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Experiential Learning

Greg McLean – Principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Bruce Grey County

Greg McLean - Principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Bruce Grey County
About Greg McLean

Greg McLean (@WalkertonGreg) has been in the educational field for the past 28 years as a teacher, school administrator and instructor for Niagara University and Catholic Principals Council of Ontario. Greg has worked in 9 schools and in 3 different school boards and is currently the principal of Sacred Heart, Mildmay after a year of being the principal of St Isidore Virtual School, the first-ever virtual school in Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board!

Greg graduated from Laurier with a Certificate in Positive Psychology this past year and also obtained a certification as a Life and Wellness Coach. He is also a musician (drummer, vocals and guitar) and has performed live over 300 times in a variety of venues over the past 20 years. Greg is also a community-minded individual who embraces volunteerism- being a member of the local Optimist Club and a volunteer at the food bank, Victoria Jubilee Hall and Special Olympics. Greg also advocates for individuals with Down Syndrome- helping others to see their abilities.

Greg has been married to his wonderful partner Jayne for 26 years and has three children, Abby, Lucas and Dashiel. The family resides in beautiful Walkerton, ON.

Connect with Greg: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario

Laurier Certificate in Positive Psychology

A Slice of Brockton (Greg’s Podcast)

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):
Greg, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today from Brockton start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are?


Greg McLean (00:10):
Well, my name is well, first of all, thank you for introducing me as a high performing educator. That’s awesome. My, my name is Greg McLean and I work as a principal in the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. I reside in the town of Walkerton that sits in Brockton. So Brockton’s municipality and Walkerton’s a town in there. The same Walkerton that endured that water crisis back in 2000 best water in Ontario, right? This is what we say. And I’ve been in education. This is, is my 29th year and I’ve been a principal for the past 15. So we’re looking at about a 50 50 split and I’ve got a family. My wife Jane is a guidance counselor at sacred heart high school. I have three children, well adult children now. My oldest is 24 and resides in, in Guelph and is working time. Yay. And my middle child, my son is 22 residing at Toco. And my youngest boy is 16 years old and he’s in grade 11 at the local high school at sacred heart where my wife works.


Sam Demma (01:14):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And as educators, we always preach the importance of lifelong learning. There’s never a day you stop learning. And I understand that you’re someone who, when the COVID initially hit, took it upon yourself to actually obtain more education. Can you please explain how that process unfolded and what you set out to learn and achieve?


Greg McLean (01:36):
Well, sure. First of all, yeah, like lifelong learning. I think if you’re in the education world, you’re forced with lifelong learning, but I don’t wanna use the word force because I’m thinking that the vast majority of people who get into education are, are lifelong learning by choice. And whether it’s a course an AQ course so that you can teach a different course or it’s something that’s just something you’re really interested in. We, we, we kind of attract those, those people. It it’s actually a character, character strength to have a love of learning. And it’s actually a Catholic graduate expectation, lifelong learner. So yeah. Putting all those together. Yeah. Like during the pandemic, I mean, it was really, really easy for people to get down and to get you know, that sense of being you know, I don’t, I’m gonna say hopeless, but cabin fever.


Greg McLean (02:25):
But just knowing like what, what do you do to, to feel good in this and, and mentally well, and I think one of those things that you can do and that I’ve learned is that, you know, obviously part of self-care is, is, you know, having hobbies and things that you can do. And so part of the spirit of my lifelong learning as I kind of went back to school and I got a certificate Laia university in positive psychology which is kinda the study of all the stuff I just talked about. Yeah. And spent the year learning about how to live your best life knowing that your best life isn’t avoiding stress and avoiding problems. It’s actually how to deal with them in a really healthy way, because that’s the price of admission, right? Discomfort’s the price of admission. You just have to learn how to, to, to manage it and, and to, to thrive as opposed to, you know, just languishing. So, and then just this past year, I worked on getting my life and wellness certification coach. So I’m gonna try to at all those things together and you know, kind of push that forward and, and hopefully serve serve my community and the people around me.


Sam Demma (03:26):
That’s amazing. When you say positive psychology how do you explain that to somebody or like when, when you use that term, what does it mean?


Greg McLean (03:37):
Well, I guess there is a catch phrase. I, I kind of used it before. It’s like the study of use of living your best life, like how to live your best life. So that’s how you kind of boil it down. I think there’s psych, when you think about psychology, you might think about what’s wrong with you. Right. But cause of psychology is the study of what’s right with you. Ah, and it’s so much right with us and it’s also about mindset. So the good news is that in the education world, I was able to bring that perspective in the course at all times to say, you know what, I’m really affirmed right now because some of this stuff that I’m learning about, we’re actually doing like the Mo the positive you know, mindset work by Carol Dweck. Right. How important that mindset is in, in resilience and overcoming adversity.


Greg McLean (04:21):
I mean, we’re talking about that right now. Right. We’re back into another adverse moment. So you know what, where’s your mindset. And I mean, let’s not be Pollyannaish here, right? Like pandemic’s a pandemic and job loss and job loss and, and, and, and sickness and illness and death. Aren’t, aren’t positive things, but it’s like a acknowledging that, and it’s okay to not be okay, but what can you do to get out of being not okay? And you can, and we are all, we’re all skilled and we’re all gifted that way. We just sometimes just don’t know it.


Sam Demma (04:52):
And it’s obvious you have a passion for learning, teaching, sharing, which makes you a phenomenal person to get into the vocation of education. How did you, how did you determine you wanted to become a teacher when you were a kid and someone asked you, Greg, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did you always say a teacher, a principal, someone in education, or how did you discover this path?


Greg McLean (05:14):
Say, I don’t know anybody who starts by saying they wanna be a principal. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. Well, you know, it’s funny because my, I feel like my life has been very serendipitous in the sense that I don’t, I don’t think like some other people, they just have a life track and they’ve got this vision about what they want to do. And, and although as a kid, I do remember getting satisfaction from teaching someone, something, whether it’s a, a skill or something like, you know, you’re working together of the group of kids and you’re one of the kids and those kids get it cuz of something you did or said, and there’s, there’s immense joy and satisfaction in that. And, and certainly obviously that resides in me somewhere because I wouldn’t have gone the root of, of, of, of being a teacher. I disappointed my mom. You know, I think for about three weeks when I was in grade three, I did declare I was thinking about being a priest being in the priesthood. But as I said, that was a three week three week dream and, and with a broken dream for my mom she wanted grandkids.

Greg McLean (06:11):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s what I said. The good news is you got grandkids out of it. Right. and so yeah, like, I mean, going through high school, same, the same thing, right? It’s this niggling thing at the back of your head? I don’t think I was necessarily convinced that that that’s what my, my pathway was. I certainly liked music. I’ve always liked music. And my life, my, my career journey basically is a mesh of, of, of music and, and of, of like leadership and of teaching. Like it all kind of, kind of coalesced and, and again, it evolves and, and, and sometimes it’s, you’re taking specific steps towards it. And other times, again, as I said, it’s serendipitous things just appear before you, but if you were talking to my wife, she’s, she wouldn’t say things don’t just appear, you manifest them with your thinking. So I give her a huge shout out Jane, because certainly from my, the lifelong learning thing, I mean, yep. I can take certain courses, but, but she’s got a real pension for this mind, body spirit avenue that I’m kind of going in towards knowing that it’s of such a benefit to, to everybody.


Sam Demma (07:11):
That’s amazing. I couldn’t agree more. So explain the path that you did take and how you did end up where you are today.


Greg McLean (07:23):
Well I love to say that, oh, I mean, I have heritage a hundred percent heritage in Newfoundland. I’m a, I’m a, a Newfoundlander by heart, but I wasn’t born there. Yeah. I, I basically from my beginnings of being schooled and living in, in Georgetown, not too, not too far away from Pickering you know what, I always have been a believer in. I’ve always gone to Catholic school. I’ve always been a believer of, of the Catholic schools. My parents have been people have always promoted cause I have to pay actually tuition in high school to continue to go to a, to a Catholic school. But, but basically my, my journey into high school where I loved music and I, I loved, I guess I had, again, I set that pension somewhere in there for teaching all came together because eventually as I applied to teachers college, I got accepted and moved to Bruce Gray, moved to Walkerton.


Greg McLean (08:20):
It was a call I got from a superintendent in the middle of, of August looking for a music teacher. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I love music, but I don’t, I don’t have a music background in terms of a degree. I played the drums. I played the drums in the school band, Cardinale school band in the, in the mid to, to late eighties. And and I guess that, that superintendent happened to be my vice principal at the time said, oh, band equals music teacher, which it, it doesn’t really, I mean, it opened the door, but I mean, the first, first little bit was a struggle. And I, I never actually saw myself as a music teacher until probably about four or five years after the fact where I’m going. I, I had that realization that moment where I’m going, I am right, because before I was either thinking I’m gonna get out of this, or I don’t know enough about this, but somehow through self-teaching and absorption.


Greg McLean (09:10):
And the fact that the kids were so excited to learn an instrument, like kind of pushed me to learn it. And then, you know, we had bands and we were going to music festivals and we were doing quite well, and I’m going, you know what, I teach grade seven, eight, but I am a music teacher. And I was really proud of that because that’s unlike math or science or, or, you know art or, well, art, I’m gonna keep art of that. But these are, those are passions of, I think the mind and music is of the heart and, and to be able to have that it’s a real gift to see kids get that gift and to be excited about teaching music. So somehow that ended up me getting a job teaching at Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And you know, what about halfway through the career? About 15 years later, it became a principal and, and in leadership and that’s a different story.


Sam Demma (09:55):
Of course. So your journey was slightly unexpected. When you were thinking about, you know, getting into jobs in the workforce what was the other options on your mind? Like what the other things you were thinking about?


Greg McLean (10:13):
That’s a good question. We won’t count the grade three example. What we, I actually thought about music production. So I actually was accepted at haw college for music production. Wow. I also thought fleetingly about being a pilot. Oh, wow. And but those two are the kind of the areas coming out of grade 11 and grade 12 that I kind of thought of. And you know, it’s like a lesson to, to people maybe listening if they’re in high schools, like I avoided physics because I thought it would be too hard and I didn’t really give myself a chance. And and because I didn’t take the physics meant I didn’t take other courses. And therefore kind of that pilot thing kind of was chosen out for me. Right. And that’s too bad because I mean, we don’t live in, we don’t live in regret, but I’m thinking that that was a, a pathway that was shut down because I shut myself down and, and I, I would’ve been able to do it.


Greg McLean (11:09):
Right. I think about my, my head self now is like, no, Greg, you would’ve been able to do that. Like, don’t sell yourself short. Right. So those are some of the other areas I, I would was I was certainly thinking about, and of course, and, and teaching, and, you know, back to a conversation earlier, before the recording started Sam, like you talked about, you know, even now, like no one I think gets into the business, wanting to be a principal when you start in an education, maybe some people, but, but it’s, as you go along, it’s, it’s the, the higher level view of what you want for kids that are around you in the school, around you. Whereas a classroom teacher, you are, you are responsible for those 25 or 30 kids in that, you know when you begin to look at the higher view of all the kids and the building and the, the you know, how well people are and how much fun people and how, how people are learning is when you start going, okay, well maybe that’s where maybe that’s my, in my sphere of influence needs to be beyond 25 people, but 300 or 400 people.


Sam Demma (12:07):
Yeah. And, you know, you mentioned not shutting yourself down for potential opportunities. It’s not only relevant to people in high school, closing yourself off. I think it’s relevant to all human beings, whether you’ve been teaching for 50 years or not, there might be something you wanna do. And if your mind talks you out of it, there’s 0% chance it’s gonna happen. So I think it’s, it’s an important lesson for all on the topic of you know, things that are helpful, pieces of advice, mindset shifts. What have you found beneficial in helping you show up as your best self in your day to day job at school? Are there any books, resources, programs you’ve went through that helped you as an educator or someone that worked in schools?


Greg McLean (12:56):
I don’t know if there’s been one resource. And as I had mentioned, like there were some of the things that we were doing in schools for a long, for a little while now, at least for 10 or 12 years, if not longer, that help with that kind of positive psychology, we were calling it positive psychology with the kids, like the fact that we do guided meditations with, with kids. Yeah. And we do mindfulness with kids and, you know you know, we talk about mindset and those sorts of things. That’s been helpful for me as well, because not only am I learning about as an adult to help the kids, but I’m learning about it as an adult to help myself. Yeah. So that work all the way through. Now we’re, we’re a little bit more fortunate than say 20 years ago where we didn’t have the same mental health support 20 years ago.


Greg McLean (13:38):
I don’t know if we needed, had the same mental health need. I don’t, I don’t have the data on that, but the fact that I work with professionals who are in the, in the you know, the know about these things is also incredible. I’ve learned a little, like a lot about that. And certainly just a speaking with my wife today about a, a new book that I’d really like to read that Torene brown has just released. And she talks about emotions. I think it’s something about Atlas of emotions or something like that. Don’t quote me on that. I’m gonna look it up, but it’s really fascinating cuz she talks about 87 emotions and I’m thinking and she says that, you know, most adults can only name that they’ve experienced three or four emotions. And to know that there are 87 and what do you do with that information?


Greg McLean (14:17):
The fact that you know yourself that way, and you’ve got that language and then how does that, how does that benefit you? Right. So there’s always things there’s always things to learn and kind of the pathway kinda opens up as you go, right? Like it’s like, you’ve got this flashlight and you’re seeing as far as the flashlight can go, but that the outer edge of the flashlight it’s still opening up for you. Right. So it’s, it’s good stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to be in education because I can’t imagine how much less I would know if I wasn’t in education.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Yeah. So true education is a, a seed planting career, a seed planting vocation sometimes, you know, your actions plant a seed in somebody else who you may never realize the growth of you. They may be far gone out of the school building when you see the growth happen, but sometimes the seeds you plant and a student and a staff member and we that we plant in each other, you have the opportunity to see it grow and flourish in front of, and it’s really spectacular and cool. And it’s a very fulfilling feeling when you think of the students who you’ve seen grow and transform over the past 29 years and all different schools you’ve been in. Are there any stories that come to mind of a student who first came and wasn’t their best set or striving to live their best life and, and somehow had a transformation. And if you do, would you be willing to share this story?


Greg McLean (15:39):
Yeah. I might speak in some generalities as opposed to like naming anyone, but of course from, from an elementary school standpoint, I, I mean, that’s a really great stance to have is to know that you’re potentially planting a seed. And you’re not gonna, you may not see that. And that’s the, that’s the faith piece because you, you, you, you are doing what you can in grade one. Like people might remember the grade one teacher, but they’re not gonna remember the content. They’re not gonna remember all the songs that they sang. They’re gonna remember that. So, and so was a love, loving, caring person. That’s a pretty good seed to plant love care. The virtues, you know, like those things are super important and the importance of relationship, but, but when you run into students and you see them three or four, like, okay, so for me, we’re in a small area kind of a rural area.


Greg McLean (16:31):
And we recycle a lot of, of our grads back into education, which I think I, I take as like a real feather in the cap for what we’re doing because we, a lot of our young teachers and EAs and support people are people that were students. And now I’ve been in it long enough that they’re coming back as students and they’re coming back as employees. So I have a co you know, I have people on staff who’ve, I’ve, I’ve worked with or worked with their parents. Oh. Or I’ve known their parents. And, and thinking back to what that student, when, and I’ve been primarily a grade seven, eight teacher when I was teaching to think about the kids that struggled and then finding out that a couple of ’em own their own businesses. A couple of them you know, work at Bruce power here locally, which is, you know, a great, a great career to have.


Greg McLean (17:13):
And, and thinking that, you know, at the time, maybe in the back of your mind, you were thinking, wow, what’s this guy, what’s this person gonna do. Right. Like, I, you know, you don’t see that, but that’s a back of your mind thing. And if you keep in the front of your mind at all times that, you know, it’s a work in progress. And what you’re seeing now is like a brushstroke and the painting’s not done. Yeah. That has to keep, and you have to keep reminding yourself of that because there are times you’re going to come up against some challenging, challenging behaviors and, and, and, you know, and people, who’ve got some life circumstances working against them, but that’s what education’s all about. You know, Catholic education, that moral purpose, right? Like we’re here to kind of, even up the playing field. Right.


Greg McLean (17:50):
You’re I always say we’re here for all the kids, but we’re, we’re there for some, a little bit more than everyone. It’s like, kinda like an analogy of going to the doctor. Does everyone go to the doctor? No. and some people need a doctor more often than other people. Right. So you think of yourself in teaching an education as you go to the people that you need to bringing the faith piece back into, it was, you know, who did Jesus minister to like, wasn’t the rich and famous wasn’t the people who were doing well. It was people that weren’t so like, let’s, let’s emulate what we’re doing there in, in education. And, you know, I mean, it’s worked for me.


Sam Demma (18:21):
Yeah. I love the philosophies. Thanks for sharing. When you think of 29 years all the experiences you’ve gained, the people you’ve met, the people who have poured into you and helped you become the school leader you are today. If you could wrap it all up, it’s a hard question. Go back, walk into your first year of teaching, walk into that classroom, look at your younger, as he was doing his job. What advice would you give knowing what you know now and what the experience you have?


Greg McLean (18:59):
Wow. You’re right. That’s a good question. That’s hard. That’s a tough one. That’s, that’s a question I’m gonna include on my podcast, by the way that I’m gonna, if you could go back to your younger self yeah. You know what, that’s, that’s, that’s a great reflective, I think number one is to tell myself, you, you can do it, have faith in yourself. You’re resourceful. You’re whole, you’re talented. You’re you, you’re perfect as you are. And just embrace that and that lets you go, cuz I didn’t think so when I was first starting, right. I’m thinking, you know, you’re a confident which is again, maybe the, not a natural, but to know that, you know, you’re doing the best, you’re bringing the best. And if all your, if you’re bringing your best at every single moment, like, you know who you can be, then you have to take, you have to be happy with that and have be satisfied with that and be kind to yourself about it.


Greg McLean (19:48):
I think the other piece is, is, is the, is the kindness for other or love for others? And I certainly have come from evolve you know, evolved in my depth of understanding of what that looks like. And, and not just an education standpoint, but just in, in a relationship standpoint is, is, is knowing that if you’re, I always thought I was empathetic, but I think I I’ve grown my empathy. Knowing that you can’t always account for what people are bringing in behind them. And what you’re seeing is just face value and there’s so much more behind them that you don’t know about. And, and so don’t make assumptions and just, just, you know, love one and love them for who they are. And, and you don’t try not, you know, try to be like, not judgemental, I guess, or, or you don’t shut anyone down. Right. That’s I think that would be it like those open, maybe some like an open kind of vision towards all people.


Sam Demma (20:40):
Love it. Cool. And if someone is listening to this right now and was inspired, intrigued, curious to learn more, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch? And by the time this comes out, you might even have your own podcast. So maybe they’re gonna reach out about that show also. So please share some contact information.


Greg McLean (21:00):
Okay, well contact information let’s start with email: gregmcle@icloud.com. You could also find me on Twitter at @WalkertonGreg and also I have a Facebook presence, just look up Gregory, J McClean. And I’d love to hear from people who’ve heard this and have a question or wanna talk to me about being a priest when they’re in grade three.


Sam Demma (21:29):
Sounds good, Greg. Thank you again for coming on the show. This was awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Greg McLean (21:35):
Thanks very much for featuring this. And it was great to talk to you as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Greg McLean

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Lisa Spencer – Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning

Lisa Spencer – Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning
About Lisa Spencer

Lisa Spencer was born and raised in North Bay Ontario. Inspired by amazing educators, she dreamt of one day having the chance to teach. Early entry to Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program, she was able to start her undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography learning through the lens of an educator.

Following passion for Special Education, alternative and experiential learning, Lisa found her place teaching youth identified as “at-risk” of leaving before graduating. Teaching in multiple schools, in multiple roles, she turned her focus to Special Education, gap-closing initiatives and the integration of experiential learning to enhance engagement and build relationships.

Now serving the Near North District School Board in a central role, Lisa supports Student Success, Gap-Closing and Experiential Learning initiatives as the Secondary Program Coordinator.

Connect with Lisa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program

Near North District School Board

Okta Master Schedule

Simon Sinek, “Start With Why”

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lisa Spencer. She was born and raised in north bay, Ontario inspired by amazing educator. She dreamt of one day being a teacher herself. Early entry to Nipissing University’s Orientation to Teaching Program, she was able to start her undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography learning through the lens of an educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):

Following she, she developed a passion for special education and alternative and experiential learning, and she found her place of teaching youth identified as at risk of leaving before graduating. She taught in multiple schools in multiple roles, and she was able to certain her focus to special education gap, closing initiatives and the integration of experiential learning to enhance engagement and build relationships. And today she serves as the near north district school board and she supports student success gap closing and experiential learning initiatives. A as the secondary program coordinator, Lisa has a ton of wisdom. I hope you enjoy this episode. I will see you on the other side, Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to, to have you on the show. We had an awesome conversation a few weeks ago, so much so that I thought we needed to share a little bit of it on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you got involved in education?


Lisa Spencer (01:58):

Sure. Good morning. And thank you so much for having me. So my role this year is a program coordinator for Near North District School Board. My official title is secondary program coordinator, gap, closing student success and HSM. So it’s a very wide portfolio. And I think that that kind of touches on part of why I, I involve of myself in education to begin with. I feel like public education is a very holistic process. I was moved by a teacher when I was 14, which may seem like a fairly cliche story, but I was on a journey to learn. And I love information and I love systems and I love natural systems and observing them. And I had a, a very involved science teacher in grade nine who not only was able to help students connect information in a meaningful way, but really worked to develop community and how community impacts learning.


Lisa Spencer (03:02):

So she very much inspired me and inspired me to follow education in the sense that you can appreciate it, not just for being a, an objective learning adventure, but more so that the more you sub immerse yourself in it and find value in it, the, the more it pays you back. So my first teaching experience was eight and a half years of, of contract work working with at risk youth specifically have a knack for developing rapport and relationship, but by showing and helping students find the relevant, see, and what they’re learning and attaching it to everyday experience. So my journey led me to experiential learning, which is a method by which we help students understand the context of their learning through hands on activity and linking it to everyday everyday activity, seeing it in the world around us and being able to draw connection between theory and application and, and derive meaning from that process. And it’s super inspiring. And the reason I get up and go to work every day is to watch the light bulbs come on for other individuals. And that doesn’t just limit itself to students, but also to adults too, because adults have just as much fun learning as, as students do.


Sam Demma (04:19):

I love that. That’s so awesome.


Lisa Spencer (04:22):

Relates what you’re looking for, but yeah.


Sam Demma (04:24):

Yeah, absolutely. I’m actually curious to know more about what your teacher did back in school that really inspired you. Like what, like what specifically did she do that made you so inspired that, you know, you decide that one day you wanted to be an educator?


Lisa Spencer (04:41):

Well, there’s a number of things. She and I actually continue to have a friendship past my high school experience. Nice. I had her three times. I come from a small community and at the high school I attended, there was only a few hundred students when I attended there. And so you end up having the same teacher more than once. So I was able to, to see her teaching practice in grade nine, and then again, repeat itself in my senior years. But the, the one story that comes to mind most easily is they’re talking about particle theory as you heat a substance, the molecules and, and particles inside substances spread apart. And we know that when a, it becomes a liquid and then a vapor, those particles become chaotic in their movements, inspired by the energy around them and how they, and she was able to liken that to things that we would see in her everyday life.


Lisa Spencer (05:33):

And I can remember being 14 years old and her talking about how the electricity and the summer heat passing through the power lines on the power poles, outside the wires would, would stretch and you would see them lengthen in the summer and they would dip and, and to have someone bring something so real to the table. And then that really made a difference for me. And it’s not something that I would’ve observed or made sense of without someone having pointed that out, but it really did build a firm foundation for, oh yeah, that’s really, that’s really cool. And I mean, watching the, the processes that go on in the world around you, without context, you just kind of take them at face value, but to have someone explain to you at a science, atomic particle level, why something is happening and that you’re able to take that away.


Lisa Spencer (06:26):

And that’s just the learning inspiration. I mean, personally, she developed a rapport with students in our class and maybe students that other teachers might not necessarily always make time for, but she’s sought them out. And she pulled them in and she made sure that they knew they were cared about and that they mattered to that learning. And and to watch that objectively was a, was a very moving thing for me to connect to an adult who valued you as a person. Who’s not related to you and not maybe a friend to you. That was a very moving thing to see meaning not just in learning and progress, but also to see meaning in the development of individuals who eventually will, will contribute to society. That, that to me was a very, very wraparound as we call an education, a wraparound process that affected all of the parts.


