wanted to kind of, you know, branch out and, and explore a little bit more.


Ryan Fahey (03:07):
And really from there I got a bite. I ended up getting a job with with an organization called be active kids out of North Carolina and, and, and started there, you know, started my work was supporting early childhood physical literacy through a, a train, the trainer model. And I got to drive. I literally drove across the state in a, in this van, this B active van and would just like hand curriculums and do trainings. And so it’s kind of funny, you know, like, there’d be days I’d have to pinch myself off and be like, I can’t believe I went to school for this and I get to do this work cuz it was just, it was really cool. You know, I guess to kind of fast track from there, I came back to Canada still really was curious about traveling and seeing different parts of Canada at that point.


Ryan Fahey (03:55):
And I was very fortunate to have, get a position with an organization called ever active schools as a school health facilitator, basically going into schools and supporting them through a mentorship model and through a comprehensive school health approach. So whether you’re looking at DPA in schools, daily physical activity, whether you’re looking at being more intentional with comprehensive school health or potentially school, little sport, those were kind of the areas that I would go in across Alberta and support schools in. And you know, when I left, when I left there, I, I was really getting the itch to go international. I was really like, okay, I worked in north America, I worked in Western Canada, Eastern Canada. I grew up there, but you know, what about maybe going abroad? And so this incredible opportunity came forward to teach physical education abroad at a school in Abu Dhabi.


Ryan Fahey (04:51):
And and I jumped on it and it was a, it was pretty much a master’s in education. You know, I don’t have a master’s, but I say I have a real life. Yeah. Experience masters. But the amount I grew, the amount I was challenged and, and, and how I really had to overcome a lot of personal adversity professional adversity at, at that point was, was tremendous. And that’s really where you know, those experiences then combined have kind of led me back to Canada and let me back to, to work here nationally now, to support schools. And again, you know, just having so many unique experiences along the way, it’s, it’s kind of nice to, to be at the national office to be able to share those experiences with others.


Sam Demma (05:37):
You hopped in a van that said be active on it and drove across the country. True. Can you elaborate on that a little bit where that came from and what that initiative was and some of the stories along the way.


Ryan Fahey (05:51):
Yeah. I’ll tell you one, I’ll tell you one day this, you know, I was, I was very passionate. I mean, I’m still very passionate, but I would say I was very passionate at that point, but a little more careless. So there was one day north Carolina’s a very large state, so there’s 101 counties from west tip to, you know, the odor banks. And my role was get, get this curriculum in all 101 counties with this van. And so there was, was one day there was a tornado warning in the central part of the state. And I had a workshop planned in person in Greensboro, which is kind of in the heart of the state. And I remember driving and like my phone going off at the time, like tornado warning, you know, seek shelter and I’m driving. And I remember just like in this van by myself, just like, yeah, but not like in an aggressive way, just in like a prove it prove you wrong way.


Ryan Fahey (06:42):
I was like, you know, physical literacy, doesn’t take a day off education, doesn’t take a day off. Like people need to learn this this curriculum needs to get out there. I’m going like all in, like if this tornado takes me off. So be it. And I just went ever thinking about that. I’m like, I’m a little crazy, like, this is, this is probably not the safest thing, but yeah, I just literally drove around the state in a van and everywhere I went just kind of had some amazing people that would either build me or put me up or show me where to go within the community. And it was a fascinating experience right. At university, for sure.


Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned a lot of people poured into you along this journey. Talk a little bit about the mentors you’ve had and the impact they’ve made in your own life.


Ryan Fahey (07:29):
Yeah. I’d say, you know, there’s so many, I, unfortunately I lost one a few when I was actually in North Carolina. Oh, wow. And that was really tough. He a, he was a longstanding mentor of mine. But of the mentors that I currently have in my life or have had, you know, I’d say my dad is my biggest for sure. He’s, he’s the, he’s kind of that like he’s got that Sage wisdom to him, you know, it’s like, he’s got this sixth sense about everything that I just can’t seem to figure out how he does it. Yeah. He’s not on social media. You have to like go into the woods to find him. But when he is in there and when you see him, it’s like this Miyagi karate kid experience. And so he’s definitely my, my number one. And then I have a really good friend who is kind of been this pseudo friend mentor for years named Matt McDonald.


Ryan Fahey (08:19):
And we were actually just chatting the other day and he’s, you know, he is so different than me. And when we were younger, we would sometimes have our differences. And, and now like at the older I get and the older he gets, even though our lives kind of have went in multiple directions. I just appreciate that so much more. I appreciate questioning thought. I appreciate diversity of thinking. I just appreciate these multiple perspectives. And he always will be the one to ask the questions that no one else will ask. And, and I think that’s, that’s been huge for me in my life and, and it’s allowed me to sometimes walk away frustrated, but also walk away being like, okay, like I really need to think this through because Matt really asked me some great questions. So those would definitely be my top two.


Sam Demma (09:04):
That’s awesome. And for an educator who doesn’t know much about PhD Canada, and what they have to offer schools, go ahead and give a little breakdown of what pH does and how school could get involved in a partnership, a collaboration with pH or what you guys have to offer.


Ryan Fahey (09:25):
Yeah. So the organization, physical health education Canada has been around for almost a hundred years actually. Which is which crazy when you think about it. But yeah, it, you know, the organization basically seeks to support healthy, healthy, active kids through physical and health education and quality physical and health education experiences. Over the years, the work obviously has changed a lot. You know, I think, you know, a few years ago was there, there was a lot of support specifically around curriculum many years ago. And obviously there’s a big need there to support advocacy and, and, and curriculum development, curriculum improvement, things like that. And we still do a bit of that, but I would say the, the biggest piece that I carry and and for the listeners listening in that, that might be of value is the amount of projects, programs, and resources that we have.


Ryan Fahey (10:21):
So we, we, we’re very grateful in that we have a lot of great funders, including, you know, the CFL is one MBA obviously the government and, and other corporate funders as well. And, and one of the pieces I just actually developed was a K to three physical literacy resource that is focused on football. So it’s in partnership with the CFO, it’s an earlier introduction to football and it’s kind of this two pronged approach and that kids are gonna learn about football, but they’re also gonna develop the, their fundamental movement skills, like hop in and, and jumping and kicking and throwing, which are all the skills that we see in the super bowl. Right? So it’s kind of this fun project that, that we were able to work on together with them and, and to support and to get the next generation of Canadians excited about the sport of football I think is huge. And so any of the listeners tuning in there’s, there’s tons of free resources across the website, go check it out. And whatever you’re teaching, we, we probably have something to support your needs. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:28):
That’s amazing. That sounds like a great program. What’s happened during COVID with the pivot, if I’m a, had to use that word with physical education, have you guys worked on some virtual resources as well for gym teachers wondering like, what the heck do I even do with my students right now?


Ryan Fahey (11:50):
Yeah, absolutely. So when, when COVID first hit, we, we kind of went into startup mode where we’re like, okay, we need to be equally as disruptive in terms of how we operate, what we do and, and how we deliver, right? Because everything just changed so quick for everyone. And, and, you know, again, peach, Canada being so old, we’re, we’re often looked to as that, that, that lead voice. And so it was important for us to do that and to meet the needs of the teachers. So when COVID first hit, we were doing a lot of advocacy for the at-home learning mandates writing letters to many of the provinces territories in partnership with partners there to say, Hey, look, you know, in your at-home learning mandates, you need to have some form of physical education. Because that’s, that’s, you can’t just drop that.


Ryan Fahey (12:39):
Like you can’t just go away. Yeah. So that was some of the initial work. And, and then as folks began to return back to school, we created these return to school guidelines just to really help physical health education teachers on navigating policy, navigating some of decisions that they need to make navigating gym gym sizes, or how many students can be in a gym, those types of things that we’re really looking for clarity. And so we, we try to just support and guide them you know, with, with compiling resources like that. I would say we we’ve completely moved a digitally right with conferences. We’re, we’re fully digital. We have a conference coming up here in February, that’s fully virtual.


Sam Demma (13:17):
Nice.


Ryan Fahey (13:18):
And, you know, I, a big credit to the team, you know, there there’s a mix of educators on the team. There’s business folks, there’s kind of multiple backgrounds, but everybody’s just come together and said, we need to support this community. And we need to continue to listen. Because there’s, there’s a lot being thrown at teachers right now. And we need to sift through that and find clarity and develop high quality resources and supports for them.


Sam Demma (13:42):
Physical education changed my life, growing up as an athlete. I, I don’t know if I would be the same person I am today without it. So the work is extremely important and something that can’t be dismissed no matter what the world it is going through, we don’t move our bodies. We lose our mental health. And I think they’re very interconnected. There’s probably dozens of studies that link the, the mind to physical movement. Yeah, it’s just such important work. Tell me about a, a situation or a story where you heard positive feedback from a program making an impact in a, or an educator reaching out and letting you guys know.


Ryan Fahey (14:19):
Yeah. So we ran this grant campaign for a couple years, my first few years at PhD Canada. And it was incredible. It was called share to care, and it was a mental health campaign to support schools with their mental health needs. And so what we would do is we would grant funding to those schools. I think we had like maybe five or 10 schools across the country each year. And then we would highlight those school profiles as promising practices as well, and publish them on our, on our website. So that was incredible because teachers would come in and they’d be like, I didn’t know, other schools were doing this. This is amazing. So we were able to surface some of that knowledge that was happening locally so that other schools across the country could take it and run with it.


Ryan Fahey (15:05):
But it was really neat being a part of that, that campaign as the, as kind of the lead person on it. Because like, I remember one school, I went to a school in Brampton. They were a recipient and they were just so overjoyed to have us in there. Like we would come in with this jumbo check and the kids were so excited. There’s a guest in there and he’s got a big check and, you know, and I’m like excited to be in a school cause I love schools. And, and so that was a lot of fun, like to get up in the gym, they would have an assembly. We present the check and have the funder there, do a few words and whatnot. I mean, this is all stuff, I’m sure you, you know, you you’ve been in some schools, you, you know what I’m talking about, but just to see the look on these kids’ faces and the teachers as well being like, there’s hope you there, there’s, there’s groups out, out there that are gonna support us in our, you know, cause a lot of them are just doing this from the deep Wells of their heart and they’re not getting paid for these extra things and these extra initiatives and you know, all of these, these things that they’re assets that they’re bringing to their, to their work.


Ryan Fahey (16:08):
And when you get these beautiful initiatives that pop up, it’s so awesome to be able to celebrate them. So that was one just being at that school in Branford was, was one one really neat way to see the impact of the work that we do and how important it is. And I mean, sometimes it’s like a school just needs to know that that there’s hope right. And it’s so challenging right now. But but how having grant programs like that, I think that I think provides that hope.


Sam Demma (16:36):
A hundred percent on the topic of hope. What do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now? I think whenever there’s a challenge, you don’t have to find the silver lining in that specific individual challenge, but somewhere within the industry as a whole, that become some opportunities. Do you think any of these opportunities are starting to pop up because of the shift in education that has happened over the past two years?


Ryan Fahey (17:03):
Yeah. I’ll give you a great example. So when I was with ever active schools out in Alberta, we were piloting this new resource at the time called don’t walk in the hallways and essentially they were different colored sticky tiles that you would put through the hallways and it would create this kind of makeshift hop scotch. So as opposed to the kids, you know, hand on the hip finger on the lip or something like that, you know, like be quiet walking down the hallway, this was a culture shift for many schools to say, maybe the kids can hop or Gallop or skip. They go, you know, from point a to point B and have a little bit more play within their day and the amount of pushback that we got at the time, not from every school. I mean, we had early adopters for sure.


Ryan Fahey (17:46):
But, you know, there were some schools that were like, oh, it’s not gonna work. You know, the, the floors it’s too, they’re too sticky. They leave a residue and it’s not clean. And now think about this, Sam. Now you go anywhere and there’s like stickers on the floor. Like stand here, don’t stand here. Here’s another arrow. So I’m like, I think we were just too early with that. But you know, now it’s like this, this would be so much easier because schools are already used to having to have things marked on the floor right now. Now the, the leap is less large because they they’ve already been doing this with, with COVID. So I think in that sense, like the disruption has allowed space for a quicker conversation, right. To say, you know what? Yeah, we don’t need to worry about all these things anymore because they’re really not that important.


Ryan Fahey (18:37):
Like we know that these things are important, so let’s just go and make this decision. So I think that’s one thing. I think it, second thing that that’s really important and this kind of goes with that is I think teacher voices have never been louder. And I think it’s amazing. I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re on social media as well as, as, as myself and seeing educators being able to stand up and say, you know, what they feel, what they want, what they need. I think we need more of that. We need more teachers coming forward saying, look, this is just like this policy to doesn’t make sense. Or this policy doesn’t make sense or this look at this best practice and like, you know, call me and you know, we’ll talk about how to, you know, replicate this. Yeah. I think that that collective voices are huge right now. And I, I, you know, go going through the remainder of this pandemic. I hope that teachers don’t remain silent. I hope that they continue to provide a ground for all wise practices and what’s working. What’s not working and really advocate for what they need, because I think that’s really important.


Sam Demma (19:40):
I tell educators all the time that I think if they choose to share their experiences, it helps everyone else in the field because it may be a situation that someone else is experiencing right now that they’ve already figured out or solved and their sharing will open a door for somebody else who’s tuning in, whether it’s listening or reading. At the beginning of this interview, you introduce yourself as an ed entrepreneur, someone who works in education and is also an entrepreneur. One of the ways that a lot of educators, at some point in their life consider using their voice is by writing a book. And I know you’ve published. Self-Published a few of them. Can you tell me a little bit about your impetus or an inspiration to writing books and what it’s like being both an educator and an author?


Ryan Fahey (20:34):
Yeah, this is it’s very interesting. So I started out with a blog. I, I was in university and I wrote this blog. It was terrible. So if anybody Googles it, it was called wellness network blog. It was terrible. The visuals were awful. But the content was okay. So, you know, I remember I fast forward a few years from that I shut down the blog. I was kind of, you know, starting my career, doing things in education, but I was driving to a school in Northern Alberta and, you know, inspiration just hit. And I being like, I need to write these, I need to write this down. This is gonna be my book. And so I pulled over the side of the highway and I literally wrote down every chapter of the book that I was gonna write. And and that’s, that’s really where it started.


Ryan Fahey (21:21):
You know, I ended up actually finishing the book and really doing the, the groundwork of the book when I was in a Abu Dhabi. So I would come home from school. And literally just, I was in a hotel and I would just put my feet up and just write for hours and hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what time it was. And just put myself in this space, cuz I knew that that was the time in my life to do that. I, you know, we had, didn’t have kids at that point. Weren’t married at that point or I wasn’t married at that point. So I just knew that this is the time to do it. And so that was, that was where my, my first and second book were, were created. The third one was very interesting because I knew I always was going to write a third one Sam, but it was March of 20, 20, everything had happened and I was looking around and I, I wasn’t seeing much for or many, many kind of resources and books out there to support the wellbeing of remote workers.


Ryan Fahey (22:16):
Mm. There was a few and remote workers already in, in our, our way of life. I think, you know, there were a lot of businesses that were offering that, but not to this extent that COVID put us in. And so it was actually last the last Christmas season where I wrote it, I, I sat down, I said, I need to write a book to support the wellbeing of remote workers and I need to get another resource out there. And so I literally locked myself in quarantine for 14 days. And I was staying at my sister’s place in, this is kind of funny cuz she has a couple of cats and I felt like mark Twain, you know, like he was out in a cabin and Maine the cat and the wood stove. Like that was literally me like except no wood stove, but two cats.


Ryan Fahey (23:00):
And yeah. So anyway, I ended up cranking this thing out, but you know, to your, to your second point on what’s it like being an author it’s it’s and an educator? It’s kind of interesting when I published a second one, I had a lot of people think I was, or, you know, kind of mentioned that I was too young to be an author. Mm. And, and that really played with me, you know, play with my psyche play with the imposter syndrome. And I remember, you know, really having to, to struggle with and work through that. And then I just got to a point where it’s like anything when you’re changing an identity and you’re deconstructing one and reconstructing another, that you’ve just, there’s a shift at some point that happens. And that shift for me, I would say happened probably last year where where I said, okay, I’m gonna fully step into this identity, no matter what age I am, no matter how you know, how gray my hair is or how many letters are behind my name, I, you know, I’ve written multiple books. So that one was definitely a learning learning moment for me. And, and you really, you really open yourself up. I mean, it’s a vulnerable experience and you know, any, any day now somebody could just rip, rip my books apart on Amazon and, and I just have to be okay with that. So it’s it’s definitely an interesting journey for sure.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Putting out your own stuff is always an interesting journey. You can work for somebody else and sell their products and have someone turn you down a thousand times and wake up the next day. Totally excited to try again, but you push your own stuff out. And one day someone rips it apart. It’s like what? And it has this totally different effect on your brain. What’s interesting to me is a thousand people could tell you it’s amazing and one person rip it part. And sometimes we focus on that one negative comment rather than the thousand people that loved it and that it helped regardless of the feedback at all, putting out things that you truly believe will be valuable to others is such an interesting experience. And I’m sure writing a book helped you clarify your thought and sharpen your ideas and keeps that fire lit within you to continually learn and be curious, which is invaluable as well. What is your best advice for an author who, or an educator who wants to write a book and journey into becoming an author as well?


Ryan Fahey (25:26):
Yeah, when I was back, you know, if we go back to the van, North Carolina days I, this family that I was living with at the time the, the father was an author and that book was called taking on Goliath. And it’s actually very fascinating read for anyone who’s interested, but we were running together one day and he said to, I asked him similar question, like what, like what kind of led you to writing a book? Like how did this happen? And he said, you know, Ryan, I got to a point where I realized I’m not an author, but I have a story to tell. And I think that’s so important for an educator out there. You have a unique story. You have your unique individual, you have unique value that you can add to the world and you need to add it.


Ryan Fahey (26:08):
You know, we live in this time that it’s so easy, like to write a book or to get, you know, get your resources on teachers, pay teachers or whatever, you know, platform is out there to share your talent, share your insight and value with the world. And I find it, it’s so interesting because as educators, we time inspiring the next generation and telling kids to live their dreams. But sometimes we, we, you know, through life and challenges and whatnot, they get snuffed out in their own lives. Yeah. And I think it’s important that we, you know, we just start something small, start something simple. And, and like you said about adding the value to adding value through your gifts and talents to the world, like putting yourself out there. I think it’s a super rewarding experience and, and it just makes the world a better place.


Sam Demma (26:56):
I couldn’t agree more. And if someone wants to ask you a question about anything we discussed or during this interview wants to pick up some of your books purchase, some of them wants to learn more about the process of becoming an author. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you? Or send you an email?


Ryan Fahey (27:16):
Yeah. Great question. So they can come to my website just https://www.faheyconsulting.org/. I’m also on LinkedIn (ryanbfahey/) with Twitter as well at (@wellnessrf). I love Twitter. I think we’re now following each other Sam. So you might get some tweets from me about how exciting this conversation was. But yeah, I’m always open to chat, you know, I even put it in both of my books, I think like, or one of my, of books I put in temperature check, you know, you halfway through the book, you send me an email and I put my email in there, like, let’s talk, like what, how are you feeling? What have you taken away? What, you know, what more could I have done cuz I think, you know, keeping those conversations and lines open is huge.


Sam Demma (28:00):
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much again, Ryan, for doing this. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your next book and I, yeah, I look forward to staying connected and seeing all the great work you’re up to keep it up and we’ll talk soon.


Ryan Fahey (28:13):
Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Fahey

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.

Patrick Schultz – Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America

Patrick Schultz - Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America
About Patrick Schultz

Prior to joining the National BPA staff, Patrick Schultz had a very successful teaching career in Career and Technical Education with a focus on Computer Science and Cybersecurity.  Under his current role as Director of Technology Integration, Patrick is responsible for technology infrastructure development, multiple education initiatives, and establishing/growing partnerships around technology.  

With over 15 years of combined teaching, industry, non-profit, and student organizational knowledge, he brings a unique perspective to building opportunities for those looking to enter the fields of finance, business, and/or informational technology.

Connect with Patrick: Email | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Nicholas Sparks (author)

MICE – Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education.

The Transcript

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

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


Patrick Shultz (00:09):
Hi, my name is Patrick Schultz and thank you Sam, for having me here today. Currently I am the director of technology integration and director of education for Business professionals of America, a premier career tech student organiz located primarily in the United States, but also reaching into Guam, Haiti, Puerto Rico China, and a few other countries on the side of being those two director roles which we’re gonna dive into. I’m sure here talking about what we do on a day to day basis. I am also the CEO of a 501 nonprofit that focuses on cyber security and it education training for both students and teachers throughout the us.


Sam Demma (00:55):
How did you get involved in BPA and what are your responsibilities today?


Patrick Shultz (01:02):
Yeah, great question. So I got involved with BPA originally as a classroom educator, I taught in bay city, Michigan computer science, software engineering, website design, and pretty much anything else in the it media arts platform. As part of that, one of our responsibilities was to become a local chapter advisor that involves getting students prepared for competitions. It involves getting students built in and learning their own leadership potential and tracking a lot of community service work not just in local community, but also in ways that they could engage both nationally and internationally through virtual opportunities as well. My journey through BPA has been a very interesting one over the course of almost 17 years now after being in the classroom or while I was in the classroom, I did teach in that program for approximately 14 years.


Patrick Shultz (02:03):
While I was in that program, I had an to travel to regional competitions, state competitions in Michigan, and then also through multiple large scale cities throughout the United States. And essentially what we have in those cities at the national level is called the national leadership conference. As students work in impeding through nationals and working through that, I got the opportunity to meet some of the national staff the current director of education at the time. This goes all the way back to 2009. We were talking about competitions and I didn’t realize who they were, but we were talking about some of the challenges and ways that we could improve some of the competitive event in little to be known. She was the actual national director. So we were able to work through some, some different things via email.


Patrick Shultz (02:56):
And then I was invited out to do some work alongside some key educators throughout the nation. And, and each state gets to send one to three individuals to a group that’s called C a C or the classroom educator advisory council. So in the work there that I was able to do, I helped take a look at for multiple years in an unofficial role into the it events that we looked at in our platform. And then an opportunity opened up where I could become the official Michigan representative on the group. I was there for six years doing that and then turned from that opportunity after those years of, of working on so many different events and being a competition author, I was able to work my way through and I applied for the board of trustees at the national level my first year I was just a general member at large.


Patrick Shultz (03:51):
I was able to look at our strategic long range plan that hadn’t been updated in multiple years. So we put together a 1, 3, 5 year model for where we wanted to take the organization. And then my second year of the board, I was the vice chair elected by my peers. And then my third year I was elected as the chair of the board. Really opened my eyes to multiple different positions. What the national staff really endures throughout a year. It always seemed like they put on this big conference, but what else happened throughout the years? So I was able to really gain, you know, crucial insight to that perspective from staff, taking a look at governments and everything that went into all of the decisions that a board would make it an national nonprofit. And then combining with my teacher experience as a local advisor, it was sort of, I hadn’t really not experienced every angle.


Patrick Shultz (04:51):
So with all of that experience, there was an opportunity to work on the national staff after I was the board chair and there was a job opening into a job posting. So I applied for that, and that was for the director of technology integration. And then after a year of doing that, then I’ve moved into now the director of education. So that’s a long story for sure and my journey to get where I’m at. But right now my current roles of director of ed and director of technology, the integration, I oversee all of our technology solutions, our platforms also oversee all of our education partner competitions, our competitive event platform across six different assessment areas and career pathways, as well as taking a look at building out standards, certification and really just trying to grow and make sure that we’re staying at the forefront with new competitions and staying on par, if not ahead, of where the industry’s headed,


Sam Demma (05:55):
It’s such a fascinating organization that’s doing such important work. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working with BPA?


Patrick Shultz (06:06):
Definitely it’s, it’s getting to know and working with students and, and educators around the world. So it’s this past couple of years, you know, has been very tough for many people. Definitely through the coronavirus, the pandemic a lot of education was really flipped on its head in terms of delivery models. So utilizing my tech background as well as my education knowledge, we were able to go forward and still provide the same opportunities for students. We were still. And in many cases, we actually opened the door to new opportunities that rural students or others who may not have been able to attend all of a sudden have this platform that they could connect with. In the past two years, I was able to connect with more advisors and students than I think I ever did as a classroom educator, just because I had open platform to 45,000 members within our organization.


Patrick Shultz (07:06):
We successfully assisted at the national level over 85 regional and state leadership conferences across 30 different states. So that was just something really, you know, unique. It was really rewarding to get to know everybody. And, and ultimately there there’s a ton of work that goes into what we do, but it’s always about hearing the stories about how we’ve impacted individuals lives, how BPA as a whole has been able to show a students that they can have a career pathway in business or it marketing communications, health admin and in the end, it, it really shows them what they’re capable of. It builds that self confidence platform through our leadership development and, and in some cases too, something that is just as rewarding as showing someone their path of where they want to be is also showing them where they don’t want to be. You know, and, and it’s really cool to see students say, you know what, I did this competition. I don’t ever want to do this again. And that’s awesome because we help them find their path. And then they take in and move down a totally or plan that we know they’ll be successful in with the, the life skills and the basic core knowledge that they get from the organization.


Sam Demma (08:28):
And at what point through your own educational journey and career, did you found mice? And maybe you can explain the acronym and why you’re passionate about that work as well.


Patrick Shultz (08:41):
Yeah, absolutely. So mice is the Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education. About six years ago, I had the opportunity to work at the federal government level in a, a project called nice, the national initiative for cybersecurity education. I was their K12 co-chair of a, a federal working group identifying resources and, and best practice trends in cybersecurity and it education for a three year term. And when that term was over we brought everything by back into Michigan that we have found, but what we noticed was that there was a lot of ideas, but there wasn’t a one stop solution to try to bring everything together. It’s, it’s always easy to say, yes, let’s start this program and then you have to think, well, okay, who’s gonna teach it. Who’s gonna implement it. Are they trained? Plus in Michigan at the time, we did not have a certified career tech ed program for cybersecurity.


Patrick Shultz (09:43):
So there was a group of individuals who are my co-founders in mice. What we took a look at doing was writing a state standard program. So we modified it or, or implemented it as a carbon clone of what was done at the national standards, but then we threw in the auto automotive industry. And some of the other areas that are highly unique in, in Michigan is our core of manufacturing. And we built out the statewide program. And then we pitched it to the state department of education. And what’s always interesting when he’s start talking to higher education or department of ed, is that it typically takes a year to get the process rolling. And then another year for planning and then a third year for implementation. They were all on board with this within three months from start to finish.


Patrick Shultz (10:32):
We had a full program integrated. We had the standard there and then we also immediately had the thought process of, okay, now it’s there. What do we do? So we had already predesigned out quarterly trainings for teachers that were interested in cybersecurity and it we’ve specialized so far now in converting educators who may not have anything to do with it. So we we’ve got a lot of English teachers or business teachers that we converted into it teachers. So far we’ve worked with over 70 different school districts in Michigan. Wow. And that was just within the first year. Mice has been officially an organization for five years. And over the past two, we’ve also expanded into Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio Illinois, Indiana California, and a couple other states throughout the us. But ultimately there there’s three main pillars of mice.


Patrick Shultz (11:33):
One is to develop teacher training models that can be replicated across other states. The second one is to build a learning management system that has customized courseware that is open for all career pathways in it, whether it’s cyber, computer PRI computer programming networking hardware. And then our third pillar is taking a look at consulting and designing programs. Michigan is what’s known as a local control state, meaning that every local district gets to make the choice, as long as they meet the statewide standards, how they’ll implement what text they use, what curriculum materials to implement with that comes a challenge that everybody is absolutely unique and there is nothing that is done the same way between two different districts. So we take a look at our consulting side as identifying what they currently have, where we can fit in additional and information, how we can modify it with the ultimate goal of building a pipeline from preschool, kindergarten, primary grade, all the way through the 12th grade system. Hmm. So it’s, it’s interesting to see how each one works but ultimately we’ve impacted on average about 6,000 students, a across those districts that are specializing just in it throughout Michigan, over the PA or on average per year,


Sam Demma (13:01):
That’s amazing. You, it seems like you hold different roles of governance in different organizations your journey as a leader, along the path, what resources have you found helpful? Who have you looked up to and learned from, and what do you think makes a, a strong leader?


Patrick Shultz (13:22):
Well, I I’ll start that and come back to the strong leader aspect in a minute. For me individually my parents were definitely a huge influence on me. My, my dad was in, in computer science, he worked for general motors and recently retired working for autonomous vehicles. So that’s where I get my tech background from nice my educator side. My mom was a preschool teacher for many, many years. And then when I got into high school, she backed off from just to be able to, you know, work through all of the schedules between my sister and I from the multiple sports that we played and working through, you know, getting us to where, and luckily we were, she was able to do that to be with us at all times, but it really instilled in me to always take the risk, jump to the next step and just keep pushing as much as possible.


Patrick Shultz (14:16):
My journey is, is really an interesting one. I, teaching and education was never my first choice. Mm. I, I really wanted to be a brain surgeon or an astrophysicist. And that’s where I started school. I that’s where I was headed towards. And I can expand on that later in terms of, you know, how I ended up in education. But when it comes full circle, you know, there was a lot of individuals who were very influential in my life. I had an English teacher Carol Young, who always just taught you to think outside of the box. She, she believed in you, no matter what, I mean, even if you were being the absolute troublemaker I mean, I remember seeing friends and, and even myself sometimes, you know, we didn’t behave well. We were young and, and working through the process, but she always just saw this vision in us that we never saw in ourselves.


Patrick Shultz (15:13):
So people like that really make the difference. And when you really take a look and think back at it, and for me, reflecting on your question about what does it take to be a leader is, is it’s a few things, one it’s initial drive. It’s just the want to make a difference. I think that’s so huge in it because I don’t know if there’s one cookie cutter shell to, to define a leader because you can, obviously you can have leaders that are global. You can have leaders that are in a community, and they’re just happy with where they are. They don’t need to have that, you know, worldly acknow of where they’re going. The second thing with leadership in me is that you just have to be authentic as long as you are doing it for the right reason, whatever that reason you might believe in, and you don’t lose sight of that, then I think you end up leading down that path and you’re going to make a difference in people’s lives.


Patrick Shultz (16:12):
And, and the third one is just listening to your environment. You know, there’s so many times where you can get caught up in everything. That’s just going on, you know, whether it’s politics or you listen to, you know, if you’re leading a group of 10 people, there might be, well, there is 10 different voices there. You might have many different opinions. You might have many agreements, but ultimately you have to listen and you have to keep your ear to the ground. And, and you have to make decisions eventually where you may not know all the facts, but you know, what is right based on your own feeling, your gut, your vision, and that that’s where you want to take things you know, to move in it. And that sort of goes back to me and how I ended up in education is it just felt right. You know, it, I always wanted to make a difference in, you know, helping others and looking external. And I try to start every single decision that I do was with, with how will this impact someone else if it costs me 50 hours, but it saves someone else one hour of time, I’ll do that all day long. That’s, that’s just the way that I’ve always believed it.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I love that. I I’m intrigued by your explanation of gut feelings, because a lot of the big decisions that I made in my life, I believe came from my gut and the way that I felt about it. And sometimes those decisions don’t make the most logical sense to others, but it, you know, it feels right for you when you’re Teeter tottering on making one of those decisions or in front of a big decision, what do you find helpful to help you pull the trigger?


Patrick Shultz (17:58):
Well, I live by the motto in the, the quote where mantra of sir Richard Branson, someone offers you an opportunity, take it. You can figure out how to do it lay. And even if they don’t offer you the opportunity, you can offer yourself the opportunity at any time. And, and if you live by that, then you won’t ever look backwards and say, I should have coulda would’ve, you know, and if you’re, if you fail, you didn’t fail. You went forward. And, and in very, you know, I, I know there’s circumstances, obviously you can take a huge financial risk. You can lose a lot of money. You can go through that part, but in the end you might get set back, but you’re also gonna have a knowledge base to expand that even further and to grow faster through that entire process. So I think, you know, for me, it’s taking a risk.


Patrick Shultz (18:52):
It it’s risk is how you look at it. If you look at risk as being negative or, Ooh, I shouldn’t do that because of this situation, it’s hard for you to move forward. But if you look at risk as an opportunity, and you say, Hey, I might do this, but I not making. And that’s okay. You know, it’s traditional marketing, you make 10 phone calls, you probably get one lead that one lead could be the difference maker. And it also goes to, you know, a perspective of never being afraid to, to just fail. It, it, there’s so many different aspects of failure in, in weakness as what is perceived as weakness. So it’s, you know, if you look at a traditional SWAT analysis, you’ve got strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats which, what SWAT stands for, you know, anytime that you realize that your weakness and your threat are really your opportunity to and move forward, then you’ve, you’ve, you’ve really changed your mindset in, in part of it, cuz otherwise any company or any individual entrepreneur, if they looked at a market analysis and it’s oversaturated, we’d never come up with a new, the new product or we’d never come up with that new you know, transition to where we’re gonna head next.


Sam Demma (20:16):
What a good way to position that whole idea of failure and looking at risk as a positive thing. One of my inspirations as an American rapper named Russ who at the age of 15, decided he wanted to be one of the biggest artists in the world spent 10 years in the basement, a clothing store on a couch, making music made 94 songs, 11 studio albums build no fan base. And in the 11th year became one of the biggest independent artists on the face of the planet. And when asked in an interview, the best piece of advice he’d ever received, he said, what if it could turn out better than you ever imagined? And that sentence really reminded me of what you were saying about risk and it being an opportunity. It really just depends on the frame of mind that you’re in. When you look at the situation, I’m really curious to know where you see yourself within BPA within mice in the next five or 10 years. And this is obviously a big question, but what are some of your big goals that you hope to see come to life?


Patrick Shultz (21:27):
Yeah, well, I, I can start it by saying that it doesn’t matter what the title or what you know, what the position I’m in is as long as it’s making the difference. That’s where I want to be, you know, eight to 10 years for, from the mice perspective, I want mice in all 50 states. I wanna be in Canada, Mexico, Japan, China. I want it to just explode because I want the message and the opportunity to explode for students. It it’s not necessarily, but I, I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I’d love to be making millions and own a small island. And that’s where I wanna be in 10 years. But ultimately it it’s really the difference. For BPA within three years, I want to be in five new countries, I want to have BPA have double or triple the membership. And I wanna be able to have a system that has self support to be able to help identify and build out new instructors, because one of the biggest challenges that we’re gonna face globally, isn’t economical.


Patrick Shultz (22:34):
It it’s going to be an education or educator shortage that’s going to happen and occur. Cuz we have a number of individuals who have done their time. They have put in multiple years, multiple decades and they’re frankly burn out and it’s time and, and there’s going to be a very large shortage in terms of educators coming in. So that’s a big part of it. You know, it’s interesting too, when you bring up Russ and in, you know, the presence in, in how everything is cuz opportunity present itself, when you least expect it, if you go through life constantly waiting for that next moment, instead of making that moment or letting it happen you’re gonna live a little bit of, of doubt in yourself sometime, you know, or fear or anxiety because you’re always gonna be waiting and looking at it from a of, well, it’s not happening for me yet.


Patrick Shultz (23:33):
Well, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It just hasn’t come to fruition. So it’s, it’s in work, it’s in progress. So you know, when I look at BPA in my career at BPA, did I ever think that I would move from a classroom educator all the way up to working for the national staff? I can’t say that I did. I’ve, I’ve loved the journey. I’ve loved the adventure. I’ve been able to work with so many dedicated educators and, and business professionals. I I’ve met CEOs, I’ve met custodians, I’ve met everybody throughout the process and they all have equal and important roles as you look at the full journey. I, myself, I would, I would love to be in a position that’s able to continue to make this decisions and move the organization to be really a model for global development and student success.


Patrick Shultz (24:36):
And, and honestly, I don’t, I don’t know that I need a title or that you need the title to be able to do that. Cuz you can make often you can make such a difference from the side and it doesn’t have to be from the top. Or even behind the scenes in certain things. There’s often many projects that I work on that I get called in for a quick solution or that, and, and it’s just that you do the solution, you give it back to ’em and then they’re able to move on and nobody ever knows where it came from and it’s perfect. It’s, it’s okay to happen in that way. It happens all the time. But yeah, you know, I’d love to be a philanthropic leader, you know, and build a a massive wealth that, that combines itself with other communities in, in really targets at risk youth in, in some really underprivileged areas, areas that we currently work with too.


Sam Demma (25:32):
So awesome to just hear some of the ideas, I appreciate you sharing, you have a quote on your Seren for everyone listening, who doesn’t actually see us and it reads, if it comes, let it come, if it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go. What does is the significance of that quote and what does it mean to you by Nicholas Sparks?