Sam Demma (07:15):

Awesome. That’s so cool. I love that because when I look at the teachers that had the biggest impact on me, it was also teachers who connected the dots. Like my one teacher that I always talk about Mike loud foot, who like totally inspired me and changed my life. He would take his lessons and then try and apply it specifically to every student’s interest. So he knew us, he knew us so much. So on a personal level that he could had teach a lesson. And then after teaching, it’d say, Sam, for you, this means X and Koon for you. This means X. And for Julia, for you, this means X. And he would take the lesson and give his best attempt to apply it to all of our personal situations and the things that he knew we were passionate about. And like you, like, I still remember the lessons that he taught due to that reason. And I think it’s so powerful. I’m curious to know though, you’ve piqued my interest in relation to your interest in experiential learning. What does that look like right now? I know things are a little odd and funky. But what does, what does hands on learning look like during this crazy time?


Lisa Spencer (08:18):

Oh my goodness. What agree? A question hands on learning has been impacted in, in the sense that in, in the educational community right now, it’s a, it’s a huge challenge to bring in community partners who, who we very much appreciate because they are that real world context. And so we have a, a, a huge palette of community partners who we so very much, and we’ve developed great relationships where they can come in and help us to, to bring the relevancy to the table in the sense that like, here’s the real world connect. Here’s how hands on learning looks in the work field. In this climate, we have been able to activate a lot of outdoor learning, and we’ve really stretched ourselves to engage with partners who can meet us outside and help our teachers scaffold the work of teachers to bring the learning outside shared manipulatives off the table.


Lisa Spencer (09:13):

It’s looking around the, to see how we can engage students with that hands on aspect. And again, it’s a, it’s about bringing that relevancy and that skillset because experiential learning really is about skillset. It’s about critical learning critical thinking, problem, solving, teamwork, collaboration, you being frustrated and moving through that frustration. And there are a lot of applications that we can still access. Yeah. Despite the restrictions of, of the climate that we’re living in many teachers especially at the secondary level, because here in, in in north bay at the near north district school board, we’re working within an Okta master schedule. So teachers have those 25 days in class with those students all day for 25 days, while that sounds stressful, it really does silver lining allow teachers to develop really rich tasks with their secondary learners. So the labs that we may not have been able to fit into a 50 year, a 60 minute period for chemistry or biology or physics or mathematics, because we know that there are labs, many labs that we could be using for, for mathematics and, and other abstract concepts and ideas.


Lisa Spencer (10:30):

The 25 day opt master schedule really does allow teachers again, to develop those relationships in and use those timetables to their advantage, to expand the learning, to reach those experiential learning goals that they may not have been able to reach in different constraints. So I guess the, the, the, to sum it up, it’s been impacted in the sense that we’re moving from a more traditional model where we would have someone come in, show us the relevancy and participate in an activity to a more teacher driven teacher custody of that, of that learning where we’re doing it in class, we’re doing it outside, but we’re doing it as a group and as a collective and we’re moving through it. So I really do think that there’s a lot of positives to that process, but we do need to support our educators and feeling confident to do that. And so that’s kind of how the, a role has shifted this year.


Sam Demma (11:19):

That’s awesome. And your interest in education started with at risk youth. I wanna dive into that a little more. Tell me more about that. And what do you think is the most important thing when it comes to building a relationship or connection with a student that might be just a little more difficult to get through to?


Lisa Spencer (11:38):

Sure. So when, when working with, at risk youth, we recognize that they’re coming to school every day with a different need set. Hmm. Their goals aren’t necessarily to get an, a plus with R O S S D graduate and, and look at post-secondary. A lot of students come to school with a mindset and I have to be here till I’m 16, and they don’t really necessarily engage with the learning in the same way. So as a classroom teacher, the most important thing is to try and show students how, what you’re offering to them can open up the possibilities for them in the future, but more so to express to them that they mean something to you. They mean something to the educational community, and they mean something to the community outside of the classroom and developing that report. And it was interesting as you were, you were expressing your story from the teacher that meant so much to you taking the time to know what’s gonna make the difference to know that, you know, so, and so’s father owns a garage, and that’s how you spend your weekends to know that, you know, you have a, a person in your life who’s experiencing X, Y, Z to get to know those students.


Lisa Spencer (12:52):

And , again, these are things that in education we say over and over, but being in the hall when they arrive to class and, and welcoming them, but being genuine about it and really taking a notice about what’s happening. And if, if you take the time to, to set that groundwork and to build a community in your classroom, not only does your attendance go up, but the engagement, it goes up, the respect is there mutual respect between you and between the student. And then you can meet in the middle to kind of Fasten that, that learning. The most important thing I think is, is to understand why learning is important to that individual and making sure that you’re gearing and planning your activities and learning to meet their needs. And while that sounds like a, a self-service, is, is that not what learning is anyways, because if we don’t, if we can’t show students why it’s important, then why are we teaching it? Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:47):

Love that. So, so true. I, I, I remember there was a few situations where I was sitting in a math class and asking myself, why are we doing this? And have had teachers that didn’t connect the dots and you get disengaged. Like if the dots aren’t connected, you, you get disengaged. You forget why you’re doing it. And frankly, you don’t really wanna do it. But if someone makes that, why clear the how and what fall in place, very easy. There’s, there’s an awesome book called Start With Why by this guy named Simon Sinek. And he talks about the importance of, you know, figuring out why you’re doing something before you figure out how you’re gonna do it, or what you’re gonna do, or when you’re gonna do it. He’s like those all come after you figure out why. And I think it’s just a great reminder because at every point we should be asking ourselves, why am I teaching this?


Sam Demma (14:31):

And if you can’t come up with a clear reason, you know, you better find one or change what you’re teaching which is a great reminder for every educator when it comes to students and learning, you know, something that also happens sometimes is transformation. You know, a student could, you know, come into a classroom at the beginning of the year and be totally upset and, and a totally different person than the person when they leave the classroom. And those stories happen. Sometimes we see them. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we hear about them 25 years in the future. When a student writes a handwritten note or sends you a random email, but I’m curious to know in your years of education, have, have you seen a student transformation and of the of the many of them can you actually share one of them in detail, but you can change their name so that, you know, they, they can remain private. The reason I’m asking is because it will help another teacher remember why they teach and that that reason could re spark and, and Repar their passion for teaching. And despite the challenges they’re facing this year, remind them why, what they do is so important. So do any stories come to mind that you wanna share?


Lisa Spencer (15:45):

So many so many, I think if I could start maybe with a broader concept here. Yeah. The students. So in, at risk programming the students that, that present themselves at my door and so when they were 14, we’ll say, and I was, you know, a young go-getter teacher, those students were coming with a parcel of I’m gonna call it additional baggage whereby they come from houses with addiction or incarceration histories, or involvement in social services and things like that. So the students who come don’t trust the system, they don’t trust adults. And so the number one thing is we had just discussed is developing that rapport, but they frequently come to their, so your classroom and think like this isn’t for me, this is not how I’m going to survive in life is by doing well at school. I have other means by which to be successful outside of this place.


Lisa Spencer (16:44):

And so the number one thing is to show them that they have so much potential and to find their diamond and kind of help them dust it off and find out what that it is. Mm. And I find that if, if we can really help individuals or show individuals or enlighten individuals to find out and embrace what their, what their diamond is, that’s when we see that transformation that you’re discussing, and you might not be the cause of it, you can surely help them on that journey. I’m still quite good friends with the graduate who’s 27 now, which makes me feel very old, but , and so he’s 27, but he came from a very difficult home and he was, you know, I would be teaching him environmental science. I also taught him English. And he would show up to class. And the entire time I would teaching, he would be drawing and sketching and distracted and whereby in many classes you would get in trouble for that disengagement where teachers would redirect him to task, which is absolutely something that we’re taught to do. This was something that I knew that he had to do in order to focus. And so watching this person really struggle through school but recognize that he had so much talent in specific areas. I nourished that. And so and other teachers did too, not just me, but that was a, a thing that, that we nourished and him and encouraged him to do. He’s now a very, very successful tattoo artist. He graduated from school.


Lisa Spencer (18:17):

And, and he did at one point in his life have a very difficult time with addiction. But we stayed in touch. He found it within himself to overcome that. And he’s a very successful tattoo artists. He’s moved to Cochran and he he’s doing wonderfully. He visits anytime he is in town, but to see his reflection on education and recognize that he just wasn’t ready because of the things that were going on in his life, but to still feel welcome every day. Like to me, that’s a huge success us. I could talk about students who I’ve connected with as well, who, you know, they’re, they’re shy and awkward in high school and they graduate and find themselves and their doctors and lawyers and obstetricians. I, my sister, when she had her son, I was in with her during labor. And there’s one of my former students coming in to do, you know, wow, the OB Y N check in.


Lisa Spencer (19:11):

And, and so there’s a lot of in a very small community, especially too, you get to see those students who decide to stay in the region, you get to see them blossom and flourish and be successful. And those students who maybe aren’t, you know, as successful, they still see you in public and they’re kind and friendly, and they have children of their own and they’re being successful. So I feel like pretty much every student I’ve ever worked with has a success story. It’s just that you have to be the type of person that helps people see their own success.


Sam Demma (19:44):

That’s so cool. It would be such a round circle moment to go get a tattoo from that student. that’s yeah, that’s an awesome, that’s an awesome story. And I love that. What personally drives you? Like if I had to ask you what your, why was like, why you mentioned it briefly, but I’m curious to dig into it. Like, why do you get up every day? Why do you teach, why do you love doing this work? Like what’s the reason behind it for you?


Lisa Spencer (20:10):

Very philoso. So off of a question, I, I would have to answer that by saying that all things are connected, all human beings are connected. And I think it’s our job as human beings to find that humanity and that kindness to support others. And I’d rather be an optimist who’s disappointed every day than a pessimist. Who’s always a right. Mm. So I think that it’s really important to look for the best in, in the world, around us and to make change when we can, right. If you want better do better. And I think that, like for me, getting up every day is, is maybe I’ll be able to help a situation or solve a problem that makes the world better, easier, smoother for someone and and show someone the value in learning and progress.


Sam Demma (21:03):

Oh, cool. I love that. And if you could go back to I, the first year that you taught the first year that you worked, what advice, knowing what, you know now, would you give your younger self?


Lisa Spencer (21:18):

You have to focus on the good that’s happened in the day. Hmm. And learn from the things that you’re very self critical about, and you’re always your own toughest credit. You’re always. And so the things that you see about yourself that you’ve done wrong will not be the things that others focus on. Hmm.


Sam Demma (21:39):

That’s great. Now that’s great advice.


Lisa Spencer (21:41):

And don’t teach kindergarten, haha. I’m just thinking it’s very overwhelming. Kindergarten kids are very overwhelming and it’s when you speak to elementary teachers, they would say the opposite that teenagers are terrifying. Whereas I find that those adolescents are just so much more open and honest. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to know. We four year old child, like, I, why are we crying? Cuz we can’t find our myth and I would cry with them. So so I guess the, the short story is know, like know where, know where you wanna be and invest in that. Hmm. With all you got.


Sam Demma (22:19):

Cool. No, I love that. And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all by the conversation, what would be the best way for them, another educator to reach out to you and just have a conversation?


Lisa Spencer (22:29):

Sure. I would love to have a conversation with anybody that would like to chat. My email address is lisa.spencer@nearnorthschools.ca. They can email me anytime.


Sam Demma (22:42):

Lisa, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Keep up with the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.


Lisa Spencer (22:47):

Lovely chatting with you, Sam. Thank you so very much and have a great Tuesday.


Sam Demma (22:50):

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 in review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode. So 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 Lisa Spencer

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.

Michael Kelly – Catholic Educator, Coach, World Traveller, Hockey Fan and Student Leadership Advisor

Michael Kelly – Catholic Educator, Coach, World Traveller, Hockey Fan and Student Leadership Advisor
About Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly (@729Kelly) currently teaches at Michael Power St. Joseph at the TCDSB. Michael is a highly motivated, passionate, inclusive Catholic educator, coach, world traveller, hockey fan and student leadership advisor interested in expanding his professional network and collaborating with like-minded teachers.

He is a passionate and dynamic young educator and life-long learner who works in west end of Toronto. He is very interested in issues of special education, history, politics, experiential learning, community service and civic engagement.

Michael is an Ontario Certified teacher who works for the Toronto Catholic District School Board in the secondary panel. He is a proud graduate of the University of Toronto – St. Michaels College and OISE.

Michael has worked in several placements in both elementary and secondary school settings, and community service organizations in local communities as well as overseas. Experiential learning, inclusivity and community service form his core beliefs and philosophy on education.

Michael is also a dedicated volunteer and board member of a number of community organizations serving in a variety of roles and capacities, and he has played a key role in recruiting young people to vote and become engaged in the democratic process in Toronto.

He is a passionate advocate for Catholic education, Special Education, Cooperative education, athletics and creating inclusive high-quality learning environments and experiences for his students.

He is involved as a Student Council Teacher Moderator, Coach, and Chaplaincy team member at every school community he has the opportunity to serve. He believes in the tremendous potential educators have to shape and mold the minds and character of the next generation of young leaders.

Michael also collaborates and supports English teacher and podcast host, Adrian Del Monte on The Whole Hearted Teaching Podcast.

Follow on Twitter at @podcastforheart.

Connect with Michael: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Michael Power St. Joseph

Adrian Del Monte

Gen School Italian Heritage Foundation

Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Dr. Tim Elmore

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other spec opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Michael Kelly. Michael is someone who reached out to me after listening to another podcast and inquired about coming on the show. And he’s a very passionate educator. Michael Kelly, currently teachers at Michael power St. Joseph at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He is highly motivated, passionate, and in an inclusive Catholic educator coach, world traveler hockey fan and student leadership advisor, interested in expanding his professional network and collaborating with like-minded individuals.


Sam Demma (01:13):

He is passionate and dynamic and a lifelong learner who works in the west and of Toronto. He’s very interested in issues of special education, history, politics, experiential learning, community service, and civic engagement. He is also involved in as a student council teacher, moderator coach and chaplaincy team member at every school community. He has the opportunity to serve. He believes in the tremendous potential educators have to shape and mold the minds and character of the next generation of young leaders. He also supports his good friend and a past guest on this show, Adrian Del-Monte with the whole hearted teaching podcast. I’m super excited for you to hear today’s interview with Michael. It was packed with so much great information enjoy. I will see you on the other side, Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the, the show after we connected a few months ago. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the story about why you got into education.


Michael Kelly (02:14):

Okay. Well thank you. Thanks Sam, for having me on the show, big fan of your podcast. You’ve got some great, great interviews, great educators, so really happy to be here. So I will work for the Toronto Catholic district school board. Currently I teach on a contract right now at Michael power St. Joseph teaching history and religion. So I’m teaching grade 10 right now. And yeah, I’m, I’m really interested in kind of moving into this this space of podcasts. I think it’s a great kind of professional development resource for teachers and I think it’s a great opportunity to share ideas, share resources. So why I was interested in coming on the podcast and kind of sharing a little bit of my own, my own story. So I, I studied undergrad at the university of Toronto and graduated from and I was actually in the concurrent education program at the time at St. Mike’s college. So you know, we, we did kind of a very like he program where you’re taking undergrad courses at the same time as as your teacher’s college. So it was kind of for folks who knew that they wanted to go into teaching and it was a great, great, great experience. And the last couple years working for the TCDSB has been fantastic, some really great personal and professional highlights which I’m sure we’ll yeah, we’ll get into.


Sam Demma (03:45):

That’s awesome. And how did you actually find the podcast? I know there’s a, it came through an interesting turn of events. I’m curious to know how you landed on it, cuz you, you know, you sent me an email and I was like, oh, this is so cool. And we connected whereabouts to, did you find it?


Michael Kelly (04:01):

So I there were actually two kind of sources initially, I believe it was Mike Michael con who’s the student leadership coordinator and teacher at the board level does tremendous work. And I think he was featured on one of your earlier shows and he’s shares a lot and I connect with him online and on social media, on Twitter. And I believe I saw it there as well as a colleague and friend of mine, Adrian Delmonte, who you may know who we partner with on the wholehearted teaching podcast. He kind of mentioned that he was in conversation with you. So that’s kind of how I more checked out a few episodes on the podcast, really like the kind of theme and direction. So yeah, that’s how I found found the podcast.


Sam Demma (04:50):

So cool. Shout out to both Mike and Adrian. Yeah. If, if you’re tuning in, they have their own episodes as well. You can check ’em out.


Michael Kelly (04:57):

Oh, they’re great guys. Great teachers.


Sam Demma (04:59):

Cool. You mentioned that had some serious highlights in education. Why don’t we just dive into those right now? I’m assuming you’re gonna talk about the Coliseum and Rome and taking some experiential learning trips abroad. And, and you know, when we talked before this podcast, you mentioned that those experience really reignited your passion for learning and teaching. And I’m curious to know more about how those impacted you and why you think it’s important to learn also experientially.


Michael Kelly (05:26):

Well, I think the, yeah, that’s a great point. Like I think my initial kind of connection I, I made between kind of teaching and experiential learning came through my own travel. So when I was in university, I actually you know, taught or actually had a chance to volunteer in a couple of different placements in my program through going over to places like South Africa and Bosnia actually to do some volunteer work. So that’s really where kind of the, the seed was planted. So to speak in terms of connecting how powerful service learning and experiential learning can be for, for myself as an undergrad student. And then by extension, a couple years later, I had the opportunity to, as you mentioned, go, go over to Italy in for a few summers in a row to go to labia and Naru. So the Northern and Southern regions of IItaly with groups, hundreds of students big stellar staff team.


Michael Kelly (06:29):

And we essentially spent the summer teaching grade 12 ancient Civ course. The kids got a credit. They were able to obviously experience the culture, the partnership between our board and the York Catholic Board and the Gen School Italian Heritage Organization. So I had initially connected with that organization through an my own high school trip when I was at student at the Asia Bowen. And yeah, years later I was invited to go on as a staff member. It was a tremendous experience, right? The, the students had, you know, besides the academic immersion and, you know you know, being able to go out to the PIAs and the markets and the restaurants and the site seeing and all the historical sites, they also got some life skill training, which I thought was really like an added bonus to the program where for many of the students on the trip, it was their first time, you know, away from mom and dad away from their family.


Michael Kelly (07:32):

And it was also kind of a, a test run to see whether, you know, they were thinking at applying a post-secondary, they could see whether they could handle the dorm life, so to speak, right? Like they, they had a chance to kind of see whether that was something that was well suited to them or not. And you know, they had to do, you know, in some cases do their own laundry, like, you know, kind of keep track of their assignments on their own right time management you know, learning direction, right. Trying to navigate around places like Rome and Pompe and Florence Positano the multi coast. Right. So it was a really, really great immersive experience. And I think for, for a lot of the students, they found that they actually grew over the course of that trip, even though it was like 3, 3, 4 weeks or so, they actually grew a lot after the experience.


Sam Demma (08:31):

And I’m sure going from traveling through Europe to coming back and hoping to go this summer again, and COVID hitting, you know, every thing kinda, you know, blew up and it, it sucks to a degree, but what does education look like now for you? I know, you know, unfortunately you can’t go back to Rome, but what does it, what does it look like now and what do you think are the opportunities just like they existed in Rome? What do you think are the opportunities that exist today now in this environment for young people?


Michael Kelly (09:05):

Okay. So I think it’s a great question. So the first part, in terms of the challenges, I think that you’re, you’re asking about the major challenge, one of the major challenges I’m finding is just us student engagement and definitely concerns about student mental health would be kind of first and foremost and at the forefront of my mind. And I think I can speak for a lot of colleagues as well to say that they, they would probably say the same thing. You know, there’s a little bit of a learning for even as a younger teacher, there’s a little bit of warning curve adapting to the new technology, getting used to, you know, being on zoom and Google meets all the time and, you know, really multitasking on, on a regular basis. For example, like right now we, we have some students who in the morning we’re are teaching in person in the building, but we’re also live streaming our classes simultaneously at the same time that that has been definitely a new experience in the last few months.


Michael Kelly (10:11):

And you know, just, you know, trying to form those positive student relationships can be a little bit challenging when everyone’s covered with a mask. And you’re, you know, you’re trying to teach, you’re trying to tell a joke, a story to your class, and you’re looking for some kind of facial recognition for them to actually, you know, affirm what you’re saying or, you know whatever it might be. So I think those are some of the challenges that teachers are facing right now. Now I know some, those are some that have come to mind and just the workload. I think definitely teachers find that they’re spending more time trying to convert their lessons into an online format because remote learning is so, so different. And the hybrid learning we’re doing is so different from a traditional classroom model. So being able to adapt and be flexible has been really key.


Michael Kelly (11:07):

But the great to get to your next point about like, what are some of the opportunities? I think one of the kind of silver linings or opportunities here has been the great degree of just like innovation that you see your teacher colleagues are doing, whether it’s in your department or in your school. And we actually had a staff meeting a couple weeks ago where it was great to, you know, see and hear teachers sharing what they’re doing in their virtual learning environments. And it just blows my mind some of the, the innovative practices. Like we didn’t even know that some of these techniques were possible a year ago. Right. so I, I do think, you know, obviously there’s a lot of realistic challenges but then there’s also the opportunities to innovate and use things like Google Jam board or for myself, I’ve been trying to utilize a lot of virtual guest speakers and partner with other outside organizations like that.


Michael Kelly (12:07):

That has been tremendous. Like just one example was when I was teaching my a 10 history course for Canadian history, I was able to bring in a world war II veteran who was living in BC. And we were able to have kind of a live interactive discussion with him and just to enrich the curriculum, enrich the learning experience for the students. So I think that there, you know, there are kind of some, and, you know, as we always tell our own students, we kinda have to take our own advice and adopt a bit of a growth mindset in this environment. For sure.


Sam Demma (12:47):

I think that’s so true now more than it ever has been, you mentioned before we started recording that right before the school board tried transitioned back into in person, it seemed like teachers and yourself were just getting the hang of teaching online and teaching virtually. And I’m curious to know when you say getting the hang of it, what did that look like? Like what did your average day look like? What do you think was helping you teach virtually if someone else is listening right now and still teaching in a, a virtual scenario?


Michael Kelly (13:19):

That’s a great question. So in terms of some of the tips that helped kind of teaching from home and being fully virtual all day, I think, you know, scheduling your day almost to the hour to the minute is extremely important. I think in an online environment, even more so than I would say in person you know, just scheduling your breaks, making sure that you’re, you know, you, you can never pour from an empty cup, right? So taking care of your own your own wellbeing as the teacher in the class is obviously paramount to your student success and to their own health and wellbeing, but making sure that you’re pacing things for yourself and your students. You know, in terms of we had a great teacher on staff at the beginning of the year, and he’s been providing support Jeff bobs here at Michael power, great guy, great teacher who gave us some great tips in terms of scheduling, giving our students an activity in the morning, let’s say in our morning online class, and then giving them time to sit with that, with that virtual work, using Google or zoom breakout rooms to give the kids some time to interact and make sure that you’re not lecturing them for three hours straight or, you know, in the morning in the afternoon.


Michael Kelly (14:42):

So definitely breaking up the variety of activities is really important and provide that kind of differentiated instruction. And that just helps with the general classroom management. I found that you’re not gonna have kids goofing off as much if they know what the schedule is in advance, they know the exact time that they’re gonna be doing certain activities or tests. I found that that was really helpful. And then for sure, like just once again, some personal self care, like going for a run, right. Going for walks hikes you know, during the spring last year, I had a chance to get back more into mountain biking, which I had in cycling, like, which I hadn’t done in years. And that really helped. I, I, I felt with my own productivity right in the downtime and, and then reading and you know podcasts and a big film B and always checking out new things on Netflix and Amazon. So kind of tho those things really helped to kind of refuel the tank so to speak once, once the day was over cuz you know, burnout and kind of taking care of your own wellbeing is definitely critical in, in, in this environment more than ever.


Sam Demma (15:58):

There’s a new movie that just came out and Denzel Washington plays one of the main characters and he’s cracking, he’s cracking a criminal and trying to figure out what this guy did and the movie’s titled the little things. And there’s multiple times throughout the movie where Denzel stops and looks at his co police officer investigator and says, it’s the little things that gets you caught. And I, I made the connection between education and thought, you know, from a teacher’s perspective, it’s also the little things, not that you catch your kids doing, it’s the little things you do that make the biggest difference. And I’m so glad you mentioned being a perpetual learner because I think it’s so important leading by example, and showing your students that you’re doing everything in your power to educate yourself, encourages them to have a desire, to continue learning and, and want to read books. I mean, people can’t see this, but while we’re filming this behind you on your ledge of your chalkboard is a dozen books there. And I’m curious to know what, what are some of the books that you have read, or maybe some of the podcasts you tune into, give yourself a shout out and that you think teachers could check out and, and benefit from, from consuming. I I’d love to, I’d, I’d love for you to share.


Michael Kelly (17:11):

Sure. So some of the content I’ve been consuming lately, that’s been helpful. I, I would say would be first and foremost Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead her audio book. That, that was really helpful for me back in the spring and even teaching summer summer school over the summer that was really instructive, really great book. And she has kind of accompanying podcast that goes along with it, which she’s continually updating with great guests. And it talks a lot about leadership. It talks a lot about kind of organizational culture talks about resilience and empathy and vulnerability. I was introduced Brene Brown initially through her Ted talk on the power of vulnerability, which is also really worth checking out. And you know, a lot of the messages she has doesn’t necessarily speak directly to education, but it speaks to the workplace.