Patrick Shultz (25:51):
Yeah. You know, the quote really means that change happens. You know, when it comes, allow it to come, it, it could teach you some, some really positive life lessons, you know, change brings with it challenges, but it does bring solutions. If, if what you’re going through the, the second line, if it stays, let it stay is it’s okay to not force change. You know? So if you’re looking at something and it works, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel just to make it a different way or fit. It might just work. So the platform may be in my mind a solution that could, could be better, but there’s bigger fish to fry or bigger things to take a look at. And if it goes, let it go, you know, it’s one of those things. It, you can take that in a lot of ways.


Patrick Shultz (26:41):
When nobody likes loss nobody likes seeing people walk away or rolls be reduced. But when I look at that in my, what it really means is, is go with the flow. You know, there’s many times where the change that comes is going to come no matter what, and you can’t control it, you have to just let it sort of go and let it play its course out in certain times you have to be there to support everybody on your team so that they’re able to do their jobs and be able to, you know, help others and work through it. And everybody does take it a little bit differently too. So you have to let it roll off your shoulders. Sometimes you, you know, someone might be upset. That’s okay. They might walk away. That’s okay. You will get through it no matter what that’s, that’s the big part, but it may look different and that’s okay. You know, for it to take a look at that way, but that’s really, you know, it’s deep, but there’s really those, those three different parts of it. And Nicholas Sparks is one of my wife’s favorite authors. So he he’s written some excellent books over the years. But just go with the flow.


Sam Demma (27:54):
I like it. A good friend of mine used to say Kura, if it’ll be, it will be. And I think that really sums up that, that quote, which is why it’s stuck out to me. If you could take the experience, you’ve had the knowledge and the wisdom over the past, however many years you’ve been working in education, travel back in time, tap young, younger, pat, not that you’re old, but tap younger pat on your shoulder and say, this is the advice I wish you heard when you were just getting started in this field in vocation. What would you have told you young yourself?


Patrick Shultz (28:29):
I definitely would’ve. It, it would’ve been my third, you know, option of leadership is listen more. I think that when I was younger, I would, I was definitely a go-getter I’m still a go-getter. But I didn’t, I impactfully listen to those or my environment all the time. I think that that would be something to definitely go back and tell myself to just sort of live in the moment and again, ears to the ground experience, what you’re experiencing. You don’t have to rush through it to get to the next phase or the next step in your career. And the other thing that I would definitely go back and do and tell myself, and I wish everybody could always tell themselves this. When they look back is you have to trust in your own ability. You know, there are many, many times where you are correct or your ability is good enough, but the human psyche takes over so often and tries to cast doubt in yourself or in the project you’re working on or even in a team.


Patrick Shultz (29:35):
You know, there’s, there was times too where, you know, you may be the strongest link on the team and there’s times where you may realize you’re not the strongest, but what you have to realize is how to share the responsibility or to pick up the others who are on your team you know, and help them along in the process. But at the same time, you do have to have discussions that are tough. And you have to have you know, a lot of faith in those around you to be able to move forward with a lot of the projects in, in the way that, you know, they need to be done. And it might not be your way, you know, that’s the other thing too, is I, if I could go back 20 years, I would tell myself that your way is not the only way, you know, it, it takes everybody, I think, quite a bit or a lot of time in life to realize that other solutions are, are awesome and that you know, they open your eyes to a different perspective to help you improve and grow to it.


Patrick Shultz (30:38):
I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I mean, I can’t get enough. I’m a knowledge hound where I sit on Wikipedia, I’ll sit and read you know, books, not it, it’s more like sitting and reading a dictionary almost. So just work, looking up word of the day and going through all those things. Yeah. I can’t get enough of, of that education piece, but I would tell myself to slow down and just enjoy the right two.


Sam Demma (31:03):
I love it. Thank you so much for taking some time here to share your experiences a little bit about yourself, some of your philosophies, if someone wants to reach out, ask a question or help you expand to Japan, China, or any of the other countries you mentioned, if they’re in the position to do so, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Patrick Shultz (31:23):
Yeah, the best way to get in touch would be to reach out, to support@bpa.org. That’ll come right to me and we can work through any challenges, structure, ideas even people, if they don’t want to talk BPA, they can talk mice, they can talk general knowledge, you know, just pick the brain. That’s, that’s where I think the collaboration amongst everybody always comes in. And you know, I’d like to just leave this with my favorite quote of all time. When my when I started teaching there was a track coach that I coached girls track with. And he always used to say this, and I never really believed it until four or five years into teaching, but the quote is still unknown to this day. I don’t know who created it other than him. But the quote is good. Better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best. And if you live by that motto in every single situation that you look at, no matter what the project, no matter what the assignment even if it’s just getting up out of bed out a day, when you’re having a bad day, take the good, make it better. And eventually the better will become the best that you could be. So that’s where I’d like to leave it with you for today.


Sam Demma (32:36):
Thank you so much, pat. Thank you so much, Patrick. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Patrick Shultz (32:42):
All right. Thanks a lot, sir.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Shultz

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.

Nicola Whitehouse – Vice-Principal at St. Peter High School (OCSB)

Nicola Whitehouse (@MrsNWhitehouse), is Vice-Principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orleans. The first nine years of her teaching career were in London, UK and combined with her time spent in Canada she has over ten years experience as a school administrator. Nicola has worked in both private and public education systems here in Canada. She has worked as a vice-principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for the last four years.
About Nicola Whitehouse

Nicola Whitehouse (@MrsNWhitehouse), is Vice-Principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orleans. The first nine years of her teaching career were in London, UK and combined with her time spent in Canada she has over ten years experience as a school administrator. Nicola has worked in both private and public education systems here in Canada. She has worked as a vice-principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for the last four years.

Nicola is deeply passionate about championing student voices to lead change. She believes that demonstrating respect for students and their families by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas and genuinely considering their value is key. She is an advocate for student associations that provide opportunities for youth to find places of affinity as well as collaborate on solution-based approaches that are essential to providing mentally healthy and supportive education for all. Nicola is married with two children, aged 8 and 10.

Connect with Nicola: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

St. Peter High School (OCSB)

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


Nicola Whitehouse (00:09):
Thanks Sam. I’m really happy to be with you today. Thanks so much for the invite. This is gonna be awesome. My name’s Nicola Whitehouse. I am currently a vice principal with the Ottawa Catholic school board. I am fourth year as a vice principal with St. Peter’s Catholic high school out in Orleans. I have been an educator for over 20 years now, which is pretty crazy. Nice to think about that. And about, yeah, I’m just hitting my 10th year of administration. It’s been a pretty awesome so far. I’m a mom and I have two kids who are 10 and eight. And my husband is also in education, so yeah, lots of, lots of chat about school. And being a teacher, being a principal in our house, for sure.


Sam Demma (00:57):
How did you get into education? Did you know from a young age, this is what you want, wanted to do? Tell us a little bit about the path.


Nicola Whitehouse (01:04):
Yeah. You know, it’s so it’s so funny because I saw that question, you know, and you gave me a heads up that we’re gonna chat about it. And it’s one of those things. I sometimes pause to think, how did this happen? And it, it has always been this way for me. Mm. My mother was in education. She finished out her career as the head of student services. My father was an engineer in math and science was like a big part of his life. I have three younger brothers and they kind of took that path and I just felt this natural affinity for education. I enjoyed school. I loved the community sense, the social aspect of, of what school offered me. I really liked leading and, and working with others. And so it just felt like a natural fit that that was gonna be, you know, where I was gonna go.


Nicola Whitehouse (01:54):
I think when I was young in high school, I was, I really gravitated towards the student leadership programs, the mentorship opportunities to work with younger kids to help them, you know, with their learning. And, and then off I went and I, I did my undergrad at Trent university and I was part of their concurrent education program, which saw my last year at Queens, which was amazing. And Queens was phenomenal in opening up opportunities for international teaching experiences. And, and then, you know, off, I went to the UK to a brand new school. It had been in existence for about a year. And, and then my career started there, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s just sometimes you just know, and I’ve never thought for a second that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do different things in education, but like that is always felt home to me and really natural. So yeah, I don’t have like a, you know, sometimes we finds like, oh, I was doing this and I was doing that. And then I ended up in education. My path has been like pretty straight on that being the, the, the, what, what is it? The, the path I’m meant to be on, essentially, I guess if that a better word.


Sam Demma (03:01):
And, and off you went to the UK. Yeah,


Nicola Whitehouse (03:05):
I know. Right.


Sam Demma (03:07):
That’s a big, that’s a big statement. Can you bring us back to that point in your journey and tell, share a little bit more about what inspired you to move there, what you did in the UK and how it influenced you.


Nicola Whitehouse (03:22):
Cool. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I go, that sounds so simplistic. Right. But I, you know, at 18 I had the amazing opportunity. The school boards in Ontario are pretty phenomenal. I think they run similar type opportunities now, but you were able to go and do a credit, you know, for your final years of high school in, in England was the opportunity. And so I went for the summer and I did a modern Western history course and lived in residence up near Regents park in London. And it was one of those memories that I had stick with me for a really long time. And it was almost always my goal to go back. I think we all maybe feel a connection to our heritage and our ancestry. And I come from an Irish British background and there was something that I wanted to go and connect with, you know, in my future.


Nicola Whitehouse (04:14):
So education offered the opportunity, you know, it was at a time in education where the teaching lists were full. You know, I graduated in 2003. I was ready to start teaching and people were looking for opportunities to kind of take their profession around the world. And so this new school came up and what was really cool too for me was that I wasn’t going to go through the supply to aging agencies. Right. So when you would go over to Europe as a young teacher in your first five years, trying to prove yourself and make connections, you were often picked up by these agencies. And it was day to day as, as, as it would be for supply teacher, but they get kind of complicated and it wasn’t necessarily secure. So there was this new school, it was in the east far east part of London, an area called Beckton.


Nicola Whitehouse (05:03):
So anybody who knows who’s listening, who knows London they run this train aboveground train called the DLR, and we were the final stop, you know, in the east part. And it was in an area that was going through some regrowth and redevelopment. And the school had had a lot of funding put behind it to create this really great opportunity for the kids in the area. And I, Sam, I turned up, I got off the flight. I’m an overp packer. I’m ridiculous. Like I had bags upon bags, pump bags. And my buddy that I was traveling with, looked at me and like, you, you’re not gonna be like, carry all that. Like, I don’t understand where you think this is going. Right. And so I was the safety concern. I had people on the tube, you know, the modern, the, the guys running the tube, kind of on the speaker saying, ma’am do you need somebody to help you?


Nicola Whitehouse (05:53):
Like, it was just like a full, like, depository of all my things, my life, I dragged it into a, a house where I roomed with four or five other educators. And it was, it was crazy Sam, like, it was such a, this is a fun part about when you’re in the beginning of your career and you’re just starting out and you have all these hopes and dreams for what you want it to be. And you’re looking to make these professional connections. And you’re looking to learn to start out with young people in the same situation was phenomenal, you know, and we were put in situations that trusted us, you know, gave us like great amounts of leadership, working with families, working with kids, working on projects that were building this school up from its beginnings to, to what it is a legacy to now, you know, of being a really great institution and you were doing it on the daily with young people who were your age in their, in their twenties.


Nicola Whitehouse (06:45):
And some were a bit older, you know, in their thirties and, and had been in the careers maybe 15, 20 years that you were getting mentorship from, but it created this really unique environment of experiences that I have carried with me, you know because you don’t know what you’re doing when you get in there right away. And you’ve, you’ve been interviewing a lot of educators and a lot of individuals that are in maybe formal education in a, in a high school or in elementary school in other ways doing education. But you don’t know when you start and that’s that you’re learning, you are a learner and that’s, what’s so key to being, I think good and, and high performing and successful as an educator is that when you take that stance as a learner, and you’re constantly seeking out the next opportunity in the next moment to grow, that’s where I think we see the greatest success as a teacher.


Nicola Whitehouse (07:34):
And so a big part of what was going on for me in the U and the experiences I was having there with, you know, limited kind of knowledge of how to do this properly. That’s I think how I became so great, cause I had to learn, I had to figure it out. I had to survive, right. And it was about survival and people listening again that were, are in their first five years of teaching. When you’re growing your resources, you’re growing your skills, behavior management, you’re learning how to develop yourself like pedagogically, but also on how you build relationships with families and with their kids. Those first five years are hard. And they’re some that are like, I’m out. I can’t, this is like too much emotionally it’s too much work long to all that kind of stuff. And then there’s others that really flourish and, and they become incredibly strong. You know, it’s those first five years, we always say, you have to make it through.


Sam Demma (08:28):
Did


Nicola Whitehouse (08:28):
You, I dunno if that’s like what you’re looking for there.


Sam Demma (08:30):
Yeah. That was a phenomenal response. Did you pick up any slang while you were in the UK?


Nicola Whitehouse (08:37):
Not words necessarily. I can use on this podcast right now, but yeah,


Sam Demma (08:42):
That’s awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (08:43):
But yeah, things like, you know, trash was rubbish or you know, the trunk was the boots. You were going going to the Offie, which was the off license you know, to start out your Friday nights, you know, they, there were lot loads of words and the VNA, I never developed the accent. I had some Canadian friends that picked up a LT and maybe I had a little bit of a LT to the way that I would finish off sentences speak in a certain way. But definitely the language when I would, when I moved back to, to Ottawa and was in conversation with friends or with new colleagues, they were like the what? And I’m like, oh yeah, right case. So just put it in the garbage, put it in the trash, you know, that, that was a big one. And so I still carry some of that with me. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:29):
So you picked up some slang. Did you also meet your husband on this trip? Or how did you get in contact? Yeah, yeah.


Nicola Whitehouse (09:36):
Right. Picked up the slave, picked up the husband and then moved myself back, you know, to Canada. Yeah, I did. I absolutely did. I met my husband who’s British teaching. He was part of this new school that was being built in shaped. He had finished his university at Middlesex in London. And we were friends like that was that’s another, like you had this network of young people that were dating that were friends that were support for each other. And so we knew each other for a big chunk of our career and it was about six or seven years into working together that, you know, we realized that it was more and that you know, we, it was a love interest and yeah, we, and we married and we had our son Oliver in in London.


Nicola Whitehouse (10:24):
So I just say his name because yes, it definitely has that Dickens connection and the whole kinda Oliver to thing. Yeah. For his birth, his birth space. Yeah. And we did a year as he was an associate head teacher and I was ahead of year. So we had administrative roles and it was hard cause we didn’t have family. Right. And so this balance that as educators, we try to keep with our family life and what we need to give to ourselves personally on a, on a wellness level, on a capacity level to what then what we give careers, which is very also personal and very emotional and very dedicated. We found it hard to not have a N or a grandpa, you know, around to help us with the load. So we moved back after our first year and started our careers here in Ottawa. Yeah.


Sam Demma (11:12):
That’s amazing. There’s a, there’s a song called Oliver twist and me and my good friend, not my good friend, my cousin, his name’s Daniel. Yeah. Every once in a while will play FIFA. I just love soccer. We’ll play video games. Yeah. And in the loading screen of the game, there’s soft music in the background and I heard this like British rap and was so intrigued by it that I Shaza it. And it was from the UK and some song called Oliver twist. And it was so awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (11:41):
Hilarious. It just


Sam Demma (11:42):
Reminded you when you, when you said that, but


Nicola Whitehouse (11:44):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The connection he’s, he’s the London boy. That’s right. And there’s many references that that’s pretty cool to hear that it got picked up as the name of the track as well. That’s


Sam Demma (11:54):
Oh, cool. And, and you had one rule for your husband when he came to Canada, what was it?


Nicola Whitehouse (11:59):
He had to learn to ski.


Sam Demma (12:03):
That’s awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (12:04):
He had to learn to ski. Yeah, exactly. I said, listen, you know, they, and I was able to do that out there in Europe as well. I got to go and check out the Alps and do Italy and do France. And it was, it was super fun. So he knew that about me. I was snowboarding at that time. I, you know, when I snowboarding, since I was 16, but when you have kids, you gotta get back on the skis to teach them. And I said, I can’t do this alone. You gotta, you gotta be part of this. So he did like a trooper that you and he put himself on skis taught himself because be the supportive wife that I was, I was like, yeah, you just go figure that out over there. We’re gonna go and do some, you know, diamonds, but you go over to that bunny hill and he did. And he is amazing. He’s six, six too. So call guy and it’s, that’s no feat right. To figure out the ski, but that’s a fun comedian family thing to do. It’s a good destressor. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:52):
You mentioned one of, of the traits of a fulfilled, successful high performing educator is this endless curiosity. I would argue forcing yourself to learn a new skill. You know, not that forties is old, but at any age, you know, forcing yourself to learn a new skill, is, is that trait, in example have you remain curious or how have you fed your own curiosity throughout your journey of education?


Nicola Whitehouse (13:20):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, yeah. You know, it’s, how have I fed my curiosity? I think just to, just to recognize that in that stance as learner and constantly seeking out that new information means that you’ve always got the understanding of what does it mean to learn something new. Mm. You know, and it helps you appreciate what you, who, what the individuals you’re trying to support might be going through. Mm. You know, as you try to design learning for them to be successful, you can reflect on what it is that, you know, you need to do, whether it’s, you know, an audio visual piece, whether it is the amount of practice that you need to have to master fill, you’re always keeping that in mind, in order to support the communities that you serve. You know, for me, Sam, it’s interesting, a big curiosity that I’ve had is how are we making education equitable?


Nicola Whitehouse (14:11):
You know? And it was something that I, you have had to spend a lot of time reading and unlearning to be fair, a lot of what I believe to be true and what I thought to be the right way of doing something to really understand how it was DISA, managing, and short changing the people. I was so dedicated to get it right with. So my curiosity is being fed right now by a lot by large communities that are really investing in having this dialogue about, you know, are we getting this right? You know, and who is holding the power and who is benefiting from the systems that we’re saying are the ways that you need to participate in so that you could be successful. And so, and my curiosity is said, because I’m constantly needing new people with new perspectives and we’re challenging, you know, me to make sure that I am being the best as a principal, as an educator, as a mom, who’s raising children, you know, in this world today to ensure that, you know, that curiosity that you’re talking about is actually making a difference. I’m kind of taking this somewhere else right now, Sam, but like, oh, that’s good. You know, that curiosity is good. And it, and it Def taking that stance of a learner, but what are you gonna do with that to, to make a difference to make that change you know, to help others, I think is, is a huge part of that question that you’re asking.