Michael Kelly (18:13):

And I found that her, her writing her books, her podcast were really instructive as well as gentleman from the United States named Tim Elmore, Dr. Tim Elmore. He’s done some work with John Maxwell. Who’s kind of a leadership expert and Tim Elmore has a podcast in an organization called growing leaders. And he talks a lot about different issues that are going on in the education world and that podcast, you know, during my runs or hikes or bike rides, that’s, that’s been a really great resource for me in terms of just giving me some in additional creativity and inspiration. And then, yeah, a, as you mentioned bit of a plug here, but I have to give credit where it’s due. I’ve been working with Adrian Del Monte an English teacher from Bishop Allen.


Michael Kelly (19:15):

We used to work together more directly, but yeah, he started a podcast earlier in the in the fall around November called the wholehearted teaching podcast, which a lot of the inspiration for, from that came from Brianne brown and her kind of discussion of wholehearted living. So the idea of the podcast on wholehearted teaching is really we invite educators people in the education space, whether they be teachers principals people in administration, directors writers, authors we’ve had on people in the educational psychology space different topics to talk about the current issues in education. And I, we have a really great podcast coming out new episode on this Tuesday, March 2nd with an individual named Desante hotten, and he’s gonna be talking all about mental health as well as how that affects black mental health in, in particular and how that connects to our role as educators, as we focus on combating racism in, in our society. So really kind of top of mind since we’ve just finished black history month and, you know, engaging in that kind of work along with Adrian and collaborating and helping out in any way I can and promoting has been really helpful for me, you know, just learning about the stories and the different personal journeys and narratives of other teachers who’ve come come before you has been really inspiring for me and has helped kind of push me along through the challenges of this pandemic.


Sam Demma (21:04):

I love that. That’s so awesome. And I’ve tuned into a couple of the episodes, and I know you’ve been, you and Adrian have been doing a anti-racism like series. I would say there’s a ton of great info on the podcast and the Twitter, by the way, shout out at wholehearted teaching podcast. That that’s awesome. So, so good. If you could go back to your first year as an educator and give yourself feedback like, and, and give yourself advice, what is the main thing you would, what is the main sort of things you would say to yourself, or tell yourself to almost get started in this profession again? If, if you could go back and feel free to just unmute yourself as well.


Michael Kelly (21:49):

Yeah, it’s a good question. So in terms of the advice I would give to kind of a first year educator right now would be really to, you know, first and foremost, just be humble and understand that there’s a lot to learn. And you know, you’re going to need in, in my experience, learn how to identify support systems, identify colleagues who, you know, are gonna be supportive, who are gonna act as mentors to you. Because I think that’s what initially for me anyways, that got me into teaching in the first place is having those really great high school teachers. You back at Bishop Allen, who tacked you on the shoulder and realized, you know, okay recognize there was a talent or an interest or a passion. And that was really for me, what was helpful. So for a first year educator, I would see be, be humble try to be resourceful spend time listening.


Michael Kelly (22:50):

Right. we often listen in order to respond you know, rather than listening to really just understand. And I think that that’s a really important concept to understand as you enter into a new profession. And just be very curious in quiz, ask a lot of questions, right? There’s no such thing as, as a dumb question and really seek out the support from your mentors. And I think that that, that will serve a first year educator. Well, whether it’s in this environment or any other environment and allowing yourself to, you know, understand that it’s a long journey in education and you don’t have to expect to be perfect or have all the answers right out of the gate. Right. and, you know, just pursue an attitude of lifelong learning, I think is really, really, really, really important. Your education doesn’t end after teachers college or after graduation. It actually, for me, it just, it just began like it’s just getting started. Right. And even a couple years in now, like, I feel like I’m just learning so much, so yeah. Just stay curious, stay stay humble and ask a lot of questions.


Sam Demma (24:14):

That’s such good advice. That is awesome. And if, if an educator listened to this interview today and is inspired by anything that you shared or just wants to have a conversation with you, be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Michael Kelly (24:26):

So best way would be, you can connect with me. I’m on Twitter at @729Kelly. I’m on LinkedIn as Michael, just Michael Kelly, and then by email michael.kelly@tsdsb.org, always looking to connect with like-minded educators and people in the education space and always looking for another, another interesting guest to bring onto the podcast with Adrian. So always looking to learn more. So that’s, that’s where you can reach me.


Sam Demma (25:12):

Mike. Awesome. Thank you so much for taking time outta your day to come on the show. I really appreciate it. I look forward to listening to your future episodes as well. Keep doing awesome work and, and I’ll talk to you soon.


Michael Kelly (25:22):

Thank you, Sam, for this opportunity and keep up the great work you’re doing a you’re doing such great work and I really admire and respect it. So thank you.


Sam Demma (25:31):

Thank you so much. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna 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 Michael Kelly

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.

Alina Deja-Grygierczyk – Founder and Executive Director of Polish Academy of Canada, Educator and Passionate Canadianist

Alina Deja-Grygierczyk – Founder and Executive Director of Polish Academy of Canada, Educator and Passionate Canadianist
About Alina Deja-Grygierczyk

Alina is a passionate Canadianist, energetic English Coach Confidence, Positivity Purveyor, and Passionate Home Cook. She has Silesian-Polish roots, fell in love with Canada, and currently, lives in Berlin with her husband where they enjoy the German cultural diversity and share Canadian values.

Her mission is to inspire and empower today’s young Europeans to leave a positive impact on our world through their involvement in leadership exchanges. She also dedicates herself to strengthening EU-Canada bilateral relations, by developing multilateral applied educational projects in areas of common interest for both Europe and Canada.

She studied English philology at the University of Silesia, Poland, and also finished there my doctorate studies in Canadian Literature and Cultures. She is the recipient of the Competitive Government of Canada Program Grant and EU-Canada Study Tour Thinking Tour. She studied the EU – Canada bilateral relations in such prominent institutions as the European Parliament, European Council, European Commission, European Court of Justice, and the Canadian Mission to the European Union, as well as many think tanks and NGOs.

In 2012 she undertook an internship at the Polish Consulate in Toronto where she was responsible for the promotion of Poland in Canada. After a few years of working as an academic teacher and English coach confidence, she decided to pursue my passion for promoting EU-Canada bilateral relations and founded the Polish Academy of Canada to create excellent international leaders.

Connect with Alina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Silesia

Polish Academy of Canada

Dave Conlon

Ian Tyson

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Alina Deja is the founder and executive director of the Polish Academy of Canada. She’s also an educator and a passionate Canadianist. If that’s even a word she fell in love with Canada when she traveled here years ago on an exchange and her passion for the opportunities that exist to here and the people she met pushed her to start the Polish Academy of Canada, where she brings students from Poland and other areas in the European union over in Europe to bring them here on exchange, to provide them with co-op and internship opportunities, or even just, you know, work opportunities or exposure and trips.


Sam Demma (01:23):

So kids have access to different experiences and options. Now she is someone who is extremely passionate. She, after a few years of working as an academic teacher in English confidence coach, she decided to pursue her passion for promoting EU Canada bilateral relations, which led to her founding the Polish academy to create this excellent international leadership opportunities. She has huge energy. She is working on so many different projects. I hope you enjoy our conversation today. I will see you on the other side, Alina, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to, to have you on the show all the way from Berlin. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what makes you passionate about the work you do in education today?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (02:15):

Yeah. Well, that’s a great question. I have to tell you. And I love the word passion cuz I’m really passionate about all the work that I do and with the young people here and what makes me so passionate you know, it’s a very long story when it comes to me. The first thing that really I love when, when it comes to young people is just like a love giving them something, you know, to believe in. I mean like Simons, you know, the leader always said that we should always like give people, you, you know, something that they keep going in life. They, they believe in something. So I think that we as educators which we are really highly responsible for the youth right now, especially the times right now, you know, we have COVID 19 race, you know, democracy is falling and we have got, you know, technology and instead of humanology and that sometimes techn management, it comes to technology.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (03:09):

So I think that they really need our help and my experience that educators and the people that we surround ourself with most important for the youth. So we should really like try to navigate them help them to navigate their life, you know, their emotions and and just help them to be happy. So what I do with the young people I do create exchange programs between Europe, between Canada. And so I bring both, you know, like Canadians to Europe as well. Like Europeans, it’s mostly like Polish students to Canada and they just came both, both students, they just come, come back very, very happy. So the thing that also got, got me to work with the young people, it’s probably, I would say I was also very lucky. Since I remember to have a good family, he was always motivating me, my uncle through the United States.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (04:10):

He always likes, he was like charging my Barry when he was like visiting me in Europe. And as I, since I remembered, yeah, it’s funny. I know. So as I remember it, I’ve been always very ambitious. I’ve always been a dreamer, a dreamer, and I had my own visions and I always wanted to create something unique and something that’s gonna give back to the community, something that’s gonna like, you know, like make other people happy because I got a lot, I’ve been traveling around the world as I was working with you as well as Canada, when it comes to international exchanges of students, I mean also university lecture. So I’ve made a lot of contacts and as my uncle said you know, I think that it’s very important. The people that we surround ourself with. So thanks so much trouble.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (04:59):

I’ve managed to build a huge network of leaders around the world. And as I know that it’s very important. The people that we surround ourself with are very important. I just wanted to that the youth that I know they’re gonna get the same so that they’re gonna be able to navigate their lives and just be happy and to are positive emotions with others. So what is more those travels and those positive experience that I got both in Canada and somewhere else. They brought me also to the idea of Canada study tours. So we bring young people from Europe to Canada and we do a tour so that there’s universities, high schools, they go to institutions governmental institutions. So we try to get them familiar with Canada as you know, like most Europeans, I don’t know if that, if you’re aware of that, but probably maybe yes. They just think that Canada is like Netflix.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (06:04):

So it’s like, so they always have the feeling that whatever, wherever they are in Canada, join us in the Netflix. So we are trying to help them to follow their dreams. And just to help them also, you know, to, to make their careers, to set up their lives in Canada a little bit. Of course we work with them when it comes to work and and balance because, you know, they, sometimes they dream about, and they let’s say they imagine Canada or north America in a different mind that it really is right. So we try to help them to follow their dreams, but also in a reasonable way, I guess. So, so just to sum up I think that I’ve become very, very passionate about working with the youth. So all the positive emotion that I got from the people like who were showing me the way, and there should be. So, you know, and so energetic, I just wanna like give back on how to tell you just to make them happy, make all the possible for them. I couldn’t live in Canada. I was living in Canada for a while, but right now I live in Berlin. So I just want them to be happy, let’s say. Hmm,


Sam Demma (07:16):

No, I absolutely love that. I’m actually curious to know more about your uncle, who you mentioned. Did he play a huge role in inspiring you to start this work? Like where I understand what makes you passionate about it today, but what drove you to start your own organization and to start doing these tours with European students and to give them the opportunities they might not have elsewhere?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (07:37):

Yeah. Well, I it’s always been my dream. I mean, like, it’s funny when I was driving the car, I was going to a conference in Brussels. So I was driving the car between Brussels and Berlin. I’ve asked myself a question, what you really like doing. So at that time I was working with the university students, you know, so like being an academic teacher, and I just said to myself, what you like really doing? You just like flying to America. So I think that this it’s funny, but this brought me to the idea of Canada study tour and my uncle. He’s been the only my motivator. So I mean, like as, as, since I was little, I mean, doesn’t remember him coming back, you know, to Europe reading books, to me talking about like life and you know, like making choices in life.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (08:21):

So he was really like a good educator. So I was pretty lucky let’s say that he was like my innate leader, like, so and what brought me to outside of my company well, my company has been at the very beginning language school, and then I just wanna something more for the kids. So it was not only about the language, but I just wanted that they gonna start grow mentally when it comes to English, as well as to help them to change their, let’s say, fixed mindset into the growth mindset. Yes. Which is a huge work and introduce to them how they can work on themselves.


Sam Demma (09:03):

No, that’s awesome. And what led you to meeting Dave Conlan and all these amazing people that work in student leadership here in Canada? I’m curious to know.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (09:14):

Well, in 2016, I went to Canada with two girls. They were private students and I was on my own academics doing my own academic research. And those girls, they wanna study in Canada and this is so they we contacted Ian Tyson, the motivational speaker, right? So Ian Tyson, he invite me to come to, to London for the global leadership conference. First of all, I was just like, I thought, he’s crazy said, I’m not gonna be, you know, like a part of kids, you know, to Canada who are like 18, you know, and 17, you know, said like, no. And but then I started really to work on thats and the kids that I talk with them, they really wanna go. Hmm. So and that’s how it all started. So, you know, I’m a person who is very energetic and also very communicative.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (10:07):

And I’ve always had a kind of, you know, like vision. I mean, like something, you know, that you believe in, you go there, you just believe that you wanna do it sometimes are not sure about your vision yet, but when, when you meet and communicate with people and you know, your vision is just like, it’s just more clear to you. Hmm. And so Dave conman from the leadership Ken leadership association I contacted him because well, Canada study tour has become very famous here in Europe and all the schools, they were just impressed with the that the kids are so happy and they, the attitudes they changed because they contact, you know, the leaders the best. Yeah. And they speak with them. And so they just wanted that we gotta create a program which is gonna be online for the kids here so that the kids there are more kids engage into like into some positive action. So, so I just thought about that. I’ve met the treasurer of Canadian association ones. Nice. And I said like, okay, so why not contact, you know, like Dave conman, who is, let’s say hat and is kind of important when it comes to leadership in Canada and to learn more from them even from him. Yes.


Sam Demma (11:28):

Ah, that’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what is coming up soon? Things that you’re working on that you’re very excited about and that you have poured lots of your energies into?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (11:39):

So right now, well, first of all, it’s I’m kind of a positive about that. I mean, like managing that, you know, yeah. I cannot fly right now, international, like flights are very difficult to manage but I’m very positive about, you know, the new opportunities for me. So saying that, having said that so we develop right now a course for the schools. And so we just wanna, let’s say, create a movement in Europe and as well as to bring some changes when it comes to education here. Hmm. So that might be might be, let’s say both challenging for us as a very positive, I mean, like when it comes to young people so that they gonna start thinking about, you know, like, like things like like about their life in a different way. Hmm. So, I mean, like in Europe, the education is more academic, so we just focus, you know, like on studying on cramming reading like books. And so there are not many schools who offer like courses or help students to human up or to just grow mentally. Mm. So this is what we wanna change right now. So I’ve already contacted some people like from media and some journalists from some like super Hebrew educators. And then we were just planning, you know, to let’s say kind of a movement to, to bring some positive changes right now.


Sam Demma (13:12):

Hmm. Oh, that’s awesome. I absolutely love the at and when, what, what inspired you to get involved in education? So bring me all the way back to when you were a student yourself, there’s, you know, thousands of careers you can get into, you chose to get into working with young people. Why at that point in your life, when you were so young, did you decide this was the thing you wanted to do or did, did you work a different job at first and transition? Like I’m, I’m curious to know about your own path?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (13:40):

No, I mean, like never, it’s, it’s funny because since I remember I was, I, well, I think that I’m just lucky I’ve been, I was always playing you know, like the school. I mean, I was always a teacher as a kid. Yep. So I had my own like register and over was putting some marks. So my mom, she’s also a teacher. So I think that I, maybe I took after her a little bit and she she’s she’s still teaching right now. I mean, she lost her job. She doesn’t wanna give it up, although she could already get retired. And and so I think that family as I said, I mean like family that was always supporting me when it comes to education. So I can see the differences sometimes when we teach some parents, you know, there’s a lack of I don’t wanna say like, but it’s true sometimes of lack of good parenting at home, a good leadership. So I’ve been lucky to grew up in a family which gave me a lot. And my mom, she’s a teacher, my uncle, I mean, like for United States, he’s also a university teacher. So I think that I had a kind of a, let’s say have had always like, kind of a natural gift of just working with the youth.


Sam Demma (14:55):

Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self, when you just started working in education, what would you tell yourself? What pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now, would you impart on your younger self?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (15:10):

It’s just like, what do you mean? Like younger self? When I was like 15, I was 25 or two.


Sam Demma (15:17):

When you started working. So like the first year you started working with young people?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (15:24):

I think that, you know what it’s about the fear, I guess. So a lot of people and me too, I was always very shy. Mm. And this is the same thing happens when I come with young people to Canada or anywhere else, they’re very shy. They’re afraid to act. They’re afraid to be themselves and be authentic at that time. I would like to hear our voice, that be yourself, be authentic. You should follow your intuitions. You should follow your dreams. I mean, like you should do what you like and don’t be afraid. So, I mean, like, I’ve been always like growing up in a kind of environment that was trying you let’s say to act against me a little bit. And so I’ve, you know, I wanted to do stuff. I was always different. I was always more ambitious than the others or had just different to dreams.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (16:13):

And so there were voices who were trying to suppress me. So I think that I would just tell myself, like, keep going that way, keep being yourself, because this is important. Stop pretending a different person, because this is also, I mean, like something that I can see, but a lot of students, they pretend to be somebody else that they really are. And, and I guess this is, and what I have learned more, I guess, so like be more patient. Hmm. Oh, that’s awesome. Because I mean, like, yeah. I mean, I think that being, being patient is also very important. I mean, like a lot of kids and me too, I’ve always wanted everything very fast though. I don’t belong to the generation that, you know, like, like clicks all the time. Yeah. And but but yeah, I have it too. I mean, like sometimes, you know, you wanna get to the end of the movie very fast. Yeah. But I think that patience is is very important. So I’m like no fear, you just be authentic and don’t be scared to be yourself.


Sam Demma (17:11):

Ah, I love that. That’s awesome. And I know that you’re someone who is a lifelong learner. Can you tell me why you think that’s important and what are some of your favorite books that you have read? I know the last time I spoke to you, you showed me your wonderful bookshelf. And tell me, what do you think it means to be a lifelong learner? Why is it important and what are some of your favorite books?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (17:32):

Well it’s very important the first, like what you said it’s like, it’s very important. I mean, there is a coach in Europe who says that when you just don’t grow and you don’t learn all the time, you just go back. And this is the feeling that I sometimes also got, you know, that there was a time when I was busy without a project and I, you know, stopped like learning or reading and I really felt bad. So the more you contact people, the more you read, you just grow, you just feel more happy. You just have the feeling of being, let’s say of doing something, right? Yes. So I’m a person like that. I am, I, I’m not able to imagine myself being a vegetable. Mm. And so that’s, that’s what is important because if you just stop learning reading you know, you are just, you just gonna start, stop being, let’s say.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (18:28):

Right. Because I, I mean, like we don’t know our potential. I mean, like we can have a great potential. I mean, like, so the more we read, the more people we meet, we just grow and we can be really happy because I mean, like we never know our final destination. Right. Hmm. And my favorite book well, it’s a good question. I have to tell you that I have it even like here on my desk, in my Canada room I got it from my husband, honestly, I’ve, I’ve read a lot of books, like canal, literature, I mean, European literatures, et cetera. But the thing that right now, I have a new, like new new poet. I really like though, I’m not like into poetry so much. Her name is, I mean, like homebody she’s right now a Canadian poet, she’s Indian. And she’s writing for women about buddy about leadership, about heart and about rest and away. So I think that my that’s my favorite book right now. Oh, that’s awesome. So she’s, she’s she’s really, I mean, like her poetry is very simple and it just picks your mind and it’s about, you know, all the problems that sometimes, you know, like we as human, we we, well we go through.


Sam Demma (19:45):

Love that in a very simple way. Yeah. That’s, that’s amazing. And the next time you come to, can you better let me know. Definitely. Yeah. So we can do some stuff together.


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (19:56):

It’s gonna be 2022.


Sam Demma (19:58):

Well, hopefully it comes, comes, comes here sooner. But in the meantime, if someone is inspired by anything you’ve shared today on this interview whether it’s a little bit about your personal story or they love the work you’re doing, what would be the best way another educator or somebody listening to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Alina Deja-Grygierczyk (20:16):
Definitely, I mean, like I check emails all day. So it’s alina@polish-academy-canada.com. I’m on Facebook and Instagram too.


Sam Demma (20:33):

Yeah. Perfect. No, that sounds, that sounds great. Alena, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. I, I really appreciate it and keep up the awesome work. I hope to work with you in the future and keep doing great things. I’ll stay in touch. Thank you. And I’ll talk to you soon. 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 your, of find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna 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 21 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 Alina Deja-Grygierczyk

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

Karen Kettle – Retired Science Teacher, Speaker and Author of Countdown To Camp

Karen Kettle - Retired Science Teacher and Author of Countdown To Camp
About Karen Kettle

Karen Kettle is passionate about the power of student-led leadership programs. Throughout her career with the Durham District School Board, Karen has been a high school science teacher, a consultant, an international presenter, an author, and a course director for the York University Faculty of Education.

She has worked beside talented student leaders and dedicated colleagues to create and implement the Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp and the Port Perry Rebels Leadership Camp. In retirement, Karen continues to explore new and creative pathways to share her love of leadership with the next generation!

Connect with Karen: Email


Personal note from Karen

Leadership Camp is a collaborative effort.  I would like to thank all of the people who are partners in making camp happen.

Camp Heads
Camp Committee Members
Team Leaders
Student Leaders
Parents/Guardians
Teachers
Camp & Club Advisors
Camp Program Staff
Secretaries & Custodians
Administrators
Sponsors  

A very special thank you goes out to the two camps that I have had the privilege of working with: Kilcoo Camp (Eastdale Eagles Leadership Camp) and Youth Leadership Camps Canada or YLCC (Port Perry Leadership Camp). Having talented camp staff to work with is priceless!


Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Countdown to Camp (Karen’s Most Recent Book)
The book Countdown to Camp is available at volumesdirect.com for $20

Youth Leadership Camps Canada

Port Perry High School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Karen 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 who you are and why you’re passionate about the work you do with youth.


Karen Kettle (00:15):
Okay. my name is Karen Kettle and I am a retired science teacher. I taught for 30 years in the Durham school board. And my passion outside of science education is working with students to run student-led leadership camps. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that twice. I worked with a group of kids at Eastdale and also at port Perry high school. And we ran camps for about 130 or 140 students from the school that were mainly student run. So that’s, that’s my leadership passion outside of the biology classroom.


Sam Demma (01:06):
What brought you to that passion? How did you discover it and why do you think it’s important that students get involved in camp?


Karen Kettle (01:15):
Well, I spent a lot of time at summer camp growing up. I first went to camp when I was nine years old and I really badly wanted to come home on visitor’s day. And my mom left me there crying on the dock and told me I would learn to like it. And after that I went back every summer to that camp and also to the Ontario camp leadership center at bark lake until I was well in my twenties. And when I decided that I wanted to become a high school teacher, I wanted to be able to bring the best of that camp, spirit, that transformative experience into my teaching career.


Sam Demma (02:04):
That is awesome. And what, what, what were the steps you took to start building camp? So I would imagine being involved in a camp as a student is a different experience than organizing a camp as an educator. What, what were the initial steps you started taking to build the camp and tell, yeah, tell me a little bit more about that process on how it turned into its its own thing.


Karen Kettle (02:30):
Well, I was very lucky when I got to Eastdale I knew the principal very well and he was a principal that was a camp director in the summertime. And the year before a very talented leader had started a student retreat as part of a course. And so they wanted to continue it and they were looking for someone else with camp experience, there were some great teachers involved with it. And so I joined their team and then we just started to increase the length of time. We took students away until we were up to a four day camp and involve all sorts of different students from the school, from all sorts of clubs, like student council and music council and meet and we and athletic council and all of the social justice clubs and geeks unlimited and the gay straight Alliance and the ambassadors and the environment club and the business club. And so it became sort of an umbrella training ground for student leaders in the school. So that was my, that was my first experience with leadership camp. And then when I left and went to port Perry high school, I started from scratch again.


Sam Demma (04:06):
And now you are a camp pro or a camp in ninja, or I don’t even know what to call it, but you, you you’ve built out so many supports for camp and encouraging students to get involved in camps and encouraging students to lead camps and encouraging educators to understand the importance of camp. You’ve even, you know, written books about it. One that’s very, you know, new and fresh. Can you share a little bit about what inspired you to write the book and also why you think student led leadership camps are also really important?


Karen Kettle (04:45):
Okay, well in working with students over the years one of the things that they use to say to me is I kind of know what we need to do, but I sort of need a checklist to get there. And so during the, a pandemic, because I had lots of creative alone time I sat down and tried to pull all of the collective wisdom together from all of the other advisors I’d worked with and camp heads and camp committee members and my colleagues and support staff and put it together just in a way that someone who had never run a leadership camp could pick it up and know that they could start with simple steps. And then as their school got more involved and the student leaders in the school got more involved, all they could build it into whatever it was that they wanted and needed for the school.