Sam Demma (15:35):
Yeah. It sounds like what you’re explaining is how curiosity is the first step, but then taking action based on the new knowledge you pick up is even more important than just being curious. Do you have any resources that you have read or do these communities, you mentioned that you have pulled from, that you think other educators should know about maybe a book or an article or a group that you followed or learned from that someone else should also check out if they wanna be a little more curious about the equity space right now?


Nicola Whitehouse (16:06):
Yeah. oh my gosh, I have so many, and I thought about that. I started writing things down and I just, you know, one of the kind of fundamental drop-ins for me, you know, as an educator was really the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad. Mm. And, you know, she, if, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she’s written this book and she’s written many books and she’s just phenomenal. She’s one of these, I’m gonna say educators that is constantly planning and constantly designing and sharing with everyone so that they can see how to do it. And I find her work in cultivating genius is it was my starting point to be honest, looking at an equity framework that was going to allow each personalized student, each individual student that was in our care to be able to be seen and to be understood for who they were.


Nicola Whitehouse (16:58):
And I, and I love that when she talks about culturally, who they are, historically, who they are and how do we respond to them in a way that really maximizes the person that you’re serving, not what you’re trying to shape them to be when it comes to the system that we’re working in, but how are you manipulating the system? How are you dismantling even breaking apart the system so that these kids, these students are really coming through as the individuals that they are. And so her work really opened my eyes to assessment and evaluation. You know, what, what grading, you know, what do we need to look at when we’re applying those grades to individuals and the definition of their success? And then it, you know, it introduced me into a community of educators in the us. She’s, she’s an American you know, who is really doing a lot of prolific work in the communities over there, but it, having it come over here into Canada, it’s really created a tidal wave of what we’re trying to look at in education, in regards to the personalization of making sure that what we’re doing for kids, you know, is really seeing them for who they are and meeting them where they’re to make them the best that they can be.


Nicola Whitehouse (18:11):
So I, I will name that one text as being something that’s always been on my mind, connecting me to other pieces. And then, you know, through the pandemic, Sam, what was so amazing was the amount of virtual learning that was going on and conferences and spaces that you could jump into and vibe with people and, and discuss, and plan and commit to action without leaving the comfort of your couch. Yeah. You know, and that was, you know, for some people frustrating, they were missing like their trips off to the, the hotels and all that conference experience. But for me, it was as a mom and, and all the things that you had to manage in the pandemic and knowing I had this learning and curiosity that needed to, we said I had immediate access to so much that was you know, so helpful and Twitter with all of its downfalls, you know, and you have to be careful. Yeah. Because it does have an emotional toll and you have to really check with yourself about what are you reading and, and the reality of it, it for educators, there’s an incredible C global that I have really thrived on in the last two years, which has been really powerful. Yeah.


Sam Demma (19:15):
Awesome. Thanks for sharing those resources. You, yeah. You took us to the UK and then you brought us back. What happened when you got back? You, you handed your son over to N and what did the rest of the career journey look like to bring you to where you are now?


Nicola Whitehouse (19:33):
Yeah, so that’s, that’s interesting. It was really humbling, right? Because to come back to Canada again, hitting a time where we were not at, at a shortage of educators to transfer my experience that I had had in the UK as an administrator back year to the Canadian system, to the Ontario system was a tough journey. You know, it, it was, we are in a system right now where it’s changing. I have to say the last five years, we’ve seen a real shift of honoring the international experience of educators and finding them places equal. It’s not just education too. It’s it’s medicine. It would be it’s any type of system that has a lot of competition in it. So what ended up happen to me is I went back to supply teaching day to day, you know, and I made my application to the auto Catholic school board.


Nicola Whitehouse (20:24):
My husband had been able to make a connection with a private school here that was looking for new leadership. And so he, he got a position as an assistant head teacher there, which was phenomenal. It was a deputy head teacher at the time. And so he had some connections to private schools in the city. And so I started supply teaching day to day, and I was frustrated. I was at the time because you have pride as to how long it took you to work in your career to get to certain stages. And you wanna, you wanna keep going, you wanna keep moving forward. But, and then to come back into supply teaching, though, it was awesome. It was awesome because it was really fun to move out of you know, a high level experience of kind of what I was doing on a system level of management.


Nicola Whitehouse (21:10):
Just get back in there with the kids and, and to be in about four or five different communities every other week was really cool. So I met a lot of teachers that were doing the same thing. I met a lot of teachers in the building and I did that for about two years and then ended up with a permanent position at a private school. And so was there for about a year and a half, two years. My timing is kind of off now from the pandemic. So forgive me on that. And then I went and got myself qualified to become an administrator. I did the principal’s qualification course here in Ontario. Nice. and applied with the Catholic school board. And I was known to them through the work I’d been doing already. And I was successful.


Nicola Whitehouse (21:53):
And so, yeah, my first placement as principal with the board was here at St. Peter’s, which has been amazing. So it took some time and it worked out, you know, as a mom, who’s raising two young kids. I, you know, I had my daughter while I was supply teaching. That also was a good and work life balance. And, you know, Hey, I had, I been given the job that I was looking for straight out of moving from the UK. I don’t know, maybe my daughter wouldn’t have come along so soon. So, you know, there’s blessings in the way that life kind of works out for you. And you have to reflect on that and know that there’s a, there’s a path. There’s a reason why things are happening there.


Sam Demma (22:27):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I, and you’re one of the first people that have moved to the UK and taught there that I’ve had on the podcast. So I appreciate you sharing the entire journey on the show. I think it may even inspire some other young educators or anyone actually to explore teaching in other areas as it means to see more of the world. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of traveling, not only in the UK which is awesome. Yeah. Thinking about, oh, go.


Nicola Whitehouse (22:54):
Ahead. You know what, so just to add to that, right? Because I think that we can get ourselves into a system or a a journey that seems guaranteed, right? There’s a lot of young people that wanna be employed, right. And they wanna make sure that they have that next step locked down. And I think I encourage young educators to take a risk and take a jump, as you’re saying, go and see another part of the world and experience that and gather everything you can from that, whether it’s only for a year, six months, and that’s all you do and bring that back to where you wanna be permanently. I find that I am interviewing now looking for diversity in experience. Yeah. You know, and if I can find a candidate that knows how distant different systems work, not just the one they grew up in that is phenomenal, you know, and obviously again, working in public education, there are ways that we have to go about with our hiring and employment.


Nicola Whitehouse (23:44):
But when I have the capacity to select somebody that may have had that international experience, that is a big win. And, and so forget about the hiring piece, but, but personally, you know, if you truly believe that your career as an educator is a calling and you are passionate about that, you wanna go and collect as many of those experiences possible. So I really, when I, when I’m working with young educators who are still in the program for teaching, and they’re considering, you know, where am I gonna go to apply for gods? I’m always pushing that option. I’m always saying, go and see what’s the offered internationally. Even if it’s just across the board of the us and check out how these differences work. I think it’s super important. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:23):
You mentioned I, that’s an awesome point. I think back to when I was 13 and moved to Italy for six months, not to teach, but just to pursue my dreams and living in a different country was such an eye opening eye opening experience. And at that age, I couldn’t even leave the college by myself. I was so young and my mom was FaceTiming me every night. So I definitely didn’t even get the full survival experience. Didn’t have four or five bags on the train and people yelling at me for my safety.


Sam Demma (24:55):
It was, it was such an eye opening experience just to see a different culture and how life was lived in a, in a different place on the world. Thinking about, you know, you said earlier that one part of education is building relationships, thinking about building relationships with students and also staff. How do you think that happens? Like how do you build a relationship with a student to the point where they trust you and, you know, they, they are excited to be in your class or be your student.


Nicola Whitehouse (25:30):
I, yeah, I think it is really about, and it’s an interesting balance that you have to say, you have to navigate because it is about vulnerability and it is about being open to who is in front of you. Right? So we think about working with young people, you know, being vulnerable, but at the same time, obviously still create keeping your professional boundaries and, and keeping your understanding that you are the adult there of the child, that kind of thing. But you can make yourself vulnerable in the sense of saying, I don’t have the answers and what I’m hearing from you, and what I’m seeing you bring to the table is definitely part of the learning that I would like to as your teacher. It is, I definitely see the capacity for you to be in control of what we’re doing here. And you know, when you’re building relationships, you wanna feel like you have a partner in that relationship. So when you’re, when you’re trying to get to know young people, you’ve got a champion where they’re at, what they know as being true and powerful.


Nicola Whitehouse (26:33):
And you have to give voice and space to that. And I think when young people feel seen and heard, you know, and, and feel empowered by the fact that you’re gonna say to them, you know, in grade 10 that they absolutely can take the lead and we’re gonna hear what they have to say and then make decisions from that. That’s a huge relationship builder, you know, and consistency is a big part of that too, right? When we are exhausted, when we’re overwhelmed, being consistent in your approach with young people, so that they can rely on you for that, that is a huge relationship builder as well, you know, and it, and it’s the same with staff as well is to also see and hear them. You have priorities as a leader or anybody when you’re working, even just as colleagues as to what you wanna achieve, but you’re only going to achieve that as well as you can hear and see the others that you need to work with, you know, and they have to feel that investment in, in whatever the project is or whatever it, the problem that needs to be solved might be.


Nicola Whitehouse (27:28):
And I think what’s so cool about education. Is there a strong bond, like family level bonds between teachers that grow up together? Like I said, in those first five years, and they stay connected in their careers or go through some really like intense kind of projects or things together, and really achieve something big or go through a really tough time, you know, as human beings, you know you are bonded and it’s, and it’s, again, through that vulnerability and through that openness to accept that I need you to be successful. And, and so that I can be successful. And you, you teamwork on that. I think that that’s a huge part of making successful connections and relationships and, and it’s all empowerment, right. When we all feel empowered to make that difference, that you’ve talked a lot about, right. In your journey, that’s where you see, I think true positive relationships and difference making, you know, happening. That makes sense. Yeah.


Sam Demma (28:24):
Yeah. A hundred percent. I think behind every success story is carrying human beings. There’s so many people that, you know, play into all of our paths there’s and sometimes it’s like, it’s a miracle, like God put this person in my path. Like how, how did it happen that we crossed at this exact moment? There’s such a small chance. So yeah, there’s, it’s so true that people play such a massive role behind any difference making if you could walk into the first class you ever taught, or the first couple years of education yeah. With all the advice and knowledge you have now, and top your younger self on the shoulder and say is what you needed to hear. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Nicola Whitehouse (29:12):
I, yeah, this is not personal. Yep. These these kids are carrying a lot and they are some of them in crisis. And what you experienced in that first 50 minutes, which had you close your door and burst into tears from the shock of it. And that was truly my first day on the job to now know, you know, how young people function, you know, in, in a classroom to, to be patient with them and to always keep. And I was, I was doing that, I think at the time, but I don’t think I realized it. Listen, listen, listen, listen, and don’t give up and continue to look at the problem in different ways. And, and consider, there are gonna be many ways to kind of solve and support these kids. But I think the biggest thing Sam was we as educators wanna get it.


Nicola Whitehouse (30:08):
Right, right. We are, we are often in these careers as people pleasers as ones that wanna be known to be handling things and when we’re we can lead. And so we take it personally when it of fails. Right. And I would look back now and say there were a lot of failures, there were a lot of mistakes. There were things said that you look back and go, Ooh. Yeah, that was not the right thing. But, but give yourself grace on that. And as long as you were still committed to learning from that mistake and making the changes and not getting stuck in saying, no, I’m standing on this, like I’m gonna stick with it. This is how it has to be. But being open to that flexibility and vulnerability I think that that is a, a big thing that you need when you’re first starting out. And, you know, that’s what I would be going back to remind myself of, I think, in those early days, yeah.


Sam Demma (30:59):
That’s such a, and


Nicola Whitehouse (31:00):
Get some more sleep guess some more sleep, stop staying up till two in the morning, planning these lessons. They don’t need you to work that hard. You just go in there and listen to them. They don’t already tell you what they need from you. You don’t need to be up till two. O’clock trying to get this unit ready for that. That’s what I’d say.


Sam Demma (31:16):
If I made 15 second promo videos for each of these podcasts, that would be the promo for this one. Yeah.


Nicola Whitehouse (31:24):
Pretty much, pretty much. Oh gosh.


Sam Demma (31:27):
Thank you for doing this. This has been such a fun and enjoyable and reflective conversation. If someone is tuning in, wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Nicola Whitehouse (31:41):
I think on, yeah, Twitter, I’m pretty active. I did I take a little bit of a break, I think probably through the holidays, but yeah, I’m @MrsNWhitehouse on Twitter. And you can always reach out to me at my school board email as well, which is nicola.whitehouse@ocsb.ca. And I love meeting new people and I love making connections, super passionate about student voice and the unique and different ways that we’re making sure that’s centered in our school communities. So if there are people listening today that would love to collaborate internationally or even down in Toronto I would love to make those connections. That would be great.


Sam Demma (32:19):
Awesome. Thanks again, Cola for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Nicola Whitehouse (32:24):
Thanks, Sam. It’s awesome.

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Glenn Gifford – Principal at Saint Michael Catholic High School

Glenn Gifford - Principal at Saint Michael Catholic High School
About Glenn Gifford

Glenn Gifford has worked for the Niagara Catholic District School Board for over 28 years. Currently, he is the Principal of Saint Michael Catholic High School in Niagara Falls Ontario. Mr. Gifford began his career as a Long Term occasional teacher before settling in at Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Colborne.

While at Lakeshore Catholic Mr. Gifford taught English, History and World Religions. He was also the head football coach of their Junior Football team for 14 years. Eventually, Administration called to him and he decided to finish the second half of his career as a high school administrator.

He has had stops as a Vice Principal or Principal at Denis Morris Catholic High School, Lakeshore Catholic High School and Saint Michael Catholic High School. With enthusiasm Mr. Gifford wants you to be “ALL IN” for both your staff and students!!

Connect with Glenn: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mike Loudfoot – Retired High School Teacher

Saint Michael Catholic High School

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

Glenn Gifford (00:10):
Okay. first off, thanks for having me, Sam. My name’s Glenn Gifford. I am the principal of St. Michael Catholic high school, in Niagara falls, Ontario. And yeah, thrilled to be here. Thanks for asking me. And I’ve been an educator now. It’s my 29th year. So one more year left after this and yeah, things have been going well. It’s different, but good. Yeah. So that’s for sure.

Sam Demma (00:35):
How did you figure out at a young age that you wanted to get into education? Did you know this since you were a kid or how did you stumble into this career?

Glenn Gifford (00:46):
Yeah, I stumbled. That’s a good word. Yeah, no, I didn’t. I mean, I had a good educational experience growing up. My dad was a teacher but when I went to university had had a good time at university and my grades were okay decent, but I, I thought it was gonna be a police officer and was, was ready to apply to the Ontario provincial police and figured that was the way I was gonna go. And I had a, a lab that I was asked to jump in and teach. I was a fourth year student and asked to help out for some first year students. And I went in and taught the lab. I think it was three weeks. I had to teach this lab and I had about well, my class kept growing in size, my lab.

Glenn Gifford (01:37):
And, and so the professor who came to me, remember his name is Dr. Rod priest. He came to me and said what are you doing after graduation? He said, I think I’m gonna be a cop. And he goes that would be a terrible mistake. And that was in fourth year university. And he said, have you given any thought to teaching? I was like, I, I hadn’t really but I liked it. It was fun in the three weeks limited time that I was doing it. And and so I applied to, to teachers college and and, and, and got in, and I hadn’t heard back from the police force. So I was like, I’ll do this. And nice. And the funny part is, is when I started teaching in Niagara cap, like I still remember the day I opened in my first check and I, I looked down at the bottom right hand corner.

Glenn Gifford (02:29):
And even then it wasn’t, it wasn’t a ton, but I mean, I was a student, so I looked at the bottom right hand corner and I thought somebody made a mistake because I had so much fun. I was like, they’re paying me this to do this. Like, this is, this is great. And I literally didn’t spend any of that money, Sam for, oh, probably about four months, because I thought like the, you know, somebody was gonna show up and say it would’ve made a terrible error who overpaid you. And I was waiting for like the Niagara police to come. And so I finally called the board and I said to them like yeah, this is Glen calling. I was at the time I was at Notre Dame Wellon and I said, and I just wanted to ask a question about my check and they’re like, yeah, sorry, Mr.

Glenn Gifford (03:08):
Gifford, we didn’t. And I’m like, oh, here comes like we didn’t we didn’t give you all your credit for your supply dates. We’re sorry. We’ll send you a retro check. And I was, oh my God. Then I realized, I was like, this is great. And that was truly what so thanks to my to my university professor for planning a seed that really got me to education. Then I realized, oh my God, I love doing this. And, and I’m, I’m paid at the time, you know? Yeah. I’m going from a starving student. I was like, oh my God, I get paid this to do this job. And to me, it, it just, it’s never seemed like work since then. So it’s always been just a, just a thrill to do it. And yeah, it, so the, I guess the, the thing to grab from that is you never know where, where it’s gonna come from, you know, somebody planning a seed that’s gonna grow into. So thing that, I mean, look, 15 years teaching and then five years as a vice principal and 10 years as a principal. And yeah. All from a, just a random comment from a, a university professor. So it was, I didn’t wanna start out as a teacher, but no regrets.

Sam Demma (04:16):
And tell us, tell me about what that journey looks looked like of, through the different roles and schools that you’d worked that you’ve worked at.

Glenn Gifford (04:25)
Yeah. When I first started, I was working at a, a program called the ACE program. And so it was really it wasn’t really, it was teaching, but it was with students who were struggling academically struggling with the whole concept of school. So what we did was we had ’em in class for a couple of weeks, and then we would have them at a co-op placement for a couple of weeks. And again, it was a lot of times for students, it wasn’t special education, but it was specialized education. And it was for kids who were struggling. And I think I had the personality where I could, I could kind of reach those kids and try to keep those kids in engaged in getting credits and maybe hopefully finding some type of career that they were interested in. A lot of them had had a lot of difficulty.

Glenn Gifford (05:11):
So that is a great way to start your career with regards to classroom management, with regards to all the, all the different things that come up in a, in a teacher’s career to start there with some pretty difficult kids. And I did that for about a year and a half and that worked out well. I think that laid a good foundation. Then I did some long term teaching for about a year. And then then, then received my full-time contract, where I was a teacher and, and football coach at lake shore Catholic high school in port Colburn. Nice. For, for teen years. And then and then again, just like I, I said with my professor, I had a, a principal who tapped me and a couple other colleagues on the shoulder and said, have you ever thought about administration and much, like when someone said, have you ever thought about teaching?

Glenn Gifford (05:56):
I was like, no, I haven’t thought about administration at all 14 years in in, and he said you should you’re you’re, I think you’ve got the I think you have what it takes you, you, I think people would follow you and I think you could lead. And really, again, just all the, all the planting that needed to happen there. And I looked at my friend and, and I said Brad, do you wanna do this? And he said, yeah, let’s go. And within six months we had all of our, our credits and our additional qualifications and, and and went from there then placed principal for five years, and then morphed back into a principal at league shore Catholic after five years of being a vice principal. So yeah, I’ve kind of, I’m pleased with it. I’m pleased that I spent enough time in the classroom that I wasn’t one of these people who just decided to when they enter teaching have decided that they’re going to be the superintendent of education and really don’t earn their stripes.

Glenn Gifford (06:59):
I guess, if you will, as teachers, I, I would like to think that after my 30 year career that most will remember me as a, as a teacher first and foremost, and then administration was Hey, you get to have your whole school as your classroom which is another, and they’re different jobs. Let’s face it, there completely different jobs. Like you would not believe so, you know, teachers that, you know, that’s rewarding and, and fantastic, and very difficult right now with COVID. But an administration is just wow. I just remember my time as a vice principal. I just, those people, those men and women they’re warriors. Yeah. It is so difficult. And then principal is a whole different ball game, as far as difficulty goes. And so many things come across your, your plate. You wouldn’t even believe things. I didn’t even realize when I was a teacher that were going on in a school, oh my God, that’s happening like it in 14 years, I had no idea this was going on. But as a principal, you see it all so different jobs, a hundred percent but no less rewarding.

Sam Demma (08:04):
I had another, another guest tell me the best principles are those that love teaching and didn’t want to leave their teaching job. And the, you know, if they were asked to teach tomorrow would do it gladly. And the best superintendents are the principles that never will wanted to leave being a principal and would become a principal again tomorrow if fast. And that mindset and mentality really reminded me of what you were just saying. Like, you really gotta love the work you’re doing.

Glenn Gifford (08:34):
A hundred percent. In fact, even now, like we’ll have teachers that are absent and I’ll look back, but my teachables English and social science and some world religions. And, and I’ll be like, oh, what classes, you know do we didn’t get a supply teacher? And they’ll be like, no, what class is it? Oh, it’s Mr. So-And-So an English teacher. Of course, I know what he teaches. And I would be like, well, I’ll do it. And I, and I, I just run in and do it. And because it was fun and I, I loved it and enjoyed it. And it gets the students to see you in a, in a different light, really, you know, some something in class as opposed to well, I, I see kids every day and I probably come up in one of these questions, but like, my things as principal is, I mean, you’ve gotta be invested into what you’re doing.

Glenn Gifford (09:21):
And I always use the analogy with my staff. I was like I look at a bacon and eggs breakfast. Let’s just look at it that way, the chicken participates, because the chicken donates the egg, but the pig, well, the pigs committed, right. Because the pig gives us life for the, for the meal. Right. So I ask my staff, I’m like, I need you all to be pigs for these kids. I need you to give it all. Yeah. And, and, and give me everything we’ve got all in t-shirts that, you know, the staff wear when I, when I first got to St. Michael’s and so I want, I want the level of commitment to kid. So one of the things I do is it sounds so silly, but I do cafeteria do all the time. And a lot of times places you know, teachers do that, or other people do that.

Glenn Gifford (10:08):
I do it, my vice principals do it because I want to get to know, I, I hand out we have a school of over a thousand students. I hand out about 250 to two or 80 diplomas every year, not since COVID, but even, even with COVID, I wanna know every single one of those kids. And I wanna make the effort to get to know those kids by first name, which is hard right now, because they’re wearing masks. But so it is difficult now, but I go back to pre COVID. And my, my goal is to be committed enough to, I’m not gonna be at a school for four years, and there’s gonna be a student that’s walking across my stage. And I have no idea who this person is. Mm. You’re not committed if you’re not doing that. So, and, and there’s a variety of ways that you can do that.

Glenn Gifford (10:49):
I just my personality was such, that is such that I can just get out there and just walk up to a table full of kids and start talking to ’em and chirping ’em and, you know, shooting the breeze with them and having fun and asking ’em questions about, you know, dad texting and all these other things and making fun of their phones or lunches or whatever. And you just get to talk to ’em and then they, they get to know you in a, in a, in a different type of relationship. And and that that’s worth its waiting gold when you’re, when you’re trying to establish an effective school culture that, that has made all the difference. So

Sam Demma (11:21):
How do you build deep relationships with students in the school building? Obviously communication is one of the major ways. And thinking back to your time in the classroom maybe you can pull from some of your beliefs on relationship building. Like how do you think you established that, those relationships with students?

Glenn Gifford (11:39):
Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there, Sam. I, I think a lot of administrators spend too much time. And again, again, not like I have the blueprint here, but yeah, like there’s so much that happens in a day that you can get focused on. You know, and, and maybe this isn’t the greatest thing to say, but, you know you can get focused on curriculum or you can get focused on the OSSLT or EQ AO, or you can get focused on programs. And I just remember this people don’t remember what you say people remember how you made them feel. Mm. And so for me, getting to know kids and meeting them where they are, and maybe that’s where they are at the time is getting to my student council to engage kids on social media to do fun things at school.

Glenn Gifford (12:27):
It sounds so simple, but if school is fun and you do that, engage kids, the rest takes care of itself. And I know people sit there and say, what about the curriculum? The curriculum takes care of itself. Kids will learn, listen, right now, we’re, we’re facing the challenges we’re facing with COVID and learning gaps and all that other stuff is incredible. But if kids have fun and they like coming to school and they respect their teachers and their teachers treat them well, treat them with respect and actually care about their wellbeing so that they feel it, the rest is easy. And so I’ve, I’ve empowered my student council to go and don’t sit on the bench, get up and take a swing. Let’s try this. Let’s try, let’s engage here. We had a program not a program. We came up with something called super locker at my previous school, which was in another one of my colleagues Andrew Boone brought that to Notre Dame and holy cross.

Glenn Gifford (13:29):
And, and I had it at lake shore Catholic, and now it’s St Michael’s and you know, the student of the month that it gets this giant locker, it’s all decorated in doc. And, you know, we just, and we just, our, our social media pages are, are fun and interactive. And and it, it, it, it just is something where you’re trying to create a culture of things like color wars and a lot of different things that you can do to engage students, even during COVID like you, we were doing just silly things. You know, just to keep, try to keep school fun because let’s face it for the last two years. It hasn’t been, it’s been awful. And so to try to do things at distance, to try to keep things fun when, when you have a culture that’s working in a building and you can come up with some creative ideas to do that, all the other stuff. And I’m even talking about student achievement, all of those things will fall in mind.

Sam Demma (14:21):
Mm. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to my own high school experience. And when I was excited to show up to class, I actively participated when I was excited to show up to fourth period world issues with Mr. Loud foot. This is one educator who totally changed my life. I would take notes on everything this guy said, not because we had to, but because I was so I was so invested and engaged in the class because he was invested and engaged in all of us individually and as a, a whole class. He

Glenn Gifford (14:53):
Got, and there’s that where you use Sam, right? You just use that word invested that came through loud and clear with that teacher that you had. And look what you’re doing now. Like you’re running podcasts for educational leadership. Like, I mean, so it clearly had a huge impact. So that’s one I told, you know, my staff and I say my staff, but the staff, cuz they’re not mine. Just like kids, you, you rent ’em, you don’t own ’em right. So the is just be invested and that needs to come across. And all the studies show for all of my left brain, people who want to quote studies and statistics, you know, that all the studies show that it it’s the people that are truly invested and truly care about people with. And I’m talking all people in your building, I’m talking about your teachers, your, your, your students, most importantly your, your cleaners, your caretakers, your EA, your, your cafeteria people when they know, and they all feel that they belong and that they’re going to be listened to.

Glenn Gifford (15:47):
And that the people that are around them care about them. The rest is easy. The literally the rest will take care of itself. So that’s, that’s my main focus as, as an educational leader right now is to, is to, is to try to make people not again, I don’t know if I can motivate anyone, but hopefully inspire people to motivate themselves. Yeah. To be invested as best they can. Everybody’s not a cheerleader. I am. That’s I know that’s, that’s my role at this school. I’m, I’m kind of like at my school is, is I’m the cheerleader, I’m this. And I have some vice principals who are fantastic at logistics, which is great because I’m not. And I have the prudent humility to understand that that’s not my, you know, wheelhouse, but we have some people that can help out. So together at all, pretty smooth, but big ideas and trying great things and, and, and engaging people and kids that that’s.

Glenn Gifford (16:40):
So there’s probably administrators out there. Like, that’s not me. I can’t do that. I’m not on social media. No, but, but somebody is, you know, like I, I always use this one, you know, that the only time I’m the smartest person in the room, Sam is when I’m by myself. Yeah. Otherwise you gotta lean on your people and their skillsets. And there are some people who are like, you know, mathematics, isn’t fun. And I can, yeah. But just, if the kids know you’re invested and you care about them and their wellbeing, the math just teach ’em the math and they’ll, they’ll understand and they’ll get it. So, but they just have to know that from you. We don’t have the little kids, we don’t sit there and criticize kids, you know, and I’m not saying kid gloves, but I’m just saying, let them know you care.

Glenn Gifford (17:21):
And, and the rest will take care of it and then rely on your people that you have around you. Because again, everybody has gifts and talents that I guess the question is, are you, are you using now, are you using people to the, the, the, the peak of their talent? And are you getting the most out of them? And you have to figure out what, like I said, I have some vice principals who are so technically savvy. It’s incredible. I’ll come up with an idea to say, Hey, can we live Simon cast the announcements during COVID so that we can do, you know, hi, it’s Mr. Gifford here. And, and can we set up a link and do this and share this on the Google meet and blah, blah, blah. And they’re just ideas. Yeah. But I can’t do it, Sam. I can’t do it. But, you know, I have VPs who can I have, you know, teachers and tech teachers who are like, yeah, well, you have to do this. And then I lose them because they’re speaking some different language, some technic I don’t understand, but I’ll show up like this and click on a link and, and, you know, and go to town. So, you know, I think people need to really access the resources they have in front of ’em that way.

Sam Demma (18:22):
Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I started thinking about my experience as a soccer player, the first five or six years, my coach put me in centerback. And towards the end of my career, I, he moved me to center mid and it was like a totally different change. And it felt like I was supposed to be in that position for my whole life. But I was always placed in center back.

Glenn Gifford (18:43):
And I think, were you reluctant to go there? Like when he first moved you, were you like.

Sam Demma (18:47):
Yeah, slightly, slightly, because it was, so it was so fresh and new. But afterwards I realized that the skillset that I had and the way the ball passing and certain skills that I had were very suitable for a center, mid position. And I actually ended up loving it even more than I did center back.

Glenn Gifford (19:04):
You know what, that’s, that’s a perfect example. And I, here’s the example. I can give you an education teachers. A lot of times, administrators they get into this, well, that’s my class like I’m the grade 12 law teacher here, or I teach grade 12 university level biology, and this is my class. And I had a lovely teacher one time when I was a program chair who was teaching grade 12 and and, and doing a fine job, no question about it, but I just saw her skillset. And I just, the next year I, I moved her into grade nine courses and I cannot get over. I cannot tell you Sam, how upset she was at me for moving her out of her courses. And I’m like, wow, technically they’re not your courses, but let me tell you why I put you in this course, because I think your skillset is going to be ideal for this and kicking and screaming to the point where, you know, I’m not talking to him.

Glenn Gifford (20:04):
And at the end of the first semester, she came and thanked me because it was the most rewarding change that she had ever had in her career. So, but it’s not just teachers. Most people are very apprehensive to change. Yeah. And because they’re used to things we’re built for comfort, we, nobody likes to take a step outside their comfort zone and, and try something new. Like the I will, or I’ll just, you know, when you’re working on something, anything that requires that kind of discipline we’re, we’re not built, honestly, we’re not built for that. And, and teachers are, and administrators have it. We’re creatures of habit. We do things out of habit. And then when something disrupts that, you know, it’s hard. So when they ask you, when you were asked to do something at first, you know, I didn’t like that.

Glenn Gifford (20:48):
But you say it turned out to be, you know, a great thing. Some of the greatest things you’ve ever accomplished, weren’t easy. Right? And when you look, when you get to my age, you’re gonna be like anything worth anything that you’ve ever accomplished in your life required, some suffering and some discipline and, and, you know, not the easy, you know, unless you won the lottery or something, you know, most of the things you had to work for. And, and so I think that’s, that’s a great example and getting people outta their comfort zone and and, and, and pushing ’em to greater things is, is good. Hopefully you can convince them that it’s, it’s a good idea, especially when you’re, when you’re talking to teachers who may or may not, I’ve been teaching you know, the same course for 14 years. Yeah. And, you know, that becomes hard, but most of the time I I’ve had a lot of success with, with anything like that, that, that people at least are, are ready to move forward.

Sam Demma (21:41):
Education is like gardening, you plant seeds, like you mentioned earlier, your professor planted in, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to see them blossom. Sometimes they don’t pop out of the ground 15 years down the road. And they, you know, sometimes come back and they’ll tell you, you know, how big of a difference or an impact you made. What are, you know, one or two of the stories that come to mind when you think about seeds that have been planted in your school community, maybe by teachers, by yourself that you’ve been lucky enough to see blossom. And if it’s a, a serious story, you can change the, the student’s names, but do any, any stories come to mind?

Glenn Gifford (22:22):
Well, I always look at it as, as something like that as individual students. Right. I, I like, like you said, the flower rarely seeds the seed. So there are times when, you know, and this is, I really wish that kids when I call ’em kids, but young adults now, when, if they have a run back into their teachers, you know, have those conversations, cuz it’s so important. You mentioned the one teacher year that you had Mr. Long, long fellow.

Sam Demma (22:51):
Mr. Loudfoot

Glenn Gifford (22:53):
Loudfoot. Okay. Loud foot. Nice. Even perfect. What a great, what a great handle, what a great handle, but Mr. Loud foot, like what an impact he had on you and, and, and every, every student can remember. Some of those, I I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve had a few a few students that, you know, have, have been, have come back and, and, and said things to me and, and have told me, you know, what an impact that, that, that I’ve had on them. And and I say programs, programs, it would either be as a football coach or, or, but I, you know, going back to what I was saying, initially, Sam not so much programs is people coming back to you and saying, oh, Mr. Gifford, you know, I loved your class, you know? And I think you made me feel you know so, so like your class was funny and you made me feel like I loved learning and, and those type of cor those type of comments.

Glenn Gifford (23:47):
And so that’s the thing I’m going for as an administrator now, too, is to, you want them to feel something, not remember what you say, no, one’s gonna remember, you know, you know, how would you do right now, Sam on a, on a, on a great 11 biology test? Like you, you you’d fail it horribly, right? Yeah. As would I okay. As would, so, because I don’t remember. I have, I don’t, I haven’t taken that for 30 years, 40 years. So you know, the more the story there is, what, what the, the, I guess the edification that I get is, is kids going back and reflecting on their experience in the classroom or on, on the football field? You know, I have former student says to me, one time he calls me up and I don’t mind name dropping it’s Mattie Matheson.

Glenn Gifford (24:30):
He’s a celebrity chef. And he’s got his own TV shows and, and he’s hugely successful. And I’m so proud of him. He’ll you know, text me like on Christmas morning to go get a coffee, like just crazy. But when he says, oh, Mr. Gifford, will you be on my TV show? You know, or when another student says, Hey, Mr. Gifford, will you be on my podcast? You know? And, and it’s all, you know, just because of the relationships that you’ve made, right. Not the, oh my God, that class was great because of all the knowledge, you know, it was the, the relationship that you forged with, with those kids and, and, and had left an impact on them. And I think that’s, that’s, what’s important. And then now, now, as an administrator, you that’s, those were classroom moments, right? As an administrator, it’s harder, you know, you just wanna make sure that your school culture is such, that kids have a good time at school and are having fun and and are enjoying themselves.

Glenn Gifford (25:26):
School is a, you know, things that are important now for kids, school is a safe place. School is a place where you, can you, you address you address any kind of bullying that might happen, or you address some of the things that, you know, what do kids really need. And you look now, and there’s a, there’s a lot of needs now with COVID that kids, you know, they’re, they’re our emotional needs and their, their social needs have not been met for a few years. So, you know, we, we’ve got a, we’ve got a tall task and education ahead of us for the next couple of years, as we hopefully wind down through this pandemic taking care of kids, not only the learning gaps that they have for the last two years. I mean, you know what I mean, by a learning gap, right?

Glenn Gifford (26:06):
There’s kids that left the pandemic in March and we’re taking in a semester at high school, we’re taking mathematics. And then it was all basically online for grade 10 and now grade 11, it’s been in a, and so everybody’s sitting there going these, these kids, like, and it’s not the kids’ fault, and it’s not the teacher’s fault. Just this kid’s been outta school for two years, or he is been dropping in and doing a quad master or not bill Meer or online and synchronous and asynchronous and all these different terms. And at the end of the day, there’s huge gaps, learning gaps. There’s going to be maturity gaps. Oh my God, you know, you got, you got grade twelves. And you’re like, these guys aren’t in grade 12, but but they’re, you know, we have to work at it and we have to get through it. And, and if they feel like they’re, they’re respected and loved and wanted and, and respected in their building, the rest will take care of itself.

Sam Demma (26:56):
If you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up into, you know, a little ball, which is almost impossible. Go with that ball back into your first class you ever taught in and hand it to your younger self and say, Glen, this is what you needed to hear. What pieces of advice would you have shared with your younger self? And I know obviously building relationships and being invested is two of the, that we’ve really touched on this whole interview, which is awesome. What else would you have told you younger yourself that you wish you heard when you first started?

Glenn Gifford (27:30):
I, that you don’t know everything yeah. That you need to have the humility to realize that, that, again, like, I, I, I didn’t start saying things like I you know, I’m the smartest person in the room when I’m by myself. I, when I was 21, you know, or 22, I kind of I’ll do it this way, because this is the way it is, you know, as, as you age. And I know everything just ask me and you know, as you age, you, you realize that, or, or different ways of doing things, or, you know, just because I had a certain personality and certain brain style, right. That, that, you know, I’m, I’m more balanced brain. I can see left and right. You know, I can see both sides and I’d see other people approaching something in a different manner. And I would be like, that’s dumb.