Karen Kettle (05:51):
I think student leaders are incredible role models for their peers because the camp committee, which works together all year to get camp ready by designing it and implementing it and, and running everything other than high ropes course and waterfront they are just that little bit better at, at some of the leadership skills than their peers. And so it’s kind of like if you’re an athlete and you wanna learn to get better at tennis, you don’t want to play against world champions. You wanna play against someone who’s just that little bit better than you are and makes you stretch your skills. So the senior students are great role models for their less experienced peers, cuz the kids can look at them and say, you know, in two or three years, that’s who I wanna be. That’s what I wanna do. And it also keeps the ownership of the camp program in the, in the school. It, they’re not going somewhere and having someone else run everything, they’re working with a camp staff to, to run a program and, and the program belongs to them.


Sam Demma (07:16):
That makes a lot of sense. And, and I think giving students a voice is so important because thinking back to the educators that made a big impact on my life, their class was more so a discussion than it was a lecture. And because I was given a voice, I was more interested in the content they were teaching and speaking about out. And if I was running or organizing an event, I would be more inclined to get involved and also to promote it to my friends and to get other students in the school involved. Because I, I feel like ownership and interest are kind of tied together. Something you do a great job at, in your book countdown to can a, is breaking down this idea that student leadership is a year long process. What do you mean by that? And what does it look like? Or what does a typical year of planning in a student leadership position look like?


Karen Kettle (08:17):
Okay. well what would happen is at the beginning of the year students would apply to be on camp committee and this would be a group of about 20 students that really wanna put in the time because it takes a lot of time. They, they meet once a week for an hour and a half or two hours as a group. And so they go through a, a process where they start off with lots of team building within their group and getting to know each other, figuring out who has what skills and who can bring music who can bring organization, who can bring humor to the group. And then we basically start through a process where we develop a theme which holds camp together. And some of our past themes have been things like Dr. Sue or Harry Potter or Beatlemania or clue.


Karen Kettle (09:26):
And so they have to brainstorm all sorts of different themes and come up with what it might look like. And we take a lot of time to make sure that all of the themes are, are really, really strong. And then we have a process, a decision making process that we go through to help them come to a consensus on theme. And then after that’s done, we start through the same process again, to trying to decide what workshops we’re going to put into camp. And that is one of the places where you can really tailor camp to your own individual school, because you can pick out knowledge elements that the kids in your are clubs might need, they might wanna learn something about emotional intelligence or mental health. You can pick out skills that they might wanna develop, like communication skills or delegation or creativity.


Karen Kettle (10:33):
You can work on some values like attitude or kindness, and then you can also look at issues like inclusion or consent or anti-bullying or environmental issues. And so that becomes the, the part of camp. That’s the learning part of camp. The, we would then organize students in the teams, workshop teams, and they’d pick from the ones that they’d brainstorm and they’d work to put together their interactive workshops. And then we get to plan all the fun things at camp. And those are things like campfires and large group games and talent shows banquet. So there’s, there’s a lot of organization that goes on throughout the year. We also do a lot of fundraising to make sure that we can support kids financially, who might not otherwise be able to attend and that’s kind of fund too, because there’s a lot of experiential learning in, in running a, a fundraiser.


Karen Kettle (11:45):
Quite often the camp committee takes on some other challenges at port Perry high school. We used to run a minicamp day for the grade eight that were gonna come to our school the following year and run through our workshops with them and just help them come into the high school and feel comfortable in the high school. So all of that goes on throughout the year. And the culminate activity is the three day or four day experience with a camp partner where we take somewhere between a hundred and hundred 40 kids from the school. And, and they get to share in the experience.


Sam Demma (12:31):
What do you think are some of the really positive outcomes on a school’s culture when students within that school participate in a camp experience?


Karen Kettle (12:44):
Well, there’s a lot of them because there there’s individual learning and individual development with the people, especially the people of who are on camp committee. There are the skills and knowledge that advisors can take back with their students in their own clubs and apply those. But also I think students find that it’s, it’s intrinsically rewarding to do something that is sort of in the service of others. And, and so there’s, there’s a, a good feeling there. You get a large group and, and that’s, what’s different about student led leadership camp rather than sending an individual student to a conference is that you come back with like a hundred kids that have shared the experience and that increases cooperation and trust among the students. It increases cooperation with staff cause once you’ve boosted your vice principal up onto the ropes course, or you’ve, you know, what had your principal walk the plank because he was the villain story.


Karen Kettle (14:03):
They come back with a different sense of understanding that, you know, that the teachers and administrators are, are people and they’re there to, to help. So you get this sort of shared vision of, of what you can do as a, as a team. If everybody works together student thoughts will meet and interact and live with students that they wouldn’t otherwise meet at school. And so it breaks down social barriers in the building. It there’s more cooperation between clubs because each club knows what the other club is doing and what their purpose is and why they’re there. And then the other thing I find is that student leaders, when they come back, they look for or understand the deeper meaning in some of the activities that they’re running at the school. So they might be running like something really fun and silly on a Friday, but they know that they’re doing it to build community. Yeah. And they know if they put together something on study skills that they know that they’re providing a, a service for other students in the building, or they, sometimes they do things like they’ll come back and put up a kindness tree or something like that. So they understand that there’s a deeper purpose behind all of the extracurricular activities that, that they’re doing.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And how do you go about selecting what students in a school would get to participate in a camp? I would imagine that’s probably one of the most difficult aspects because you want everyone to have the experience, but you might have a li limited budget and a limited amount of students that you can bring with you to these four, five-day experiences.


Karen Kettle (16:03):
Yes. Well, one of the things is that with leadership camps, again, because you can fine tune it to your school, different schools have slightly different selection criteria. But the way we’ve always gone about getting students is that any student who’s already involved in the leadership club in the school gets an invitation to go grade nine and 10 students who are involved go through that process, or they can also self nominate themselves. So if you have maybe a shy grade nine student, who’s not yet involved in anything, they can just fill out an application form for an invitation and they get an invitation. We all also have our teachers that teach a lot of grade nine and 10 students nominate students that they think would benefit from the experience. And some of our teachers are really good at that.


Karen Kettle (17:08):
Really seeing that, you know, the little kid at the back of the room, who’s got all sorts of energy, but no focus might actually benefit from camp because once they find that focus then, then they’re set. They know what they wanna do. We also go to our teachers and coaches and guidance department and special ed department and adminis and ask if they wanna nominate kids. Sometimes students who are a little bit at risk because they’ve just moved into the area or something has happened in their family life. And they might just need that really to be part of a really supportive group. Sometimes kids who are just sort of there after school all the time, cuz they don’t really have anywhere else to go will get those kinds of students that are nominated. And then it basically becomes a first come first serve basis. After everyone who is interested through those categories receives an invitation,


Sam Demma (18:23):
Got you. And something else. Okay. Oh, go ahead. Some,


Karen Kettle (18:27):
Okay. Some schools because they wanna have they want diversify between grade nines, tens elevens and 12 do first come first serve based on grade. Mm. We, we’ve never done that. And we normally find that about 50%, 60% of our camp is grade nines and tens.


Sam Demma (18:48):
Got you. You mentioned briefly fundraising and you also do an amazing job in your book providing, you know, literally a template that you use in terms of a sponsorship letter. How, yeah. Can an educator who’s listening to this that wants to run a camp. What should they be thinking about in terms of sponsorship, how do obtain it and also what the letter it should include that they’re thinking to send outside of obviously buying your booking, check, checking it out.


Karen Kettle (19:17):
Well sponsorships are a good way to go sometimes what our sponsors do is they just provide items. So for example, our, our camp committee would go down the main street of port Perry with a letter explaining that we’re raising money to provide scholarships for students who might not be able to afford to go to camp. And quite often they will give us, you know, small items like candy or a t-shirt or something from their, their business. And so we put those together into something like a a draw or a silent auction, something like that. So that’s one way of, of finding sponsorship ships. We’ve also had service groups who have provided us with money sometimes connected to a, a, a service. So we went and helped out with a pancake breakfast and that group donated some money to our, our camp scholarship fund.


Karen Kettle (20:30):
I think if you’re writing a sending a letter to organizations, it has to really clearly state what your, what your leadership camp is, how it serves people. We put down a breakdown of costs per individual student. And then we basically just said, you know, if you’d like to make a contribution, here’s the, the camp advisors contact information and it’s sort of a contribution of whatever they would like to make. And we just basically had a bank account and we put money in from that and from our fundraisers, cuz we like to do silly fundraisers. And then on our application form for parents, there was a little line that sort of said we know that economic are tough for people. If your son or daughter requires some financial assistance, please contact. And there was a camp advisor’s email.


Karen Kettle (21:38):
And then when we got in touch with the parent, we basically said you know, what can you afford to pay towards your child going to camp? And then we can cover the rest of it. And, and that worked really well because it let us spread out the funds among the, the students who really needed it. For me, that, that I came to that realization when I actually had a parent call me and ask if she could pay for her son’s best friend to go to camp. Mm. And until that time we had sort of been fundraising to lower the cost for everyone. And after that experience I realized that it was probably better to target the money because some parents could easily afford to send their kids. And for some parents it was prohibitive. Mm. So that’s why we came up with that idea of, of scholarship funds.


Sam Demma (22:41):
That’s amazing. Another great resource that I pulled out of your book. I know I’m referring to it a lot and it’s because it’s jampacked with great stuff, the workshop topics, that was a phenomenal section that you created that, you know, encapsulated dozens of ideas that people could think about presenting or even bringing in someone else to present at their camps. What are some of the ideas that you found the great success with or would recommend that someone who’s planning their first camp should include in the programming somewhere?


Karen Kettle (23:19):
Well workshops that that list of workshops came about because one of the, the issues when you’re working with young people on a camp committee is that the only work ups they’ve seen are the workshops that were presented the year before the, or the two years before. Mm. And so they, and so they kept reinventing the same workshop and just changing its name. And it was normally about pushing your comfort zone. And it got to the point it’s like, we pushed our comfort zone enough. We know now need actually to do something else because you really want to not repeat anything sort of within the four years that that’s students could be in the school because we have some students that go for four, for three or four years. And so what I did is I basically just sat down and wrote like little teaser for 99 different workshops.


Karen Kettle (24:21):
And I think, I don’t really think that there are any, that you are essential that you start with. I think it’s more about giving the kids a, a list of a whole bunch of different things they could do, and then letting them select the ones that they have, that they truly have an interest in. Mm. And quite often what we used to do is we let the camp, if we, if we needed, let’s say six workshops, we let the camp committee pick four. We let the camp heads pick one. And then the camp advisors pick one because they do tend sometimes depending on the, the group of kids to try and they sometimes stay away from some of the more difficult topics. And so sometimes you need a little bit a push in that direction. And then the other thing we did with workshops is that we to connect them to our theme.


Karen Kettle (25:30):
So for example, the year we did Harry Potter, the mental health workshop became defense against the dark arts. Ah, and, and the, when we did Dr. Suess, the environment workshop became Lorax lesson. Mm. So you want tie in and, and tie it to to the theme, but it also, it depends on what the school needs like, do they need to do something on anti-bullying? Do they need to do something on digital leadership? Because really it’s what you do as workshops is completely wide open, as long as you have a mix of some that are really thought provoking and, and some that are, that are fun. Hmm. And we also try to make sure that, you know, if one workshop focused on skits that maybe the next one was gonna focus on a craft activity, or it was gonna focus on some kind of debate or discussion so that when students went from workshop to workshop, they were interactive and they were different. And it wasn’t like they weren’t being talked to, they, they were very HandsOn and involved in, in act in activities that brought them to the point of what the workshop was about. Understand. I don’t know what the, that


Sam Demma (27:04):
Yeah, it does. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all option. I was just really intrigued and impressed by how many ideas you pulled together and was wondering kinda well in


Karen Kettle (27:15):
A lot of the ones in the book we’ve actually done. And, and students come in with very distinct interest. And they take you places that as an advisor, you never thought you would be going because they have an interest in that area that, that resonates with their peers.


Sam Demma (27:39):
And what’s also interesting is extracurricular activities are not only the beneficial for students, but they’re also beneficial for teachers, you know, teachers benefit from being involved. What do you think are some of the benefits of the extracurricular involvement for teachers?


Karen Kettle (27:58):
Well, I think that they brought a lot of a joy in, into my life. I, I love the time that I spent with students outside of the classroom, because it gives you a different opportunity to mentor young people and also to learn from them. As teachers, you get to pick your extracurriculars. So if you are interested in sports coaching, a sport is great. Poor Perry high school had a phenomenal music program. And there were like some of the kids that were in that music program will be musicians throughout their lives, either as a career or as a, as a, as a joy, just for personal growth. So you get to follow your passion as a teacher and you meet up with kids that are also interested in it, and that’s sort of where that mentorship relationship comes from, because it, when you have someone who, who has knowledge in an area and someone who wants knowledge in the same area then that becomes a rich experience.


Karen Kettle (29:16):
It also has tremendous impacts on your classroom. I can remember on a grade eight tour day, listening to someone outside of my classroom going, this is Mrs. Kell’s classroom. She teaches science. I had her in grade nine. I really liked her. And then she takes us to camp. Well, if you have that kind of advertisement going on, when the kids come to your classroom, the next year, they expect that they’re gonna enjoy it. And all sorts of management issues just never come through your door because they know that even if it’s not something they wanna do, they know that you’re are interested in students in the school and that you are willing to put time in outside of the classroom. And it’s fun. Some of the students that I’ve worked with over the year have become really good friends. Some of them have become colleagues because a lot of the skills you learn at leadership camp work really well in the classroom. And so I, I think it’s a, it has a, a huge impact on your enjoyment of your teaching career. Yeah, and, and for kids, it’s great because they really get to interact in something that they’ve chosen, that they have ownership of, and they meet a positive peer group there that has similar interests.


Sam Demma (30:59):
Hmm. Kinda agree more if so, is interested in learning more about camps, more about the work you’ve done, where can they one pick up a copy of your book and two, get in touch with you.


Karen Kettle (31:13):
Okay. If they wanted to pick up up a copy of the book, the easiest way to do it is right from the publisher and the way to do that would be to Google volumesdirect.com. Countdown to camp is listed there. And you can just purchase it from that website if they want to contact me my email address and I’d be happy to talk to people. My email address is Karenkettle@gmail.com.


Sam Demma (32:05):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, talking about camps, your experience teaching, and also being involved in student leadership. Keep up the amazing work. I look forward to staying in touch and watching your, you know, adventures and work evolve. Thank you so much.


Karen Kettle (32:24):
Well, okay. And thank you very much. It’s lovely to talk to someone who is actually putting leadership into action at a fairly young age. And it sounds like you’re doing a great job.


Sam Demma (32:43):
Thanks so much, Karen.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karen Kettle

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.

Darrell Bergmann – Athletic Director at Boyle Secondary School

Darrell Bergmann - Athletic Director at Boyle Secondary School
About Darrell Bergmann

Darrell Bergmann is extremely passionate about athletics and keeping himself and his students healthy. He is also the Athletic Director at Boyle Secondary school. We met after he watched me speak at a teacher’s convention and as a result, this episode was created!  Enjoy. 

Connect with Darrel: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Boyle Secondary School Website

#funsockfriday

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, San Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s episode. Our special guest is Darrell Bergmann. He is someone that I met after doing a presentation to a group of teachers at a teacher association. He is someone that believes in the power of pushing yourself physically.


Sam Demma (01:00):
What you’ll hear about on our phone call today; he’s the athletic director of Boyle Secondary School and activity, physical activity is something that he holds very close to his heart. I hope you enjoy today’s episode where we talk about engaging students virtually in this new environment, especially related to gym class and how he is helping to keep his students fit during this crazy time. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy! Darryl, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work in education that you’re doing today?


Darrell Bergmann (01:37):
I guess Darrell Bergmann teaching in Boyle, I’ve been a teacher for about 20 plus years now. I got into teaching because I thought to myself, geez, it’d be pretty cool to spend all day in a gym, playing dodgeball and basketball and games with kids. I figured that out when I can remember distinctly is at my grandma and grandpa’s house and we were watching NFL playoffs, and one of my uncles says to me, what are you gonna do when you get older? And I thought to myself hmm, phys-ed teacher. Summer’s off and you get paid to play games. So ever since grade eight summer holidays, I think it was, I knew I wanted to be a teacher in 20 years and best job ever.


Sam Demma (02:17):
I love that. And that’s what got you in. I’m curious to know what keeps you in it?


Darrell Bergmann (02:22):
Oh, the kids hands down on the kids. I, I, so I work at a K to 12 school and I teach PHED, I’ve taught PHED from kindergarten to grade 12 and it’s the kids, just the energy they bring to school every day. And the way I look at it is I get to help them learn to be good people and they wanna be good people. And just those converse conversations and interactions with them every day. It’s just, I don’t know. It helps keep me young. So it’s the kids hands down.


Sam Demma (02:51):
Now I’m curious to know throughout your own journey as a student, before you decided to get into teaching, did you have any educators, gym teachers, coaches that slightly pushed you in this direction, or was this solely a decision you made based off your own personal ideas and experiences?


Darrell Bergmann (03:06):
So I never had any coaches or teachers push me into the field of education. I just, I, I, I can remember as young back as grade three, I always looked at the schedule for the day and I always looked where was PhysEd class during the day. And to me that I just I’ve always loved being active playing games and competing and doing all that stuff. And just, I don’t know, it was just a natural attraction to be a PhysEd teacher.


Sam Demma (03:33):
Which makes sense as to why you run 70 kilometers a week.


Darrell Bergmann (03:37):
That’s for fun to have.


Sam Demma (03:40):
So why do you think it’s important to keep challenging yourself as you grow? Like I, I mean, you mentioned earlier before this call that you, you like running because it’s, it’s a way to challenge yourself. Why do you think that’s important?


Darrell Bergmann (03:52):
Oh, just to stay motivated. Like you always gotta find something. Whether, you know, whether it’s running, whether it’s cooking, whether it’s a sport, give yourself a purpose just to get the most outta every day. You, you, you everyone’s gotta find that unique thing. And for everyone it’s something different. And for people, it changes over time. Like I said before, we got started here back when I was younger, I absolutely despised running. I couldn’t stand, I didn’t understand why people did it. And now it’s like the one activity I do more than anything else besides, you know, being a PHY ed teacher is I love to run.


Sam Demma (04:25):
Ah, that’s so awesome. And I would assume that being an athletic director as well at the school, you encourage all the students and kids to do similar stuff, or are they running kilometers and, and letting you know?


Darrell Bergmann (04:38):
So like my kind of my big goal for all my PhysEd classes, try to introduce the kids to as many different activities so they can pick the one that they are gonna continue for the rest of their life, whether it’s Bochy ball or volleyball or basketball or whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be running for them, whatever they’re doing, if they enjoy it and it’s get, and they’re getting some exercise go to the deal that doesn’t matter to me. So whatever it is for them, you know, as long as they’re having fun.


Sam Demma (05:07):
Oh, I love that. And how do you think you’re still making personal relationships and connections with students dealing with some changes in education this year? Are all of your students still in class? Are you able to all see each other? What does education look like and how are you still managing to of those strong relationships?


Darrell Bergmann (05:23):
So our school, we have been lucky. We have been basically open like other than the inception of COVID where kind of everyone closed down our school. We’re a small school in Northern Alberta and we’ve been lucky. We’ve been pretty much regular classes online. We’ve had a few hiccups here and there, but for the most part we’ve been in session. Now it’s not exactly the same as it was pre COVID. I mean, there’s a lot more protocols and we have to do things as safe as we can, but I don’t know the kids are going through it. We’re going through it. We’re just trying to make our way as best we can. And you just, I don’t know, to, to me, kid, to me, kids are people and they want you just, you talk to them like they’re a person and you just, you keep making those connections and everyone’s in it together. And just trying to get through this as best we can. Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know if that answered your question at all,


Sam Demma (06:14):
Sam. Yeah, no, it does. You know, it treat human, treat them like they’re human beings and adults and, and they’ll reciprocate that energy for you, I would assume. That’s awesome. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self, like when you first started teaching, knowing what you know now with the wisdom you have, what advice would you give?


Darrell Bergmann (06:35):
Oh, advice I, to inexperienced teachers is they’ve gotta figure out what works for them. And they’ve gotta figure out how to connect with students in their own way and what works for me. Isn’t gonna work for John or Jim or Julie. Everyone’s gotta kind of be themselves to, to create those you know, positive connections with the kids that you know, that that’s unique to them cuz everyone has their own style. So it’s it’s you gotta be you and you gotta connect with kids at your own way.


Sam Demma (07:06):
I love that. And in terms of connecting with students, sometimes we see the impact we make. Sometimes we don’t, sometimes it happens 20 years later when they send you a handwritten note. Sometimes it happens the day after something you said they come in class and tell you how much of an impact it had. Do you have any stories of student transformation, whether in your class or in your school that you have seen that have inspired you and reminded you why this work is so important? And the reason I’m asking is because I think right now, some teachers listening might be burnt out and forgetting why they actually got into teaching and a story of transformation might remind them why they’re doing the work they’re doing. And you can change the student’s name if it’s a very personal story. But I’m curious to know if anything kind of comes to mind.


Darrell Bergmann (07:49):
Well at my school we have we it’s called work experience. The students get credits for our, and they cut. They help out with different roles at the school. Nice. So me being the PHY ed teacher, it’s always helpful to have a student or two help you with set up, clean up refereeing. Joining in. I had one student, I won’t, I won’t name the student, but so we were, we were outside playing slow pitch, pre COVID. And I got nailed in the side of a head by a, by one of the balls we were using. Oh wow. And the student was about 60 yards away and they’re like, oh, I accidentally hit you. And it was, it was like in a crowd of about 30 kids. And I’m thinking to myself, I don’t know how this could be an accident. well, and then the next day he kind of made a joke about, you know, oh, how’s your head.


Darrell Bergmann (08:36):
And then the next year he wanted to be my work experience student. I kind of hum. And I thought, you know what, I’m gonna give him a chance. And I’ll tell you what, he turned out to be one of my best work experienced students ever. Like, so it’s just giving him a chance. Kids do dumb things sometimes. And, and you never know, you don’t always see it or you can’t always expect it, but you never know when that difference is gonna be. So for me, just taking that chance on that guy who nailed me in the side of the head, 60 yard, Sam and it, and at the time he didn’t seem too sorry, the next day he wasn’t very sorry at all. Yeah. But I gave him that chance. And boy, we actually, we, we got a real good relationship now where every day see each other, we say, Hey, how’s it going? He’s not my work exp experienced student anymore. But it just, you know, he gave him that chance and he came through and I gotta give him full credit for that.


Sam Demma (09:24):
Oh, I love that. There’s so much wisdom in this. So, you know, treating students like humans and adults, giving students a chance to own some responsibility and to challenge them the same way you would challenge yourself when you’re running. And you might just be surprised what a young person is capable of. Would you agree?


Darrell Bergmann (09:42):
Oh, 100%. They, they want so like, like it’s funny cuz when I first started teaching, I never wanted to teach junior high, the old, you know, they’re all kind of attitudey and moody and, and they’re gonna talk back and stuff and it’s just, they want to fit in. They wanna be like they want and, and not just their peers, but they want teachers to like them. And it’s, they’re, they’re struggling with making good choices on a daily basis. And that, you know, as a teacher, we get to help them learn what you can and cannot do. And you know, sometimes you can have a little bit of fun, but sometimes you gotta work so that I, I that’s just a reward every day, helping them be, you know, positive people and citizens and you know, good people.


Sam Demma (10:24):
I love that. Cool. Darrell or AKA Berg. thank you so much for coming on the show. Appreciate it. If another educators listening wants to reach out, maybe ask you a question or chat about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to, to contact you?


Darrell Bergmann (10:41):
To contact me? well, I’m on the TikTok @bergs_27. I got a cult following on there. I’m trying to start the fun stock Friday movement. So if you look at #funsockfriday, you’ll definitely find me there. Cool. You can, could shoot me an email Darrell.Bergmann@aspenview.org. Gosh, I better spell my name. No one will spell that correctly. Darrell.Bergmann@aspenview.org. And I’m freshly on the Instagram as well. That’s a new one for me, but yeah, I definitely love to hear feedback from people.


Sam Demma (11:18):
Awesome. Darrell, thank you so much for doing this. Really appreciate it, and keep it up with the awesome work. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna 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 Darrell Bergmann

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.

Adriano Carota – Classroom Teacher at St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie

Adriano Carota - Classroom Teacher at St. Mary's College in Sault Ste. Marie
About Adriano Carota

Adriano Carota (@adrianocarota) began his journey of working with youth during his time in residence life at the University of Waterloo and Western University. That experience drew him to teacher’s college and a career as an educator. “When am I going to use this in life?” This question is the driving force of his passion for providing students with insight into career exploration and goal setting.

Adriano served as the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board after spending time in the Student Services Department at his alma mater, St. Mary’s College. His professional career has brought him -full circle – back to the classroom where his passion is stoked by the curiosity of his students.

Connect with Adriano:  Email  |  Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Adriano Carota
Resources Mentioned

The High Performing Student Podcast

St Mary College School

Goal Setting and Planning Resource

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):
Adriano, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, how have you been and introduced yourself and let the audience know who you are?