Glenn Gifford (28:15):
And now I look at it and I’m like, Jesus buddy, you really didn’t know much there. You, you were kind of fine by the seat of your pants and you, you probably should have been a little bit more yeah, probably would’ve been a better teacher if you were a better listener. Mm. And, and I think that’s I, I learned that probably about when I was 14 years in the classroom and probably about year seven or eight, where I just kind of really had a couple of colleagues who were, who were special teachers. And I thought to, and, and I thought I was, but then I looked at how these, these guys and girls were doing it. And I was like, man, the, like, it’s not all about me getting up there and entertaining people and making kids laugh. Like, I really gotta leave them with something other than a magical 60 minute experience with Mr.

Glenn Gifford (29:04):
Gifford every day I need, I need to leave them with you. You know, I gotta get to the, the business of education. And even my assignments, like, I mean, are you doing the same thing again? Like, are you really gonna pull this assignment out again? Like, you know, everybody knows that this is coming. And, you know, I had a colleague say to me one time, why don’t you, why don’t you look at it and do this and have the kids do? And I was like, oh my God, brilliant. But, you know, I wasn’t thinking of it because I wasn’t thinking of it. So I needed somebody else to kind of shine the light. So what I would say to younger Glenn Gifford would be listen, buddy, you can, you can even have a bigger impact if you start to listen to people as opposed to just listening to yourself.

Sam Demma (29:49):
Yeah. I love that. That’s a phenomenal piece of advice. And I think it’s, it’s a human thing. It’s not a teacher thing. I think that’s advice that we could all take yeah.

Glenn Gifford (29:59):
A hundred percent. And sometimes it’s an age thing right. Where you just think, ah, you know, everything when you’re young. And, and I remember one time, one of my grad speeches, I said to, it was funny because I just said to graduates, I just said, you know, you know, very little, you think, you know, but, but you don’t, you hear all the parents laughing because they’re like, yes, they know nothing. And they do, they know lots and you should listen to them as well. But you, you really, again, so I, I would say to myself, if I had to go back and visit young Glen, the teacher is you have two ears in one mouth. So you sort listen twice as much as you talk.

Sam Demma (30:36):
Love that. Glenn, if someone’s tuning in, wants to reach out to you, ask a question or just have a convers what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Glenn Gifford (30:46):
They could contact me via email which is glenn.gifford@ncdsb.com, or they can call St. Michael Catholic high school. And and I’m not hard to find so St. Michael Catholic high school and that Niagara falls Ontario, or through the board website through the school website they can reach out and all the messages go to me.

Sam Demma (31:13):
Awesome. Thank you, Glen. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been a pleasure and a really fun time. Keep up the great work and we will talk soon.

Glenn Gifford (31:24):
Yeah, Sam, appreciate it. Thanks very much. I appreciate that you doing this.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Glenn Gifford

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.

Valerie Dumoulin – Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School

Valerie Dumoulin - Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School
About Valerie Dumoulin

Valerie (@Val_Dumoulin) is a proud member of Taykwa Tagamou First Nation and a wife and mother to two amazing children. She is approaching her 30-year mark in education having taught in Attawapiskat, Moosonee and Cochrane.

She is currently the proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School and has been in this role for 4 years. Previous to that, she was the Vice-Principal at Cochrane Public School for 3 years. Valerie enjoys walking at 5 a.m., spending time with my family and doing Indigenous beadwork in her spare time. She is a Board member at the Ininew Friendship Centre and is passionate about the importance of relationships, mental health and resiliency.

Connect with Valerie: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school

Taykwa Tagamou First Nation

Dr. Robin Hanley Dafoe (Resiliency Expert)

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):
Valerie welcome to the high-performing educator show. Huge pleasure to have you this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Valerie Dumoulin (00:09):
Well, I’m Valerie Dumoulin and I am the principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school in Cochran, Ontario. I’m a proud member of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation. I have been a high school principal now for four years previous to that, I was a vice-principal at our sister elementary school, and I’ve been a teacher I’m actually approaching my, 30-year mark. I’ve taught it in a variety of grade levels all the way from kindergarten to adults. And, I really am fortunate to be in the role that I am right now. And I really enjoy working with, teenagers and the staff that I have.


Sam Demma (01:09):
Did, you know, growing up that education was the career and vocation for you?


Valerie Dumoulin (01:18):
Probably in some sort of sense. I actually wanted to be a social worker nice when I would younger. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to be in a field that was in service of others somehow. I always was very empathetic almost to a fault and I wanted and I knew I wanted to help people. And I grew up in Moosonee Ontario, which is a pretty remote place. Only accessible by train. It’s a, mostly an indigenous community. And you know, there was a lot of inequities that were there and a lot of systemic barriers and I always felt like I wanted to, you know, help people. So when I was in grade 11, we moved to Cochran is where I live now. Nice and finished high school here and then went off to university and you know, somewhere along that, that, that line, I, I changed my mind and decided to apply to teachers college instead. So here I am.


Sam Demma (02:22):
And did you have teachers that really inspired you back when you were a student that you can recall or remember anyone that stood out or maybe even the opposite and that’s why you wanted to change and, and get involved?


Valerie Dumoulin (02:37):
Absolutely. I think when I think about where I grew up and, you know, just a lot of, like I said, the inequities of the area, I mean, my parents had, had their family quite young and they certainly didn’t go off to post secondary school. And a lot of my classmates that I, that I grew up, a lot of my good friends that I grew up, you know, as a child in, in, they also like have kind of beaten the odds and their teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses and, and it, and I always wonder, like how did we, you know, kind of break through that cycle. And I, and I do think it was probably a common, the nation of things, I think like when I think about our parents, even though they were young they had high hopes for us and they always instilled in to us that we, you know, that they wanted better for us and that we could invoke change.


Valerie Dumoulin (03:31):
And I think it was, it was teachers too, because the school did play a lot of a big, big role in making us believe that we can do better and do anything that we put our minds to. So I think that and certainly lots of different teachers who stood out, you know I think about you know I had a, my grade three teacher was named Carol Bernie. She became our, she was the principal of, of the public school that I went to. She had a, she had a huge impact on me because she was female, she was indigenous. And she, she kind of made me feel like I could do something like this.


Sam Demma (04:34):
Inequities in education definitely have started really bubbling to the surface over the past. I would say, you know, two years in total, roughly what are the inequities that still exist? And maybe you can even think back to when you were a student, cuz you talked about those inequities, which are the ones that are still around and, and, and are you passionate about changing and working on?


Valerie Dumoulin (05:01):
Yeah yeah, there, there, there are still lots of barriers that we’re, we’re continuing to work on. It’s hard to believe it’s still 20, 21. And, and a lot of the, the things that I faced as, as a student in growing up in or still exist for, for some families, you know, I think about our indigenous population, for example, and at, Eole Secondaire Cochran high school, we do have about 40% of our student body that is indigenous. And there still is a lot of mistrust of the education system and we’re, we’re breaking it down slowly, but it’s, it’s slow. Yeah. You know, just because of all of the history with residential schools and all of the experiences that perhaps their families have or perception of teachers and schools and buildings you know, we’re slowly chipping away at that. So I, I, I feel like that still exists on some level.


Valerie Dumoulin (06:03):
And it’s gonna be a constant process. You know, I, I, I often think it’s gonna take, you know, more years to actually break that generational kind of cycle, but you know, it it’s, it really is inspiring to know, know that we have a lot of supports in place for, for students like that. And it’s not just the indigenous students, it’s also educating the non-indigenous students because they also didn’t get the true history because their parents just weren’t simply taught it. So it’s not their fault either. You know? So we really are, you know, together in this, in this path to reconciliation.


Sam Demma (06:42):
I agree. Absolutely. And along with equity being something that bubbled to the surface, COVID brought so many other challenges. What are some of the things that have been challenging over the past year to years? And how’s the school community, have you strive to sort of overcome these things?


Valerie Dumoulin (07:03):
So I I’m finding lately the biggest challenge is keeping our spirits up. Yeah. Cause it’s been 22 months now that we’ve been dealing with COVID. And so it’s almost been two years. And as we speak today, it’s January 30 we’re approaching it’s January 14th today. And, and we’re going back to, you know, there’s so many changes that are happening. So it’s, it’s dealing with this constant change and this stress of living in the pandemic and, and we’re basically COVID weary. So I feel like it’s my job to help staff feel calm, supported, and as happy to, as I can so that they can in turn, make their students feel safe and happy and calm. Yeah. So how I deal with this challenge is I, I, I listen, I, I try to make, think of ways to make things better for people. And, and I’m here to remind them constantly that they can do hard things and they can do more than they thought that they were capable of.


Valerie Dumoulin (08:03):
And they can also do that them well, you know, so yeah, when I think about it, COVID has really changed the face of education. There have been really a lot of positive things that have come out of having to deal with COVID. So something like, like paper, for example. Yeah. You know, you wouldn’t believe like the amount of school budget that we spent on photocopy paper before the pandemic, and now we’ve become paperless pretty much, you know, we still use a bit of paper, but using asynchronous platforms and using the cloud and ditching hand outs more, I think that’s been a positive change. Nice. also I think teachers have really shifted into the 21st century rather quickly and they’ve done, done so really well. You know, they they’re using digital platforms, they’re managing break rooms, they’re using collaborative apps. I would’ve said probably before the pandemic that students probably had the edge on, on teaching staff and, and teachers on, you know, being digital. But now I, I, I could, I bet that a lot of our teachers could probably show the kids a few things. Yeah. You know, and that change has happened super, super fast. So it’s been pretty amazing.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Oh, go ahead. Keep going.


Valerie Dumoulin (09:27):
Was just gonna say the, the last thing that I, that I kind of have been really impressed with is, is the focus on mental health. Mm. And I think that’s been a positive of impact of COVID too, because you know, now people are prioritizing, what’s important, you know, self care and as taking like a front role and people are, are starting to take care of their minds and bodies more and, and, and organizations and systems are feel like that is that’s something that they wanna, they wanna promote as well.


Sam Demma (10:01):
And prioritize sometimes in front of the curriculum or the KPIs or the outcomes of the organizations, which are, which is super awesome. What does exactly, what does self-care look like for youth, for how do you fill up your cup? So you can ensure that you’re pouring into your staff, like you said, and, you know, listening to them and making them feel happy.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:26):
Yeah. I, I definitely have started taking, you know, time off, like trying to ditch the email a little bit more, you know for myself, I I’m a Walker, so I have, I’ve always had dogs and I have two Huskies that depend on me to get up every morning and walk them for, for an hour. Nice. So I find that’s a really good time for me. It’s, it’s my thinking time. It’s very peaceful. I, I walk at 5:00 AM.


Sam Demma (10:52):
Nice.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:52):
Streets are quiet. You know, I get to think about like, reflect on things. Think about the day prioritize things that I wanna get done. It, it’s just a good time and I it’s me time. I also beat, I, I do some I make earrings and oh, cool. Do some indigenous type beat work. So I think that’s, that’s really helped me in the evenings kind of just you know, keep busy you, but also like focus on something else other than school, because I would say too, like, it’s, it’s been a learning curve for me to kind of let things go. I’m usually on like 24 hours, somebody would email me at nine o’clock. I’d probably email the back within five minutes, but I’ve been kind of stopping myself and saying, okay, no, that can wait till tomorrow and feeling okay to do that, which is pretty amazing. So I think that’s helped tremendously.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Boundaries. I struggle with them too. Sometimes I don’t ever turn off and people talk about burnout and you always think to yourself, oh no, I’m, I can work like this. And one day it just hits you and you go, holy crap. Like this is a real thing. And I need to set up some proper boundaries for myself. And I think a lot of people hit that threshold at some point in the last two years. So I couldn’t agree more and that’s awesome that you’re up so early walking, very that’s a cool practice. What, what do you think are some of the opportunities? I know there’s a lot of challenges right now, but what do you think some of the opportunities in education are?


Valerie Dumoulin (12:24):
Well, the, some of the opportunities that I think well, the students, like, I, I, I feel like another benefit of COVID is that families have been kind of forced to spend more time with each other. And I see that as, as, as being hopeful for, for, you know, the future because you know, I, I do, I did see kind of an alarming trend of, you know, families being really disconnected from each other. And they, you know, being tied to their phones, for example, and, and not listening or talking with their kids. And I think that’s really negatively affected kids. And as a result, we’re seeing like anxieties and behavior issues and things like that. So I’m hoping that COVID has kind of forced families kind of do things together. I have been seeing positive things. I’ve mentioned Taykwa Tagamou for example that first nation I’ve I’ve, you know, I belong to like their Facebook page and I, and I see things where programs that they have in the community are putting out really neat challenges, for example like a immune kit, like something simple like that, they’re saying, you know, we’re distributing pizza kits and we challenge families to make pizza together and then post it on the page and, you know, and, and people get to see these fam families doing things together.


Valerie Dumoulin (13:48):
So that makes me hopeful that families are, are connecting and, and talking and doing more with each other because kids have been craving that I think, and it, it will, it will help the future. So that, that gives me kind of hope for, you know, the future and, and what’s in store. And certainly with my own family too, you know, like we, you’re kind of isolated. I’ve been like, oh, let’s play a board game. We haven’t played a board game many years, you know, those kinds of things. So it has brought families closer together. I think. So I think that’s been a positive.


Sam Demma (14:23):
Me and my entire family got COVID actually over the holidays. And whenever someone asked me that question, oh, how is your holidays? I feel so bad giving them the response because they’re gonna be like, oh my God, I’m so sorry. And we, we ended up being okay. The symptoms were, were mild, thankfully, but the positive of it was like you said, we spent an unusually large amount of time together, dinner, breakfast, lunch walks, board games, movie marathons. And it was awesome. It was really cool. So I think with every challenge, there is an opportunity. Sometimes it’s just hard to find them or, or see them, especially when you’re going through a storm. And yeah, I, I agree. I think connection is a big one. That’s come out of this and a desire for more connection. We realize how important face to face communication, not over the phone, but actually in person really was. And I think that will, that will hopefully remind us after this all passes, that we need to continue doing those things and continue prioritizing mental health and continue prioritizing relationships. Over your, the course of your career, what resources have you found helpful? Whether it’s mentorship, whether it’s actually things that you’ve read watched, or been a part of that informed, you know, the way that you lead?


Valerie Dumoulin (15:56):
Through this board, like I’ve been fortunate that our board has really prioritized mental health for, for all of our staff. So they’ve brought in some great speakers. Nice. You know, so Dr. Robin Hanley defo on resiliency, like she I’m listening to her audiobook. Again, having listened to some of her, her her talks that she’s had nice Jesse Wente he’s a, an author participated in his online kind of talk that he had for, for staff and students of DSB one. So lots of different influences, but definitely restorative practices that has been really that that’s something that’s really influenced me as, as an administrator. You know, I, I view mistakes as learning opportunities, so it’s really, it’s, it’s really good to talk to kids and I know kids are gonna mess up, you know, and, and do silly, stupid things and things that they regret.


Valerie Dumoulin (17:01):
But I mean, if, if you bring the people that they’ve harmed together and have a restorative conversation, it changes into a learning opportunity. So sometimes being firm is the way to go, but I’m finding more and more that having those restorative conversations and giving chances to kids is paying off. Kids are learning how to you know, restore mistakes and talk to people that they’ve harmed make future decisions based on learning from, from their actions. And the biggest thing is taking responsibility for what they do, you know, and, and owning up to it. And, and admitting that, you know, they’ve done something wrong and that they are committing to, to rectifying kind of their mistakes.


Sam Demma (17:54):
That’s awesome. Restorative practices are so important. I even think back to when I was in elementary school I did some silly things and got a suspension. It’s just something I don’t really talk about often to be honest. And my principal was at the time his name’s Mike was big into restorative practice and he brought me the other students into his office. We cried, we were so upset with ourselves and what we did, but at the end of it, it was a serious learning opportunity. And, you know, seeing it from the student’s perspective, I found it really helpful. And I think it’s a really important thing to continue doing.


Valerie Dumoulin (18:31):
Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:33):
If you could take your experience in education, bundle it up into a ball, walk into the first classroom you taught in and tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Valerie, this is what you needed to hear. Like, what would you have told or what advice would you have given your younger self?


Valerie Dumoulin (18:55):
That’s a good question.


Sam Demma (18:56):
Yeah,


Valerie Dumoulin (18:58):
I think back actually, my very first year teaching, I was I was teaching aa a grade two teacher. So what would I have told myself? I probably would’ve said, you know, take it easy on yourself. Like you don’t have to do, you don’t have to know everything. Cuz I remember feeling, you know, as a first year teacher really confused, like, can I do this like really doubting myself and you know, maybe trying to do too much. And I remember being so exhausted just like even after a day’s work, I’d go home and have a two hour nap and then I get up and plan for the next day, you know, but you, you have to really like just take it easy on yourself, rely on your colleagues and really get to know the community that you’re in for myself.


Valerie Dumoulin (19:47):
It was a first nation community. I, I was used to living in small Northern communities, but it was still quite a different at world just because when I was up there, there, you know, a lot of the, the, the nurses and the teachers had running water, nobody else had running water. Wow. So they used to have to go to like a community area to, you know, fill their jugs, to take home, to do washing and cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things. So it was, it was quite a different world. And so I had to really, you know, understand where my students were coming from. And and, and maybe that’s how I, you know, became really interested in and understanding like how important relationship is and understanding and being empathetic towards other people’s situations. So I think that probably kind of helped me as I move forward in my career.


Sam Demma (20:41):
Love that. Awesome. Valerie, thank you so much for taking some time to come onto the podcast, share your experiences, your philosophies around education. If someone listens and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Valerie Dumoulin (20:58):
Well, on social media, of course, I am on Twitter (@Val_Dumoulin) and I am on Facebook and Instagram. Email works as well: Valerie.Dumoulin@dsb1.ca. Anyway, you know, I, I’m more than willing to, to talk with people and invite people to, to connect with me for sure.


Sam Demma (21:15):
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Valerie Dumoulin (21:21):
Okay. Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Valerie Dumoulin

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

Martin Tshibwabwa – K-12 Educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages

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

Martin Tshibwabwa is a K-12 educator passionate about Special Education, Social Sciences, and Languages. He relishes the opportunity of guiding students to attain their learning goals and feed their desire to be lifelong learners. Democracy is about engaging everyone. Henceforth, his pedagogy is led by the concept of Democratic education – A concept that promotes the development and celebration of diverse learning experiences.

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

École secondaire Notre Dame

Specialist High Skills Major

Specialist High Skills Major in Health and Wellness

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest on the podcast is Martin Tshibwabwa . Martin is the, he’s a grade 9-12 resource teacher for École Secondaire Notre Dame, a secondary school named Notre Dame in Woodstock, Ontario. He speaks French as well. I met Martin after he reached out to do a SHSM (specialist high skills major) presentation for a group of students at his high school.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (09:27):
Got it.


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


Sam Demma (09:51):
Yeah.


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


Sam Demma (10:24):
Nice.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (21:00):
Yeah.


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


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


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


Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah.


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


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


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


Sam Demma (24:15):
Mm.


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


Sam Demma (24:32):
I don’t,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (27:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Martin Tshibwabwa

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

Phebe Lam – Associate Vice-President, Student Experience UWindsor (Acting) 

Phebe Lam - Associate Vice-President, Student Experience at UWindsor
About Phebe Lam

UWindsor alumna Phebe Lam (@Phebe_Lam) (BSc 1995, BA 1997) began a two-year appointment as acting associate vice-president, student experience, on March 22. Dr. Lam earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Wayne State University and has been teaching at the University of Windsor since 2015.

In addition to teaching the “Mentorship and Learning” course, she has helped to expand the reach of mentorship programs across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and developed new student advising and support programs, including online projects such as the Pathway to Academic and Student Success peer mentor program and the Reach Virtual Online Peer Mentor Support. Lam has also served several roles in support of the Student Mental Health Strategy and as chair of the Senate Student Caucus.

Connect with Phebe: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

BIDE Institute UWindsor

Drew Dudley Leadership Speaker

Wangari Maathai (Environmental Activist)

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):
Phebe, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do today.


Phebe Lam (00:13):
Well, thank you. Sam, it is, you know, a pleasure to, to be here with you in this moment. And you know, I’m very, very, very grateful for this opportunity to share some of my, my experiences. So my name is Phebe Lam. I by trade I’m a psychologist actually starting off as a educational psychologist. But you know, let’s maybe take a, a few steps back. My undergraduate degree was in, in science and, you know, pre-med, I, you know, thought I wanted to become a doctor. But things didn’t end up that way. I think pretty much within the first week of school, I knew that, you know, there was something else for me and that road you know, was, was something that I might have to, to put aside. And so when I finished my general science degree I switched over and and completed my psychology degree and really felt that that was, you know, you know, my, my true love you know, ever since my first memories as, as a child is, you know, always wondering, you know, why, why did that person say that?


Phebe Lam (01:32):
Or why did that person do that? And we know, you know, psychology is a science of, of human behavior. Right. And so that always fascinating me. And so I was, I was truly in, in the right place in psychology. And so I went on to do my master’s degree in marriage and family psychology at Wayne state university in Detroit, Michigan. And then went on to do my PhD in educational psychology. And so I’m a licensed psychologist in the state of Michigan and practiced there and worked at Wayne state university in the school of medicine for about 15 years in mostly health psychology and also doing in working in a immunology clinic working the specifically, specifically with children, adolescents, and young adults and their families infected and affected with HIV.


Phebe Lam (02:32):
And so that really, you know was the kickstart of many of the things that I’m I’m doing today was from the, those early the experiences working with some amazing clients, amazing families that, that really inspired me to, to, to who I am today. So, and then 2015 I I started working for university of Windsor going right back home, full circle, and working in the faculty of arts, humanities, and social sciences teaching doing administrative work, but working in student support creating initiatives for students for engagement for, for retention. And then also I taught a mentorship and learning course, which also was another moment that sort of redirected my journey in education and really sparked again, a lot of the things that I I’m doing today.


Phebe Lam (03:39):
And so where I’m at now I am in a acting associate vice president role of student experience. And I started that this year actually in March and it’s been quite the journey. So, you know, when you’re least expecting things to happen, they always happen. And I’m very grateful that I had the courage to, to take this on because there’s no looking back and I’m here today and I’m excited and really looking forward to them, many things that I can still do for, for the university community as well as beyond that. So that’s sort of in a nutshell.


Sam Demma (04:28):
That was an awesome response. Let’s backtrack to the transition from medicine to education. How did that transition happen? What prompted you to get into working more so into schools?


Phebe Lam (04:42):
Okay. So you know, I, I’m gonna give a, a little example and I might be dating myself by, by doing this, but that’s okay. I, I own it and I’m proud of it. So back in the sort mid eighties and late eighties, early nineties Kodak, the company had commercials and they were, you know, this Kodak moment, right? And the whole commercial was, you know your true colors, your true colors, you know, let your true colors shine through and, you know take those opportunities. And so throughout my life, I looking back, I had all these sort of codes, exact moments where they, you know, really changed, you know, my direction in, in life. And so so going from, from thinking about a career in medicine to, to education and psychology the turning point if I had to pinpoint was when I almost blew up our science lab because my partner and I, we didn’t know that our buns and burner was on and it was on, and suddenly the the GA at the time said, you know, I think we smell some, some gas and everybody’s looking at each other.


Phebe Lam (06:02):
And I looked at my little buns and burner, and I, I saw that it was indeed on, but with no flame. And so at that moment, we, you know, I kicked into action. I, you know, we turned it off. But inside, there was a moment where I thought, you know what there’s something more, and me sitting in this lab full of anxiety, full of stress, because I didn’t know it was my first year, first lab. I didn’t know where, what I was doing was unsure, but at that moment, because of that, I don’t know if it was the stress. It was that moment where some light turned on and I said, okay, Phoebe you know, hang tight. There’s something out there. And so from there on, I was always looking, always listening, always, you know, trying to you know, maybe you can sum it up as being just curious, curious as to what my journey should be.


Phebe Lam (06:59):
And so, as I was curious, talking to more and more people you know, learning and seeking out mentors it led me to, to hone in on, you know, how I love and I thrive to be in the environment where there is that learner teacher or mentee mentor relationships and, you know, supporting people in their darkest moments really, really touched me. And so then I knew that, you know, psychology and education was something that I wanted to head into. And at that moment, I still didn’t know what, you know, what, where that was going to lead. Right. But I was very open to those opportunities. And and here I am.


Sam Demma (07:48):
Steve jobs has this quote, and I’m gonna read it off of my phone because I shared it on Twitter recently. He said, okay, your work is gonna fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly five is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle. And based on what you just told me, it sounds like that little quote that Steve shared, it was at a 20, a 2005 Stanford commencement address sums up what sounds like your journey in education. It sounds like you were curious to find the thing you loved and that curiosity just kept pulling you forward. Where do you think absolutely. Where do you think that curiosity kind of comes from where you always, some, one that was interested in things growing up or was it cultivated?


Phebe Lam (08:46):
You know, a part of it was always interested, you know, and always curious of the things that I didn’t know. Mm. And very early on my especially my father really instilled in, you know in, in myself the, the desire and that passion to always be curious, you know, always ask questions. And as I’m speaking now, I can’t even think back to my grandparents who, who you know, had also very close relationship with. They would always, you know, we would always talk about or they would share their stories with, with me. And I was always very curious and very good listener. I think I mostly did a lot of listening more than asking questions. I don’t believe that I was that kid that asked a lot of questions. Right. I was always the, the, the observer, the, the listener and, and taking everything in and then, and then reflecting in the processing on that.


Phebe Lam (09:54):
But I, we really enjoyed stories, you know, listening to stories. I mean, that’s how I learn, learn the best. And that’s, you know, part of my teaching is through telling stories and listening to people’s lived experience. Wouldn’t it be great, Sam, if, you know, everybody could write their own story, you know, and we could tap into someone’s journey. And I think about that when I teach, I think about that when I mentoring students and working with students is, you know, taking that time to say, Hey, you know, what is your story? You know, what were your experiences? Because it’s not until I understand and hear those stories that I can be, be here to help support and, and truly understand, and, and, and listen and appreciate where they are in that moment when I’m with them. Yeah. Oh, I hope I answered that question.


Sam Demma (10:50):
You did, you did the importance of stories is connected to this idea of, of the importance of mentorship. I’ve had many mentors in my life who thinking about it now taught me so many things through the sharing of experiences and stories that they went through, which is why I think it’s so important to have somebody in your life who can mentor you, who can have your best interests at, and also be willing to invest some time into sharing some of their own experiences and learnings with you. You are a big fan of mentorship, helped turn it into even like a curriculum. And course, can you talk a little bit about that?


Phebe Lam (11:32):
Absolutely. and, you know before I start talking about it, you know, I use a lot of word interchangeably and I, and, and words are so incredibly important because, you know, I used to think about, you know, the, the education as the learner and the teacher, and now I’m finding because of, you know, that Kodak moment or that opportunity to, to head down you know, teaching this course mentorship and learning has led me to think about, you know, re or unlearning and relearning what education and what teaching really is. And for me teaching is actually mentoring because it’s not, there’s no boundaries. You know, when the class is done where you’re done taking my course, that relationship continues on. And I tell this to my students all the time, even my, anybody who I I’ve ever worked with. And a past teacher or professor you know, Dr.


Phebe Lam (12:35):
Clark Johnson back in my grad school days, he said this to all our students, you know, your tuition with me is good for a lifetime. Hmm. As long as you can find me, I’m here for you. And I offer that to all my students. I mean, you find me, I I’m here to support you. And through the, you know, 20, some odd year as of post-secondary teaching I’ve had students come back to me. I may not remember them you know, but I, you know, I I’m there. And so, okay. So leading into the mentorship. So in 2016 I was given the opportunity to teach a course called mentorship and learning. And it’s a fourth year level class that that teaches third and fourth year students to become mentors in a first year course in the faculty of arts, human to use in, or social sciences.


Phebe Lam (13:36):
And these mentors are in a majors only. So if you’re a psychology major, you would mentor in the first year psychology course. Okay. And so this class actually began in 2005 co-founders Tina Dr. Tina pules and professor Tson bacon. And so they gave me the opportunity to teach this class. I did not know what I was getting myself into. I mean, I did some work with mentoring in HIV where we would have doctors and nurses and staff at the hospital be mentors for, for, for, for children in, in our clinic. But this, you know, teaching mentorship, like I know about mentoring, but, you know, so I kind of just dove to it and said, you know what? I trust that they chose me. And you know, I’m gonna trust this process and I can tell you Sam it has changed my life, you know being a mentor and a mentee.


Phebe Lam (14:41):
It, you know, first year students that come to university is a transition period, and we know that they’re at risk, right. And so having these mentors who are their peers is incredibly important, right. We’ve seen the, the statistics in retention, but more importantly, this class is for these, you know, 25 to 50. Now we have about a hundred students mentors to foster and to to help them to grow in, you know, leadership and becoming mentors for the rest of their lives to seek out mentors to be mentees, but to also be mentors themselves. So, yeah. And and many of the students that I’ve taught over the years you know, they’re working alongside me in the office of student experience even right now. So these are relationships that have continued on. Yeah. And will continue on,


Sam Demma (15:41):
Did the BIDE Institute come to life with students in that class? Or tell me a little bit about the origins of the Biden Institute as well.


Phebe Lam (15:50):
Okay. yes. So the by Institute B I D E stands for belonging, inclusivity, diversity, and equity. And this is a student led student run initiative that focuses on those four pillars, belonging, inclusivity, diversity and equity, and the co-founders of these, this Institute are two two of my students who went through the mentorship and learning program. Cool. And I knew, you know, you know, when you see you know, the potential in, in, in, in students you know, my first, my first, you know, thing to do is to, to grab a hold of them and say, Hey, listen, you, you, you know, this is, this is a great opportunity. And actually they came up with this opportunity or this initiative I said to them, you know, back in may, I said, listen, you know, I wanna do something for the students.


Phebe Lam (16:50):
And, you know, it’s not me, it’s gonna be students working with students, students coming up with these initiatives. And within two months the Biden Institute came up and and we’re very excited to kickstart this very unique Institute for students. Basically it’s a platform where students can come to together share their experiences, share what they know, share their passion through conversation, through activities and providing a safer and brave place for them to be able to see their, their creativity, see their thoughts come in to to, to life and to be able to to, to, to build their legacy every day.


Sam Demma (17:44):
Hmm. It’s amazing. If someone is interested in learning more about the Institute, does it have a web URL or a, a page that someone can search to read about it?


Phebe Lam (17:54):
Yes. Yes they do. Yes, they do. Sorry. Yes, we do. So if I can share that link with you you know, after yeah.


Sam Demma (18:05):
Awesome. Amazing. And what the does the day in the life look like in your current role and position you’ve done, you know, various different things. What, what does the day in the life look like now?


Phebe Lam (18:20):
Oh, wow.


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s a tough one.


Phebe Lam (18:22):
Oh, no, it’s it, yes. It, it’s a, it’s a tough one, but it’s also really exciting just, you know, it is every day of you know, how can I even sum it up? It’s it’s leadership in a in a, in a way that I didn’t see leadership as it is the way that I see it today. And so, you know, just a few points, you know I’ve really learned that, you know, I don’t have to have the right answers and just the thought of that gives me freedom, right. Gives me freedom to, to be curious, because that’s also freedom. And, you know, understand that the power in leadership comes when we share it and we support it in others. And a large part of what I do is is, is fostering our future leaders and having students working in my office.


Phebe Lam (19:30):
Now I have, you know, this office has, you know five directors that are are, are so wonderful. And, you know, when I look at the work that they do it’s the commitment, you know, it’s their it’s, I see the inspiration that they have in them and the passion that they have in them to really serve the students, because they want to make, you know, this community this world a truly, a better place. And, and again, you know, that leaving that legacy be, be behind, right. As, as we move forward you know, in the day in the life, you know, every day is about being vulnerable keeping in check with who I am being aware and constantly reflecting and and assessing where I am where others are and to meet others where they are not expect to, to come to me and be at my place, but for me to put forth, authentic and genuine effort to go to where they are and to meet them where they are and see what our student needs are and what what needs are for those who work alongside me and to nurture that.


Sam Demma (20:54):
Awesome, something that I believe is important is being a lifelong learner. And you strike me as someone with curiosity, who is always looking for new ways to grow and learn new things over the course of your career, have you found any books or resources or courses or things that you had went through that were extremely valuable that you think if other educators had the chance to read, watch, or experience would also be helpful for their personal development?


Phebe Lam (21:29):
Absolutely. So I have a, a few a few a few videos or a few individuals that, that again have really impacted my view in perspective in not just, you know, education or teaching and learning and not just in mentoring and leadership, but for every day. Mm. So you don’t have to be a teacher or you can be a child or anyone, you know, I mean, there’s seven point what 8 billion people in this, in this world. And we’re all unique living beings, right. Each with our own lived experiences. So so yes, there are, there are the first one is Drew Dudley. He is a, you know, leadership speaker and he speaks to everyday leadership and the lollipop moment, how we should be creating impact every day through not just the big stuff, because most of us are not doing those big grand things, but those everyday leadership opportunities by, you know, as simple as acknowledging what somebody’s done for you, and those are those lollipop moments, and I’ve really done a lot, made an effort to do that more and more.


Phebe Lam (22:49):
And week I, I, I look back and reflect on my life and think, oh, you know what, at this moment, this person made a huge difference in my life. And it could have been easy as a, a, a, a constant smile that this person always had. And I, I went back and I acknowledged that, and, you know and that’s been really great. So ju du lead the everyday leadership, his Ted talk really really impacted me. The other person that’s really impacted myself is Dra woman’s right. A, she won the she received the 2004 Nobel peace prize for her work. And she speaks to the story of a hummingbird and where, you know, a hummingbird is in this huge Flos and this Floris is consumed with fire, and all the animals have, you know, come together and are, is looking with, at this floors burning and feeling, you know, very overwhelmed and powerless, and, you know, not knowing what to do, except for this little hummingbird and this little hummingbird, you know, said to itself, well, I’m gonna do something about this fire.


Phebe Lam (24:04):
So it flies back and forth to the stream and brings with this little beak, a tiny droplets of water and sprinkling onto this huge forest fire. And all the animals are, you know, animals bigger than the hummingbird, you know, said to this hummingbird, you know, what are you doing? You know, you’re so small, this fire is so big and your wings are so little, you know, you only carry a drop of water at the time. Like, what are, you know, what’s that gonna do? And, you know, this little hummingbird was not at all discouraged. And it turned to these, these animals and said, you know, I’m doing the best I can. Mm. And, you know, I, I carry that with me. And I shared, you know, this story with, with my students all the time, as I, you know, we can just do the best we can, you know, and and that’s enough.


Phebe Lam (24:52):
Right. And, you know, and it’s okay to be that hummingbird because there are other hummingbirds around who are doing this exact same thing. And, you know, we, we, we can, you know, we see each other and together, you know, is better. And you know, as, as small as you think that you are, or maybe you may feel insignificant, you really are not you know, you just need to do the best you can and to, to be able to reach out for support when you can. So those are, you know, the two you know, two little videos, short videos that that really has, you know, impacted my journey and has really, you know, given me some clear direction. I always go back to, to those two things. You know, especially when times are challenging and when times are difficult.


Sam Demma (25:43):
That’s amazing. Those are both two awesome resources. I’ll make sure to link them in the show notes and on the article. So you can watch those if you’d like as well, Phoebe, this has been a really enjoyable conversation packed with so many experiences and ideas. If someone wants to reach out, send you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Phebe Lam (26:07):
My email at the university of Windsor I’m also on LinkedIn. I have to do better with that. Not as I don’t keep up with that as, as much, but that’s one of my goals for 2022. But yes, my email is, you know, Phebe.Lam@uwindsor.ca


Sam Demma (26:28):
Awesome. Phoebe, thank you so much. Keep up the amazing work. Keep being a hummingbird and making everyday impact. And I’ll talk to you soon.


Phebe Lam (26:37):
Thank you, Sam. Thank you again for this opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Phebe Lam

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.

Alana Principe – Grade One Teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board

Alana Principe - Grade One Teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board
About Alana Principe

Alana Principe (@MissPrincipe) is a grade one teacher with the Halton Catholic District School Board. Before teaching Grade One, she taught Grade 2/3 and Kindergarten. She’s always had a love (and so much energy) for the primary grades! Her passion for teaching and working with students started at a very young age.

Growing up in a big family helped shape her into the leader, helper, and nurturer she is today. Before becoming a permanent teacher, she spent time working at a daycare, babysitting and volunteering at schools.  Now, she loves spending her days teaching, tutoring, going on walks and being with family. She feels so grateful to be living out my childhood dream!

Connect with Alana: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

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):
Alana, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to, where you are in education now.