Adriano Carota (00:14):
Well, thanks for having me. I’m pretty excited. I know we’ve been trying to get this going and it’s I miss you, man. I really do. It’s been a long time and we we’ll talk a little bit about how you’ve been using some of your content in the school and hope to do more of it. My name’s Adriano Carota. I’m a teacher at the Huron-Superior Catholic district school, at my Alma mater St. Mary’s college, very excited to be here all the way up in Sault, Ste. Marie, Ontario. So we are experiencing an odd December actually. It’s it’s very mild here today. It’s about eight degrees and rainy. So the snow is slowly melting away which is unusual, but hopefully we’ll end up with a white Christmas.

Sam Demma (01:00):
Yeah, I hope so too, because it’s raining here as well. And it’s oddly warm, which is kind of funny for late December…

Adriano Carota (01:09):
It’s very funny.

Sam Demma (01:10):
Yes. Tell us a little more about your journey into education and what brought you to where you are today?

Adriano Carota (01:19):
Well, it was a, not a straightforward journey. That’s for sure. I like most kids. I remember sitting in my a grade 10, I think it was a religion or geography class. And her teacher kind of told us a stat that, you know, you’re gonna change your decision for what you wanna do in your career, like a million times. And I just couldn’t I couldn’t wrap my head around that and sure enough, it wasn’t a million times, but it was quite a few times. So I ended up up going to university and when I got there, I was quite involved in residence life as a orientation leader. And then I always had a goal to sort of be a, an RA my university, university of Waterloo. We were, we were called dawns. And I got involved in that.

Adriano Carota (02:00):
And from there, one of my supervisors was just an amazing leader and heavily involved. He had been to about two other schools at the time in residence life. So I applied to a few schools and I finally got into a university of Western Ontario at the time now, Western university tremendous housing program, residence life program there. And one day a friend of mine called and said, I’m thinking of going to Buffalo for teachers college. Why don’t you join me? So I went for an orientation meeting and the rest is history, moved back home. Got a teach teaching job in elementary school for the board I, I currently work for here on superior. And and then was doing a lot of coaching I a big into, into coaching football and basketball. So I was doing that at the high school level as well as elementary. And then I put a transfer in, got back to my to St Mary’s college, which, which I’ve been at for, for, you know, the majority of my career and, and absolutely loving it. It’s a great place.

Sam Demma (03:02):
Most of the time when friends call to go to Buffalo, they want to go shopping so going for teachers college is awesome. Did, did you know, well, we ended up

Adriano Carota (03:14):
Go ahead, go ahead. Say I was just gonna say we did end up trying the best wings around Buffalo wings. That was, that was kind of the highlight there from the non school standpoint because we did actually live in 40 area Ontario. So we commuted over the border, getting over the border back then was a lot easier than it certainly is now for obvious reasons. So we were pre nine 11 and all that. So it was kind of easy.

Sam Demma (03:37):
Yeah. And did you from a young age, no. Teaching was your thing, like, I know you said you changed paths a couple times, or like when did the idea pop into your mind that it could be a, a possibility aside from your buddy recommending it?

Adriano Carota (03:51):
I think when I was sitting in the orientation session in Buffalo. Yeah, no, I, I never thought I really enjoyed it. I was heavily involved at high school. Yeah. I had some good mentors that really encouraged me to develop my leadership skills. I went to a couple leadership camps that I was kind of recommended to go to. But you never really think of yourself as a leader. I never thought I I’d go into teaching. I was really into healthcare. I thought I’d be like a a chiropractor, a physiotherapist, something like that. And when I went to school, I just started to kind of really get more interested in, in the extracurricular stuff that, that I was involved in, like the, the orientation stuff, the leadership stuff. And I think it was just fate. You know, I, I really believe that you know God has a plan for us and, and my friend called me that day and, you know, the rest is history.

Adriano Carota (04:41):
And so I think that’s sort of what led me there. Was it something subliminal perhaps? I’m not, I’m not too sure, but I, I certainly don’t regret it. I really am happy to be back in the classroom. I’ve had a really good journey in my, in my career, which a lot of teachers don’t get to experience. And it’s good to kind of, I’m hoping to end my career in the classroom as well because the students really give you a lot of energy. I’m sure you feel that when you’re in front of them as well. Whenever that happens, that you’re able to really get, get that boost of energy from them from that youth. So not that you’re a very old at all Sam, but you’ll certainly experience more of that as you kind of age, like.

Sam Demma (05:22):
Yeah. A hundred percent and you are right by sharing that you’ve had a unique journey being that you’re someone who loves leadership activities and being hands-on, I could see how the classroom would be super helpful. And I could also see how you would enjoy the experiential learning role that you were in the past few years, take us through some of the different roles you’ve had in education and why you think it makes your journey a little more unique.

Adriano Carota (05:47):
So when I was in residence life as a, a residence manager, you know, you do a lot of advising. You do a lot of assisting kids and guiding them and helping them and, and taking them through some of their life struggles. And so I always, once they did get in teaching, I always wanted to end up in guidance student services as we call it now. And so I was a guidance counselor for about seven or eight years, and then I just, I guess I needed a change. I, I do, I do kind of have that in me where do need to change things up from time to time. And experiential learning was a hot topic in our province. And the, the ministry of education put out a position for that in every school board. And I applied and I got it.

Adriano Carota (06:31):
I thought I could bring a little bit something to that. And it was also a way for me to hopefully get back into the classroom and with students from grade kindergarten all the way to 12, unfortunately COVID hit. And so my time in the classroom was a little bit limited, but we did what we could we did a lot of stuff virtually. So it’s yeah, so I, I went from guidance, so you got to see the other end of it, and you really, it really humanizes the student. Right. And, you know, when I first started teaching, I didn’t have kids. And, you know, you always hear people say, oh, if you had kids you’d understand. And I always thought I understood, but really wasn’t until I had my, my first daughter that it, it, it does change you and working in student services also humanize the, the student as well, because you realize that they’re at school, you know, not always for the they’re at school, cuz it’s a safe place to be.

Adriano Carota (07:21):
And they’re around positive role models being the teachers and the staff. And so that put that human element back into teaching as opposed to we’re just the knowledge givers. Because I think that we, we, we do offer a lot, the greatest part about it is as a guidance counselor, I was involved in graduate, right grade 12 graduation. And one of the greatest things I hear is when students thank their teachers and those people that in their life that were their role models to kind of guide them along because that’s a really great component of the school. It’s not just about, you know, the ABCs and, and the one, two threes, right. There’s more to it than that. And, and so that really F fills me as, as kind of why I’m glad I’m still in teaching. And I chose that, that pathway.

Sam Demma (08:06):
I love it. And you’re absolutely right. That safe spaces and cultivating safe spaces in schools are so important for everybody, including the teachers, the staff, and the students in class classrooms, specifically. How do you think educators do that? Is it through sharing your own vulnerable stories or allowing kids to share, or how do you think you cultivate and build safe classrooms in a safe school?

Adriano Carota (08:37):
Well, I think everyone does it a bit differently. I think fairness is key. So as long as the kids know that you’re fair and you have integrity, then that goes a lot a long way. Right. And you know, that saying fairness, isn’t always the sameness, but I think the kids understand you know, you’re not, you’re not favoring one student over the other and kids are pretty perceptive too. They, they know when one of their classmates needs a little bit more of a push or a little bit more of a break than, than others. So I think everyone does it a little bit differently. Recently since I’ve been back, I, I throw a slide with an emoji up and it’s called old man wisdom. And that’s, that’s basically, I try to tell the kids like, you know, I was just like you, so I get where you’re coming from.

Adriano Carota (09:22):
And, and when the adult at the front of the room is trying to tell you something, you’re not understanding, you’re not conceptualizing it at the time, but so I try to reinforce with them that somewhere down the road, you’re gonna say, oh man, Mr. Carta. Yeah, that was, that was the hang on, you know, cuz I’ve done it a million times in my life. Right. and that’s not an exaggeration. It likely has been a million times where, you know role models or adults in your life. My parents especially were great foundation in my life. And so, you know, that that’s sort of, you, you wanna make sure that they take a better path than you, right? Like, so some people I’m always like, I don’t want my kids to be like me. I want my kids to be better than me. Right. And so that’s like kind of my goal for my kids. And I treat the students the same way, you know you know, kind of go out and, and, and set your mind at being the best you possibly can be. And that’s at different levels, right? Every not everyone’s gonna achieve at the same, but I think happiness comes from when you’re to, you know, take pride in what you do.

Sam Demma (10:19):
What do you think drives you to continue the work you’re doing every single day, even through the pandemic when things are more difficult, what is your own personal motivator and driver?

Adriano Carota (10:32):
That’s, that’s a tough question. I would say to be a role model to my kids and, and you know, I’m, I’m certainly, I think we all fall into human nature of not always being the most positive. And so you certainly gotta remain positive as you possibly can and try to, to push yourself to be that way. So I think I wanna be better than I was yesterday. And so that sort of motivates me a bit. So that’s a little bit of an forensic motivator and, and give the best product I can to the people that I’m influencing, you know, whether it be my children at home, trying to be the best dad or the kids on the football field or my, my students in my classroom is just try to give them the best that I can be, because then, you know, that will assist them hopefully in, in kinda lighting a fire under them.

Sam Demma (11:18):
I know sports is also a big part of your life. And when I was at the school, I had the privilege of working out in the gym in one of your t-shirts and it’s a, it’s a beautiful space. You know, how do, how do you think coaching has played a role in your experience as an educator? And why do you think it’s so important? Not that kids get involved in sports, but just extracurricular activities in general?

Adriano Carota (11:45):
Well, when I was at, when I would visit the grade eight students to promote our school, that’s we used to do that and talk about the courses you’re gonna take. You know, we have a number of high schools in town and I used to always tell them, regardless of where, what school you go to, you, you’re not gonna enjoy it unless you make the most of it. So you it’s about you, it’s not about the school making the most for you, it’s you making the most out of your experience there and getting involved. And we’re very fortunate at St. Mary’s college. We have a ton of extra career at the curriculars, whether it be sports or, or theater or music various clubs that we have. We do a lot of being in Catholic school. We do a lot of community service as well, right.

Adriano Carota (12:23):
And so that’s a big component of our school and just getting involved is, is important. I, I always think that great coaches make great teachers and, and great teachers make great coaches. And so I kind of in my classroom, it’s almost like I’m coaching as well. Cuz that’s the whole thing I’m not there to, I’m not there to hand out DS. You know, like when I, when I, when a student’s not doing well, more many of the teachers at the school, they look at it personally, like they didn’t do the best they, they could. And, and so they’re always pushing to get that student to be better. We’re not looking to make a bell curve here. We’re, we’re looking to have our students SU succeed as best they possibly can. Right. And so we wanna push them to be the best that they can. So I’ve, I learned that when I first started teaching, I had certain tremendous role models and mentors when I first started, especially here at St. Mary’s college and some, some of the elementary schools that I, it worked in. And so, you know, it’s, it’s putting the kids first and, and trying to get the squeeze, the squeeze the best outta them.

Sam Demma (13:21):
Speaking of becoming the best, whether it’s you personally trying to become your best or students striving to reach their own definition of success. What are some resources that you’ve personally found helpful as an educator for teaching, for working on yourself? And second part of that question is what resources have you found helpful to share with your kids and kickstart discussions in classrooms or even programs that you’ve run in the past that you thought were meaningful and impactful for the kids?

Adriano Carota (13:53):
Oh, wow. That’s a, that’s a tough one.

Sam Demma (13:55):
It’s a long one too.

Adriano Carota (13:57):
It? Yeah, it is. I, I, I’m not saying this cuz I’m on your podcast, but I really looked at what you had put out with the high performing student as well and goal setting. Right. I mean I still struggle to goal set. But I think as, as humans were routine bound and goal, setting’s a big, big part of that. And so if you don’t set a goal for yourself, then how do you know where you’re going? Right. There’s no guideposts along the way. Right? So it doesn’t have to be too specific in terms of daily or what, or what have you. But I think students need to have goals. And one of the resources I keep pushing on to students is planning your future. The saddest things, some of the saddest things that I dealt with as a guidance counselor was a kid coming in and meeting with me for some career advice or some post-secondary advice.

Adriano Carota (14:50):
And, you know, they’re asking me what they should be doing. Right. And, and for me that was, that was a part that was missing that, that we, we didn’t really do a good enough job at. And so I try to push that every day is like, what do you wanna do? What’s your passion? So in my classes now I’m always showing them various resources of their or passion and it may not even be something that they’re looking to do, but there’s always off branches. Right? Like I started in residence life thought I’d be there for a while. I ended up teaching. Right. And so I always tell them as well, like trying to encourage them to get into computer coding as well. Cuz that’s the biggest, that’s a big thing right now. Right. And I, I always tell ’em, I’m, you know, I’m 47 years old and I had to start to learn how to code, right.

Adriano Carota (15:36):
So it’s never, it’s never too late. So I think goal settings important and I think planning is important for your future. And following your passion, cuz a lot of students will follow sort of the pack and where, where people are, are going not a lot, but some will. And it’s important for you to, to, to figure out what that passion is and, and, and do some exploration. Right. And I think that for some students has been limited in the last couple of years of where we are, where we’re at currently with our situation, but we have to move beyond that and try and figure out ways to to get them to see that the future’s so important and high school is such a hard time for, for, for kids as well. And I’m sure you could attest to that too.

Adriano Carota (16:16):
Like we can all attest to that being such a struggle, whether it’s, you know, physical going through puberty or social emotional. And so they just gotta realize that once you get past you know, that and into your senior year and that, you know, life really opens up for you and there’s so much that you can, you can all offer and do a hundred percent. I’m not sure if I answered your question there, it was, that was a tough one. But goal setting I think is, is huge. Having a plan is very important.

Sam Demma (16:44):
You did a hundred percent answered the question and as a follow up, when it comes to teaching and working with students in the classroom from your own personal perspective as an educator, what tools have helped you? And I’m assuming that planning and goal setting are two of those things, but have you come across any articles, books or different programs online, different softwares or anything you’ve used over the past couple of years that you think this tool was really unique and you know, maybe you’ve even told other educators about it. Any, any types of resources like that, that you think another educator might find valuable?

Adriano Carota (17:23):
Oh yeah. I, I actually the last couple years I did a newsletter in, in identifying all, all the stuff that’s, that’s so good out there. One of the best parts is is sort of I think community connectedness, right? So group chats and, and things like that. So those community of like-minded people, or like, you know, biology teacher kind of, that’s what I’m sort of looking at now. Right? Like I was heavily involved in the community for full of experiential learning people. Right. And we shared constantly. So I think human resources is one of the best resources that you, you could possibly have. So, so now coming back to the classroom, as a science teacher, I’m looking for those same communities of people that are you know, teaching science, teaching biology and, and what are you doing and what are your best practices?

Adriano Carota (18:14)
You know, and that, that that’s, I think some of the best that could be out there and, you know, you look from a digital standpoint, YouTube and what it has out there. So many people want to share what they have in social media. So I’m really leveraging social media like Instagram. I know you have a great presence there. It’s a great way to find resources and find connections and what I found the, one of the best things to come out of the pandemic as odd as that sounds was there were so many people doing video conferences in the evening, or, well, we’re doing clinics for example of sports. I did a lot of football clinics, but there were a lot of educators getting together with book study novel study, things like that. Right. So practical study that way.

Adriano Carota (19:02):
And so that was a huge a huge asset and getting online and learning from, from others. And I couldn’t believe how many people were so open to sharing and just giving up free knowledge, right. And then the chats you’d be the chat rooms would, or the chat portion of the, of the zoom calls would be loaded with website resources. So for me, the biggest resource, I, I can’t really nail down one or two, but it’s finding perhaps going on Twitter or Instagram and finding that group that, that you need support from. So whether it be, you know, a group of science teachers, or a group of math teachers, or a group of coaches that are interested in, in giving back because a lot of people are, are interested in sharing for the right reasons, right? Not to brag about what they’re doing, but to just kind of outline that, Hey, you know what, this is one of the greatest things that’s happened to me in my classroom. And I had a lot of success and, and we have a pretty good group around here full of sharing. And so that’s, that’s really important. We share a lot particularly in the department I’m in which has been beneficial for me. So I, I think human resources is the best resource right now and getting out there. And so obviously social media plays into that these days, cuz it’s one of the easiest ways to find things out.

Sam Demma (20:19):
There’s an abundance of videos and educators on, especially Twitter who openly. And I see it too, like post dozens upon dozens of links and resources and things in that you can search through and sift through. I think that’s such a good answer to that question. Human resource is the best resource that’s that should be like a tagline of this episode. if you could,

Adriano Carota (20:43):
Well, you know, you’d go on, you go on there and you, and you find their fall. So I would, what I would do is I’d find their follow orders, right. And then you, or who they’re following. And, and then it just, it, it’s actually a very overwhelming to be quite honest. I, I, I joked with one of my colleagues, a great math teacher, my Calver and I, I, we used the joke all the time. It’s like, I have to take a Twitter break because you could literally, and it’s not cuz I was posting it clearly research, you know? So my employer looks at that as this guy’s on Twitter all day. Well, no, it’s, it’s, it’s not to, you know, to tweet it’s it’s to search for these resources cuz you’re right. Twitter has just become an immense resource, but again, it’s overwhelming cuz there’s so much you can do do and you, so you need to again get set those goals and kind of really diverge your thing in terms of where do you want to go with things and, and what can you choose because you don’t wanna bite off more than you can chew that way.

Adriano Carota (21:33):
But I think, I think we have to leverage like I’m I’m I, I always tell my students that that phone that you have, that smartphone is one of the most powerful things you can, you can have. Right. But it can do a lot of damage, but if we leverage it for the positives there’s so many things we can do with them, it it’s just incredible being the digital agent and how fortunate students are these days.

Sam Demma (21:59):
We’re like an eight-hour drive away and we’re able to connect and have a face-to-face phone call because of technology, which is awesome.

Adriano Carota (22:07):
Yeah, you’re right. I mean, I remember when I was in residence life you know, I had to, we had to do collect, call, collect phone calls home. I’m sure some people on won’t even know what I’m talking about or we’d have a phone card that we can have long distance or long distance plans that we’d get into. Then when I, when I near the end of my current residence life webcams were huge, right? So parents were webcaming their, their, their kids at school, which is awesome. And then now, you know, we have, we have FaceTime, we have zoom and all that. And so hopefully fingers cross the, the pandemic will end soon, but I really hope that we can continue a lot of this because you know, it bridges, it bridges us, you know, like you just said, you’re so far away and yet you’re so you’re so close and the information is still valuable. You’re not in person, but it’s still it’s still great to, to get that exposure to someone who, you know, might be farther away. And especially for us here in the north, you know, we’re about a seven hour, seven and a half hour drive away from the GTA. So for us getting, getting down there is, is kind of tricky at times, right? Particularly in the winter when you have snow on the road, six months of the year.

Sam Demma (23:18):
It’s so, so true. And this past two years have been challenging, but like you mentioned, there was a lot of positives in terms of the technology. Do you think there are any other opportunities that have almost grown because of this period of time or things that have arisen because of the pandemic that maybe are slowly starting to appear as opportunities maybe for a change of thinking or new approaches to things?

Adriano Carota (23:51):
Oh, that’s a, that’s a tough question. I think that you know, again, the, the bringing people who are distantly, geographically distant and culture together certainly helped. I think it’s also, I think getting back to humans, I know when this first started and people were working from home, I thought to myself, you know, all this office real, estate’s gonna, you know, take a hit because people are gonna be working from home. But what I’m finding is people don’t wanna work from home anymore. Yeah. People want that social action re interaction, right. They want to be with their, with, with people. And I, I know with, with our students we’re talking about, you know, what’s gonna happen in two weeks when we return and, and they, so don’t want to be virtual again. They want to be at school. They want to be interacting.

Adriano Carota (24:38):
And that’s a great thing because you know, it gets them in a positive space. It gets them out of their home, gets them out out of the, the, the camera and really puts them in, in a place where it’s probably safer for them, particularly if they’re struggling with mental health or what have you. So I think I think we’ve learned that we took, we took for granted what we had. Right. and so being able to go to the office and, you know, just get, I know last year was my back was killing because, you know, I’m working from home and my computer and my printer and everything’s right there. But when I go to, when I went to work, it was great to just get up and go to the copier. Right. just to get a little stretch stretch happening and just being able to converse with your, with your your colleagues and for the students. It’s huge, huge, right. Being able to be close to friends and near friends and in a safe space because, you know schools have been, you know, the, the, the health table nailed it. Schools are fairly safe for students to be at, right. Cuz the precautions are there and the staff has done a great job in cleaning and, and maintaining a safe environment as far as the, the virus go.

Sam Demma (25:49):
If you could go back in time and basically speak to Adriano in year one of education, but still have the knowledge and experience that you have. Now, what advice would you give to your younger self or another educator who’s in their first working in this vocation?

Adriano Carota (26:14):
Hmm. I think it would be to network, you know don’t, don’t burn any bridges. I tell the students all the time, every day is a resume writing day because you just never know when someone’s gonna call you adrenal grow up for a reference or whatever. Right. So certainly networking and, and getting to know as many people as you can. And you know, taking advantage of, of the connections you have with people. And I think one of the other ones is, is you know, the saying fortune favors the bold, right. Well, I think all, oftentimes people look at fortune like as the money and, and the riches and the powerful, but if there’s something that you want, then you need to, you know, to go out and get after it. Right. because it’s not gonna come to you.

Adriano Carota (27:00):
And for me as a father of three girls, I I’m always pushing my girls. You know, because their gender even still, maybe it’ll be different when they’re, when they’re older, but even still have, could have an impact on them. Right. and so to push them to know that they’re just as equal and capable as anyone else and and to go after it, if you want it, you have to go after it. Right. So I really like that. And maybe I didn’t go after a few things when I was younger that I should have, or even in my early teaching career. But certainly I think that’s important is to, to get up and, and get after it is, is I guess advice, I would give my, a younger self.

Sam Demma (27:40):
That reminded me of this message I heard from Denzel Washington recently. So I’m comparing you to Denzel Washington. He was delivering a, a commencement speech and he said that it, you have, or that desire in your heart, if it’s truly a good one, meaning it’s gonna benefit all people involved that is God’s proof before or before the fact that it’s already possible and already yours, or you wouldn’t have had the idea in the first place. So claim it and start working towards it and your, you know, idea of getting after it. And you know, this idea that fortune isn’t just money and riches it’s any true, good desire in your heart that benefits all parties, if it was to, you know, come to life. I think it’s, yeah, it’s a message that brings me peace when I have an idea that I think is worth pursuing, but I have no idea how to make it happen. I remind me of those ideas and words, but this has been such a cool conversation. And I appreciate you coming on here to share a little bit about, you know, your journey through education, the different twists and turns. If another educator listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question or connect, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Adriano Carota (28:53):
They can, they can hit me DM me on Instagram at it’s @ace_carota, or my email adrianocarota@gmail.com I’m sure you’ll probably post that kind of stuff. But I’m sure if you just do a Google search, it’ll be out there, but yeah, this has been great. It’s, it’s been always great talking to you. You’re you know, we we’ve been having some younger students come into our school for for some exploration and we, we one of the days we start our off their lunch break with your with your video to them and on your, in your path, which is great because it just go out and get after it. Right, that’s the main thing. And, you’re right. If, fortune, happiness is the biggest fortune you could have. Right. and that’s and that’s huge.

Sam Demma (29:43):
Yeah. Cool. Well, Adriano, keep up the great work. I hope you have a white and snowy Christmas this might come out after Christmas and make no chronological sense, but that’s okay. Thank you so much for coming

Adriano Carota (30:00):
It could make sense up here though. It could make sense up here though. Maybe not to Christmas, but to the white stuff on the ground. Yeah.

Sam Demma (30:06):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, thanks again. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Adriano Carota (30:12):
Well, Sam, I hope you keep up the great work too, cuz you’re a great asset to young people. So keep it up and I appreciate you having me. Thanks so much.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Adriano Carota

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.

Mike Thiessen – Instruction, Curriculum, & Technology Coordinator at Fort La Bosse School Division

Mike Thiessen - Instruction, Curriculum, & Technology Coordinator at Fort La Bosse School Division
About Mike Thiessen

Mike Thiessen (@MikeThiessen) is the Instruction, Curriculum and Technology Co-ordinator at Fort La Bosse School Division. Over the past 20+ years, he has worked in the field of education as a Curriculum Developer, Teacher, School Principal, and now in his current position as a Divisional Co-ordinator.

He has a deep passion to provide students with safe and enriching learning environments where they can learn to set and achieve goals.  As a husband and a father of four, he enjoys spending time coaching sports, making music, travelling, and golfing. 

Connect with Mike:  Email  |  Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike Thiessen
Resources Mentioned

Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

The Heggerty Reading Curriculum

The OrtonGillingham Approach

Fort La Bosse School Divison

The BYTE 2022 Education Conference

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):
Mike welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your journey that brought you to where you are today in education.

Mike Thiessen (00:13):
Hey, thanks Sam. It’s really great to be here. When I heard about the opportunity to sit down with you and, and talk about what I do and also what, you know, have that conversation with you, because I’ve seen some of the stuff that you’re doing, and I was just excited because it’s, it’s an opportunity to be able to talk to people in education and maybe people that just wanna be inspired by educators. So when I heard about this, it was, yeah, pretty exciting. So thank you for inviting me here. Why do I do what I do? Why, what brought me to it here? Well, you know, I started out my career. Oh man, it’s gotta be over 20 years ago now. And so the reason why I’m in education is because I love people. I enjoy hanging out with people.

Mike Thiessen (00:56):
Relationships to me are number one. People are number one. That’s, that’s the most important thing in my life. And, and so when I was younger I worked at a summer camp when I was in my teens and I had the opportunity to work with young people. And I just saw how much of a difference that you can make in a, in a person’s life. If you’re having that opportunity to to speak life into them and to do positive things that are gonna make a difference in their life. And then you watch the changes that can take place and, and how that can actually affect a, a young person. And so that’s what inspired me. That’s why I became an educator because I felt, Hey, I wanna do this every day of my life. I wanna be able to impact kids.

Mike Thiessen (01:34):
I wanna impact young people. And so that’s, that’s the, the journey that took me here was, was starting out in a summer camp. And then obviously I had other major influence series of my life. Like, like my dad, my dad’s a, a teacher, his dad was a teacher. And so I saw the effect that they had and the impact that they had. And so because of that I was inspired to do that and, and, and it’s natural for me. I enjoy, I enjoy hanging out with people. I enjoy hearing people’s stories. I enjoy ma you know, starting relationships and, and making sure that you know, I actually take the time to listen to people and, and get to know who they are and, and, and why they are, who they are, you know? And so that’s, that would be why I’m an educator. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (02:15):
Walk me through the camp experience, what that was like for you growing up. And it sounds like it had an emotional impact on, on you, if it really stuck with you and drove you towards wanting to work with kids, walk me through what it looked like.

Mike Thiessen (02:29):
Sure. Yeah. So working at a summer camp, it’s, it’s very unique. It’s not, it’s not your typical summer job. Obviously it’s, it’s one of those where it becomes 24 7, you know, and for me when I first started out, I was, I was 17 and as I was a counselor and, and it becomes a, a 24 7, like I said, you know, you go in and it’s a week. So you’re spending, you’re spending a full week with these, with these kids. And it could be a six year old, seven year old, eight year old, nine year olds, depending on the week. And so you’ve got these little, little guys running around and we’re going from one activity to the other, we’re swimming, you know, they’re, they’re doing archery, they’re riding horses playing games in the field. And it’s really, you know, it’s one of those experiences where you really can’t you can’t replicate it anywhere else.

Mike Thiessen (03:12):
Mm it’s it’s, it’s, it’s very unique and it is it’s own thing. And what we found was that these kids might be coming in from, from really tough backgrounds, you know, like they might be coming from, from areas where you know, where they’re with child and family services and they don’t have a mom and dad anymore. And so they’re, you know, in the foster system and that kind of thing. And so they’re coming in and they might be carrying a lot, a lot of baggage and a lot of hurts and a lot of other things, but they come in and they, all of a sudden they’re able to hear and have you speak life into them and say, Hey, you’re person, you know, like you are worth something. And I value you, you know, when they hear those words, all of a sudden you’d see that smile come on their face and you’d, you’d watch them at the beginning of the week, going from this person who’s, you know, obviously going through a hard time and sad and not, not, not doing well.

Mike Thiessen (03:53):
And all of a sudden at the end of the week, they’re, they’re smiling and they’re happy, and they’ve got this, this, this spring in their step. And so able to be part of that is, yeah, it’s really, it’s really unique. It’s really special. The other piece to that too, is the relationship with the other staff. They almost become your brothers and sisters, you know, because you’re working all together as a team and, and you’ve got one goal and that’s to be able to give that kid that came to that camp, the best experience that they can have. Right. And so to have a team of people doing that and, and hanging out together and, and being able to spend that time together as staff, those are they’re lifelong relationships. Like I’ve got one of my best friends is still, you know, I met him at camp, you know? Wow. And he was one that worked with me and he was a you know, one of those people that had major impact and continuously have a major impact on my life. And so, you know, I look at that period of time and I realize, Hey, that really shaped who I am today. And it’s also steered a lot of the, the career choices I’ve made and, and things that I do. So it’s, yeah, it’s a wonderful, been a wonderful experience for sure. That

Sam Demma (04:52):
Was at 17 years old. At what age did you make your mental decision that you wanted to get into education? Because it sounds like your passion for working with kids and working in a team could have taken you in many different directions, but it took you here. At what age did you make the decision? This is the path I wanna pursue. And what did making that decision look like?

Mike Thiessen (05:14):
I was 19 when I finally said, okay, this is what I’m doing. And so I actually went through a few different phases. I, I tried at a few different jobs. I worked in the area of carpentry, you know, I did some, some plumbing. I drove a truck for a while, so it was an in semi, you know, doing some, some short hauls. So I spent time working with my hands. I spent time doing those, those blue collar, you know, getting out there and, and working hard. And it, and I’m, I can, I can do that. I don’t hard work, like that’s, I grew up on the farm. So I, that that’s not an issue, you know, I actually enjoy it. I, I like working with my hands. But it was, yeah, it was through the experiences at camp.

Mike Thiessen (05:52):
And then it was through talking to other people. And then just realizing that you know, what, education holds an opportunity where you can make impact, and it can be a daily job. You can make a living in doing it, but at the same time, you’re actually able to make change. And so it’s not just going to a job and doing something so you can get a paycheck it’s actually going and making a difference. And then, yeah, the paycheck is it’s important, right? Cuz that’s what keeps you going. And it makes you can buy house and pay for food and all that. But that isn’t the main focus. The focus is actually what you do, you know, that, that daily getting outta bed, why do I do what I do well be so I can make an impact so I can make change.

Sam Demma (06:29):
You got me curious, because you mentioned your dad really inspired you to get into education. And then what I didn’t know about you was that you grew up on a farm. Did he do both roles? Like, was he a farmer and also an educator? Tell me a little bit about your father and how he had an impact on, you know, your decision to get into teaching.

Mike Thiessen (06:46):
Yeah, absolutely. So growing up, dad, he, he started out as a farmer. Yes. and then he went into university a little bit later in his career. He would’ve been in his thirties and it was, it was during that time when farming was getting a little bit tough, we had a few years of, of drought and then prices were getting a little higher and, and interest rates were getting higher. So dad had to go back to school and he actually became a teacher. He, he enjoys people. He, he, he actually was a, he worked as a, a minister as well, a pastor in a church. And so he did three things growing up. And so yeah, so the, the teaching piece was actually just it was, it was part of because he was very good at it and, and because he enjoyed it, but it was also because he needed to put bread on the table.

Mike Thiessen (07:27):
And so that was something that you know, he, he enjoyed doing it and he went and made it a career and he farmed at the same time. So for me growing up yeah, being on the farm, learned a lot of those skills, but then a also seen, has dad worked hard, you know, he’s give going hard every day. And, and so for him to be able to to do a good job teaching and do farming and, and take care of us as kids and, and mom obviously was a huge part of that as well. My mom obviously was his partner and, and, and working alongside of him with that too. But yeah, they, they definitely had an impact on, on the reason why I became, you know, a teacher and, and went into the education field for sure. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:04):
The field itself looked a lot different over the past two years than maybe it did for your first 18 or 19 years, depending on how long you’ve been in education. What were some of the challenges that you personally faced and saw your colleagues and peers go going through? And now that we’re kind of coming outta that time period, a little bit slowly. Mm-Hmm what

Mike Thiessen (08:25):
Are some, we’re not there yet? We’re not there yet. but we are getting close. We’re getting close.

Sam Demma (08:30):
Yeah. What are some of the exciting things or opportunities you’re looking forward to, and then also some of the challenges you guys are all you’ve all been faced with.

Mike Thiessen (08:38):
I think for, for educators right now what I’m looking at and I’m, just, I, I feel very thankful for the people that are in the field, because I feel like they do have a heart for, for what they’re doing. Yeah. So that part, I, I wanna say first, I, I have full respect and unbelievable. I I’m blown away. Like I, I just, I, I, I, I, every day I look at what educators are doing and the things that they’ve done over the last year and a half, and I’ve just huge respect for every single one of those teachers who’s in that classroom and doing what they do, because it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been one of those where oh, just another day, you don’t like, know it’s every day you wake up and it could be different. You, you could be, you could be shifting, you could be changing something within your classroom.

Mike Thiessen (09:21):
You might have a new protocol that you have to put in place or a new rule or, or something physically that you have to change within the classroom. So I have huge, huge respect for teachers for that. I think the next big challenge that I see coming, and, and like I said, I, I totally respect everything that’s been done, but because of all these challenges that we face, I feel like there are some gaps in learning it’s that have come through this. And, and it’s because we’ve had to move to remote learning. We’ve had to you know, maybe change the way that we do our teaching within the classroom. And so what we’re seeing now is that there are some gap gap, and it’s not the full 20 students that are in classroom or 30 students that are in the classroom.

Mike Thiessen (10:00):
We’re seeing it, that it might be that 40% or, or 30% of the students have, have these gaps that normally probably wouldn’t have been there as predominantly. We wouldn’t have seen them as, as, as, as, as a big of a deal. And so I think that’s our next big challenge is how are we gonna find ways to hold those students and have them so that they can make make graduation so that they can get to level prior to even, you know, hopefully within the next couple of years and, and we can sprint and get them up to that spot where, where they need to be. And so I think that’s our next big two out is to find ways to, to, to bring those students up that, that need it, and that have already fallen behind a bit because of this, this last year and a half of COVID and, and the struggles that have gone through that.

Mike Thiessen (10:49):
The nether big thing is taking care of each other. We need staff to be able to pull together. We need to be teams. We need to make sure that we encourage each other and we’re looking out for each other. And we also need to realize that we’re gonna still need to work hard, you know, like we can’t, we can’t just take a whew, a breath and, and, and relax, like, yes, we do need to find ways to recharge, but let’s recharge so that we can run. Yeah. Not so that we can come back into the classroom and, and just kind of me and, and, or through the next year and a half, cuz we actually are gonna need to work. There’s a lot of work to be done and it can be great and it can be done. But we’re gonna have to recharge ourselves and make sure that we’re healthy ourselves in order to do

Sam Demma (11:27):
That on the flip side, what are some of the things you are extremely excited about seeing I know you’re hosting the bike conference. You sound like you’re somebody who’s extremely passionate about how technology can be integrated in the classroom. You’re also someone who loves hockey and is excited about the fact that students are slowly starting to get back into sports. Tell me about some of the exciting things you’re seeing and hoping will continue to happen in the future.

Mike Thiessen (11:58):
Yeah. So some of the stuff that’s going on in the, in the schools and with our students is that yes, we are doing, you know, we are doing school sports within the cohorts, of course. And obviously using, you know, COVID restrictions and doing what we need to do there. But we’re getting back into it, you know, like we’re actually being able to interact with each other a bit and, and we’re back in the classrooms. Yes, we’re wearing masks while we’re in the ma classrooms, but we are in the classrooms. It’s not remote. You know, those things are exciting to me like that, that means we’re actually able to, to be human. We’re able to be around each other relationships. I’ve said it before. They’re number one, it’s always about relationships. And without those relationships you can’t you can’t do the things that we do as educators.

Mike Thiessen (12:41):
It’s not as effective. Yeah, it can, there can be teaching that takes place without relationships, but not effective teaching. Yeah, it has. We have, it starts there, it starts, it starts being able to interact and, and making a difference within people’s lives. And so when I look at at the future I get excited about the skills that we’ve built because of the challenges we faced. Right. Hmm. Cause there having been quite a few, like you talked about technology, we’ve learned a lot of new, great tools and we’ve learned how to use them. And as teachers I’m watching, as people who have never used Google classroom before, whereas a learning management system, all of a sudden became experts within a year and a half, you know, or people who with an office 365, they’re not afraid to, to fire up teams and have a, a meeting with, with other people and to be able to do that video conferencing call.

Mike Thiessen (13:27):
So and you and I we’re, we’re in different provinces right now, you know, and we’re sitting down and having a conversation and, and talking about education may not have happened two years ago. And so when I look at what COVID has, has presented as challenges yeah, that wasn’t fun. I don’t ever wanna go through that again. But I’m so thankful for the things that we’ve learned and the things that we can use as, as skills for the future. They may not be used every day. I hope they aren’t you, but let’s use them for the good that we have, you know, and, and not, and not just dismiss it as something that has passed, but it’s like, Hey, yeah, let’s build on that. And that’s, let’s continue to move forward on those things. One thing that I’ve noticed too, is with social media, taking off in the last five years and things like TikTok and, you know, shorts on YouTube and things like that.

Mike Thiessen (14:12):
I’m watching as, as students who are growing up, they’re almost becoming producers and editors and those types of things. I’m really excited to see what’s gonna happen when they walk into the classroom, you know, 10 years from now. And even some of these young teachers that are coming in, people that are your age, right. They’re gonna walk into the classroom and they’re gonna have this set of skills that I didn’t have because we didn’t have social media. When I was first starting out as an educator, we didn’t have a lot of these tools that you have even podcasts, things like that. Those weren’t even there back then. And so to be able to see all these great tools that have taken and broken down all these barriers in the walls, now we can use them in the classroom and, and use it for learning and it can be part of what we do.

Sam Demma (14:49):
And it’s just a different perspective, right? I think having access to different schools, going through different experiences gives you a different perspective and potentially a young, a younger teacher or the next wave of teachers will walk into the classroom and reimagine things too. Right. Absolutely. The same way that you would’ve reimagined things when you started 20 years ago or slight changed and adjusted, and along your journey, teaching, working in education, I’m sure there’s been some really helpful resources you’ve had along the way, whether it be people maybe even courses, books, like if you had to pick a couple of those things to share that have been very helpful for you and your own journey what would some of those things be?

Mike Thiessen (15:37):
For me, I would say wow, there’s so many of them, right? Like, and, and there’s people that have been involved in all of that. One that’s been really impactful for me this year. And I’ll, and I’ll stick to it. Cause I think it’s making a change currently in our, in our school division and within the, within our schools right now is that phenomic awareness and phonological awareness. And this is for early literacy. We’re talking about students that are just learning how to read. Mm. And if I was to ask somebody, what’s the most important skill that a child is gonna learn, whether they’re two years old, all the way, three to 21 years old, what is, what is gonna be the most important skill? And I think most or many people would say reading, we need to know how to read.

Mike Thiessen (16:20):
Like, that’s, I know it’s a basic skill and we kind of take it for granted sometimes, especially here in Canada, because our literacy rate is so high. Right. And so we look at reading as being something that is just, yeah, that’s gonna happen. Right. And so what we’re seeing is, and, and especially this fall and in even last year was we were, we were noticing that a lot of our, our students coming into our schools they were missing that ability to rhyme, to blend, you know, sounds. And it’s just those basic basic skills that we thought. We would just take them for granted and just assume that they would know how to do it. And so we’re watching as, as large chunks within our classroom, don’t have those skills. And so we’ve been looking at there’s a researcher Haggerty. Who’s been doing, doing research around anemic awareness and that’s program that honestly, it’s making an impact and it’s changing a lot of the, the teaching that’s going on in our, and it’s only, you know, it’s only taking 10 minutes, 15 minutes in a day with these students that are 5, 6, 7, 8, a nine years old.

Mike Thiessen (17:14):
So grade 1, 2, 3, 4. And it’s only just doing a very short amount of time with these students. And we’re actually watching, as these students are making huge gains in their, their reading levels in their, their spelling. And then we’re also, we’re using a little bit of another program that we’re using as Orton Gillingham for, for dyslexia and we’re, and it’s actually using it with, in the classroom as a whole as well. And we’re watching as, as it’s making a difference in, in this reading. And it’s the, these two programs that right now for me are very exciting because it’s actually, I’m watching as, as we look at the research and we look at the numbers, it’s making a difference. It’s, it’s actually, it’s changing the abilities and the skills for these grade 1, 2, 3 students, and it’s making it so that as teachers we’re actually able to have some breakthroughs.

Mike Thiessen (17:59):
And I talked about sprinting earlier and about being able to move forward, this is gonna help us with some of those gaps. We’re gonna be able to move forward with that, cuz once the student’s not to read now dig the next step. You need that as that base. If you’re in grade three and you’re not able to read yet, it’s gonna be pretty tough to cover some of the science and social studies and some of the other curriculums that you, you need to cover. So yeah, so that’s, that’s a big one for me right now is that program right there.

Sam Demma (18:22):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like it’s making a massive impact. I can’t wait to continue to hear the ripples of that.

Mike Thiessen (18:31):
and it’s in early stages. Like we have some teachers that are really excited about it and jumping on board and I’m really hoping that it’ll and it, and, and it’s, we’ve got a good group and I’m hoping it’ll spill over into, you know, the, the rest of the school division, not just one or two schools, I think we were at about three or four schools that are working on these programs and it’s, it’s making an impact. It’s making a difference and it’s, it’s exciting and it, and it’s doing it because it is working. That’s why it’s spreading. That’s why it’s moving. And, and it’s because it is actually helping students be able to read.

Sam Demma (18:59):
Ahead from your experiences at camp. Yeah. You mentioned one aspect of it that was awesome. Was working together as a team and that’s something that leave is also so important in education, but in anything. Yeah. How do, how do you make sure that all the staff and like from a school are unified and on the same page, you know, working cohesively and together, is it about again building relationships and trust or like, how do we ensure that that happens in a, in a school

Mike Thiessen (19:33):
It’s, it’s a culture, right? It’s something that it happens within and it’s because, and, but it has to be done through effort. Yeah. You know, like we, we know that it does take effort. It does take, it does take some planning and it, and it’s interesting because leaders that, that do it well it ha happens naturally just because it’s who they are in, what they do. And part of that is like you talked about coming together as a team and what does that look like? Well, it’d be that conversation before or after class with a teacher between a school administrator and a teacher or between another teacher mm-hmm it’s that pre COVID that high five and the hall, you know, back when we could do fives, then we’ll get back there someday. I’m sure. It’s, it’s that you know, right after classes are done and one of those teachers, you can just see they’ve had a tough day and you walk over to them and you say like, Hey, Hey, how you doing?

Mike Thiessen (20:25):
You know, what can I help you with what’s what’s going on in your classroom? And it’s that, that reaching out and saying I need help in this area. What did you do with this day? And I noticed he was off today. What was, what was the methods or the, the strategies that you used it’s it’s that collaboration and teamwork. And like I said, though, it starts, it starts from leaders. It really does like leaders. We have to watch and see what’s going on within, within our staff. And we have to monitor that what’s that environment look like is there, is there, is there positively having, you know, are people encouraging each other? And then you have to take time as a leader. You have to either write that note and say, Hey, you’re doing a great job. You know, I really appreciate what you did.

Mike Thiessen (21:02):
I saw what you did with that student. And it was amazing keep doing that. You . And so when a person hears that and when it comes from a leader what happens is they feel inspired and they feel like tomorrow, I’m gonna do that again. You know? They might know, and you might say it verbally, too, that can make a difference as well. I, I listened to a leadership podcast and, and one of the, the gentleman that was talking about Greg Rochelle actually is, is the name of the gentleman. And, and one of the things he says is, you can’t say, thank you enough. You know, if you’ve, if you’ve said it, once you gotta say it again, like, it’s one of those where it’s like, if you think you’ve said it enough times, save it another 10 times, you know?

Mike Thiessen (21:37):
Yeah. Like it’s one of those things where you have to encourage people. And if you think you’ve done it enough, do it 10 more times because people need to hear that they need to hear that positive reinforcement. And they also have to hear that you do appreciate them. And so I think that’s where it starts from, and that’s where you’re gonna have that teamwork and, and that coming together. And then the other piece that I would encourage is those people that are part of a team, never, ever, ever tear somebody else apart. That’s part of your team, all that will do is just tear you apart because that’s, that’s your teammate. Like if you’re out there and there’s 20 people on a, on a hockey team and you decide you’re gonna go and hit one of your linemates while he’s out there on the ice with me and, and you decide, okay, you know what I’m gonna stop him from getting the puck, cuz I want the puck you’ve you’ve basically taken a team game and you turned it against itself.

Mike Thiessen (22:21):
It’s not gonna happen. You’re gonna lose the game, guaranteed. It’s exactly the same. If you ever tear somebody else down in the staff room, or if you talk behind somebody else, that’s exactly what you would be doing is you’d be destroying that team. And you’re actually destroying yourself when you’re destroying your team member. And so my biggest encouragement to, to staff members would be like, Hey, if you, if you have something that needs to be talked, yeah. Go talk to that person, but do it in a very constructive yeah. Way, but never behind their back or to somebody else or tear down the team because that’s, that’s the worst thing for it. And then it, it would just cause Ascension and it would cause make it so that it doesn’t work. So as a leader, you gotta be sensitive to that too, to make sure that you are always very much you can be truthful. Absolutely. But you have to be careful about who you tell things to or what you talk about to, to your, your staff members and, and, and the people that work for you. And, and make sure that it’s done in a very constructive and a, in a positive weight and, and where we’re moving forward and we’re doing, what’s what’s best for the team itself. And, and obviously at the end of the day, that’ll be the best for kids.

Sam Demma (23:17):
Rochelle sounds like a familiar name. Do you recall the, the name of the podcast?

Mike Thiessen (23:23):
Yep. It’s the leadership podcast.

Sam Demma (23:26):
Leadership podcast. Yeah. , that’s awesome.

Mike Thiessen (23:28):
Yeah. And he’s phenomenal. He’s got huge subscriber base and, and he does one every, I believe it’s once a month, he has a, a leadership podcast podcast and highly recommended it’s it’s very good.

Sam Demma (23:38):
All right. Awesome. Yeah. And if you could travel back in time, speak to, you know, 19, early, 20 year old, Mike, who’s just getting into teaching and education, but with the wisdom and advice you have now, mm-hmm, looking back. What would you tell yourself? Or what advice would you give yourself?

Mike Thiessen (23:59):
I would say the biggest one would be focus. That would be it. Yeah. Focus on your goals and make sure that when you spend your time doing what you’re doing, have purpose, purpose, and focus. I think we can do, there are so many opportunities and there are so many great things we could do. It’s important to actually sit down and say, okay, which one is the one that’s important? Yeah. Which is the one that’s gonna have, have the impact, which is, which is the opportunity that’s gonna, I’m gonna look back on and say, okay. But I’m glad I made that choice. I’m glad I did what I did. And so if that would be the advice I could, I would give that to the advice for the 40 year old Mike as well. , you know, like I don’t think that ever stops.

Mike Thiessen (24:43):
You know, just because we are gonna have our opportunities, we are gonna get up in the morning. We’re gonna look at their at our day and say, okay, what is it that we’re accomplishing or our week or a month? And I would say, let’s focus on, on what’s important. Let’s not let let distractions or, or things that could be good, get in our way or cause us to choose something that’s second best. Let’s let’s focus on what’s what’s best. And look at your vision. What is your vision? Is it accomplishing your vision?

Sam Demma (25:10):
That’s awesome. Focus is a huge component. I think of anyone striving towards any outcome. So, yeah, it’s a good constant reminder. Always. Mike, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing some of your experiences, stories, resources, this was a great conversation. If someone listening would like to get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out, send you a message or ask a question?

Mike Thiessen (25:37):
Probably Twitter. I think that’s probably the…I don’t have a lot of social media. You know, so I think the one that’s that’s out there in public and people could probably access me the best would probably be Twitter and I’m @mikethiessen So that would probably be the best way to go. You can DM me on there or follow me on there.

Sam Demma (25:54):
Awesome. Mike sounds good. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Mike Thiessen (25:59):
That’s awesome. Thank you, Sam. It’s been fun.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike Thiessen

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.

Kristina Willing – 38-year teaching veteran (Lessons Learned)

Kristina Willing - 38-year teaching veteran (Lessons Learned)
About Kristina Willing

Kristina (@wewilling7) is a retired teacher/administrator in the beautiful Bulkley Valley of Northern British Columbia. In her 38 joy-filled years as an educator, she has taught in BC, Alberta and Manitoba in almost all subject areas from Kindergarten to Grade 12; she loves helping kids reach for their goals and dreams.

In her “retirement”, Kristina is the team lead on Northern School District and Rotary District committees to bring excellent Leadership opportunities to BC students.

As well, she continues her 30 yr. passion for making the world a smaller place by organizing student and family tours to various worldwide destinations, including New York, Japan, Costa Rica, Scotland-Ireland, and multiple European countries.

Connect with Kristina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Rotary International

What is a TTOC?