Alana Principe (00:13):
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you for having me. I am definitely excited to just have a little platform where I can share some of the joy in love for teaching which is great. I think what brought me to this point is a long little mini history story, but I was born into a family with six kids and my mom ran a home daycare. So I think always from a very young age I knew that teaching and working with kids would be where I want it to be in the future. And so throughout my years in high school, I would join P peer tutoring. I would try and do different volunteer opportunities just to work with other students. And then I got into working at daycare before leading into university where I started pursuing actual teaching.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Nice.


Alana Principe (01:09):
Yeah, which has been exciting. It’s been everything I’ve hoped for and dreamt for. But I think it’s, it’s good. I’ve been one of the lucky ones that kind of always knew what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted to work with students, but all those volunteer opportunities kind of just solidified that and reminded me that, yeah, this is where you wanna be. This is where you need to be before actually paying for university.


Sam Demma (01:36):
Do you remember any stories that stuck out from the daycare of you helping your mom or caring for other kids that you think influenced your decision to get into teaching and working with youth?


Alana Principe (01:49):
Yeah, there’s, there’s been a couple, there’s been some, I honestly, the biggest one I know just from like my own childhood is whenever my mom had kids in our house at our home daycare, I was always the one fighting to be the teacher role when we play school.


Sam Demma (02:04):
Cool.


Alana Principe (02:05):
So my mom always reminds me that, yeah, this is, this is what you want it to do since you were five years old, you know, you needed that role. And then when I actually worked in, in daycare and Ajax, I I just remember working with the school age kids and sitting down to read Harry Potter with them or helping them with their schoolwork after school. Always just felt exciting and fun. And I felt like I was making a difference for those kids, just reading the book for them and making it enjoyable, which was nice. That’s awesome.


Sam Demma (02:41):
That’s awesome. And then you started taking the educational classic path once you got into university. What did that look like? Tell me more about that experience.


Alana Principe (02:52):
Yeah, so that was that was good. It was fun. It was really fun. I, I did my undergrad at Queens university and I took drama and English. Nice. I felt those were two two majors that really complimented each other. You know, you’re performing all day. You’re getting used to speaking in public creating skits that you’re going to, you know, do with friends, you’re working with so many different people in creating shows I felt would be huge a huge benefit when working in the classroom.


Sam Demma (03:25):
Nice.


Alana Principe (03:26):
And then of course, English, I always just think when I’m writing report cards or writing emails to parents, I’m like, oh, you know, here are my little tips and tricks from English English courses in university, which have been very beneficial. And then I did my four years of undergrad before going to do my B bachelor of education at U O I T in OWA. Nice. Now they call Ontario tech. Yep. Also showed out to them great school and just, they were obviously very tech based early on. Yeah. So, so we got to work with coding. We got to create online websites and, and virtual PowerPoints and classrooms that then when COVID hit and I got to teach online, it was basically like, pick me, take me, I can do it


Sam Demma (04:15):
Scrolling through your Twitter. You know, it’s not gonna find videos of you doing like virtual and dances and stuff, which is so awesome. How do you personally, every day fill up your cup. So when you go to school, you show up as this like bright super optimistic teacher that has such a positive impact on your students.


Alana Principe (04:38):
You know what I think I’ve been to doing this for four years now, which, which has been really exciting. And I do truly remind myself every morning when I’m standing up in front of the classroom or I’m standing up online to teach those kids. This was your dream. You are literally living it. Mm. So every morning, even from like the first day, I started four years ago, when I would up and write that morning message or the date, I would just kind of turn, reflect at my class before the students got there. And just think that you’re, you’re aware you need it to be you, you got here. Mm. And that’s the biggest thing just for me to remind myself that this is what you want it to do and you’re doing it right. I think a we spend most of our time working in our life all day, every day. So it’s so important to enjoy what you do. And I just feel so grateful to be one of those people.


Sam Demma (05:33):
Yeah.


Alana Principe (05:34):
And honestly just my students, the families, like, you know, obviously you have your hard challenging days, but to listen to their stories about what they did the night before, or to get a peek and they get to like, ask me what they’re eating or take, you know, share their share their stories or their artwork. It makes such a, such a difference. And I really enjoy just being with them.


Sam Demma (06:00):
That’s awesome. And did you ever have any doubts or you were going through university and it was like, yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m doing this.


Alana Principe (06:12):
Yeah. It was pretty much like, yes, we’re doing it. You’re here. Keep going. Obviously. I mean, some of the courses were hard writing English essays studying all night. That was difficult. Yeah. But I knew it would lead me to being in a classroom. Which I loved even just the experience, like, because I didn’t take ConEd, I just took an undergraduate degree. I made sure to volunteer at schools. I was always going into a school after my courses to just help and be with other kids again, to make sure like, this is what you actually want to do. Which I think made a big difference.


Sam Demma (06:51):
I wanna focus on that for a second because I think volunteering is so important. I talk about it a lot with students, you know, we started pick waste and, you know, encourage kids to come pick up the garbage, but from a practical career lens, it’s just as important. You can reach out to somebody who’s living and working in a career. You’re interested in ask to shadow them for free. And most of the time, if you try enough and ask enough people you’ll get the opportunity to do so. So what was that experience like for you? And would you recommend other educators who are considering this profession do the same and why?


Alana Principe (07:30):
Yeah, so I would say volunteering always so beneficial, right? It’s just a way to give back. I think, especially people who might not be able to financial donate into things. If you can spend an hour here or there with your time, it’s, it’s just as beneficial, right. It’s gonna help those people. When I was at school in Kingston, I would work at some schools that just were more challenging behavior wise. So as a university student, it was, you know, fresh eyes of fresh body that would come in and work with kids. It made a difference for them because they just had more one-on-one time, which sometimes is impossible in the classroom. And then it also just made a difference for me because I got that experience. So although it was unpaid work, I knew what the classroom looked a like early on, before even starting teaching.


Alana Principe (08:23):
I knew all the different bodies that would be in a classroom and you know, how teachers can navigate. So even though I wasn’t getting paid to be there, it helped me. It helped shape who I am today, helped shape, who I teach. And then I think it’s so beneficial for are other teachers going into teaching, trying, because you’re getting the experience. You know, you’re opening doors up that when a principal asks you in an interview, how did you deal with a problem? You have solid experience to back up your proof. And then you feel confident. You feel good, you feel confident. You’ve been doing it for years. You, you know, what’s up, you know how to do it. But I think it opens so many more doors. You know, teaching’s competitive, teaching’s hard to get in. They only have to so many positions where I pretty much was able to walk into a permanent role because I had a lot of experience and volunteer experience to back up what I was doing.


Alana Principe (09:29):
Principals knew me. Other teachers knew me. They recognized me at school because I’ve been there. I’ve been in volunteering. I’ve been spending my time. I think if it’s for teaching, when principals see you in a school, volunteering, unpaid, they know you care. They know you wanna be there and it’s gonna reflect once you do get paid for your job. So, you know, they, they trust me to be the person that’s gonna do an extracurricular activity. They trust me to be that person to coach after school. Yeah. because I’ve done it and they see it. Right.


Sam Demma (10:03):
Cool. And you had this experience, you finished your degree, did the bachelor’s and then how was that first year like for you? I think what’s really unique about this conversation is you’ve been teaching for four years, which can feel like a long time, but you probably gonna be teaching for so much longer. See, but you have a very fresh perspective of what it’s like teaching right now. And probably a unique perspective versus some of the other educators I’ve spoken to. So what was year one? Like, and how’s it going year one?


Alana Principe (10:34):
I reflect back on that a lot because I really, as I did not know what I was doing in year one, I’m like who lesson planned for me who wrote those report cards?


Alana Principe (10:47):
Honestly looking back, like my kids were safe, the classroom was smooth. We had fun. I did the job. Hmm. Did I know how to properly lesson plan? Probably not. Did I know how to professionally write the best report cards? I don’t think so, but I guess I did. Right. Just because I look back now four years later and I have so much more experience in practice that it, it, honestly, it feels was, it was a couple years ago and, and so much has changed in these past few years. Right. I think in year one, I was more alone. I would say I didn’t reach out as much to other teachers. I didn’t wanna work with grade partners. I just kind of wanted to be in my room and, and plan and work. And I just shut the door, which isn’t always the best thing when you’re a young new teacher, because take the resources, take the support. Like now I’m knocking on everyone’s door being like, gimme your resources. What are you doing in math today? And FaceTiming colleagues, if we can’t meet up in person to make sure we’re, you know I work with a colleague in grade one. We both make sure we’re on the same plan for math and we’re working together and it looking now it feels so good to work with someone and have that adult connection, which I don’t think I really had in my first year,


Sam Demma (12:12):
What it shifted. Why did you decide in your second year? I need to start asking for help. Was, did someone come and tap you on the shoulder and kind of say, Hey, you have the opportunity to reach out to other teachers or did you start to realize there is this awesome network and I should start leveraging it and building cool relationships with colleagues.


Alana Principe (12:32):
Yeah. I, you know what I think the school I was at, it was a smaller school. Once I went in there in sec, in my second year, smaller school, all the teachers knew each other and worked together and I was this fresh young meet coming through. Yeah. And they took me under their wing. They were so supportive. They would reach out with old binders and worksheets and storybooks to fill my classroom I’m with. And they would check up on me. I would be in the staff room. They would come and check up on me, ask me how I’m doing photo. I remember a few of the teachers would photocopy a poem or a prayer and slide it under my door and say, like do this with your kids today. And it, it was kind of that little push to be like, Hey, we’re here for you. We, we wanna support you. And it’s where I saw, like, you know, this is a community we’re all working together to better the lives of these students in our school.


Sam Demma (13:23):
That’s amazing. And that first year a little stressful, but you said something that stuck out to me, the first thing you said was the students in my class were safe. Whether you realize it or not, that’s such a foundational need for young people. Why do you think that’s the first thing you said? And how do you build a classroom? That’s a safe space or where students feel safe.


Alana Principe (13:50):
Yeah. That’s that’s a challenging one for sure. It’s when I focus on all the time, that first week of school, it’s I tell parents right away, you know, we’re putting academics aside and we’re focusing on your kids’ safetyness happiness and mental health really. It’s something definitely in the past two years, we’ve been focusing on a lot more than usual little check-ins how they’re doing, how they’re feeling because we’re going through a pandemic, right? So sometimes academics will take a little bit of a, a slip, but I have to make sure those kids are happy and safe. I always think of it as do students need to feel comfortable in your classroom before they learn anything. Hmm. Right. If they’re not happy and they’re not feeling good, they’re, they’re gonna zone out they’re they don’t wanna be there. So I really make a point in that first couple weeks of school to let them know, I care for them.


Alana Principe (14:43):
I’m there for them. And this is a community. It’s a safe space. We can talk about how we feel or we need a break. You can take a break, right. You can go to a little calm down center and, and have your time. If you need alone time, maybe you don’t have that at home. Hmm. And so I think, especially like now with, with students, I want them to know that we care about them as, as people, right. Or are going through challenging times in that first couple weeks to kind of solidify the safetyness or even just getting students comfortable. I always make a point to tell them that they can make mistakes. They can mess up. They can say something silly. Right. And no, one’s gonna laugh at you. No, one’s gonna question you. And every day I’m always telling kids, take a risk, you know, ask that question or answer that question.


Alana Principe (15:36):
Even if you mess up, who cares? I mess up every day and it just makes the students, I think, feel normal and human, and it’s good. Cuz it opens up so many conversations. They ask the best questions and they answer any math question. You give them, they will answer and it could be totally off or totally wrong. And they’ll throw out an answer and I’m like, yeah, you did it. Tell me how you got there and they’ll explain me their steps. And then I can really get into their brain. And they’re like, all right, this is what they were thinking. As opposed to them being quiet it and silent. And then I don’t know if they really knew anything.


Sam Demma (16:17):
Yeah.


Alana Principe (16:18):
So I think just giving them that safe platform where they know they can use their voice. Right. Mess up as much as you want. Even when I mess up in the classroom, I’m like, look, I just messed up. Now you can do. And they, they feel like they’re just normal ha you know, having having a connection with their, their friends and it’s becoming a community. And I think even going off of that, especially online that just getting them comfortable, we dance, we act, we sing, we do everything. And I tell them, you know, they’re all singers, they’re all dancers and we could be falling over It’s okay. They’re having fun. I watch all their little smiles. I’m like we had a good day. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:07):
That’s so awesome. I was gonna ask you, how have you leveraged the school experience and drama, but basically just answered the question. Does every day feel like you’re on stage?


Alana Principe (17:20):
Yeah. You know what more so now, because I still teach virtually. And so parents are watching you, grandparents are watching you, siblings are watching you. And you know, I just go in there and I’m like, we’re singing, we’re dancing. I’m messing up playing guitar times. And you know, it’s my drama degree coming in handy. Cuz if you mess up, you just keep going with the flow.


Sam Demma (17:43):
That’s awesome.


Alana Principe (17:44):
Don’t stop.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You, you mentioned the importance of mentors leaning on other colleagues knocking on their doors. Have you found any other resources helpful, whether it’s tools, books, technology, programs, courses, anything else along your own journey that you’ve leaned on as a resource or things that you use in your class that you think another educator could benefit from learning about or going through?


Alana Principe (18:09):
Yeah. There are so many I think Twitter’s like a more recent one I’ve gone into, which I just love because for those teachers that do use it, obviously we’re posting our highlights on there. Yeah. But it’s a great one to connect. I go look at other primary teachers, specifically ones who teach kindergarten or grade one and I can kind of pull from their ideas and see what they’re doing and what worked and then how I wanna bring it into my own classroom. So that one, I really like, it’s good because you can kind of gear it based on your searches yeah. To what you’re teaching.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Cool.


Alana Principe (18:43):
Yeah. So I really like that. And I think other resources, I feel like there’s so many, but there’s a lot like YouTube videos that you can kind of watch if other teachers post their videos of how they’re teaching. I like watching those or skimming through them and then pulling from their ideas. For example, in math or teaching how to add to my little grade ones. And so I look online, you know, how many different ways can I teach them this? Right? Like I have my one or two ways, but what are other teachers doing that students might have learned from? And then that way, when I go to teach it, I’m teaching them five different ways that they can pull from one way that they enjoy the most.


Sam Demma (19:28):
Two great resources. And not to mention you’re also on Twitter, where can people connect with you if they wanna reach out?


Alana Principe (19:36):
Yeah. My Twitter is Ms. Principe.


Sam Demma (19:39):
Cool. Very cool. Yeah. And what do you think are some of the challenges that education has been faced with over the past two years? And how have you, or have you seen other people try to overcome those challenges?


Alana Principe (19:55):
I think education, I mean the biggest one, obviously we’ve gone online. Yeah. And it’s, it’s working for some unfortunately it’s not working for all. I’m really proud of my board actually Hal and Catholic. We’ve created our own virtual school. They’ve created their own identity. It has a, a name. And it’s just felt like a very equitable, safe space. So it’s been two it’s on its second year now. But the principles to kind of overcome some of the challenges with which I think would be, you know, all these kids are thrown into one classroom. Yeah. And you don’t know what they have at home. Right. We assume they have some sort of laptop or device that they can be online. But then when I do math, do they have the manipulatives? When I do a craft, do they have construction, paper and scissors? Where this year our principals actually created these bags full of manipulatives and, and tools, school supplies.


Sam Demma (20:55):
Oh wow.


Alana Principe (20:55):
For free. And if parents wanted their student, their children to have it, they just had to sign up to a, for a meeting time drive to the closest school and pick up these bag of goodies. Which I thought was absolutely so amazing because it gave a chance for every student to have the same materials in the classroom. So now when I do my math lesson, pretty much all of my kids have these bags. So when I do a math lesson, I’ll say like, grab your green cubes or grab or blue ones. And they all can take it out and have it. Our school supplies, right. They all have now scissors, they have glue, they have paper, they have notebooks. Yeah. And it’s so amazing because no one’s standing out anymore that they don’t have something. Right. It, it feels like we’re back in that school atmosphere where we try to give all the students the same resources and the same opportunities.


Alana Principe (21:55):
So I like that because I mean, it’s challenging when you, I try to be so equitable, right. When we’re doing a craft, if you don’t have this material, you know, pull, pull from here, here, you’re, you’re giving them five different ideas to pull from where now our principals have really helped support us in a way that here your students have this bag, let like you’re let them use it. So that’s that’s really helped. And then I think, I mean, another thing I find challenging, I think the parents just need support because I mean, I feel for them, them they’re working behind me right. All day. I hear their voices when I’m on video with their families. And you know, they’re sometimes there helping their kid cut and paste or helping their kid count. They’re that extra support that I have loved working with for the past two. I think I really make a point with my families to connect with them, to help just to show them I’m thankful for them. But also we work as a team because they’re at home now being very hands on with their kids. Yeah. So I think it’s been challenging for them in the education world because they’re having to work four or five jobs now.


Sam Demma (23:12):
Not to imagine you have to have like two or three kids in the same, in the same grade.


Alana Principe (23:16):
Some of them do, we’ll be having dance parties. I’m like just bring your other kids in, have them going.


Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s so awesome. Yeah. And you kinda, yeah. You touched on some good points and you kind of already answered this question, but if you could give year one self advice, you know, based off what you’ve learned and experienced now over the past four, what would you tell your younger self or another educator who’s just getting into education.


Alana Principe (23:43):
I think I would tell myself that you cannot keep enough notes marking for the report card.


Sam Demma (23:52):
Yeah. Nice.


Alana Principe (23:53):
Write down all the observations, write down all the feedback. And then honestly just reach out, like knock on people’s doors, you know, be comfortable talk to your colleagues, get your resources and do it early on because you’re new. You have an excuse. Yeah. So ask those questions and take those resources. And honestly, like if people wanna give you resources, just accept them and keep them. Because I mean, I was given a resource about two years ago and I pulled it out this year for the first time, but it’s, you know, I think back and I say like, thank you know, thank goodness I took that, that duing of, of work as it’s helped.


Sam Demma (24:38):
It’s so funny. You never catch a student saying that. Thank you so grateful. I took this DOE of work home. Yeah. But this has been awesome. You mentioned your Twitter hand already. If someone wanted to reach out and send you an email is there an email you could also share where people could reach you?


Alana Principe (24:54):
Yeah. You could use my, my board email: alanaprincipe@hotmail.com


Sam Demma (25:04):
Awesome. Well, yeah, Alana, thanks again so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and keep singing baby shark to your classes and keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Alana Principe (25:16):
Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for giving me a platform to to speak a little bit.


Sam Demma (25:21):
Of course.

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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.