Bulkley Valley SD54 School District Website

Leadership Studies at University of Victoria

Bachelors of Education at University of British Columbia

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 so excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest today is Kristina Willing. She is a retired educator and she’s done a ton of work related to service. She has a demonstrated history of working in education management, strong professional skills in word Excel, PowerPoint textiles.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She’s been heavily involved in student leadership, taught social studies and history, is passionate about teaching and, and lesson planning. The things that were very intriguing to me though, was her work that she did in Africa. And you’ll hear about a bunch of it, not only in Africa, but a ton of different countries and the work that she’s done in Kenya and the work that she’s done with rotary international and the work that she’s done in, in launching leadership events, around her province and internationally there’s, there’s just so much that Kristina and I get into here today that I, I know you will love, and I know you will learn from, so enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Kristina, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the reason behind why you got involved in education?


Kristina Willing (01:59):
Oh, in education okay. My name is Kristina Willing and I have been a teacher since 1982, so I don’t know, 38 years, something like that. And I actually started teaching the little kids around our neighborhood when I was about seven years old. So my mother said she knew I was gonna be a teacher. You then , but it’s, I’ve just always loved it. I, when I was seven, I was teaching the three and four year olds, their colors and numbers and, and yeah. And then as I got older, I would help out in the library and help out in the lower classes. And when I was in high school, I would tutor the younger kids. And so it’s always, it’s been part of me. I love working with youth.


Sam Demma (02:47):
Hmm. That’s so awesome. And when you look back, like, I mean, working with youth, you’ve done it in so many different capacities, whether it’s training teachers in rural Kenya or doing work with rotary or doing work in the classroom what made you decide to get into formal education and work as a teacher? Did you have a teacher in your life who really inspired you and, and motivated you and pushed you, or like what exactly led to the direction of the, the direction or the decision to being a teacher?


Kristina Willing (03:16):
That’s a really good question. Actually. One of the reasons was because of a, a teacher that trying to figure out how to word it, that wasn’t necessarily didn’t handle things the best way. And, and traumatized me when I was in this teach classroom when I was in primary school. Wow. And I thought if I’m ever gonna be a teacher, I’m never gonna be that kind of a teacher so, yeah. So it’s, it’s funny that, you know, you say, what was the motivation, but and I don’t know, maybe that’s, that’s one of the reasons why I became the kind of teacher that I was. Mm. I had some for ally dynamic teachers over the years, and I, every time that I would be in a classroom or be working with a teacher that had qualities that I admired, and I tried to exemplify that later in my own teaching.


Sam Demma (04:16):
Hmm. No, that’s awesome. And the, throughout your journey as a teacher you did so many different projects and you’ve done so many different things even outside of the classroom. What inspired you to take your, your passion for teaching outside of the walls of a, of a school?


Kristina Willing (04:35):
Well, within the walls of the school, you’re, you’re restricted to the parameters of the subject. UT teach. You can teach it in many different ways so that you can open opportunities up for kids, but I wanted to give kids more opportunities than what is available in the classroom. And I wanted to show them that there’s things out there that if they have a passion for, there was ways to go forward with that passion. And if I could help them in any way, then was it, I did a rotary exchange when I was 15. Wow. And that really, really opened my eyes up to the opportunities that were there for youth. Yeah. I turned 16 in Australia and lived with 10 different families and just, it was just one of the most exquisite experience is that I’ve ever had in my life. Hmm. It really helped me to not only just to grow up, but to see the world differently. And so I just wanted that opportunity for my students. And I figured that one of the ways of doing it was to expand outside the classroom. I actually take students on still to this day, take students on excursions around the world and will continue doing that. And as long as I feel able to , mm-hmm.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s so awesome. Can you tell me more about how that experience of living with the exchange families really impacted you as the young person? Cause I wanna understand where your passion comes from for giving students those similar opportunities. Okay.


Kristina Willing (06:06):
well, when I first got to Australia and I was with the rotary club I went to the first meeting and I was put into the family of the home. That would, was my kind of guardian for the, for the year. And then they sat down with me and they said, well, we have quite a few families who would like to host you. So really you can choose between three and no more than 10 of those families. And I said, okay, how about 10 ? And they said 10. And I said, yeah, I said, that’ll give me more opportunity to get to know people and, and, you know, have have a bigger, bigger cultural experience for me. Hmm. So I, I lived with 10 different families in 12 years and every single one of those families were different from each other. So I lived with, I lived with families that had quite a few kids and I lived with families, a couple families that had no children.


Kristina Willing (07:03):
I lived with a pastor and his wife and his aging mother. And and that was, that was just amazing. I got, he, he was one of those pastors that traveled to different churches every single Sunday. And I think he had three or four different churches. So, wow. I went on a, on a few of those as well with him. I live with with a family that owned a tobacco plantation and, and had a they had a, a tragedy where a couple of their silos where intentionally arsoned and I was living with them at the time and they kept me through that. Like they said, you know what, we’re going through a family, you know, sort of a financial crisis. And that’s okay. Like, if you’re, if you would like to stay with us, then you can also learn how to go through a financial crisis in your future in a different way. So like all of the, those different experiences. Oh, sorry. My children, I have that’s have people living with me, so no worries. I’m just going to I’m just gonna let them know that I’m on a conference on my room with my door shut. Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry. Sorry.


Sam Demma (08:15):
it’s okay. It’s okay.


Kristina Willing (08:17):
So yeah, there, no, I love having my family lived with me into this that’s okay. So yeah. So living with the different families I, I loved every different aspect of it and they were all very different and I mean, truthfully, some were easier than others and, and you learn all sorts of different experiences by going through stuff where you, you get along really super well instantly with other people and other with others, you need to learn adaptations and you need to learn empathy and you need to learn another person’s perspective and you need to not give up.


Sam Demma (08:59):
Yeah. So true. And I was fascinated that you said you went on a rotary trip when you were in the middle of your teens. I think that service, education and service learning is so important. And it sounds like you’re someone who wholeheartedly believes in the power of exp learning and being of service to others. Why do you think those types of experiences are important even today?


Kristina Willing (09:23):
You mean the service?


Sam Demma (09:25):
Ones? Yeah, the service aspect of them.


Kristina Willing (09:28):
Oh, because I think that to become a whole person, you, it’s good for you to understand another person’s perspective and, or even another culture’s perspective or it’s easy. It, it’s better for you if you learn how to see both sides and you do that by giving. I think that’s my, my feeling anyways. Also that’s awesome. Giving has also always been something that completes me. Like it’s, it’s a part of my nature. I’ve actually had to learn how to not give so much that I don’t have anything , But that that’s another story in itself, right.


Sam Demma (10:13):
Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And you did do a trip to Kenya to teach teachers. Can you tell me more about that and what sparked the interest in doing it?


Kristina Willing (10:23):
Oh my gosh. That, that is just, it’s an amazing, and, and we still are, actually are in contact with, with the teachers to this day. So it’s only a year and a bit, but well, when we got the notification from our school district that teachers could apply for this the vocational training with rotary, I took a look at it and thought, oh my gosh, like it’s got everything I love, I love the rotary aspect. I love the working with with other teachers who are working with children. I love the helping aspect, I, the travel aspect. So everything sort of fit together. And then I put my application in and was just ecstatic when I was chosen. And it just, it, again, it opened up another door to, to helping others, but also to growing myself, like I’m, when you work with people from a completely different culture you have to come at it from where they are.


Kristina Willing (11:28):
So that was one of the things that our team, when we were first trying to figure out what is the best way that we can help these teachers help the students they work with. And we all stepped back and said, where are they now? And what could we do to help them get further? Not necessarily help them get where we are because we, you know our education system is, is quite a bit different. Mm. And then we also realized that once we got down there, we might be altering on the spot, which is exactly what happened. We would walk into a school and there’s, there’s no running water and there’s pit toilets and there’s there’s classrooms that have playing brick walls with absolutely nothing on it and dirt floors. And the kids were carrying their chairs from their room to the, to the meeting area where we would have a big group thing going on with, with the whole school.


Kristina Willing (12:28):
Like it’s just a totally different experience. So being able to help the teachers come from where they are and have them, and, and a lot of the learning in Kenya, not so long ago was really wrote mm-hmm, , they don’t have a lot of textbooks, so wrote, worked really well. But for, for all of the new stuff for the kids to be kind of part of where the rest of the world is, they needed to have, they need to have some of those other skills. And it’s those teachers that need those skills to give it to the kids. And they’re just leaps and bounds ahead of where they were. Even, and like a year or two ago, they’ve been working with other people as well as the vocational training team. But the rotary international grant brought technology with us as well that we left with the schools and then taught them how to use that technology and continued to use it. Wow.

Sam Demma (13:34):
That’s so cool. And, and, and you strive to bring students on experiences similar, I guess when we’re not in a global pandemic


Kristina Willing (13:44):
Yep. I love, I love taking kids all over the world.


Sam Demma (13:47):
And where have some of those trips taken you with students?


Kristina Willing (13:51):
Oh my gosh. Okay. So with students, I’ve gone to Japan a couple of times,


Sam Demma (13:59):
New York, New York. Tell me about why, like, what was the, tell me about it.


Kristina Willing (14:03):
Well, well, the Japan one actually started when I was younger because my family took in exchange students through rotary as well as through other areas. And we Siri is, which is where I grew up and went to school. Siri had a teacher who had taught in Japan and had created the, sort of like a sister city with Goma. So, so Siri and Goma, which they’re both, both, almost the same size actually, they, they formed this bond with this teacher who used to work over there, who taught for, so he started an exchange program. I went over the year I graduated for a few weeks on the exchange with students from all over Siri. And I can’t remember how many high schools, but all of us were from different high schools. And we lived with host families over there.


Kristina Willing (14:52):
And I ended up living with with an English teacher for a while. I, I lived with the girl that stayed with me, but she was in the middle of exams. So I moved in with the English teacher. Hmm. And we were totally immersed in school. And and I ended up actually working in the English teachers class classroom all the time, instead of going to all the classes and helping him with his classes. And then I got the opportunity when I started teaching for Siri to to join the students who were going on exactly the same exchange that I went on over to Japan, but now I’m going as a teacher mm-hmm and that was in 2001. So two of my own children actually came on that particular exchange, but I went as a teacher with another teacher and I was able to have the kids again, they hosted with students there and I was able to meet up with Mr.


Kristina Willing (15:49):
Waa, who was the teacher that I stayed with when I went there in 1977 and met up with him who he was now a principal, and that was exciting. And then went back again a few years later, again, met up with him. But but this time I went over with other teachers and it just, Japan has always been such a nice place, but that 1977 was the one where I realized this is really cool. And the next opportunity I had to take students overseas was in 2001. And it was basically kids from all over Siri. Exactly the same exchange that many years later. And that just opened the door from then on. I started trying to figure out places I could take students.


Sam Demma (16:35):
Wow. So cool. So Japan, where else you don’t have to dive into the rest of the stories, but I’m curious to know where else have you gone.


Kristina Willing (16:43):
so I’ve gone to, I’ve taken students to, or like on, on places to Japan, New York France, Denmark Belgium, Italy, Costa Rica. I know there’s more, I love Costa Rica. Yeah. I love Costa Rica.


Sam Demma (17:09):
That was the, the culture. The people are so kind, pura vida, right?


Kristina Willing (17:13):
Pura vida. Yeah. Yeah. And the really cool thing about the Costa Rica one was we worked in some service stuff, so we did two things. Okay. One of the things my students did was help plant trees. Cool. Cause that’s a big thing we’re doing in Costa Rica is replanting. So we went to a, a place where we got a bunch of different native trees for that area. We went into the side of a hill that didn’t have many trees and my students planted trees. And the other thing was I requested that we get to go to an orphanage or, or some kind of a school site with my students. And both times we went, one time we went to a school and one time we went to an orphanage and we brought things for them like that we had put together. So my students had collected books and papers and, and art supplies and all sorts of different things that we left behind with the school and with the orphanage. And I just think it gives the students that opportunity to help. Yeah. So yeah, that’s pretty cool. It’s to the Vimy 100th anniversary of the of the, of the, the Vimy battle. Yeah. Who went to that, that was eye opening for everybody that went and that on that one, that was that actually, when I, when my tours transitioned a little bit, because I had quite a few parents on that one and the kids loved traveling with their parents. So now all of my tours involve family members as well.


Sam Demma (18:39):
Wow. That’s so cool. You know, speaking about opportunities, I think travel is a huge opportunity to learn, although right now it’s, it’s, it’s more to difficult unless you have VR headsets yeah. And virtual reality technology, but speaking of opportunities, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education today that right. Like right now it might not be travel, but what do you think are some of the, the opportunities that exist right now?


Kristina Willing (19:07):
In a way it is travel because now you can do the virtual thing. Right. Mm-hmm and that we didn’t, we didn’t know how to utilize the virtual to the best. And I think when the COVID hit, everyone went, oh my gosh, where are we going with this? Right. And I think we’ve actually turned it into something fairly wonderfully positive. And having it done, having students be able to meet other students virtually is, is a good thing. Like for an example, this opportunities conference it we’re having students be able to meet each other from all over the north. And like we’ve got, we’re gonna have kids up in DS and Atlan meeting up with kids in prince Rupert and, and Kimma and Smithers. And like that might not have been able to happen any other way. Yeah. Because of cost or travel or whatever. Right. Yeah. And so I think that’s really opened the door up for that. Hmm. Like, you know, making a good out of a bad thing.


Sam Demma (20:17):
Yeah. It’s so true. Sometimes it’s, it’s a lot about perspective O of the challenge, right? Sometimes if you look at it from a different angle, you see something very different, something that might even be positive, like you’re saying which is so awesome. Now what comes with education hand in hand is seeing young people grow, change, evolve, and transform. And I think one of the reasons, and I’m, I’m not a teacher myself, although I do work with a lot of young people in schools, but I think one of the main reasons why people are so drawn to education is the, the ability to impact and the possibility that you can, you know, not be solely responsible for someone’s success, but be someone who waters the seed or plants the seed, or nudges the student in a specific direction. And I’m curious to know over all your years of education and, and just working with young people in general, do you have any stories that stick out where students have transformed or, you know per se, if they were a plant started to grow because of an educator who was watering them and if it’s a very serious story, you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons.


Sam Demma (21:26):
But the reason I’m asking is because someone listening might be burnt out and forgetting why they got into education and working with young people. And one of your stories might remind them why it’s so important to keep doing what they’re doing. The world needs it now more than ever.


Kristina Willing (21:40):
Well, the one that jumps out at me is fairly serious. And I had, I don’t know if you, if some of my background came up, but I’m I also have taught and, and have been involved in theater for decades. I, I started in theater 50 years ago and I just, I love that aspect of it as well. And so in one of the schools that I was at, we, we would put on these huge shows. And one of the shows that we put on was sometimes I would do a musical and sometimes it wasn’t, and, and in this one show, and I’m not gonna say the show or anything because it’ll kind of pinpoint it more. Yeah. But I had, I had cast the play and we were doing the rehearsals. And the night before opening night, I had a student come up to me and say I just need to know how much you impacted me.


Kristina Willing (22:36):
And I’m like, well, thank you very much. And this student said, I was, when we were auditioning for this show, I was at my absolute lowest, and I didn’t even wanna live anymore. Mm. And then you cast me and and the student said that I believed in this student, it says, you believed in me to the point where, like I got, I got a, a lead role, one of the lead roles. And one of the things you’ve been telling us is that, you know, we are an ensemble and everybody’s challenges. We can help each other out, but we all make the show happen. And this student said that that’s what kept me going, because you had said, the show must go on and you trusted me. Mm-Hmm . And I did not go home and do what I was going to do the next night or the night after that.


Kristina Willing (23:29):
And I’m, I’m looking at this student and I went pardoned me. And they said that they actually had considered committing suicide. Wow. And changed their mind. And yeah. So that’s the biggest one. There’s been many, but that’s the one that you realize you don’t know when you’re impacting students negatively, you’re positively. So really you should try and make it positive. And I’ll tell you, sometimes you feel so burnt out. In my 38 years of teaching, I have had moments where I’ve thought, why am I doing it would be so much easier to do something else easier for me to do something else. And, and I know one time I was kind of, I felt like I was stagnating. I’d been teaching the same thing. And I actually went to the principal and I said, can you change up my assignment next year? Cuz I just need, I need something new.


Kristina Willing (24:24):
I need to I need to look differently at things. And so vice or the principal changed my assignment. And that was actually before I got back into to teaching theater. But yeah. So anyways, that’s the most impactful and every day AF before that and after that, but more so after that, I thought, I wonder if what I’ve said has in impacted a kid in a way that is a good way. And I’ve had students years later that have run into me on the street and said, oh my gosh, Mrs. Willie, like, look at, I have three kids now. And they’re just so excited to share their life with me. That says a lot. Cause I know that or I feel that if I wasn’t a teacher that had made some kind of a positive impact, they would probably cross the street. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:16):
Wow. It’s such a powerful story. I, I was talking to Sarah Dre, who’s a phenomenal teacher, a huge service education advocate. And she said, the reason I was so passionate about teaching and, and mentoring young people is because when I grow up, I don’t wanna be worried if they’re my neighbor. And I thought, what a, what a cool like perspective she’s like, I wanna make sure that they know that they should always be helping others and being kind to others and being a good neighbor. Even if it means helping your, you know, your neighbors shoveled their driveway or carry their lawn, their, their groceries or like yourself, if you see them on the street, you can have a beautiful conversation. Such a good story.


Kristina Willing (26:00):
Yeah. One of things that we have to remember as instructors that like, I know we say we need to take care of ourselves and I, I haven’t all always done that well. Mm. But it, when you start taking care of yourself, then you have the strength to continue helping some of those really tough, tough ones. Like yeah. Not tough kids, tough cases. Like when I look at a kid that’s struggling, I don’t see the, the negative. I don’t, well, it’s hard to say. I, I see I see pain and trauma and and a desire to maybe change, but not know how, or maybe not. I mean, even when, even when students have looked at me in the face and sworn at me cuz I, I did teach in like alternate programs and stuff. Mm-Hmm stuff like that. I’ve had kids throw things.


Kristina Willing (26:54):
I’ve had kids like, you know, be violent and stuff outside of my room. And you have to be able to see what’s under, underneath all that. Yeah. And that’s tough. And that’s where you need to look after yourself so that you can be able to look after other people. I love that. So taking the time, you know, taking the time to have a quiet space I started reading again. I stopped reading for a long time. Once I started just that’s one of my passions is reading. So I’ll it’s it gives you whatever it is that gives you that solace and that way to rejuvenate yourself, take the time to do that for yourself.


Sam Demma (27:35):
Hmm. I love that.


Kristina Willing (27:36):
And then there’s and then there’s more of you, right. Then there’s then you are able to help others.


Sam Demma (27:42):
It’s the whole idea. Not get better. Yeah. The whole idea that you can’t pour from an empty cup, right?


Kristina Willing (27:48):
Yeah. Even though you think you can.


Sam Demma (27:52):
Hmm.


Kristina Willing (27:52):
I love that. I had a, I had a principal who once said to me I was having when I was having one of my children and I was having some challenges during the pregnancy and I, I went into the, into the office and I said, I don’t know what I’m gonna do here. And I explained some of the things and the, and the principal said, you need to go home. And I said, what and she said, you need to go home and put your feet up. And she said, you know, I can get another teacher to look after your classroom. I can’t get another person to look after that baby. Mm. And I thought, oh my gosh, like that really open my eyes to, you have to take care of yourself or you can’t take care of others.


Sam Demma (28:29):
That’s such an empowering and powerful feedback. And it leads me to my next question. I was gonna ask you, if you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, knowing what you know now, what would you say? Like what, what wisdom would I part on, on younger on your younger self?


Kristina Willing (28:50):
Hmm. Wow. That’s a really good one. I’m not a back that I, I, would’ve learned to take like care of yourself. Yeah. Take care of myself and learn some of those things earlier. But I don’t know if I still would’ve done it. I’m thinking, listen to my mother said, if somebody says something about you and they don’t know you, but they’re calling you down or whatever, that’s not your problem. That’s theirs. Mm. But if someone says something about you and they know you well, and they think that they could help you, that’s your problem. If you don’t take their mm. And, and I think my best thing is to find people you trust that can give you that advice and mentor you through it. And then allow that. So maybe that’s taking care of yourself.


Sam Demma (29:46):
Yeah, no, that’s awesome.


Kristina Willing (29:47):
Be, be open to the people in your life and the, and the lessons in your life that you like, the people that you respect and the lessons that might help and not all of them are gonna be kind and fun lessons. Yeah. But every lesson is a lesson. And I use the example of, you know, one particular teacher in my early, early primary years that that really made it tough. For me to it, it just was not a good situation. And years later, I was, I realized I was able to take that situation and say, that’s the kind of teacher I’m not gonna be. Mm. Right. Rather than have that, this stuff that was happening. Devastate me.


Sam Demma (30:33):
I love that. Yeah. I think everyone around us is an example or a warning. Right. and your story makes it just ring so true to that. And you know, I think about, I was talking to a gentleman named Allen Stein the other day. And he, he was fortunate to work with some of the best basketball players in the world, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, like these big names in basketball. And he said, you know, Steph Curry, wouldn’t just take basketball, shooting advice from a random stranger. But if it was someone that he knew that could really help him and, and give him advice, he’d be the first person to tell that person, Hey, please give me advice. Please hold me accountable. So I think what you said about not, you know, not taking advice from people who don’t know you and who, who are just saying maybe negative things about you, but when it’s someone who does know you, who can help you, who, who is maybe even close with you, then yeah. You, you should probably give that person an opportunity to share.


Kristina Willing (31:33):
Yeah. And sometimes it might not be things you wanna hear. Mm. Like, you know, sometimes for an example, if it was my mom and my mom said something to me that my, my name with my family is Chrisy. So she said, Chrisy, you know, if you kind of looked at this a little bit differently, your life might go a little easier. I would listen because my mom loved me. And you know, that the only person like she wanted me to be was my best. Hm. So, but if it was somebody, you know, somebody else has said, you know what? You suck, you did this, or you did that. Then I might look at that and say, this is, this is coming from a different perspective. Yeah. And that, that person’s opinion doesn’t really matter to me because what they’re saying is more from their perspective then from what would make me better.


Sam Demma (32:26):
Hmm. Love that. So good. That’s so awesome. And if someone’s listening to this and has been inspired by any part of the conversation and just wants to get in touch and have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out?


Kristina Willing (32:39):
Well, probably through through the email. I mean II work at the school district 54 Bulkley valley. So people could like email me through that.


Sam Demma (32:56):
Email yeah. Email, email works the best. I’ll make sure to include it in the show notes of the episode. And yeah. If anyone wants to reach out, they can definitely do so, thank you so much again, for taking the time to chat and share some of your traveling stories and immense amounts of wisdom from so many years of teaching. I know that educators will listen to this and be inspired and learn a ton. So I just wanted to say, thank you again for taking the time to, to come on here and chat today.


Kristina Willing (33:22):
Yeah, you’re welcome. And if there is any other educators, especially the young ones that you know, would like to bounce some things around, I’m more than willing to maybe that’s the next area. I’m retired now from full-time teaching. So maybe that’s the next area I’m going to, although I’m now working with youth in conferences and stuff outside of the school, and still doing the traveling. Nice. But I would love to mentor other teachers if they’re, if they’re needing that.


Sam Demma (33:45):
Cool. All right, Kristina, thank you so much. And I will stay in touch with you and keep up the awesome work. Talk soon.


Kristina Willing (33:51):
Sam, it was good to talk to you.


Sam Demma (33:53):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. And as always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating in review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna 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 Kristina Willing

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

Natasha Daniel – Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner

Natasha Daniel - Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner
About Natasha Daniel

Natasha Daniel is a bilingual (French and English) project manager in the Youth Skills and Employment Program at MCG Careers.  A Certified Career Development Practitioner, Certified Work-Life Balance Coach, Certified Strengthening Families Coach and a Trained Trauma-Informed Community Facilitator with a strong passion for community and working with people.

Her passion for empowering others began while working as a Trainer and Restaurant Manager for Burger King Canada, working as an Educator in an Adult High School and working in Human Services managing programs. 

In 2013, after several years of gaining expertise in Program Management, Career Development, Family and Youth advocacy in Montreal, her family relocated to Edmonton. Joining MCG Careers in 2013 with a wealth of knowledge she believes her career has further evolved in program management and process managing while empowering youth to increase their strengths, become more resilient and accomplish goals through the REBRAND PROGRAM.

She is motivated and driven to excel by incorporating a hands-on approach. This allows her to focus on the needs of others and their potential which results in stronger engagement, trust and stronger relations with stakeholders and the community. She loves bringing awareness and educating individuals in areas related to career and employment, mental health and any aspect to enhance one’s wellbeing.

Passionate about human relations and volunteering, she is instrumental in bringing strategies and resources to Non for Profits by serving on different boards and volunteering on Youth projects.  Natasha enjoys learning and is constantly broadening her knowledge through training and certifications. Natasha spends time honing her creative skills by writing poems and loves working around fun people.

Connect with Natasha:  Email  |  LinkedinTwitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel
Resources Mentioned

MCG Careers Website

The REBRAND Youth Development Program

Small Consistent Actions TEDx Talk

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):
Natasha welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Natasha Daniel (00:13):
Thank you Sam, for having me. So my name is Natasha Daniel and I work at a wonderful company called MCG Carrer as an employment center. And I am the youth program coordinator for our program called rebrand. And by the name rebrand, it gives youth an opportunity to rebrand themselves to really change their lives. And it’s a great journey to be on working with youth, supporting them and encouraging them to really be the best that they can be, and really be empowered to realize that, you know, the world is out there, that they can conquer. So that’s called REBRAND. So what led me to the journey of wanting to work with youth and when we say youth, the, the category of the clients that I’m working with there are between the ages of 17 to 30. So that’s the federal go? My definition of youth.


Natasha Daniel (01:03):
And you know, I started working with you very early in my career as a trainer and manager for burger king several years ago. And I had the opportunity to really hire and, and train youth to just maybe in their part-time jobs as they were accomplishing their ed educational goals. And I moved further from there into working in an adult high school, again with youth who are trying to accomplish a high school certification and stuff like that. And, and really seeing that youths need support and that youths are smart. They are innovative, they’re creative and they’re open to challenges and experiences. So that really empowered me to wanna continue working with youth then fostering an opportunity to support them into their career and employment journey.


Sam Demma (01:52):
That’s awesome. So bridge the gap between burger king and MCG careers for us, what was the journey in between that brought you to MCG?


Natasha Daniel (02:01):
So burger, I was my first career, my first employment opportunity in Canada. So I started off with cashier, but I have the passion for learning and I always wanted to be a teacher when I was younger from since elementary school, because I had a wonderful male elementary school teacher, nice. And my passion for learning and reading and all of that. So when I was burger king, I took time to learn everything on the job. So which within two years with working in a company, I was a shift supervisor because I really learned everything that they had to do like managers did and on the operation of the business. And then I just worked my way up into becoming a restaurant manager. So having an opportunity to hire youth more, also youth to wanna work in a fast food you know, in a fast food restaurant, I want, want to get that opportunity to have extra money while they’re studying so high school youth or post secondary youths.


Natasha Daniel (02:55):
And then from hiring, then I started training as a corporate trainer for burger king. So Alberta was one of my places I came to for a couple months to train people. So that’s kind of my part in terms of with youth and then going into when, when I, whilst I was studying for my post-secondary, I went into adult. So working again in the, in the education facility where you are helping people to learn and helping people to get their educational goals and stuff like that. And then I transitioned into community. I used to be a big brother, big sister at, for boys and girls club for many years. Nice. And being a big sister all also really empowered me and, and, and helped me to really understand that younger people need some additional support. And I taught about what can I bring from my experience?


Natasha Daniel (03:49):
What can I bring from my background? What are the values that they have that also Correl to my values and how could I empower them? So always working the community and working families. I had the opportunity to work with families and interventions in the school and child and family services and stuff like that. So again, I saw that, you know, sometimes as a child you mightn’t get the foundation that you need, but when you get into your youthful age, you’ll still require some of those foundational skills to help youth get into a stronger adulthood and life management. And that’s how I’m here at rebrand right now.


Sam Demma (04:29):
I know it makes you upset when people don’t treat youth with the same respect and I guess, general treatment as they might another adult. and I think what’s really awesome is you explained earlier that you, weren’t only focused on people getting jobs and working shifts at burger king, but you were also making sure they focused on their education. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?


Natasha Daniel (04:55):
Yes. And I, I think sometimes in society older, you know, adults, so people in general, sometimes we underestimate the power that a youth have. And we also, there are a lot of biases against young people also, you know in society. And I believe that how could you just be open to learning about a youth and learning that a charity that they come from and how they can contribute to society and how you can support them? So, one of the things I know that was imperative for me was I work at burger king, as education is very fundamental or at least acquire high school education on the first level is important to, you know, looking at a career path possibility or helping you with your learning goals. But I, when I worked at burger king, I wanted to make sure a part-time job wasn’t, you know, the main focus for everyone, you will have to have that life balance.


Natasha Daniel (05:50):
So I believed in life balance from really early. So I supported the students who were to get that life balance by, you can make your money part-time or full-time work, but you can also go to school. So in the, at burger king, we had a lot of post-secondary college students, and I would have them, we kind of opened a little tutor session within our diet, within our our work employee room. And they were free to bring their assignments. And I kind of them with another worker who in college could help so that they can get support and help with their assignments as they were going through high school. And that’s just because also some of the youth, they didn’t have that support at home. It’s very difficult when your parents are just trying to make money to put food on the table. And especially if it’s an immigrant parent also, they really sometimes don’t understand the whole structure of the Canadian system. So their goal is just that I need to feed you. I need to keep the house going, but what about all of the other needs and needs? And looking at the challenges that your, your child might have. And a lot of them didn’t have that knowledge and didn’t have that skillset. So that’s where I kinda stepped in from that early, early times, being in burger king and moved on into community and stuff like that.


Sam Demma (07:03):
Your experiences in burger king, in different community organizations and clubs has all led to the perspective that you have in working with students in rebrand. Can you talk a little bit more about the rebrand program, why it’s so close to your heart and what’s compelled you to continue working on it for the past eight years?


Natasha Daniel (07:25):
So rebrand again, you know, be why is it so close to my head when I came from Montreal to Edmonton and got a job at MCG, they had this beautiful program and it’s so really one of the foundational programs and I, that MTG offers. And I think it’s about 15 years in ENCE in the, in our current employment center. So there’s a great knowledge about the program in Edmonton is a program that a lot of agencies and support workers and stuff they know about because of the strength of the program and how the program helps you. So with looking at rebrand and going through many cohorts and many you know, participants with different challenges and experiences and background, you understand that really youth, they need the support and they need to really be allowed to have the resiliency. And they need that part where they see that there’s more to life in the world, or there’s more to what I could accomplish.


Natasha Daniel (08:24):
And I always say to my youth, like, how do you define accomplishment? Not don’t define accomplishment by society’s, you know, definition of accomplishment, because what did, what have you done? It doesn’t have to be that you’ve gotten a trophy, or you was, you, you were in the, you know, the football team or you had a scholarship and many of them do, you know, they had those, but what other accomplishment, how, what, how do you see accomplishment from your, your perspective and how can you think out of the box and bring those skillset to your life? So with rebrand because rebrand, we allow them to have many experiences in the program by having a mixture of, of training that they don’t get in school. So we focus on the life management and with the life when it comes with the basic things about budgeting, the basic things about, you know, those communication skills, the basic things about being more self aware.


Natasha Daniel (09:22):
So, you know, who are you and what can you bring to the table and how, you know, what part, what are your goals that you wanna accomplish? So we focus on those great ma life management skills now at COVID and a lot of youth, they go through mental health challenges, and sometimes they’ve gone through those challenges from early childhood and, you know, not having the right supports, the challenges, the mental health challenges increase and increase and increase. Yeah. So really getting them to understand that, yes, you can have a mental health challenge, but what is the best strategy that you are going to incorporate? And what supports do you need to really cope with your mental health challenge? Because not everybody who, you know, you do have coping skills when you have mental health and sometimes society label, you, you have mental health, you depressed, but with that, the, you can still achieve something as long as you have the, the right strategies.


Natasha Daniel (10:21):
And as long as you have the support, so rebrand provides all of that to the participants. And then we fo we help them to focus on employment. What skills can you bring to an employer what’s out there that you would like to learn on the job? You know, what are some of, of the values that you have that another employer might, you know, wanna bring into take you on because that value kind of meshes with their work value. And then what are your long term goals? So what are your current goals? So what are your employment goals, or, you know, so what do you wanna go back to school? What would you like to do? So helping them to really have a broad rate of experiences through training, through you know, sessions like having a good motivat speaker, like you, you know, through financial literacy programs first aid, computer programs, computer training, and volunteer experiences, and just basic, you know, everything their experiences an adult might have, or have had to bring them to a successful journey. That’s what we brand helps them. And then we support them in all aspect, as they’re, you know, being trained and gaining more of self and becoming, you know, looking at the path that, oh, I needed this to help rebrand my life to start a new journey.


Sam Demma (11:39):
The name is so appropriate for the purpose of the program, which is so cool. And I’m honored to have been a part of a few of them. And another one this week, I’m always super excited. One thing that I love about the program is the diversity. It seems like the students all come from very different cultures, different walks of life. How do you get through to students, you know, from the get go and make sure that they understand it’s a safe place where they can be themselves and share the truth. Even if it’s one that’s a uncomfortable to talk about.


Natasha Daniel (12:14):
I, I, I believe for myself, it’s just, I’m open. And, and I, I say, you know what being open is the first time. So I’m no longer youth, but I was a youth at one point in time. And I know some of the experiences that they might have might have be maybe a similar experience that I had, or also by my dive first experience in working community, working, you know, with intervention services and all of that, all of the prior work that I’ve done, you know, I let them know that it’s okay. That as a youth, that everything wouldn’t be smooth it’s okay. That you are gonna make challenges. It’s okay. That because you didn’t critically think about the consequences that, you know, like hitting someone in the head, you didn’t critically think about it, and then you gotta arrest for that.


Natasha Daniel (12:58):
And then you got a criminal record is okay. You know, and because of the challenges that you have, it doesn’t mean that your life stops right there. What it is is that, how can you cha take those challenges and make them into opportunities? So when they, when I connect with a youth, you know, it’s just to see I’m here to support you. And let’s have that open dialogue. Let’s talk about, just be upfront, put it on the table, lay on the table. I’ve heard it all. Like I tell him, I’ve heard it all. There’s nothing. I think that you would come and tell me that like might be a shocker with working with youth you know, from the different backgrounds and different challenges. I had a youth who came to Canada from from a, from the con African continent. And this kid was so resilient.


Natasha Daniel (13:46):
And when he had a story of this kid, he was a war soldier at 13 years old. And they him to kill someone and he didn’t want to. And he ran away. He ran from two weeks, no shoes on his feet, in the jungle for two weeks. Wow. To get to the border of another country for safe Haven. Wow. And this kid came into the program, was really resilient, you know, new immigrants. So he had to learn a lot, but he took to the supports and that, that, you know, everything that the program was offering, he got employment. He got a hand of learning how to understand money because his things that I need to work as I had to money for my mom, I need to take care of my family. And then, you know, two, three weeks into the program, he had one of those days where, you know, he was himself and I’m like, what’s up, he’s always a child.


Natasha Daniel (14:46):
He’s like, you know, I just got worried. One of my best friend got killed, trying to escape and trying to leave, you know, the, the world off that they grew up in with all of the hardship and he felt really guilty. And I says, you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay. Because he felt that I got freedom, my friend didn’t. Mm. And I says, you know what? Take a mental health day. It’s okay. You can go home. You can probably go, just call your mom or talk to the people that you need to support from culturally. And when you feel better, come back tomorrow. And so some of these are just some of the small things that allows, because when you give them those kind of supports, then they’re able to start planning the next step forward. And he moved on into employment. And a couple weeks ago I was outside and he is like, Natasha, Natasha.


Natasha Daniel (15:34):
I’m like, who is that is me? Like, what are you doing? He was doing skip the dish, but he’s a university student. Oh, wow. he is a university student. And he was just doing, skip the dish to make extra cash. So that’s just kind of some of the, the, the people that we experience in rebrand. And one of the things that I can say that learning working with youth is youth are so open. There’s never judgment in my classroom. They never judge. There’s so much support from one youth to the other, even though life experiences are different. They are one of the most open, hated group, I should say, within our society that a lot of people don’t know. A lot of people think that they’re lazy. A lot of people think that you’re paying for your games all day long.


Natasha Daniel (16:22):
And a lot of people think that, you know what, they, they just don’t wanna do anything. They just wanna BU around and all of that stuff. I don’t think they use the word bumming anymore. you’re showing your age, be careful. yeah. I don’t think I don’t that they would like, you know, and the thing about working with you, sometimes I say a word and like, like the other lady they said in my classroom, I’m like, what social media? Do you guys, you know apps and stuff, do you guys think that I have, and like, yeah, Natasha, we know you only have Facebook and one of them she’s like, and because you’re from the Caribbean, I know Caribbean, people love to talk to their family members and they only do WhatsApp and like, like yeah, know that, you know, on Instagram, you and I was, and I was like, whatever guys, whatever, , that’s so funny.


Natasha Daniel (17:22):
Yeah. And, and that’s to take, and, and even the fact that sometimes I said, sometimes in rebrand, I said, okay, tell me some of the I’m like, okay, well, let’s just, just, just, just, just write it down a little bit. You guys write some of the words that you say that we probably, that I probably wouldn’t know of, you know? And then they make me a whole list of kind of the, the, the, the pop culture words, and some of the regular words that they use now, so that I can be on the same lingo with them. yeah. , you know, and I think, so these are some of the things that, so for me, it’s just being open with them and making them, letting them know that you know, I’m not here to judge you. I want you, so I never forget that I was a huge, and I know we gonna all, sometimes we messed up.


Natasha Daniel (18:06):
Sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes we, I says, you know what? I know. I know the days where, when I was in university, cuz I lived in Montreal and New York was right there, leave Montreal on a Friday, go club in Friday, Saturday sat up until Sunday night, you drive back into Montreal, you go to Tim Horton’s bathroom, wash up, you run to class. And then when school is finish on a Monday evening, you crash I’m like, and they were like, what? I’m like, those are some of the experiences, but how do you do things positively? You know, you can still experience live, but how do you do it in a positive way that it can help you increase your life management and become more aware of the part that you wanna go? You know? And every journey is a different journey. There’s so many, you know, youth and rebrand mental health, as I say you know, one of my rebrand pats was actually just from 2019 and this came, he came through the foster care system.


Natasha Daniel (19:09):
And when he came into rebrand, a smart kid, oh my gosh, like, cuz he has all, one of my, one of my coworkers say he reminds of Scooby duke because he was like, you know, bigger than my parents. But he was so he is such a smart kid and he would be there in the classroom. You teach him and is part of his ADHD and all of this FST and everything. But he’s there, he’s probably building a website, but he can tell you everything that you just said. And he wanted to go when we were part of the coach is looking at where do you wanna go? He says, you know, I really wanna do physio, arts. I wanna become a pilot, but I can’t afford it. And I says, but do know that there’s a program here in Alberta because you were in care, they can pay, you know, they can help you with your supports for education. I got him connected. We get to, we apply, we did the forms, we did everything. And he went forward into doing his assessments and everything to go to school as a pilot. So this is 2019 two weeks ago, cuz I’m not on Instagram again. he sent my other coworker, a video on Instagram to give to me, he was crossly he was flying cross Canada. Wow. yeah. And she came and she’s like, look at this. I’m like, what is that? And she’s like your student gauge. I’m like what? She’s like. Yeah.


Natasha Daniel (20:40):
He’s I on Instagram. And he was, he got yeah. And is accomplishing his goal of becoming a pilot. Wow. And this was 2019. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:54):
It, it sounds like the program really helps students lay the foundation for future success.


Natasha Daniel (21:01):
It does. And, and, and, and there, and no there’s by no means I wouldn’t say some of them drop out, but with me I am a high achiever. So from the get go, I, you know, they know that they have all of the supports that I said to them. Like, you know, I’m not working for you. We are working together. Yeah. And that’s my mantra when they come in, like I’m not working for you, we are working together. So with that, we, we have I used to have 12 for, for every four and a half months now I have 10. And for the most part I have eight, eight successful achievers all the time. Nice that they would go through the program, they would go into employment and figure their life part. And the thing about rebrand, because some of them who’s not completed high school cuz there’s a percentage of non high school completers.


Natasha Daniel (21:48):
They probably in school had negative experiences. Yeah. But coming into rebrand, it gives a different shift. Hmm. And then they, so, so for many of them, and I remember one of my UT said, you know what? After being in rebrand, I realized that I can go back to school now. Ah, because they have a lot of assignments that they’re given. There’s still some of the written work and the teamwork where you have to collaborate to the team and come up with ideas and, and you know, and also your critical thinking, what do you bring to this case study? So they do have work. That’s not structured like school, but they do have some work together increasing their knowledge and to get them to really articulate on pair with, you know, on the computers or whatever, what they’ve learned or how they would approach something.


Natasha Daniel (22:36):
And that helps someone who probably had a lot of challenges in school, realize that, you know, what, if I really am motivated and I can recommit myself, I can go back and complete my high school. So that’s one of the things that I know of, of a couple people who struggled in school and coming through rebrand and they realized that, oh, okay. And one of the things they always said, why did we learn this at school? Why did we learn this at school? And I says, you know what, sometimes school doesn’t, but you have the opportunity where you are here to, to, to get supports. And when we talk about what we are looking at now, we have mental health counseling that they can, you know, that we have a counseling session services that that we, the program pays for. They have also supports when they get employment.


Natasha Daniel (23:26):
So everything to remove the barriers from, you know, to keep them out of work. So they have so support for clothing to get them into employment. They have supports, they get bus tickets and stuff like that to help with the transportation. So every little thing that might become a barrier for a youth to not get in a job or not faking a job, the program tried to decrease those barriers. And then another, the other bigger support for them is that in comparison to a youth who has a job search on their own, we help with some of the employment connection. So if you are in the pro, if you are my participant in the program and I’ve seen your computer skills, I get a test, your time management. I know that you ha you have great communication skills. I know that you have a lot of leadership skills.


Natasha Daniel (24:10):
I, when we are looking for employment for them, I would market you to an employer and say, you know, this is such and such. I remember one of my UAN, she had some trauma was going to post secondary. And she stopped because of you know, being a domestic father and relationship. But then after she bounces back with con and all of that, and she she got with one of the employer connections I made. And he left her after three weeks to manage his driving school and insurance business. Wow. Because she had the skills. Yep. But its just that she didn’t know how to really formulate those skills into the language and then demonstrate them in the workplace by having that opportunity. And she excelled at her at her job and she’s still there today, you know? So that’s one of the things that we do with Reba when we have employers who we know, and especially when it’s an employer who have a hat for community, it makes it so much better and so much easier to really support a you to say you could accomplish all of this.


Natasha Daniel (25:15):
You know, I’ve had youth who came into the program and they got promoted from just being a regular employee to manager, warehousing manager. And so getting them to really become more self aware is one of the goals of the program. Because when they’re more self aware, we focus a lot on their strength. And that’s my thing. I wanna focus on your strength. I know you messed up a lot, Sam, but that’s not, that’s not who you are. You know? And my thing I also say to them fail means your first attempt in learning. Mm. So what did you learn from that? What did you learn from the jobs when you wouldn’t get up on time? What did you learn from, you know, and again, and I say to you, Dr. I know that when you don’t have anything to look forward to, you can go to bed at 2:00 AM in the morning, 3:00 AM in the morning.


Natasha Daniel (26:06):
When I try position from Montreal to Edmonton, that was my life. Cuz what, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have to get up early to go anywhere. So I would stay up and I would be job searching at 2:00 AM, go to bed at three sleep all the way through, get up at 2:00 PM cuz I know my husband’s about to finish. And that’s how I, so it’s natural. And I think people have to admit to all of these things because it’s be, you know, adults do. I did it like I, them, I did it because I didn’t have any set schedule. I didn’t have any programs. I didn’t have anything to look forward to. Hmm. So I know that a you as a youth might do stuff like that, but how do you not stay in the moment? How do you not stay and dwelling it and look forward to something else?


Natasha Daniel (26:57):
And that’s what weand helps them to do. Look forward. I remember I had a tute rebrand. He was gonna have an assessment to join the program and he had finished full secondary doing graphic design. So website design and he forgot his appointment at 6:00 AM. He left me a message and he said, Hey Natasha this is Nicholas. I can’t remember what time is my appointment. But I’m now about to go to bed. Don’t call me during the day, cuz I’m going to bed at 6:00 AM, but you can text me and let me know what time is my appointment. Mm. So then I did call him later on in the day and I says to him, you got the oddity to tell me, don’t call you cuz you’re just going to bed. And, and that’s again, 6:00 AM. He’s going to bed because he’s still of all night playing for your game.


Natasha Daniel (27:49):
And I said to him, you know what, if you want to be in rebrand, you have to change the sleeping habits. Mm. The program is about to sat in two weeks. You’re gonna be in the program. I need you to start going to bed at a regular time. Yeah. So you can be in class by eight 30. Yeah. And you know what? He did it. Then he got his job as a first, as a, as a graphic designer. We got him this job, the kid was so happy and he called me a couple. I think it was last year. And he’s like, I missed you. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t miss me. Stay on the job. and him, he, he was so happy to get because after he graduated from post secondary, for two years, he had, was doing nothing, playing for games.


Natasha Daniel (28:32):
He was so happy and was driving well in the job that he moved closer. So he to the employment. So he would have a for time. And I would say, I says, no, don’t call me. Don’t miss me at all. Don’t miss me, me stay on the job. And that’s just some of the small changes that’s required for you. So me saying to him, we adjust your sleep in habit. Because again, if you’re going into employment, I don’t think you’re gonna start. You know, you have to be depending on what way you wanna work, you have to be grounded to really be successful by just doing small, consistent action, which is one of your words. Yeah. Thank you. Consistent actions. Yeah. also a word that I like to tell him now and that small, consistent action is that adjusting my sleep in time. That’s all he needed. Yep.


Sam Demma (29:22):
Be successful. That’s awesome. I, we could talk for like two hours. Thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your stories. One last question. If you could speak to younger Natasha, not that you’re old, but if you could speak to, you know, first year working in the rebrand program, but with the knowledge and experience, you know, now what advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Daniel (29:49):
What advice I would give my younger self and the advice I would give my younger self is from learning from the rebrand participants. I would tell myself right now, you know, take on more, get out of my comfort zone. Mm. Because I remember like I’m a personal even, you know, I, I get comfortable in my zone and then you know, that’s my zone. Oh. I would tell myself also shine myself, more shine, more like, you know, I write poems, I love writing and stuff like that. And everybody’s like, why don’t you? We didn’t know you. Right. We didn’t know you. Right. why don’t you publish a book and, and that’s just me just staying within my zone. Yeah. You know? And, and so I, soon as I write my poems and I share them more often, so that’s what I would tell myself, just be, get out of the comfort zone.


Natasha Daniel (30:37):
And, and, and this is what this generation of youths are teaching me how open they are and how open they are to new experiences. And not even just owning new experiences, how open they are to each other, like, you know, working with youths who are diverse cultural background, youth who are L G B T youths who have, you know you know, being maybe a criminal record history, two in a gang and they just embrace everybody and they just open to the experiences mm-hmm . So I would, that’s what I would tell myself as a younger, you know, back a youth back, you know, just younger again, like just be open, be more open. Now I became I’m open right now, but you know, if I, if it started back then, like, you know, the younger Natasha, I think I would’ve been like I would, I flourish. Well, I think I would just be like, Hmm That’s awesome. That’s what, and that is just all from, from the experience of working with youth and also you know, I, I, I tell them this now. And it’s just because from my experience was said, don’t let others define who you are. Don’t let others define who you are. You define who you are, because at the end of today, you would want, that has to live with you and not others.


Sam Demma (32:09):
Natasha, this has been a great conversation. Thank you again for taking the time to come on here. I really appreciate it. I look forward to future programs and working with you and the students keep up the great work, happy holidays. And we’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (32:22):
Thank you, Sam. I do appreciate you. You know, I appreciate just, just the work that you’re doing to empower others and, and, and sharing your story. Like I was, you know, the other day when you sent me sent me the, the invite my son who’s nine. He was like, who’s the guy, like I’m gonna do a podcast. And so then he, I, I said, listen to his video, my son listened to one of your TED talks. Oh, wow. He’s into the he’s nine years old. He’s into stuff like this. And then he says to me, mommy on Saturday, he’s like, did you do the podcast?


Sam Demma (32:54):
That’s awesome.


Natasha Daniel (32:55):
And you know, and I, and then I, I was to him. Yeah. So Sam, you know, I think he used to, he used to play football and then my son, he corrects me, like he says, mommy, you know, he played soccer. was not football.


Sam Demma (33:11):
He’s attentive. That’s good.


Natasha Daniel (33:13):
yeah. Oh no, no. I, I was like, so I said to him, you know, like, so that’s just to show you, I don’t a nine year old kid is also empowered by what you do. Ah, thanks for sharing that. So I would just say, you know, keep up the good work and the fact that, I mean, coming from Reeb, right. Again, when you come and speak to our youths, a lot of you, they don’t see youths who can bring and shed light to a lot of what they go through. Mm. And this is what, from having you into rebrand from having a young computer instructor, we as MCG, make sure that we have, we get them to get that balance. Yeah. So that they’re not just learning from our experiences, but they also, so learning from people who are dear generation and people who can really identify to what their struggles and what their challenges are, you know, within living in the 21st century as a young person. Yeah. So thank you again for the good work that you’re doing. You too.


Sam Demma (34:19):
You too. And thanks for sharing those stories! We’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (34:22):
No problem. Thank you.

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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.